The Best Method to Build Lean Muscle and Keep it

Pat Chadwick doing a muscle up at a calisthenics outdoor gym 2

Photo credit: Gymless Fitness

Developing lean muscles can be worthwhile in many aspects of your life, from having a toned body that increases your confidence, to a better calorie-burning metabolism throughout the day and improving your everyday function. Still, what is the best path to go about achieving a body sculpted with lean muscle?

One of the ways to build lean muscle is to bulk and put on size first, then lean down by losing weight to strip off the fat. Another way is to do the reverse, which is to lose fat first and then build muscle afterward. Either of these could be a convenient route for some, but what if you can put on size while getting leaner in the process? Read on to find out how.

What is Lean Muscle?

“Lean muscle”, in simple terms, refers to muscles that do not have a lot of fat around or within them. To make this clearer, visualize two different types of people: the bodybuilders versus world strongmen. 

It is safe to say that bodybuilders generally do have leaner muscle because they develop muscular hypertrophy for performance and aesthetic purposes. Whereas the strongmen group tends to have big bulky muscles. It actually shields muscles from damage, making it easier to lift super heavyweights. 

Many factors come into play when gaining muscle, and many find it difficult to gain muscle without simultaneously gaining a ton of fat. Let’s dive into 3 tips on how to build lean muscle!

How To Build Muscle and Lose Fat

Training is The Driving Force

You can have the most optimized diet in the world with the right protein intake per day. But, you will not develop new muscles without a progressive training stimulus. For example, imagine that you’re a sports car. Training is the engine, and nutrition is the diesel or gasoline to fuel performance. But, without the engine (training), the car will simply not move regardless of the fuel. 

When it comes to training, a meta-analysis on training frequency has suggested that you should train each muscle group twice a week for a superior hypertrophic outcome to the body. If you’re working out 3 times a week, you should do full-body workouts, whereas, if you work out more regularly, they should do a training split such as upper body/lower body muscle groups split.

Once you are training, focus on progressive overload, proper technique, and train with enough volume, effort, and intensity to stimulate your muscle fibers.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that a hypertrophy-oriented program should utilize 6-12 reps per set with rest intervals of 60-90 seconds in between sets. Switch between low reps and high reps, lighter and heavier weight ranges, and carry out different types of muscular contractions to provide new stimulus for growth.

Higher Protein Intake 

Higher protein diets are not only beneficial for maximizing muscle gain but they’re also helpful for maximizing fat loss. In fact, research suggests that increasing muscle mass occurs as a result of a positive net protein balance, such that muscle protein synthesis surpasses muscle protein breakdown. 

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you should follow a higher protein diet of at least 1.5g/lb of your body. This will help you not only gain muscle mass but also lose body fat. That’s your muscle protein synthesis which burns calories while you’re building muscle. Below are lean protein foods that you could consider:

  • Poultry (skinless chicken or turkey)
  • Lean red meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Fish (salmon, cod, tuna, sardines, mackerel)
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Tofu
  • Plain greek yogurt

Sleep and Recovery

Sleep may be one of the most underrated factors when it comes to maximizing lean muscle. A 2018 study analyzed the effect of sleep on groups that had entered a caloric deficit, either:

  1. Slept normally (7-8 hours per night) for 8 weeks in total. 
  2. Slept one hour less 5 times a week, and slept 1 hour extra on weekends to “catch up” for 8 weeks.

It turns out after 8 weeks, weight loss was the same in both groups. But, the group that slept well lost 83% of their weight from fat, whereas the sleep-restricted group lost 85% of their weight as a lean mass! Adequate sleep is vital especially if you want to transform your body composition.

Lean Muscle Diet

When it comes to gaining muscle and adding size to your frame, your diet is the main factor that you have to get straight. The diet is 65% of what you need to get in shape. You can work out as hard as you want, but if your diet is not well optimized for building lean muscle you aren’t going to see the results you are looking for. 

To get lean you should eat whole foods, which are foods that have not been processed, refined, or have ingredients added to them; they look like what they started out as. Below are three get-lean diet principles.

  1. Intake at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. This could be eggs, poultry, lean red meat, salmon, greek yogurt, beans, and nuts and seeds. Additional protein shakes are great too!
  2. Manipulate your carbohydrates with carbs cycling. Simply, you’d have high carbs on training days, and low carbs on your non-training days. That way you’re not gaining body fat while you’re maximizing your lean muscle.
  3. Staying hydrated is another overlooked factor in fitness. Water is a vital nutrient that makes up two-thirds of our body. Dehydration may undermine your body’s ability to control its temperature, raise feelings of tiredness, increase fatigue which makes exercise feel more difficult. In fact,  Havard Health suggests that a general rule of thumb for healthy people is to drink 2-3 cups of water per hour, or more if you’re working out. 

Lean Muscle Workout Plan

Now we’re going to dive into your training regiment. There are many workouts splits that you could adopt. Remember to maximize muscle gain is to train each of your muscles at least twice a week and switch up your training to create a new stimulus. 

You may have come across the push/pull/leg (PPL) training split and the upper body/lower body split. The most effective will depend on your availability, rest and recovery needs, weaknesses, and age. The table is three different routines that could try to stimulate your muscle growth. 

Day  Upper Body/Lower Body  Full Body  Push/Pull/Leg (PPL)
Monday Upper body Full body workout Chest, shoulders, triceps
Tuesday Lower body Full body workout Back, biceps, abs
Wednesday Rest Rest Leg
Thursday Upper body Full body workout Chest, shoulders, triceps
Friday Lower body Full body workout Back, biceps, abs
Saturday Rest  Rest Leg
Sunday Rest Rest Rest

Final Takeaway

Can you build muscle while losing fat at the same time? Absolutely! This isn’t an impossible task, but it’ll be a challenging one. Ever heard of the term “abs are made in the kitchen”? Well, the same applies to lean muscle. You have to capability to achieve your dream physique by following these 3 steps:

  1. Train hard
  2. Prioritize a high protein diet
  3. Sleep and recovery

The Pareto Principle, also known as the “80/20 Rule” states that 80% of your outcome is the result of 20% of the work. The work that you should prioritize are the three things mentioned above – Now you have the tools to make your dreams into a reality! 

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