Can you gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

We live in sad times for bodybuilding. Although broscience is finally losing face, it’s being replaced by what I can only describe as bodybuilding nihilism (‘nothing-ism’). Nothing supposedly matters. Nutrient timing? Just eat when you feel like eating. Full-body or split training? Whichever you prefer. Eating clean? Bro, what has washing your food got to do with anything?


Skepticism is great, but it’s turning into pessimism that’s killing the spirit of bodybuilding to always keep improving and always push the limits. The nihilism that nothing matters has taken the meaning that nothing works. When nothing works, nothing is possible. If somebody gains muscle during their contest prep, he is immediately accused of steroid use. That’s because many people believe you cannot build muscle and burn fat at the same time. Others say it’s theoretically possible, but it won’t ever happen in anyone but absolute beginners and steroid users. And yet others say body recomposition programs are the best way to progress and you shouldn’t cut or bulk as a natural lifter.


Let’s look at the facts.


The First Law of Thermodynamics

You’ve probably heard someone argue that achieving muscle growth and fat loss in the same day is physically impossible because of thermodynamics. The argument goes as follows.


  1. To build muscle, you must store energy. To lose fat, you must burn energy.
  2. When you are in energy surplus, your body stores energy. When you are in a deficit, your body loses energy.
  3. Therefore, you must be in energy surplus to gain muscle and in a deficit to lose fat.


The first two points, the premises, are true. They refer to the first law of thermodynamics (‘movement of energy’), also called the law of the conversion of energy. This law means energy cannot just disappear. It has to go somewhere. Building new fat or muscle cells requires energy and breaking them down releases energy. However, point three, the conclusion, is false.


Why? Because protein and fat are completely different functional compartments in the body. As a result, your body directs calories towards muscle and fat mass independently. Researchers call this calorie partitioning and the resulting change in fat and muscle mass are expressed as a P-ratio.


Concretely, your body needs protein and energy to build muscle tissue. If it gets enough protein from your diet, it just needs energy and this energy can be obtained from fat mass. The result is simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth.


Similarly, your body is capable of storing fat while burning muscle. The conservation of energy law only means that you must gain energy in energy surplus and lose energy in a deficit. It says nothing about how these calories are partitioned or about how your body composition changes.


In conclusion, thermodynamics do not rule out the possibility of getting more muscular while leaning out at the same time.


Outside the textbook

Theory is nice and all, but what happens in real life? Do people actually manage to build muscle while losing fat?


Overweight (26% body fat) police officers starting a weight training program lost 9.3 pounds of fat and gained 8.8 pounds of lean body mass in 12 weeks.


But they were fat, so how is that relevant for us? Ironically, it’s usually the self-proclaimed science-based skeptics that say you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Yet people in dozens if not hundreds of studies lose fat and build muscle at the same time when they start training, even sometimes when they only do endurance training (see here and here and here, for example). Young, old, healthy, unhealthy, male, female, obese, lean, they all achieve body recomposition. Even on mediocre training programs with crappy diets with suboptimal protein intakes. Even elderly men and women over 60 years old generally gain around 4 pounds of lean body mass with the same amount of fat loss in 12 to 16 weeks (see here and here, for example).


But all these people were barely trained, so again how is that relevant for us?


Here’s an example of one of my clients that had over 20 years of training experience and was already benching 235 lb (107 kg) for 5 reps before the coaching. He performed a DXA scan every ~3 weeks during my coaching. In 2 months and 18 days, he lost 6.7 lb (3.1 kg) of fat while gaining almost exactly the same amount of muscle. His weight during the last scan was within 8 grams of his weight when we started. So this is an example of virtually perfect body recomposition. You can find the anonymized DXA scan overview here and his progress photos below.


Nick 2 months 17 days body composition change


Still not convinced? Ok, there’s plenty of research in advanced trainees too.


One study looked at elite gymnasts. These were national level athletes with a training volume of 30 hours a week. They could do 17 pull-ups where their chest touched the bar (try doing 1). They were put on a 1,971 calorie, ketogenic diet. In case it wasn’t obvious, that’s pretty drastic for someone training over 4 hours a day. Their fat percentage of 7.6% dropped to 5% – lower than many bodybuilders in contest shape – in 30 days. Even under these conditions, they gained 0.9 pounds of lean body mass. And don’t forget they must have lost a lot of glycogen and water eating just 22 grams of carbs a day.


