Can You Build Muscle in a Calorie Deficit?

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When it comes to exercising, people usually have one of two main goals, or a combination of two goals. The first of these two goals is building muscle.

We all want to go to the gym, look in the mirror, and see those ripped muscles. It’s something we all aspire to. However, the second goal that many of us have is weight loss. We don’t want to go to the gym and see our fat; we want to see our muscles.

Now, for many people, it would appear that there is a choice to be made. Some of us want to build muscle and go into weight loss mode. Many people assume that it is not possible to build muscle and lose fat, or lose body weight, at the same time.

This is actually not true. So, can you build muscle in a calorie deficit? The answer here is that yes, you can absolutely build muscle in your calorie deficit. This can be a bit complicated, so let’s take a closer look at exactly how muscle growth in a calorie deficit works.

Can You Build Muscle in a Calorie Deficit?

Before we start explaining how exactly this all works, let’s just answer the main question of the day. So, yes, it is possible to build muscle in a calorie deficit. In other words, it is possible to build muscle while burning calories and losing weight. Let’s figure out exactly how this all works.

How to Lose Weight – The Calorie Deficit

So, the first part of the equation here, weight loss, of course has to do with a calorie deficit. No matter what anybody else ever tells you, the only important part of the weight loss equation is being in a calorie deficit. Some people will tell you that eating a lot of vegetables is going to help you lose weight.

Yes, this may be true, specifically if you substitute chocolate and chips with those vegetables. However, this really doesn’t have as much to do with the quality of the food as it does with your caloric intake. If you eat 2 pounds of vegetables every single day, you’re going to consume a lot less calories than if you eat 2 pounds of chocolate per day.

Therefore, it’s not really about how much you eat, but about what you eat. The main point to remember here is that as long as you are in calorie deficit, you will lose fat and weight. This is the case no matter what you eat.

Now, remember that men need around 2000 to 2500 calories per day to maintain our regular body functions. Depending on the size, women need anywhere between 1500 and 2000 calories per day to maintain size. For both men and women, if you consume more calories than those daily allotments, you will gain weight.

If you consume fewer calories than your daily allotment, you will end up losing weight. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you eat chocolate or celery; as long as you don’t hit those calorie intake limits, you are going to lose weight. This is the first part of this equation to keep in mind.

How to Build Muscle – Exercise and Fuel

Now that we know how weight loss works, let’s take a quick look at how building muscle works. So, when it comes to building muscle, the most important part is to engage in a weightlifting or resistance routine. This is how muscle grows. When you lift weights or engage in resistance training, you actually slightly damage your muscles.

When you lift weights, you create small tears known as micro tears. Then, when these tears heal, the muscles become bigger than before. Your muscles will create new muscle fibers and fuse them together, therefore resulting in more and bigger muscle fibers than before.

This is how your muscles get bigger and stronger. However, what many people don’t realize is that diet is very important when it comes to muscle growth. Without the right amount of protein, as well as fats and carbohydrates to a certain extent, your muscles just aren’t going to grow.

The official recommendation is that you consume around one gram of protein for every pound of body weight you have.

This should allow for optimal muscle growth. Therefore, as you can see, a combination of exercise and protein are required to help those muscles grow. So, the question here is really can you maintain a calorie deficit to lose weight while also exercising enough and eating enough protein to build muscle?

Can You Build Muscle in a Calorie Deficit

Can You Build Muscle and Lose Weight?

The simple answer here is that yes, you can build muscle and lose weight. In other words, you can be in a calorie deficit and still build muscle. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important thing is that this is quite a fine balancing act.

Generally speaking, if people are focusing on losing weight, they are prioritizing muscle growth, which means that they neglect muscle building exercise and protein. However, people who are looking to build muscle often neglect eating a diet that is below their calorie intake limits for the day.

Therefore, the trick is to eat just enough food so you get enough calories and protein for muscle growth, but not so much that you go over your daily calorie limits. Now, this is possible to do, especially if you eat a lot of foods that are rich in protein. It is more than possible to eat enough protein every single day to allow for good muscle growth, without actually going over your calorie limits.

For example, 100 grams of chicken breast contains 31 grams of protein. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, eating 500 grams or just over one pound of chicken breast will provide you with all of the protein you need for muscle growth. At the same time, that same 100 grams of chicken breast has just 165 calories.

So, 500 grams of chicken breast contains 155 grams of protein, but only 825 calories. As you can see, that’s more than enough protein to maintain muscle growth. However, it’s also well under your daily calorie limits, therefore putting you in a calorie deficit and allowing you to lose weight.

Obviously, you are not just going to be eating chicken breast all day every day, but this is a good example of how this process works. The bottom line is that it is more than possible to build muscle while being in a calorie deficit.

Now, as you can probably tell, there is a fine line that you need to walk here. If you are in a massive calorie deficit, your body’s not going to have enough fuel to build muscle. However, if you don’t put yourself in enough of a calorie deficit, you aren’t going to lose any weight.

Therefore, you should stick within about 200 to 300 calories of your intake goals. For instance, if you need 2000 calories per day and if you want to lose weight but build muscle, we recommend not eating any fewer than 1700 calories per day.


Although this is one of the harder things to do, it is technically possible to build muscle while being in a calorie deficit.

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