“I want to build muscle but I keep reading that I should get lean first or it won’t work. Is that just BS?”
It depends on the physical state of the person (how fat they are), their goals, and even some non-physical factors.
The internet gurus say you have to be lean before you assertively eat to add muscle, even giving hard targets like “under 10% body fat, otherwise you need to lose fat first.”
Typically the leaner you are, the more insulin sensitive you are, which means better nutrition partitioning. So surplus calories/carbs get shuttled towards muscle cells as opposed to fat cells. You get more jacked.
Conversely, the fatter you are, the opposite takes effect. Extra energy gets shifted more towards fat cells. You get fatter.
Generalizing big time, but that’s the gist. So what’s the problem?
First, the whole separate phases thing is a red herring. You CAN build muscle in a modest calorie deficit. Your body will use your body fat as fuel to synthesize new muscle tissue.
Now, it’s not nearly as effective as building muscle in a big calorie surplus. And if you’re an experienced lifter it’s REALLY slow. But it happens. My clients do it all the time, especially if they’re relatively new to training or re-gaining muscle they already had.
Next, most people I work with just want to look better, and that typically means fat loss. Because the most visually impactful thing you can do with a physique is drop excess body fat.
Good thing is it happens FAST. You can lose 10-30 pounds of fat in 3-4 months and look much better and even have better health markers.
Building muscle on the other hand is slow. What you derive from 3-4 months of dedicated muscle building simply isn’t as visually impactful.
For packing on muscle, you gotta look in terms of YEARS. But interestingly, the slow rate of progress is one of several reasons why I often put folks who hire me to add muscle through a quick fat loss phase: to restore aforementioned insulin sensitivity but also to extend their muscle building runway.
If you start a muscle building phase on the chubby side you not only add more fat than optimal, you also reach the “uncomfortably chubby & can’t fit my pants” stage much sooner (i.e. when its gotta end!)
So the longer you can extend a muscle building phase and stay healthy, lean, and insulin sensitive, the more successful you’ll be.
Finally, as a coach, success is driven by consistency and compliance. These qualities are supported by structure and habits.
And NOTHING teaches those essential psychological skills like a strict fat loss diet.
Even if the goal is to build a big beautiful mansion, you first have to dig into the earth and pour a solid foundation.
– Coach Bryan