Should You Get Lean or Build Muscle First

Should You Get Lean or Build Muscle First?

One of the hardest questions people are often faced with before they even start training is knowing whether they should get lean or build up muscle mass first. Every person has his own goals when it comes to training and there are different paths to achieve that goal. In other words, there is no 100% definitive answer to such a question as it varies from person to person. Depending on your goals you might want to lose fat while maintaining your muscle mass the same or bulk up in terms of muscle mass and try to maintain the fat levels untouched.

The simplest way to determine whether you need to get lean first or start bulking right away is to either have your body mass percentage calculated or take a long objective look at your body. If you feel like your body could lose use some fat cutting exercises first, then that is the path you should go on. If you feel lean enough then you can safely begin with the bulking phase. Alternating between cutting and bulking until you achieve your desired results is the recipe for success! 

This is why I decided to create this article in which I will walk you through the right process for your specific body and needs and will address some of the most common questions people have when it comes to cutting weight and building muscle tissue.

To truly get an answer to this question we need to pay attention to two major factors when it comes to muscle mass and fat.

Understanding Cutting And Bulking

There are two phases in the process of creating your ideal body. Those are:

  • The cutting phase
  • The bulking phase

Each of them can be initiated individually and each one of them can be first in your training routine.

Cutting is basically the phase where you try to lose as much fat without losing some or any muscle mass. Bulking, on the other hand, is trying to create muscle mass with minimal fat gains (it is almost impossible to have zero fat gains when bulking and I will explain why further down).

So, Should You Cut Or Bulk?

The logical assumption is that since you are asking yourself that question you don’t just care about losing fat and that you want to build muscle in the process, or at the very least not lose lean muscle mass while losing fat. The same goes for the other scenario in which you are too skinny and only care about building muscle.

If you’ve stumbled across my article then it’s safe to assume that you want to do both. This is why bulking and cutting is most often done in phases alternating between each other until you get the desired results.

Now, the million dollars question is – which phase do I begin with? Well, there are a few things that have to be considered but the most important factor is…

It All Depends On Your Current Body Fat Percentage

It All Depends On Your Current Body Fat Percentage

Simply put, when you have too much fat stored in your body your calorie partitioning is going to be messed up and it is far more likely that you will be gaining fat on your bulking phase. This means that, however muscular you are at the end, you will also have more fat that you began with.

Even if you think that you can handle all that in the cleaning phase, you will most likely lose some of the muscle mass you made and still maintain a somewhat high body fat percentage.

This is why it is important to start bulking on a relatively low body fat count. For women, I’ve found that anywhere between 18 and 22% is a great place to start for building muscle. Men tend to benefit the most in the bulking stage when they start at around 10-13%. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can start at a higher percentage if you want to but you will either have to put twice the work or your results won’t be as optimal as they could have been on a lower body fat percentage start.

So, that should basically be the easiest way to answer that question. If your body has an excess of fat then it probably is a better idea to start with the cutting phase before you get to bulking.

Pro Tip: The cutting phase doesn’t necessarily require you to stop weight training altogether. In fact, keeping weights in your regimen is a good way to maintain the healthy status of your muscle and the levels of your muscle tissue while cutting down fat from your body.

Click here if you want to find out whether you can get lean on a vegan diet!

Knowing Which Phase To Work On

What I’ve found throughout the years is that the easiest way for you to decide which phase you need to start with is by undressing and going in front of a mirror. If you feel that you are lean enough you can start with bulking. If you feel like your body could lose some fat first, then that’s your answer. Body fat percentage calculators on the internet are often wrong and very inaccurate. Unless you have it done by a professional there is no way to know your % with certainty. Taking a long objective look on your body should always be a good place to start, though.

Once you have figured it out it is time to start grinding. The key here is to keep working consistently on the phase that you feel your body needs right now. This means that if you feel somewhat lean then go for a muscle bulking phase, then after you get close to your desired results switch up things and start with the cutting. Alternate between those phases until you are happy and satisfied with the result!

Finally, let’s get to the core of it and explain the two most important parts of cutting and bulking.

How To Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat

If the goal is getting lean muscle mass then you should follow the principle of caloric surplus. What that means is that you need to ingest more calories than the amount your body needs every day.