Similar findings of positive body recomposition have been found in elite athletes of various other sports, including elite rugby players and NCAA Division football players already squatting over 382 lb (174 kg) and benching over 289 lb (131 kg).


Even some women competing in the IFBB have been found to gain muscle during contest prep during a study that carefully monitored their hormone levels. I personally observe this in my clients as well. Several of my clients with access to reliable body fat measurement techniques, such as DXA (think ‘x-ray’) scans, gained muscle all the way up until the last few weeks before their contest.



Gaining muscle on a weight loss diet is not only possible, it should be expected for most people on a serious program. As long as the stimulus for muscle growth is carefully designed and customized, your body will find a way to get bigger. Your body is not the enemy. It is a miraculous survival machine that adapts to the stress you impose on it. When you understand it, you can control it.


So screw the naysayers. When you don’t believe what you want is possible, you have defeated yourself before you even began.


Update: Curious about how exactly it’s possible for the body to build muscle in a deficit? I’ve answered that question extensively in this short interview.


This article was an excerpt of the online Bayesian PT Course Certification Program. Want more articles like this? Have a look at the full course contents and be sure to read the reviews.



  1. Chris says:

    Hi Menno, you may or may not have come across the following:,
    although based on endurance athletes its exciting for anyone doing intelligent physical exercise, another nail in the coffin of broscience!

    • Yep, that’s an awesome study!

      • Perry Rose says:

        Of course you can gain muscle and still lose fat.

        On average I run on around a 200-calorie deficit per day. Some days it’s over 300.

        I eat about 1 gram of protein per my pound of my weight. On workout days I consume A LOT of carbs to get me through a full-body workout, which is done twice a week.

        I’m progressing just as much as the person who thinks he has to eat a lot of calories.

        Why can’t people do the simple math, and use their common sense?

  2. Niels says:

    Very interesting article. But what i find while being in a deficit is that my strength gains plateau. How can one build muscle without getting stronger?

    • Lady J says:

      Strength doesn’t only come from muscle, the central nervous system contributes as well. Notice that most of the strongest pound for pound people in the world are not really that “jacked”.

      Try not going below 20% in a deficit and you will have a better time at increasing strength (as per what has been found in research). It will take longer to build strength than if eating maintenance calories or bulking of course, but still achievable.

    • That suggests your program design is suboptimal. Unless you’re an elite level powerlifter or you’re in the final phase of a physique contest prep, you shouldn’t ever be losing strength.

      • Vinay says:

        So the muscle gain is fuelled from fat stores primarily? Does being in an energy surplus make a significant difference to amount of muscle that can put on compared to being in deficit then, if it can all be fuelled from existing fat stores?

        • Yes, energy balance significantly affects protein balance. The body always takes energy for every process from various sources. It’s not as simple as that it takes it all from fat cells and puts it all into the muscle. It’s an organic process of constant flux throughout the entire body.

  3. Justin says:

    great article! it’s amazing how much evidence is out there that you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time yet how many still preach it’s impossible. I watch a lot of guys on youtube and one thing almost every single one of them preaches is you cannot get around calories in vs calories out. There are some good ones out there like Jerry Ward that understand that you can recomp even without steroids.

  4. Matt says:

    Hey Menno, love your work. Do you have any training programs, examples of programs, diet setup guides, or any materials with more specifics for practical application out there for us poor people who can’t afford your course?

    • Eddie says:

      Why not read all the articles here in this site?

    • My whole site is full of free content.

      • Matt says:

        Maybe I’ve missed something but I’d thought I’d read pretty much everything here. It’s fantastic, but I don’t see much in the way of practical advice on program design; as in general advice for volume, intensity, frequency, and exercise selection.

        I understand that your a fan of heavy lifting with compound exercises, which I always focus on, but I’d love to hear more about the specific variables you like to recommend. Things like do you like to recommend hitting the big BB lifts hard once, or multiple times per week; do you recommend much isolation and higher rep work on a cut (or a bulk even); do you ascribe to splits or more full body programs; stuff like that I’d love to know your take on.

  5. Marcel says:

    I don’t believe that.
    because that man lifting 20 years will not build up 3 kg of muscle mass while losing 3 kg of fat mass in 2 months! NEVER or he trained 20 years really bad

    • Justin says:

      I dunno about 20 years but I seen people who have trained for a good 10 years and appearance wise doesn’t look like they lift. With changes to their diet and training I could see them doing what he showed above

  6. Erik says:

    Hello Menno,

    First I want to say that you publish outstanding information and debunk a lot of crap that’s floating around on the internet.

