T Nation

'Truth About Lean Bulking', How Much Bodyfat?


Good morning Christian, I would like to start off by saying how I appreciate your articles and the way they are written. They’re not only for immortals but also for normal people. Not everyone is a hulk, so thank you for your great advice and tips.

One of these articles us the Truth about lean bulking. Where you talk about getting near 10% body fat and from there add 250 calories in surplus to your maintenance needs a say.

My question how far would you let body fat rise? Between which far percentages do you try to stay? Because in the article you write that a natural lifter never should exceed 10%, but this seems difficult because you always gain a little fat with every kg of muscle.

Thank you for clarifying this for me. My current situation is 1.77m, 69,2kg, 10% body fat, still in a calorie deficit at 2260kcal, working out 5 times a week. I’ve been eating clean and working hard in the gym since June 2015 when I was 17,7% body fat at 77kg. I look a lot leaner now but no full six pack yet.

Thank you for your feedback.


Yeah, that might have been a bit optimistic. Mostly because at the time my experience with being measured always underestimated my true fat percentage. For example one of my friend who is solid coach otherwise measured me at 4.1% which I was, to my estimation, about 10-12lbs from really being in good shape.

I will also admit that at the time Charles Poliquin was my greatest influence and he is the one who talked about a guy never needing to be higher than 10%, so I ran with that figure.

That having been said I believe that a true 12% body fat is reasonably easy to maintain IF you are fairly lean to start with.

It really is an individual thing. Take someone who has been in the 20s% all his life… he diet down hard to finally reach 10%. Well, for that guy maintaining 10% will be much harder than for someone who has never been above 10-12% his whole life… the body will strive to get back to its natural set-point. If you’ve been 20% for 10 years and 10% for 1 month guess where your set-point will be?

So for that guy it might be acceptable to get up to 14-15% when trying toi build a lot of muscle. But the longer he stays lean, the lower his set-point can become.

So if he goes down to 10% it is expected that his BF will go up a bit when trying toi build muscle. But he should definetly avoid going back up as high as it was… the goal over time would be that each “cut/gain” cycle would leave his BF percentage slighlt lower than the preceding one, gradually adjusting his set-point down.

Another element to consider is what are you comfortable with? Some people do not mind being 15% body fat, while others freak out if they get over 9%. I think that it is important never to reach a point where you do not like what you see.

Finally, the easier it is for you to lose fat (physically and psychologically) the less problematic it is if you gain fat because you know you’ll have no problem melting it off when needed. If losing fat is very hard for you, if it is slow and psychologically draining then it is best to avoid pilling on too much of it.

Take me for example… while losing fat is not that hard for me, I tend to lose muscle relatively fast when I diet down. So if I have to diet down for more than 4 weeks to get the leanness I want, I know I will lose muscle. So I need to avoid adding too much fat.

A friend of mine and pro bodybuilder is amazing when dieting, he is a robot, never strays aways from his diet until the job is done and has a very stable muscle mass. He competes at 205lbs but goes up to 245lbs off-season because he knows he wont have trouble dieting it off.


Thank you very much Christian, I really appreciate your advice and tips :+1:

I think it’s like you say, these things are very specific to a persons built, training and response to diet. On top of this, like you say, a measurement by one coach @10% isn’t necessarily a true 10%.

So summing it up for me, I think I’ll just try to diet down further until I see a full six pack (which was what I wanted to begin with). I’m now only seeing the top two rows, so I still have a bit of work to do. When I then finally reach the full sixh pack, which will probably be around 8%, I can start building muscle by lean bulking between 8% and 12% at a maximum. I guess a 4% range is ideal.

My current coach does the adjustments to the diet gradually. Each month only a difference of a 100 calories up or down. I guess that’s why it takes such a long time to get from 10% to 8% and it’s not done in 4 weeks. Of course, I could always ask to be a bit more drastically and use increments/decrements of 250 calories at a time.

Bur first things first, getting to the 8% and finally see a full six pack would make me happy. So let’s go for that :sunglasses:

Thanks again! It’s really great being able to ask a question to a true professional.

Have a nice day :slight_smile:

Rymon Log of Lifting

Hey, not to hijack the thread but my question is in the same vein. I was down to 13% and started a PL program and ate to get stronger. I’ve gained weight, about equal parts fat and LBM and am now about 15.5%. I want to get down to 12% but keep as much LBM as possible. Should I maintain where I am at for a while or start cutting slowly right away?


Your hypothetical “lifetime 20%'er” describes me to a T in real life. No one in my extended family has ever seen their abs without a thoracotomy.

I am curious, how do your recommendations apply to “hard losers” - folks who really struggle to get close to 12% BF?

Using T-Nation programs since 2007, I have dropped my weight down by about 22kg (107kg to under 85kg at height of 173cm) while adding to my clean, snatch, and press. Unfortunately, I had two surgeries, both w/ post-op complications. I was back to ~20% BF and >100cm waistline within about 6 weeks. It took a year to get my waist back to 86-87cm each time.

My body REBELS as I push toward the low teens. I become sympathetic-dominant - frequent colds, digestive stuff, body temp, poor sleep, etc. I’ve been working for almost 9 years to start a lean gain.

My last 3 experiments with reverse dieting have lead to fast fat gain, if longer than 2 weeks. I am back to 23kcal/kg for maintenance eating. I don’t make progress toward leanness until I cut carbs below 100g/day. I just don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.

Aside from synthetic hormones, any suggestions? (TRT is the advice I get from forums here and trainers, etc.) Have you had others you’ve coached that have “sticky” set points?


Very useful article and motivating advice indeed.
For the moment @13-14%BF and not knowing whether to diet down or have access calories to build muscle. I guess I want it both like everybody.
After reading this article I now realise I have to go down to <10% to have the results I work for.
I use Indigo-3G, Plazma and Mag-10 since 1 month and gained 1kg since then at same BF%.

I workout 3 times a week (full body, compound movements, testosterone stimulating 6x6 plans as described on t-nation, with on some off-days bonus workouts with HI-complexes, again as described…)

Being 172cm, 69kg and 13-14%BF today, should I still diet a calory deficit to get leaner?
Or a small calory excess to built muscle, which will burn the extra fat?

Would adding a fat burner (Hot-Rox) be useful?

Another question:
do I have to count the calories that come in the peri-workout (2servings Plazma and 1serving Mag-10)? Or do those equal out the calories burnt by the 60 minute workout?

Thanks for your input!


And 2 more questions:

  • How does Indigo-3G change this anyway? Does it allow one to eat more calories in carbs while still dieting down? Or does it only work in muscle building calory excess phases?
  • I am 41yo (working out since 25years). It seams harder to get / be lean getting older. A lot of people talk about hormonal changes, etc… Any good article or advice on this?