How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Gain Muscle And Lose Fat?:- A common topic of discussion and research among people who are trying to gain muscle mass is how many calories do I need per day? The common notion is that you must eat a caloric surplus in order to gain muscle mass (and fat). But, what if you don’t agree with this theory.
How many Calories you need to gain muscle depends on your overall health and fitness. Diet is an important factor in gaining muscle faster, and you will want to know what’s the minimum calorie intake that supports muscle growth. If you’re new to fitness, then this information will be beneficial to you. In this article, I’m going to explain the benefits of a balanced diet for bodybuilding.
How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Gain Muscle And Lose Fat
When someone first starts exercising, it’s common for them to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. This is called body recomposition. After a while though, this stops being so easy, and most people find they have to alternate between bulking and cutting.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to keep recompositioning—building muscle and losing fat at the same time—for quite some time, at least until you’re far leaner and more muscular than the average person. Not only has this been borne out by research, but I’ve seen it in my own career as a trainer
While more advanced trainees do eventually have to do the traditional bulk and cut, intermediate trainees—those with one to three years of training experience and below-average body fat—can usually recomposition as long as they follow an optimized program and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how.
Calculate Your Target Weekly Calorie Balance
The first thing you need to do here is calculate your long-run calorie balance. Before you can do that, you need to figure out how fast you should be gaining muscle and losing fat. In a mostly optimized body recomposition program, here are the benchmarks you should be shooting for.
- Novice trainees: 0.5 percent of body weight per week
- Early intermediate trainees: 0.3 percent of body weight per week
- Late intermediate trainees: 0.2 percent of body weight per week
- Advanced trainees: 0.1 percent of body weight per week
This is why I don’t recommend body recomposition for advanced trainees—they simply can’t gain very much muscle without bulking.
- Obese (men over 30 percent body fat, women over 40 percent body fat): 2 percent of body weight per week
- Overweight (men 22–30 percent body fat, women 32–40 percent body fat): 1.25 percent of body weight per week
- Average (men 15–22 percent body fat, women 24–32 percent body fat): 0.75 percent of body weight per week
- Athletic (men 8–15 percent body fat, women 14–24 percent body fat): 0.5 percent of body weight per week
- Bodybuilder or fitness model contest preparation (men below 8 percent, women below 14 percent): 0.2 percent of body weight per week
Again, I don’t recommend body recomposition if you’re obese (just cut instead) or extremely lean (bulk or cut, depending on your goals).
It takes a deficit of 3,800 calories to lose a pound of fat and a surplus of around 1,600 calories to build a pound of muscle. By multiplying these numbers by your weekly body composition goals, you can find your target weekly calorie balance.
Suppose you’re a man who weighs 170 pounds at 20 percent body fat, and you’re an early intermediate–level trainee. That means you should aim to lose 1.275 pounds a week—a 4,845 calorie deficit. You can also gain up to 0.51 pounds of muscle a week, an 816 calorie surplus. Add those two together, and your net weekly calorie deficit is 4029. Note that pretty much everyone will end up needing to be in a caloric deficit to recomposition.
Lift Weights Three to Six Days a Week
You want to lift weights often enough to maintain a growth stimulus on your muscles, but infrequently enough to let yourself recover, given that you’ll be in a caloric deficit. You’ll also need to calorie cycle, which we’ll get to in a bit. In short, calorie cycling means eating more calories for a while after you lift weights, and fewer calories at other times. And that means you’ll want breaks between sessions when you can eat fewer calories.
You also want a high per-muscle training frequency, which means none of those ridiculous four- or five-way bro splits. Your workouts should either be full body, or an upper-lower split.
- Novice trainees: upper-lower split three days a week
- Early intermediate: upper-lower four days a week, or full body three days a week
- Late intermediate: upper-lower five days a week, or full body three days a week
- Advanced: upper-lower six days a week, or full body four days a week
Each workout should consist of 20–35 sets if training full body, or 15–25 if doing an upper-lower split.
Spread these workouts as evenly as possible throughout the week. If you’re training four days a week, for instance, Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday is better than Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday.
