by Sean Nalewanyj
There are several smaller details that go into planning out a complete muscle building diet, but your total daily calorie intake is the ultimate bottom line.
Consume fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. Consume the same number of calories that you burn, and you’ll maintain your weight. Consume more calories than you burn, and you’ll gain weight.
This is known as the “Law Of Energy Balance”, and if you aren’t creating a consistent calorie surplus each day to fuel new muscle growth, your gains will be virtually non-existent.
If you naturally have a big appetite, or your individual calorie needs to gain weight are not that high, accomplishing this on a daily basis is not going to be a huge issue.
For others, however, it can be more of a challenge.
If you’re looking to gain quality muscle size but are having trouble consuming enough calories because you simply feel full all the time, here are 4 quick tips to help you out…
“I Can’t Eat Enough Calories!” – 4 Tips
Tip #1 – Optimize Your Meal Frequency.
As long as you’re consistently hitting your overall calorie and macronutrient needs each day, the specific way in which you lay out your daily meals is really a matter of personal preference. From a pure muscle building and fat burning perspective, it’s really not going to make any measurable difference.
So, if managing hunger is a problem for you, play around with different meal frequencies and layouts to see what boosts your appetite to the highest level.
Is it 3 larger meals spaced farther apart throughout the day? Is it 4 meals and 2 snacks? 6 or 7 small meals?
Everyone is different, but for most people, eating smaller portions more frequently is usually the most effective option.
Test out a few different approaches and find out what works best for you.
Tip #2 – Include Some Calorie-Dense Food Items In Your Meal Plan.
If all you’re eating is boiled chicken breast, brown rice and spinach all day, good luck trying to consume upwards of 3000-5000 calories daily if you have a small appetite.
Consuming lean/high quality proteins and high fiber carbs is certainly an important aspect of a well-rounded diet, but if you’re having trouble meeting your calorie needs without feeling sick to your stomach, you’ve got to mix in some more calorie-dense items as well.
There are a ton of possible options here…
Have a handful of dried fruit or nuts as a snack in between meals… drink a glass of fruit juice with one or two of your daily meals instead of water… have some dark chocolate as a small “dessert”… mix some flaxseed oil or extra virgin olive oil into your protein shakes (you won’t even taste it)… have some fatty fish (such as salmon) as a protein source a few times week…
You get the idea here.
Use traditional “clean” bodybuilding foods as the underlying foundation of your diet, but combine them with a few especially high calorie items here and there to bump up your daily calorie totals.
Tip #3 – Stop Trying to “Eat Clean” 24/7.
This ties in with the previous tip, but a small portion of those high calorie items don’t even necessarily have to come from “clean” sources.
Assuming that around 80-90% of your diet is comprised of nutrient-dense, “high quality” fitness foods, the other 10-20% can come from whatever sources you’d like (though I’d recommend minimizing the consumption of partially hydrogenated oils) as long as it fits into your daily macronutrient totals.
Including a small amount of high calorie “cheat food” here and there (though this is a relative term) is not going to negatively affect your muscle building or fat burning progress and is an extremely easy way to help you get more calories into your diet without your stomach exploding.
A bowl of ice cream… a chocolate bar… a slice of pizza… a few cookies… as long these items are included in your diet in a controlled, moderated way, this is a great strategy to ensure that you hit your daily calorie needs in a much more comfortable way.
(Check out this article if you want a complete explanation of this concept of “flexible dieting)
Tip #4 – Make Use Of Shakes/Smoothies.
What do you think sounds like an easier task…
Sitting down to eat 2 chicken breasts, a cup of brown rice, a bowl of fruit, a handful of nuts and washing it down with a glass of skim milk…
Blending together 2 scoops of whey protein powder, a cup of oatmeal, a banana and a scoop of natural peanut butter in skim milk.
Not only is the latter option far easier to stomach and just as nutritious, but it’s also far more convenient and doesn’t take any more than a few minutes to make and consume.
I personally have two high calorie homemade shakes like this per day (one for breakfast and one in the evening) and it allows me to easily consume about 1600 calories in liquid form, which is around half of my daily needs. (You can find the recipe I personally use here)
The calorie content of these shakes can be boosted even higher by simply throwing in additional items like healthy oils, yogurt, berries or even some ice cream.
Combine 2 or 3 regular whole-food meals with a couple of high calorie shakes (and perhaps some smaller snacks here and there) and hitting your daily calorie totals shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Commercial weight gain powders and/or meal replacements can be used in small amounts if they’re needed as a matter of convenience, but a homemade smoothie like the one I just outlined is a far healthier and better-tasting option overall.
“I Can’t Eat Enough Calories!” – Quick Recap
So, if you’re trying to maintain a calorie surplus but you’re not able to do it without feeling excessively full throughout the day…
1) Experiment to find a specific meal frequency and daily food layout that maximizes your personal hunger levels.
2) Include some especially high calorie foods in your diet to boost your daily totals without adding significant extra food volume. (Nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, healthy oils, fruit juice etc.)
3) Allot 10-20% of your total calories to a small amount of higher calorie “cheat foods” to further increase the overall calorie density of your diet.
4) Include one or two high calorie homemade smoothies in your diet to get all the same benefits that regular whole food have to offer but in liquid form.
The Best Lean Bulking Macros
There are many smaller details that go into planning out a complete muscle building diet, but your overall daily macronutrient intake is at the very foundation of the entire process.
