There is a lot of controversy surrounding the term Maingaining or Gaintaining, as it’s sometimes called. Some fitness experts say it’s the best and healthiest way to gain muscle, others say it could kill your gains. In this article I’ will explain exactly what maingaining is, discuss the pros and cons, and we’ll hear opinions from fitness experts Greg Doucette, Mike Israetel and Jeff Nippard.
First let’s define exactly what we’re talking about with this word maingaining, which actually made it into the urban dictionary this year.
Maingaining is eating at your maintenance or near maintenance, so as to minimize fat gain while still gaining muscle. It is a consistent and steady health focused method of gaining muscle, popularized largely by Greg Doucette.
When I first heard Greg Doucette talking about maingaining, maybe a year ago, he defined it as eating AT maintenance calories and slowly building muscle. And yes that will work if you have enough stored body fat to provide the energy needed to build new tissue. But if you’re pretty lean, of course that won’t keep working forever. He later clarified that maingaining means keeping your body fat level the same while slowly gaining muscle. In other words eating at a small calorie surplus, enough to gain muscle but not enough to spill over into fat gain.
You can see why this topic is controversial and confusing to many people. Add to that people trying to maingain at way too low of a body fat level and then complaining it doesn’t work. Here’s the bottom line, in my opinion we have to clarify exactly what we mean when we use certain words.
When Greg Doucette uses the word bulking he means eating OVER a 500 calorie surplus each day and purposely putting on fat. Most of us would call that dirty bulking. When he uses the word maingaining, he means one of two things:
- Eating at maintenance and slowly putting on muscle if you have enough fat stores. Most of us would call that re-comping.
- OR - eating just over maintenance (maybe 2-300 calories) in order to slowly put on muscle and minimize fat gain. Most of us would call that controlled bulking or lean bulking.
And when he uses the word cutting, he means severe calorie restriction or crash dieting. So when Greg says things like “You wouldn’t have to cut if you didn’t bulk in the first place” we understand what he really means is “you wouldn’t have to crash diet and severely restrict calories and basically starve yourself, if you didn’t bulk dirty and eat 1000 calories over maintenance and eat Wendy’s and McDonalds every day.”
So, for the record, let it be now and forevermore, that the word maingaining shall mean:
“Eating at your maintenance calories or near maintenance, so as to minimize fat gain while still gaining muscle.” And shall also henceforth carry within said definition the terms recomp and lean bulking.”
There. That settles it. No more confusion, no more controversy. Okay now that we’re all on the same page, what can we say about the pros and cons of maingaining? Let's start with what Greg himself says:
Greg says Maingaining is just as good as bulking and cutting but healthier. Now remember Greg’s definitions for these terms: Maingaining can mean a small calorie surplus and “bulking and cutting” means EXTREME bulking and cutting. I take that to mean lean bulking with periodic mini cuts may indeed fit within his definition of Maingaining. So with that in mind I agree that maingaining is definitely healthier than extreme yoyo dieting, and may be just as effective in the long run. We honestly don’t know, there’s just not enough research, or any research that I’m aware of. Okay let’s hear what Jeff Nippard has to say…
Jeff Nippard says that for intermediate to advanced people he recommends bulking and cutting, but then mentions Layne Norton and Alberto Nunez both endorse maingaining or gaintaining, and how this is a perfectly reasonable approach. Here are a couple photos:
As you can see, Layne Norton and Alberto Nunez are definitely not beginners. They are advanced professional natural bodybuilders. Then he goes on to say, in reality we don’t know which approach is better long term, and it would be cool if we had a study, which I agree. His bias is bulking and cutting, but he says honestly we don’t really know for sure. Now let’s hear what Dr. Mike Israetel has to say about maingaining…
In many interviews Dr. Mike has made it clear he is not a fan of maingaining for max muscle growth. He says it could give you “pretty good” results, but once you’re pretty lean the most efficient way is going to be bulking and cutting. But he clarifies, that doesn’t mean crazy bulking but an intentional 250 to 500 calorie surplus, followed by a mini cut. Later in this interview Greg said he was surprised they agreed more than he expected. Again I think it has to do with how we define these terms. Dr. Mike’s understanding of the word maingaining is slightly different than Greg, but at the end of the day they pretty much agree on most things.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? Maingaining is eating at maintenance or in a slight calorie surplus. It’s the slow steady healthy approach compared to extreme bulking and cutting. You keep your eye on your body fat level and the scale each week. If you aren’t gaining any weight adjust your calories up a little, like by 100, until you start making progress. If you feel like you’re gaining too much fat, you adjust your calories down a little, again by 100 calories. Dr. Mike talks about hunger levels, and how training harder makes some people more hungry, but not always. Honestly the only way to implement these principles accurately is to track your diet. If you could use a little help in that area, I want to let you know about a free resource I have called the calorie-calculator-combo, it comes with an online calorie calculator that tells you how many calories you need to eat each day to lose fat or Maingain or lean bulk. It also comes with the top 5 calorie counting apps, so you can start tracking your food intake and make sure you’re eating right for your goals. And it comes with the Glycemic Index Food Guide, with nutritional recommendations and meal planning ideas to help you make healthy food choices. So if you’re ready to take your fitness to the next level, you can get all three free resources by visiting the link below.
What does the Bible say about this topic? Believe it or not the bible talks a lot about food. In the Old Testament food intake was very regulated for the Jews. In the New Testament we are given a lot of freedom when it comes to food choices. Jesus Himself declared all foods clean, you can find that in Mark 7:19. In Romans 14 verses 2-6 Paul confirms the idea of liberty in food choices. The Bible has a word for dirty bulking, it’s gluttony. And the Bible warns against gluttony and the lust of the flesh, Proverbs 3:2 and 1 John 2:16 are just a couple verses of many that deal with this. One of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is Temperance or self-control. Temperance means moderation, or avoiding extremes. You tell me if dirty bulking and severe cutting is extreme. Maingaining is the balanced healthy approach, and therefore gets my stamp of approval for being Biblical.
Okay that’s it for this week’s article. Thanks for joining me. Don’t forget to pick up my calorie calculator combo, the ultimate free tools to help you succeed on your fitness journey, just visit the link below. That’s all for now, God bless you, and I’ll see you next time.
Free Calorie Calculator Combo: https://www.spiritandmuscle.com/calories