Don’t Let Cardio Kill Your Gains
According to a study by the Neuromuscular Research Center, doing cardio and weight training together makes both of them less effective. This interference effect, as it is known, will reduce both muscle and any cardiovascular health benefit you get from the cardio. In a calorie deficit—which, again, you’ll be in—the interference effect can easily result in a net loss of muscle mass.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid doing cardio. Cardio is good for your health, and it burns calories, making it easier to hit your fat-loss goals while still eating enough to meet your body’s nutritional needs. Here are three ways to keep your cardio from interfering with building muscle:
- Limit how much cardio you do. As an initial guideline, spend less time per week doing cardio than you spend lifting weights.
- Make your cardio sessions short and intense—sprinting rather than distance running—so that the metabolic demands are at least somewhat similar to those imposed by weight training.
- Separate cardio from weight training by doing it at a different time. If you lift in the afternoon, for instance, do your cardio in the morning, or better yet on different days.
If you do perform cardio in conjunction with weight sessions, follow an upper-lower split and do upper-body cardio (like a rowing machine) on your leg day and lower-body cardio (like running) on your upper-body lifting day.
Calorie Cycle Around Your Weight Workouts
Calorie cycling, simply put, means that you eat more calories (in this case, a small surplus) for a certain time period following your workouts, and fewer calories (in this case, a moderate deficit) for the rest of the week.
You want to do this because the more recently a muscle has been resistance trained, the more it will be primed to grow; muscles do most of their growing in this time period. A 2016 study found that the length of this post-workout anabolic window depends on your training status. The more advanced you are, the shorter it gets.
Of course, given that this is a body recomposition program, you also need to spend most of your week in a deficit, so you should err on the side of keeping these post-workout re-feeding windows short, perhaps even shorter than your muscles’ anabolic window. Consider the following a rough guideline:
- Novice: 24 hours
- Early intermediate: 16 hours
- Late intermediate: 10 hours
- Advanced: six hours
Let’s revisit the above example of an early intermediate trainee who is aiming for a 4,000-calorie weekly deficit to lose 1.275 pounds of fat and gain 0.51 pounds of muscle a week. Let’s assume he’s training full body, three days a week, eating three meals a day, and training shortly before dinner.
That means his re-feeding window includes dinner the day of his workouts and breakfast the next morning, or six out of 21 meals each week. Let’s assume his daily maintenance calories average out to 2,400, or 800 per meal. If he were to divide his calories evenly throughout the week, he’d want to eat about 610 calories a meal, but he’s not going to do that.
Instead, he’s going to eat less than that for those 15 meals that lie outside the re-feeding window—around 500 calories each meal. Those extra 1500 calories will be added to the six meals that do fall into the post-workout window, with more of them going to the meal that occurs earlier in the window—dinner in this case.
So for dinner, after he works out, he’ll eat an extra 300 calories, for 910 calories total. For breakfast the morning after each workout, he’ll eat an extra 200 calories, for 810 calories total. That still works out to a 4,000-calorie weekly deficit.
The math behind these numbers is a bit complicated, but as a general rule, 80–85 percent of your weekly calories should be spread out evenly between meals, while 15–20 percent should be allocated specifically to the meals that fall into the post-workout window (in addition to those meals’ share of the 80 percent).
In this case, our hypothetical trainee was eating 12,600 calories a week, and allocating 1,500 of those—around 12 percent of the total—as extra calories for his re-feeding window. In other words, this is a very conservative level of calorie cycling; he could potentially calorie cycle harder, provided he’s willing to eat even less for 15 meals a week.
How Many Calories Should I Eat To Gain Muscle
The number of calories you consume to build muscle and burn fat is different for each person.
People who embark on a diet and fitness plan usually aim to lose weight as well as get more toned, but can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Here’s what you need to know about whether or not it’s possible and how many calories you need to build muscle and lose fat.
Fat Doesn’t Convert to Muscle
People are sometimes under the misconception that fat can be converted into muscle; however, Columbia University explains that fat and muscle are in fact two different types of tissues and that one cannot be converted into the other.
When you eat more calories than your body requires, the extra energy is stored in your body as fat, increasing the size of your existing fat cells, according to Columbia University. When you burn fat, your body uses the energy stored in your fat cells to fuel your activity. This causes your fat cells to shrink in size.
