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Gaining Fat, Not Muscle? 4 Mistakes You’re Making

What’s up, guys? Sean Nalewanyj here at www.SeanNal.com.
Today’s question: What should you do if you’re trying to bulk up, you want to gain overall lean mass but it seems like you’re mostly just gaining fat but not muscle. I get this question all the time.
The answer is pretty straight forward. So these are the four main mistakes you might be making. Mistake number one is that your targeted daily calorie intake is just set too high.
Yes, if you’re trying to do a focus bulk and you want to maximize you gains then you do need to be eating in a calorie surplus but a lot of guys who are just starting out, especially those who are naturally very thin and they want to gain size as quickly as possible, they tend to take that whole ‘Eat big to get big’ idea just a bit too far.
Like I’ve said many times before, there’s a set limit of how much muscle your body can build over any given day or any given week. And just stuffing your face with more and more food beyond that maximum threshold to try and speed up the process, that’s only going to make you fat.
Your goal, if you want to make lean gains and minimize body fat increases, is going to be to eat just enough calories to optimize hypertrophy but nothing more than that. If you’re gaining much more than about half a pound of bodyweight per week or three pounds per month at the maximum, then you’re most likely going overboard and you’re going to need to dial things back. You’d still be gaining muscle in a situation like that, of course assuming that your training program is on point, but the increases in body fat are going to be coming in so quickly that it might seem like that’s the only thing you’re gaining.
How many calories should you consume?
You’ll hear a lot of different recommendations on this, but a pretty safe bet is around two hundred to three hundred calories above your maintenance level. You can go a bit higher or a bit lower depending, but that’s going to be a pretty safe bet for most average lifters.
Mistake number two is that you have calculated your calories properly and you are aiming to it in a moderate surplus, but you’re actually going over it without realizing it. I’ve been doing fitness coaching for over a decade now, I’ve worked with a lot of different people, and one thing I’ve learned for sure is that most people are just not very good at accurately tracking their true calorie intake. And they’re very often off by a pretty big margin.
This can happen for a few different reasons. Number one: It could be that you’re just winging your diet and you’re just trying to estimate things. Now, this can work fine for experienced lifters who know their bodies well and who have a good sense of the nutrition content for different foods, but if you’re still in the beginning stages then I’d recommend that you through at least a period of detailed, on point dietary tracking just to learn the road, basically.
Because if you don’t then the natural instinct is going to be to overeat, especially if you’re in that bulking mindset and you want to gain as much size as possible. The other possibility is that you are attempting to track things but you’re just making errors in your measurements and your overall tracking that are adding up throughout the day. So basically, there are little hidden items that you’re overlooking or you’re just measuring things wrong. For example, if what you think is one tablespoon of peanut butter is actually two tablespoons, that’s a very common mistake, that’s a hundred extra calories right there alone.
But other things like an extra glass of fruit juice or a handful of almonds, little high calorie snacks, cooking oils, cream and sugar in your coffee, all of these things can add up quite a bit for the day as a whole if you aren’t careful. And the other possibility is that you’re taking the concept of cheat meals and cheat days a bit too far.
There’s nothing wrong at all with including cheat foods in your plan in moderation. Eighty to ninety percent clean food is a good guideline and then you can just fill in the rest with whatever you want. But when it all comes down to it, your overall gains and bodyweight are still ultimately going to come down to your total net energy balance for the week as a whole.
And so everything you consume from day-to-day counts. So if you ate in a three hundred calories surplus Monday to Friday but then you just went all out on the weekend and you ate in a twelve hundred calories surplus on Saturday and Sunday, that would put your total surplus on average at more like five hundred and fifty calories a day, which is almost double what you were aiming for.
So bottom line, when calculating your daily calorie intake, all cheat meals and all cheat days count. And they’re not somehow a free-pass just because you were good with your training and your diet over the previous days. So moving on to mistake number three. For those who feel like they’re gaining fat but not muscle, third mistake is very simple, and that is that you’re weight training plan is just not properly laid out and not properly executed.
I mean you have to think of the basic logic of muscle growth. You go to the gym. You place your muscles under stress in order to stimulate growth response. Then you leave the gym, you eat in a calorie surplus and your body uses those calories to build your muscles larger and stronger. But if that growth response wasn’t strong enough to begin with, not only will you not gain very much new muscle because your body will have no incentive for it, but your body won’t even need all of the extra calories you’re eating in order to recover it.
So those calories won’t have anywhere to go except to your fat stores. So if it seems like you’re gaining fat but not muscle, you’ve got to sit down and be honest with yourself.
Are you truly training hard in the gym and truly pushing yourself reasonably close to your limit during each workout? Are you keeping track of your workouts and applying the law of progressive overload by steadily focusing on getting stronger overtime? Are you being consistent with your planning, showing up for you workouts on the assign days? Are you using enough total training volume and leaving the gym knowing that you did enough each time?
The simple fact is that a lot of guys in the gym just don’t train hard enough. And if you’re eating in calorie surplus but your workout plan is weak then it shouldn’t be any surprise that your body fat is going up but your muscle mass is not. And mistake number four, another very simple one, but it’s the possibility that you just have unrealistic expectations about how the muscle building process works. It’s actually very possible that there’s nothing wrong to your plan at all and that you’re just expecting too much too soon.
Building muscle naturally is a slow and gradual process for the average lifter. It doesn’t happen overnight. And it takes time, patience and consistent long term effort to really gain a noteworthy amount of quality muscle. I get a lot of messages from people asking about this topic. And then when I asked about their program, it turns out that they’ve only been training for a few weeks and they’ve only gain a few pounds of extra bodyweight.
And some of that initial weight gain probably isn’t even body fat at all but it’s just additional water retention from the higher calorie diet that they’re following.
So don’t jump the gun on this. You aren’t going to have defined shoulders and packs popping out after a few weeks of training. It’s a slow process. And it’s a matter of consistent small increases from week to week. And it’ll take a few months of proper training and proper nutrition for you to really start seeing significant visual changes. So thanks for watching, guys.
If you are struggling with this issue and you want to get everything properly laid out in step-by-step format. Your workout plan, meal plans, supplements and one-on-one coaching with me then you can download my Body Transformation Blueprint by clicking ‘here’ or by heading over to www.BodyTransformationTruth.com.
The link is in the description box. Make sure to like the video, leave a comment and subscribe if you haven’t already. The official blog is www.SeanNal.com. And you can follow me on facebook, twitter, instagram, all that good stuff. The links for that are also in the description box. Thanks again for watching, guys. And I’ll see you in the next video.