    The participants in the studies of advanced trainees are elite athletes and probably have good genetics, but are there also studies available from experienced but more average lifters? Do you think the genetic factor matters?

    Keep the fantastic information coming, please!

  7. Carson says:

    Its an interesting take Menno.

    I wonder though how one in this examples case managed to add 6.7 lbs of *muscle after years of training in 10 weeks. I mean a novice trainee would be lucky if he were to gain 1/2 lb of raw muscle a week and that’s while eating in a surplus. How would an advanced trainee manage .67 lbs per week? Surely you have read the muscle potential gain from guys such as berkhan, lyle McDonald, casey butt of course. Not disputing just wondering just how.

    Also this seems plausible in someone who has some decent body fat % to work with and use for the energy in the first place. I myself am a very lean ectomorph so I have hardly any fat at all. In my case obviously im not trying to loose any fat but if I were to try to do this build and loose at the same time….it most likely would not be a possible method for someone like me in the Lean category…would I be right on that?

    Good article nonetheless!


    • Justin Koth says:

      if you have no fat to lose then why would you be worried about doing both? some people call it a “clean” bulk but basically just need to find an intake amount that allows you to build muscle and not put on extra fat which is indeed very feasable.

      • Carson says:


        I am not trying to loose fat as I had mentioned in the previous concept. I was asking hypothetically just to present a scenario where the build and loose same time might not be possible.
        Sorry if I confused.

        • Justin says:

          aside from some medical conditions i can’t really think of a situation someone couldn’t put on muscle and burn fat if they are training right for their body and eating right.

    • Only one way to find out. Optimize your program. Put in the work.

  8. Chris says:

    I agree with the evidence and your conclusion that the mechanism is possible. Is it optimal, though? I know you will rightfully refer to depending factors for the answer, so Ill narrow it down a bit to the most typical case for your audience:

    Lets assume an advanced trainee with 15% BF and the goal of gaining as much muscle as possible in one year and at that point in the future the same endpoint BF% of 15 – what will happen with the BF during that year wouldnt concern the trainee.

    Andy Morgan argues here that then a controlled bulk would be the optimal solution – the lean gain approach aka body recomp would be slower. What is your take?

    • I thought you didn’t care about what I think? If you want my advice, take a lesson in etiquette.

      • Chris says:

        Sorry what?
        In my opinion you sometimes base bold claims on slim and fragile evidence – I dont know what this has to do with etiquette. Maybe youre confusing me with someone else?
        Of course I am interested in your opinion, thats why I asked.

    • Borge Fagerli says:

      I’ll bite. If someone is at 15% bodyfat, the nutrient partitioning will be suboptimal due to low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance. Muscle mass can only be gained at a certain rate, and the fuel for that muscle gain can come from both your ingested and stored calories. Having more calories stored in terms of bodyfat allows you to run a slight deficit and still gain muscle at a (close to) maximum rate.

      There was a study referenced by Jacob Wilson in his talk at the AFPT Convention in Norway – the same presentation he’s doing all over the world I’m sure – showing that at a certain caloric surplus the subjects were gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, at a higher surplus the subjects gained fat but did not gain more muscle than the subjects at a lower surplus.

      • Chris says:

        Thx, Borge. Thats the question: At which BF % will the effects you describe of how great a magnitude set in? I see I should revise the scenario and put it: Slow bulk between 10 and 14% vs lean gains (not your program, but the expression for: “staying at the same % BF”) at 12% – which will give more muscle mass in one years time, the subject being then at 12% BF? I am sure muscle gain will near a threshold at a surplus, no doubt about that and the referenced study, Andy Morgan would agree I guess. He simply says: controlled bulk gets there faster because muscle gain is much less with a constant BF of 12%. He puts “controlled bulk” at the stage of near max muscle gains with only the fat gains necessary. Whereas not gaining any fat would seriosly slow down muscle gains in advanced trainees at that BF level.
        Cries for an RCT, I guess :) .

        • Borge Fagerli says:

          “At which BF % will the effects you describe of how great a magnitude set in?”

