Sunday, December 8, 2013

How to Gain Size, Muscle, and Weight

Too many times when I talk to potential clients, friends, or even strangers in the gym I hear the words "No matter what I do I can't gain weight."  False.  Lies.  Blasphemy. You can gain weight; you're just not eating enough.  Reaching your goal weight is brought about by three different scenarios:

Scenario 1: Calories Consumed > Calories Expended = Weight Gain

Scenario 2: Calories Consumed < Calories Expended = Weight Loss

Scenario 3: Calories Consumed = Calories Expended = Weight Maintenance

So how do we go about scenario 1? Very simple, we consume more calories to allow growth to take place in our body.  Whether this growth is muscle gain or fat gain, it is determined by a myriad of variables.  These variables include training stimulus, the size of the caloric surplus, genetics, and current body composition.  So this article will be a guide on how to determine your maintenance caloric level, how to get above that level, and by how much.  In a future post I'll discuss how different phenotypes (Ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph) should manipulate their calories in different ways to see the best results.  I'm going to assume for the sake of this article you partake in weight training or some form of exercise and you're goal is to gain muscle, since gaining fat isn't exactly what's in nowadays.

When bulking goes wrong.

Step 1: Determine Maintenance Calories

Determining your maintenance calories is never a "one-size fits all approach." Again, everyone's body is different, so with different bodies there are different metabolisms, genetic abilities, and amount of active movement, which affects caloric maintenance.  When I say caloric maintenance or maintenance calories I simply mean, the amount of calories necessary to maintain your given weight.  This is also known as your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure.

So how do we go about figuring out how many calories we should take in, in order for our body to maintain our given weight? There are two different approaches.  Approach number one is a simple mathematical equation.  Lyle McDonald uses this method with his clients, and Lyle is a brilliant author.  He recommends multiplying your bodyweight by 14-16 cal/lb.  So let's go in the middle and say 15 calories per lb of bodyweight, again, this is an estimate, so a 150-pound male's equation would hypothetically look like this:

150lbs x 15cal/lb = 2,250 Calories

The second approach is to use a formula that will take into account everything from height, weight, activity level, body fat % (If known), and sometimes other variables.  Personally, I find the equation to be far too tedious but you can use websites with TDEE calculators.  Two I frequently use are (My favorite one) and  Simply fill out the information given and it will automatically estimate your TDEE.  I will note that the activity calculator seems to best work when estimating activity OUTSIDE the gym, or your workout.  For example, as a college student my day consists of waking up, working out, eating, doing homework, going to class, playing Xbox, and hanging out with friends or the girlfriend.  Not very active other than the gym, so when I click my activity level, I use the "Lightly Active" scenario.  

Simply follow this caloric estimate for a week and see what happens to your weight.  if it goes down, increase by 100-200, if it goes up, decrease by 100-200 calories.  While tracking your calories can be annoying, it is extremely beneficial. If you do so for a week to get an idea of portions and how much you should be eating.  

Step 2: Determining How Many Calories Over Maintenance to Grow

Some will say 500 calories over maintenance because of the theory of 3500 calories = 1 pound, so 7 days x 500 extra calories a day = 1 pound per week. This is a good starting point, but I like to go by percentages.  For example, I'd say to gain weight, you should consume an extra 20% of calories over maintenance.  So for our 150 male above who needs 2,250 calories to maintain their weight, the equation will look like this:

2,250cal x 1.20 = 2,700 calories

So assuming the true maintenance calorie level for this individual is 2,250 calories, 2,700 calories would be a good place to start to gain weight and muscle.  Again, I would suggest tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake for a week so you get an idea of portion sizes and how much you should be eating. I would suggest shooting for about 1-2lbs per week for beginners, as gains will be seen much more quickly, a.k.a "Newbie Gains."  Those who have been exercising for years will want to see gains of about 1-2lbs per month.  

