How Many Calories To Gain Muscle?

Do a search on how to grow bigger muscles, and the advice is usually the same: you need plenty of protein and calories to grow muscle. Some even say you need a massive excess of calories to grow bigger muscles.

On the other hand, it is well-proven that an excess of calories leads to fat storage. So why is it that excess calories somehow grows bigger muscles? It cannot be the training that “directs” the extra calories into muscle storage instead of fat. After all, there are legions of powerlifters and football linemen who still carry liberal fat deposits, despite their hard training.

You cannot "force-feed" yourself to grow bigger muscles

I’m the slender-type (naturally thin build) and more than once I’ve tried the bulking concept: plenty of protein (more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) and calories (up to 5000 a day). I supplemented religiously. I was training hard and consistently like a  power-builder. I tried it both “clean” and “dirty” (healthy foods vs. not-so-healthy junk foods). After 6 months of this I’d end up with a 34″ waist on a small frame and be smooth as a baby (no definition).

Barring genetic complications,  there are three things that significantly increase muscle mass:

  1. Growth spurts (infancy and adolescence)
  2. Chronic mechanical loading (weight training)
  3. Chemical alteration (anabolic steroids and growth factors)

#3 is usually a hidden piece of the misinformation puzzle. You probably need plenty of calories if you’re on several types of steroids and growth hormone, but for the natural athlete, too many calories will only make you fat. You might look big in a T-shirt, but when the shirt comes off, and there is no definition anywhere, then much of the weight gained was fat.

In fact, a beginning steroid user may gain upwards of 20-30 pounds of lean weight or more in a matter of weeks. More weight is gained exponentially as the doses increase and other drugs are added in (HGH, Insulin, IGF-1, etc.). Bodybuilding competitors at the national and pro level are supreme examples of genetically altered physiology. However, it is not without negative effects.

Weight training builds muscle

Muscles are like a well-designed machine: they “remodel” based on their function but only to the extent that is necessary to perform that function. In the case of weight training, they only grow big enough to match the weight loads that they need to lift and support. Your body is very efficient and comically massive muscles are very inefficient, unless you are injecting yourself with super-human doses of drugs.

Other ways to grow muscle may be illegal and come with negative side effects

Whereas muscles model according to function, fat cells expand or shrink based on energy balance (calories in vs. out). So additional calories beyond what your body requires only leads to fat storage.

So how many calories do you need to build muscle?

Enough to prevent starvation. In other words, enough to prevent the consumption of your lean mass once fat stores are depleted. The last part of that sentence is crucial. As long as you have fat stored on your body,they can be used to meet your calorie requirements. Even protein requirements of the human body are not much and many are recycled.

So if you’re natural (drug-free) and hell-bent on gaining muscle mass, you can do two things:

  1. Train with weights to enlarge existing muscle fibers.
  2. Manipulate your caloric intake (up or down) based on how lean you want to be.

You cannot eat more to grow bigger muscles, otherwise the obese population would be hyper-muscular instead of fat if all they did was train.

One response to “How Many Calories To Gain Muscle?

  1. Excellent!
    Nobody needs (outside of people having an “actual” fast metabolism,which isn´t a good thing after all) to eat more than 2500 cals max a day.
    I am glad that Studentlife forces me to be a cheapskate. Now that I have been doing this for a bit longer, the easiest way to see if I´m on track with my calories is to review the amount of money spent in the grocery store: If it exceeds 30 to maximum 45 Euros a week, then I know I am getting too fat for my own good.
    Simple but effective, provided that one
    a.) likes eating the same stuff over and over again (I have read JB´s site that food variety only counts for fruits and vegetables, whereas otherwise we could probably be fine on much less variety than touted in the mainstream media)
    b.)factors in occasional indulgences (weekly “cheat meal” and such) into the calorie count/ or make up for it through fasting
    Being fat hurts a person´s wallet probably more so than the healthrisks do!

    Do continue to write!
    Marcelo

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