New Study Suggests You Don’t Need a Big Caloric Surplus to Build Muscle

Yes, you read that correctly.

A new study has given a new light on the caloric intake and hypertrophy conversation. It stated that you don’t need to up your calorie intake 500 calories above your maintenance to build muscle, but you can get as great results with a more moderate approach.

The information you are about to see what digested by Dr. Layne Norton and the research in question was is titled Effect of Small and Large Energy Surpluses on Strength, Muscle, and Skinfold Thickness done by Eric Helms et all.

Norton returned with another enlightening video this week, delving into the intricate realm of calorie surplus and its role in muscle gains. Dr Layne Norton is a scientist, pro natural bodybuilder, raw elite powerlifter, and physique coach, among other things. He received his BS in Biochemistry, and his PhD in Nutritional Sciences. Besides being a coach, he also commands his YouTube channel in which he talks about science and fitness intertwined.

Addressing a common query he often encounters, Norton explored the age-old question: Is a calorie deficit a barrier to muscle gain, or is a surplus imperative for substantial muscle growth? The response, he acknowledged, isn’t a straightforward one, but he laid the groundwork for an informative discussion.

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New Study Suggests You Don’t Need Caloric Surplus to Build Muscle

Referencing a recent study, Layne recounted an experiment involving women meticulously matched for factors such as menstrual cycles and training status. The subjects were divided into groups—one in a significant calorie deficit of approximately 50 energy units and the other maintaining their caloric intake. Surprisingly, even within a short timeframe of 10 to 14 days, those in the deficit experienced declines in lean mass. Layne emphasized the controlled nature of the study, highlighting the novelty in revealing such outcomes, particularly since both groups were supplied with ample protein and followed a rigorous training program.

Transitioning to a more recent study conducted by esteemed researchers Eric Helms, James Krieger, and Brad Dieter, Layne explored the nuances of maintenance versus surplus over an eight-week period. This study involved trained men, reasonably strong but not competitive lifters.

The results indicated that, overall, the degree of energy surplus didn’t significantly impact gains. However, a peculiar finding emerged—the moderate 5% surplus group showed a potentially greater increase in bench press one-rep maximum compared to the maintenance and high surplus groups.

Layne Norton, the analytical mind, inserted a few caveats into his narrative. He acknowledged the limitations of the studies, pointing out the short duration of the first and the relatively small sample size in the second. The challenges of subject recruitment during pandemic-related restrictions were emphasized, dismissing criticisms of study quality due to a reduced participant count.

Expressing his viewpoint on the matter, Layne asserted that while a calorie surplus might be advantageous for maximizing muscle growth, the extent of surplus required may have been overestimated. Drawing from his experience as a bodybuilder, he noted that most successful bodybuilders, even natural ones, incorporate dedicated surplus phases into their training regimen.

To address the critical question of how much surplus is necessary, Layne advocated for moderation. He suggested that a surplus ranging from maintenance to 20% might be sufficient, cautioning against the conventional wisdom of hefty 500-calorie surpluses. He also referred to a study in non-resistance trainers, which found no significant difference in lean mass gains across 20%, 40%, and 60% surpluses.

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However, Layne was quick to emphasize the importance of patience in the muscle-building journey. Unlike fat loss, where visual changes manifest relatively quickly, muscle gain demands prolonged commitment. He shared observations from coaching experiences, noting that individuals often get frustrated during phases of minimal weight gain and, in haste, revert to fat loss strategies, undermining the potential muscle gains.

In conclusion, Layne Norton advocated for sustained, modest surpluses over time, interspersed with shorter fat loss phases to reveal accrued lean mass. He advised against chasing rapid gains, recommending a commitment of at least 12 weeks to the lean gaining process. Ending on a practical note, he promoted the use of the Carbon Diet Coach app for personalized nutritional recommendations, claiming it to be a cost-effective and trustworthy tool for achieving fitness goals.

For a more detailed information about this new study, watch the video below.

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Building muscle is a multifaceted process that involves a combination of nutrition, strength training, and adequate recovery. To optimize muscle growth, individuals must pay attention to their caloric intake, macronutrient distribution, engage in effective strength training, and prioritize recovery strategies.

Caloric Intake:

Caloric intake forms the foundation of muscle building. To gain muscle, you need to consume more calories than your body expends, creating a caloric surplus. This surplus provides the energy necessary for the growth and repair of muscle tissues.

However, it’s crucial to strike a balance—excessive caloric surplus can lead to unwanted fat gain. Calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and consuming a moderate surplus – as we’ve seen now from new research, this number of caloric surplus does not have to be as high as 500 calories above maintenance; opt for a more moderate approach such as 250 calories or 20% of your maintenance.

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Macronutrients, namely proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, play distinct roles in supporting muscle growth.

  1. Proteins: Protein is the building block of muscle tissue. Consuming an adequate amount of protein is essential for muscle repair and synthesis. Aim for about 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Include protein sources such as lean meats, eggs, dairy, legumes, and plant-based protein supplements.
  2. Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, crucial for fuelling intense workouts. Carbs replenish glycogen stores, providing the energy needed for lifting weights. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates.
  3. Fats: Healthy fats are vital for hormone production, including testosterone, which influences muscle growth. Incorporate sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil into your diet. While fats are calorie-dense, they contribute to overall well-being and should be included in a balanced diet.

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Strength Training:

Strength training forms the core of muscle-building workouts. Resistance exercises create micro-tears in muscle fibres, prompting the body to repair and rebuild, resulting in muscle growth. Here are key principles for effective strength training:

  1. Progressive Overload: Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts by lifting heavier weights or performing more challenging exercises. This principle ensures ongoing muscle stimulation.
  2. Compound Exercises: Focus on compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows are excellent examples. These exercises stimulate a greater release of muscle-building hormones.
  3. Volume and Frequency: Adequate training volume (sets x reps x weight) is crucial. Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise. Additionally, train each muscle group 2-3 times per week, allowing sufficient recovery time.
  4. Form and Technique: Prioritize proper form over lifting heavy weights. This minimizes the risk of injury and ensures that the targeted muscles are effectively engaged.

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Muscle growth occurs during periods of rest, making recovery as crucial as the workout itself. Here’s how to optimize recovery:

  1. Sleep: Quality sleep is when the body releases growth hormone, crucial for muscle repair and overall recovery. Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
  2. Nutrition: Post-workout nutrition is vital. Consume a combination of protein and carbohydrates within the first hour after training to replenish glycogen stores and kickstart muscle repair.
  3. Hydration: Dehydration can impair performance and delay recovery. Ensure you’re adequately hydrated throughout the day, especially during and after workouts.
  4. Active Recovery: Incorporate lighter workouts, such as walking or yoga, on rest days. This promotes blood flow, aiding in recovery without causing additional stress on muscles.
  5. Rest Days: Allow at least one or two full rest days per week to prevent overtraining. This break is essential for preventing burnout and reducing the risk of injury.

In conclusion, building muscle is a comprehensive process that involves a strategic approach to nutrition, strength training, and recovery. Caloric surplus, macronutrient balance, progressive strength training, and mindful recovery strategies work synergistically to promote muscle growth. Consistency and patience are key, as building substantial muscle mass is a gradual process that requires dedication to a well-rounded fitness regimen. Remember to tailor these principles to your individual needs and always consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider before making significant changes to your exercise or nutrition routine.

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