          There is no good way of answering that, as it would be highly individual and based on some or all of the variables listed in a response to someone else below:

          “The calories are adjusted according to:

          – bodyweight
          – activity level/NEAT
          – TEF
          – bodyfat%
          – training level and strength (the less advanced the easier it is to build muscle)
          – how optimal the program is
          – sleep
          – food quality
          – overall stress levels”

          But as a general answer, I would expect someone at 10% to be able to build more muscle with a surplus large enough to take him to 14% instead of a surplus large enough to maintain bodyfat% – but then you would have to factor in the time it takes for that same person to drop down from 14% to 10% again if we want to arrive at equal end results in body composition.

          I prefer adjusting the surplus and using nutrient timing and circadian rhythm manipulation (and all the lifestyle variables that would optimize nutrient partitioning) and go with a lean bulk approach.

  9. Enrique Jackson says:

    Hi Mennos,I can’t seem to get to find a good answer on training, so should natural trainees do only full body routines vs conventional training splits?….and is early morning training counter productive towards recomposition?, thank you, Enrique

  10. Enrique Jackson says:

    Hi Mennos, Which training method would be more productive a full body training or convention training split routine for recompositioning? ….and is early morning training counter productive?

  11. Hey Menno,

    I have some problems with the papers you present to support your statement of the fact that building muscle and losing fat at the same time is possible for the experienced, natural weight trainer (most of us).

    First you link to some studies in which (mostly moderately overweight women) show a decrease in body fat and increase in lean mass. This is under novel training stimulus, and high body fat levels, so it doesn’t really apply to us, as you stated.

    Then you go on to show one of your clients’ results. This is a one-person case. No details are provided, like whether he started training after a lay-off or not. Hell, he could’ve been on hormones for all we know. Bottom line; not very strong evidence to support your claim that muscle building while losing for for the experienced, natural, lean trainee (us) is possible.

    Then the elite gymnasts study comes up (Paoli et al., 2012). This study basically shows that 8 artistic gymnasts preserve their strength, while no significant increase in LBM is observed, while eating a high-protein, low carb diet.

    I cite:
    “after VLCKD there was a decrease in body weight (from 69.6 ± 7.3 Kg to 68.0 ± 7.5 Kg) and fat mass (from 5.3 ± 1.3 Kg to 3.4 ± 0.8 Kg p < 0.001) with a non-significant increase in muscle mass.”


    “Moreover after VLCKD muscle mass (pre 37.6 Kg +/- 3.9; post 37.9 Kg ± 4.5) and lean body mass (pre 64.2 ± 6.5; post 64.6 ± 7.1) remained substantially constant (Table 4).”

    Yes, they found a 0.9 lbs non-significant increase in LBM, but only a 0.7 lbs non-significant increase in muscle mass. This could easily be due to measurement errors (skin fold method of measuring BF%).

    Strangely, table 4 from this study shows something else:

    “Lean body mass Kg; before diet: 64.2?±?6.5 after diet: 63.1?±?7.1”
    According to these numbers, the gymnasts lost 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs) of LBM on the diet, although insignificant.

    So going by these numbers and absence of significance, how is this a case in point?

    Furthermore, elite sports, especially gymnastics, are known for their long-term periodised training. The 30-day period could possibly have occurred after a low-volume/high intensity training period, which would mimic a ‘novel’ training stimulus to the athletes.

    Then the measurement methods; skin fold pinching was used, as opposed to the more reliable DXA-scans.

    Finally, your comment about the water loss when on the low-carb diet: the athletes were indeed consuming 22 g of CHO a day, but they were eating 201 g of PRO a day (instead of their usual 84 g of protein). It is fairly well documented that in an absence of CHO, PRO can be converted to glucose (by means of gluconeogenesis). See for example this study:

    Veldhorst, M. A., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., & Westerterp, K. R. (2009). Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(3), 519-526.

    Glucose can be stored as glycogen, retaining water with it. Thus, this doesn’t help the found results as much as you state in the final sentence of the respective paragraph.

    Then for the final 3 studies you refer to:

    Garthe et al (2011) mentions:
    “The following sports were represented in the study: football, volleyball, cross-country skiing, judo, jujitsu, tae kwon do, waterskiing, motocross, cycling, track and field, kickboxing, gymnastics, alpine skiing, ski jumping, freestyle sports dancing, skating, biathlon, and ice hockey.”

    Do most of these sports involve regular weight training that actually increases LBM (i.e. making it generalisable to us)? I wouldn’t necessarily think so. Then, these athletes are not specifically adjusted to regular weight training (more to sports-specific training).