Let’s say you are on a 2000 calorie diet and want to start bulking up muscle mass. Then, all you have to do (in simple theory) is consume more than your body needs. This way, when you exercise properly and guide your body to the results you want, it will have additional energy and building blocks to synthesize new muscle cells and thus increasing your muscle mass without gaining additional fat.

How To Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat

Now, there are a few issues with that. The main one is people not being able to take care of the additional ingested calories, or in other words – they didn’t pay much attention to their nutrition partitioning.

There are three places extra calories can go:

  • Towards the production of new muscle cells
  • Towards the creation of more fats in our bodies in the form of energy depots
  • Towards both of these processes

Obviously, we want to associate extra calories with muscle growth only but that is rarely the case. In reality, unless you have godlike genes or are in help of other substances, there is virtually no way of gaining pure muscle mass without a little fat as well.

This is why your goal shouldn’t be to gain pure muscle mass but to gain muscle mass with as little fat gain as possible. Even if you don’t manage to do that you can, later on, fix it in the cutting phase.

There are a number of things that we have no control over that will determine the amount of fat gain along the bulking process such as genetics, hormone activity, bone and joint structure, and so on. Still, there are a lot of things that we can actually do in order to improve our muscle:fat ratio when bulking. These are:

  • We can monitor the body fat percentage over time
  • We can control the weight gain over the course of the bulking phase
  • We can control and partition our fat, carbohydrates, and protein intakes
  • We can control and monitor the size of our calorie surplus
  • We control our meal frequency, style, and choice of diet
  • We have total control of the way we exercise and how often we do it

All these factors determine the ratio between the muscle mass you will acquire and the fat levels that will come with it.

How To Lose Weight Without Losing Muscle

The essentials of cutting weight without sacrificing too much of your muscle mass are again hidden in nutrition partitioning. Obviously, to lose weight you will have to put your body into a calorie deficit but you should still pay attention to the amount of protein going into your body, as they will help your muscles recover and regain their strength after heavy cardio exercises.

The key is to always keep a healthy diet and not starve yourself, as starving your body can unlock other mechanisms which will actually lead to increased fat storage and negating all of your training efforts. When you are done with the cutting phase, you might want to do a quick bulking one just to replenish your muscle mass and create a healthier body structure.

If you want to check out a program which does wonders for fat loss check out my Fat Diminisher review. Let’s go through some of the most common questions people have when it comes to this topic now.

Related Questions

Is it easier to lose fat or build muscle?

This very much depends on the person. There are people out there (endomorphs) which gain muscle mass and fat much faster and easier than others (ectomorphs). They benefit more front weight lifting but can also lose all their results far quicker. They also have a hard time losing fat, while ectomorphs are specialists in that area.

Mesomorphs are the middle ground as they can gain or lose body mass (be it fat or muscle) with relatively the same ease. Whether you can gain muscle or lose fat solely depends on your body type.

Can you gain muscle faster if your fat?

As I already said, bulkier people (endomorphs) are predisposed to gaining mass easier. They have larger builds than the other two types and gain muscle or fat mass far easier. Weight training benefits them but they can lose the progress if that stops.

Apart from that, fat people don’t usually have it easier when it comes to building muscle mass. Their biggest advantage is the fat tissue which is very rich on energy and can be used as a secondary fuel supply during longer strength training exercises.

How do I know if my weight gain is muscle or fat?

Muscle cells are denser, thicker, and weigh more than fat cells. This means that muscle mass on your body will look smaller. The logical conclusion would be that if you are gaining some weight but your clothes are getting looser, then you are most likely gaining muscle mass and losing fat. When you gain weight fast it is most likely a sign of fat gain.

Final Words

So, should you get lean or build muscle first? The only logical answer to that is to take a good objective look at your body and see what it needs first. If you feel like you can use a fat cutting phase, then go for it. If you already feel good and somewhat lean, then building muscle mass is a good next step. Don’t forget to always alternate between these phases and monitor your progress carefully, as well as your nutrition partitioning and calorie intake. After all, what goes in your body is what is going to help you in your fight against muscle loss or fat gaining and most importantly – your body will always react according to how you treat it both in terms of nutrition and in training.