Can a lean male gain muscle while eating at a huge caloric deficit on BFL?

  • Hi Everyone!
    My husband and I are going through Body for Life together and need a bit of guidance in the eating department.  
    A bit of background:  
    We eased into the program taking one step at a time: Week 1 we just following the diet, the next week we continued to eat clean and added the cardio, finally we added in the weights and officially started our day 1.  So while we are only on day 13, we have been following the meal plan for almost 4 weeks now. 
    First some quick stats:
    My husband and I are both in our early 30s.  My hubby is 6'0" tall and naturally lean, with only around 10 pounds of body fat to lose. His starting weight is 170 and he is mainly interested in gaining muscle. According to his GoWearFit heart rate armband thingy he burns around 3200 calories on an average day.
    I am 5'8" and started at 175 lbs, my focus is on losing body fat (although increased strength and muscle mass would be awesome) and would like to lose around 25lbs of bodyfat.  According to my Bodybugg armband,  i tend to burn around 2500 calories a day.
    So, honestly the program seems to be working well for me and not at all for my husband.  Since i am kinda tall, my husband and I don't have a huge difference in hand sizes....generally a protein portion for me is around 4oz and 5oz for the hubby, my carbs are smaller as well, but we are looking at a very small caloric difference. Maybe 50 calories per meal.  
    So following the meal plan, my calorie intake tends to range from 1200-1800 and my husband's intake is 1500-2200.  
    Now I am dropping bodyfat, no question about it.  May not be adding muscle, not sure on that, but feeling great, satisfied food wise, and high energy.
    My hubby feels starved, low energy and weak.  He has dropped a little weight, but his body is not transforming the way mine is, and he is getting fed up with the meals.  
    I did some research into body building and learned that in general body builders looking to pack on muscle try to eat a slight surplus of healthy calories. Well, this week, we tried to tweak the program to get my hubby eating around 3000 calories a day in an effort to boost his energy and muscle building results.  In order to do this I had to pretty much ignore recommended portions and instead fed him around 500 calories per meal, shooting for 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fats. This resulted in humongous meals and my hubby feeling completely stuffed, over fed and miserable on the opposite side of the spectrum.  The crazy thing is, he is STILL eating at a caloric defecit.  
    So now I am at a loss of what to do.  I could cut his calories to somewhere in between, the too extremes....but what is the right defecit? I want to be true to BFL and  I have 3 of the books (body for life, eating for life and the success journal) and none of them seem to address this problem.  If my husband only wants to build muscle is BFL a good program for him?  In the FAQ section of BFL I see men in this situation would have 2 extra carbs a day.  But that will throw off the macro balances I was shooting for and still won't meet my husband's maintenance it does not appear to be a clear solution. 
    Should a lean male wanting to gain muscle really be eating at a caloric defecit?  Is the free day supposed to make up for that (would need to eat almost 7000 kcal in surplus on the free day to even things out!)? 
    So I hope that is enough info, I would love to hear from anyone who has any insight,  I can post specific meal plans if necessary, I have everything meticulously tracked in our success journal and I can tell you that we are following the program 100%. 
    Thank you for your time!
  • Hi,

    I read your whole post and these are the thoughts that came to mind:

    - To answer your secondary question whether the program is good for him if he is lean and only wants to build muscle: The program is perfect for him. In fact, he stands better chance than anyone else for that matter. BFL is afterall, a watered-down body building program.

    - First, you are taking many roads to Rome in one go. You are 1- counting calories, 2- Use gadgets to assess your calorie output/consumption, 3- Doing Body for Life, 4- Comparing professional body buildings and professional stats to a watered down program (BFL). Body for Life is not calorie-orientated. If you follow the portion sizes from the lists of foods, your calorie deficit will be negligible, you will only need to pick the foods that suit him. A closed-fist size of granary bread is a lot of bread! Combine that with a wallnut size of butter, a healthy portion of greens and veg, and add the 5-oz of protein and multiply by six and that's a lot of food. But if a meal is a protein shake that's not going to give any feeling of satisfaction for someone who needs to feel fuller and needs more energy.

    The deficit will be created by the Hurculean effort exerted in the gym. Not by the food itself. Although, I must say that when I calculate it down to the letter, there is a deficit of about 200-300 calories, but not always.

    Generally speaking, to answer your question in a nutshell as to whether a lean guy can increase bulk while on a calorie deficit, the answer is yes with caution. A friend of mine is a bodybuilders. She survives on 700 calories pre-competition to drop her body fat to below 8%, which is dangerous. So, the question itself is flawed some how. The right question, is whether your husband can or should.

    Humans needs 2000 calories to survive on a daily basis and this does not include heavy activity. The numbers you mentioned based on the website or gadget he is using, are way off the charts, unless his job is really really active (a tennis player, an active sports coach, a swimmer, a construction site worker with an active lifestyle, etc.).

    I think the best advice he should follow, is to stop doing it by numbers. Follow the lists of authorised foods and if he feels famished he can add a bit more. Till he feels it is just about sufficient, but not filling. Another factor, is whether he has a sweet tooth and needs to battle with sugar addiction. Sugar suppresses sensitivity to leptin -the hormone that signals satisfaction to the brain-, and until sugar and cravings are completely out of his system, he won't really feel satisfied with the amount he is eating.

    Unless something is wrong with the way calories are counted, 2200 should be more than enough.

    I have had great success on BFL even though I had completely stopped counting calories. In fact, it helped me a lot to stop counting them.

    When it comes to muscle building, results start to show anywhere between week 10 and 14.

    Good luck

  • MsPlatty- Your husband is what's classified as a "Hard Gainer".  You can google that for tons of diet information.  He's going to have to have a surplus of calories daily to gain size if he's already lean no matter what program he uses.  BFL is a great program to use.  In order to get the calories he can add things like peanut butter into his diet.  This can give him quite a few calories in a small amount of food.  Might even look into a weight gainer shake.  

  • Thank you both for your responses. :)


    I will definitely look into what it means to be a hard gainer.  If my husband does not see results after completing the first, by the book BFL challenge, we will definitely be moving him to a caloric surplus.

    A life worth living-

    Thank you for your insight! I appreciate the amount of time you put in to your response and you have given me several things to consider.  Most useful was your mention of Myoplex and EAS products as a possible cause for hunger. My hubby and I have been using them extensively (often 3 meals a day, sometimes 4), and it is very possible that this is contributing to his sugar cravings and persistent hunger.  The BFL books are geared to sell Myoplex and in our case, it worked! ;P  

    We will continue the program and tweak our diet  to discover what works best for our metabolisms; and of course continue to post our progress and questions.  

    Thank you!

    -Ms Platty