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Calorie Cycling for Lean Gains
by Derek Tresize

Probably the most common question I get from guys is that they'd like to gain weight or mass. When someone says their main goal is to 'gain mass', it's pretty safe to assume they don't mean they are looking to get fat. Especially within the context of bodybuilding, anyone who wants to gain mass wants to gain muscle mass, while hopefully keeping fat gain to a minimum. As Robert Cheeke would say, "Life is too short not to get SWOL!", so if you're going to gain weight, why the heck would you want to obscure your hard earned muscle with bodyfat?!

A trick I like for gaining muscle mass while keeping fat gain in check is calorie cycling. I have used this technique with clients and on myself (in fact I'm currently using it for my contest prep), and I've had a lot of luck with it. The name pretty much speaks for itself, because you alter (or cycle) how many calories you are taking in depending on the day of the week or the day of your training split. For example, I am on a mass gain eating plan right now so I am taking in a large calorie surplus every day that I lift, and on my two off/cardio days per week I drop calories down to my maintenance level. This keeps me in an anabolic state and out of a catabolic state on my training days, and keeps my metabolism very high so that when I drop calories AND do cardio on my two off days I will cut into any bodyfat I might've gained and halt the process of gaining any more. The only thing you have to be careful of with this type of calorie cycle is not taking your low-calorie days below your maintenance level so that you avoid reversing your hard-earned muscle gains. It takes some time and a lot of trial and error to find the exact amounts of food you need to eat for this program to be successful, but in the end it's well worth it! This is what my current calorie cycle looks like, but keep in mind I have a very fast metabolism and know my intake needs pretty intimately, so your numbers will probably vary:

Days 1-3: Train, consume 6500+ calories

Day 4: 20-40min intense cardio, consume 4000ish calories

Days 5-6: Train, consume 6500+ calories

Day 7: 20-40min intense cardio, consume 4000ish calories


There are plenty of other ways to cycle your calories such as using high and low-calorie weeks instead of days, or even having several different levels of intake on different days rather than just the standard high and low that I've listed here, but I've had the most success doing it this way. Always focus on maximizing the chance a plan has to succeed from the outset, so whenever you put together a meal plan try and keep things realistic and as simple as possible so you don't make what should be an easy and routine part of life overwhelming. So, if you are tired of your old eating plan and want to shake things up, give calorie cycling a try and let me know how it goes! Good luck and stay strong!

Derek Tresize
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Cornell University Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition