That’s a valid concern. Frankly, when gaining weight there is always the possibility that some of the surplus calories you’re consuming will wind up being stored as fat, especially if your training/nutrition program isn’t too hot.
But being in a calorie surplus is the only way to gain weight. I mean that literally. A calorie surplus is the one and only thing that will cause someone—anyone—to gain weight.
The good news is that as a naturally lean guy you have a small number of fat cells and great insulin sensitivity. You’ll be rather more resistant to fat than everyone else you know (study). If you bulk cleverly you’ll be able to do it very leanly.
What’s the smart way to bulk leanly? In order of importance:
- Follow the best weightlifting program that you can. The better the quality of your workouts, the more insulin sensitive your muscle cells will be, and the more surplus calories they’ll soak up and turn into muscle.
- Keep your calorie surplus relatively modest. With a good lifting plan and good nutrition habits, some skinny guys can build a couple pounds of muscle each week during their first couple months of bulking up. If you’re worried about gaining fat though, eat in a smaller surplus and gain weight more slowly. Instead of one or two pounds per week, aim for 0.5 pounds per week.
- Eat enough protein. Muscle can only be build out of digested protein (aka amino acids). In order to build new muscle mass, you need to be consuming enough protein to build that muscle with. Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan that usually isn’t a problem—you don’t need nearly as much protein as bro-science would have you believe—but sometimes it can help to either eat more meat/dairy/grains/legumes or take a protein supplement, like whey protein.
- Eat mostly whole foods. More vitamins and minerals means fewer deficiencies, better overall health, and better muscle-building hormones. More fibre can mean fewer bioavailable calories (both a blessing and a curse) and thus less potential for surplus calories spilling over into fat gains. Plus, some research has shown that some types of processed foods really are more likely to be stored as fat (study). There’s more to this of course, but this is a good rule of thumb.
There are tons of things that affect how lean your gains are—we’ve written an entire book about it—but if you’ve got those four things mastered you should do pretty well. So will your stomach.
There’s more good news, too. Weightlifting will improve the insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells, making it more likely that the food you eat will go to muscle instead of fat (study). Plus, having more muscle mass on your body will further improve your insulin sensitivity, making it easy to be ripped in the longer term (study, study).
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