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October 25, 2022 9 min read

Maingaining is a frequently discussed new term in fitness nutrition circles influencers. It is a practice of maintaining body fat percentage while slowly and gradually increasing muscle mass over time. When someone mentions their goal is to gain muscle and lose weight, they're referring to body recomposition or maingaining. 

It’s a great way to get out of yo-yo dieting. Instead of gorging, gaining fat during a bulking phase, then starving yourself during the cutting phase, you can eat a healthy amount of food, including enough protein, carbs, and fat, and stay lean year-round.

What is body composition?

Body composition refers to the ratio of lean mass and fat mass in your body. Body composition and body fat percentage should not be confused. Body fat percentage is but one part of overall body composition.

Lean mass includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, and other tissues and water — everything other than body fat. However, some methods of measuring body composition exclude water which is then recorded as a separate percentage.

What is body recomposition?

Body recomposition refers to the process of changing your fat mass to lean mass ratio. That is gaining muscle mass and losing body fat simultaneously. It is unlike the traditional “bulking and cutting” approach in which you intentionally gain a lot of body mass first (muscle and fat) and then follow that with an intense calorie deficit to lose the fat and reveal the muscles underneath. Body recomposition is about fat loss and not about weight loss.

Lean Body – Image from Shutterstock

Body recomposition is a long-term commitment

Comparing body recomposition with a fad diet would be a grave error. Because you're trying to accomplish healthy muscle gain and healthy fat loss simultaneously, two lengthy processes under any circumstances. Although you will be in for the long haul, achieving body recomposition in a slow and steady process, you are likely to have sustainable results. You will then be able to enjoy your newfound physique for as long as you maintain the habits that got you there.

Traditional Fitness Nutrition

Bodybuilders, strength trainers, and weight lifters may prefer to stick to traditional fitness nutrition routines, although  studies show  that body recomposition is effective in specific circumstances.

The three cycles of typical fitness nutrition include bulking, cutting, and maintenance, each phase with its own function and purpose. They are either building muscle, trimming fat, or maintaining their current level. In contrast, maingaining, also called gaintaining, seeks to provide a fourth option.

Below, we will detail each method, so you can understand conventional wisdom.

1. Bulking

Bulking is a process in which you eat at a caloric surplus to add muscle. Your body needs energy to build and grow, and the first step is to figure out your TDEE, which is your total daily energy expenditure.

TDEE is the number of calories you burn throughout a 24-hour period.

These calories come from the work your body does to keep you alive, including your brain functions, breathing, digestion, and all of your physical activity.

Bulking High protein Diet – Image from Shutterstock

Using a TDEE calculator, you input your height, weight, and activity level. Honesty is key for the calorie estimate to be accurate because you will use that information as a basis for all else. Start by adding 300 to 500 calories to your TDEE to ensure you have a surplus.

Along with strength training, the extra calories will ensure muscle growth.

From there, we add 300-500 calories on top of our daily burn to ensure we have a surplus. Accompanied by a strength training routine this will ensure our body has the fuel to grow.

Bulking is typically a phase of fat gain and muscle gain.

You don’t want excess fat gain, therefore an eating pattern that provides a controlled calorie surplus to build muscle and strength will prevent excess fat gains—a process called clean bulking. The recommended period for optimal results in bulking is 6 to12 weeks.

2. Cutting

This phase is the opposite of bulking and follows the bulk to cut or trim away any excess fat to show off the effort and hard work you put in.

Cutting Low-Calorie Diet – Image from Shutterstock

The cut process is the exact opposite of a bulk. You go back to your TDEE calculator, but this time you subtract 300 to 500 calories from your total daily energy expenditure. Your strength training routine should continue exactly as during the bulk, to ensure your body has to burn the excess fat gained during the bulking phase for energy.

Your caloric deficit during the cut will ensure your body uses only your body fat as an energy source. We want to ensure that your body is only pulling energy from your fat. According to studies, strength training in a caloric deficit drastically increases fat burn.

Your macronutrients, or macros for short will also feature in the calculations.

