You should consume this number of calories to pack on muscle mass without gaining fat!
Gaining muscle mass is hard work. Putting on mass requires ample time and energy doing the correct workouts, volume, and training strategies. And your nutrition is also essential, precisely the calories you consume. Eating enough calories is critical to ensure all the hard work you put into the gym isn’t wasted. But how do you know how many calories you should eat to build muscle without gaining fat? Let’s reveal that below.
Why Do You Need to Eat More Calories?
This may seem obvious to some. Still, many lifters, especially those new to the gym, omit this essential muscle-building component. In addition, many people are scared to eat more because they worry they’ll gain too much weight or fat. If you want to see your physique improve, you’ll need to build more muscle.
If you’re always in a cut or eating at maintenance — the number of calories you can eat and stay the same weight — your physique will stop improving. And the only way to build muscle — once you’re past those newbie gains — is to enter a caloric surplus — eating more calories than you’re burning.
Each time you weightlift, your muscle tissue breaks down. And you must fuel your muscles with adequate nutrition to repair them with more mass. Moreover, the gym is draining, and you need enough calories to optimize your workout performance.
How Many Calories Should You Eat to Build Muscle?
There is no cookie-cutter answer to how many calories you should consume with building muscle in mind. It will vary on many factors, including weight, body fat, gender, and activity level. Generally speaking, men will consume anywhere from 2,000-3000 calories to start, and women will consume 1,500-2,500 — though it can vary, and some people need more calories.
Of course, this will vary for athletes compared to the general population. For example, this study found that male bodybuilders consumed much more, with women bodybuilders still consuming a considerable amount of calories, except less than men (1).
But you’ll want to eat about 300–500 calories per day above your maintenance calories or your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) — an estimate of how many calories you burn daily. Your TDEE is determined by your active calories burned and your estimated basal metabolic rate (BMR) — how many calories you burn at rest — is determined by your weight and body fat. But, again, this will vary for each individual. Still, there are calculators online to help you determine your maintenance calories and how many calories you should eat if you’re trying to gain muscle.
Once you determine your maintenance calories, you’ll want to only consume about 300–500 calories per day over your maintenance calorie because that will allow you to build muscle without storing fat. If you go too far above that, you’ll start to gain fat on top of your mass. Slow and steady weight gain is the key to building as much muscle as possible while keeping fat gain to a minimum.
*Note: Make sure you’re tracking your calories in a nutrition app like MyFitnessPal and weighing your meals on a food scale to measure how much you’re eating accurately. If not, you may be eating more or fewer calories than you assumed, leading to less muscle gain or more fat gain, respectively.
Besides calories, it’s also vital that you eat the correct macronutrient ratio — protein, fats, and carbs. If you skimp out on one of these, your gains and ability to gain muscle will suffer. For example, protein is essential to building muscle after your workouts, and carbohydrates are fuel for your muscles to get you through rigorous training.
These will also vary depending on the factors mentioned above, but a general rule of thumb is to consume about 1g of protein per pound of body weight and consume 45-60% of your calories from carbs and the rest from healthy fats. Here’s an example for a 170-pound male with 15% body fat that exercises 4-6 hours per week who’s goal is to build muscle:
- Calories – 2700
- Protein – 170g
- Carbs – 336g
- Fat – 75g
According to an online calculator, his TDEE is about 2400, so we’ve raised his calories to 2700 as an excellent place to start for lean bulking — gaining muscle without fat.
Types of Foods Should You Eat to Gain Muscle
The foods you eat will play a role too. Technically, you can eat whatever you want and still build muscle if you’re hitting your calorie and protein goal. But that doesn’t mean it’s free to chow down on pizza and cinnamon buns all day just because you’re trying to gain more mass. You’ll struggle to hit your protein goal if you aren’t eating protein-centric foods. And your body won’t function optimally if you mainly eat junk food.
Therefore, we recommend that most of your calories come from clean, healthy foods and that only about 20% come from junk food. This will be sustainable and reap the best benefits for gaining lean muscle mass and preventing fat gain, and supporting optimal health while allowing you occasional treats.
The foods you should be eating will consist of whole foods, such as meat, such as beef and chicken; complex carbohydrates, like rice and beans; healthy fats, such as avocados and olive oil; and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
If you’re struggling to add more calories to your diet, the easiest approach is to increase your healthy fat intake, e.g., avocados, nuts, and olive oil. That’s because fats contain the most calories per gram (9 calories per gram) compared to proteins and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) (2). So getting more calories from a small volume of food is easy.
*Note: The most important thing you can do to build muscle is a proper diet and workout plan. But adding supplements to your nutrition plan can help you maximize muscle growth. We recommend whey protein, amino acids, and creatine.
Building muscle is essential to improve your physique year after year and avoid stagnation. Training hard in the gym is critical to pack on muscle, but it won’t get you anywhere if you aren’t eating enough calories. The number of calories you should consume will vary depending on your weight, gender, body fat, and activity level.
But men will typically be able to eat more calories than women. But generally, you want to begin about 300-500 calories above your maintenance calories. Again, there are calculators online to help you determine where to start.
Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods slightly above your maintenance calories to ensure you’re building mainly muscle — not storing fat — and for optimal health. And don’t skimp out on ample protein. If you follow the tips in this article, you’ll be heading toward building the muscular physique you want this year!
- Spendlove, J., Mitchell, L., Gifford, J., Hackett, D., Slater, G., Cobley, S., & O’Connor, H. (2015). Dietary Intake of Competitive Bodybuilders. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 45(7), 1041–1063. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0329-4
- National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218769/