Skip to content

The complete guide to mass building and definition phase nutrition periodization for bodybuilders

Der komplette Ratgeber für Masseaufbau und Definitionsphase Ernährungsperiodisierung für Bodybuilder

Are you off track?

Your training and nutrition should reflect your goals. And your workouts and your nutritional choices should work synergistically together to make it easier for you to reach your goals. This seems pretty obvious, but many people still fail to achieve this.

For example, you always see people trying to compensate for a poor diet by exercising when their goal is fat loss. Or, if they want to build muscle, they train with extremely heavy weights, low volume and avoid carbohydrates. In both cases, they will achieve sub-optimal results and waste a lot of time and energy for poor value for their efforts.

But with a little planning, you can avoid these common mistakes. Balancing your diet and training isn't that complicated. By determining your goals and what it takes to achieve them, you can put together a successful diet and know how to adjust it as you progress through the different phases of training.

The 3 phases

When it comes to body composition goals, there are three traditional phases of training:

  • Mass building phase
  • Fat loss phase (definition phase)
  • Maintenance phase

These phases should be combined with the right nutrition plan to maximize your results. Create a nutrition plan that works synergistically with each phase of training. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my primary goal?
  2. What type of training is best suited to this goal?
  3. What type of nutrition plan will support this type of training?

Once you have answered these questions, everything will crystallize and a basic framework of nutrition will become apparent. From here, it's just a matter of fine-tuning the details to tailor this plan to your needs. Let's look at each of these phases in detail:

1 - Mass building phase

What is the goal? Increased muscle mass. What training is the best way to achieve this? High volume training, primarily performed in the 6 to 12 repetition range.

What type of diet best supports this goal?

  • A calorie surplus
  • Adequate protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis
  • Adequate fat intake to optimize hormone levels
  • A high carbohydrate intake to support high volume training

Total calories

To build muscle, you need a calorie surplus. Eat enough to gain 0.25 to 0.5% of your body weight per week. For most people, this will amount to roughly 200 to 500 kcal above your maintenance calorie intake.

A good rule of thumb to start with is to multiply your body weight in kilos by 35 to get the amount of calories. However, this is only a rough figure. Many people will need 37 to 42 times their weight in calories. If you start at 35 and don't gain any weight, then increase the calories to 38 times your weight and see what happens. Keep adjusting your calorie intake upwards until you gain the desired amount of weight.

Your body is an infinitely complex system with countless feedback loops. Your needs will change based on a number of different factors, so you will need to make adjustments to your calorie intake over the course of your mass-building phase. Continue to monitor your weight on the scales and adjust your calorie intake based on this. Not gaining weight fast enough? Increase your calorie intake by 250 to 500 kcal per day (with lighter exercisers at the lower end of the range and heavier exercisers at the higher end).

Once this has been clarified, we can move on to your macronutrient needs.


Muscle protein synthesis is undoubtedly the most important physiological factor when it comes to building muscle. Consuming protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Muscle growth can only occur if your muscle protein synthesis exceeds your protein breakdown.

For this reason, it is imperative that you eat enough protein to maximize your muscle protein synthesis throughout the day. Interestingly, scientific research suggests that there is a certain amount of protein that will allow you to achieve this and that more protein does not provide any additional muscle building benefits.

To build muscle, you should consume 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean muscle mass. Since not everyone has access to a DEXA machine to accurately measure their body fat percentage, we'll keep it simple and recommend a protein intake of 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Divide this amount of protein into 4 to 6 meals per day based on your preferences and daily routine.


The consumption of fat is important for regular hormone function, particularly the production of androgenic, muscle-building male hormones. For this reason, fat should never be eliminated from the diet. It is less about optimal fat intake and more about a minimum for normal hormone function. Science tells us that fat intake should be between 20 and 30% of total calorie intake for optimal hormone production.

Once a threshold of 0.8 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight is exceeded, no further significant benefits in terms of hormone production can be observed. With an intake that exceeds what is needed for hormone function, structural and chemical processes, the body simply uses fat as an energy source. It is advisable not to exceed the 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight threshold during the mass building phase.


