The Simple Guide to Building Muscle Without Getting Fat


If you want to maintain a lean toned physique as you get older then you have to focus at  some point focus on building and maintaining muscle mass.

Muscle mass and overall strength starts to decline after a 40 at an alarming rate.

The good news is that you can slow down and even reverse this process with a consistent fitness program that is focused on building muscle and strength.

The problem is that even though people are aware they want more muscle on their body, they are a little uncomfortable with the process of actually trying to build some.

I find in many men over forty they just don’t have the motivation to do the work that it requires to build and maintain muscle.

While in women this irrational fear of getting bigger through using weights stops can be a major reason why they shy away from this type of exercise.

This is a real shame because just adding a small amount of muscle in the right place can make a massive difference to their physique.

So what I want to address in this article is to show you how you can actually build muscle without getting fat and feeling like you are getting too big and bulky.

How you build muscle

Whether you like it or not if you want to add muscle mass and do it quickly there will be some fat gain as well.

Normally the goal is to gain same level of fat as you do muscle but this can vary either way depending on genetics, age and training experience.

Although training correctly is important for building muscle which we will discuss later, how much food and the types of food you eat will have the most impact on your ability to build muscle.

You probably know already that protein is important for muscle growth but just eating more of this will not be enough. You also need to increase the amount of calories you are eating so that you are in a daily positive energy balance.

The problem is that nobody really knows how much they are eating.

If you are trying to build muscle but not eating enough calories then it is going to be very difficult for the body to make this happen.

The body needs a certain amount of energy everyday (BMR) to keep everything ticking along plus any energy demand from activity you are doing on a daily basis.

If you are eating less calories than you burn off then you are in a negative energy balance.

This is great for burning fat but not great for adding muscle to your frame.

Because when your body is a negative energy deficit your body just can’t create new muscle tissue known as protein synthesis effectively.

In a negative calorie deficit anabolic hormones that help build muscle such as Testosterone are also lowered when in a calorie deficit while catabolic hormones such as cortisol that can break muscle down are shown to increase.

As you can imagine this does not create a hormone environment conducive to building muscle.

Training performance is also reduced.

Anybody who has lifted weights in negative energy balance while trying to lose weight will know that strength levels drop and it becomes a struggle to even maintain existing levels.

But if you want to build muscle you need to be increasing your strength and consistently lifting heavier weights.

If this is not happening, then unless you are a complete beginner or you have very responsive genetics to weight training you will struggle to build any significant muscle mass.

As you can see being in a calorie deficit is not where we want to be if adding muscle is our goal.

What you need is to be in positive calorie balance so that the body has all the ingredients and energy it needs to create new muscle tissue.

But this requires eating more food than we may be comfortable with.

The good news is you can limit this extra fat gain by just following a few simple guidelines. 

women training

How much muscle can you really build?

If you are worried about looking bulky by gaining some muscle then let’s get a little perspective here.

Building real, lean muscle is hard, really hard.

It is even harder for women who have less anabolic hormone levels that men have.

Not only that but it takes time so forget any notion of suddenly blowing in just a few weeks unless you want to start using drugs.

The truth is most women who are just starting out with weightlifting properly and who can stick with good training program and follow a consistent diet they can expect to gain somewhere in the region of 7-12 pounds of muscle in one year.

This figure will also depend on age and how well your body responds to resistance training.

These figures will reduce the more years you have been training as you reach your genetic potential for gaining muscle.

So we are not talking huge amounts here but if for example you could add just 5 pounds of muscle in the right areas and get a firm tight look you are going to make a massive change to your body.

So going through this process is really worth it but don’t expect it to happen overnight.

I would say the minimum length of time you need to see significant results is 12 weeks but for most people who have never trained consistently before I would recommend 6 months.  

How many calories do you need to build muscle?

So first off we need to know how many calories you need to be eating every day that will take you into a calorie surplus and allow your body to start building muscle.

This is known as your basal metabolic rate – BMR

There are a number of formulas for working out personal calorie levels but I prefer this one

BMR = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)
The reason I like this best is that it takes into account lean muscle mass rather than just total body weight. How much lean muscle you have will determine your metabolic rate so if we focus on that figure it should give a more accurate result.

However to get your BMR rate you need to have an idea of what your body fat percentage is. If you are not sure how to do this properly then watch this video.

If you are pushed for time go to 7.50 min on video for demonstration

If you don’t want to use calipers then body fat scales are acceptable but the results won’t be accurate. Whatever you choose stick with this method. This applies when you are trying to lose body fat.