They are the three categories of nutrients you eat the most and provide you with most of your energy: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

So, when you're counting your macros, you're counting the grams of proteins, carbs, or fat that you're consuming.

For optimal fat reduction and overall health, your cut phase should not exceed 6 to 12 weeks. Hormonal imbalance and fatigue could cause health problems if the cut phase lasts too long.

3. Maintenance

Showing off physique after bulking & Cutting – Image from Shutterstock

The maintenance phase is when you are satisfied with the weight and physique you achieved, and now you’re just focused on maintaining what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. However, you have to continue tracking your caloric intake, which should be the calories calculated for your TDEE. That will ensure you are burning all the calories you consume.

How does body recomposition work?

Body recomposition is based on your unique health and fitness goals. Unlike very low-calorie diets, really intense cardio exercise, and other traditional methods of weight loss, there's no specific protocol for recomp.

The basic guidelines to follow include the following:

  • An overall decrease in calorie consumption to lose fat

  • Cardiovascular exercise for fat loss

  • Resistance (weight) training to build muscle

  • Increased protein intake to promote muscle formation

How to lose fat

Ultimately, fat loss boils down to calorie maintenance because you must consume fewer calories than what your body burns. The best fat loss regime remains the one that includes cardio only or cardio and resistance exercises along with a healthy diet.

Having unrealistic goals can jeopardize your overall health if you resort to depriving your body of the necessary nutrition in an effort to lose fat. You don’t want to risk your health through disordered eating habits.

The two main contributors to muscle building are protein consumption and weight training. Body recomposition requires you to challenge your muscles through strength training without denying them healthy nutrients.

Calorie cycling

You would not be alone in being confused by the fact that you must cut your calorie intake to lose fat, but increase the calorie intake to build muscles.

The first thing you need to do is figure out your maintenance calories. That is the calories you burn on the days when you don’t exercise. You can reach out to a certified personal trainer, health professional, or dietitian to figure out this number, or you can use an online calorie calculator like this one from Mayo Clinic, based on a systematic review highly regarded by professionals.

Healthy Maingaining – Image from Shutterstock

If you're looking for a body transformation, you want to avoid storing calories as fat. But you do want your body to use new calories to repair the muscles you broke down during weight-lifting workouts.

So, what is calorie cycling?

On your weight training days, eat more protein and calories for your body to burn and nutrients for muscle repair, and, ultimately, muscle growth.

On your cardio workout days, and the days you don’t work out at all, you want your body to use your existing body fat for energy. Therefore, you will eat fewer calories on those days, to ensure your body is not fueled by new calories.

By mastering calorie cycling, you could achieve successful body recomposition. 

Reasons for Maingaining

Bulking, cutting, and maintaining can be like a rollercoaster, often referred to as yo-yo dieting, which can become tough in the long run. Maingaining is one way in which you can build muscle and maintain a lean physique, even though it might take longer to get the same results as those practicing the 3-phase muscle building regime.

Why would people opt for maingaining? 

Although maingaining is not the optimum way of gaining muscle, the following reasons are enough for many people to opt for maingaining.

  • They already have their desired amount of muscle and want to stay lean year-round.

  • They are not ready for the bulk and cut process.

  • They want continuous high performance.

  • They want to keep their hormones balanced and maintain overall health.

  • They are already happy with their physique and merely want to gradually increase strength and muscle.

  • Maingaining is a popular choice for women and people with skinny fat who doesn't want to add significant amounts of muscle mass or overall body weight.

  • Those who work out for fun typically have healthy diets and lifestyles, and are quite happy with gradual muscle growth.

Who benefits most from maingaining?  

Although there are no restrictions, certain circumstances or situations make maingaining more suitable for some.

  • Beginners and intermediate lifters – There are something called newbie gains. The term refers to untrained and new or intermediate individuals who often gain muscle mass even with a caloric deficit or without a calorie surplus.

  • People returning after taking a break from lifting – laying off for a period can cause loss of muscle mass, and maingaining is a good way to regain pounds of muscle. Hypertrophy is possible, and muscle memory can help regain most of the muscle mass without having to commit to a caloric surplus diet.

