How to Build Muscle While Staying Lean With Intermittent Fasting

  • How to build muscle with intermittent fasting

Welcome to the third part in the series on how to set up intermittent fasting.

Here are all the parts:

In this article, we flip the coin and go from learning how to lose fat to discovering how to build muscle while staying lean with intermittent fasting.

Building muscle while simultaneously staying lean is a very interesting subject with a lot of myths and misconceptions hanging over it.

Moreover, It’s also an important subject.

One common thing is that people rebound after a fat loss phase and gain all the fat back.

This is something that’s unnecessary and even a bit tragic…

Let’s look at how intermittent fasting can help to avoid that!

But before diving in, let’s first get some definitions clear.

What is lean?

Now when are you really lean?

My definition of lean is the “summer look” or “beach look” as well as body fat percentages below that, like stage ready bodybuilders and physique athletes.

Mostly people are after the “beach look” though. So, that’s what I’m focusing on primarily.

That look is often displayed when you have a body fat percentage of 8-12 % for men and 17-23 % for women.

Depending on muscular development, these body fat ranges typically looks like this:

how to build muscle while staying lean fat percentage

17-23% bodyfat example women

Now, chances are you need to develop more muscle before you’ll look like this.

So, how to build muscle in the most effective manner?

Let’s look at that.

How Fast Can You Build Muscle?

To successfully stay lean while bulking, it’s important to get in the mindset that muscle takes time to build.

The time it takes if you’re training correctly depends on training experience and genetics.

Since you can’t do anything about your genetics, let’s look at experience.

How to build muscle chart

As you can see, the average beginner <1 year of training can build up to 25 lbs. (11 kg) of muscle in a year if everything surrounding training, diet and rest is done correctly.

This is a lot of muscle and will completely change your appearance in just a year! Depending on your genetics, you might build muscle faster or slower than this.

Now that you have an estimated number of how quick you can build muscle. Let’s look at how to build it fast, but more importantly, doing so efficiently.

Should you go for Lean-Gains?

Lean-gains is when you’re looking to put on exclusively muscle mass with zero fat.

This would be ideal, but unfortunately not optimal for most people.


Because if you’re a beginner or intermediate you can build muscle a lot faster if you allow for some fat gain as well.

If you’re looking to get exclusively lean-gains you probably have to leave out about half of the possible muscle gains you could make if you just allowed for some fat gain as well.

Here’s an example of what I mean by that, with two people that have the exact same gaining potential:

  • Person 1 builds 10 lbs. of muscle + 10 lbs. of fat in a year.
  • Person 2 makes exclusively lean-gains and only builds 5 lbs. during the same year.

Now person one is at a big advantage. He or she only needs to cut for around 6-8 weeks to lose those 10 lbs. of fat gained.

Person two on the other hand needs another year to build the same amount of muscle to get to the same level as person one.

Lean-gains are only beneficial if you’re a highly experienced trainee and can’t build muscle at a fast pace any longer.


Like Matt Ogus, who has more than 10 years of solid training and dieting under his belt.

Just think about it.

If you’re like Ogus and can only build 2 lbs. (1 kg) of muscle (probably even less) in a year, it wouldn’t make sense to eat at a calorie surplus to build 15 lbs. (6 kg) in a year.

All the additional calories would just be stored as unnecessary body fat.

So, if you’re a beginner to intermediate (0-4 years of solid training), you should use another bulking method to build muscle.

Lean-Bulking, the Holy Grail for Beginners and Intermediates

Lean-bulking is when you eat with a calorie surplus that allows you to build muscle and fat in a 1-1 ratio or slightly below.

With every 2 lbs. (1 kg) of muscle you’ll allow for 2 lbs. (1 kg) of fat as well. This ratio is what allows for the fastest muscle gains without too much unnecessary fat gain.

There’s two caveats before you jump on a lean-bulk though. One, you should be lean before you begin, being around 10 % body fat or lower for men and 20 % or lower for women when starting a lean-bulk is preferred.

Hell, I would even say it’s required to start out lean for the following reasons:

  • You’ll look better while bulking.
  • You’ll build more muscle and less fat when you’re leaner.
  • You’ll be able to bulk for longer before having to cut again.
  • High fat percentages are stressful and unhealthy for the body.

And two, you should have your training set up correctly to make sure you’re building muscle at the fastest pace possible.

One of my favorite quotes is one from Eric Helms: “The stimulus for muscle growth is training, nutrition is only permissive.”

What Eric says here is that we can’t stimulate muscle growth by eating more. The truth about eating for muscle growth is: The maximum rate of muscle growth can be achieved by eating just enough food to permit the adaptation after training.

So, getting your training right is crucial if you’re looking to put on as much lean muscle as possible from your lean-bulking.

Free muscle and strength programs

Now, how do you set up the rate of weight gain to successfully start lean-bulking?

The complete diet guide for improving body composition that I wrote covers this subject fully.

But in the meantime, here are some quick guidelines.

How to Build Muscle with a Lean-Bulk

1. Figure out your daily calorie expenditure.

This is done with basal metabolic rate (BMR) x daily activity:

Bodyweight (in pounds) x 12, (in kilograms x 23) = Daily calorie expenditure at complete rest

Daily Activity:

Little to no daily activity: x1.2

Some daily activity: x1.375

Medium daily activity: x1.55

High daily activity: x1.725

Very high daily activity: x1.9

2. Define your training experience in the gym.

Ask yourself honestly, how long have I been lifting with quality movements, weights and repetitions?

This is important because if you’ve just been goofing around at the gym, training arms 2 days a week for a year, you’re probably still a complete beginner with zero experience, meaning that you can gain muscle at the fastest rate possible!

