Calories Needed to Build Lean Mass Without Overly Bulking

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Calorie counting can be tough. Too many calories can cause you to over bulk and too little will leave you with no gains. So, you are left with the question, “How many calories should I eat to gain lean muscles?”

It takes tremendous energy to build and store muscle mass using muscle protein synthesis. Its estimated that it takes 2,500 to 2,800 excess calories to gain one pound of lean mass.

To find out your daily calorie intake you need to multiply your body weight by 14. Then you need to add somewhere from 350-450 calories daily to your intake to reach that minimum level of 2500 for lean gains

You also need to know what eating habits to avoid and what amount of macronutrients you require for lean gains. Let’s find out all about it in this article.  

Man in a gym who is toned and ripped with lean muscle who is lifting weights using a curl bar on an angled bench
Toned and ripped lean man lifting with a curling bar

Knowing your daily calorie intake for gaining lean muscles is not enough. Most people require around 20 calories per pound (or 44 kcal / kg) of bodyweight to gain muscle mass.

Maximuscle.com

How Many Calories Should You Eat to Gain Lean Muscles?

The amount of calories you need to gain lean muscle mass depends on your energy reserves. 

If you are consuming less than what you need, you will lose weight without gaining any muscles. If you are consuming more than what you need, you will end up becoming bulky. Hence, you must consume the right amount of calories.

 An easy weight to find out how many calories you need to gain lean muscles is to multiply your body weight by 14. Make sure to take your body weight in pounds for this multiplication.

The result of the multiplication is the calories you will need regularly. Then add 100 to 200 calories with these calories to find out the amount you need to gain lean muscle mass.

 If you add more extra calories then you will gain weight faster, but that may not help you with gaining muscles. Instead, the extra weight gain may turn into fat. Here is an example of how you can count your calories to gain lean muscles,

  1. Sabrina weighs 140 lbs but wants to lose fat while gaining lean muscles.
  2. She needs 140 X 14=1960 calories per day to function.
  3. The required calories she needs daily to gain lean muscles is 1960+200= 2160. 

What is the Right Amount of Macronutrient Ratio to Build Lean Muscles?

Calorie intake from random sources will not help you gain lean muscle mass. You need calories from a well-balanced diet including proper ratios of macronutrients such as protein, fat, and carbohydrate. 

Each macronutrient has a different caloric value. Hence, you need to consume a certain amount of each to meet your surplus calorie amount required to gain lean muscle.

Here is the amount of macronutrients you require to gain lean muscle,

Protein

You need 0.8 to 1.1 grams of protein per pound of your bodyweight. Plus, per gram of protein contains 4 calories. 

Let’s go back to the example of Sabrina. She weighs 140 lbs. So her daily protein requirement is, 140 X 1.1= 154 g. Her calorie requirement from protein is, 154 X 4 = 616 calories. 

Fat

20 to 30% of your total calorie intake has to be fat. Multiply 0.25 to your total daily calorie intake to find out the number of calories you need to get from fat sources.

Incase of Sabrina, she needs 2160 X 0.25= 540 calories of fat. Keep in mind that it is 540 calories and not 540 grams of fat. 

To find out how much fat you need to eat in grams, divide the number of calories you consumed from fat by 9. Incase of Sabrina, she needs to eat 540/9 = 60 grams of fat daily. 

Carbs

The macronutrient which will fuel you throughout the day is carbohydrate. Hence, besides fat and protein, the rest of your calories has to be sourced from carbohydrates.

 Add the calories you gained from fat and protein. Then subtract it from your total daily calorie intake to find out the number of carbs you need. For example, Sabrina needs 2160 – (540 + 616) = 1004 calories of carbs daily. 

Like protein, per gram of carbs consists of 4 calories. Divide the calories you get from carbs to find out how much of it you need in grams. So, Sabrina needs 1004/4 = 251 g of carbs daily. 

What to Avoid When You Are Trying to Build Lean Muscles?

There are many misconceptions regarding eating habits when it comes to building lean muscles. Skipping out on meals and wolfing down proteins are just two of them. Find out which eating habits you need to avoid below, 

Pigging Out On Protein Bars

Protein bars, gels, or powders once in a while can be a great supplement to your diet, especially if you are on the go. But too much of it will make you bulkier than lean.

The protein-in-wrappers are also convenient. That's why a lot of people create a bad habit of replacing freshly cooked meals with protein bars.

What people overlook is that the convenience of these protein snacks cannot replace the micronutrients you can gain from fresh sources like turkey, chicken, or fish.

These micronutrients heal the post-workout damaged tissues in such ways that no artificial protein supplement can do. 

Pre-Workout Fasting 

Working out right after eating is unpleasant. But working out while fasting can leave you with stomach aches or feeling sluggish. 

Many studies suggest that working out while intermittent fasting can help you lose more weight. But if you are a beginner at intermittent fasting, that might be too hard on your body.

You do not want to hit the gym when the last meal you had was breakfast. That will only stop you from giving it your all while working out.

Moreover, a 2013 research found that consuming protein before a work-out is just as important to building lean muscles as scarfing it down after the sweat session.

The study also found that you should have a meal 3-4 hours before and after your workout session to get the max lean gains. 

Skimping on H2O

If you are dehydrated, you will be running on an empty tank. You will find yourself getting tired and skipping out on certain exercises. 

You need enough water in your system to replace all the sweat you will be releasing in your work out session. Just like how you need the proper amount of macronutrients to function, you also need proper levels of electrolytes and fluids. 

Moreover, studies show that dehydration can trick people into thinking that they are hungry. To exercise in optimum condition and avoid overeating, you need to drink enough water before your workout session.  

Fixating on Post-Workout Protein 

You need to eat protein after a grueling workout session to kick-start the muscle growing and healing process. But fixating on post-workout proteins alone is the wrong way to go. 

According to a study in “Nutrition and Metabolism” the best way to build lean muscles is to eat 20 g of protein every 3 hours. That is, you will need to have a protein meal or snack 4 times a day.

So, if you plan on getting your fix of protein after your workout, maybe you need to rethink your strategy. 

Final Thoughts on How Many Calories Should I Eat to Gain Lean Muscle

Building lean body mass is a journey full of trial and error. But that should not slow you down. Research and find out what works best for you.

That being said, I hope this article helped you find out the number of calories you need to eat for lean gains. 

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