Bulking Set Point and “Muscle Memory”

You could think of your body as having a built-in bodyweight thermostat. You might have your weight set at, say, 130 pounds. If you go above 135, your appetite automatically turns off until you get back to 130 pounds. If you go below 125 pounds, your appetite automatically turns on until you get back up to 130 pounds. There’s more at play here than just your appetite, but you get the idea: your body is automatically regulating your weight around a given “set point.”

When you’re bulking up, you’re fighting that set point. It’s trying to regulate your body weight back down. It’s trying to eliminate all the progress you’ve made.

So how do we get your set point to 150, 180 or even 200 pounds? Is that even possible? That’s what this article is about.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).


When I first started building muscle, I was desperate for it. I was willing to make it a huge priority in my life, and while the idea of having to go to the gym and eat a bulking diet was daunting, I was willing to do whatever it took. I was even willing to take creatine (which seemed like steroids to me at the time).

Fast forward a few months and I’m realizing, okay, I can do this, but damn, is this my life forever? Am I going to be full every moment of my entire life? Am I always going to have this crippling muscle soreness and inflammation?

I gained twenty pounds that summer, bringing me from 130 pounds up to 150 pounds. It wasn’t a lifestyle change, though, it was just this crazy summer bulking challenge. When my semester at university started back up, I completely forgot about bulking. I went back to the same sedentary lifestyle as a deskbound design student.

Around a year later, I realized that I was starting to look out of shape again, so I got back into bulking. That second time around, I went from 150 up to 170 pounds. I’d added another twenty pounds, making me forty pounds heavier than when I started.

That time, some of the muscle-building habits stuck. I started living a healthier lifestyle. I was eating more vegetables and protein, and I was exercising 2–3 times per week.

I felt better, I looked better, and I had developed a hobby of helping skinny guys bulk up online. A year later, Bony to Beastly was starting to take shape, and I wanted to test the program. That brought me from 170 up to 185 pounds:

This time, every habit stuck. My diet was made up of at least 80% whole foods, I naturally ate enough protein, my appetite helped me maintain that higher body weight, and I was absolutely locked into my routine of lifting weights 2–3 times per week.

I also enjoyed it.

Best of all, I didn’t need to worry about having to bulk up ever again. My set point now seems to be at around 185 pounds. It will drift up five pounds when life is easy, but no higher. And it will drop down five pounds if I get sick or go travelling, but no lower. 

Just like I would never fall to less than 125 pounds when I was hovering around 130 pounds, now I’ll never fall under 180 pounds.

I wouldn’t have expected that. I didn’t know my thermostat could be adjusted. In fact, up until that point, I had been worried that it wasn’t adjusting.

I wish there had been an article like this one. An article that I could have read at all these different points so that I could have avoided the doubt and confusion. Most of all, I wish this article had existed back when I was 130 pounds—back when I was worried that bulking up meant eating a bulking diet forever.

Wherever you are on your journey, this article should help. I can also answer any questions you have about your specific situation in the comments.

First, though, we have to understand the muscle-building process a little better. Some adaptations are transient, some are durable, and some are totally permanent. Once you understand these differences, we’ll be able to cover the how-to.

Some Muscle Gains Are Permanent

Your muscles will adapt in a few ways. Some adaptations are permanent, some remain changeable, and some are fleeting. If you get hung up on the fleeting adaptations, you’re going to find yourself very confused. On the other hand, if you rely only on the permanent adaptations, it’s going to be hard for you to look your best on a day-to-day basis.

First, let’s look at how your muscles will grow over time.

The Newbie-Gains Stage

Newbie gains diagram

First, newbie gains. We have an entire article on newbie gains where we go over this science in even more detail, but long story short: when you first start lifting weights, your muscles will explode with rapid growth. It’s quick, it’s fairly easy, and you’ll grow as fast as you can shovel food into your mouth. (Mind you, eating that much food is hard, so it pays to learn how to eat more calories.)

Newbie gains are exciting, but they can also be frustrating. Your muscles can seem fragile. They won’t have a permanent feel to them yet. They can disappear just as fast as they show up.

This muscle is easy to gain, easy to maintain, but it isn’t permanent. It doesn’t seem like it does much to adjust your set point, as you can still move freely between the two states, letting your muscle fibres swell up to their maximum nuclear domains and then shrink back down. You’ll get better at this process, so it will be easier to regain the muscle than it first was, but your body hasn’t changed on a deep level yet.

The confusing thing about newbie gains is that if you don’t transition into making intermediate gains, your new muscle mass can feel pretty temporary. You’ll look a lot better, and it won’t be hard to maintain your gains, but if you travel or get sick for an extended period of time, you might shrink back down to where you were before.

If you never progress beyond this point, you may never realize that muscle gains can be a lot sturdier than this.

Intermediate Muscle Gains

Muscle growth diagram

Intermediate gains will unlock your next stage of muscle growth, and you can keep progressing here for a good few years. This is where the vast majority of your gains will be made.

Now, to be clear, there are a lot of ways to sort lifters into beginner, intermediate, and advanced stages. We aren’t talking about lifting skill or even strength, we’re just talking about how close to your genetic muscle-building potential you are.

We define intermediate gains as the stage when you can slowly add more nuclei to your muscle fibres. Your newbie gains are your first six months or so, at which point you start transitioning to your intermediate gains, which can last for several more years.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a certain amount of overlap between these stages. You’ll start getting these adaptations before you finish getting your newbie gains.

The point is, though, that newbie gains will take you from being skinny to being fit. And then this intermediate period is where you’ll go from being fit-but-thin to being truly strong and muscular.

However, the intermediate stage is also where you risk running into plateaus. You’ll run into strength plateaus if your hypertrophy routine isn’t good enough, and you’ll run into body-weight plateaus if you aren’t able to eat enough calories. Once you move beyond the beginner stage, you need to move beyond beginner programs.

Most of these intermediate adaptations are really good, though. You’ll gain a lot of muscle, your lifting coordination will get better, your stomach will grow physically bigger, your digestive system will grow stronger, your bones will grow denser, and you’ll become more experienced with lifting and nutrition. These changes are harder to come by, but they’re incredibly good for you, and many of them are also permanent.

