2. You make the hardest decision of the year: when to stop bulking. Winter is a time of sweatshirts, junk food and new benchpress records; Summer is a time of board shorts, chicken salads and ripped abs. But what about Spring? Do you get a head-start on your summer body, and risk losing out on further gains? Or do you keep piling on the pounds, and end up fat and ashamed on the beach?
Sorry bros, but problem #1 is as predictable and unstoppable as the tides, so you’re on your own with that. Problem #2 however, I do have a solution for: and it’s called Lean Gains.
The Lean Gains approach to gaining muscle was popularized by Martin Berkhan, a natural bodybuilder and generally shredded SOB. He’s a big fan of the scientific approach to weightlifting, and the Lean Gains method is founded on pure science and results. It’s designed to allow significant muscle growth without gaining a ton of unsightly fat. Whilst this may sound like witchcraft, or the latest scam advert to appear on Bodybuilding.com, it uses the principle of Intermittent Fasting to achieve genuinely impressive results.
The Basic Principles of Lean Gains:
1. Eat above maintenance on lifting days, and below maintenance on rest days.
Many people choose to bulk for several months, and cut for several months, switching between the two once or twice a year. Lean gains suggests switching between the two every few days.
By eating more calories than your body requires for weight-maintenance (about 20% more), you’re encouraging muscle growth. By eating fewer calories than your body requires (about 20% less), you’re encouraging the body to use its fat reserves for energy.
If you alternate 50/50 between these two on a weekly basis, eating more on lifting days and less on rest days, you’ll stay the same weight. After all, +20% more calories and –20% averages out at 0% – your maintenance calorie intake.
‘So what’s the point?!’ I hear you cry, ‘I want to gain muscle!’ – and whilst you’ll stay roughly the same weight, your body composition will change. In other words, after a few weeks of dieting like this, you’ll have gained muscle and lost body fat. And isn’t that every bodybuilder’s dream?
2. Fast for 16-hours a day, and eat in the 8 hours after training.
Simultaneously gaining muscle and losing fat isn’t easy for the body, but Lean Gains’ use of Intermittent Fasting allows the body to use your daily calorie intake in the most anabolic way possible. In simple terms, this means eating most of your calories post-workout.
Whilst a 16-hour fast may sound crazy, the majority of this period happens when you’re fast asleep. If you get a solid 8-hours sleep each night, you only need to fast for 4 hours before bed, and 4 hours after. After a few weeks, your body adapts to this pattern, and stops releasing the hunger-causing hormone Ghrelin in the mornings.
By eating most of your calories in the 8 hours after training, you’re doing everything you can to encourage anabolism (muscle-growth), supplying your recovering muscles with energy, nutrients and protein for growth and repair. You’re also making it a lot harder to over-eat – after all, you’ve only got 8 hours to do so!
You can choose to have a small pre-workout meal before your session, but Martin recommends training fasted – with one important exception. By taking a BCAA supplement pre-workout, you’ll significantly improve your performance and body’s anabolic response to training. As BCAAs are pre-digested, they also have a negligible calorie count!
3. Use an upper/lower body split
For Lean Gains to work properly, it’s crucial to avoid overtraining. A conventional 5-day split focuses too much on isolation, and you’ll find it hard to recover between sessions. Natural bodybuilders are normally better off with an upper/lower body split each week, and this is especially true in the case of Lean Gains.
Focus on training 4 days a week, and including two upper body days, and two lower body days. Many people like to use Starting Strength, but any similar program will work (think Layne Norton’s PHAT workout, or variants of Stronglifts’ 5×5 routines). This allows you to gain strength and size, without overly-fatiguing your muscles with excessive hypertrophy. Stick to the compound lifts, combined with 1 or 2 lighter isolation exercises.
4. Eat at least 2.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight
Finally, you need to make sure that your diet is seriously high in protein. Bodybuilders like us are used to this, but it’s incredibly important to the success of Lean Gains. Without adequate protein, your muscles won’t be able to repair and grow – and instead of losing just body fat, you’ll see your hard-earned muscles start to shrink as well.
As you probably know from experience, it’s difficult to simultaneously create muscle and lose fat. High protein diets have been shown to significantly increase the body’s anabolic response to weightlifting, so without a high protein diet, you won’t be able to stimulate proper muscle growth.
Gain All-Year Round
With all of that science in mind, it’s back to our original question: should you bulk or cut over summer? Well, armed with this killer strategy, the answer is both. Stick to the principles of Lean Gains and you can say goodbye to your Winter bulk, and your Summer cut – and say hello to year-round, fat-free muscle gain!