    “All athletes followed a 4- to 12-week energy-restriction and strength-training period.”

    This could this be seen as a novel training stimulus compared to their previous 2.7 – 2.8 hours of weight training per week, as shown below. Also, the participants weren’t very lean either (the men carrying an average of 17% body fat).

    “Total body fat (%)
    17 ± 5 (men)
    27 ± 5 (women)
    Lean body mass (kg)
    62.3 ± 10.3 (men)
    46.3 ± 5.5 (women)
    Strength training last season (hr/week)
    2.8 ± 1.6
    2.7 ± 1.6”
    (section of table 1 SR-group descriptives, Garthe et al., 2011)

    Add to that the fact that they just ended the (most possibly) very rigorous and (most aerobically-based) sports-game activities (which are catabolic by nature and could be seen as a priming agent for muscle growth afterwards):

    “The intervention period started off-season for all athletes to be able to add additional training to their schedule and for practical reasons (e.g., traveling and competitions).”

    Thus, it is not generalisable to experienced, lean weight trainers, like most of your audience.

    I unfortunately could not view the last 2 studies you refer to in full (no access permission), but some things can be noted from reading the abstracts.

    MacKenzie-Shalders et al., 2015, abstract:
    “There was no clear effect of increasing protein distribution from approximately 4 to 6 eating occasions on changes in lean mass during a rugby preseason”

    As such, these findings are true within the context of a preseason period for elite rugby players. One would think a preseason period proceeds after a lay-off/vacation for these guys. Thus, simulating a novel training stimulus.

    Hoffman et al., 1990, abstract:
    “Posttests revealed significant changes for the 3d group in decreased time for the two-mile run (2mi), decreased sum of skinfolds (SF) and an increased chest girth (CH).”

    Again, skin fold measurements were used, which isn’t as accurate as DXA. Other than that, I can’t see from the abstract that the participants were on a diet. Furthermore, not LBM but chest girth is used as a measure for muscle mass increase. Not very accurate, either.

    • Chris says:

      Excellent post!

      Well, every reader of Menno´s knows Menno tends to make very bold statements based on sometimes very …slim and indirect evidence. Maybe thats his nature, maybe you gotta do this in a business in which non-evidence-based writers and coaches make claims out of thin air all the time. :)

    • Setting aside your flawed assumptions of the studies and the fact you obviously didn’t read the full texts or looked at the populations, every study has limitations. You can find a whole list of further studies showing body recomposition that someone posted on my Facebook. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of studies where recomposition occurs. If you want to wait until we have a thousand before you start believing it, be my guest.

  12. Vinay says:

    Menno what magnitude of calorie deficit was your client shown in the article on during the 2 months? What sort of energy balance generally works best for a good body recomp?

    • Borge Fagerli says:

      There is no way to answer that without knowing more about the lifter in question. The calories are adjusted according to:

      – bodyweight
      – activity level/NEAT
      – TEF
      – bodyfat%
      – training level and strength (the less advanced the easier it is to build muscle)
      – how optimal the program is
      – sleep
      – food quality
      – overall stress levels

      I hope this goes to show that throwing out random numbers is not the right answer here. You need to know how all the above mentioned variables factor into the equation, set up the diet – and then adjust according to progress (weight vs. measurements vs. strength changes from week to week).

      You can learn more in Menno’s PT Course, or you can use the training and diet generator we have developed at (still not open for new registrations, we will relaunch as soon as all the programming is finished).

    • You can calculate this with the equations I provided in the article.

  13. Austin says:

    how much of a calorie deficit and surplus do you recommend for cutting and bulking? Is it better to lean bulk at an extra 300 or dirty bulk at 500? Also, for cutting is it better to drop calories quickly or should I ease into it?

  14. Nate says:

    Oh how I wish this was possible. Bulking and cutting cycles get old quick.

  15. Menno you’re awesome! Glad you did the research on this topic so I can just point people to this article when I hear this argument crop up.

  16. Ben Feinson says:

    Hi Menno,

    With the example you gave of your client over the 2 months and 18 days, i’m just curious to know what sort of training split he was on and also how many calories in relation to his weight?

    Have you seen this happen with a lot of your clients?

    Do you think with these findings that fat gain is never necessary when trying to increase size/ put muscle on?