See, the process of adding satellite cells to your muscle fibres can be challenging, but it’s also totally permanent. You are forever changing your genetics with every step of progress you make. This makes it way easier to be lean and muscular for the rest of your life.

Even if you stop lifting weights or eating a bulking diet, your muscles won’t go back to how they were before, they’ll just temporarily deflate a little bit, like so:

Muscle memory diagram

The red dots, which represent the nuclei, stay in your muscle fibres. That allows your muscle fibres to pop back up to full size as soon as you start lifting enough and eating enough again. Moreover, your muscles will naturally hover around a bigger set point. Even when you lose weight, you’ll still have better muscle definition and strength.

You can take this fairly far, improving yourself in a permanent way with every bit of progress. If you add even more nuclei to your fibres, the effect will be even more dramatic, like so:

Muscle memory diagram

Your muscularity will still fluctuate during good and bad times, but you’re going to look far better even when you’re deconditioned, and it’s going to be fairly quick and straightforward to get back into peak condition.

For a well-documented example of this, check out Tim Ferriss regaining 30 pounds of muscle in a month with just a couple minimalist workouts per week:

Also notice that after a couple of years away from lifting (left), he still looks like a fit and strong guy. If I recall the story correctly, he was travelling around learning how to dance, and his dance partners would comment on how muscular he was. Not a bad deconditioned state!

You’ve probably noticed actors transforming themselves like this, gaining or losing thirty, forty, or even sixty pounds of muscle on a whim depending on the role they’re playing.

For example, this muscle memory phenomenon is how Christian Bale could intentionally lose sixty pounds between Reign of Fire and the Machinist, then spend just a few months getting back in shape for Batman:

Advanced Muscle Gains

If you get even closer to your muscle-building potential, you can start making another type of adaptation. The science isn’t very well developed here, and I won’t go too far into it, but a dominant hypothesis is that your muscle fibres start splitting into two. If this takes place, your muscle fibres not only become better, but you also develop more of them!

When you get to these very advanced levels you can rebuild incredible amounts of muscle in very short periods of time. A famous example is Casey Viator regaining 63 pounds of muscle in 28 days. (Also of note here is how jacked Casey Viator is in his deconditioned state!)

You can read more about Casey Viator’s transformation in our in-depth article on hypertrophy training.

As you can guess, there’s more to this story than just lifting and eating big. He was a professional bodybuilder who took steroids, which can certainly have an impact on how this stuff works.

Some Muscle Gains are Transient

The best example of this is the pump. You can go to the gym, do a full-body workout, inflate up to an awesome size, and then deflate back down on your way back home.

If you met Hugh Jackman an hour after he pumped up for his shirtless Wolverine scene, he’d already be looking more like a normal person again.

There are other lesser-known changes that are transient, though. Let’s talk about a few different things that influence how strong you look:

  1. The pump. Getting a good pump can temporarily add a good inch to your bicep size. It can also make you look far more lean and vascular, especially if you’re under 15% body fat. But it’s so short-lived that it often won’t survive the trip home from the gym.
  2. Inflammation. If you go to the gym and stress your muscles, they’ll get a little inflamed over the next couple days. You might feel some muscle soreness (DOMS) during this time. You’re also going to look pretty good! That inflammation is only in your muscles, so it’s only your muscles that appear to be a little larger. If you get into the routine of doing full-body workouts a few times per week, your entire body will always look like this. Then when you go on vacation, you’ll go back to having fully recovered muscles, and you’ll start worrying that you’re already losing muscle mass. You aren’t. Your muscles are actually in better shape than they were yesterday. They’re now fully recovered.
  3. Fullness. If you eat a bunch of food, you’ll have more food moving through your digestive system. This will make you weigh more on the scale, it will make you look bigger… and it will make you look fatter. This might make you worried on two levels. First, you may worry that you’re getting fat because you’re looking a little pregnant. Second, as soon as you stop eating quite so much food, you’ll lose a couple pounds within a day or so. At that point, you might worry that you’re losing muscle mass with just a day of eating a regular amount of food. You aren’t, there’s just less food travelling through your digestive system. You might retain a little less water as well.
  4. Dryness. Bodybuilders are known to manipulate their water weight, but fighters take the prize here. Guys in the UFC, for example, are notorious for dropping 20+ pounds of water for their weigh-in, then re-inflating back to full size for their fight the next day. It’s a miserable and somewhat unhealthy process, and you’re unlikely to do it by accident. However, you can also get a lesser version of this if you go out drinking. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it dehydrates you. After a night of drinking, you might wake up the next morning quite a bit lighter. Guys normally don’t mind how they look in this state since it makes them look leaner, but it can freak us skinny guys out because of the weight loss. Fortunately, the alcohol hasn’t destroyed our gains, we just need to rehydrate! Anyway, bodybuilders call this looking “dry.”
  5. Flatness. If you eat a bunch of carbs, your muscles are going to swell up with glycogen. This is especially true if you’re in the habit of lifting weights, and also if you’re a male. When you get out of the habit of lifting weights or eating a carb-filled diet, your muscles won’t hold onto as much glycogen, and they’ll deflate a little. Bodybuilders call this looking “flat.” (This is also why some people start to look smaller when they start eating a ketogenic diet.)

If you add up all these things, you can see how a guy might be pretty stoked about the gains he’s made, go on vacation, and within a few days be panicking because he doesn’t look like the selfie he took at the gym the other day.

I have a simple solution for this: overshoot your goal physique by 5–10 pounds.

I know that might not be possible yet. In the meantime, just remember that a few of the pounds you see in the mirror after a good lifting session aren’t real yet. A few days later you’ll look like you’ve gained 2% body fat and lost 5 pounds of muscle.

There’s a plus to these transient changes, though, as they’re a good incentive to stay in a good lifting and eating routine. That way you’ll always look your best.

I do want to stress that these changes may seem extreme from your perspective, but most people won’t notice. You don’t need to stress about them, and part of leading a Beastly lifestyle is not being the kind of guy who’s scared to take his shirt off if he’s feeling a little bloated or flat.

