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    Building muscle at maintenance or just go in to a surplus?

    Hi, is it actually possible to change your body composition significantly at maintenance or is it just best to eat at a slight surplus I’ve asked on the forums before about what I should personally do but I’ve done some looking around and I get very mixed answers.
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    Its possible, but its also painfully slow, you also need to have a high enough bodyfat percentage to fuel muscle gains. The margin for error with this method is slim and unless you're doing things absolutely right its easy to just spin your wheels.

    Generally people have better (and faster) results with traditional alternating cuts and bulks, but the downside of these things is its easy to get carried away on the bulking side of things. It doesn't take a large surplus to build muscle, usually no more than 2 lbs a month, and thats really only as a new lifter in your first year or so of training.
    All it takes is consistency, effort, proper nutrition, good programming, and TIME.
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    I’ve built everything on maintenance. Is it slower? Folks say it is, but I’ve never bulked/cut so I don’t have any personal experience with that... but it would wreak havoc on my mental health, so here I am. Happy with my results, continuing to progress, and not in a race.
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    Originally Posted by Xpiro View Post
    I’ve built everything on maintenance. Is it slower? Folks say it is, but I’ve never bulked/cut so I don’t have any personal experience with that... but it would wreak havoc on my mental health, so here I am. Happy with my results, continuing to progress, and not in a race.
    I would ask: how did you gain muscle weight without ever increasing calories then?

    Maintenance is a constantly moving target, so if you only ever eat ‘at maintenance’, you could go a long long time not actually building muscle because the intake never changes.

    Someone who is 150lb doesn’t go to 170lb without a surplus of energy... you can’t build muscle from thin air.
    The power of carbs compels me!
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    Originally Posted by Damon628 View Post
    Hi, is it actually possible to change your body composition significantly at maintenance or is it just best to eat at a slight surplus I’ve asked on the forums before about what I should personally do but I’ve done some looking around and I get very mixed answers.
    Depends. Someone 20% body fat and new to lifting is a great candidate for gaining muscle at maintenance. The leaner and more advanced you are the more likely you're better off eating a surplus.

    What's your current weight and height? Do you have a recent picture?
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    I would ask: how did you gain muscle weight without ever increasing calories then?

    Maintenance is a constantly moving target, so if you only ever eat ‘at maintenance’, you could go a long long time not actually building muscle because the intake never changes.

    Someone who is 150lb doesn’t go to 170lb without a surplus of energy... you can’t build muscle from thin air.
    I'm guessing he is talking about staying as close to maintenance as possible, as "bulking" and "cutting" refer to more than 200 calories above or below maintenance in his eyes...

    Just speculation.
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    Originally Posted by Mrpb View Post
    Depends. Someone 20% body fat and new to lifting is a great candidate for gaining muscle at maintenance. The leaner and more advanced you are the more likely you're better off eating a surplus.

    What's your current weight and height? Do you have a recent picture?
    I’d say I’m at about the beginner stage with about 9 months lifting experience my lifts are:
    Bench-165lbs x5
    Deadlift- 230lbs x5
    OHP- 100lbs x5
    Squat- 200lbs x5

    Would maintenance be the best way forward for someone in my position? Tbh I’m not too fused about getting a little fatter I just want the most optimal route for the future, I don’t look like I lift at all and I feel if I cut I’ll end up looking terrible.
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    Originally Posted by Mrpb View Post
    Depends. Someone 20% body fat and new to lifting is a great candidate for gaining muscle at maintenance. The leaner and more advanced you are the more likely you're better off eating a surplus.

    What's your current weight and height? Do you have a recent picture?
    I’m 5ft 9” 174lbs I have a photo from about 2 weeks ago or something on my profile gallery I look exactly the same now.
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    Originally Posted by Damon628 View Post
    I’d say I’m at about the beginner stage with about 9 months lifting experience my lifts are:
    Bench-165lbs x5
    Deadlift- 230lbs x5
    OHP- 100lbs x5
    Squat- 200lbs x5

    Would maintenance be the best way forward for someone in my position? Tbh I’m not too fused about getting a little fatter I just want the most optimal route for the future, I don’t look like I lift at all and I feel if I cut I’ll end up looking terrible.
    The most important thing is that you eat enough calories, protein and fat in order to make consistent strength progress in the medium rep ranges.