    • You won’t have any use for the specific program I designed for 1 individual client. I supply these case studies simply to demonstrate possibility (because you only need 1 occurrence to falsify a statement of impossibility).

      As for fat gain being necessary, it’s not necessary generally, but that doesn’t mean the optimal program design has someone never gain any fat.

  17. bubba29 says:

    the guy with the 4 before after pics progressing from 14%bf to 10.3%. his tattoos also changed locations over that test cycle. quite amazing. how does science explain this? diet, a certain exercise?

  18. alwaysLearning says:

    Great article and love the site. You are doing good work here.

  19. Daniel says:

    Great article!
    I was wondering: should muscle gain be expected on whatever deficit as long as the weight lifting stimulus is present or is there a limit as to how big the deficit can be while still allowing for muscle gain?
    Like your client on what deficit he was? 15% Would a 25%-30% deficit stop the muscle gains?


  20. Yon says:


    Thanks for this excellent article and for your scientifically-informed, and skeptical approach to bodybuilding. From your physique, it’s obvious that you know what you’re doing ;)

    I’m hoping that you could offer me some expert advice in relation to the topic of your article. I’m a 44 year old male and have been lifting weights consistently for 10 years, but only training properly with higher frequency and increasing intensity for the past year. I train hard 3x week (2 upper, 1 lower).

    My diet involves calorie cycling (slight surplus of 200-300 cal on training days, and equivalent deficit on rest days). I just leaned down to about 12% BF (or so I estimate) and hope to recomp, which according to your article is both theoretically and practically possible at maintenance calories.

    My question is: is this the most time-efficient approach to adding lean body mass and minimizing or reducing body fat, or should I instead attempt a lean bulk followed by a cut? If the latter, do you recommend short bulk/cut cycles (a la Norton) or longer duration cycles (e.g., on the order of 6 months)? I am stuck in a rut deciding what is the best course of action for me and I would hate to waste months or years spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. At 44, I have to use my time wisely!

    Thanks in advance for your help and keep up the excellent work!

  21. Mike says:

    Since muscle gain in a deficit should be expected, is a traditional lean bulk/cut cycle even worth it for optimizing muscle growth for someone who doesn’t compete?

    Say someone has >5 years of training under their belt. Muscle already comes incredibly slowly. Why waste time bulking/cutting when you can just maintain your lean bodyweight, focus on gym performance/strength, and make slow n steady physique progress as time goes on? You can look how you want 100% of the year instead of 20% of it while still making optimal muscle progression.

  22. Zack says:

    Great article Menno,
    Very informative and good evidence base.

    I had a question: what macros would you suggest for a 17 year male (168cm and 62kgs training for a little over one and half year) old weight training 6 days a weeek in order to get best body recomposition results.
    Thank you

  23. Erik says:

    Menno, I’m a big fan of eating one big meal a day for losing fat and maintaining muscle. Is it also possible to build muscle this way, assuming I get sufficient calories and protein in this meal? Why would or wouldn’t it be?

  24. Ben says:


    If I understand correctly, this means that I could be losing weight and gain muscle at the same time?

    Thank you

  25. Saif says:

    Hi Menno, thank you for this article! This myth has been very detrimental for me, and ever since I discovered your work, I’ve seen much better results!

    In one of your interviews you mentioned that you bulked for 8 months and cut for 4 months. Is this because even though you can loose fat and gain muscle at the same time, it’s more effective to do them separately? Or are there other reasons?

    Many thanks

    • Those time frames just happened to fit my goals. You can’t cut forever (you’d die) and as an elite trainee, you’re not going to maximize muscle mass without ever bulking.

      • YF says:

        Ok Menno, now I’m really confused! Earlier you said that ‘you are not going to maximize muscle mass without ever bulking’. Later you say that training while eating at maintenance ‘can be [a viable strategy], but it’s not always optimal’. And now above you suggest that one can make gains while eating at maintenance or in a deficit- but that it is the *rate* of muscle growth that is different.

        So, let me ask you about this scenario: Suppose I have 1-2 years of consistent weight-training under my belt and I don’t want to subject myself to unpleasant cutting cycles. Instead, I eat at maintenance (let’s say I am currently at 12% bf) and continue training with progressive overload. In principle, over the course of my training career, is it possible for me to achieve the same gains as one who repeatedly bulks and cuts, though it will simply take longer?

        Thanks in advance for clarifying this for me.