Columbia University notes that your body also has a fixed number of muscle cells, so when you’re gaining muscle, or bulking up, your existing muscle cells are actually increasing in size. Similarly, when you lose muscle mass it is due to a shrinkage in the size of your muscle cells, according to a January 2013 study published in the journal Disease Models & Mechanisms.
It is therefore important to understand that when you gain or lose muscle or fat, what is actually happening is that your muscle and fat cells are growing or shrinking; at no point do your fat cells convert to muscle cells, since that is physically impossible.
Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?
Columbia University explains that losing fat and gaining muscle involve two different types of metabolic processes: catabolism and anabolism. Losing fat is a catabolic process whereas gaining muscle is an anabolic process. Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time can be tricky because one requires fewer calories while the other requires more calories. Here’s how it works.
Anabolism is a biochemical process where your body synthesizes smaller molecules into more complex ones. Building muscle is an anabolic process since it results in larger, more complex muscle cells. Anabolic processes also result in the capture of energy within your body. Since calories provide energy, anabolic processes like gaining muscle require a consistent calorie intake, notes Columbia University.
While anabolism is one type of metabolic process, catabolism is the other. Catabolism is the process by which your body breaks down larger molecules into smaller ones, releasing energy in the bargain. The catabolic reactions that result in weight loss cause you to lose a combination of fat, water and protein, according to Columbia University. People who go on a diet therefore often lose muscle mass and water weight in addition to fat.
Per the Mayo Clinic, you need to create a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories per day than you consume, in order to lose weight. This is typically achieved by consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity to burn more calories per day.
However, if you go on a diet and restrict your calorie intake, your body doesn’t burn only fat for energy; it also burns carbohydrates and protein. This can inhibit muscle gain, because your body needs the protein for muscle growth and repair; if the protein is burned for energy, then there may not be enough for your muscles, states Columbia University.
So, can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Columbia University says it depends. If you’re new to exercise and your body has fat stores it can rely on for energy, then a consistent exercise routine that involves both cardio (catabolic exercise) and resistance training (anabolic exercise) should help you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
Things are different if on the other hand your physique is lean and you already have muscle mass. In that case, if you’re trying to build more muscle, you would have to increase your protein intake so that you don’t lose lean body mass in the process, says Columbia University.
How Many Calories to Build Muscle and Lose Fat
As you can see, how many calories to build muscle and lose fat isn’t a question with a straightforward answer, because there’s some balancing involved. You need to ensure that you’re getting enough calories, and protein specifically, to help you build muscle, but not so many calories that your body is storing the excess as fat.
So how do you go about calculating how many calories to gain muscle and burn fat? The best thing to do would be to visit a dietitian or nutritionist, since they will be able to help you with a personalized meal plan to help you meet your goals while taking into account your daily routine, likes and dislikes, medical issues and food allergies, if any.
Periodic visits to the dietitian or nutritionist will enable them to track your progress and adjust your meal plan if required, to ensure that you are losing fat and gaining muscle.
In the meantime, here’s how you can estimate how many calories to gain muscle and burn fat. The starting point is the number of calories your body requires per day just to survive and perform all its metabolic processes. The American Council of Exercise (ACE) refers to this as the resting metabolic rate.
The ACE lists several factors that can affect your resting metabolic rate, including your age, gender, height, weight, body-fat percentage, body temperature, diet, physical activity level and genetic factors like how fast or slow your metabolism is. For instance, men tend to have more muscle mass and a lower body-fat percentage than women, so their resting metabolic rate tends to be higher.
According to the ACE, one way to calculate your resting metabolic rate in terms of calories required per day is with the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation. The equation has two different versions, one for men and one for women.
This is how you apply the equation for men:
9.99 x weight (kilograms) + 6.25 x height (centimeters) – 4.92 x age (years) + 5
This is how you apply the equation for women:
9.99 x weight (kilograms) + 6.25 x height (centimeters) – 4.92 x age (years) – 161
Once you have calculated your resting metabolic rate, you need to multiply it by a certain number to account for your physical activity, says the ACE. This number varies depending on how active your lifestyle is.