3. Take your yearly muscle building potential and divide it by 12.

Now, you’ll have how much muscle you can approximately build in a month.

4. A beginner that can build 2 lbs. (1 kg) of muscle per month theoretically need a surplus of 5000 calories.

If you’re a complete beginner with average genetics, you might be able to build 2 lbs. of muscle per month. This means you’ll need a theoretical calorie surplus of 5000 calories each month.

5. To maximize muscle gain you need to be in the 1-1 muscle to fat ratio. Meaning you should allow for 2 lbs. (1 kg) of fat as well.

2 lbs. of fat is 7000 calories. You now need a monthly surplus of 5000 calories for muscle + 7000 calories for fat.

= 12000 calories a month.

Divided by 30 days = 400 calories extra per day.

6. A complete beginner should be on a daily calorie surplus of 400 to build muscle at an optimal pace while staying as lean as possible!

This number might need to be adjusted, because of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and other genetic differences that make the weight gain slower or faster.

Finally, let’s look at how to build muscle while staying lean with the help of intermittent fasting.

The 2 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting When Lean-Bulking

Like you’ve learned in the previous articles, intermittent fasting really shines when it comes to fat loss.

But it has some great benefits for lean-bulking as well:

1. Intermittent Fasting Makes It Easier to Control Weight Gain

One common problem that people have while lean-bulking is becoming complacent.

Complacent when bulking

When you’re actively bulking, it’s extremely easy to let loose on your diet.

Your mind will start to tell you things like:

  • I can indulge in this and that, now that I’m bulking, or;
  • I’m building muscle so effectively, let’s eat a 1500 calorie breakfast, lunch and dinner.

These are all common stories we tell ourselves when becoming complacent.

But remember, you only need a calorie surplus between 40 to 400 calories max per day, depending on your training experience.

Intermittent fasting makes this problem extremely easy to avoid!

When you postpone your first meal and allow for bigger meals later in the day you make it hard for yourself to overeat while building muscle through lean-bulking.

With intermittent fasting, you can easily keep yourself within the boundaries of the calorie surplus you’ve set up.

Note: As I covered in the first part, research shows that there are no drawbacks on hypertrophy, or anything regarding body composition for that matter, when using intermittent fasting. So, don’t be afraid of using it when bulking as well!

2. Possibly Better Nutrient Partitioning with Intermittent Fasting

What is nutrient partitioning?

Nutrient partitioning is basically what and where the nutrients you eat end up being used or stored as in your body.

In other word, will the nutrients you eat be used to repair and build muscles, tendons and ligaments etc. or stored as fat, muscle or glycogen.

nutrient partitioning intermittent fasting


Research shows that intermittent fasting can cause better nutrient partitioning in the body if it’s combined with resistance training.

This means that relatively speaking, more of the energy you eat will be used for repair and muscle growth than what it would if you didn’t fast.

Now why is that?

After your body’s been in a prolonged period of catabolism (fasting), the sensitivity of different hormones gets upregulated in your muscles.

In other words, your muscles get extremely hungry!

For example, the insulin sensitivity in your muscles goes through the roof, which will cause more of your nutrients to be used and stored in your muscles and not as fat.

Now, let’s look at where this gets interesting.

Strategically Place Your Training to Take Advantage of Nutrient Partitioning

If you use intermittent fasting, you can strategically place your training to take advantage of the potential benefits of nutrient partitioning.

Here’s a comparison showing the difference between evenly spread meal frequency and intermittent fasting meal frequency:

Evenly spread meal frequency

If you choose to go with the “regular” meal frequency, with more meals spread out throughout the day, you can place your training anywhere you want, because your body has constant availability of food and protein ready to maximize protein synthesis (muscle building) at any time.

Now, let’s look at the typical intermittent fasting meal frequency:

Intermittent fasting meal frequency

If you choose to do intermittent fasting, you can strategically place your training either right before your feeding window or somewhere in the feeding window.

The idea here is that you’ll stimulate your protein synthesis while you’re in your feeding window, and since you’re only having nutrients during this time, you’ll reap the benefits of having most of these going towards repairing and building new muscle tissue instead of being stored as fat!

Just think about it.

When you’re lean-bulking with intermittent fasting and placing your training right before, or in your eating window, more of the nutrients you eat in your eating window will go towards repairing and building your body up from the training.

Less of your calorie surplus will be fat and more of it will be muscle!

Now, I’m not saying that all your 40-400 calorie surplus (depending on training experience) will go towards building muscle by the fact that you’re doing intermittent fasting, but a larger portion of it might.

I’m emphasizing might because research isn’t completely clear if this really is the case, more data must be available before making any definite assumptions.

However, it’s still a cool benefit and even if the partitioning effects are small, it might still make a significant difference seen over years of training.


Okay, so how to build muscle while staying fairly lean in the process comes down to:

  1. Identifying how fast you can build muscle.
  2. Figuring out your ideal daily calorie surplus.
  3. Controlling your weight gain by using intermittent fasting.
  4. Taking advantage of the small benefits that intermittent fasting has on nutrient partitioning.

What’s next

So, in this article series we covered the following:

What do you think about staying lean with the help of intermittent fasting? Do you have any own experiences or ideas? Let me know in the comment section below 😊

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Want to take it a step further?

Get the book Flexible Fasting today and take your body to the Next Level!

This book goes through everything from fat loss and building muscle with the help of intermittent fasting, to setting up your calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, and implementing a flexible mindset around food.

I wrote this book for you who want a complete resource with the easiest methods possible to achieve an outstanding physique. A physique that both looks incredible and are healthy.

–>Learn more about the book Flexible Fasting here.


By | 2017-11-13T21:33:43+00:00 September 12th, 2017|All Articles, General Fitness, Muscle And Strength, Nutrition|0 Comments

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