    To give you a rough idea: if you can bench 220 pounds for 5 reps you'll probably look like you lift (on your upper body).

    Given that you're 18 years old and not overly fat I would suggest using a small surplus. Don't gain more than 1 or 2 pounds per month, otherwise you'll get fat too quickly.
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    Originally Posted by Mrpb View Post
    The most important thing is that you eat enough calories, protein and fat in order to make consistent strength progress in the medium rep ranges.

    To give you a rough idea: if you can bench 220 pounds for 5 reps you'll probably look like you lift (on your upper body).

    Given that you're 18 years old and not overly fat I would suggest using a small surplus. Don't gain more than 1 or 2 pounds per month, otherwise you'll get fat too quickly.
    200 calorie surplus?
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    Originally Posted by Damon628 View Post
    200 calorie surplus?
    Whatever amount makes you gain 1 or 2 pounds per month. You can only find that out by trying and observing what happens on the scale.

    Ideally you track your weight with a 7 day moving average. IOS app Happy Scale or Android Libra are handy.
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    Originally Posted by Mrpb View Post
    Whatever amount makes you gain 1 or 2 pounds per month. You can only find that out by trying and observing what happens on the scale.

    Ideally you track your weight with a 7 day moving average. IOS app Happy Scale or Android Libra are handy.
    Appreciate the help!
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    You will never be right at maintenance. People that gain "on Maintenance" are usually the ones that are in a very slight weekly surplus. It only takes a hundred or 200 over maintenance a day to have great results and VERY rarely will someone be able to be that accurate with counting and tracking and TDEE is changing day to day so you can see how maintenance is a very loose term.

    Watching your waist measurement is a good gauge of how to treat your weekly calories. Too much of an increase and you need to dial back weekly calories a bit.
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    You will never be right at maintenance. People that gain "on Maintenance" are usually the ones that are in a very slight weekly surplus. It only takes a hundred or 200 over maintenance a day to have great results and VERY rarely will someone be able to be that accurate with counting and tracking and TDEE is changing day to day so you can see how maintenance is a very loose term.

    Watching your waist measurement is a good gauge of how to treat your weekly calories. Too much of an increase and you need to dial back weekly calories a bit.
    Quick question sorta off topic, I’ve seen you around a few other forums whilst looking around on here and you seem very knowledgeable I’d love to hear your opinion on this Ik very popular question and I feel stupid asking it all the time but could you take a quick look at my photos on my profile and give a quick run down on what you would personally do regarding calories e.g surplus or deficit? Cheers
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    Originally Posted by Damon628 View Post
    Quick question sorta off topic, I’ve seen you around a few other forums whilst looking around on here and you seem very knowledgeable I’d love to hear your opinion on this Ik very popular question and I feel stupid asking it all the time but could you take a quick look at my photos on my profile and give a quick run down on what you would personally do regarding calories e.g surplus or deficit? Cheers
    you could go either way with either a deficit to drop some fat first or a slight surplus to add muscle.

    Either way you need to be training properly. Poor training in a deficit and muscle loss may happen and poor training in a surplus and extra weight can end up being almost all fat so attempting X Lbs a month of weight gain can end up being counter productive without correct training.

    Your choice of direction will be if you’d rather be leaner before going into a muscle adding phase or go straight into building. I’d add muscle.
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    you could go either way with either a deficit to drop some fat first or a slight surplus to add muscle.

    Either way you need to be training properly. Poor training in a deficit and muscle loss may happen and poor training in a surplus and extra weight can end up being almost all fat so attempting X Lbs a month of weight gain can end up being counter productive without correct training.

    Your choice of direction will be if you’d rather be leaner before going into a muscle adding phase or go straight into building. I’d add muscle.
    Appreciate the help! I’ve recently started fierce 5.
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    Originally Posted by Damon628 View Post
    Appreciate the help! I’ve recently started fierce 5.
    Excellent
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    I would ask: how did you gain muscle weight without ever increasing calories then?

    Maintenance is a constantly moving target, so if you only ever eat ‘at maintenance’, you could go a long long time not actually building muscle because the intake never changes.