  26. Tyler says:

    Hey Menno, by logical extension could viable option for muscle building be to just diet to your preferred fat level and then just eat at maintenance rather than a caloric surplus while increasing performance in the gym. This would allow you to look good 365 days a year while still making gains. Is this a viable strategy for someone concerned with staying lean while building muscle, even if muscle gain is slower?

  27. Arthur PNL says:

    Hi Menno ! Great article. One thing is bothering me now, if we can gain muscle on a cut, why would be ever need to be in a caloric surplus ? Can’t we just stay at maintenance calories / slight deficit and recomp for the rest of our lives ?

  28. Z says:

    Hey Menno,
    Great article, I had recently gained muscle and lost fat for a short while but I couldn’t mentally stay on a deficit. I’ll try that one more time. Could you please write a informative article on SARMS (LGD 4033)
    Thank you and keep up the good work

  29. Christoph says:

    Hi Menno,

    my name is Christoph and I am a software engineer and like your cientific approach, because that’s exactly what I have been looking for the last years, to find better answers to many questions in muscle building/cutting/bulking/recomp, etc. … to know how it is working and why and when, and when not.

    Personally, without looking at cientific papers, I was always wondering how it can be true that some say that’s impossible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, while others like Mark Rippetoe in his “Starting Strength”- Program train hundreds of people that start out “fat” and nearly all of them terminate lean and muscular if you believe his book. So I was wondering how that can be true if building muscle and losing fat at the same time is not possible. Maybe it would be a good idea of a podcast between you and him to discuss exactly that with his personal prove from this experience, just an idea.

    Nevertheless, because of thinking logically and liking a rational approach, I am very interested in how it is possible … and the main question here I think is the time frame of WHEN you define, that muscle grow and fat is lost, simultanously. … Many make the mistake of looking at days as the smallest interval of time, while the body is not discrete but more like an analog curve of surplus/deficit and moreover, the body itself is not discrete, so it needs to be devided also into is single units … fat depots and muscles, and much more, also analog and not discrete…. there I think is the misunderstanding and the reason for the misunderstanding, also in my personal thinking I always make the same mistake.

    I understand that you do not want to answer all questions in detail and some you already answered that way that I think I understand what is meant … but since I like the cientific way I do not like interpretation :-), so I will try to question a few things again and would kindly appreciate your answers. I know you don’t have to and your course would explain it probably more in detail, and I would like to visit it some day, but nevertheless I would be interested in some specific questions here in this case.

    1) Considering the time frame not as discrete days, but smaller units .. lets say seconds … is it really that the body can build muscle at the same second as it removes fat on some other end of the body to get the energy ? Or is something like calorie cycling necessary to lose fat and gain muscle with a view of a bigger time interval, where muscle is built after eating, when surplus is existing (when also a little bit of fat is again stored), and then on other days/hours this additional fat, and some fat even more, is then lost by using a deficit ?
    2) Maybe I am wrong, and I am not a medic, but I was always thinking that muscles are built during the night, during sleep … which would be impossible, when no muscle building would be possible during a deficit, because during the night the body is in a caloric deficit, at least towards the end, and fat is lost, while muscle is built. Right ? so every night already proves that muscle building and losing fat at the same time is possible, right ? Again here the question, does this happen during the same seconds or does muscle building happen at the beginning, when still in a surplus from the last meal, and fat losing more towards the end, or can it really be used simultanously, which would also be very plausible, because why should the body wait to remove fat. Probably the body would start removing fat when there is no energy anymore from food .. question is, can it then still be in an anabolic environment, without the surplus anymore from food, to build muslce in the exact same timeframe, while simultanously removing fat on some other end ?
    3) I think I interpreted that from your answers above, but just to make sure I understood you right and do not interpret something wrong:
    a) Muscle building during reomp is slower then during a bigger surplus ?
    b) Because of being slower, it makes sense to use it in trainees that are already closer to their muscular potential ? Because anyway not that muscle can grow anymore ?
    c) Was the person in the example in a slight deficit, maintenance, or slight
    surplus (I would suspect a slight surplus maybe in average – where not all energy for muscle building was taken from food but also from fat, and calorie cycling with big surplus after meals and bigger deficits the more far away from training sessions, because then muscle building is more or less finished and not impaired)
    d) Is it also possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time (during a week), without caloric cycling, so e.g. the person eats 6 meals a day, always distributed the same, always with the same calories in average. Would a person then build the same amount of muscle or is it necessary to create deficits on some days to lose some fat during other times, and actually build muscle after meals, so during other times, which then means, that looking at smaller time intervals, hours, whatever, muscle growth and losing fat actually not happens simultanously.