Everything else stems from that, and quite frankly, this one basic factor alone will be responsible for 80-90% of your results from a dietary perspective.
The question is, what are the best lean bulking macros that will maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gains?
Two things to keep in mind before we get to that…
Number one, any time you try to add a significant amount of muscle to your frame, you will always end up gaining some body fat in the process.
This is a totally natural result of remaining in a calorie surplus over time, and there is no way for you to divert 100% of that surplus to pure muscle growth. Some fat will always be gained, and the goal is to simply minimize it.
Number two, there is no such thing as one absolute “best” set of lean bulking macros that will produce optimal results in every single person. Everyone will respond a bit differently to varying levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate intake based on a multitude of different factors.
What we can do, though, is establish a solid, reliable starting point that will work extremely well for virtually all average natural trainees looking to gain muscle size and strength in an effective and efficient way…
There is nothing “magical” about this particular breakdown, but this is what I’d recommend you go with…
First off, you need to determine your total daily calorie intake.
Your body’s total net energy balance will determine whether you lose weight, maintain your weight or gain weight, and we need this number in order to translate it into concrete gram amounts of protein, fats and carbs.
In order to create a 15-20% daily calorie surplus (this amount is high enough to maximize muscle growth and low enough to prevent excessive fat gain) use this equation…
First calculate your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn at rest…
Men: 66 + (13.7 X bodyweight in kg) + (5 X height in cm) – (6.8 X age in years)
Women: 655 + (9.6 X bodyweight in kg) + (1.8 X height in cm) – (4.7 X age in years)
Take that number and multiply it by your activity level…
Sedentary = 1.2 (little to no exercise)
Lightly Active = 1.375 (light exercise: 1-3 days a week)
Moderately Active = 1.55 (moderate exercise: 3-5 days a week)
Very Active = 1.725 (intense exercise: 6-7 days a week)
Extremely Active = 1.9 (intense daily exercise and strenuous physical job)
You now have your daily caloric maintenance level, which is the number of calories you’d need to consume to maintain your current weight.
Now take that number and multiply it by 1.15 and 1.2.
You now have your daily caloric intake for lean muscle growth.
Secondly, we break that total calorie intake down into specific gram amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates…
While your total daily calories will determine overall weight gain/loss, your macronutrient breakdown will determine what type of weight is gained or lost, whether it be muscle or fat.
Here’s a highly effective macronutrient breakdown to optimize body composition…
Protein intake will be based on your body weight. Anywhere from 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight daily will be a good figure for most people. The number can vary from person to person depending on lean body mass and other factors, but anywhere in this range will work well in most cases.
The currently accepted figure based on a meta-analysis of the available data on protein intake in athletes suggests that 0.82 grams per pound of body weight daily is all that is needed.
I like to go slightly higher just to be safe (it’s not going to hurt you), and usually stick with a simple clean figure of 1 gram per pound of body weight daily. So, if you weigh 160 pounds you’ll want to consume 160 grams of protein per day.
This will provide you with enough to maximize protein synthesis and optimize recovery in between workouts without consuming any unnecessary excess.
Fat intake will be calculated as a percentage of your total calories. Consuming sufficient fat each day is very important when it comes to optimizing testosterone levels, mood and overall health, and 25% of total calories is a good figure to shoot for.
Fats contain 9 calories per gram, so you’ll simply multiply your total calorie intake by 0.25 and then divide by 9 to get the total daily grams of fat.
Carbohydrates will make up whatever amount of your total calories is now left over. To get this number, just add together the total protein calories (protein contains 4 calories per gram) and the total fat calories (you already have this from the previous step) and then subtract it from your total daily calorie intake. This will give you the total number of calories that will be derived from carbohydrates.
Simply divide this number by 4 (since carbohydrate contain 4 calories per gram) to get the total daily grams of carbs you’ll need.
That’s all there is to it.
You now have your total daily grams of protein, fats and carbohydrates in place.
Hitting these macros each day is by far the most important thing you need to do as part of your muscle building diet, and will contribute to the vast majority of your success. (Other factors such as food selection, water intake, laying out meals in a way that maximizes performance/consistency will make up the other portion)
This set of lean bulking macros is obviously not going to be “perfect”, but it is a very solid, highly reliable starting point for average natural trainees looking to optimize body composition by adding muscle with minimal fat.
Using these macros you should expect to gain around half a pound of total body weight per week. If your weight gain has stalled for more than a 2 week period, increase your total calories by 150 and then re-calculate your macros.
Remember, gaining quality muscle size is a gradual process, and if you’re gaining more than this, you’re most likely putting on an excessive amount of fat. The specific figure will be slightly higher or lower from person to person and varies based on experience level, genetics and many other smaller factors.
It may not sound like a lot, but it adds up quite fast and represents a quality weight gain of about 26 pounds over the course of a year, which certainly is not bad at all. This of course assumes that you are a relative beginner, as muscle gain continually slows down the more experienced you are.
About the Author:
Once an awkward, out-of-shape “social outcast”, Sean Nalewanyj is now a renowned fat loss and muscle building expert, best-selling fitness author and success coach. Through his mega-popular websites and his information-packed online email lessons, Sean has helped tens of thousands of average, everyday people from all over the world burn fat, build muscle and get into the best shape of their lives. Sean is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, has written articles for dozens of the top muscle-building and fat loss websites across the Internet and is recognized as an expert authority on the subjects of building muscle and burning fat fast.