    Someone who is 150lb doesn’t go to 170lb without a surplus of energy... you can’t build muscle from thin air.
    Well yeah, I increased my calories when my TDEE increased, and I knew because I was no longer making any progress. My weight has stayed the same despite adding about 200 cals over time, which is the goal.
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    Originally Posted by Xpiro View Post
    Well yeah, I increased my calories when my TDEE increased, and I knew because I was no longer making any progress. My weight has stayed the same despite adding about 200 cals over time, which is the goal.
    Right, but that's kind of my point... you had to wait until you stopped making progress until you increased calories, meaning for whatever that timeframe was, you were just kind of sitting and waiting.

    I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that if you want to give yourself the best chance for growth, then eat slightly more than you know you have to to maintain weight.

    Most likely, you will naturally burn off much of that targeted surplus through natural mechanisms which your body up-regulates to maintain bodyfat %... that includes building muscle.

    That's more of a 'bodyfat' maintenance, but not a bodyWEIGHT maintenance.



    Personally, I am of the opinion that everyone has a maintenance RANGE of calories, not one number. Personally, if I eat anywhere between 2900 and 3100 calories, I gain basically zero bodyweight... though over time I might be a tiny, TINY increase in muscle mass and strength because I'm operating at my high-end of the range at which my body wants to maintain fat mass. At that level, hunger is very predictable, no cravings, etc.

    However, once I start eating 3200-3300... I notice a big, BIG shift in gym performance, better sleep, energy, etc... that small bump in calories is just enough for my body to start prioritizing muscle gain, anabolic signalling, and even though the 'presumed' surplus is 100-200 calories, because of things like higher bodyheat, NEAT levels, more intense workouts, I still end up barely gaining any fat at all.

    For many of us, and I count myself in this camp, what you THINK is a decent surplus often ends up being barely enough to gain any weight, because we tend to adapt to energy surplus by being more liberal with our calorie burning... the more energy you put in, under the same conditions, the more energy you put out.

    I'd rather give myself the best possible chance for gaining muscle, because losing fat is easy AF.
    The power of carbs compels me!
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    Right, but that's kind of my point... you had to wait until you stopped making progress until you increased calories, meaning for whatever that timeframe was, you were just kind of sitting and waiting.

    I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that if you want to give yourself the best chance for growth, then eat slightly more than you know you have to to maintain weight.

    Most likely, you will naturally burn off much of that targeted surplus through natural mechanisms which your body up-regulates to maintain bodyfat %... that includes building muscle.

    That's more of a 'bodyfat' maintenance, but not a bodyWEIGHT maintenance.



    Personally, I am of the opinion that everyone has a maintenance RANGE of calories, not one number. Personally, if I eat anywhere between 2900 and 3100 calories, I gain basically zero bodyweight... though over time I might be a tiny, TINY increase in muscle mass and strength because I'm operating at my high-end of the range at which my body wants to maintain fat mass. At that level, hunger is very predictable, no cravings, etc.

    However, once I start eating 3200-3300... I notice a big, BIG shift in gym performance, better sleep, energy, etc... that small bump in calories is just enough for my body to start prioritizing muscle gain, anabolic signalling, and even though the 'presumed' surplus is 100-200 calories, because of things like higher bodyheat, NEAT levels, more intense workouts, I still end up barely gaining any fat at all.

    For many of us, and I count myself in this camp, what you THINK is a decent surplus often ends up being barely enough to gain any weight, because we tend to adapt to energy surplus by being more liberal with our calorie burning... the more energy you put in, under the same conditions, the more energy you put out.

    I'd rather give myself the best possible chance for gaining muscle, because losing fat is easy AF.
    I fully agree and almost think this comment should be stickied or written up as an article. So many people fail to grasp this concept.
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    Originally Posted by Strawng View Post
    I fully agree and almost think this comment should be stickied or written up as an article. So many people fail to grasp this concept.
    I'm actually going to be doing a little 'self-experiment' (started today actually) where I'm going to purposefully consume an extra 300 calories-400 per day over my 'satisfaction' level just to see what happens and if I basically just burn most of that off...