You Won’t Need to Eat a Bulking Diet Forever

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer eating a feast in his attempt to bulk up, gain weight. and build muscle.

To gain around a pound per week, you need to eat about 500 extra calories every day. As you get further into your bulk, you may find that your metabolism starts chasing you. You keep eating that same 500-calorie surplus, but slowly you start gaining less and less weight. Soon, you aren’t gaining weight anymore. You need to raise your calorie intake even higher. Oh no!

This is fat-people heaven, but we’re not fat people.

At this point, most skinny guys get scared. We fear that the muscle we’ve built is what’s burning all of those extra calories, so as soon as we stop eating those extra calories, we’ll lose all the muscle we worked so hard to build.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. A pound of muscle only burns 6 calories per day. You’d have to build 83 pounds of muscle in order to burn 500 extra calories per day. Your metabolism hasn’t adapted to your new muscle mass, it’s adapted to your overeating.

This doesn’t happen to most people. Not everyone has a highly adaptive metabolism. “Hardgainers” are known for it, though, and most of us naturally skinny dudes are hardgainers. When we eat more calories, we fidget more, we radiate more body heat, and so our metabolisms rise.

The good news is that this metabolism change will only last so long as we’re overeating. You can cut those 500 calories out of your diet and you will not lose any muscle. Worst case, you might look a little flat because you aren’t holding onto quite as much muscle glycogen.

So let’s say you normally eat 2,250 calories. You add in 500 calories and begin your bulk at 2,750 calories. You gain weight, but as you gain weight, your metabolism rises higher, so you’re forced to gradually raise your calorie intake to keep up with your rising metabolism.

After a few months of bulking, let’s say that you’ve gained 27 pounds. A skinny guy’s dream. But you’re also eating a whopping 3,750 calories. 1500 more calories than when you started bulking. A skinny guy’s nightmare.

At this point, most of us are panicking because we think we’ll have to keep eating like this forever, or that we’ll only be able to cut 500 calories off, bringing us to a still-whopping 3,250 calories per day just to maintain our physiques.

Fortunately, our new calorie intake just needs to accommodate the calorie needs of our new muscle mass, and muscle only burns six calories per pound. So our new calorie requirements are more like 2,250 + 162. Not a big difference, and your stomach and digestive system will have adapted to this new intake anyway. You can go back to eating according to your appetite. No problem. This is your new body-weight set point.

(Now, it’s worth noting that carrying around more muscle, and especially lifting heavy weights with that new muscle, will add extra calorie needs into the mix, but not a lot. This is more of a concern for long-distance runners and cyclists, as any extra weight they’re carrying around can add up over long distances. Not an issue for regular guys, even if they have an active job.)

Eating a bulking diet will always be hard, as it’s stressing your system. You’re challenging your natural homeostasis mechanisms.

However, eating a maintenance diet, no matter how much muscle you build, should always feel fairly natural—at least once you get used to it. (Assuming you made your muscle gains naturally, anyway. I’m not sure how steroids would change things.)

After all, as we bulk up, our appetites and digestive systems bulk up as well.

You Can Take Breaks While Bulking

If you’ve successfully finished you’re bulk, or even if you’re partway through bulking and overwhelmed with how high your calorie needs have climbed, you can always bring your calories back to maintenance.

How? You can immediately cut 500 calories off of your bulking diet, then cut out an extra 200–300 daily calories every week. Keep your protein intake fairly high while doing this—at least 1 gram per pound bodyweight. Also, keep up your lifting routine. It’s important that you’re maintaining your strength and muscle mass while adjusting your calorie intake down. This ensures that if you’re losing weight, it’s just fat, gut contents, and/or transient fluids. When you’re eating in line with your appetite again, you can take a break at that calorie intake for as long as you need to. Then, when you’re ready to bulk again, add in 500 calories, adjusting each week accordingly.

Reaching a New Muscularity Set Point

Your muscles will always be able to shrink and grow depending on your lifestyle, but some of the adaptations you make while building muscle will improve your musculature forever. If you can accumulate enough of those changes, you’ll find that your new set point is far more lean and muscular than it was before. In order to fully experience these benefits, though, you’ll likely have to go beyond newbie gains, and spend some time grinding for your intermediate level gains.

Interestingly, your fat cells adapt in a similar way. They can shrink and grow, which is fine, but if you gain enough fat, they’ll multiply. This phenomenon is called fat-cell hyperplasia, and it’s one reason why people who have been quite overweight in the past will often have more trouble getting and staying lean. It’s not an issue we tend to run into around here—it’s a very high-level adaptation, and you’d need to get really fat—but it’s one reason why it pays to bulk fairly leanly.

It’s also a good reason to understand that a fat person’s battle is very different from ours. Not only will they have more fat cells, but their digestive systems have already adapted to crave, fit, and digest more food. They’ll find a bulking diet easy to stomach, we will not. And while we’ll be able to get and stay lean fairly easily, for them it can be a lifelong battle.

The good news for us is that we have a genetic advantage here. Even skinny-fat guys don’t have this issue. Moreover, if you’re already very lean, then your hormonal profile will also make it easier to stay lean. This is why bulking at 15% body fat or lower tends to allow guys to build muscle more leanly, whereas bulking at 20% or more might make it really hard to build more muscle than fat. (Skinny-fat guys do run into issues with this, and we go into more detail on this in our article for skinny-fat guys.)

This is all to say that things snowball, and that’s good. Build some muscle, and it will be easier to stay muscular. Lose some fat, and it will be easy to stay lean. Even if you stop eating well and exercising, you’ll fare better than the person who never ate well and exercised in the first place.

To end with an example, I remember hearing that my football-player-turned-neurosurgeon cousin had started going to the gym again. He was deadlifting 225 pounds. The competitive side of me was stoked. At that point, I had climbed up to a 375-pound deadlift. I was stronger than this Beast of a dude?! No way!

The next week he was deadlifting 315. The week after that he was back to deadlifting 405. It took me months to turn my 375 into 405.


