How To: Calories for building mass>

Posted Tue 19th Mar 2013 3:19 PM by Dan Britchford in Nutrition

So far most of the calorie talk on this site has been all about how to get weight off, so today I’m making a quick guide to how to calculate the calories you need to put some weight on!

If only gaining some size was as simple as hitting the gym 15 times a week and working your ass off. That would be sooo good. Unfortunately, there is a little more to it..

But fortunately, that little more is just one thing – eat. And eat a lot. But then everyone knows that. You’ve probably heard ‘Train big, eat big, get big’ or something similar, and however simple a phrase – it’s the truth. For some people, that’s the only understanding they’re going to need: Hit the gym, throw down some food and watch your body grow. But for the majority of us (or at least me); we like something a little more precise, a little more tailored. Why you might say?.. Well because weight gain is never, ever, just an increase in muscle.

To muscle, fat is like that person you didn’t really like at first, but who just wouldn’t leave you alone until you accepted they were going to be around (this is how I make friends).


Gaining muscle will always have some level of fat gain associated with it: if the numbers on the scale are climbing, so is your body fat percentage. But you don’t want to look like the Michelin Man every time you try and gain a bit of muscle – and neither do I.

I’d much rather look good all year round, so that I’m free to whip my shirt off at every possible opportunity. So what can we do about it?

The answer lies in calories.

I can almost hear your heart sink when you read that – but it’s the unfortunate truth.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and make a defense though – calorie counting isn’t that bad: You have a good memory. You know what you like to eat. So you only have to do it for a month or so before you know the numbers for your favourite foods, and it becomes easy to not count everything, but still keep to a rough number. By no means must you be 100% stringent all the time – I’m definitely not.

The Guide

So now you’ve come to terms with it, here’s what you do:

  • ignore any advice that suggests a standard number over maintenance every day (ie. + 500 cals)
  • head over to here and calculate your maintenance level
  • spend some time making sure your maintenance is roughly accurate (can skip this)

Now you have your maintenance…

Think about how often you will work out, and how often you will take a day off.

You want to get roughly 10-20% more calories than your maintenance on AVERAGE over the week.

Rather than eating say 1-2% more every day, it’s far easier, and beneficial to calculate like this:

ON represents a day you train, OFF represents a day off.

If you train 5 times a week:
– consume ON: (your maintenance + 10%), OFF: (your maintenance – 15%)

If you train 4 times a week:
– consume ON: (your maintenance + 15%), OFF: (your maintenance – 13.3%)

If you train 3 times a week:
– consume ON: (your maintenance + 20%), OFF: (your maintenance – 10%)

You’ll notice that over a 7 day period or a week (as most of us like to call it), all of the above come out as a 20% average increase on maintenance calories. If you train less or more than the examples, you now have the idea and can calculate for yourself.

This way you gain muscle, but you also burn off most of the additional fat!

Aiming for a higher average percentage over maintenance, will gain you muscle faster, but also more fat. It’s a toss up that’s up to you to decide. I will say that it can be painfully slow gaining lean muscle at times, but it’s worth it because when it comes to cutting – you only need a few weeks to get to where you want to be (ab city, ab ab city bitch).

You may hear that diet is 80% of the key to gaining some mass, with only 20% being how you train. Personally, I don’t think trying to percentage what is required is a sensible idea, you just need to know that both have to be up to scratch for success. A great diet without training your body won’t help you gain any muscle, and a great training session without the right diet can limit your improvements to little or nothing at all.

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About the author

Dan Britchford

Dan is the Editor/Designer/Developer, and Main Author of liftingthebar.com. His knowledge is gained through forum haunting and an active intrigue into all things fitness and nutrition based with a scientific grounding. When he isn't working on passion projects, or in the gym - he's selling himself trying to make it as a freelance web developer.

Dan has posted 30 times since 2013-01-31 15:06:30

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