Take Your Time
You can build muscle while staying lean, just don't rush it
Getting shredded means you need to cut calories and increase your calorie expenditure through exercise.
Building lean muscle means you need to consume a surplus of calories while also making sure you maintain some energy expenditure, and you need to perform progressive resistance training.
When you want to get cut and get more muscle at the same time, that's when it starts to get a little tricky. You are actually asking your body to break down fat and build muscle simultaneously, which is kind of confusing for your system. You see, to lose fat you need to restrict your calories or expend more calories than you consume. But this also means there are no calories for your body to use for muscle building.
Most beginners have the privilege of being able to do both at the same time. They can build muscle, and the increased metabolism due to training stimulates fat loss.
The most important things to remember is: you need to be able to push yourself hard in the gym. If you are eating too few calories or the wrong kind (like too much protein or too few carbs), you won't be able to sustain intense training, which is necessary to stimulate muscle growth.
Now, I know you know my story and that I never consistently ate more than about 1700 calories throughout my 11 years of training, but I am not average. I was able to focus all my energy into my workouts and then go curl up in a ball somewhere. I used to have no energy at all, but I was very tough and stubborn. After all my years of training, I’ve been able to keep my bodyweight at around 117 pounds. I haven’t really grown per say, but rather exchanged fat for muscle.
Anyway, back to what I was talking about...
To get really lean, you need plenty of muscle to help your body burn calories for you. If your body mass is too low however, your won't burn calories efficiently without having to train every day for hours on end. That would be impossible to keep up, and sooner or later you would be drained, overtrained and your muscle would break down little by little.
If you’re a newbie, you have to treat your muscle gently. New muscle gains won't stick to you the way older, more mature muscle will. Look at people who've been training and dieting consistently for decades: they can take a lot time off of training without shrinking. Beginners, however, cannot add muscle and then take a break or go all out doing double cardios. They will just tear down the house!
It took me three years before I felt I had enough muscle mass to diet down for a show. And even then, I weighed in at 110 pounds and was no way as lean as I could’ve been for the max weight limit of 115 pounds in my category. The winner was a world champion, and she weighed 115 sharp. We looked like two totally different people. So how could we have been in the same weight division, right? She was 35 years old, and I was 19. She was shredded like I am now. I had ‘baby’ cuts with some abs and so on, but I could have lost another 3 pounds of fat or so and still wouldn’t have been shredded enough for the bodybuilding division! Did I do something wrong? Did I not diet hard enough? No, but my muscle was still young and needed more time to mature!
I understand your passions (and frustrations) when it comes to getting a super tight body. I understand you want to try everything I do or other fitness professionals do, because you think that’s how it has to be. It doesn’t. First off, I train extremely hard day in and day out (some even say I'm obsessed!), and have done so for the past several years. It has taken time for my muscle mass to mature and my body to be where I want it. It doesn’t happen in a night.
What do you need to do to achieve this look? Give it time and work very, very hard in the gym, work very, very hard on mental toughness, focus, and stay determined. That’s what I do. And I refuse to rely on food to help ‘energize’ me. Food has its place, but it should not be what kicks you in the butt to get to the gym. Your own self-motivation should be. And in fact, I've found out that I am just as strong in the morning without anything but BCAAs than I am after a refeed with lots of carbs. What makes me train with more power is when I am motivated, happy and excited. When I am on a mental high, when I’ve accomplished something, that's when I feel like I can do anything. Literally anything!