    I'll just eat to the same satiety level I am now (which is in a calorie range I'm fairly certain of), and just add a 300-400 calorie 'snack' at some point during the day... should be fun to see what kind of scale or gym changes happen. I highly suspect I'll just be hyper and fidgety all day... but I have several boxes of cereal I've been meaning to try, and a lot of baked stuff my mom's been giving me every week ;o). Good chance in this isolation state we have to get some home-made science in, hah!
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    Someone who is 150lb doesn’t go to 170lb without a surplus of energy... you can’t build muscle from thin air.
    Right, so that would be defined as a surplus.

    But he's saying he stayed the same weight. So someone starting at, for example, 170 lb 20% body fat ending up at 170 lb 10% body fat. That's what's commonly called 'maintenance' on the forums.
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    Right, but that's kind of my point... you had to wait until you stopped making progress until you increased calories, meaning for whatever that timeframe was, you were just kind of sitting and waiting.

    I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that if you want to give yourself the best chance for growth, then eat slightly more than you know you have to to maintain weight.

    Most likely, you will naturally burn off much of that targeted surplus through natural mechanisms which your body up-regulates to maintain bodyfat %... that includes building muscle.

    That's more of a 'bodyfat' maintenance, but not a bodyWEIGHT maintenance.



    Personally, I am of the opinion that everyone has a maintenance RANGE of calories, not one number. Personally, if I eat anywhere between 2900 and 3100 calories, I gain basically zero bodyweight... though over time I might be a tiny, TINY increase in muscle mass and strength because I'm operating at my high-end of the range at which my body wants to maintain fat mass. At that level, hunger is very predictable, no cravings, etc.

    However, once I start eating 3200-3300... I notice a big, BIG shift in gym performance, better sleep, energy, etc... that small bump in calories is just enough for my body to start prioritizing muscle gain, anabolic signalling, and even though the 'presumed' surplus is 100-200 calories, because of things like higher bodyheat, NEAT levels, more intense workouts, I still end up barely gaining any fat at all.

    For many of us, and I count myself in this camp, what you THINK is a decent surplus often ends up being barely enough to gain any weight, because we tend to adapt to energy surplus by being more liberal with our calorie burning... the more energy you put in, under the same conditions, the more energy you put out.

    I'd rather give myself the best possible chance for gaining muscle, because losing fat is easy AF.
    It’s a personal boundary, and one that I don’t intend to reconsider at this point in time. Like I said, I’m not in a race and I’m happy with how things are going.
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    Originally Posted by AdamWW View Post
    Right, but that's kind of my point... you had to wait until you stopped making progress until you increased calories, meaning for whatever that timeframe was, you were just kind of sitting and waiting.

    I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that if you want to give yourself the best chance for growth, then eat slightly more than you know you have to to maintain weight.

    Most likely, you will naturally burn off much of that targeted surplus through natural mechanisms which your body up-regulates to maintain bodyfat %... that includes building muscle.

    That's more of a 'bodyfat' maintenance, but not a bodyWEIGHT maintenance.



    Personally, I am of the opinion that everyone has a maintenance RANGE of calories, not one number. Personally, if I eat anywhere between 2900 and 3100 calories, I gain basically zero bodyweight... though over time I might be a tiny, TINY increase in muscle mass and strength because I'm operating at my high-end of the range at which my body wants to maintain fat mass. At that level, hunger is very predictable, no cravings, etc.

    However, once I start eating 3200-3300... I notice a big, BIG shift in gym performance, better sleep, energy, etc... that small bump in calories is just enough for my body to start prioritizing muscle gain, anabolic signalling, and even though the 'presumed' surplus is 100-200 calories, because of things like higher bodyheat, NEAT levels, more intense workouts, I still end up barely gaining any fat at all.

    For many of us, and I count myself in this camp, what you THINK is a decent surplus often ends up being barely enough to gain any weight, because we tend to adapt to energy surplus by being more liberal with our calorie burning... the more energy you put in, under the same conditions, the more energy you put out.

    I'd rather give myself the best possible chance for gaining muscle, because losing fat is easy AF.
    I've never read so much drivel in my life. You need to stop spreading misinformation.
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    Originally Posted by xsquid99 View Post
    Its possible, but its also painfully slow, you also need to have a high enough bodyfat percentage to fuel muscle gains. The margin for error with this method is slim and unless you're doing things absolutely right its easy to just spin your wheels.