Muscle memory is a real phenomenon. Some of the adaptations we make while building muscle are permanent. Once you’re strong, it’s not hard to stay that way, and any progress you lose will always come back quickly.

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

Maintenance and regaining lost muscle mass are very easy. There’s no need to stress out about losing your muscle mass, especially within the context of a fairly healthy lifestyle. Once you’ve earned it, it’s yours.

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's a Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC), has gained seventy pounds, and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in fine arts, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. ricky on May 2, 2017 at 5:48 am

    Love this article. So encouraging. I’ve noticed a lot of this “muscle built and then lost comes back quickly” and “fat built and lost gets lost again quickly” in my own body, but it’s so freaking awesome and encouraging to read that there’s science behind my experience too.

    • Shane Duquette on May 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Glad you dug it, Ricky! You’re right, we can figure it out intuitively with enough experience, but I also really liked figuring out why it was happening 🙂

  2. Rob on May 2, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    A very well timed article for me. Had just started phase 4 of the program and went on holiday for 2 weeks. Got back on the weekend and dropped 4kg.

    Was back to the gym yesterday so I’m interested to see how long it takes me to ‘recover’.

    Thanks for the article Shane.

    • Shane Duquette on May 3, 2017 at 9:30 am

      I think once you’re back in your bulking routine of eating big and lifting, your gains will come back almost instantly. 4kg is a lot, and a little more than I would have expected your weight to fluctuate, but it should come back quickly nonetheless 🙂

  3. Levi on May 2, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Wow, good read! And same with me here, Rob. I just recently started working out a little over a month ago, and I already gained 14 lbs while maintaining the same body fat of 17% when I started. Last week, I went on traveling for three days, and when I checked my weight, I just lost 2 lbs after my vacation! And I was very disappointed. But, this article explains a lot and gives me so much insights. So, thank you so much for putting up very informative article!

    I just noticed that even I lost 2 lbs, the sizes of my chest, biceps, hips, etc. stay the same. So, I’m guessing I just lost 2 lbs of fats and retained muscle mass?

    • Shane Duquette on May 3, 2017 at 9:32 am

      No problem, Levi!

      You probably lost two pounds of digestive system contents. Let’s see if after a trip to the gym and a day of getting back to your bulking diet, those two pounds don’t just come right back.

      (You can lose fat for sure, and also muscle, but those changes happen a little more slowly. You’d need to have created a roughly 7,000-calorie deficit in order to lose around two pounds of fat, and I don’t think that happened in just three days.)

  4. Walker on May 3, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Great article! I am regaining after having lost a great deal of muscle due to nontraining during a severe injury, lack of access to a gym, and difficulty digesting adequate calories. Unfortunately I find that as I am strengthening areas of my body and returning to previous muscle volume, I am not burning the fat layer that has accumulated. I don’t eat nearly as much as I think I should (though I’m not counting calories,) and I live in a very hot environment which makes it difficult to eat enough anyway. How do I burn the fat layer while also improving my gains back to original levels and beyond under these conditions?

    • Shane Duquette on May 4, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Hey Walker, that’s a dilemma for sure. While your muscles will grow again quite easily, that doesn’t really do anything at all to solve the issue of the layer of fat overtop. You might want to cut down to under 15% body fat before getting back to building muscle. Check our skinny-fat article out here 🙂

      I can’t guarantee that cutting will allow you to regain muscle, but it can happen. It’s very difficult to build new muscle while cutting, but many guys are able to rebuild lost muscle while cutting. Worst case, you rebuild it very quickly afterwards.

  5. Tasty on May 4, 2017 at 3:43 am

    Hi Shane,

    Do you know how age can affect these changes ? In other words, I keep hearing that age has an effect but cannot recall the exact details. Reading your article I could see that newbie gains could be available no matter the age, but intermediate gains ? I was told that beyond age 30, maybe those satellite cells cannot be grown (or progressively less as time goes by). So if one never was fit in his/her younger years, that genetic potential will be smaller and cannot be changed.

    What’s your take on that ?

    Great article once again !

    • Shane Duquette on May 4, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Thanks, Tasty! Glad you dug it.

      That’s a good question. I’d want to look into it in more depth before giving you a definite answer, but from what I’ve seen in the research so far, guys between 18–40 are able to build muscle very similarly, and researchers suspect that would persist up until around 60, when hormones begin to change more dramatically. 30 seems way too young to see a change in muscle-building ability like that. Moreover, natural bodybuilders generally only have their best physiques by around 40.

      I took a cursory glance to see if there was some sort of exception with satellite cells, but I only came across research suggesting the opposite—that no significant changes take place.

      What you can see, though, is that people who built muscle in their younger years have already brought in a ton of satellite cells into their muscle fibres. It’s very easy for them to maintain muscle as they get older, and they’ll naturally appear to have better genetics. Does building muscle in your formative years improve your ability to grow satellite cells? Maybe.

      I’d still argue that the main benefit to starting young is that you have a lot of time in your life left to build muscle. Starting old means you have less time to build muscle, which might make it impossible to become a competitive bodybuilder, but you should still be able to get a strong, muscular physique. After all, building muscle is very much an 80–20 thing. You can get 80% of the benefits with 20% of the investment. Within a few years even someone well past 30 should be able to build a strong physique.

    • Dave on May 9, 2017 at 7:18 am

      Tasty – Shane is on point here, 30 is far too young. I trained at the gym for years without any improvements until I turned 33 and I started researching things, eating properly and training differently. I’ve been able to get as heavy as I’ve ever been, maintaining around 14% body-fat while staying similar to this weight and shape while moving back to a more suitable intake for my appetite.

      Going even further, it should also be noted that 2 people aged 30 have different biological ages. On a trip to Amsterdam to observe the Ajax soccer academy, we were shown 3 pics of 14 year old players. 1 looked 11/12 years, 1 looked 14 and 1 looked 16/17. The sports scientists at the club declared they needed different i of Ivorian training plans to suit their biological age. This was backed up recently by a friend of mine in her 40’s being told she could have kids as her biological age was closer to 36. It will never be as black and white as muscle growth starts at ‘this’ age

  6. Ryan on May 4, 2017 at 5:19 am


    How much weight loss is normal? You mention some weight loss through fat, gut contents, and transient fluids, but how much should I expect?

