Gaining muscle is one of the primary goals of anyone who goes to the gym and wants to look better. There are many health benefits to gaining muscle such as higher levels of testosterone, lower body fat levels, increased confidence, and more.
In order to build muscle and maximize the results from working out, you need to consume enough food for the body to grow. Without enough food, the results of working out will be diminished and the rate of muscle gain will be much slower.
There are two main ways to eat for the fitness goals most people have. To lose fat, you need to eat in a caloric deficit, and to gain muscle, you need to eat in a caloric surplus.
Caloric Deficit vs. Caloric Surplus
A caloric deficit is when you eat less calories than you burn every day. A caloric surplus is when you eat more calories than you burn per day.
To eat in a caloric surplus, you need to know your maintenance calories. Maintenance calories are the amount of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight.
The best way to calculate your maintenance calories is to track your weight and how much you eat for 1-2 weeks. After tracking both of these, find the average amount of calories you ate per day and compare that to how much weight you gained or lost. If you lost weight, your maintenance calories are higher than your daily average. If you gained weight, then your maintenance calories are lower.
This will give you a good idea for what your maintenance calories are. To be exact, you can convert any weight gained or lost into calories. 1 pound of body weight is around 3,500 calories, so if you gained weight, multiply the number of pounds gained by 3,500 then divide that number by the amount of days you tracked to find the exact amount of calories you ate above your maintenance every day.
To simplify: Pounds of body weight gained x 3,500 ÷ number of days = calories over or below maintenance
Another option to calculate your maintenance calories is to use an online TDEE calculator. A TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator will look at several factors such as your gender, age, height, current weight, and activity level to find an estimate for how many calories you burn
every day. Your maintenance calories should be the same as your TDEE. This method is much quicker but will not be as accurate as tracking your weight and caloric intake.
Once you know your maintenance calories, you then know how many calories you need to eat to be in a caloric surplus.
How Much of a Caloric Surplus Do You Need For Building Muscle?
The most important part of building muscle, besides training, is to be in a caloric surplus.
If the body does not have additional energy to use for building muscle, then it is not going to grow. By putting yourself in an energy surplus, your body has the freedom to use this surplus of energy now available to perform protein synthesis and gain muscle mass. This extra energy is either converted into fat or used for adding muscle.
If you are working out, the extra energy from eating in a caloric surplus will be used for building muscle.
If your caloric surplus is too large, however, you will inevitably gain fat. This is because past a certain point, your body does not need additional energy since there is only so much muscle that can be built at once.
Conversely, if your caloric surplus is too small, then you will not build as much muscle. You need a high enough caloric intake to grow from resistance training.
For most people, your caloric surplus should consist of 250-500 calories above your maintenance calories. By eating at least 250 calories above your maintenance, you are making sure that you stay in an anabolic state with enough energy for recovery, performance, and hypertrophy.
If you do heavy weight lifting often then you should eat closer to 500 calories above your maintenance since more rigorous training will burn more calories. Also, if you do cardio or have a highly active lifestyle, you should be eating closer to a 500 calorie surplus as well.
If you eat under 250 calories above maintenance then you risk decreasing the amount of muscle you can gain since it’s easy to burn off 100-200 calories without being aware of it. Eating over 250 calories ensures that you stay in a surplus.
As long as you are consistently eating in a 250-500 calorie surplus, you will gain muscle.
How To Make Sure You Are Eating Enough Food
To make sure you stay in a caloric surplus and are eating enough food, you must track your calories on a daily basis. The two best apps for tracking calories are MyFitnessPal and MyPlate.
You could also just record each food item you eat on paper or in a folder on your phone and calculate the total yourself, but this is less efficient.
Another way to keep track of the food you’re eating is to remember everything you eat throughout the day. Once you adjust to eating a certain number of calories per day, you can become more attuned to how many calories are in different foods and control your caloric intake without needing to track each meal.
Summing everything up, the amount of calories you need to eat for gaining muscle is around 250-500 calories above your maintenance.
If you normally eat 2,600 calories a day without losing or gaining weight, then to gain muscle you should eat within the range of 2,850-3,100 calories every day.
If you train every day, lift heavy weights, or have a highly active lifestyle then your caloric surplus should be closer to 400-500 calories above your maintenance. If you are less active and train less frequently, then your caloric surplus should be more within 250-350 calories above your maintenance.