Home Fitness & Health How to Build Muscle: Part II – Caloric Surplus

How to Build Muscle: Part II – Caloric Surplus

by nick

In How to Build Muscle Part I we discussed why progressive overload is the most important aspect of building muscle and how it can be applied. In How to Build Muscle Part II we will discuss what a caloric surplus is and why it’s an essential element of building muscle.

A Caloric Surplus – What is it?

Your body needs a certain amount of calories per day in order to maintain your current weight. This is known as your calorie maintenance level. It’s the number of calories required that your body needs to do everything it needs to do – walk, exercise, sleep, breathe, etc. Our bodies use calories as energy, so for us to stay alive, a certain number of calories are needed.

If we supply our bodies with fewer calories than this maintenance level, we’ll lose weight. This is called a caloric deficit.

The opposite is called a caloric surplus. A caloric surplus is a state in which you consume more calories than your body needs. For example, if you eat 2,750 calories per day and your calorie maintenance level is 2,500; your surplus is 250 calories per day. A caloric surplus is key to building muscle.

So why doesn’t a caloric surplus make you fat? Well, if you consume more calories than you burn without performing regular intense exercise, you will get fat – Your body receives more calories than it needed, and its excess was stored in the form of fat.

However, a consistent weight training program that focuses on progressive overload signals the body to use those excess calories to build muscle instead of storing them as fat. This is the fundamental difference between someone who is going to get fat by eating too much, and someone who is eating to create a small caloric surplus to support the muscle building process.

So, you now know that in order to gain muscle, you must consume more calories than your body needs. What you need to know next is that there is a limit to the amount of muscle your body can build over a period of time. Hence there is a limit to the amount of calories your body can put towards building muscle.

For example, you may think that if you consume 750 excess calories per day, you’ll gain more muscle than consuming 250 excess calories per day – you couldn’t be more wrong. It’ll just lead to fat gain. If your calorie maintenance level is 2,500 calories per day, and then you learn that it takes a caloric surplus to build muscle, it’s easy to assume that you’ll gain more muscle if you started to consume 3,250 calories per day, instead of something like 2,750 calories per day. Unfortunately if you did this you’d just get really, really fat.

So how much muscle can your body build per week? The average male can hope to build between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of muscle per week. Therefore, whilst a caloric surplus is needed, if there are any excess calories consumed in addition to the number of calories that are needed to build muscle, these calories will end up being stored as fat. Meaning if your body can only use 250 excess calories to build muscle, and you supply it with 500, hat extra 250 will go towards fat.

The next question is how much calorie surplus do you need so that your body can gain the most muscle, and the least amount of fat? Unfortunately there’s no exact answer – everyone is different. However, the general range to aim for is to consume a daily surplus of between 250 and 500 calories. Anything more than 500 and you’ll probably end up gaining fat.

The next thing that you’ll probably want to know is how to figure out your calorie maintenance level so you can create your 250-500 calorie surplus and start building muscle. You can work this out using the calorie maintenance level calculation below.

The calculation below will work out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) using the Harris-Benedict Equation, which is a widely accepted equation used for calculating a person’s daily calorie maintenance level.

Your BMR is the number of calories that your body burns when you’re at rest to do all the things it needs to do to function properly and keep you alive. Your activity level is also applied in to the estimate – this makes it more accurate.

Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X wt in kg) + (5 X ht in cm) – (6.8 X age in years)

You are 25 years old
You are 5′ 11 ” tall (180 cm)
You weigh 200 lbs. (90.72 kilos)
Your BMR = 66 + 1,243 + 900 – 170 =  2,039 calories/day

Now that you know your BMR, you can multiply your BMR by your activity multiplier from the chart below to give a more accurate result.

Activity Multiplier
Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Mod. Active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extra. Active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, i.e marathon, contest etc.)

Your BMR is 2,039 calories per day
Your activity level is moderately active (work out 3-4 times per week)
Your activity factor is 1.55
Your estimated daily calorie maintenance level = 1.55 X 2,039 = 3,160 calories/day

Worked out your calorie maintenance level? Now add 250-500 calories to it and start to consume this number of calories every day.

On a diet like this you’d expect to gain on average, between 0.5 and 1 pound per week, or 2-4 pounds per month. Anymore than this and you’re putting on more fat than muscle.

Remember that the calculation you just used is only giving you an estimate. Although it might be very accurate for you, for others it may be a bit off. So, if after adding 250-500 calories to your estimated maintenance level and you’re gaining about 0.5 to 1 of muscle per week consistently, then you’ve created the ideal caloric surplus.

However, if you’re gaining more than 1 pound per week on a consistent basis – say a few weeks in a row, reduce your daily calorie intake by about 250 calories and monitor your weight for another couple of weeks. If you’re now gaining 0.5 to 1 pound per week, stay with this calorie intake from this point on. If you’re still gaining to fast, make another small calorie reduction and repeat this process until you’re finally gaining the recommended amount.

If you’re maintaining your weight, or losing weight, or gaining less than 0.5 pounds per week, repeat the above steps, expect make a 250 calorie increase rather than a decrease. Monitor it for a few weeks and keep making adjustments until your gaining the recommended amount of weight.

Lastly, once you’ve created the ideal calorie surplus, you’ll eventually reach a point when your weight stops going up at this recommended rate and instead it’ll start to maintain. If this happens for a couple of weeks in a row, and you still want to gain, add another 250 calories to your daily calorie intake.

What to Look Forward to in Part III

Next we’ll cover the requirements for a quality weight training program that’ll build muscle fast.

One More Thing

As discussed above, your diet is extremely important when building muscle. If you want to create your ideal caloric surplus by consuming the correct nutrients that you need to build muscle and lose body fat, we recommend that you read Dave Ruel’s Anabolic Cookbook. It’s full of tasty recipes and meal plans that are easy and cheap to make, and will help you achieve your muscle building goals

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