Am I Consuming Enough Calories to Build Muscle?
Calories are often thought of as a negative consequence to overeating, or simply unhealthy eating. This is true in the respect that consuming way too many calories will lead to the accumulation of fat mass; however, we still need them to survive, as they represent an energy source to keep us going.
One of the most general guidelines to follow for the general population is that you don’t want a net gain in caloric intake. That is, you should be burning as many calories as you consume. This way, they won’t need to be stored in our bodies for future use and we limit weight gain.
But what about those trying to put on lean mass?
If this is one of your goals, chances are you’re also involved in some sort of workout program that involves resistance training or powerlifting. As you probably know, weightlifting requires a lot of energy, and as such, anyone who trains will need to consume more calories to keep up that energy without reaching fatigue too quickly. Therefore, it’s important to be eating enough, or when that’s not possible, to be supplementing your diet with something that will provide you with the necessary calories and nutrition.
One other important aspect of calories is that you shouldn’t focus ONLY on calories. If you’re going to be consuming lots of calories to keep up with your workload, you may as well be maximizing your benefits by eating wholesome food that can provide abundant nutrients.
Let’s use sugar as an example.
Sugar contains a whopping 9 calories per gram, but you can imagine that eating only sugar will make you feel like crap. It’s also the simplest form of carbohydrate, so your body doesn’t need much work to break it down, and you’re left with the result of a massive caloric intake without any nutritional benefit.
But carbs are good for fuel, right? Yes, but if you choose something like spaghetti instead (even if it’s not whole wheat), you are still receiving quite a few calories.
For example, a standard box of Catelli spaghetti has a whopping 1800 calories (although you probably won’t be eating the entire box).
In addition, to the calories, you’re also receiving 18g of fiber for a healthy gut, 66 grams of protein for muscle repair, and a full daily intake of iron, thiamine, niacin, and folate.
In comparison to plain sugar, pasta represents an option to intake a substantial amount of calories alongside many important nutrients.
So what’s the number of calories you need to eat to build muscle?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t the same for everyone, as this will depend on your body size, metabolism, training regime, and overall goals. However, here are a few guides that may help you figure out some numbers of calories that you should consume if you want to gain muscle.
How Many Calories Should I Consumer Post Workout
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), endurance athletes, or those in similar style workout programs, should have a snack of 300-400 calories within 30 minutes of the workout. Ideally, these calories will be accompanied by 75-100 grams of carbs and 6 grams of protein.
While endurance workout programs will definitely reduce fat mass and add some lean mass, they typically aren’t known as a body building regime. So what should you be consuming after the workout if you’re involved in something more along the side of power lifting?
Interestingly, the caloric intake shouldn’t be too much different. Again, the ACSM is an extremely reliable source for this type of information, and they provide the following guidelines:
If you are participating in
The carbs will help refuel your body for the next workout, and the protein aids in muscle recovery, and therefore muscle growth.
How Many Calories Should I Eat Pre-Workout?
Ok, so you have recovered well. How many calories should you consume before your next workout? In this case, the average person should consume 300-600 calories before their workout, preferably a few hours in advance.
If you have flexibility in what you can choose to eat, try and find something that has about 2-3 grams of carbs for every kilogram of your total body weight (1kg = 2.2lbs). To really optimize your pre-workout meal, something with moderate levels of protein and low fat will also go a long way. Remember to drink ample fluids as well, but slow down the pace of your drinking before the workout so you don’t have to constantly use the bathroom.
On that note, food with lots of fiber should also be avoided immediately before a workout, as this can cause some gastrointestinal distress, or at least the need to use the bathroom.
Now we have the pre- and post-workout nutrition briefly covered. What about the rest of the time when you’re at work, out with friends, or around the house?
At this point, you simply need to listen to your body. If you’re currently involved in a training program you will find that you become hungry more frequently. If possible, try and spread meals out over the day with some snacks in between. By following a pattern of slow, but constant, calorie intake, your body will be able to burn it off as it comes in, allowing you to stay fuelled without having to store those calories as fat.
Additionally, try and switch up the food that you’re eating in order to include all the major food groups.
Particularly, you will want to maintain a high intake of complex carbohydrates, for example, any whole grain wheat product, as well as high intake of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Examples of lean protein are nuts and lean ground turkey or even whey protein supplements.
If the food has a lot of protein but looks like junk (e.g. cookies), then trust your gut and find something that looks healthier, even if it has a bit less protein.
Calories for Building Muscle – Takeaway Message
Eating calories can help you gain muscle, you just need to think things through and try and be smart about it. A constant intake of calories throughout the day in lower serving sizes will help keep you energized for your workouts and facilitate optimal recovery.
One important thing to remember is that what’s in the calories makes a big difference. If you also focus on eating lots of different foods, all of the healthy variety, then you are already well on your way to cutting fat and gaining muscle.