This is a popular topic because most people want to build muscle but don’t want to get fat. That’s everyone’s goal right? However, building muscle and gaining weight requires us to be in a caloric surplus, and inevitably if you’re gaining weight and muscle, you’ll likely be gaining some body fat as well. This begs the question, “how lean can we stay, while trying to put on muscle?”
This isn’t the answer most will want to hear, and that “it depends.” Everybody is different and when it comes to body composition, building muscle, losing fat etc… Everyone is genetically preset differently. There are some people who will stay ripped and lean no matter how much they eat. While others will gain a significant amount of body fat just by eating in a 400 calorie surplus. This means that there is a spectrum of how much body fat one needs to gain in order to efficiently gain muscle tissue.
If the goal is to gain muscle as efficiently as possible, then we want to find our optimal body fat range in order to do that. Finding that range comes down to trial and error, and it could take a while to figure that out. (less time if you have a coach) As a guideline anywhere from 12-18% body fat for males is usually where most bodybuilders will reside in an offseason setting in order to pack on as much muscle as possible. As previously mentioned there are outliers that stay leaner, if they already have most of the muscle size needed. While some get heavier if they need to gain a significant amount of muscle. Keep in mind staying in single digit body fat % 's will likely slow down the rate of gain for the average individual. Conversely, gaining too much body fat will make the dieting process to remove the extra body fat gain longer and more difficult.
Going off body fat % 's and scale weight will be helpful in this process, but using the mirror and progress pictures will also be a main tool in this. Comparing progress pictures from week to week and seeing if you’re looking bigger in terms of muscle or more body fat gain will be key to finding your sweet spot. (Another time a coach will come in handy.) As much as we would like this to be an exact science, it isn’t, and the best we can do is gather as much data and use as many tools that we have at our disposal.
The goal is to gain muscle as efficiently as possible, not just to gain a bunch of weight. You should be conscious of your body composition when bulking or in an offseason setting, but you shouldn’t let it impede your efforts. Staying too lean will draw out the muscle building process, while bulking too hard will make stripping the fat off later much more difficult. Focus on finding your sweet spot when gaining muscle, and don’t compare yourself to others, or what you see on social media.
As always if you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out @firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram @mattgoz9