The question, how many calories should I eat to gain muscle Is very important and if you get the answer wrong, you’ll see very little to zero results from your fitness plan.
You have to feed your body the correct type of food at the right ratios to give it the fuel it needs to build lean muscle mass.
This article will break down the basics so that you can get started creating the correct type of nutrition plan.
How Many Calories Should You Eat To Gain Muscle
The amount will be different for everybody, it depends on your gender, weight, height, age, and activity level.
By the end of this article, you will know how to figure out how many calories you need each day to survive, and how many you need to add to create a calorie surplus in order for your body to have the right amount of energy to be able to build an adequate amount of muscle.
What Is A Calorie
I could give you some long technical answer filled with big words here, but let’s face it, you don’t want that, and I don’t want to have to look up how to spell those big words.
Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy you receive from anything you eat or drink.
What Is An Empty Calorie
Any food that is high in energy, but low in nutritional value. These types of foods are used in “dirty bulking” (I’ll explain what that is later)
- salad dressing
- You see where I’m going with this
11% of people’s daily caloric intake is from fast food, which is categorized as empty calories. This is why America has such a weight issue.
Do You Need Extra Calories To Build Muscle
Yes, this is called being on a calorie surplus.
After you find out the number of calories you need for your body to have enough energy to perform basic bodily functions such as breathing and making your heartbeat.
You will then add 200 to 500 calories to this number to create the calorie surplus.
You may be asking why such a discrepancy, but this is largely due to people having different types of metabolisms and leading different types of lives.
When you first start to workout I recommend adding 300 calories, and then making sure to keep track of your progress, so that you know if you have to add or decrease calories.
Why Is Eating So Important To Gain muscle
Eating is as important to gaining muscle as gas in your car is for you to be able to drive.
Without gas, your car doesn’t move.
Without the correct number of calories from the right types of fuel and your muscle mass won’t move either.
It really is that simple, your body needs extra energy to build muscle, and if it doesn’t get it, it will never take that energy from somewhere else to do it on its own.
How To Figure Out How Many Calories You Need
I know the majority of people today will want to use a calorie calculator, which I’m going to provide, just scroll down past the 2 formulas to use the digital calculator.
I’m weird and like to manually do a mathematical formula to figure out my calorie quota, so if you’re like me I’m also going to provide the 2 most accurate formulas.
- The Basic Multiplier (least accurate of the two)
- The Harris-Benedict formula (very accurate)
Whichever formula you use to decipher your caloric needs remember to add 200 to 500 calories to create a calorie surplus.
The Basic Multiplier
This is a basic method for people with normal body type and normal daily activity levels.
In this formula, you will multiply your body weight in pounds by a set number determined by your activity level. (see below)
- VERY ACTIVE-15.5
- EXTREMELY ACTIVE -16
now add 200 to 500 calories to your total.
Harris-Benedict Formula, The Best Calorie Calculator To Find Calories
This method is a lot more accurate than the basic multiplier since it takes into account a person’s age, activity level, height, and sex.
MEN: 66+( 6.25X bodyweight in-lb)+(12.7 X height in inches)-(6.8 X in years)
WOMEN:655+(4.35 X bodyweight in-lb)+(4.7 X height in inches)-(4.7 X age in years)
Now take that number and multiply it by the number below that most accurately describes your activity level.
- LIGHTLY ACTIVE-1.375
- MODERATELY ACTIVE-1.55
- VERY ACTIVE-1.725
- EXTREMELY ACTIVE-1.9
Once again, add between 200 to 500 calories to this final number to create a calorie surplus for bulking.
I know I keep repeating the need to add calories for a surplus, but I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had that get frustrated because they’re not seeing any results, to find out later that they never accounted for this part and end up only eating a maintenance level of calories.
Maintenance, Bulking Or Cutting
Even though this article is about eating enough calories to gain muscle, I’m going to explain a cutting cycle and maintenance level real quick so that there isn’t any confusion.
- Maintenance Cycle – If you just wanted to maintain the lean muscle mass you already have on your body without losing or adding any weight then you will take the number you received from the calculator and keep it as is. Do not add or subtract any calories from it.
- Cutting Cycle – This is when you’re trying to lose excess fat, in order to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit, and you do this by subtracting 300 to 500 calories from the number you received from your calculations.
- Bulking Cycle – This is when you want to give your body enough fuel to build muscle and you do this by, adding 200 to 500 calories to your daily caloric number.
Different people have unique genes and metabolisms, so your calorie intake may need to be tweaked a bit to the lower or higher side depending on your results.
This is why there is such a large margin in the calorie totals that i tell you to either add or subtract.
If you have a fast metabolism, and only add 200 calories to your calorie surplus, this might not be enough to build muscle you may have to add 400 to 500 calories.
the opposite is also just as true though if you have a slow metabolism and you start off adding 500 calories you may gain unwanted fat along with your new muscle.
