Kelley Wyant
Article by: Kelley Wyant
Estimated 12 minutes read

If you're like many men, you may have heard conflicting opinions about this question: can you build muscle in a calorie deficit?

On one hand, we're told that gaining muscle requires consuming excess calories to fuel growth. On the other hand, we're told that fat loss requires a calorie deficit. So which is it? Can you really build muscle while in a calorie deficit?

Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to build muscle while in a calorie deficit - but there are some variables to consider here.

If you're looking to get leaner and build muscle at the same time, you're in the right place. 

Food products with calorific value tags on black table calorie deficit concept

What is a Calorie Deficit?

If you are a man on a fitness journey, you may have heard of the term "calorie deficit" being used. But what exactly does it mean? And more importantly, how can it help you achieve your fitness goals? 

Simply put, a calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body burns. This means that you are creating an energy imbalance where your body uses more energy than it receives from food. The ultimate goal of a calorie deficit is to create a negative balance of energy in the body, leading to weight loss. 

By consuming fewer calories than we burn, our bodies are forced to use stored body fat as fuel. This not only helps us lose weight, but also helps us reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Creating a calorie deficit of about 500-750 calories per day can result in a weight loss of about one to two pounds per week.

Can You Still Build Muscle in a Calorie Deficit?

One of the biggest misconceptions about muscle building is that you need to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle. While a calorie surplus does provide the ideal conditions for maximum muscle gain, it is still possible to build muscle in a calorie deficit.

The idea of building muscle in a calorie deficit might seem counterintuitive. After all, how can you build muscle if you're not consuming enough calories to fuel it? The truth is that it's possible, but it's not as simple as just eating less and lifting weights.

First and foremost, building muscle in a calorie deficit is more likely if you're new to resistance training and have a higher body mass index (BMI). In fact, research has shown that novice lifters can build muscle in a calorie deficit, but experienced lifters will find it much more challenging.

If you have a higher body fat percentage, you're more likely to be able to build muscle in a calorie deficit, too, than if you have a lower body fat percentage. This is because the body can use fat stores for energy instead of relying solely on the calories you consume.

The Key to Building Muscle in a Calorie Deficit: Protein

A calorie deficit is often necessary for shedding excess body fat. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your hard-earned gains—the key to building muscle while in a calorie deficit is consuming adequate amounts of protein.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight if you're trying to build muscle. If you're in a calorie deficit, you may need to increase this amount to 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram to ensure your body has enough amino acids to spare your muscle mass.

Not all protein sources are created equal, however. Focus on high-quality sources of protein, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. These sources are high in protein and contain essential micronutrients that can help support muscle growth and overall health.

Supplementation can also be helpful when trying to build muscle while in a calorie deficit. Whey protein supplements are a convenient and effective way to increase your protein intake, and can be particularly useful before or after a workout.

Can I Gain Muscle Without Lifting Weights?

If you're a man looking to increase muscle mass and strength, lifting weights is undoubtedly one of the best options out there. Weightlifting provides a proven method to stimulate muscle growth and hone your physique. 

However, if you're not a fan of traditional gym workouts or do not have access to free weights, you may wonder whether it is still possible to achieve your muscle-building goals.

The good news is that you don't need weights to build muscle. Incorporating bodyweight exercises and resistance bands into your training routine can produce impressive results and help you achieve your desired physique.

Protein diet, fish, cheese, eggs, meat, chicken and dumbbells on a white wooden background

Other Tips for Building Muscle in a Calorie Deficit

As men, we all want to build muscle and achieve our ideal physique. However, achieving this goal can be challenging, especially if we're trying to do it while also losing weight. 

Here are some tips.

1. Lose Weight Slowly

When it comes to building muscle while in a calorie deficit, losing weight slowly is key. One study published in the Journal of Sport Nutrition Exercise Metabolism found that losses of body mass shouldn't exceed more than 0.7% a week if you want to maintain and gain muscle. This means that if you weigh 200 pounds, you shouldn't aim to lose more than 1.4 pounds a week. 

Losing weight too quickly can lead to significant losses in muscle mass, which is counterproductive if you're trying to build muscle. You want to maintain as much muscle as possible while losing fat to achieve the best results.

2. Don't Cut More Than 500 Calories a Day

Cutting calories is necessary to lose weight, but you don't want to cut too many. Your body needs a calorie deficit to lose weight, but if you cut too many calories, it can negatively impact your muscle growth. 

A good rule of thumb is to never cut more than 500 calories a day. This will encourage gradual weight loss while also allowing your body to maintain muscle mass. Cutting more than 500 calories a day may lead to quick weight loss, but it can also lead to muscle loss.

3. Work Each Muscle Group 1-2x Per week

Starting at around age 30, we begin to lose about 1% of our muscle mass each year. This process is called sarcopenia, and it can have serious implications for our overall health and well-being. A loss of muscle mass can lead to decreased mobility, increased risk of falls, and even a shorter lifespan.

However, by working on each muscle group one or two times per week, we can slow down or even reverse the effects of sarcopenia. 

This is all due to a process called muscle protein synthesis. When we exercise, our muscles are put under stress, which triggers the release of various hormones and signaling molecules that promote muscle growth. One of the key factors in this process is the activation of muscle protein synthesis, which is the process by which our muscles create new proteins to repair and build muscle tissue.

