Can You Build Muscle on Maintenance Calories?

Hypertrophy and Caloric Intake

Do you have to gain fat to build muscle? Can you build muscle while eating at maintenance level? Here’s what you need to know.

Can you build muscle eating maintenance-level calories? Yes! Let’s talk about it.

The Bullet Points

  • To build muscle, you need a stimulus (training), the anabolic processes to trigger protein synthesis, and the nutrients to fuel workouts and provide the bricks for building muscle.

  • “Maintenance” refers to the number of calories you need to stay at your current level of “fatness” or body weight.

  • You can absolutely build muscle on a maintenance diet. However, being in a calorie surplus makes muscle building easier – you’re getting more protein and carbs.

  • Eating more food increases the anabolic response. More food increases insulin, IGF-1, and MTOR activation while decreasing cortisol. That’s why gaining muscle in a caloric deficit is very hard.

  • Remember, the muscle-building process is already slow once you’re past the beginner stage. Building half a pound of pure muscle in a month (as a natural) is pretty darn good. At maintenance-level calories, this process may be slower, fooling you into believing you’re not gaining muscle even if you are.

  • For more details, check out The Bulking Diet: Necessary or Nonsense?

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