My body fat is about 21.5% and my aim is to gain lean muscle. I have started performing body weight exercises since the past 3-4 months and am making good progress with strength training (intensity at 4-8 reps).

Is a coloric surplus required to gain muscle, if I make sure to eat 1.6 grams of protein per kilo of my target weight? I assume that any deficit will be burnt from fat and I have quite a lot to spare.

  • I recall seeing a study which showed that eating beyond 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean muscle mass was close to optimal for building muscle, and that beyond that the benefit is marginal.
    – user31619
    Aug 14, 2019 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


Yes. It is entirely possible to gain muscle on a deficit. The process is called "body recomposition" or "recomping". The difficulty in doing so depends on experience, bodyfat percentage, training intensity, training adherence, macronutrient adherence, and the size of the deficit.

A person just starting out with 25% bodyfat may be able to build muscle working out 3 days a week, lifting moderately, eating at a 500 calorie deficit, and only tracking protein. A person with 5 years experience at 15% bodyfat may be able to build muscle if they work out 5 days a week, lifting heavy, eating at a 150 calorie deficit, and meticulously tracking every macronutrient. A pro athlete at 10% bodyfat will probably not gain any muscle in a deficit no matter what they do.

In your case, it sounds like you're making progress with what you're doing. You shouldn't change anything until you stop.

If your workouts start feeling exhausting even after a deload and you're losing progress, then your calories are too low and you need to increase them a bit. Otherwise you won't be able to continue to train at the intensity you need to build muscle.

If your workouts aren't exhausting but you're not making progress, then you need to increase the difficulty of your workouts. This can be either through more weight, more reps, more sets, harder exercises, different exercises, etc.

If your workouts aren't exhausting but you're regressing, then you're probably both working out too hard and eating at too much of a deficit. Lower the workouts and build back up. Increase the calories slightly to help.


Definitely not a must, especially in the beginning. I used to weigh 100+ kilos (220+ lbs) and after I lost weight to a point where I was satisfied, I kept eating in a deficit and gained a reasonable amount of muscle and strength.


It depends what stage of your physical progression you're at. If you're overweight or a fitness newbie then yes it is entirely possible to put on muscle whilst in caloric deficit. As an advanced lifter, not so much. Some people argue 'yes it's entirely possible as an advanced lifter under xyz circumstances', but in my personal experience it is far easier to simply split the process into a bulk and cut (surplus and deficit).

21.5% is probably high enough to still achieve muscle gains in a deficit, so in your case I'd say it is entirely possible as long as the deficit isn't too large. 200 calories under maintenance at most (Or eat at maintenance and introduce cardio to achieve the same result).

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