So you want to build muscle, but keep hearing that you should get lean first.
Is that BS?
Not really, but there’s nuance behind the practice.
Gurus often say you have to be lean before you try to add muscle. Some even give targets, like under 10% body fat.
Why? Broadly speaking, the leaner you get, the more insulin-sensitive you are. This leads to better nutrition partitioning with surplus calories/carbs preferentially “shuttled” towards muscle cells vs. fat cells.
Conversely, the fatter you are, the opposite is commonly true—with extra energy shifted more towards fat storage.
Now, I am generalizing—BIG TIME—but that’s the gist of it.
Here’s where the nuance creeps in.
First, you CAN build muscle in a modest calorie deficit. Your body will make up the energy shortfall from stored body fat.
Sure, it’s not as effective as building muscle in a calorie surplus, and for the experienced lifter, it’s a slow process.
But it happens—especially for those new to training.
My clients do it all the time.
Next, most people I work with just want to look better, and the most visually impactful thing you can do with a physique is drop excess body fat.
It also happens FAST.
You can lose 25 pounds of fat in 3-4 months and look much better—even improve key health markers.
Building muscle, on the other hand, is slow, and the mass you can add in 3-4 months of focused training will seldom be as visually impactful.
This is why I might put someone who hires me to add muscle through a quick fat loss phase FIRST—not only to restore insulin sensitivity but also to extend the muscle-building runway.
‘Cause if you start a muscle-building phase on the chubby side, you not only add more fat than is optimal, you also reach the “uncomfortably chubby and can’t fit in my pants” stage much sooner.
Lastly, as a coach, I’ve learned that success is driven by consistency and compliance–qualities underpinned by structure and good habits.
And frankly, NOTHING teaches these essential skills better than a strict fat-loss phase.
If the goal is to build a big, beautiful home, you must first pour a solid foundation.
– Coach Bryan