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What are some ways I can put on some weight and build my physique? 

This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Theo Brenner-Roach, Personal Trainer and Kickboxing Instructor. 

If you are already pretty lean and are looking to put on some more mass or just fancy having bigger muscles, then this is best way to do it. Ignore all the fancy protocols, diets, training methods and focus on the basics that actually work.

It’s pretty common knowledge for anyone in the workout game to know that to build muscle you need to eat more calories than you burn. However, there is a bit more to it than just that. You want to be eating in a calorie surplus to support maximum muscle gain and minimum fat gain and you also want to be training with more volume and intensity than when on a fat loss program. So let’s break this down step by step.

Step 1 – Determining Maintenance Calories

Step 1 is to work out what your daily calorie intake is, which is the number of calories you use as energy to go about your daily life. Note: the calculation I use factors in 3 times 1 hour weight training workouts per week and 30 to 60 minutes walking most days.

To do this you will need to calculate your maintenance calories; this is the approximate number of calories you will need on a daily basis to maintain your current body weight. The reason calories are so important for building muscle is down the rules of the energy balance

Understanding calories equation which dictate that:

  • To lose weight you must burn more calories than you eat or drink
  • To gain weight you must burn fewer calories than you eat or drink
  • To maintain weight, you burn the same calories than you eat or drink

You can begin to see why this is so vital to do as your first step. The energy balance is without a doubt the most important thing for weight gain, and therefore building muscle. So how do you work out your maintenance calories? Simple.  The easiest and most effective method I have come across to date is take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 14, this will give you an approximation of your daily needs, you can then experiment and adjust as needed.

For example, let’s use a 154lbs. guy for ease and see what this would look like. The easiest way to do this is to take your weight in pounds (lbs.) and multiply it by 14 (you can multiply your weight in kilograms by 2.2 to get this number). You would multiply 154 times 14. Using the formula above if you are 154lbs. individual your maintenance calories will be 2,156 a day. I always round up to the nearest 10, so his maintenance weight is 2,160 calories a day.

Step 2 – Adjusting Calories for Muscle Building

Now that you know your maintenance calories you can adjust for muscle building. The goal here is to:

  1. Maximize muscle gain
  2. Minimize fat gain

In order to gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn on a daily basis whilst trying to ensure you gain as little fat as possible at the same time. During the period you are building muscle you should try and go pound for pound with muscle and fat gain, this is normal for most people. If you can gain less fat than this, then power to you.

If you diet to just pile on the pounds as quickly as possible you will end up gaining a huge amount of fat in the process. Sure you’ll also gain some muscle but no one will be able to see the hard work you’ put in under the body fat you’ve layered on top. Aim to gain approximately 0.5lbs a week for a total of 2lbs. a month with 1lb. of these being muscle. In reality you will find depending on the length of time that you’ve been training your rate of growth will affect how much of the 2lbs a month is muscle but 1lb. is a safe bet for most people.

I would recommend bulking until you can no longer see your abs or until you have a four pack, depending on your preference and then switch back to fat loss. Then cycle between the two until you are happy. For this reason, you want to aim for a surplus in the region 20 percent and adjust from there as necessary.

Let’s have a quick look how to do this:

We can use our 154lbs. guy again as we already know his maintenance calories. What we need to do is work out what 20 percent of 2,160 is and then add this to that number. For example, 2,160 times 0.20 equals 324. Next, 2,160 times 324 equals 2,484. So the number of calories our 154lbs. guy would need to eat daily to lose the recommended 1 to 2lbs per week is 2,484. To make it easier, let’s round this up to 2,500.

Note: this is just a starting point you would track weight loss for 2 to 3 weeks and adjust as necessary.

Step 3 – Support Muscle Building with Macronutrient Ratios

At this point you should know the number of calories you need to maintain your weight and be comfortable adjusting this number to gain the recommended 0.5lbs per week. Macronutrients are the three major food groups that you eat and they are responsible for providing the calories (energy) used to fuel the body.

Whilst the energy balance equation is responsible for weight loss or weight gain, macronutrients influence your overall body composition, this is why they are so important. Sure eating more calories than you burn will help you gain weight but macronutrients are what will help you build more or at least the same amount of muscles as you gain in fat. It is that will give you that powerful and muscular look.

3 Macronutrients and Roles:

  • Protein:Used to repair, grow and preserve your muscle
  • Carbohydrates: Provides energy to your muscles and brain in the form of glycogen
  • Fat: Used in the production of vital hormones and the intake of vitamins

As you can see each macronutrient plays an important role in the body. Each macronutrient also has an amount of calories (energy) per gram which you will need to know to work out how much of each will fit into your daily calorie needs.

  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

To fuel the body efficiently for day to day activity and optimal performance in the gym it is important to set up your macronutrients right. For the most part your protein needs are widely overstated in the fitness industry (more on that here), so trust me and don’t be too alarmed when I tell you that you only need to set your protein at 0.8 to 1g per lbs of bodyweight.

