Can You Gain Muscle on a Calorie Deficit?

Can You Gain Muscle on a Calorie Deficit?

Authored by Marshall on August 31, 2022

Can you build muscle in a calorie deficit? Here’s everything you need to know about body recomposition—your friends at Jack City are experts on this topic! 

Can You Gain Muscle on a Calorie Deficit?

Think everyone has the same goal when restricting their caloric intake? Think again. While many people approach creating a calorie deficit as a means of weight loss, that doesn’t always translate to “slimming down.” Many athletes want to lose fat or weight without forgoing their hard-earned bulk; others want to lose weight while gaining new muscles. 

These scenarios can become a kind of catch-22; you need a surplus of calories to gain muscle, but you need a deficit to lose fat. 

Can the two goals exist at once? The short answer to this is yes. With the right workout and nutrition plans in place, calorie deficit muscle gain is a possibility—but realistically, it won’t be the same level of power you would be building in a surplus. Instead, you will be able to shed weight and fat without losing muscle. This will help you achieve bigger gains when you increase your caloric intake again.

What Is a Calorie Deficit?

To understand what a deficit is and how it works, it’s helpful to know more about calories themselves. A calorie is a tangible form of energy that fuels the body. It’s found in all types of food and drink; some things are more calorie-rich than others. Your body needs calories to do anything, including building muscle. 

When you exert energy, whether it’s from cycling or twiddling your thumbs, you “burn” away some of the calories you’ve consumed. Even things you don’t consciously do, like breathing and metabolizing food, burns calories. 

When you purposefully consume fewer calories than you require to expend, that’s called a calorie deficit. When you’re in a deficit, your body needs to get energy from elsewhere—so it burns your fat reserves instead. This leads to weight loss and fat burning!

Can you build muscle in a calorie deficit

How Does Muscle Building Work?

Want to gain muscles? You will need the following three elements:

1) Muscle Hypertrophy Stimulus

Muscle hypertrophy is a fancy way of saying bodybuilding or muscle bulking—and it can be stimulated in several ways. According to the American Council on Exercise, the primary means of stimulating hypertrophy are “1) mechanical tension, 2) muscle damage, and 3) metabolic stress.”

If the term “damage” raises alarms, don’t worry. While muscle tissues can be damaged by certain workouts, that damage actually causes the exact response you want: gains and growth!

2) Proper Recovery Periods

If you want to really see results, it’s important to give your muscles the right time and tools to recover properly between workouts. After a heavy lifting sesh, don’t start counting down the hours until the next one. Instead, knock back a delicious protein shake and relax; your muscles need this to get bigger.

3) Calorie Surplus

In order to see the best results and most impressive gains, you need to give your body some of the energy it needs. That means consuming nutritious meals and providing your body with a few extra calories to properly bulk up. 

Finding the Balance

There are several ways to balance gaining muscle with a calorie deficit.

As we discussed earlier, doing bodybuilding workouts while on a deficit is a great way to maintain muscle while losing weight. And while building muscle on a calorie deficit is typically more about maintenance and less about massive gains, that isn’t always the case. This is where fitness theories like body recomposition come in; many athletes work closely with nutritional counselors and personal coaches to create a lifestyle that supports a specific fat-to-muscle ratio. 

Many athletes don’t worry about building muscle on a calorie deficit at all. Instead of combining the two, they break up their goals into specific time frames. Generally, this means alternating between bulking and shredding periods.

Learn More About Building Muscle on Calorie Deficit 

If you want to learn more about building muscle on a calorie deficit, creating the right kind of calorie surplus for gains, or losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way, you’re in the right place. At Jack City Fitness, we have everything you need to smash your goals, whether they are muscle gains, weight loss, or simply moving more. 

Call (208) 999-1111 today to learn more! We’ll invite you to our Boise health center for a FREE fitness consultation and tour of the facilities. If you become a Partner, you’ll have immediate 24/7 gym access, plus the ability to join our rotating schedule of heart-pumping classes. We are fitness experts and can’t wait to share our knowledge with you!



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