Maingaining vs Bulking

Usually, a person must go through the “bulk” phase to maximize muscle growth. This phase implies that they have to put on fat which they will then break down again through a “cut” phase. Therefore, we created an in-depth comparison of the Maingaining vs Bulking.

This procedure is often a yearly cycle in which you would only look your best for about a month or two for the whole year. However, most people engage in “maingaining” to an extreme, slows down the muscle-building outcomes or even standing in the way of making any gain.

In this article, we will break down what is maingaining and bulking’s benefits and all other relevant information regarding both activities.

Let’s proceed!

What Is Maingaining?

Maingaining vs Bulking

According to Jeff Nippard, maingaining is a type of body recomposition where your goal is to maintain your body weight while gaining strength in the gym. 

Maingaining involves reducing or interrupting fat gain while building muscle by eating at maintenance or consistently. In other words, it occurs when you eat around your calorie maintenance level around the year. And then, you concentrate on building your muscles slowly while losing fat.

Some people are of the notion of eating with exact calorie intake without having an excess at all. In contrast, others see a small energy surplus of 100 or 200 calories as “maingaining.” 

How Does Maingaining Work?

Calories are stored as fat by our body for later use as energy. Maingaining, however, assists the body in using some of the fat as energy in building muscle. 

Moreover, maingaining requires a maintenance diet. Compared to the usual 500+ calorie gain over a maintenance diet, you will not just target fat gain and increase muscle growth.

Since we are not adding all that extra fat, our body fat percentage needs to be stable. This rule makes maingaining somewhat different from lean body mass, which still needs cutting periods. It is quite possible to maingain forever. 

Who Should Maingain?

1. People Coming Back From a Layoff

Muscle memory quickly regains most of your muscle mass if you have taken a break from training, lost muscle, and now want to build it back. To do this, you don’t have to eat a caloric surplus.

2. People with Medium or High Body Fat Percentage

People with a moderate or high-fat body percentage are most likely to gain muscle without a calorie surplus.

3. Beginners and Advanced Lifters

Beginners can gain muscle without a calorie surplus and while in a calorie deficit. Additionally, this is referred to as a freshman win.

In addition, there are some other reasons why maingaining is worth considering, and they are as follows:

  • You are satisfied with your present physical condition but desire to add more muscle
  • You don’t want to go through the path of bulking and cutting
  • You like to keep up with consistent eating habits and diets

Moreover, maingaining tends to appeal to people who already have a significant amount of muscle but wish to stay lean all year round while also gaining some muscle. It also allows you to enjoy workouts, diet, lose fat, and have fun while gradually building muscle.

Who Should Not Maingain?

1. Hard Gainers

Maingaining is unsuitable for people with problems with gaining weight or a speedy metabolism. In a situation like this, it makes sense to have a small to moderate calorie surplus, about 200 to 400 calories, to build muscle.

2. Overweight People

We do not advise people with too much weight to maingain. The foreseen result of the approach is to remain lean while gaining muscle, rather than gaining muscle with high body fat.

3. Individuals with a Low Body Fat Percentage

Weight gain is not possible for very slim people. Once the body fat level is less than 12% body fat as a male and less than 20% as a female, gaintaining is a no-go-area for you. 

Deficient body fat levels are unsustainable long-term, and striving to be highly muscular is impossible.

To be frank, you tend to get the opposite result: losing muscles. Therefore, we advise this category of people to achieve a healthy body fat before even considering maingaining.

4. People Interested In Maximizing Muscle Gains

Maingaining is not the ideal way to build muscle in the shortest possible time. The best option for this category is following a more traditional lean build and burn cycle. 

How to Maingain

1. Find Out Your Maintenance Calories

You need to consume maintenance calories daily to neither gain nor lose fat. Additionally, these keep up with your current body weight. 

Your body can only use a limited number of excess calories to grow new muscles and maintain muscle growth. So, anything beyond that counts as extra body fat.

Theoretically, you should only eat about 40 more calories to gain weight. But to be realistic, no one can track that precisely. Therefore, we advise that you only eat about your caloric maintenance.

You can use a TDEE calculator to calculate your maintenance level or even gauge it by yourself by eating about the maintenance level for a few weeks. 

2. Calculate Your Maingaining Macros

After calculating your maintenance level, the next thing is to calculate your maingaining macros. When maingaining, make sure you are taking enough protein.

A reasonable daily protein intake for most people is around 0.7 g / lb, or 1.6 g / kg body weight. However, most people prefer a higher protein intake of about 1.1 g / lb or 2.4 g / kg body weight because a higher protein intake is more filling. 

Fat intake should comprise around 20-30% of your total calories, while the remaining calories come from carbohydrates.

3. Track Your Food Intake

After you calculate your maingaining macros, make sure you are tracking your intake by using a tracking app like My Fitness Pal. To go about the tracking, enter all the foods you eat throughout the day and ensure you are hitting your daily calorie and macro goals. 

