Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll know that the most important thing you need to do is go into a calorie deficit.

Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?

However, some dieters want to build muscle while they diet, which begs one important question – can you build muscle while in a calorie deficit? 

Trying to balance your weight loss with muscle growth can be challenging, and there are several things to consider before you get started.

So, if you want to learn how to build muscle safely whilst not sacrificing your calorie deficit, stick with us to learn more. 

What Is A Calorie Deficit? 

First off, let’s go back to basics – what is a calorie deficit? 

A calorie deficit is simply a process that’s created when you take in less calories than your body burns off.

This is the primary way to lose weight because to shed those extra pounds we’ll need to consume less calories than we burn.

On the contrary, if you consume more calories than you burn off, you won’t have the calorie deficit needed to lose weight

There are a few ways to create a calorie deficit, the most important being changing your diet and exercise habits.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means below. 

Dietary Changes 

Changing your diet is the most effective way to generate a calorie deficit. However, there’s no preferred way to cut your calories.

As long as you’re doing it safely and not sacrificing important nutrients, you’ll be creating an efficient calorie deficit. 

One of the most popular ways to create a calorie deficit with your diet is to eliminate all sugary drinks and replace them with water.

This may sound pretty basic, but it can actually lead to a 2% reduction in body weight in just over six months. 

Shifting your focus away from processed and fatty foods will also help.

Eating plenty of foods such as proteins, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and fruits and vegetables will help you reach your goal weight quickly and give you all the nutrients you need to pull off your calorie deficit in a healthy way. 


Although diet is the most effective way to create a calorie deficit, it works best when you increase the amount of exercise you do.

Combining dietary and exercise changes will often give you the best results, so how do you do it? 

Aiming for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise at least five days a week is a simple way to get you closer to your goals.

When you first start, you may need to break this up into shorter bursts of exercise, such as 10-minute chunks.

You don’t have to go all out at the gym, either; even just a brisk walk, jog, or some gardening can help burn off those calories.

Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?  

Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?

Losing weight in a calorie deficit is simple enough, but how can you build muscle? 

Well, to grow your muscles, two important factors must be met: exercise and nutrients. Appropriate exercise for muscle building can include: 

  • The time your muscles spend under tension
  • Minor damage from lifting 
  • Metabolic fatigue 

To build muscle, though, you’ll also need to give yourself enough rest.

Ideally, a day of rest between strength workouts for each muscle group is effective. However, you may need more rest if your workout was particularly intense. 

Nutrients are another critical factor. Ideally, to build muscle, you’ll need a small calorie surplus to allow excess nutrients and energy to feed into your body and build your muscles.

So, what happens in a calorie deficit? 

Pushing your weight loss faster can reduce your ability to gain muscle.

So, if you want to burn fat and build muscle, you’ll need a diet that’s high in nutrients from whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and you’ll need plenty of quality protein. 

Although these things can help you build muscle, it’s important to remember that your body isn’t in the ideal circumstances to perform muscular hypertrophy when you’re in a calorie deficit.

So, while you may see some gains, they won’t be as impressive as they would be if you weren’t trying to lose weight simultaneously. 

Muscle building IS possible in a calorie deficit.

Although most people increase their energy intake when they try to build muscle, almost all of us have enough excess fat to provide the energy we need for muscle growth, even when we’re in a calorie deficit. 

However, training on a calorie deficit can be risky – especially if you overdo it.

Some people can develop Relative Energy Deficiency (RED-s), which occurs when there is a substantial difference between the amount of energy you’re consuming and exerting.

This can cause issues with bone density, hormones, and more. So, if you’re trying to build muscle in a deficit, you should always seek advice from a professional nutritionist. 

If you are building muscle in a deficit, there are a few things you can do to exhaust your muscles and help launch them into hypertrophy, including: 

  • Warming up your muscles for at least 10 minutes
  • Start using manageable weights that don’t affect your form
  • Slowly increase the number of sets you’re doing, or your resistance, as your strength and endurance get better
  • Perform slow repetitions, which can encourage more muscle growth by increasing their time under tension 
  • Keep hydrated, sleep well, and stretch your body out after workouts. This can encourage more flexibility in the muscles you’re trying to build up. 

The Bottom Line 

Yes, it’s possible to build muscle in a calorie deficit, but it’s not advised. 

Your muscle growth won’t be as significant as it would be without the calorie deficit, and you also run the risk of overexertion.

Generally speaking, muscle growth requires a calorie surplus, not a deficit, so a deficit doesn’t offer the best conditions for hypertrophy. 

However, if you want to build muscle in a deficit, we recommend talking to a nutritionist or a doctor first.

Jenna Priestly