You Don't Need A Caloric Surplus To Build Muscle

Discussion in 'Hypertrophy-Specific Training (HST)' started by Old and Grey, Oct 18, 2019.

  1. Old and Grey

    Old and Grey Super Moderator Staff Member

    I'm getting bored here. Time to start some controversy.

    As per Christian Thibaudeau:

    "Yes, you read that right. The "evidence-based" coaches will want to destroy me, but I have science to back me up when I say that you don't need extra calories to build muscle. In fact, a caloric surplus isn't even a main variable when it comes to building muscle. It's only indirectly involved.

    A couple of years ago, Dr. Stuart Phillips and a group of capable scientists from McMaster's University recruited two groups of 20 men. Both groups were assigned a diet that gave them a 40% caloric deficit per day over 4 weeks. (All of their meals were given to them, so it was well controlled.)

    One group had a daily protein intake of 1.2g/kg (0.54g per pound, so about 108 grams for a 200-pound man) and the second group received about twice as much protein, or 2.4g/kg (1.1g per pound, so about 220 grams for a 200-pound man).

    All of the men lifted 4 days a week and did sprints 2 days a week. After 4 weeks, both groups lost a significant amount of fat (around 3.5kg or 7.7 pounds). The low protein group lost a small amount of muscle while the high protein group actually GAINED some muscle. (1)

    Clearly, protein is the nutritional key necessary for muscle growth, and not a calorie surplus."

    Reference Cited: Thomas M Longland, Sara Y Oikawa, Cameron J Mitchell, Michaela C Devries, and Stuart M Phillips. "Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2016.

    See the whole article at Testosterone Nation if interested.
    _Simon_ and NWlifter like this.
  2. mikeynov

    mikeynov Super Moderator Staff Member

    Full text of the study in question in O&G's post above in case anyone is interested.

    Strictly speaking, I think it's pretty clear you don't need a caloric surplus to gain muscle. And protein (leucine in particular) seems super duper important with respect to gaining muscle. Though as per this Menno article, the preponderance of evidence tends to show that you get all the bang for your buck usually by ~1.6 grams per kg of bodyweight, a far cry from the ~1+ grams of protein per lb of bodyweight that's often recommended.

    I personally see this as an issue of genetic ceiling and anabolic sensitivity. In the study above, for example:

    So noobs. Young noobs, at that, who are primed for growth. Note also that one group was below that ~1.6 g per kg threshold, and the other was above it.

    I think the further you are from your limits, the easier it is to grow. So for relative novices, gaining muscle while losing fat isn't particularly difficult, particularly if you crank up the protein. But the longer you've been lifting and the more muscle you've added, I think this gets a lot harder in practice. E.g. if you've been training a long time and attempt to get very lean, even hanging onto the muscle you have can be very difficult, and I'm sure many around here have had this experience at some point.

    A different way of looking at this is that, if your combination of diet and training aren't resulting in growth, you need to do stuff to increase anabolic signaling, which would include some combination of:

    1) Increasing training volume (number of "hard" sets)
    2) Increasing calories generally
    3) Increasing protein in particular
    4) Maybe even strategically decondition to resensitize yourself to the stimulus
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2019
  3. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Active Member

    Awesome, love it :). It is a fascinating topic... and yeah it is possible there is a certain ceiling for just relying on protein like @mikeynov said. But really cool food for thought, a good reminder as protein is the one thing that I struggle to get enough of and can easily find ways to increase the other macros.

    And 1.6g/kg, I was wondering what the current standard was!
  4. Old and Grey

    Old and Grey Super Moderator Staff Member

    We all know that a caloric surplus will help build muscle. It also builds fat. My questions is more along the lines of can one who has 10-20 pounds of fat around the stomach somehow use that already stored fat and build muscle without eating a surplus of calories? I have some small love handles that nothing short of starvation will allow me to lose them but I would also use a significant amount of muscle. Do I have to skinny down to 150 pounds and start all over with a small caloric surplus that could take years to get back to my current size without the love handles? There must be some way to substitute that stored fat instead of eating more calories. (I know that you cannot turn fat into muscle and that is not what I am trying to explore.)
  5. Old and Grey

    Old and Grey Super Moderator Staff Member

  6. NWlifter

    NWlifter Active Member

    I've thought about that too and am the same as you, I am sure your right.
    If my current 'maintenance' is keeping me like this, it 'would be' a surplus, IF I was eating less and super lean. So I'm already on a bulk so to speak.
  7. Jester

    Jester Well-Known Member

    The more body fat you have as a calorie resource, the less exogenous surplus calories you need to build muscle.

    The leaner and more trained you are, the closer you are to the threshold of requiring a surplus.

    I think it’s important for people to understand that their physiological responses will vary over time, as they, the subject, vary their state as a result of changing exercise and diet.

    What I did to get to a 200kg deadlift is very different to what I did to get to a 300kg deadlift.

    What I did to add the first 10kgs of muscle will likely to be different to the next 10kgs.

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