    I am the “Sick of Eating So Many Calories” fellow who originally asked about high caloric intake in another post several days ago. Since we talked I dropped my 4,150 calories down to 3,950 and already have seen my weight steadily drop over the last four days from 160.2 down to 157.8.

    [shaking fist at sky, wondering why couldn’t I’ve been a meso?!]

    • Shane Duquette on May 4, 2017 at 11:41 am

      I think that up to around 5 pounds up or down should be considered a fluctuation. 2 pounds is definitely nothing to worry about 🙂

      Plus, so long as you’re eating enough protein and keeping your strength in the gym, it’s not muscle that you’re losing. The “worst case” scenario here is that it’s not gut contents and fluids and whatnot, it’s a real change: fat loss 😉

      • Ryan on May 27, 2017 at 2:22 pm


        Just wanted to stop back in to say thank you; you were correct. I managed to slowly cut 150-200 calories per week from 4,150 daily calories down to 3,000 calories as of today, and this entire time my weight has only fluctuated anywhere from 157 to 162 lbs. Thus, no loss in muscle. And for the first time in a while I actually am hungry when I eat now.

        • Shane Duquette on May 31, 2017 at 10:56 am

          That’s awesome 😀

  7. Nico on May 11, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Shane !

    Super interesting article. It pretty much describes my situation very well. I started working out thanks to your articles 2 years ago, and successfully reached my best physical condition ever in my life. I gained 25 pounds within 2 months of proper training and dieting. I was so happy that I sent you the photos of my progress 😉
    In the meantime, life changed, I started doing Krav Maga for 6 months and eventually lost most of my muscles because of the cardio side of Krav. Then followed a year of doing nothing. It needed to change and a month ago I started over my own program, but at home. (My experience at the gym wasn’t enjoyable) so I can see my body changing but it is somewhat slower and I can see a little fat remaining around the abs and lower back. I only have dumbbells, an ajustable bench and pull-up bar. What do you think I would definitely need to compensate for this ! A bar for deadlifts ? (I can’t really make deadlift properly with dumbbells…)
    Thanks a lot for your help !

    • Shane Duquette on May 13, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      If the dumbbells are heavy enough (80–100 pounds, depending on how strong you are), then I don’t think you’ll really have an issue at all. You’ll need to be a little more careful with your exercise selection, as you can’t rely on the obvious lifts like back squats, deadlifts and the barbell bench press, but there are plenty of alternatives that will do just as well: double-dumbbell front squats, goblet squats, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, 1-legged Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell bench press, push-ups, etc. With lots of dumbbell row variations and a pull-up bar, your back will do just fine. (You’d probably also love our official Bony to Beastly Program, which you can do just fine with the equipment you’ve got. We’ve got an at-home version of the program that works perfectly with just dumbbells and a bench. The chin-up bar you’ve got would make it even better.)

      Just remember that if you’re in the situation where you want to lose fat AND gain muscle, then you’ve got the skinny-fat dilemma, and I’d follow the advice in this article here:

  8. K on June 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Yep, wish I could have read this article a long time ago. This all reflects my experience very closely. I got up to 185 from 150 and unrelated injuries broke my routine. My “set point” has been 175 ever since, eating normally and working out infrequently.

    Good stuff, thanks for putting it out there. Just a few of your articles have taught me more about my body type than I ever knew before. Gives me a lot of confidence as I get back to the lifting and overeating grind.

    • Shane Duquette on June 27, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, K. I really appreciate all your comments 🙂

  9. Ryan on July 12, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Great article. After a year and a half of bulking my caloric intake peaked at a whopping 4200 calories a day), I am attempting to “reset” by going back to maintenance calories (which seems to be around 3300 calories). Trying to lean bulk this time.
    Do you think a month is enough time before starting to bulk again? I would probably start at 3600 and keep it in that range, recalculating whenever I stall on weight gains.

    • Shane Duquette on July 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      I think a month could be enough time to reset, but it depends on how intensely you’ve been bulking. If you’ve been doing it in a way that seems pretty reasonable given your lifestyle, then I think a month should be fine, but don’t underestimate the value of a good bulking break. You might be able to drop your maintenance calories a little lower, and you might enjoy doing a slightly lower-volume routine for a few weeks, learning that your muscles can be maintained without much effort. Then when you gear back into bulking, you should have awakened a new hunger for it 🙂

  10. Max on September 24, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Interesting article. Reading by the comments made me think that some of those guys are not real ectomorphs (skinny, hard-gainers). I am a truly hard-gainer, for nearly all of my life through, I have been under-weighted, no matter how much food I ate. At about 53 y.o. I started training in the gym, and went from 62 kg to about 68 or 69 max, well hydrated. 6 years latter, I am stuck in about 67-69 kg. I eat as much as my stomach allows; that is ONE obstacle that cannot be underestimated. And I notice some fat accumulating around my waist. And yet, I go to the gym 5 times a week. So, I fear to become a skinny fat guy, that is why I also do some cardio to try to burn fat, but alas, I think muscle burns faster than fat. In all, it seems to me that reaching 70 kg of weight is a very, very tough mission yet to be accomplished.
    Have you advice for older guys like me who want to gain mass, not fat.
    I suppose it is my biological system that is set like that, so perhaps there is no way I can overcome it?

    • Shane Duquette on September 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      Hey Max,

      Our specialty is true hardgainers. True skinny guys. Guys who have underwhelming responses to lifting weights, who have hummingbird-sized stomachs, who have raging metabolisms, who habitually forget to eat breakfast, who lose weight when stressed, who lose weight while travelling, who have digestive issues, etc.

      We don’t turn away guys with better genetics, but rest assured that our success stories primarily feature hardgainers. And even we hardgainers are able to bring up our set point by 20, 30 or even 50 pounds.

      Sounds like you’re already well on your way!

      First issue: 53 isn’t the best time for a skinny guy to start his career as a professional bodybuilder—that takes a lot of time, and it requires getting so close to your genetic potential.

