A calorie deficit, put simply, is consuming less calories than you burn.
In short, the answer to this question is yes, it is possible to be in a deficit and gain muscle.
In fact, over 60 studies have shown that you can be in a deficit and gain muscle. However, how this is achieved can differ depending on what level you’re at in terms of your training, or in other words, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete.
For instance, a beginner will naturally recover faster and make week to week or month to month muscle gains rapidly. This typically occurs after 6 months to a year of consistent training in the gym.
On the other hand, when it comes to being an intermediate, your progress will begin to slow down and planning has to be more in depth in order to keep gaining muscle.
This is even more apparent when it comes to advanced athletes, such as bodybuilders, as they do not recover and adapt as fast.
That said, this isn’t to say that you won’t still continue to make gains as an intermediate and advanced athlete, it will just happen at a slower rate and will require a more specific training plan.
To gain muscle whilst in a deficit, you will want to focus on:
Prioritising a high protein diet
Maintaining a calorie deficit
Combining strength training with cardio
Getting more out of your workouts by eating carbs before exercising
Upping your weights
1. Prioritising A High Protein Diet
For beginners and individuals who are overweight, it can be great to prioritise a high protein diet.
The amount of protein that you eat is essential in building muscle as ‘the amino acids help repair and maintain muscle tissue’.
Protein is great for providing your body with longer-lasting energy and is essential for recovery.
Additionally, it helps you to stay fuller for longer, allowing you to remain in your calorie deficit. As such, this can be a good way of causing a body recomposition.
That said, protein intake is something that varies significantly from person to person, which is where a nutritional plan comes in use.
At Up Your Game Fitness, we offer both fitness and diet plans to choose from to help you unlock success. We also offer personalised plans that are tailored to your individual needs.
2. Maintaining A Calorie Deficit
The next tip is to maintain a calorie deficit. Generally speaking, reducing ‘500 calories from your daily intake’ will help you to see a big difference, but you will want to start lowering your calories gradually.
This comes down to the fact that you need the energy to be able to train, and this can be difficult to get right if you enter too steep of a calorie deficit in the first instance.
That said, maintaining a calorie deficit can be difficult for beginners, which is where a coach can help.
A qualified coach will be able to better assess this and help you to come up with a calorie deficit that works for you and your training plan.
3. Combining Strength Training With Cardio
Something else to bear in mind is combining strength training with cardio.
When in the gym, workouts should always prioritise building strength and size as well as have a focus on some cardio depending on the specific deficit the individual is aiming for.
Cardio should either be done following your weight session, or hours before attending the gym to allow for recovery.
The combination of cardio and strength training will help you to build muscle whilst still remaining in a calorie deficit.
The Up Your Game Fitness coaching service provides various tips like this, as well as offering you the necessary support and advice on your fitness journey.
4. Getting More Out Of Your Workouts By Eating Carbs Before Exercising
To stay in a deficit and gain muscle, eating carbs before exercising can be helpful.
In order to feel more energetic in your deficit and get more out of your workout, it’s a good idea to have your higher carb based meal prior to the gym.
Many people avoid carbs when in a calorie deficit, but this is a mistake, as they play an essential role in helping you to gain muscle.
Food is fuel. Not only will ‘consum[ing] simple carbohydrates 30 to 60 minutes in advance’ provide you with the energy to train harder, but it will also mean that you’re putting those carbs to good use by burning some of them off throughout your session.
As such, a carbohydrate-dense meal pre-gym can be highly beneficial to your training.
5. Upping Your Weights
Last, but not least, you can consider upping your weights.
This isn’t just about adding heavier weights each week. While this will result in gains for a beginner, this will eventually plateau and you’ll stop making the gains you desire.
Once this stops, proper planning is required, such as working in different rep ranges set stage by stage to aid both strength and size progression.
To get ahead of the game, it’s better to dedicate time to a fitness plan and seek advice from a coach to give yourself the best chance of continuously making progress and reaching your goals throughout your fitness journey.