Many are familiar with the concept of periodization as it applies to training. For example, you cannot always be pushing heavier weights, there needs to be phases (micro cycles) where you emphasize hypertrophy, deloads, and using other methodologies to ensure progression and to reduce the chance that of your body adapting to the training stimulus. This concept of adapting is most often noted by those that favor metabolic (cardio) based conditioning. Over time the body will become more efficient at running on the treadmill. As efficiency is gained, the net caloric loss or energy expenditure is reduced. This adaptation can stall fat loss if not taken into consideration.
I just completed a 5-month lean mass phase and brought my body weight up to 197 lbs. from 183 lbs. in September 2019. I will be sitting in “maintenance” for 6 weeks and will then enter a fat loss phase for 2020. My calories and macronutrients were adjusted accordingly for each phase of my plan. This is an example of a periodized nutrition plan.
Lean Mass > Maintenance > Fat Loss
Often, people are interested in fat loss and strategies to help make this happen. And less frequently there are times when I have individuals working with me that desire to put on lean mass. To be honest, I find this more interesting and challenging as a nutrition coach. So, what are some tips for putting on lean mass that I can share for those interested? Here goes:
1. Progressive Overload is King
If you seek to build muscle and/or become stronger, you MUST be implementing some form of progressive overload. That is to say that you should seek to be lifting more weight or doing more repetitions / sets of a weight over time. Keep in mind you won’t be able to progress every single session, but it should be a consideration over the subsequent weeks of training.
2. You do not need to be in a caloric surplus to grow
It will most certainly make it easier, but some prefer to stay lean all year long and are OK with building muscle at a slower rate. For those that aren’t too concerned with losing their abs for a while, bump up your calories above maintenance. It truly is a trade-off. Stay lean and defined, but accept that muscle gain will be FAR slower… OR Increase calories to optimize muscle gain knowing that you won’t be as lean. The caveat here is that while you do not NEED to be in a surplus, you must at least be eating at maintenance calories. Maintenance calories is basically an even balance of calories in vs. calories out (energy balance).
3. Don’t eat like a Bro
The approach touted in old Muscle & Fitness magazines, or recommended by those that don’t know any better, surprisingly still exist to this day. However, eating a ridiculous amount of food and calories to build muscle is an illogical and misguided approach. That is unless you are an “enhanced” athlete. More calories do not equate more muscle. If anything, it leads to excess fat gain, which can make the fat loss phase twice as difficult or a much longer process. Not to mention that excessive fat gain inhibits muscle growth. Simply know that the body builds muscle at a set rate, per person, based on genetics. Food quality does play a part, but the main point is you need only be eating over maintenance to optimize muscle gain. Eating 1000 calories over maintenance is no better, and possibly worse from a fat gain aspect, when compared to eating 250 calories over.
Sorry bro, I would recommend you put down the tub of ice cream.
4. You are what you eat
Our bodies, and more importantly the composition of them (fat to lean mass), is dependent upon the quality of food we eat. This is where macro and micronutrients play a role in optimal health and aesthetics. Now while some people can get away with more junk food than others (each person is unique), I recommend stacking the deck in your favor and seeking high quality, whole food sources. It will make a difference when you cut weight, in density and muscle quality / look.