Bodybuilding Nutrition for Fat-Free Muscle Mass

Q: You seem to know a lot about bodybuilding nutrition so I guess you are a good one to ask this question. I am currently trying to put on as much lean fat-free muscle mass as possible. I want grow and expand while staying cut and ripped (no excess bodyfat). I was wondering, how should my caloric intake for a non-gym (rest) day differ from my caloric intake for a workout day? I would figure it would be lower but I have no clue.

Lyle McDonald: First let me say that, in general, I think it’s nearly impossible to gain lean body mass withou gaining at least some bodyfat. The reason is purely hormonal. To be optimally anabolic, you need moderate to high levels of insulin which impacts on protein synthesis, carb storage and (unfortunately) fat storage. It just seems that individuals who try to stay lean year round (either by doing cardio all the time or too meticulously counting calories) tend not to get much bigger from year to year. now I’m not saying that you should bulk up and get fat as hell while you’re gaining mass, just that trying to stay too lean may compromise mass gains. I use a cutoff point of about 10% bodyfat for male bodybuilders. Basically go on a mass phase until you hit 10% bodyfat, then cut back down to 7-8% then build back up. By doing this over the last 2 years, I’ve put on about 25 lbs of lean body mass while staying below 10% bodyfat. Not ripped but still lean.

Now that I’ve bored you to death with my philosophy, I’ll actually answer your question: I don’t know. Understand that the caloric reqirements for muscle gain have been poorly studied. We know that a pound of muscle contains something like 600-700 calories but it’s gonna take far more calories than that to cover protein synthesis, etc. Additionally, even during rest days, depending on your training structure, you may still be synthesizing muscle tissue. Protein synthesis stays elevated at least 36 hours after training and I’m willing to bet it stays up even longer. When you consider that it may take a muscle 4-7 days to recover from heavy training, I’m a bit leery of cutting calories during the recovery days since that may compromise growth. So if you’re training even twice a week, I think you will benefit from keeping calories above maintenance most days of the week. This will mean that you gain some bodyfat but I think you will grow better.

Gary Strydom - Bodybuilding Nutrition

Photo credit: Muscletime

About Lyle McDonald

Lyle McDonald is the author of the Ketogenic Diet as well as the Rapid Fat Loss Handbook and the Guide to Flexible Dieting. He has been interested in all aspects of human performance physiology since becoming involved in competitive sports as a teenager. Pursuing a degree in Physiological Sciences from UCLA, he has devoted nearly 20 years of his life to studying human physiology and the science, art and practice of human performance, muscle gain, fat loss and body recomposition.