Once the amount of protein and fat has been determined, carbohydrates make up the rest of your total calorie intake. Just like fats, carbohydrates have a positive influence on certain hormones. They are also the dominant source of energy for the central nervous system (CNS) and high-intensity activities such as training with weights. In addition, they provide you with energy for strenuous training sessions and support your regeneration.

About 80% of the energy used for your weight training comes from your glycogen stores (carbohydrates). Low glycogen stores will affect your training and recovery. Consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates will allow you to train at a higher intensity and volume and recover faster after training. Carbohydrates have anti-catabolic and anabolic effects and are hugely beneficial for people who train hard, especially if they want to build muscle.

Your carbohydrate requirements are based on your activity level. If you are training at a high volume during a mass-building phase, your carbohydrate requirements will be correspondingly high. A recent study review recommends a daily carbohydrate intake of 4 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight for strength athletes. Most hard-training recreational athletes will fall into the lower end of this range. For most, 4 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight is perfectly adequate. (An 80 kilogram athlete would roughly need 320 to 400 grams of carbohydrates per day).

How to monitor your progress during a mass-building phase

  • Aim for a weekly weight gain of 0.25 to 0.5% of your body weight. In the real world, an 80 kilo exerciser should aim for roughly 0.5 to 1 kilo every two weeks, but don't let the exact numbers drive you crazy. A lot of things can affect the weight on the scales, so these figures are just a rough guide.
  • If your progress is stagnating, increase your calorie intake by 250 to 500 kcal per day - lighter exercisers should aim for the lower end and heavier/slimmer exercisers should aim for the upper end of the range.
  • Adjust your calorie intake based on your weight on the scale, with most of the extra calories coming from carbohydrates.
  • Your strength in the 6 to 12 repetition range should increase consistently.

2 - Diet/definition phase

What is the goal? A reduction in body fat. Which training is best suited to achieve this? The maximum volume you can recover from. This will be less than during the mass building phase.

Being in a calorie deficit means that your recovery ability will not be as good as during the mass building phase, but you should strive to do as much as possible to give your body the strongest signal to maintain its muscle mass. A high training volume also helps to create a calorie deficit. You can also use some form of cardio training to increase the calorie deficit.

What type of diet is best suited to support this goal?

- A calorie deficit
- Adequate protein intake to maintain existing muscle mass (this may be slightly higher than during the mass gain and maintenance phases)
- Increased fat intake compared to the mass phase. The risk of hormonal imbalances is higher in a calorie deficit
- Carbohydrate intake should remain high enough to support high volume training. Keep your carbohydrate intake as high as possible while you continue to lose fat. As fat loss requires a calorie deficit, carbohydrate intake will be lower than during the mass building phase.


Protein protects lean body tissue during the diet and is the most satiating of all macronutrients. These are two good reasons to consume slightly more protein during a diet. Scientific research suggests that anything between 2 and 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is effective during a fat loss phase. Most people do best with 2.2 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

The exact amount should be based on your dietary preferences. The key to a successful diet is your ability to stick to the plan.


The risk of hormonal imbalances is increased during a prolonged calorie-restricted diet. To mitigate this, you should increase your fat intake compared to the bulking phase. Now this doesn't mean you should go on an Atkins diet and eat avocados smothered in bacon and butter. Just be aware of the fact that even during a calorie deficit you need to eat enough fat to avoid feeling sh...eid all the time. Eat about 1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight per day.


Any calories you have left over will be consumed in the form of carbohydrates. Maintain a carbohydrate intake of 2 grams per kilogram of body weight for as long as possible to allow for productive training.

How to monitor your progress during a diet/definition phase

  • Aim to lose about 0.5 to 1% of your body weight per week. For a 100 kilo person, this means a weight loss of 0.5 to 1 kilo per week.
  • Reduce your calorie intake by 250 to 500 kcal per day if your weight loss starts to stagnate (use the lower end of the scale if you are lighter and/or leaner).
  • Use scales, progress pictures and body composition measurements such as skinfold measurements to estimate the necessary adjustments.

