How Many Calories Do You Actually NEED To Build Muscle?
Points You'll Takeaway:
- Looking to build muscle doesn't give you a license to go and eat anything and everything in sight!!
- Once you've reached a good rate of growth, simply adding more calories won’t automatically lead to a faster rate of growth.
- If you’re having trouble building muscle, eating more protein is not necessarily the solution. If may be if you're not already eating sufficient amounts, but it will be calories from carbohydrates and/or fats that are needed.
- If you find that you’re not gaining any weight, increase your calorie intake by around 250 calories per day until the scale starts moving in the right direction.
Lacking energy and protein? You aren't building muscle!
If you do not provide you body with sufficient energy and protein
, then your time in the gym can be a wasted effort.
Your weight changes depending on energy balance. This is the relationship between how many calories you are consuming and the amount of calories you are burning. For fat loss you’ll want to decrease your overall energy intake, calorie deficit, (excluding any cardio) and generally for muscle gain, increase this your overall intake, a calorie surplus.
That said you do not necessarily need a calorie surplus to build muscle. It can be achieved in a deficit, but in order to provide the most ‘optimal’ environment surplus is needed.
In my opinion, the gym is no more important than your diet and vice versa. Back at Uni when I started a ‘bulk’ I ate anything and everything, along with getting drunk most nights. Damn right I got strong, but I put on a surplus of fat and didn't achieve the look I wanted.
Looking to build muscle doesn’t give you a license to go and eat anything and everything in sight!
That's because there’s an upper limit of calories your body can utilise for the best rate of muscle growth. In order to build muscle at the most ‘optimal’ rate you need to be eating a calorie surplus (calories in > calories out.)
But once you’ve reached this surplus, simply adding more calories won’t automatically lead to a faster rate of growth. It will only lead to an increase in fat.
For example if your total daily energy expenditure was 2000 calories, this is the amount of calories you need to eat in order to maintain your weight. You therefore decide to eat 2500 calories to provide your body with more energy to build, recovery and grow. But just because those extra 500 calories have helped you gain muscle faster doesn’t mean that twice as many calories is going to result in muscle being built twice as fast.
Any additional calories could result in those calories being stored as fat. The amount of calories obviously varies for each individual. Your bodyweight, age, gender, training etc will affect your total calorie requirement.
So if you’re trying to figure out how many calories you need to build muscle, the simple answer is trail and error. This is done by assessing your body and performance week on week, and making alterations to your diet and training as needed, when eating a calorie surplus.
So eat loads of protein?
I’ve seen and heard of people eating upwards of 400g of protein a day, which for one must be really hard due to being constantly full as well as being expensive.
But research shows unless calories are dropping very low, protein will remain constant throughout your dieting/gaining phase and should stay in the range of 1-1.5g/lb of lean body weight. (1)
If you’re having trouble building muscle, eating more protein is not necessarily the solution. It may be if you're not already eating sufficient amounts, but it will be calories from carbohydrates and/or fats that are needed.
So how many calories should I consume?
Though there will clearly be individual differences, everyone’s protein intake is going to be set pretty much identical, for muscle building/prevention, and fat intake will be set within a range for health reasons.
To determine your calories, Alan Aragon advises that you use your target body weight in pounds x (9-11 + your average weekly training hours.) The 9-11 range is used to create a range so that the formula can be used by everyone. If your a rather large structured individuals choose 11, compared to a petite person who might use 9. So in order to get a calorie target for gaining muscle I would use the upper end of the scale 11.
There are other calculations that advise taking your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 18-20. 18 being the lower end of the scale for a relatively sedentary lifestyle and 20 being someone hitting the gym 4 x a week with an active lifestyle.
Now remember this is just an estimate and so might need changing amongst individuals, after a week or to of eating to this number.
If you find that you’re not gaining any weight, increase your calorie intake, mainly from carbs and fats, by around 250 calories per day until the scale starts moving in the right direction. Adding more protein above the upper range of 1.5g/lb of bodyweight, would add more calories but adding carbs or fats would be more of an advantage.
I know that might not sound like much, especially when you compare it to some people eating 4000 calories. But forcing calories down your neck will not result in your muscles growing faster.
Even though I have mentioned trying to avoid adding surplus fat, it is important to realise a small amount of fat gain will occur and is warranted when looking to ‘optimise’ muscle gain. Being in a surplus is going to provide your body with the most ‘optimal’ conditions to build muscle and strength and therefore some fat gain will appeal. If you try to stay lean all the time you will struggle to make any appreciable gains in size. But you shouldn’t get to the point where you’re gaining more fat than muscle.
So how much weight should I be looking to gain per week?
The newer you are to training and lifting weights, the great your potential rate to grow and increase strength is, aka newbie gains. The greater your training age, the slower the gains are going to come.
This obviously depends on the individual along with your body assessments, but look to gain around 0.5lbs (0.2kg) per week.
If you’re putting on weight more quickly than this, there’s a good chance you’re gaining more fat than muscle, which is a situation you definitely want to avoid. This can only lead to you having to lose more weight when you come to dieting, making dieting longer and harder.
In other words, never put on so much fat that you couldn’t get rid of it without too much trouble in eight weeks or less.