    Generally people have better (and faster) results with traditional alternating cuts and bulks, but the downside of these things is its easy to get carried away on the bulking side of things. It doesn't take a large surplus to build muscle, usually no more than 2 lbs a month, and thats really only as a new lifter in your first year or so of training.
    Wrong on every point. It is painfully slow for everyone whos an advanced lifter to build muscle. Bulking is popular because it gives you the illusion that you're putting on a lot more muscle when the vast majority of your weight gain is water / fat. People lose fat and gain lean muscle mass all the time, it doesn't entail a 'small margin of error' like you claim . You don't need a high body fat % to achieve this body recomposition either. You DONT NEED a caloric surplus to build muscle, I can't believe its 2020 and this broscience garbage still won't die and keeps getting perpetuated by people who can't do basic research.
    Last edited by JasonMiiii; 11-03-2020 at 06:20 PM.
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    Originally Posted by JasonMiiii View Post
    Wrong on every point. It is painfully slow for everyone whos an advanced lifter to build muscle. Bulking simply gives you the illusion that you're putting on muscle when 99% of your weight gain is water / fat. People lose fat and gain lean muscle mass all the time, it doesn't entail a 'small margin of error' like you claim . You don't need a high body fat % to achieve this body recomposition either. You DONT NEED a caloric surplus to build muscle, I can't believe its 2020 and this broscience garbage still won't die and keeps getting perpetuated by people who can't do basic research.
    Maybe not exclusively a caloric surplus, but you do need ENERGY of some kind to fuel the muscle growth. If it's not coming from diet, the only other source is body fat. This is why it's easier for beginners and overweight people to build muscle on a deficit, they have energy stores ready on hand. But anyone with intermediate/advanced musculature and a low-moderate amount of body fat is going to struggle lifting on a deficit.
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    Originally Posted by JasonMiiii View Post
    Wrong on every point. It is painfully slow for everyone whos an advanced lifter to build muscle. Bulking simply gives you the illusion that you're putting on muscle when 99% of your weight gain is water / fat. People lose fat and gain lean muscle mass all the time, it doesn't entail a 'small margin of error' like you claim . You don't need a high body fat % to achieve this body recomposition either. You DONT NEED a caloric surplus to build muscle, I can't believe its 2020 and this broscience garbage still won't die and keeps getting perpetuated by people who can't do basic research.
    I don't think you'll be on this forum for long. Just a wild guess
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Originally Posted by JasonMiiii View Post
    I've never read so much drivel in my life. You need to stop spreading misinformation.
    How about specifically telling me what you THINK is wrong then. I'll wait.
    The power of carbs compels me!
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    Originally Posted by JasonMiiii View Post
    Wrong on every point. It is painfully slow for everyone whos an advanced lifter to build muscle. Bulking simply gives you the illusion that you're putting on muscle when 99% of your weight gain is water / fat. People lose fat and gain lean muscle mass all the time, it doesn't entail a 'small margin of error' like you claim . You don't need a high body fat % to achieve this body recomposition either. You DONT NEED a caloric surplus to build muscle, I can't believe its 2020 and this broscience garbage still won't die and keeps getting perpetuated by people who can't do basic research.
    Nobody here said you can't build muscle at maintenance. They said it is more optimal for lean trained individuals to add muscle in a surplus. Feel free to counter this with research, and if you post some strawman Greg Doucette garbage, brace yourself for negs.
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    Originally Posted by cmacken View Post
    Nobody here said you can't build muscle at maintenance. They said it is more optimal for lean trained individuals to add muscle in a surplus. Feel free to counter this with research, and if you post some strawman Greg Doucette garbage, brace yourself for negs.
    To be honest, while I don't agree 100% with him I think JasonMiiii is making some valid points in response to the post he quoted.

    And OP really isn't that well trained or lean. So will he really gain muscle faster with a surplus? No one knows.

    There's plenty of evidence that supports what Jason is saying. For example: in this study a group of intermediate lifters gained ~3.3 pounds of fat free mass while losing ~3.5 pounds of fat in 8 weeks: http://www.jissn.com/content/12/1/39

    It's unlikely that they could have achieved faster results with separate bulking and cutting cycles.
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