      However, most research shows that even older guys can build a good amount of muscle if they follow a good lifting and diet program. The largest muscle-building genetics study ever conducted used participants ranging in age from 18–40, and no differences in muscle-building ability were detected. Some differences might exist, sure, but they weren’t significant enough to show up in the study. Moreover, the researchers predicted that this would hold true all the way up to 60. So you should theoretically be okay 🙂

      There are some other factors that out-of-shape older guys need to be mindful of, but as someone who’s already a habitual gymgoer and who’s already built an appreciable amount of muscle, you should be just fine. Don’t underestimate yourself!

      Plus, now is the perfect time to prepare for old age. As you approach and pass 60, it will become harder and harder to build muscle, and your main goal will become to maintain what you have. It could serve you well to be celebrating your 60th in a well-muscled state that you’re very content with, and then from there we can work on keeping everything well-oiled and running smooth into your 70’s, 80’s and hopefully 90’s! The importance of muscle in old age cannot be understated. It will keep you strong and independent, it will help maintain your brain health, and it will help you recover from illnesses that would kill frailer men.

      Second issue: Maintaining the gains you’ve already made should be quite easy. If you want to see what I mean, try gradually reducing your calorie intake while continuing to eat enough protein and continuing to go to the gym. You should find that you maintain your size and strength, even if your weight goes down by a couple pounds. When your calories are lowered enough that they match your appetite, maintenance becomes effortless!

      Third issue: Gaining fat instead of muscle is a very complex issue. It’s not an issue we can address without fully assessing your current routine and diet. If you want help with that, I’d recommend our full program. We can get rid of the fat you have and help you build up muscle instead 🙂

  11. Ahmed on October 1, 2017 at 11:22 am

    I think bone structure determines almost everything, from size to aesthetics to weight.

    I have a very small bone structure, 6 inch wrist. So basically my body weight is low – 70 kg at 5’10”. Still, I ‘look’ big because my bone structure is so small that even my 13″ arm or 40″ chest looks big. It creates an illusion.

    So what I am saying is, if bone structure is small, even at a low body weight you can look big. Adding more weight may or may not work, because I’ve noticed that usually with small bone structure adding weight is possible but mostly results in fat. So it’s almost as if small-boned folks are cursed to have low body weight, but with a little muscle here and there they can project the illusion that they’re big.

    Also, using heavy weights is VERY dangerous for small-boned people. The wrists, shoulders, and elbows give way before the muscles do. This is frustrating, because while our muscles are capable of lifting more, our joints are small so it’s better to err on the side of caution.

    Just food for thought.

    • Ricky on October 2, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Hmm…I think I would like to challenge that Ahmed. It’s hard to offer an opinion without actually seeing your ‘small-boned’ frame, but I think you’d find that a workout program like b2b takes into account all of the dangers of wrist/shoulder/elbow/other joints injury and helps you make awesome, lean, strong, and great-looking and proportional gains without danger. Also, 5’10” isn’t really a small person! I have plenty of friends who are shorter than that and very muscular and look great. I would challenge you to look a little more into this program as I think you’d be pleasantly surprised with some of the results you’d get! I know I have definitely seen some amazing changes in myself (and I was a veeeeery skinny guy when I started the progam.)

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      Hey Ahmed,

      I agree with almost all of that. Casey Butts found that guys with thinner bones could hold about 10% less muscle mass overall. And it’s true that muscles can contrast pretty impressively with thinner bones.

      What I disagree with is the idea that guys with thinner bone will gain fat instead of muscle when they bulk up. If anything, I’d except the opposite to be true, at least while they’re far enough away from their genetic potential. It’s normally the guys with thicker bones that wind up gaining fat more easily and struggling with obesity.

      I also strongly disagree that lifting weights is dangerous for guys with thinner bones. Weightlifting is very safe, and isn’t known to break bones. In fact, weightlifting strengthens bones. Since bone density can be tested with DEXA scans, this is actually a very easy theory to test. You could even do it yourself. Get your bone density tested, lift heavy weights for a few months, and get them tested again. Not only will they not be broken, you’ll find that they’re far stronger 🙂

      Regarding your joints, it’s always prudent to lift with good technique. You wouldn’t want to be rounding your back while deadlifting, which can be dangerous for the joints in your spine. And you wouldn’t want to be hyperextending your elbows (when they open further than 180 degrees) while benching or doing weighted push-ups, but this is fairly easy to do. It’s not an issue people tend to have, regardless of how small their joints are.

      Even while squatting, which can be rough on people with weaker knee joints, once you learn proper technique, sinking deeper into your hips instead of bending your knees forward, they become quite easy on the knees!

  12. De_rue on November 8, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for a great article. I been struggling with this issues since I´ve started my training 2,5 years ago. It describes my situation now – 100%.
    I was so happy finding this article and all of the comments so I decided to renew my membership after being out for 9 months working out with Athlean-X.
    A program that have made me take another step in my training but I do miss these articles, the super great forum, the challenges , the programs of course and all of you.

    Thx and see you again in B2B

    Best regards De Rue

    • Shane Duquette on November 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Woot! Stoked to have you back in the club, man! You’ve been missed 🙂

      Tell us about your time training Athlean-X style in the community, too. We’d love to hear more about it.

  13. MB on December 19, 2017 at 2:10 am

    How is one suppossed to rebuild that much muscle in a very short time? Don’t you need a certain amount of calories to build muscle? Do you need to eat like a monster 10,000+ calories to recover such a huge amount of muscle (like the examples in the post)? or from where do the body gets the ability to rebuild that huge amount?

    I used to weigh 75kg now I’m at 70 kg, that weight was lost in under 2 weeks which is the amount of time I got sick, I didn’t eat properly and didn’t train, in under 2 weeks I lost 4kg then I got sick again and lost 1-2 kgs in the 2 days I was sick, now I’m around 70 kg, and haven’t trained for several weeks, how long do you think I’ll need to get back to peak condition? My biceps have decreased from over 14.5″ to under 13.75″ thighs from 23.5 “to 22” !

