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Blog Why You Need To Get Lean First



Why You Need To Get Lean First

  • by Doc
  • March 4, 2016

One of the most confusing things I used to do was read so many blogs and watch so many videos on ‘How to get Big AND/OR Lean’ I ended up not knowing what to do.

So I just want to make sure you’re on the right blog for you – You’re here because you want to get Lean (I’m talking, see your Abs for the Lads) & for the ladies, if this applies to you, just get seriously toned up.

But… You ALSO want to get a ‘bit big’ – not crazy big, but fill out a t-shirt nicely and have some decent muscle on your frame. So if this is you, great, you’re in the right place. If not, stick around because you’ll learn some actionable stuff you can take away anyways 😉


We want shit NOW. We want to be lean, big, strong and whatever else you want, you want it now.

It’s in our nature really – and it’s the main reason why ‘quick-fixes’ sell – they promise stuff NOW. So, this blog is a reality kick in the face for lads and ladies that want to get serious about their training & get lean and/or big-ish.

No beating around the bush here either – what I’m raving about here is, that it’s damn hard to do both (at the same time). A bold statement to make, but look I’ve tried all the ins & outs of both. So if you want to fall for getting Abs now, go watch some six-pack in 6 seconds video on YouTube or something.

Because if you’re wanting a physique down the line where you’re;

A: Lean: I.E: Have a nice bit of definition & at least the outline of your Abs.

B: Nice bit of Muscle on the frame: I.E: NOT squeezing into Extra-Small Under Armour T-Shirt then posting on Instagram, but rather filling out maybe a medium, or dare I say it, a Large 😉

Ladies it’s no different for you either, just replace the word Muscle with Tone and that’s what I mean. Not skinny and flat like one of those Victoria Secret Models, but actual MUSCLE tone. If you think lifting weights makes you huge, I’ll let coach Kate here at Doc Fitness Instagram do the talking:

☆ (@katemoloney92) on

You need to follow what’s coming in this blog. (Well, in my opinion anyways) If you’re at a certain level with your bodyfat right now you can go 1 of 2 ways:

1: If you’re ‘lean enough’ you can focus on adding size,

2: if you’re not, then you need to lean up first. So that’s the stage set, and now, here’s why this is vital to lifelong lean-ness and keeping fat gain down.


By Gain I mean adding mass/muscle/size/bulk or whatever you want to call it – Adding Muscle with minimal Fat Gain.

Not the usually used ‘Bulk’ where Lads basically use it as a chance to pig out & fool themselves into adding size when in fact it’s more fat cells they’re laying down. (Image Courtesy of Gym Memes, Pinterest.com

Firstly here’s what we know:

– Training ‘effectively’ to build Muscle & eating in a Calorie Surplus will lead to Weight Gain, hopefully more Muscle than Fat.

– Likewise with being in a Caloric Deficit, we’ll lose bodyfat. Again, hopefully more bodyfat than Muscle.

So why don’t you just go ‘Gaining’, pack on some Muscle and surely you’ll look the way you want then?


(Image Courtesy of Muscleandfitness.com)  


In an ideal Unicorn land, we’d pack all the excess calories we consume to grow, straight into quality Muscle Growth & ZERO fat gain. And unless you’ve come across any unicorns lately – that ain’t the real world.

So, Genetics play a big role in how we ‘partition’ our Calories, along with our current bodyfat levels, your overall diet, caloric balance & finally the Training side of it all, which a lot of you screw up to be honest.

And what I mean by all that is, when you’re training to lose bodyfat, your genetics & current bodyfat level play a BIG role in how much bodyfat you lose compared to muscle loss & likewise when you’re in a ‘Lean Gain’ phase for example, genetics/bodyfat will play a role in how much goes to actual muscle growth compared to fat gain (Provided you’re still Eating & Training in line with these goals that is).

Now this stems back to what’s called the ‘P-Ratio‘ where I first heard of from Lyle Mc Donald, who uses this very easy to understand simplification of it: “the P-ratio (which stands for partitioning ratio) which essentially represents the proportion of protein (LBM) you gain relative to the total weight you gain.” (1)

So what this means is: – The more bodyfat you carry, when you diet down, the LESS Lean Body Mass (LBM) you’ll lose & more Fat Loss. Yes that’s a good thing, this is what we want.

But.. the Leaner you are, you risk losing more LBM compared to Fat.

Likewise – when Gaining…

– The Leaner you are, the more LBM you stand to gain as to fat gain.

– The more bodyfat you carry, you stand to gain more Fat as to LBM Gain. (2)


If your end goal is having a good looking physique, then trying to ‘bulk’ as they say while you’re not lean (I.E: can’t see the outline of your abs), you’re prone to more bodyfat gain which will be HARDER to strip off in the long run.

Now if you don’t give a shit about that and ‘how you look’ then maybe you’re on the wrong blog, this is for physique stuff, no rugby 😉

So this is where reality kicks in, and I learnt this the hard way. When I had the gut staring back up at me, the first port of call was get Lean. Now at the time I grew a small amount of Muscle too whilst getting Lean (Recomposition) – which are the famous ‘Newbie Gains’, but when I brought my Abs through for the first time since I was 12 I just felt small & weak to be honest.

