I know this topic has been discussed ad-nauseum but I figured it'd be nice to create a succinct discussion on this topic..
The question is whether or not its possible to put on size when not on a surplus of calories. Some claim that with perfect nutrition timing at maintenance calories, that it creates an anabolic environment for growth. Others claim having great success with cycling carbohydrates around your different workouts.
Now I think I should specify that we need to distinguish between myofibrillar growth, and just sarcoplasmic. I'd think that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy would be easier to attain without a surplus of calories, in that its not actually growing the size of the contractile fibers..
In my honest opinion yes. But most workouts you'll be breaking even. Its not going to be a fast process.
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Yes you can but you can only gain so much until you plateau
You didn't specify if this was with or without using anabolic compounds. That changes things, but even with steroids involved, the body will have self limiting factors.
One of those is the fact that it takes a certain amount of calories ( I won't get into the importance of macros here) to feed continued growth. Muscle burns calories, and more muscle burns more calories. So, over time, the body will require a higher and higher quantity of "maintenance" calories in order to feed, build, and maintain that new growth.
Another factor is the more advanced you get, the harder it will be to spur on new growth. When you first started training, you would have grown just from loading and unloading the weights for the strong guys, but it will be immensely more difficult to take your arms from 16" to 18" than it was to take them from 12" to 16". Now try this while telling the body you don't want to feed it as much as it wants and you make the task more difficult.
Pain is just weakness leaving the body...
I've gained mass at maintenance, if I even hit it at all at times since I get so busy at work. I've only counted my protein intake and tried to keep it around 230-250g and never counted anything else. Although it was a dirty mini bulk I still had some good results also adding 5 grams of creatine. Now that I am competing, I needed to add more size so I had to go on a surplus. After a while I stopped growing mass wise since my body demanded more calories as I increase my training.
I have had a lot of success in gaining mass while even in prep between contests. Most of the time it is 8 weeks between each contest and each time I do progress pics I compare them to what I looked like at the same time out from the last show. So I believe that it can be done. I think it just has a lot to do with the style of training and nutrition to go along with that. My diet is a carb cycle and I utilize peri workout nutrition. Training is based mostly around low reps but as explosive as possible.
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I've gained mass while at and slightly below maintenance. In my opinion insulin sensitivity is a huge factor. Carb cycling and the use of certain nutrient partitioners are a big help
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Newbies, out of shape and possibly when mixing up a routine to break a plateau. If you're on your game it's pretty unlikely, but then who really knows the exact calorie number for maintenance.