    • Shane Duquette on December 19, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Hey MB,

      If you want to rebuild a ton of muscle in a short amount of time, do you need to eat a lot of calories every day? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

      You’ll need to be eating enough protein and enough calories to build new muscle tissue. Do you need to eat 10,000 calories per day? No. That would have you gaining around two pounds per day. Maybe more. After all, it takes approximately 3,500 calories to gain a pound of fat. With lean mass, it takes closer to 2,000 calories to build a pound of muscle, but plenty of energy is lost as heat, so we still estimate that it takes around 3,500 extra calorie to gain a pound of muscle as well.

      If we assume that you normally burn around 2,500 calories per day (which is a fairly normal amount for a guy), then you’ve got 7,500 extra calories each day, which makes it possible to gain 2+ pounds each day.

      Is that physically possible? Yeah! A common example of that in the muscle-building industry is with bodybuilders who have just finished competing on stage. They’ve been dieting for months, their body fat percentage is way too low to be healthy, and they’re RAVENOUS. So they eat a ton of food and will often gain dozens of pounds of pounds within a couple weeks, or even DAYS.

      Now we get into the even trickier part: you can gain weight without gaining tissue. An extreme example of this is when athletes who compete in a certain weight division will lose a bunch of water weight before their weigh-in. So, for example, you might have a guy who weighs 200 pounds trying to compete in the 180-pounds division. What he’ll do is lose 20 pounds of water over the course of a day or two, looking like a ghoul by the end of it, then regain that 20 pounds of water weight before his fight, stepping into the ring looking absolutely jacked.

      When a regular guy regains lost muscle, we have a combination of the two things happening. His digestive system will fill back up with food and liquid, his muscles will re-inflate with glycogen (stored sugar + water), and his muscle tissue will rebuild itself.

      So lots of things adding up together 🙂

      In your case, most of the weight you lost was probably water, digestive system contents and muscle glycogen. You can expect to regain that weight fairly quickly even if your calorie surplus isn’t enormous. But you will indeed want to be eating in a calorie surplus. Maybe 3,500–7,000 extra calories per week, or a daily surplus of 500–1,000. So if you typically eat 2,500 calories, that would be 3,000–3,500 while you’re regaining that lost weight. And make sure to follow a good weightlifting program and eat enough protein as well! I can’t stress enough how important that is!

      Good luck, man!

  14. […] If you want to learn more about this, here’s our article about changing your set point. […]

  15. Ben on October 11, 2018 at 1:13 am

    Hi guys! I was working out for years before and I went from 50 kgs to 78 kgs. Recent months I was busy and basically lost about 15 kgs of weight because of not working out, eating barely anything and sitting in front of the computer barely moving and juat programming all day. So my question: What amount of calories should I be eating to regain the lost muscle if I wanted to do all of that while doing the first phase of your program? So we are talking about 15 kgs of muscle in 5 weeks. How much more protein and how much more calories might be needed? Would it matter at this point if most of the calories came from fat intake or would that result in excess fat gain as in regular bulking? I would really appreciate your answer. Thank you!

  16. […] Muscle memory does indeed exist: Another study has come out looking into the mechanisms of muscle memory, proving once again that it really does exist. When you gain muscle, many of the changes are permanent—lasting your entire life. For more, check out our article on muscle memory. […]

  17. What's the Best Type of Lifting for Skinny Guys? on September 4, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    […] research has also shown that many muscle-building adaptations are permanent. This means that recovering muscle mass is much easier than gaining it in the first place. Gaining […]

  18. […] of all, due to the phenomenon of muscle memory, these nuclei stick around forever. Even if we stop lifting weights, we keep the extra nuclei. […]

  19. […] to your appetite. (It might take a few months of consciously maintaining your weight while your body establishes a new “set point,” but once that’s done, you’ll naturally maintain your higher […]

  20. […] Will all of your hard-earned muscle wither away if you don’t go to the gym for a week or two? […]

  21. Gabby on May 22, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    That great, well researched article really gave me some hope in my current situation. Thank you so much!

    I’m pregnant right now with my first child and struggling to adapt to how my body is changing. I used to be moderately fit, I spent the last 4 years going to the gym at least twice a week and trying to build up some healthy muscles in the places where my curves weren’t so ample naturally (butt, thighs) and getting a healthy, practical routine in. It really helped me with my posture, too, and eased back pains a lot. I just felt better in my body.

    Now, being pregnant means I am only allowed to lift my own body weight – and 10pounds extra. Not a good place to do heavy lifting. The first few months, I would cheat by using weight lifting machines that would take the weight off my upper body and target the isolated muscle groups – which worked okay. Well.. and then Corona came and the gyms haven’t opened for months now.

    While growing bigger at the belly, which is of course part of the deal, I now see my glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back and my posture deteriorate and it’s painful, both physically and psychologically. You get used to a certain level of fitness after all. I don’t like the look and feel of it at all. It’s pretty tough actually and what little home workout I can do does not seem to show much of an effect. 10 pound minibells will not do much for maintaining years of weight lifting. I know, some fitness models do heavy lifting in pregnancy, but I am just a normal woman and I don’t want to risk going against my doctor’s advice in this particular situation.

    It’s a real comfort to read here that all my training within the last few years may in the end not have been for naught. And that getting back into the routine will not have me starting from zero all over again when I can get back into the real work when the baby is here.
    You really got me motivated! Can’t wait to get back into the gym, sweat out all of that weakness and bulk back up!

    • Shane Duquette on May 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm

      Hey Gabby, congratulations on the pregnancy! That’s awesome.

      I hear ya about not wanting to go against your doctor’s advice. That makes sense. When my wife was pregnant, she switched away lifting weights to doing more bodyweight exercises and going on longer walks. And then deeper into the pregnancy, mainly just walking. Then a few months after the birth, she got back into a more rigorous exercise routine. There was never any rush of urgency to it, she just got back into it when she felt ready for it. And now (with our baby at 21 months old) she’s quite a bit stronger than ever before.

      With that said, you may actually be able to get a pretty good glute and thigh workout without any added weight at all! Check out our bodyweight hypertrophy guide, especially the sections on bodyweight squats and deadlifts. Doing air squats, split squats, and bodyweight hip thrusts (perhaps one leg at a time) should be enough to build quite a lot of muscle, especially as your belly grows gradually heavier 🙂

      You may also enjoy our Bony to Bombshell site.

