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Lean Gains! Is It Really Possible?

How To Get Big & Lean At The Same Time!

Posted by TimeIsMuscle - October 9th, 2015

How can I get big and lean at the same time? Is it possible? This is often a conundrum that few people manage to figure out. I have been training for 17 years and this goal is one that I have met previously, but not without out trial and error. It is possible to “lean bulk”, as people tend to define it, but exactly how “big” is something that cannot be measured or defined precisely, as everyone’s definition will vary. Having said that, I am going to give you some advice that will help you achieve that “lean bulk” without putting on excess body fat along the way.

5 Steps to Lean Bulking  

  1. Testosterone Levels
  2. Insulin “Spiking”
  3. Cardio
  4. Nutrition & Meal size
  5. Calorie Cycling

Testosterone Levels

Losing weight, HIIT, plenty of Zinc, Strength Training, Vitamin D intake, reducing stress, reducing sugar in your diet, eating healthy fats, BCCA’s and “intermittent fasting” are just a number of ways to enhance those testosterone levels that we all require to build muscle and burn fat. Now...let’s dissect this list one by one:

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  • Losing Weight – Losing weight not only reduces the risk of pre-diabetic men progressing to diabetes, but also appears to increase their body’s production of testosterone.

  • HIIT (High Intense Interval training) – Running sprints or short bursts of intensity lasting approximately 6 seconds dramatically increase the levels of testosterone. The high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity, or in other words, around 90%.

  • Plenty of Zinc – Low levels of zinc are associated with low levels of testosterone.To increase your Zinc levels eat things such as: Dark Chocolate, Cashew nuts, Spinach or lamb.

  • Strength Training – The heavier the weight resistance training that you do, the more you will force your body to produce more testosterone. This is the way your body adapts to the increased workload.

  • Vitamin D intake – Vitamin D is one of the essential vitamins needed for human survival. It regulates more than a thousand bodily functions and even increases your testosterone levels. Although the best way to get it is through frequent sun exposure, it can be found naturally in fish and eggs.

  • Reducing Stress – If you're under constant stress, your body will churn out a steady stream of the stress hormone cortisol. When it does, it will have a tougher time creating testosterone.

  • Reducing Sugar in your Diet – A recent study found that testosterone levels are actually linked to blood sugar levels, and that consuming sugar cuts the levels of circulating testosterone in the blood significantly.

  • Eating more Healthy Fats – By ‘healthy’ fats, we mean the monounsaturated and omega-3 type found in avocados, peanuts and oily fish that helps your body preserve protein.

  • BCCA’s – BCCA’s (Otherwise known as Branch Chain Amino Acids) have additional and even more powerful effects besides just preventing muscle catabolism during a workout. BCCA’s can manipulate your testosterone and cortisol levels.

  • Sleep – Science has proven that the men who sleep for 8 hours per night have more than double the amount of testosterone as men who sleep for 4 hours per night. The more you sleep, the more testosterone your body produces, it’s as simple as that.

Insulin “Spiking”

Spiking insulin levels after a workout by taking in simple carbohydrates and protein – preferably in liquid form – can block the catabolic effects of the hormone cortisol and enable key nutrients to replenish muscle cells. It can also enhance protein breakdown synthesis and lower the breakdown of protein secondary to weight training.

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Moderate Cardio

There are 3 primary ways that cardio at a moderate intensity can help you build (and retain) more muscle. They are as follows:

  1. It improves muscle recovery.
  2. It improves your body’s metabolic responses to food.
  3. It keeps up your conditioning, making the transition from “bulking” to “cutting” easier on your body.

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Nutrition, Meal Size & Calorie Cycling

Building muscle requires an increase in calories. What this means is that to gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn each day. Having said that, on the other hand if you go over the top and eat too much, you’ll soon increase the amount of fat your body stores. So how do we combat this? The key is to eat just enough to facilitate the muscle gaining process, but not so much that you’ll add tons of fat along with it.

One way to do this is by controlling portion sizes at mealtime. For most meals (not including post workout), aim to get 40-60 grams of protein and 40-80 grams of carbs, depending on your size. Bigger guys weighing more than, say, 225 pounds (102kg) will lean towards the higher end. Dietary fat should be as low as possible, except for healthy fats (from nuts, olive oil, fatty fish), which can amount to 5-10 grams per meal.

To gain lean tissue, you MUST be in a calorie surplus. The trouble is staying in a surplus can cause fat accumulation. Instead of staying in a surplus 100% of the time, if you zig zag your caloric intake between 3 days at a surplus of about 10-15% over maintenance, then you reduce calories down to maintenance or 5-10% below maintenance (deficit), you prevent the accumulation of body fat.

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When cycling through bulking and cutting phases, you will be preparing your hormones to influence your bulk in terms of muscle gains more efficiently, whilst reducing those unwanted fat percentages. I believe that going on a “Lean Bulk” by increasing your calories slowly overtime, with a means to gaining quality mass, is the best way to achieve this goal.

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Love this part - many times i have had to explain to friends HIIT has a different impact - 

"HIIT (High Intense  Interval training) – Running sprints or short bursts of  intensity lasting approximately 6 seconds dramatically increase the levels of  testosterone. The high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum  intensity, or in other words, around 90%."

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

yeah, people don't get it until they try it!


Interesting thoughts on calorie cycling :-)


Lets see if I understood this cycling right. At the moment I strive for caloric surplus. Using benedict harrison and meal planner here I should eat about 3000 kcal per day. But if i get this right I should rather say eat 3000 monday-wednesday then go down to say 2700-2800 for a day or two and then back up? And if so would eating 3000 monday to thursday work and go lower friday to sunday since I want more energy on my workout days? 

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

Yeah start off this way and adapt it as you montior your progress/the way you feel. If your training 5 days in a row what you need to consider here is the intensity of each workout. The more intense the workout, the more justification for a caloric surplus. On the other hand if one or two of these session are otherwise moderate you may consider reducing your calories and acessing your energy levels by asking yourself whether its necessary to be in a surplus on those days also.

Brolle81  Edit  Delete  Close

Then I will cycle off Saturday and Sunday then since I train 5 consecutive days in a row. Unless I for some reason miss one workout for some reason.

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

Hey @brolle81 thanks for reading my article and thanks for your Question. Each person who practices calorie cycling will have a different plan that links to the days that they workout. Personally atm I lift two days on, then two days off. Therefore I try to stay in a calorie surplus on the days that I lift only. I suggest you do the same for your current Mon-Wed routine to begin with and monitor how its goes.  You may find that after a few weeks that three days in a row on a surplus may not be neccessary to sustain your energy levels. This will depend on your body's ability to utilise/spare the macros you consume and will be discovered by you through trial and error. The split I have provided above that I currently use is helping me maintain lean muscle off the back of a recent bulk. I hope this helps.


You've got it covered!  Calorie cycling has helped me a lot!


Very Useful :)


Cool article!


GREAT article keep this content coming!!


The mythical "lean bulk" is finally explained well. Great Article.


Good stuff! 


Great article @time_is_muscle! All about them lean gains!