Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?

Written by:

Obi Obadike

Obi Obadike

Celebrity Fitness & Nutrition Expert, CFT, SFN, M.S. Founder & CEO – Ethical Inc.
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Can you build muscle in a calorie deficit? Yes, you can build muscle in calorie deficit, but it isn’t easy. You have a higher chance of building muscle in a calorie surplus which means consuming calories beyond how many calories are needed to maintain your bodyweight. Because you are in a caloric deficit your daily protein intake needs to be higher than normal. Why? Because that is where you will be gaining that extra lean muscle as it will come from the extra protein intake.

Can you build muscle in calorie deficit? Photo credit: iStock-Prostock-Studio

The amount of protein you will take daily will be up to 2 grams of protein per pound. One of the reasons why your body needs to be in a surplus is because it provides the energy your body requires to repair itself and in return build lean muscle mass.

Some of the protein rich foods you want to consume when trying to gain muscle in calorie deficit are:

  • Chicken- One grilled chicken breast- 59 grams of protein per serving
  • Turkey Breast- 25 grams of protein per 3 ounces.
  • One canned Tuna contains 40 grams of protein.
  • 4 ounces of lean beef contains about 19 grams of protein.
  • One cup of cooked black beans contains about 15 grams of protein.
  • One cup of oats contains 10 grams of protein.

Not everybody eats enough protein from food to obtain the amount of protein needed to maintain or build muscle. This is why adding a dietary protein supplement can assist with your overall daily protein along with protein foods you eat.

On top of following a high protein diet, up to 2 grams of protein per pound you also need to incorporate a strength training program. And this can be done by incorporating body weight training, weight machines, dumbbells, resistance bands training, etc.

It is advisable to lift weights at least 4 times a week if you want to build muscle in calorie deficit. I would advise anybody that wants to really add some lean muscle mass to be more in calorie surplus as that gives you the highest percentage.

You also have to understand when you are in a calorie surplus you will gain a little bit of fat in the process too. You don’t need to powerlift or lift extremely heavy weights. You just need to lift enough weight to stimulate the muscle for optimal growth. Muscle growth happens when you put enough tension on your muscles.

Also, it is important if you continuously lift the same amount of weight with the same reps every week without changing you can potentially experience muscle growth plateau.

Dietary protein and weight training exercises go hand in hand when it comes to building lean muscle mass. Without adequate protein consumption muscle protein synthesis also known as muscle growth will be difficult to obtain.

There was a study that was done in the Journal of the International Society Of Sports Nutrition found that consuming 20 to 40 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours from a high-quality source at each meal is integral in optimal muscle growth.

The Bottom Line is you can build lean muscle mass in calorie deficit, but it is difficult, and the muscle won’t be that significant. You will have greater success in building lean muscle in a calorie surplus which is consuming enough calories beyond what is needed to maintain your body weight.

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  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Feb 27;15:10. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1. PMID: 29497353; PMCID: PMC5828430.
  2. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4. PMID: 28919842; PMCID: PMC5596471.

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