To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
In my last post, I covered what to expect during your first weeks on a fat loss diet.
In this article, I aim to tackle the opposite: What can you expect in your first weeks on a muscle-building diet?
1. You could gain a lot of weight.
Dieting for the purpose of gaining muscle requires a caloric surplus.
Eating in excess of your maintenance intake usually results in more food bulk, more carbohydrates, and therefore more water retention due to the carbohydrate increase.
So it’s not uncommon to see an unexpected jump in weight during the first couple of weeks.
But you don’t have to “make up” for this slightly bigger initial increase by slowing down weight gain in future months. As this starting boost is primarily down to food and water, and not muscle or fat, you can simply write it off as a necessary side effect of beginning your muscle-building journey.
In general, before making any changes to your calories when you first start a diet, allow your body to adjust to the extra energy. If the rate of gain still exceeds your intended target in your fourth week, you can decrease your calories slightly without dropping back to maintenance.
2. You could struggle with the idea of gaining weight.
When I began my long-term muscle-building phase in late 2018, I would gain some weight one week, get scared, drop my calories, lose the weight, increase calories again, gain weight, get scared…
You get the gist. It went on for a couple of months.
Back then, I thought it a wise idea to switch to a caloric surplus right after a fat loss diet.
The problem was, I was used to my leaner look and was afraid to lose it, so wrapping my head around the fact that gaining weight would eventually help me improve my physique was a challenge.
If you used to have overweight and have dieted successfully, then you might get scared of undoing all of your progress, too.
In this case, don’t jump straight into a muscle-building phase like I tried to do. Spend some time maintaining your new lower weight instead.
This will help you:
As an alternative, you can opt to maintain your weight and continue following a structured, progressively overloading training program. You will still make gains, albeit at a slower rate than if you were in a surplus, and at least you would not worry so much about fat gain.
If you have always struggled with being skinny, then you might get scared of going from looking too small and frail to the opposite, without ever achieving the look of your dreams.
What helped me get out of my “gain weight, lose weight” vicious cycle was to accept that you will not always like your look as you try to build muscle.
However, this stage is fundamental to see true physique enhancements.
In the end, you will reveal the fruits of your labour with a fat loss phase, but the outcome will be far superior if this fat loss phase comes when it is objectively necessary, not when you feel a little uncomfortable with some of the “fluff” you have put on.
In a society that values smaller and lighter bodies over bigger and heavier ones, gaining muscle can be a mental minefield, so I covered more helpful tips for long-term muscle-building diets in this article.
3. You might not gain much weight at all.
The rule of thumb that 3500 calories equal 1lb of either muscle or fat is helpful when you are setting up your caloric surplus.
Nevertheless, sometimes you might think you did all the right calculations based on your maintenance… but nothing happens. Your weight doesn’t budge.
The reason is that you might not be in a true caloric surplus for a number of reasons.
First of all, building muscle is an energy-demanding process, so some of the extra calories you will be eating to achieve a surplus will go towards enabling the process that grows muscle, not into the new muscle tissue itself.
Furthermore, if you have planned to ramp up your training volume in conjunction with the increase in calories, you may not take into account the extra energy you are now expending when exercising.
Or, even if your training volume stays the same on paper, the extra calories you are consuming give you an extra boost, so you increase your loads a little faster or maybe do a few more reps or even add a couple of sets. Doing so burns some of the surplus calories you are eating, so now they can’t be used to synthetize new tissue.
You may also not notice that you are more active in your daily life. Maybe you fidget more, get up from your desk and pace around more often, feel restless and move around the house, and the list goes on.
All of this activity can reduce the size of your surplus to the point where you find yourself at maintenance.
Lastly, be honest with yourself: Are you avoiding a caloric surplus on purpose? Are you spinning your wheels like I was?
Whatever the reason, if in four weeks’ time you realise you have gained less than 0.5% of your starting bodyweight – maybe less than 0.25-30% if you are an advanced female-bodied trainee – then you need to up your calories.
What was your experience when you first started gaining muscle?
A personal trainer who likes superheroes, bread, lifting weights, and studying “fitness stuff”.
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