However, muscle protein synthesis doesn't last forever. In fact, it peaks around 24-48 hours after exercise and then starts to decline. This means that if we only work each muscle group once a week, we're missing out on a lot of potential muscle growth. 

By working each muscle group 2x per week, we can take advantage of this muscular window of opportunity twice as often, leading to greater gains in muscle mass and strength.

4. Don't Forget About Other Macronutrients

Most of us are familiar with the importance of protein for building muscle, but it's important to remember that carbohydrates and fat are just as essential. 

Carbohydrates are our body's primary energy source and are essential for high-intensity exercise like weightlifting. Without enough carbohydrates, we won't have the energy we need to perform at our best, and our workouts will suffer as a result.

Fat is also crucial for building muscle, as it's necessary for a variety of functions in the body, including hormone production and nutrient absorption. 

5. Avoid Crash Diets

Crash diets have become a popular trend in recent years, with many men turning to extreme methods of weight loss to achieve the physique they desire quickly. However, these diets can be extremely dangerous and can even lead to long-term health problems.

One of the biggest problems with crash diets is that they often involve severe calorie restriction. While consuming fewer calories than your body needs to function may seem like a good idea, it can actually cause your body to go into "starvation mode." This means your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy, making it even harder to lose weight.

Not only that, but crash diets often lack important nutrients that are essential for good health. When following a crash diet, you may deprive your body of important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary for proper bodily function. This can result in a weakened immune system, muscle loss, and other serious health issues.

Instead of resorting to crash diets, focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes. 

6. Get Your Hormones Checked

Hormones play a crucial role in men's health, influencing everything from muscle growth and energy levels to sex drive and fertility. However, hormonal imbalances can occur for a variety of reasons and can have serious consequences if left untreated.

For example, low testosterone levels can lead to decreased muscle mass, lower sex drive, and even depression. In addition, high cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response) can lead to increased anxiety and stress, as well as weight gain.

Getting your hormones checked regularly can help you identify any imbalances and take steps to correct them. This could involve making dietary changes, exercising more frequently, or taking hormone replacement therapy.

At Male Excel, we specialize in helping men achieve optimal hormone balance. Our hormone replacement therapy services are designed to help men feel their best and improve their overall quality of life. Whether you're experiencing symptoms of low testosterone or simply want to optimize your hormone levels, we can help.

7. Make Sure You're Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential for our bodies to recover and repair from daily stress and activities. However, in today's fast-paced society, sleep is often overlooked, and we tend to prioritize our work or social life over sleep. But the truth is sleep has a significant impact on our physical and mental health, and not getting enough can lead to various adverse outcomes.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Sleep helps our bodies and minds recover from daily stress and activities. When we sleep, our bodies repair and regenerate tissue, and our minds consolidate memories and process information.

Lack of sleep can lead to a medley of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. It can also affect our mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

8. Consider Other Recovery Factors

Getting enough sleep is just one aspect of recovery that we need to consider. Other factors like nutrition, hydration, and stress management can also significantly impact our health and recovery.

In addition to proper nutrition, as described earlier, hydration is also essential for recovery as it helps transport nutrients and oxygen to our body's cells. Ensure you drink enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated and support your body's recovery process.

Stress management is another critical factor for recovery. Stress can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health, leading to various health problems like cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and depression. 

9. Think About Working With a Trainer

One of the best ways to achieve your goals is by working with a trainer. Not only can a trainer provide you with specific exercises that target your desired areas, but they can also hold you accountable and ensure you are making progress.

They can also evaluate your fitness level, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a custom workout plan just for you. You won't be following a generic workout plan that may not align with your particular needs or goals.

But it's not just about receiving a unique plan; it's also about learning proper form and technique. When you work with a trainer, you are less likely to develop bad habits that can lead to injury or inefficiency. You'll be taught the correct way to do each exercise, which will not only prevent injury but also help you see results faster.

And let's not forget the biggest benefit of working with a trainer: accountability. It can be hard to motivate yourself to go to the gym, especially after a long day at work or on a cold winter morning. 

However knowing that you have a scheduled appointment with a trainer can help keep you accountable and on track. They'll be your cheerleader, encouraging you to push through tough moments and celebrating your successes along the way.

10. Think About Long-Term Goals

Focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes that you can stick with over time. This might mean adopting a healthier diet, incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine, or getting enough sleep each night. Small, consistent changes over time can add up to significant results.

It can also be helpful to set specific, measurable, and achievable goals for yourself. For example, instead of saying, "I want to lose weight," set a goal to lose 10 pounds in the next three months. This gives you a specific target to work towards and helps you stay motivated.

Tracking your progress can also be helpful in achieving your long-term goals. This might mean keeping a food diary, writing down your workouts, or taking progress pictures. Seeing tangible evidence of your progress can be incredibly motivating and help you stay on track.

Final Thoughts

Building muscle in a calorie deficit is not an impossible feat, but it can be challenging. 

If you're struggling to build muscle or enhance your overall health, seeking professional support from a specialized men's health clinic like Male Excel can be a game-changer. 

We can help you achieve optimal results and reach your goals. Contact us today and start your health journey with confidence.

Male Excel testosterone cypionate

Find out if TRT Can Help You

TRT from Male Excel