Now eventually you will reach a point where you will stop gaining weight.  When this occurs it just simply means your body and metabolism have adjusted to your new calorie intake, and a simple increase, again, will result in more weight gain.  

Step 3: Determining Macronutrients

So now determining your macronutrients comes into play.  Again, there is no one size fits all approach.  Some do better high carb and low fat.  Some will say low carb and higher fat makes them feel better.  You need to experiment with different ratios and see what gives you the best results and makes you feel better.  How I go about figuring out my macros is as follows:


All you need to grow is 0.8 g/lb.  However, higher protein intakes have shown to be beneficial for a myriad of reasons.  Some are an increased feeling of satiety (Feeling full), improved retention of lean body mass when dieting, and greater thermic effect of food (The body uses more energy to break down protein).  And eating a lot of meat is freakin' awesome.  Unless you have a kidney or other stomach issue and a doctor restricts your protein intake, I recommend going to 1.0-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.  So for our 150 lb male above, this means anywhere from 150g - 225g of protein per day.  In this example we'll go with 200 grams of protein.  Protein is roughly 4 calories per gram, so this protein allotment will take up 800 calories of our total daily intake (200 x 4 = 800).

Don't be that guy. 


While fats have gotten a terrible rep in the supermarket industry, fats are essential for proper hormone levels. Both saturated and unsaturated fats are necessary for proper hormone production and regulation. Trans fats should be avoided, but saturated fats from sources such as red meat and egg yolks are perfectly acceptable.  Natural nut butters are great sources of fats, as is olive oil, flax oil, and fish oil.  In my opinion, fats should be set as a minimum of .45g/lb.  I'd go with .5g/lb just to make the math easier, so our 150 lb male above should strive to get 75g of dietary fat per day.  Fat is about 9 calories per gram, so this will take up 675 calories (75 x 9 = 675).


Ahhh carbohydrates.  The carbphobia in the fitness industry is insane, and I'll admit, I fell into it.  Many claim they're "insulin resistant" and can't handle carbs.  While many people may not be able to tolerate a high amount of carbs, few will attempt to find a middle ground.  It's either you go high carb, or low carb, never a medium amount of carbohydrates.  So keep this in mind when you start tracking your macronutrients.  If you find that you're constantly bloated and lethargic, then try lowering carbs a bit and adding dietary fat to keep the calories the same.  Find what balance fits for you.

Anyway, when determining how many carbohydrates to consume, simply take your remaining calories, divide by 4 (Since carbs are about 4 calories per gram), and BAM, there's your carb intake.  So for our 150 lb male example he's receiving 800 calories of protein and 675 calories from dietary fat, which leads to 1,475 calories so far.  We've estimated he'll need 2,250 calories to maintain his weight, and 2,700 to gain lean mass.  So the equation would look like this:

To Maintain Weight:
2,250cal - 1,475cal = 775 calories
775 calories / 4 = approximately 194g of carbohydrates daily

To Gain Weight
2,700cal - 1,475cal = 1,225 calories
1,225 calories / 4 = approximately 306g of carbohydrates daily

So to recap, our 150lb male needs approximately 2,700 calories to gain weight.
To get to that 2,700 calories, he'll consume 200g of protein, 75g of dietary fat, and 306g of carbohydrates.  So about 45% of calories will come from carbs, 25% from dietary fat, and the remaining 30% from protein.

Again, this is just basic estimates and guidelines of where to start.  Write down how you feel for the week with certain macronutrient percentages to see what suits you best.  I know I'm someone who feels better with a middle amount of carbohydrates, but it took weeks of playing around with different ratios and percentages to see what worked best.  You need to experiment. Please understand, a balance diet is key.  Eliminating one macronutrient isn't always healthy and can lead to binging and cravings, which can derail any diet. In a future article I'll go over food choices for each macronutrient, but for now, those who are looking to gain muscle should use the above template as a place to start their quest to get fuarking HUGE.

No comments:

Post a Comment