3 - Maintenance, transition or preparation phase

Let's address the topic of maintenance training first. Why should you do this? Hypertrophy requires you to train hard and at high volume while progressively overloading your body. More is better, but you can't train harder and longer forever. At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in: the longer and more often you do something, the less it will do for you. To overcome this, you need to periodize your training. You need to train at a lower volume.

For example, you should incorporate periods of strength or maintenance training into your long-term training regimen to allow your body to fully recover and be ready for the next block of hard muscle-building training. By lowering your training volume to a maintenance level for a month or so, you can make your body receptive to a high training volume again. You then increase the volume again during your next bulking phase.

These maintenance phases allow your body to firm up, re-energize and prepare for the next muscle-building phase. After a long bulking phase, you will have accumulated a lot of fatigue and your body will have a lower insulin sensitivity. In addition, your body will get used to the high volume and you will need more and more volume and intensity to overload your body. This increases the likelihood of fat gain, overtraining and injury.

Properly timed unloading phases can help reduce these risks for a while, but they can't compensate for a month of hard training. A maintenance phase at some point is what the doctor ordered.

Another reason for maintenance phases is that they help the body to maintain and stabilize the muscle mass it has built up during the last mass-building phase. Give your body a chance to get used to its new, more muscular set point.

Use the maintenance phase at the end of your mass building phase, when calorie intake and training volume are at their highest level. During this phase you try to maintain your body weight. This allows your body to find its new normal weight. As a result, it will maintain the muscle mass you built up during the mass gain phase.

But I could bet that this whole "maintenance phase" thing still kind of bugs you, right? Who wants to train at a maintenance level. It's all about beast mode - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, right?

That's why I like to refer to the maintenance phase as the preparation phase. This phase literally prepares you for future growth. Or think of this phase as the transition phase between the mass building and definition phase - or the strength phase.

Even if this is nothing more than semantics, the vocabulary used can make a big psychological difference and improve adherence to this phase. So choose the term that suits you best and then do what is necessary: low-volume strength training with a maintenance-level diet.

Maintenance phase training and nutrition

Train for strength - lower frequency, lower volume, lower reps, but heavier weights than during the mass building and definition phase. For example, 3 sets of 5 repetitions (3x5) would be a suitable set and repetition scheme. This works because it is much easier to maintain muscle than to build muscle, so the stimulus from training can be much lower.

In terms of diet, an isocaloric diet is best - maintain your body weight and eat maintenance calories.

If you are eating for weight maintenance and training hard, then there is not much risk of muscle loss. Protein intake can remain in the same range as during the mass-building phase. Carbohydrate intake can be reduced as the training volume is lower. Fat intake can be increased slightly to compensate for the reduction in carbohydrates and to ensure hormone levels are maintained.

This phase allows you to restore your insulin sensitivity after your carbohydrate-rich mass-building phase. In addition, a maintenance phase will also give you some psychological relief. After you've done a high-carb, relatively low-fat mass-building phase, you probably won't be able to see foods like rice, oatmeal and potatoes in combination with low-fat protein sources. As a result, the opportunity to eat some higher fat foods with a few carbohydrates will help wash away any fatigue and prepare you for the next diet phase.

Nutritional guidelines for the maintenance phase

  • Protein: 2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  • Carbohydrates: 2.3 to 3 grams per kilogram of body weight (about half the maximum amount during the mass-building phase)
  • Fat: The rest (about 1.25 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight)

How to monitor your progress during the maintenance phase

  • Just maintain your weight!
  • If your weight fluctuates by more than plus or minus half a kilo, adjust your calorie intake up or down by 250 to 500 kcal per day (lighter people should aim at the lower end of the range and heavier people at the upper end)

Let's summarize everything

Here's a good structure that can give you an overview of how to do these phases sequentially one after the other, assuming you are relatively lean or have a body fat percentage of around 10%:

  • Mass building phase: weeks until April arrives
  • Maintenance phase: 4 weeks
  • Definition phase: 3-8 weeks until you reach a body fat percentage of 8 to 10%
  • Repeat until you are muscular and defined


From Tom MacCormick

Previous article 12 healthy foods that are rich in antioxidants