So an example of this would be

Female weighs 140 lbs (63.5 kilos)
Body fat percentage is 24% (33.6 lbs fat, 106.4 lbs lean)
Lean mass is 106.4 lbs (48.2 kilos)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 X 48.2) = 1382 calories

Normally you then take this number and multiply it by the following activity level ratings to give you a maintenance number of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)

• By 1.2 if you exercise 1-3 hours per week.
• By 1.35 if you exercise 4-6 hours per week.
• By 1.5 if you exercise 6+ hours per week.

These figures are not recommended from the Katch Mcardle but from the Muscle for Life Site as they have determined which I agree with to be more realistic in the figures they give.

So if the lady in our example above was an average gym user with 6 months experience and exercising 5 times per week I would multiply her BMR by 1.35

1382 x 1.35 = 1865.7 calories for daily maintenance.

These figures should only be used a guideline to get you started.

The main thing here is to start and then just track your progress. If results are not happening then add a small amount of calories to your diet.

If you find your gaining too much bodyfat then cut back on the calories.

The aim is to create a strong foundation of training and eating well and then just tweak it depending on the results you are getting.

As ever, consistency is key!

muscle foods

What foods to Eat

Choose quality whole foods to make up the bulk of your diet. There is a list of the recommended foods to eat at further on in the article and I advise that you mix up your food choices as much as possible so you get a good balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

The more junk, processed type foods you have in your diet the better chance you have of getting fat and not obtaining maximum results for your efforts. Some women who have good genetics can get away with this but for most it pays to make sure that we fuel our bodies with the right stuff.

A Starting Point Macro Nutrient Balance for building Muscle.

Once you have your daily calorie figure for starting to build muscle you want to divide this number between the different macro nutrient groups. My recommendation is this which has some scientific backing.

Protein – 30% –
Carbs – 50%
Fats – 20%

If we go back to our example the daily calorie total for building muscle would be
1865.7 + 10% = 2052

The macro nutrient amounts would then be

Protein – 615 Calories / 4 = 153g per day

Carbs – 1026 Calories / 4 = 256.5g per day

Fats – 410 Calories / 9 = 45.5g per day.

With all that said when trying to achieve a calorie surplus up you can be a little more relaxed and enjoy the odd treat more than usual.

I think a good target is to aim for balanced meals of whole natural foods about 80% of the time where they contain protein, carbs and a little healthy fat. Around your workouts this may alter slightly.

As for the other 20% eat what foods you fancy at the time but just don´t go completely crazy.

However for the best and fastest results strive to get your daily calories and nutrients from mostly good quality food sources. 

3 Sample Meal Plans for Building Muscle without getting fat.

When having too eat more it can be difficult to fit all the calories into 3 meals so I recommend having 3 big meals and 2 smaller meals throughout the day. 

Sample Eating Plan for Lunchtime Workout

Meal 1 Protein + Fats

Meal 2 Protein + Carbs


Meal 4 -POST Workout (Immediately after) Whey Protein Shake

Meal 4 Protein + Carbs

Meal Protein + Carbs + Fats 

Sample Eating Plan for Morning Workout

Meal 1 Protein + fats


Meal 2 POST Workout (Immediately after) Whey Protein

Meal 2 Protein + Carbs

Meal 3 Protein + Carbs + fats

Meal 5 Protein + Carbs + Fats 

Sample Eating Plan for Evening Workout

Meal 1 Protein + Carbs

Meal 2 Protein + Carbs

Meal 3 Protein + Fats


Meal 4 -POST Workout (Immediately after) Whey Protein

Meal 5 Protein + Carbs

On non training days just eat as normal or if just reduce the calorie amount to maintenance level.

Again this is not exact science so just use this as a rough outline to plan meals and eating schedules.

As you can see this is probably a lot more food than you are used to eating but one of the big reasons people fail to add muscle is they under eat and regularly fall short of the calories they need every day.

So when embarking on a female muscle building program plan your meals properly and make sure that your food is on hand to eat no matter where you are. Missing the odd meal is not going to make a huge difference but consistently missing meals especially on training days will hinder your progress.

This is especially relevant for you that tend to struggle to put on weight and have a naturally fast metabolism. 

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Recommended Muscle Building Foods


1) Fish
2) Lean Beef
3) Bison Similar to beef if living in US
4) Chicken
5) Turkey
6) Whole eggs
7) Egg whites
8) Whey protein supplement
9) Cottage cheese
10) Casein Protein supplement

Complex Carbs
If you are following a strict Paleo diet then complex carbs are off the menu with sweet potatoes the only exception.

However if you follow a more relaxed Paleo approach then add a portion of one of the following to meals on intense training days.