      But again, no need to force it. Listen to your doctor and your intuition. We’re in this for the long haul.

      Good luck!

  22. Alex on April 29, 2021 at 11:57 am


    I assume any muscle lost during cutting is easily regained due to the muscle memory spoken about in this article…

    I know the goal is to maintain muscle/strength while cutting, but I always lose some strength. I’m hoping a short break from cutting (like a month) will allow me to regain any losses. Any input on that? Should I eat in a surplus to regain muscle or would an on-par amount of calories do the trick to avoid any fat gain?


    • Shane Duquette on April 29, 2021 at 1:40 pm

      Yeah, any muscle that you lose will be easy to regain. Still, it’s best to minimize it. That way when you’re racing to gain that muscle back, you aren’t also gaining the fat back. Much easier if you only need to regain a bit of muscle and you aren’t in a huge rush to do it.

      Losing some strength is totally normal! Don’t worry about that. It’s especially common to lose strength on lifts like the bench press, where simply being bigger seems to improve our strength. With other lifts, such as chin-ups and push-ups, our performance may even get better.

      I wouldn’t necessarily take a break from cutting to regain that strength. I’d just stick to the plan. But if you want to take a break, that’s perfectly fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your strength came back. But the easiest way to get the strength back is to finish cutting and then go into a phase where you’re actually focused on gaining muscle and strength again.

      I hope that helps!

  23. Jason on May 25, 2023 at 9:54 am

    Have you come across any research on body types and retaining muscle, or just getting into differences in how long muscle gains stick around for different people? In other words, what I’m wondering is this: I’ve seen it touted on other sites that ectomorphs have to work harder to keep muscle gains than mesomorphs/people who have a larger frame and naturally carry more muscle. But I haven’t seen anything concrete about whether this is actually true. I have read that hormones can control this (testosterone and cortisol in particular), but I know that wouldn’t necessarily be tied to body type.

    • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2023 at 6:21 pm

      I think you might like our article on “Reverse Bulking.” I think it captures the spirit of your question, even though it doesn’t answer it exactly. To summarise, you’ll need to keep lifting weights and living a healthy lifestyle to maintain your muscle. You don’t need to overeat. You don’t need to follow an intense workout program. You just need to keep being healthy and active, including some weight training.

      One of our clients was a urologist who specialised in male hormone production. He wrote an article for us about testosterone. There doesn’t seem to be a link between skinniness and testosterone production. The stronger link is between skinniness, appetite regulation, and metabolic factors (such as NEAT), as explained in this article. These factors make it harder to get into a calorie surplus, thus making it harder for us to bulk up.

      Our genetics are such that we tend to lose weight fairly easily. If you get stressed, stop exercising, and lose 20 pounds, you’ll lose a bunch of muscle. A naturally overweight “endomorph” might get stressed, stop exercising, and gain twenty pounds, gaining fat but preserving most of their muscle. Someone with favourable muscle-building genetics might get stressed, grind out that stress in the gym, and wind up more muscular than they were before.

      I’m sure some people retain muscle more easily than others from having naturally more muscle mass or naturally higher testosterone levels, but much of it comes down to how our genetics and circumstances affect our lifestyles.

      • Jason on May 26, 2023 at 11:58 am

        Thanks Shane, that makes sense.

  24. Sam on January 10, 2024 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Shane,

    Great article as always. And if you’ve answered these questions already, I apologize.

    I am curious as to the ‘rate’ of muscle memory. For example, if you are an experienced lifter with 2 years and 40 pounds of gained muscle under your belt, how long would it take you to regain that muscle if you lost it all over the course of a year or two hiatus from the gym? 1 year? 6 months? 3 months? I’m sure this varies based on age, genetics, and other factors, but I’m curious if there is some kind of research backed average.

    Additionally, do you have to train in the same manner that you did to gain the muscle initially? Do you need to lift heavy and eat in a calorie surplus with .8-1 gram of protein/lb of bodyweight? Or will the muscle return even if you don’t ‘bulk’ and simply eat at maintenance with a good lifting program?

    Haven’t seen much info on this online, so wanted to get your thoughts. Cheers!

    • Shane Duquette on January 10, 2024 at 9:13 pm

      Hey Sam, thank you!

      There’s this study by Henwood and colleagues. They had participants train for 6 months, then detrain for 6 months. When they started training again, it took them 3 months to reach their peak condition.

      Another study by Psilander and colleagues had participants train for 10 weeks, detrain for 20 weeks, and then surpass their peak condition with just 5 weeks of training.

      From what I’ve seen, most people seem to have experiences more like the second study.

      If you gained 40 pounds in 2 years and took a year off from training, I’d guess it would take around 3 months to get back into peak shape. Maybe a bit longer. If you took 2 years off, maybe it would take the same amount of time to get back into peak shape. Maybe longer. I’m not sure.

      If you want to regain weight, you’d need to eat in a calorie surplus, so you’d need to bulk. Eating at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day should allow you to maximize your rate of muscle regrowth. You might think that it would take more protein since you’re building muscle unusually fast. I’m not sure. I doubt it would take less, though. I would also train as well as you possibly can, especially if you’re eating enough food to support a rapid rate of muscle regrowth. I wouldn’t want to risk a ton of fat gain from not doing things properly.

      If you want to take a slower pace, I suspect you could regain your muscle with fewer calories, less protein, and an easier hypertrophy training program. Having been muscular in the past should make it easier to regain that muscle even when conditions aren’t ideal.

      I hope that helps. I’m sorry I can’t be more precise.

      • Sam on January 10, 2024 at 10:31 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply, that makes sense! Sounds like if you eat and train hard, you should regain what you’ve lost in a fraction of the time. If you eat and train less than optimally, you’ll still get there.. eventually. Sounds like a win either way!

        • Shane Duquette on January 11, 2024 at 12:18 pm

          My pleasure, man.

          Yeah, that’s exactly it. I’ve done and enjoyed both approaches.

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