- Sedentary lifestyle (if you have a desk job and get little or no exercise per day): Multiply your resting metabolic rate by 1.2
- Lightly active lifestyle (if you play a sport or get light exercise one to three times a week): Multiply your resting metabolic rate by 1.375
- Moderately active lifestyle (if you play a sport or get moderate exercise three to five times a week): Multiply your resting metabolic rate by 1.55
- Very active lifestyle (if you play a sport or get vigorous exercise six or seven times a week): Multiply your resting metabolic rate by 1.725
- Extremely active lifestyle (if you play a sport or get vigorous exercise every day and are either in physical training or have a physically demanding job): Multiply your resting metabolic rate by 1.9
This equation can help you estimate how many calories you need per day, and you can adjust it as you see changes in your weight, or if you increase or decrease the amount of exercise you get. You can use a calorie tracker like MyPlate to estimate how many calories you currently consume per day, and then you can start regulating your calorie intake accordingly.
If you currently consume more calories than you require, cutting down your intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day should help you lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, says the Mayo Clinic. Adding in resistance training to stimulate your muscle cells, eating enough protein and getting adequate sleep should help you build muscle simultaneously, notes Columbia University.
MEASURING MUSCLE GAIN
It’s important to recognize that just because the scale says you gained weight, that does not mean you gained muscle weight. A good rule of thumb is to have your body fat percentage measured every 4-6 weeks, in addition to body-girth measurements (e.g., chest, arms, waist, etc.). By adopting this practice, you will know if the experienced weight gain is truly an increase in lean muscle, or adipose tissue (fat).
Let me offer a word of advice when testing body fat. Fat tests vary widely and some claim to be better than others. Do not get caught up in which test is better than the other. Instead, make certain the test you choose is the same test throughout your performance nutrition plan. Furthermore, have the same practitioner administer your body fat test each time. Varying test-type and tester can disrupt the reliability of the body-fat test, resulting in inaccurate measurements.
Finally, muscle-gain goals should occur during the off-season so that performance is not sacrificed. You should aim to reach your target weight 6-8 weeks before the beginning of the season. This way, your body has enough time to adjust to your new weight and composition before you begin competing.
WHEN TO EAT
Now that you know how much food to eat, and what kinds of food are the best choices, let’s talk about timing. When it comes to how often you should be eating, since you are going to have a much higher calorie intake, you’ll find you do best eating every 3-4 hours. If you are aiming to eat just three times per day and have a calorie intake of closer to 3500 or 4000 calories, this can be extremely difficult to get in and you’ll end up feeling bloated and sluggish after each meal.
Instead, divide it up into six meals per day so you feel energized after each one and your muscles get a steady stream of nutrients to kick-start the growth process.
In addition to this, make sure that you are eating a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein at each of these meals, and simple carbohydrates right before as well as after your training and workout sessions. This is the prime time when the body is in muscle growth mode, so you want to maximize it by feeding your body the nourishment that it needs. Then, 4-5 hours after an intense workout make sure that you take in plenty of unprocessed complex carbs.
Here’s a bulleted list of these key nutrient timing tips:
- Eat frequently, every 3-4 hours, and aim for 6 small meals during the day
- Try not to lump your calories into 3 big meals, as it will make you feel sluggish
- Eat a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein at each meal
- Eat simple carbohydrates directly before/after training ssessions
- Eat unprocessed complex carbs 4-5 hours after an intense workout
CONSIDER LIQUID CALORIES
Finally, the last piece of advice to remember so that you can learn the best way to build muscles is to use liquid calories.
Trying to eat whole foods with such a high-calorie intake can cause some digestive strain for a number of people, so blend up a high-calorie shake with added protein every so often.
Mix together some milk, protein powder, Greek yogurt, frozen or fresh fruit, flaxseeds or nut butter, and, if you want, some ground-up oatmeal to boost the calorie intake.
This is a fast and easy way to get more calories in without feeling like you’re eating—yet again. Some people who want to gain muscle as fast as possible will start to feel like they never stop eating, so using smoothies and shakes can help out with this issue.