We’ll talk later about keeping track of your progress to know if you need to change your calorie totals one way or another. If you do have to change them Increments of 100 are usually used for the best results.
Online BMR Calorie Calculator
BMR Calculator provided by calculators.tech
Can You Lose Weight And Build Muscle At The Same Time
The answer to this question is no.
It always comes down to one thing, calories in, and calories out.
To lose weight you have to burn more calories than you eat.
To build muscle you have to eat more calories than you burn.
The 2 processes work directly against each other, so there is no way for them to co-exist.
When Should You Eat
Unless you want to start a huge public debate don’t utter this sentence at the gym, you will receive a dozen different answers, and none of them will be wrong or right.
What are some of the more popular options…
Eat small meals every 2 to 3 hours
The people that tell you to follow this pattern will also say that when you eat small but frequently you’re speeding up your metabolism rate to help you lose weight and keep your muscles from eating themselves.
Many studies have been done to see if there is any warrant to this claim and unfortunately no difference in metabolic rate was ever found using many different meal schedules and portions.
I have tried intermittent fasting while on a calorie surplus using the 16/8 schedule, this is where I fasted for 16 hours and ate within an 8-hour window.
I was able to see results and build legitimate muscle, but I don’t see it being sustainable. You really have to focus and eat like it’s your job to get enough calories within your feeding window.
Instead of focusing on when you should eat, the better question is what you’re eating.
I have the best results when I eat 5 times a day like this.
- protein shake
There is no reason why I do it this way besides that this is the most comfortable plan for me. It keeps me satiated throughout the day and allows me to hit my caloric needs to build muscle without any problem.
In the end, you want to do what is best for you and your life, the only thing you have to worry about is hitting your daily calorie needs.
How To Calculate Your Daily Caloric Intake
There are a couple of different ways to count your calories throughout the day.
- Use a digital tracking tool like “My Fitness Pal”
- Weigh everything out beforehand
- Take a minute right before or after you eat
Whichever way is the most comfortable for you is the best way, there is no wrong answer, but you have to make sure you are tracking them correctly.
If you’re not eating enough calories then you won’t build any muscle, but if you’re eating too many calories you’ll start to store excess fat.
Don’t Forget To Count The Calories In Your Drinks
If my clients aren’t seeing the results they want I always ask to see how they track their calories, and I can’t tell you how many times I notice that they don’t track any of the calories from their drinks.
You have to be especially careful if you like to add cream and sugar into your coffee, this is not a good habit, and the empty calories will add up quickly.
Why Count Calories At All
Building muscle means that you need to sustain a calorie surplus over a very long period of time in order to reach your goals.
During that time you may realize that you’re not building muscle as quickly as you know you should, or maybe you’re putting too much fat on.
Both of these situations would be fixed by you tweaking your daily caloric intake, either by decreasing or increasing your calorie count in increments of 100.
The only way for you to do this is to know exactly how many calories you are putting in your body so that you have complete control to make detailed changes to maximize your efforts.
How To Measure Muscle Gain
It is very important that you keep track of your progress as you move forward so that you don’t end up doing the wrong thing for too long.
For example, you don’t want to be on to high of a calorie surplus and start to gain excess fat on top of your newly built muscle.
What would make this worse was if you weren’t paying attention and didn’t notice that you were gaining more than you should be every week.
Since you are tracking your progress though, it’s no big deal for you to tweak your daily caloric intake and limit the amount of fat you build.
Here are some ways to track your muscle growth…
- Strength gains
- Bodyweight gains
- Measure body fat with calipers
- Before and after pictures
Do Calories Or Protein Build muscle
Both are just as important as the other, especially since a large portion of your calories are going to come from protein.
Calories give your body the energy to build muscle, but protein has the essential amino acids that are needed to support protein synthesis. Without this process, you wouldn’t be able to build muscle anyway.
It’s similar to the riddle of what came first, the chicken or the egg?
How To Gain Muscle Fast
People always think there is some secret that will tell them how to build muscle fast and easy.
unfortunately, the fastest way to build muscle is by working harder than you did the previous day.
The fastest way to build muscle is to be as disciplined, repetitive, and detailed as you can be without pushing yourself to the point where you want to quit.
Bring as much intensity as you can muster to every workout, always aim to lift more weight than you did the previous workout, eat the right type of food in the correct amounts, and last but not least have some patience, and you’ll see the results you’re looking for.
The Correct Ratio Of Macronutrients
This might sound confusing but let’s break it down piece by piece.
Remember the calories per gram of each macronutrient
- protein = 4 calories per gram
- carbs = 4 calories per gram
- fats = 9 calories per gram
In our example, we’re going to use an individual who weighs 180 pounds and consumes 3000 calories a day.