If you are aiming to build muscle, then aim for 0.8g mark otherwise for fat loss you’re wise to use 1g per lbs. Remember this is per pound of bodyweight and not per kilogram. For fat it is wise to keep it at around 30 percent of total intake to allow for the intake of fat soluble vitamins and production of vital hormones.

The remainder of your calories will all go to carbohydrate which is your primary source of energy. Ok, let’s go back to our 154lbs. guy and work out his macronutrient breakdown, remember we are aiming for total calorie intake of 2,500 a day.

Protein:

We will set our protein at 0.8g so you can see how this works. 0.8g per lbs. of bodyweight is pretty straightforward, our person weights 150lbs. So for 0.8g all we need to do is multiply 150 x 0.8 which gives us 120g daily.

Now to work out how many calories this is we need to multiply the daily amount by 4 by doing 120g times 4 equals 480 calories. Ok, let’s leave this here for a second and look at our daily fats.

Fat:

Our fat intake needs to be set at 30 percent of our total calories allowance so what we need to do is work out 30 percent of 2,500. We can a simple sum which is 2,500 multiplied by 0.3. This gives us 750, which is the daily calories we want from fat but now we need to figured out what this is in grams. To do this we divide 750 by 9, which gives us 83g of fat daily. Now let’s look at carbs.

Carbohydrate:

So we said before that the rest of our calories once we have met our protein and fat needs will be made up from carbs. This is particularly important when training to build muscle as your training volume will be higher than when you are trying to lose fat. The first thing we need to do is take away any calories we have used for fat and protein away from our daily total.

  • Fat calories: 750
  • Protein calories: 480

Together this is 1,230 calories. Now we need to deduct this from the total of 2,500 (2,500 minus 1,230 equals 1,270) All we need to do now is divide this by 4 to get our daily carbohydrate in grams, which comes out to 1,270 divided by 4 and equals 318 grams daily.

Overview

Our 154lbs. guy looking to gain the recommend 0.5lbs a week would set up his calories and macronutrients as follows:

  • · Total daily calories allowance – 2,500 kcal
  • · Total daily protein grams – 120 g
  • · Total daily fat grams – 83 g
  • · Total daily carbohydrate grams – 318g

There you have it. That is how you calculate maintenance and muscle building calories for a 154lbs. guy, trust me it looks a little more complicated than it is. Follow the formulas above and you’ll have no problem.  Now it is important to say that this is a starting point.

If you were to find that after eating these calories for at least 2 to 3 weeks you were either:

  • Gaining weight too fast
  • Not gaining enough weight

Then you would make adjustments until you were gaining weight at the correct speed. The best way to do this is to either add or remove 100 calories from carbohydrates (25g) and wait a week or two and see what effect this has. It shouldn’t take long until you get it right and you start seeing progress.

Step 4 – Train Hard, Train Smart

When it comes to building muscle calories are just as important as a well-structured and progressive training program. With only one and not the other you will end up looking puffy and overweight.

To encourage the body to build muscle you want to be perform strength based resistance workouts, focusing on compound movement for the main muscle groups coupled with supplementary isolation exercises to really round out your physique. I recommend working out 4 days a week on a 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off and repeat, using an A, B split that is focused on the major muscle groups (think chest, shoulders, back and legs) with a few accessory exercises (think biceps, triceps, abs and calves) to bring your physique up.

For example:

  • Monday – Workout A
  • Tuesday – Workout B
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Workout A
  • Friday – Workout B
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

My cardio recommendations are to do a couple of sports sessions or whatever you enjoy a handful of times a week but nothing too over the top, if you do find yourself doing a lot of cardio or activity then bump up your calories to account for the extra work.

Step 5 – Track Progress

Tracking your progress is a must. In order to know whether you are gaining weight too fast or not at all you must track a few key stats. Here are a couple of great indicators for tracking your progress.

  • Weight – weight daily and take a weekly average*
  • Photos – take weekly photos to view your progress over larger periods of time
  • Diary – keep a log of your workouts, if you are building strength then all is good
  • Waist – take weekly measurements and track the change in your stomach

· Clothes – your clothes should feel tighter particularly on the upper body as your chest, shoulders and back grow. You t-shirt sleeves will begin to feel tighter too and trousers may fit tighter around the waist. Please note that weight gain is generally not linear so you want to look for that weekly high, coupled with the weekly average to know you are on track.

Step 6 – Rest Well to Recover Well

To build muscle you cannot overlook the importance of proper, quality rest and recovery time. This is why I recommend to train on non-consecutive days, this allows your central nervous system time to recover and your muscles to repair and rebuild. If you follow these guidelines you can expect to make consistent strength gains in the gym and feel fresh and focused for each session.

Step 7 – Trust the process

As with any journey, there will be times you are unsure. You may eve consider turning back and abandoning your plans altogether. However, I urge you to stick with it, trust in the process and you’ll reap the rewards.

Takeaway Point

That’s all she wrote. You have enough information to get yourself started on the right track and to begin making some solid progress. Remember it is a marathon and not a sprint; take your time, rest well, eat properly and enjoy the progress you will make. In a couple of months, the difference will be night and day. I hope this helps.

 

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