A suitable candidate for Maingaining – Image from Shutterstock
  •  Individuals with a high or moderate body fat percentage – people with a good layer of body fat can be sure to gain muscle without a caloric surplus because their current body fat will provide the necessary fuel.

Who Is Maingaining Not For?

Maingaining has not proved beneficial for the following groups of people:

  • Hard-gainers – Individuals with lean bulk normally find it hard to gain weight due to a very fast metabolism need a caloric surplus to build muscle. The surplus need not be significant — 200 to 400 is enough.

Unsuitable candidate for Maingaining – Image from Shutterstock
  • Low body fat percentage – Men with less than 12% body fat, and women with less than 20% will not benefit from gaintaining. Very low body fat levels can’t be maintained in the long term and efforts to be extremely ripped while also adding muscle is impossible. In fact, the opposite, muscle loss, is known to occur. Therefore, people who fall in this group will have to work toward a healthy body fat level before considering maingaining.

  • Very overweight – The goal of maingaining is to gain muscle while staying lean, and not gaining muscle mass while having a high body fat percentage.

  • Goal to maximize muscle gains – Gaining maximum muscle mass in the shortest possible time is not what maingaining is all about. Those are the individuals who reach their goals by bulking, cutting and maintaining.

What role do supplements play?

Supplements can undoubtedly play a significant role in your pursuit of a ripped, head-turning physique. Supplements are precisely that—they don’t replace lifting weights and healthy meals.

Instead, muscle-building supplements are boosters that can impact your strength training and maximize your gains. 

Furthermore, not all supplements are healthy, and reaching out to professionals for guidance is best. Below are the best supplements for gaining muscle fast:

Creatine

When supplemented during a period of resistance training, creatine has been found to induce greater increases in muscle mass, strength, and functional performance.

It is crucial to take creatine supplements as directed because too much can be harmful. The recommended daily dose is only 5 grams. 

Supplements – Image from Shutterstock

Bodybuilders should take creatine as a pre-workout supplement immediately before their training programs. This will help keep their muscles saturated with creatine, producing the rapid energy they need to perform more reps. This will boost muscle and strength gain, improve anaerobic endurance, and reduce muscle damage and soreness from exercise.

ATP-FUSION is perfect for men and women seeking lean muscle gains with no bloat or water retention. 

Protein Supplement 

Whey protein powder takes the crown when it comes to bodybuilding supplements, and for good reasons. Protein supplements are not essential for gaining muscle. However, if you consider how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

Whey is the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production.

Whey is rich in leucine, an amino acid that plays a vital role in stimulating rapid muscle protein synthesisand absorption of protein by the body.

In other words, the muscle-building process is kicked off immediately, then provides everything the body needs to get the strength-building job done quickly and easily. 

Furthermore, high-quality whey protein powder has a pleasant taste and tends to be cost-effective.

Make no mistake, you still need to get the majority of your protein intake from food. High protein sources include chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt, skim milk, and beans are some of the best foods to help you gain muscle.

Pack on lean muscle and support strength levels, without unnecessary carbs. Whey-PRO comes in Hot Cocoa, Blueberry Muffin, Banana Pancake, Strawberry Cheesecake, and seven more delicious flavors.

Rehydration

Given the amount of stress intense training causes on the human body, bodybuilders may see certain benefits from supplementing with significant levels of glutamine, or from stacking it with other supplements.

One study found that when athletes suffered from mild dehydration, supplemental glutamine increased exercise performance and enhanced fluid and electrolyte uptake when combined with a glucose and electrolyte beverage.

HyperAde quickly replenishes muscle glycogen and electrolytes that are depleted from intense bursts of energy. Choose from Bohemian Bliss, Miami Lights, Lemon Lime, Orange, and Unflavored.

Conclusion

So, which method is better? Bulking, cutting and maintaining, or maingaining?

The choice is yours, but this article might help you decide which is best for you — it depends on your goals and preferences.

For those wanting maximum muscle mass in the shortest time and want weight gain, the 3-phase traditional bulking and cutting program might be best.

On the other hand, if your goal is to maintain your lean physique while gradually adding muscle growth, maingaining is the way to go.