White Potatoes
Brown Rice High
White Rice
Kidney or Black Beans


Green Beans
Spring onion
String beans
Bok Choy


Green Apple
Red Apple
Pear- conference
Watermelon diced

Healthy Fats

1) Walnuts
2) Almonds
3) Brazil
4) Avocado
5) Coconut Oil
6) Olive Oil
7) Fish Oil Omega 3
8) Walnut Oil
9) Macadamia Nut Oil
10) Flax Oil 

Supplements to Consider when building muscle

Unless you are an athlete or fitness competitor looking to gain a lot of muscle then I don´t think you need to take a lot of supplements.

If you eat a good quality balanced diet then you really shouldn´t need them however there are some worth the investment in my opinion if you have the budget.

Protein Supplement –Protein supplements such as Whey and Casein have been proven to help with building muscle. As it is fast absorbing it is best used immediately after your workout when your muscles are primed for taking in nutrients.

BCAA’s – Branch chain amino acids Aids in muscle recovery, growth hormone secretion and improves insulin sensitivity

A quality multi vitamin – When training heavy with weights it can lower your immune system. Keep yourself boosted with a good multivitamin.

Omega 3 supplement. – Decreases inflammation, improve nervous function, support muscle gain and healthy heart function.

Creatine – One of the only supplements proven to actually work for increased strength and improved recovery.

A super green supplement- If you not a big fan of veggies then a way to make sure you benefit from the vitamins and minerals they provide to too add a green supplement you your shakes. One serving in the morning is a great way to naturally increase energy and vitality while alkalizing your body. 

What to do if you’re not gaining muscle

An ideal amount of weight to gain per week is between 0.25 and 0.50 pounds.

If you are not doing this but following an appropriate training program and schedule then try adding more food.

There is no exact science to back up this theory but from my own experience and that of clients it does work.

However don’t just add any type of food. Keep your protein and fat levels the same and add in more carbs but only a small amount of around 20-30g.

If you don’t see a difference in week or so add in another similar amount of carbs.

Eventually you should hit the point where you start to notice muscle is growing.

If you are gaining muscle but too much fat then you have 2 choices.

Keep eating at the level you are at now and just add in an extra cardio session or reduce the daily carbs by 20-30g

Again whatever action you take monitor it for around a week then decide if you need to change things any further.

Whether you are gaining muscle or trying to lose fat you must get into the habit of tracking and monitoring. If you are not happy with the results you are getting then it is obvious to need to make changes but don’t hang about doing this.

It just wastes time and leads to frustration that if left to build can result in you losing focus and motivation. 

muscle and women

Training advice for increasing muscle and strength.

We have covered the diet side of things in quite a lot of depth because that is the area that most people fail to get right.

But resistance training is equally important if you want great results.

No matter how good your diet is without a well structured program of training and recovery you just won’t see great results.

For beginners this is not strictly the case as just doing any form of resistance training with a well planned diet can have a major impact.

Whatever level you are at the following training guidelines will apply.

Use free weight compound exercises in your workouts e.g., squats, presses, pulls deadlifts

Try to lift as heavy as you can and focus most of your sets in the 6-12 rep range.

Keep your total sets per workout to between 10-15 sets

Always try to lift just a little bit more in every workout.

Train with intensity but be careful to not do too much and risk injury or over training.

In terms of training frequency shoot for 3-4 resistance workouts per week depending on your schedule and training experience.

Whatever schedule you follow you need to make sure that your workouts are designed properly so each muscle group is getting worked at an optimal level for muscle growth.

Focus on giving your body the best level of recovery as possible with good quality sleep and managing your stress levels as best you can.


I know trying to build muscle and strength can seem a lot of effort and unfortunately most people are put off by the whole process even though they would love the results it would yield.

It really doesn’t need to be that complicated for you to see decent results.

All you have to do is put together a simple plan and then execute that plan every week.

If your not feeling your gaining much muscle food and amounts your eating or add some more intensity to your training.

If your gaining fat rather than muscle cut back on calories or add in some extra cardio exercise.

Remember to train hard but don’t not to the point where you are exhausted and in pain and get as much good quality sleep as possible to help with recovery.

Just focus on getting the basics right as laid out here and don’t stress if you get it wrong every now and again.

Keep telling yourself why you are doing it and have a clear but realistic goal.

But most of all enjoy the journey and the new found confidence that new muscle and strength will bring into your life.

Free 7 Day Fat Loss Plan

Get Leaner, Stronger and Fitter in 7 Days with our Free Meal and Exercise Plan.

Suitable for all ages and fitness levels.