How to Gain Muscle Mass (but not Body Fat)

By Melania Armento

Published 10 September 2020

If you’re ready to put on some serious muscle, but are nervous about gaining body fat along with it, you aren’t alone. A common concern, especially for women, when it comes to gaining muscle is the increased body fat percentage that generally comes along with it.

While it is extremely difficult not to gain any body fat while gaining muscle mass, that doesn’t mean you can’t work to keep it as low as possible.

There are a few different factors you will need to take into account when it comes to gaining mass, including your diet, your strength training, your recovery, your sleep hygiene, and more.

In this article we will get down into detail about how you can confidently work towards gaining muscle mass without gaining extra fat.

Diet for Muscle Gains

You already know that in order to make muscle gains you need to eat. In order for muscle growth to happen, you need to take in a sufficient amount of calories to power you through your workouts and help those muscles grow.

That alone can be scary for some of us, especially if we are worried about gaining fat. The main idea here is going to be to focus on foods that support your goals. This isn’t the time to demonize any food groups! A variety of healthy, nutrient dense foods like lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and the right amount of healthy fats are essential to support muscle growth.

This also means you will potentially need to shift the way you look at your diet from one of fat-loss foods to one of muscle-building foods. And don’t forget your water intake! Staying hydrated is important for muscle growth as well as many of your body’s most important processes. Strive to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day to support your goals.

Strength Training for Mass

If your aim is to build muscle, you are going to need to work out like you mean it. If you’ve fed your body for muscle growth, now it’s time to step into the gym and train. Make sure you have a solid workout plan in place that encourages progressive overload.

Full-body workouts are great for muscle gains. Focus on compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once.
You’ll benefit here by working harder, burning more calories, and challenging various muscle groups at the same time. Make your workouts count by using weights that challenge you in order to build muscle. 8-10 reps feeling too easy?

Don’t just go through the motions- add more weight, try for more reps, or switch up the tempo of your reps (faster, slower, add in holds, etc). Push past any fears of lifting heavier and don’t underestimate your abilities!

Cardio for Muscle Gains

Contrary to popular belief, cardio isn’t necessary for fat loss or muscle gain, as diet and strength training alone are the two most important factors. That being said, many people enjoy cardio and if that’s you, by all means keep doing it!

Cardio does burn calories and it has heart and mental benefits as well. When you’ve got muscle gains to make, however, stick with low-impact cardio, don’t do it more than 1-2x per week, and definitely don’t do it before your strength training workout.

Rest, Recovery, Sleep. Repeat

Believe it or not, rest and recovery are a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to gains! Your body needs rest days in order for your muscles to grow and it needs an adequate amount of sleep in order to reset itself and to better recover from exercise.

Sleep is as important to your muscle gains as is consuming enough nutrients. When you’ve had a quality night’s sleep you are able to perform better in the gym with better coordination, more energy and at a higher intensity.

Step Away from the Scale

It can be super tempting to weigh yourself constantly when you’re trying to gain mass without gaining body fat. But it’s important to remember that the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Instead, focus on progress photos, your body measurements or even the differences in your favorite pair of jeans. These are much better ways of checking on progress and they help you to let go of the number on the scale.

Finally, remember that muscle requires more energy and because of this, more muscle on your body burns more calories than fat does. The harder you work for those muscle gains, the better your metabolism and caloric expenditure will be, helping you keep your body fat down in the long run. Keep the above tips in mind as you train and eat to gain mass, and you will be rewarded with muscle growth without a ton of extra body fat gain!

Melania Armento

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