Why You Can’t Build Muscle in a Calorie Deficit
There was a time in my life where I believed that in order to have six-pack abs and veiny biceps I needed to lose weight. I spent 6-7 days a week slaving away in the gym alongside chronic calorie restriction and eating “clean” in hopes that muscles would start to magically appear. Yet, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t figure out why I didn’t look jacked at 5’3, weighing 113 lbs pounds.
It took me about 10 years to realize I had my facts wrong.
Five years ago, I committed to my first ever lean gaining phase with the help of a nutrition coach, which was a HUGE step for me. Having struggled with an eating disorder for years prior, you can only imagine how difficult it was for me to be told to eat more food.
After gradually increasing my food intake over a long period of time, my muscles slowly started coming to life and lifts were going up in the gym. It took 1800-2000 calories, lifting heavy, and backing off endless amounts of cardio to add 20 pounds to my tiny little frame over two years.
So why did it take me so long to get here?
Quite frankly, I was afraid of the truth -
I hated that I would have to buy bigger clothes.
I was terrified of watching the scale creep up.
I wasn’t down for eating like it was my full-time job.
I was afraid of gaining fat.
But I soon came to realize that gaining lean muscle mass while minimizing fat gain is POSSIBLE. It requires:
A gradual approach to increasing calories.
Lifting weights over cardio.
Eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods 85-90% of the time.
This was the first time in my life that I finally felt “jacked” and realized that gaining weight doesn’t necessarily mean gaining fat. I finally came to the realization that I had to STOP restricting calories if I wanted to build lean muscle and lift big ass weights. After all, we call them gains for a reason ;).
Bottom line - losing weight requires a calorie deficit while building muscle requires eating at calorie maintenance or in a surplus. You can absolutely have both, just not at the same time.
Written by: Jaclyn Santamaria
Nutrition has always been an interest of mine, yet something I struggled with when I was younger. It wasn’t until I competed in my first weightlifting meet that I turned to a nutrition coach for help. She introduced me to a macro-based approach to dieting, which completely changed my life. I knew then that I wanted to help others with their nutrition, like my coach did for me.
I’m thrilled I get to do what I love every day. Athletic and nutritional coaching has become a true passion of mine. My goal is to help others become the best version of themselves in these two aspects of life.
Jaclyn Santamaria is an NCI certified nutrition coach, personal trainer, and National level weightlifter. She is the owner and founder of JS Strength and Conditioning - a premium coaching service for individualized nutrition programs, training programs, and jump rope clinics - which has been established since 2015.