How To Put On Muscle And Stay Trim

watch out for the gremlin!

You can lose fat and build or maintain muscle at the same time. In fact this is what happens the majority of time with the average person. If you are building muscle, then you are losing fat. The rate may be different and what you are eating will effect this heavily.

If you are already muscular and simply want to define further by reducing the last bit of fat, then this is a slightly more complex version of the same thing. If you are trying to bulk up heavily, than maybe what you eat will focus a bit more on the bulking rather than the trimming part. But you can still do both. You don’t need different phases. Though separating it into phases can simplify things nutritionally for those who are competing. The problem I have with phasing things is that this can mimic a “diet”. If you are eliminating a lot of foods and/or cutting calories significantly and consistently then we may be looking at a hit to your metabolism and hormone balance.

Dieting is NOT going to help you maintain weight. CONSISTENCY with nutrition and exercise is what is going to get you lean or ripped and it is what is going to keep you there.

The following are general rules but the details of a workout and nutritional program depend on the individual. Everyone performs movements differently, digests different foods with ease, finds motivation from different sources, etc..


Forget cardio. I’m sure you have heard this a lot. If you follow my blogs then you’ve been hearing me say it for about a decade now. Use cardio to maintain or improve cardiovascular ability specific to whatever movement you prefer. Other than that…it’s not helping you. In fact its probably hurting your progress.

Resistance training keeps you in a higher metabolic state so that you are doing “work” for longer periods of time. And if you lift with short breaks you will still maintain an aerobic effect which will keep your endurance capacity up.

You don’t have to lift heavy 

The majority of studies comparing heavy to light resistance training shows statistically insignificant results favoring the heavy side. Many studies show that high rep/low weight will do just as well as low rep/high weight. There are 2 things that make this less appealing to most. First, it takes longer to do high reps..people want a more efficient program. They also lose focus quickly and we need perfect form for every rep. The other problem is that we tend to want to impress with big plates and heavy dumbbells. But you know whats more impressive? Not injuring yourself. If you think a lifetime of lifting heavy isn’t doing damage to your connective tissue, you are lying to yourself. Lifting lighter still adds stress to the tissues enough for you to build size but it keeps the load low on your joints and tendons. This will allow you to stay strong for longer. Longevity is the goal, folks….sorry sorry getting shredded is the goal…just for longer.

Try 30-50% of your max weight for a movement. Upwards of 20-25 reps. 3  sets.

You can try adding one set where you increase your weight by 10-20%, reducing the reps accordingly. One study showed this to be effective in building mass while maintaining a minimal load for most of the workout.

You can also prolong muscle activation by adding tempo to your lifts. Try a moderately heavy weight but elongate the eccentric phase of the motion. You can even hold the pose for a few seconds before the concentric movement. As long as you can keep perfect form, this is a way to keep the load lighter and maximize results.

A common tempo for a bench press would be 4-1-1-0. This translates as 4 seconds of the lowering phase then a 1 second hold, then 1 second to press the weights up and no rest at the top (0).


Your ability to train for long periods of time depends on your foundation. Stability in movement or under load while static is going to be a major factor in your success in consistency. Build a strong foundation and you will find less need for prolonged recovery from physical stress.


You need lots of protein to repair and build muscle tissue but you also need lots of fats and micronutrients for recovery and to keep your digestive and immune system working properly. Your demanding more of your body when training hard so don’t deny it nutrients thinking it will help you lose fat while you build muscle. Without the proper intake of micronutrients your recovery,  focus and performance will all hurt. This may lead to injury which will slow down the whole process way more than the added calories will. More over all calories will increase the training effect, just be smart with what you’e fueling with!

You don’t need to carb load. But if you do, first figure out if your body can handle the sugar spike. You can often find glucose level testing kits at the pharmacy, go grab one and see how your body reacts to a plate of pasta or a couple sandwiches. If your blood glucose and insulin (you can test for this too) spikes and if you feel tired or bloated or low energy afterwards, you are unable to handle carb loading.

If you are training for 2 hours and lifting really heavy while adding a prolonged cardio segment to your routine, than you will definitely need some fuel. But I would suggest changing the routine rather than the over eating. Seems like a waste of time and unnecessary stress on the body. Again, this is for the average person trying to put on muscle, not for a competitive body builder.

Start by adding 250 calories per day. Monitor your progress for 3-4 weeks. If you haven’t gained any muscle then add another 150-250 calories. It may take a bit of time before you see results so don;t rush into a massive increase just to force it. You may end up putting on fat as well.

HARD GAINERS – Train less / eat more – but watch out for the gremlin

If you have a really hard time putting on muscle than you will need to adjust a bit further. 500 extra calories a day may not cut it. But start with that and increase/monitor if need be. I have a tried and true method for both vegans and non vegans. It means counting calories for a couple months but then it becomes second nature.

Train less – eat more. Sounds good, right? It’s not. You need to watch what you eat still. funyuns and pizza pockets might jack up your calorie count but this is going to set you up for low returns in your performance – in the gym and in the sack! Your body is under performing in its capacity to build tissue so lets figure out why. A hormone profile may do you some good. I would test for food allergies and micronutrient level as well. But often times it comes down to you just not eating enough for your metabolic rate.

Even so, get everything working well so that when you do flood the system with high quality foods, it will use them accordingly. Try not to eat 5-6 times a day. Eat 2-3 big meals and don’t snack too heavily. We don’t want to spike your insulin too often. Again, we want consistency. Find something sustainable and healthy, If you get your body used to food intake all day long, your circadian rhythms will follow. You will teach your body to expect and want food all the time. Lets say you go on vacation for 3 weeks. Lets be real, not all of us keep up our training nor our eating habits when we are on the road. But guess who is coming with you on this trip – the gremlin. You fed the gremlin for the last several may have been fruit and nuts or veggies and hummus, but now you’re traveling and the closest food is pizza, croissants or ice cream. Its going to happen…the gremlin is real and it is hungry.


If you become dehydrated, your energy will lag and your performance with your weight training will be hampered. This is going to slow down your progress physically but it will also take a bite out of your mental game. Consistency fuels motivation and so we need as many good days as possible, Hydrating keeps everything running smoothly so that we can surpass any mind games that come up when we are struggling a bit due to external factors such as work stress or every day obstacles.


I talk about this all the time so I won’t go into detail here but Sleep is so important. Your muscles heal when you sleep, your brain heals when you sleep, you work out complex emotional problems when you sleep. Some people say they thrive on little sleep, I don;t buy it, I’d say they thrive until they dive. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are both linked to lack of sleep. We need to rest and recover in order to be healthy for long periods of time. It is really the easiest thing we can do to improve health and fitness. Stress borne adrenaline can keep someone running for a while, until adrenal fatigue sets in and when it does you are in real trouble – this can take a long time to recover from.

So take recovery days from your workouts, practice stress management techniques and get some sleep!


Have specific questions about a training program or nutritional plan? Contact us about our in-studio or online training programs!



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