First, what is a good lean mass? Good lean mass is the sum of every part of your body that weighs around 10lbs or more. Muscle, bones, organs, etc., are all included in the total weight of your body’s good lean mass.

The difference between healthy bulking and lean mass can be summed up quite simply: bulking includes an excess for muscle gain while maintaining a caloric deficit; whereas, lean mass includes an excess for muscle gain while maintaining a caloric surplus.

There are different options of dieting for both bulking and learning to differentiate by calorie intake. One option demonstrates a nutrition plan where you bulk up to about 15% over your maintenance requirement (this number will change depending on variables such as age, metabolism, activity level, etc.) and then cut calories to lean down.

Another option is to bulk up until you gain around 2lbs of your good lean mass (this number will change depending on variables such as age, metabolism, activity level, etc.), and then cut calories to lean down. There are two calorie intakes for bulking: one using a caloric surplus for muscle gain; and another using an excess in order to put on some fat to use when cutting later on. When bulking, it can be helpful to eat slightly more than your maintenance required in order to build muscle. It’s also fine if the extra food causes the gaining of fat–it means less fat needs to be gained later when cutting. However, keep in mind that bulking up with an excess of calories is not necessary for building lean mass. It depends on the individual.

Those who are naturally skinny or have a higher body fat percentage can gain more muscle through bulking. On the other hand, those with lower body fat percentages may gain only slightly more muscle when bulking, but they will gain significantly more fat weight. A caloric surplus of 500-1000kcal should be enough to achieve these results. In contrast to bulking, lean mass gains do not require a caloric surplus. Lean mass gains can be achieved through eating just the maintenance required in order to create an excess in protein intake for muscle gain. For example, if you eat around 2000kcal and maintain your weight, then eating 2500-2600kcal will allow the excess amount of protein and calories for muscle growth.

Lean mass gains won’t include the excess calories that allow for fat gain like bulking does. Bulking can lead to increasing weight (and increasing fat), whereas lean mass gains will only increase muscle size/mass. When cutting, it’s important to eat below your maintenance requirements in order to lose weight. The downside of this is that you may not be eating enough protein and other nutrients to achieve muscle growth/retention during this time.

Eating at a caloric deficit can be difficult; however, there are different strategies you can do. For example, if your calorie intake is around 2000kcal daily, then eating 1700-1800kcal by eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day or counting macros could help you reach that caloric deficit. Another strategy is to cut out unnecessary foods that you don’t need in order to reach the caloric deficit. Other than that, eating a wide variety of healthy food from the different food groups should be enough for cutting. In conclusion, bulking can lead to gaining fat weight while lean mass gains will only gain muscle size/mass.

To bulk up, it’s necessary to eat slightly above your maintenance required in order to gain muscle, whereas cutting requires a calorie intake below your daily maintenance required in order to lose weight and achieve a caloric deficit which allows for muscle growth/retention.

Don’t worry about counting every calorie! Just make sure you’re eating well and healthy — it’s good enough. Just remember that nutrition is key for both your health and body composition.