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Everyone wants to build muscle with minimal fat gain.

While it is possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time (in a case of total beginners) in most cases you’ll gain some fat when you build more lean tissue.

This is a lesson from my past where I totally messed up and I hope it will serve as a warning of what NOT to do.

In 2012 I joined the famous “Scrawny to Brawny” program (online 10 month course designed with one goal in mind: to gain as much lean muscle as possible).

I was eager to get started with the program – imagining myself 20 pounds heavier and sporting a killer six-pack. The program is designed so that you focus on developing one positive habit at a time. This works well, as you don’t become overwhelmed with having to make too many changes at once.

On paper, it had sounded great. I planned that at the height of my bulking process I would be at 30% body fat. By the time I leaned out to 10%, I said to myself, I will still have gained more than 20 pounds of lean, rock hard muscle.

In reality, I ended up closer to 40% body fat. All the extra calories I was consuming were just being stored as fat. My insulin sensitivity was very poor, as I constantly stuffed myself with excess calories and carbs.

I felt really crappy most of the time. I skipped cardio on a regular basis because I felt dizzy and out of breath just going up the stairs. Not a very good image for a personal trainer!

See, the Scrawny to Brawny program is designed for true ectomorphs. These are guys who are naturally lean. Even a high increase in caloric intake doesn’t make them much fatter, due to their high metabolism and efficient insulin sensitivity. They can literally eat a bag of donuts and a gallon of chocolate milk and their weight will maybe spike by 1 lb per month.

I, on the other hand, was not a lean ectomorph but a ‘skinny fat’ type. Not only was it difficult for me to gain muscle, but I was also prone to gaining fat very easily when eating more.

In order to build lean tissue, you have to be in a caloric surplus, however, it doesn’t have to be 1,000 cal surplus. The goal is to gain maybe 0.5- 1 % of your bodyweight per week. If you’re very advanced trainee then maybe even less.

The key is MONITORING how fast you’re gaining weight and where are you gaining it.

Points to take home:

Establish your TRUE body composition before you start any physique goals. Weight yourself, do measurements, use body fat calipers. Take pictures so you really know your starting point.

Track weekly progress: track your average weekly weigh-in, measurements (especially around your waist and hips), body fat calipers plus pictures. This will tell you if you start gaining weight more than 1 % of your body weight per week and your measurements and fat calipers are dramatically climbing, reduce your calories.

Track your calories: without knowing how much calories and macronutrients you’re eating you can’t make changes

Make small changes: if your body weight doesn’t increase by 0.5 % per week increase your food by 250 cal per day. If you’re gaining more than 1 % of body weight per week, decrease by 250 cal per day.

Don’t compare yourself to anybody. I got into this mess because I was insecure about myself and wanted to look like somebody else. Compete only against yourself.

Surround yourself with positive people. If people around you don’t support you or don’t understand what you’re doing, do your best to avoid them.

Have fun!  Have a laugh, don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy your life!