BENEFITS OF BALANCED DIET
1. Control Body Weight
Eating a healthy variety of nutrient-dense foods leaves less room for those calorie-dense foods that typically lead to weight gain. These would be such foods as, processed foods and fatty or sugary snacks that provide little nutritional value. The body has little use for these foods and will tend to store rather than use them for energy. Eating carbohydrates like whole grains, oats, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and quinoa that have a low glycemic index (ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how much they raise blood sugar levels after consuming) will allow the body to stay fuller over a longer period of time. These complex carbohydrates break down and release into the blood stream over an extended period of time preventing triggers in the brain to crave simple sugary snacks. Along with lean proteins (chicken, most seafood, eggs, lean cuts of pork, etc.), the metabolism can stay elevated longer limiting the feeling of hunger after a short time frame.
2. Fight Off Disease
When eating a balanced diet, essential nutrients will produce and help maintain key germ-fighting cells in the immune system, and greatly improve vascular function. The immune system relies heavily on blood flow, so better vascular function will help provide disease fighting cells to areas of need quickly. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can impair immune system function, such as vitamin A, B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, Zinc, and Iron. A diet filled with fruits and vegetables also increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and materials that help prevent bacteria and infections from attaching themselves to cells in the body.
Some of the most important aspects of a balanced diet is the reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C raises levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers blood pressure, two very important potential stresses to the cardiovascular system that need to be monitored. Vitamin C also helps interfere with fat being converted to plaque in the arteries. Essential fatty acids also protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. A balanced diet will limit the amount of excess body fat that can develop, which puts extra stress on the cardiovascular system eventually causing serious problems.
3. Have More Energy
The food we eat has a tremendous impact on the energy we have throughout the day. Nutrient-dense foods will digest and therefore be released into the system over a longer period of time. On the other hand, easily digestible food (sugary/simple carbohydrates) will digest much quicker, causing the body to feel hungry again in a much shorter time frame. This can cause spikes in the release of energy into the bloodstream, immediately followed by lows. Ideally, the goal is to maintain energy levels through the day without these extreme highs and lows. Eating well keeps our energy on a relatively level base from morning until night. Proteins can help provide satiety much more effectively then processed foods or simple carbohydrates. Every 3-4 hours consuming a source of protein can be a very important rule to live by to prevent unnecessary snacking. Also, make sure to increase healthy fats, which the body will use for energy more compared to unhealthy saturated and trans-saturated fats. These unhealthy fats can make you feel sluggish as the body fights to break it down and absorb harmful byproducts. Food that is also iron-rich, like dark leafy greens, can also help provide a boost in energy because iron helps deliver oxygen to working muscles and the brain, which is what they run on.
4. Sleep Better
There are few things our bodies need more than sleep. It allows our muscles to recover and replenish from the day’s activities and workouts. Sleep will rejuvenate the brain and its ability to function at a high level for the next day. Without it we feel sluggish, energy levels remain low, focus and concentration levels are affected, and cravings for less beneficial food are triggered. Poor eating habits often cause stomach and digestive issues due to the toxins that may be released into the blood system. Raised acidity can also put a strain on the digestive system, making it very difficult to get a good night’s sleep. It is important to not overeat at nighttime, which many people are guilty of due to poor eating habits during the day. Making sure meals are spaced out effectively becomes an important rule once again. We do not want our bodies starving by the end of the day and have to make up for a lack of nutrients with a large dinner. It makes it extremely difficult for the body to prepare for sleep when it is working hard to digest a large number of calories. Plan the next day out, so you don’t run into a situation that leads to a sleepless night.
5. More Brain Power
What could possibly be more important than our brains? We have an opportunity to keep it healthy and functioning at a high level based on our eating habits. Omega 3 fatty acids provide a number of important benefits, such as improved memory and the ability to learn. They also help fight against debilitating mental disorders, for example, depression, dementia, and schizophrenia. Foods such as salmon, walnuts, avocado, and kiwi contain these important fatty acids. Omega3s can provide long term benefits to support synaptic plasticity which is how our memory and learning are developed and possibly improved. So make sure they become an essential part of your diet for a clear and highly functioning brain.