The Key to Lean Gaining [Grow Muscle Without Getting Chubby]


So, if you read last week’s article Your Guide to Putting on Muscle As A Team Sport Athlete, you now understand that to build the maximum amount of muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus


[If you haven’t read that article yet, find it HERE]


In response to the article, by far the most common concern that was expressed to me by the athletes following me was the fear that gaining weight would lead to fat gain.


Here’s the thing –


Gaining considerable amounts of muscle will likely come along with some degree of fat gain, however, truly noticeable fat gain can be avoided effectively if the process of gaining is done correctly.


If you’ve tried “bulking” in the past or you know a friend/teammate that tried packing on the pounds only to end up a heavier, chubbier version of themselves…


Odds are, they made three key errors that we’ll cover in today’s article. 


ERROR #1 – The calorie surplus was too large.


For some reason, there is this belief that you need to eat an inhuman amount of food to make muscle growth happen.


Oftentimes, I’ll see athletes go into a 1000 calorie surplus thinking that it is necessary to gain muscle.


If you remember from last week’s article, the recommended starting point for a calorie surplus is about 300-500 calories above maintenance. This is usually a good range to aim for when it comes to increasing your weight while minimizing fat gain.


At a certain point, providing your body with more calories won’t lead to more muscle growth. It’s important to remember that muscle gain is a relatively slow process. If you add more calories than are needed by your body to facilitate lean tissue growth, your body will just store that energy for later use in the form of fat.


So, to minimize that excess fat gain, make it a point to provide your body with what it needs to make muscle growth happen, not more than that.


Remember, you should be aiming to gain roughly 1% of your body weight per month. This comes out to 0.25% of your body weight per week.


If you notice that you are consistently gaining more than the recommended rate, consider decreasing total calorie intake by 5%.


ERROR #2 – Lack of structure in the nutrition plan.


For whatever reason, there’s this notion that the only time you have to really pay attention to your nutrition is during a fat loss phase.


That could not be any more FALSE.


Structure in your nutrition plan is equally as necessary during a muscle building phase, so you can minimize the amount of fat that you gain in the process.


A common practice that I see in several athletes trying to gain  is the “see food” diet, where the athlete will just eat anything and everything in sight to try and gain weight.


Usually, the athlete will gain weight. However, it’s usually the wrong type of weight.


Lack of structure typically leads to the excess calorie surplus that we talked about in error #1.


Now, the good thing is that you don’t need to be as strict during a muscle building phase. It’s most important to at least have a rough idea of what your calorie, protein, carb, and fat intake is.


I usually recommend to be within +/- 100 calories of your goal and within +/- 10g of each of your macronutrient targets. This recommendation is obviously dependent on the individual, but it’s a good starting point for most athletes to make sure they are structuring their food intake appropriately.

ERROR #3 – You’re too attached to the number on the scale.


Eating only to see the scale go up every day is a fast track to gaining unwanted body fat.


Your body weight can fluctuate 1-3% overnight, regardless of if you gained or lost any muscle.


For example, you could be 200lbs one day and wake up at 198lbs the next.


What you do NOT want to do is freak out and increase the calories because you “lost” two pounds. Those two pounds that you lost were mostly water weight. This is completely normal.


Making the mistake of increasing calories before you need to is an easy way to end up accidentally eating in a 1000+ calorie surplus and put on a ton of extra body fat.


Now, I do recommend that you weigh yourself every day. This is so we can take the averages every single week.


The weekly averages of your body weight give us a much more accurate idea of if you ACTUALLY gained weight.


So, if after 2-3 weeks your weekly average weight hasn’t gone up, then you’ll want to pull the trigger and make the adjustment to increase your food intake.


Also, I’d highly recommend keeping track of your progress pictures and weight room progress. If you didn’t gain any weight over 2 weeks but you LOOK way better and you’re still getting stronger in the gym, consider waiting another week or so before increasing your calorie intake.


As always, this situation is very individual so if you have any questions about your specific situation please email me at 




This one was a relatively short article, but I hope it got the point across.


If you’re going to put in the effort to train hard (even at home during the quarantine), you want to make sure that the weight you’re gaining the type of wait you want to gain – MUSCLE!


As always, if you found this article helpful I’d really appreciate it if you shared this with another athlete who you think it would benefit. The more athletes we can help, the better!


Also, if you’d like to learn more about the 4 most common nutritional mistakes that I see athletes make all the time, get your free copy of the eBook HERE.


Thanks so much for reading, I hope you found this article helpful. Talk to you next time!


-Tommy Clark

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.