As a second option, to avoid tracking your intake every day, you can follow a maingaining meal plan. 

To make a meal plan, calculate maintenance calories, align the calories to your goal, set up your macros, choose your meal plan approach, and so on. 

4. Maximize Muscle Gains By Emphasizing Weightlifting

If you want to build muscle over time, you should lift weights at least three times a week. Concentrate on compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once. 

These workout activities will assist you with building the most muscle in the shortest time. You can also engage in isolation exercises to target specific muscle groups in addition to compound exercises. Still, don’t ignore the big lifts.

You should spend about 60-80% of your time in the gym on compound movements. Meanwhile, spend your 20-40% on isolation exercises. 

5. Prioritize Sleep Quantity and Quality

When it comes to maingaining, the quantity and quality of your sleep are essential. So, you must get enough rest if you want to build muscle.

During sleep, your body rebuilds and repairs the muscles you overworked at the gym that day. According to a study that examined the effects of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes, it is a significant factor that influences changes in body composition. 

The outcome showed that both groups lost the same total body weight.

6. Keep Up With Your Progress

Maingaining takes so much time. During maingaining, your weight should increase slowly, implying that you won’t get any results overnight. 

However, if you are consistent, you will eventually see changes in your body composition. Take progress photos every month to monitor your progress. 

Aside from photos, you can also use a tape measure to track changes in body parts like the arms, waist, hips, and chests. By weighing yourself regularly, track your progress and ensure you are gaining weight at a good pace.

When to Maingain

Jeff Nippard, a popular YouTuber, is well-known for his science-inclined approach to nutrition and training. 

On his YouTube channel, he has various videos on maingaining and re-composition, and he likes to maingain at the end of a bulk phase. However, there’s nothing stopping maingain from indefinitely lasting if you get the desired results. 

How Many Calories Do You Need for Maingaining?

The answer to this question differs from person to person as everyone is not the same. Moreover, the number of calories needed to maingain depends on several factors. 

Finding the number of calories you need is mostly by trial and error. However, you can do it in so many ways. 

Calculating the calories required for maingaining includes tracking your calories for a week every day and using the appropriate application to track calories eaten. 

It also includes tracking the number of calories you burn on exercises, using your desired app to track calories burnt, and considering calories for your active lifestyle like walking, cycling, etc.

The Right Approach to Gain Muscle – Is Bulking Better Than Maingaining?

There are two ways to answer the question. It can be yes, and it can also be no. In other words, the effectiveness of both depends on your desired goal, your lifestyle, and the method you prefer. 

With bulking, you tend to gain muscle fast, but with the existence of fat. Bulking will also allow you to consume high calories daily, kiss your abs goodbye, and so on. 

Maingaining, on the other hand, will lead you to maintain body fat, build muscle slowly, maintain weight, and eat fewer calories. 

On a second angle, an average athlete needs to do the maingaining or gaintaining as it doesn’t need much effort like bulking. 

Maingaining Vs Bulking and Cutting

An essential thing you must keep at the back of your mind is that maingaining and bulking and cutting (or simply bulk and cut) are two different concepts. 

As stated earlier, maingaining occurs when you keep up with your current body fat percentage while slowly adding muscle. Bulking and cutting, on the other hand, is a traditional approach where you eat a calorie surplus to gain weight in the form of muscle and body fat. 

You then shed the excess fat to appear lean while maintaining muscle mass.

Pros and Cons of Maingaining, Bulking and Cutting



  • Allows you to stay slim all year round
  • Enables consistently good sporting movement
  • Promotes a healthier diet


  • Muscle and strength gains occur slowly
  • Noticeable changes take place after a very long time

Bulking and Cutting


  • Muscle and strength gain occur faster
  • Noticeable changes take place faster
  • Achieves 100% muscle growth easily


  • Bulking might cause you to gain fat excessively
  • Cutting sometimes results in slight muscle loss
  • You can feel hungry while cutting and full while bulking

Frequently Asked Questions

Does maingaining work?

Yes, maingaining yields a great result by making you gain and maintain your muscles while keeping the percentage of your body fat. 

You can achieve these through an adequate intake of calories and protein. Additionally, protein is needed for you to have plenty of stored energy for muscle gain. Meanwhile, we also require calories for fat burning.

Can you gain muscle while maingaining?

The result of maingaining intended by a workout enthusiast is muscle gain. However, although the muscle gain might be slow, it will still happen eventually with maingain.


Maingaining vs Bulking

Maingaining is a proven and tested way to gain muscles while maintaining the percentage of your body fat.

Unlike traditional bulking and cutting, maingaining keeps you lean throughout the year while building muscles slowly. It is a result-yielding approach that might not work for everyone, but it is definitely worth the try.

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Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.