    Kind regards and thanks very much for your answers,

    I’d appreciate that a lot.


    • That’s quite the wall of text, heh. I’m afraid we’d have to do a consultation if you want to go into detail on all of that. I receive too many messages to help everyone otherwise.

  30. joe santus says:

    A, perhaps obvious caveat, regarding genetic limits…

    If an individual who’s progressively trained long enough to have already ceilinged his/her (PED-free) muscle mass potential is currently sustaining that maximum genetic mass, then he/she indeed is one of a group who cannot gain muscle while losing fat at the same time.

  31. Blayne says:

    Hey Menno,

    For someone who is 13-15% bf and really struggles with getting and staying leaner than that, would good option be to just eat at maintenance while focusing on training progression while staying at a stable bodyweight? Would this lead to slow but steady improvements in body comp if I’m not in a net surplus or deficit but have a great training program and sufficient protein intake? I’m not advanced or super lean so my thought is eating maintenance while training properly would result in changes to lbm and fat mass but at very slow rates. Is this thought correct?

  32. YF says:


    Could you please comment on the circumstances under which you think staying at maintenance would be the correct course of action? For instance, if one is going on vacation for 2 weeks and expects to be away from the gym during that time, would the best option be to go to maintenance for the duration? Or should one continue being in a surplus or deficit depending on whether they are bulking or cutting, respectively? Thanks for your insight.

    • Maintenance rarely ever is the optimal course of action, unless no body composition change is desirable or possible.

      • YF says:

        Thanks very much for the reply, Menno.

        I’m a bit confused by your answer, however. If one can build muscle in a caloric deficit (as you have suggested), it seems reasonable to assume that one can also build muscle at maintenance (and perhaps even more so), so body composition change is indeed possible at maintenance, provided one is able to progress in the gym. What am I missing here?

  33. Hans says:

    Hello Menno,

    My goal is to have visible abs, but there’s one problem I’m struggling with. While I lean out as expected, my face is getting too skinny. It looks like shit. I know there’s no such like spot reduction. Do you have any advice on how to avoid/counteract this?

    Your writing is one of the best in the industry. Thank you for the great information!

    • Nothing you can do about that I’m afraid. Note that often sleep deprivation, stress and lack of orange tint (due to lack of vitamin A in the diet) are what makes a face appear gaunt though. Normally facial aesthetics improve when leaning out. It varies per person of course though.

  34. Gourav says:

    Hay Meno!
    I have learned alot from u so thanks for that first.
    I have a confusion…I hope you will clear that….So I read some where that our body has certain tendency to use energy from fat stores in a day…Let’s say my bofy is capable of taking 600cal of energy from fat in a day based on my body fat percentage….So if I create a deficit of 400 cal then my body will lose around 350g of fat and now we know that our body still has the capability to take another 200 cal of energy from fat so as u r saying our body can use this energy to build muscle provided we r giving proper protein and proper training stimulus to force adaptations…..So even if our body uses that 200 cal to gain muscle then our body should show a decrease in scale weight by 350g because 200 cal of energy used to build muscle equals 200 cal of energy taken from fat stores….I dn knw whether I am 100% wrong till this point but if i am then please correct me….So how the weight of ur client that u showed above did not change at all?….u said the diff in weighyvwas only 8g….I completely agree that he gained 3kg of muscle and lost same amount of fat …but how the scale did not change?….I hope you will reply…..Thanks!

  35. Mert says:

    How many calories can I decrease to gain muscle and burn fat at the same time? (By the way I dont understand why my comment has not been approved under the article 1gr protein myth but i hope i will get an answer for this question thanks in advance)

    • You can in theory gain muscle eating pretty much nothing but protein and thus be in extreme energy deficit.

      • YF says:

        Yes, but eventually, as you reach lower body fat levels, you will hit a plateau in your training progress which will require you too eat more calories in order to increase muscle mass further. You can’t synthesize new muscle out of nothing. Unless you are overweight and new to training, or consuming more calories than you burn, progress will be extremely slow to non-existent.

  36. Aziz says:

    Please keep up the good work Menno. Many thanks for sharing & explaining.

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