Since this person weighs 180 pounds he is eating 180 grams of protein a day. Since protein contains 4 calories per gram we’re going to multiply 180 x 4 to get the daily amount of calories from protein, which is 720 calories.
You want 25% of your daily caloric intake to be from fat consumption. So from this example, we take our 3000 calories and multiply by 0.25 that number is 750.
Now add the total calories from protein and fats up: this number is 720+750=1520.
We now take our daily calorie number (3000) and subtract the protein and fat calories (1520) from it;
This means 1480 calories a day should come from carbohydrates.
Remember carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. so if you divide 1480 by 4 you get 370.
Your end result is 370 grams of carbs will equal 1480 calories.
It’s easy once you break it down BUT if you find yourself still confused, just read through the article again and more importantly redo your calculation to make sure it checks out.
Daily Bulking Meal Plan Outline
I’m not going to tell you what to eat, I’m more going to tell you what macronutrients you should be focusing on.
Breakfast (protein is the focus)
After fasting through 8 hours of sleep, your body’s cells are ready to absorb whatever nutrients you give it, so look to eat some fast absorbing proteins. A protein shake combined with one of these foods will do perfectly.
- Egg whites
- cottage cheese
- turkey sausage
- black beans
A combination of simple and complex carbs will be the optimal choice. The simple carbs will help produce a small insulin spike, while the complex carbs will give you the long-lasting energy you’ll be craving later.
For example, orange juice with steel-cut oats, or Ezekiel bread with mixed fruit.
Adding Healthy fats is an easy way to get the calories up with each meal, while making sure to only eat whole foods.
Natural peanut butter, avocado, or some mixed legumes will work great.
Your lunch should comprise 20 to 30 grams of protein, my favorite is good old fashion chicken and rice. There is a reason why this has been a bodybuilding staple for decades.
You also want slow-burning carbs to help keep your energy reserves full for the second half of the day and to avoid large insulin spikes which have been shown to promote excess fat build-up.
Some examples of slow-burning carbs are…
- Whole grain bread
- Basmati rice
You can mix in some healthy fats by adding
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Fatty fish
You’ll want to focus on slow-digesting foods at night time, these will work best with the natural growth hormones that are most active in your body at this time.
Make this meal predominantly of slow-release protein, like Casein, and healthy fats.
You want to shy away from carbs since you don’t want any type of an insulin spike that will deter the release of the natural growth hormone we were just speaking about.
A nice cut of lean red meat, cottage cheese, and am avocado salad would be ideal.
This is another popular debate, but the problem is that everyone works out at different times, so it’s hard to come up with one size fits example of a pre and post-workout meal.
Also, at least from my experience, if you’re eating 5 to 6 times a day then you’re always eating about the same thing before or after your workout anyway.
If you’re hitting your daily caloric goals, and are eating the correct ratio of macronutrients then the only thing left to do is make sure that you’re working out at the highest intensity while constantly progressing your weight up.
Dirty Bulk Vs Clean Bulk
A dirty bulk is when someone is solely focused on putting a large amount of calories in their body without worrying about what type of food they come from.
These people spend a lot of time in fast food drive-thru lines.
In the end, if they’re working out correctly they will still see muscle growth, but the old saying is true…
If you eat like shit, your results will also be shit.
You will feel a thousand times better if you eat a diet based on fresh whole foods and you will also build muscle quicker if you are neat properly.
Select The Right Types Of Food
People tell me all the time, I’m not sure if I can eat this or that.
It’s common sense…..
No cookies, cakes, soft drinks, fatty salad dressings, cheesesteaks and so on and so on.
Fat Compared To Muscle On Your Body
The biggest difference, or advantage to having more muscle on your body rather than fat, is the effect it has on your metabolism.
Muscle is more metabolic than fat, 1 pound of muscle will burn 5 to 7 calories per day whereas a pound of fat will only burn 1 or 2 calories.
Your lean tissue will make up for around 20% of your diet percentage compared to your fat needing around 4%.
Muscle also stores nutrients, amino acids, and water.
Fat doesn’t store anything.
Muscle will make you stronger, and help with your confidence.
Excess fat will make you slow, and depressed.
It’s not hard to see why building muscle is so much better for you than fat.
How Many Calories In One Pound Of Muscle
You have to burn 3,500 calories to burn 1 pound of fat away.
How Many Calories In One Pound Of Muscle
It takes between 2,500 and 2,800 calories for your body to build and maintain 1 pound of muscle.
When you’re creating a nutrition plan with a set amount of calories with the goal of building muscle in mind, use whole foods as the foundation, make sure to eat enough protein, and to divide the macronutrients into correct ratio’s.
Keep track of your progress and be patient, you’re not going to achieve your results overnight and finding short cuts will only hurt you in the end.