Can you grow muscle in a deficit?

Can you grow muscle in a deficit?

Posted by Joseph Neill on

This is a question that comes up quite frequently. Can you grow muscle in a calorie deficit?


In short, yes! But, it is not the most optimal approach and there are considerations as some may struggle more than others..


  • Your training
  • Training age 
  • Size of the deficit 
  • Starting body composition 
  • Protein balance 


Can all determine the probability of building muscle when in a deficit. Let's take a look at why..



If you want to build muscle, your training and lifestyle habits need to reflect this. If you're not nailing and training hard in your resistance training, you're unlikely to grow muscle regardless of your energy balance. 


A progressive training programme that facilitates hypertrophy is essential.


Training age

If you're new to training or had some time off from it, you'll find it easier to grow muscle in a deficit. On the other hand, If you've been resistance training for a while, you will likely find it more challenging to build muscle. 


Size of deficit

Recovery is a crucial part of growth and building of the muscle. A large deficit may hinder your ability to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates and protein to optimize training and recovery.


Better recovery = better adaptations + better training = more gains!


Starting body composition 

Those with higher levels of body fat are more likely to grow muscle in a deficit because they have greater available energy resources.


If you have low levels of body fat, you are in a more catabolic state (losing overall mass, body fat and muscle) and a sizable surplus is going to be needed to make gains.



Muscle growth is a slow process anyway, especially if you are not a novice when it comes to training. For most people, a calorie surplus is going to give you a much better chance at gaining muscle than being in a deficit or even at maintenance. 

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