Yes I lost bodyfat and got lean, but wasn’t happy with my size. Hence why I’ve said above, you’re not magically going to ‘get big’ and Lean at the same time.

Saying that, I still was 100% way better off going through this process first, because since then it’s been smartly manipulating my nutrition/training to Lean Gain/Cut bodyfat whenever I wanted, depending on what my goal is.

So you may not be where you want to be right now in terms of size (You’ll always want more anyways haha) but just stare reality in the face for the moment

– If you’re carrying a lot of bodydat

– GET LEAN first. Here’s how you can ‘roughly’ judge it.

– To start adding Size, you’d want to be around 10-12% bodyfat for Lads & around 20-24% for ladies.

– If you’re a bit above this, get DOWN to that first before going any further. Just for the purpose of easy-ness & this blog let’s use this Bodyfat Chart for Estimations on where you roughly are right now

– Yes this is highly flawed & inaccurate, but it’s fine for this blogs purpose:

  (Image courtesy of Builtlean.com)

From that, at least in your head now you can start thinking ‘what’s best for you’ to do right now.


– AFTER LEANING UP: This is a whole other Monster of a topic in itself but here’s a super simple Layman’s terms primer on it

– We know that when we diet for long periods to Lose Bodyfat, our body adapts to deal with this meaning it’ll burn fewer calories to conserve Energy, maintain energy balance and just prevent you from starvation. (3,4)

So it makes sense that when you do hit a bodyfat goal, if you just go back to eating ‘normal’, weight gain will come on fast because you’re body is not ready to handle this due to the down-regulation of certain hormones, Thyroid, Leptin etc. from the dieting phase you’ve just gone through.

So here, you’d need to bring Calories roughly back up to where your Diet Started & aim to work from there to your Maintenance Calories. This will depend on how long you dieted for, but for those just wanting to look good naked and not aiming for a physique competition for example – aim to stay at maintenance Calories for 2-3 Weeks BEFORE you attempt to start gaining to minimise Fat Gain.

Now this is kinda going deeper than I wanted this Blog too, so stay with me. The main thing we want to take away is when to get Lean & when to start adding size 😉

– AFTER GAINING UP: Let’s say you’re 12% bodyfat (Men) & you’ve just gone through a few Months of gaining (Caloric Surplus & Training for size) & now you’re edging up on around the 15-16% Bodyfat Mark, meaning you’re abs are starting to appear a bit fluffier.

Now it’s time to Lean Up again before we add to much fat. If you want to get Lean of course 😉

But like when someone ‘get’s Lean’, here we want to hold onto the Muscle we’ve just created and worked hard for over the last few Months. Mike Israetel first introduced me to this concept in his book The Renaissance Diet & just like getting lean, it makes perfect sense. If you just go straight to stripping bodyfat the second you come from a gaining Phase – you’ll risk losing Muscle more so than if you held onto your ‘Gains’ for 3-4 Weeks.


I hope I didn’t lose you throughout that, as the last section goes deeper than most need to know right now. So let’s wrap up this blog, here’s your Immediate takeaways:

1: Get Lean first before wanting to add size. Ladies this goes the same for you too, think more muscle tone and shape rather than ‘Size or Bulkyness’.

2: After a Leaning Up and/or a Gaining Phase – You’ll need to transition into a Maintenance Phase to prevent fast fat gain (after getting lean) & potentially losing muscle (after a gaining phase).

3: When you hit your upper limit of bodyfat Gain – It’s wise to stop there before getting too fat, putting it bluntly. Lads shoot for 15-16%, Ladies around 24-27%. Everyone is different here too, so again take what works for you.

4: (For the Lads reading this) Stop bullshitting yourself into ‘Getting Big’ when you’re already carrying Bodyfat. Get Lean first & thank me later. Patience, Consistency & long-term thinking here is KEY.

Your next step – For lads that want to get lean;

If you’re Fed-Up, lacking in Confidence and WANT to get that Leaner Stomach, this FREE 3-Part video series dives into the 3 main factors in terms of the Nutritional plan you need to get Lean, followed by the Training you need to be doing followed by a look at what supplements are the greatest bang for your buck.

To get started click on the image below to download your free video series & get started with your first video; 



1: Mc Donald, L. Bodyrecompoisition.com (2008) http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/initial-body-fat-and-body-composition-changes.html

2: Dulloo, AG (1998) ‘Partitioning between protein and fat during starvation and refeeding: is the assumption of intra-individual constancy of P-ratio valid?’ Br J. Nutrition. 1998 Jan;79(1):107-13: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9505809

3:  Johannsen, D.L et al. (2012) Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass.’ J. Clinical Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Jul;97(7):2489-96. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22535969

4: Rosenbaum, M. & Leibel, R.L (2010) ‘Adaptive thermogenesis in humans.’ International Journal of Obesity (Lond). 2010 Oct; 34(0 1): S47–S55. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673773/