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Does possession of a certain quantity of bodyfat effect the body’s capacity to build muscle? Or is it an irrelevant factor?

In order to build muscle, which adds weight to the body, a caloric surplus and sufficient protein intake is required. If bodyfat is sufficiently high however, the body can utilize the energy produced from the breakdown of that fat to build muscle even while in a deficit. This is of course not possible with a lower bodyfat percentage.

Powerlifters and Bodybuilders alike seem to build more muscle while their bodyfat is higher. And while lean and thin people are certainly capable of building muscle too, is it really at the same potential rate of development?

As a disclaimer, I’m not asking exclusively if there are massive differences between the various ranges of bodyfat, I’m asking if there is any research or evidence showing that notable differences (small or large) exist.

  • I think you're looking at a bit of a misconception. Bodybuilders get bigger/stronger in the off season, while eating huge amounts to support it. They get bigger and fatter, then they cut weight/fat during prep for competition. The bodyfat isn't an enabler, it's a side effect. – JohnP Feb 18 at 17:54
  • @JohnP - Right, I’m curious though as to whether it’s purely correlation or if there is some causation at work as well. – JustSnilloc Feb 18 at 19:14
  • That...is an interesting slant. I suspect correlation, but I will see if I can find any studies or other info. – JohnP Feb 18 at 21:08
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Does possession of a certain quantity of bodyfat effect the body’s capacity to build muscle?

In order to build muscle, which adds weight to the body, a caloric surplus and sufficient protein intake is required. If bodyfat is sufficiently high however, the body can utilize the energy produced from the breakdown of that fat to build muscle even while in a deficit.

When you are on an iso- or hypercaloric diet, you get all the energy and nutrients required for a muscle growth from food, so the body fat does not break down and does not contribute to muscle growth.

When you are on a hypocaloric diet, your body fat can be used for energy and, maybe, indirectly, for muscle growth. But this still doesn't answer the question if the higher amount of body fat can result in greater or faster muscle mass gain. By the way, muscle mass gain is possible in a calorie deficit (PubMed, 2000 ; PubMed, 2011.)

In conclusion, I see no logic how could greater body fat stores contribute to greater muscle mass gain, except maybe in a hypocaloric diet. This idea probably arises from a common practice of bulking when exercising for muscle mass gain. But as said in one comment, increased fatty stores are probably just a side effect of bulking rather than a beneficial factor for muscle growth.

  • Thank you for the studies, especially the second one with the athletes. It's been known that obese/overweight can gain LBM while losing weight, the second study is the first I've seen confirming that it can be done in a trained individual as well. – JohnP Apr 25 at 17:11

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