Following up from my previous post on calculating the calories and macros you need for a successful cut or fat loss diet, I decided to continue in the same vein and write a similar blog on estimating calorie and macro needs for bulking.
Here’s the cutting post –
Starting as we did in the above, let’s first define macronutrients and bulking:
Macros are protein, carbs and fat. They are what your body needs for energy, recovery and day to day function, and each has a certain calorie value. Protein and carbohydrate have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is a fourth macronutrient and has 7 calories per gram, but for now we’re not overly concerned with this.
Bulking refers to the process of gaining body weight, preferably in the form of muscle mass. Bodybuilders tend to have two different approaches to bulking; the “eat everything” approach, which involves not monitoring calorie intake, and just eating virtually as much food as is physically comfortable. This can yield excellent gains in muscle and strength, but brings with it a lot of added fat mass, often in as high as a 2:1 to 4:1 fat to muscle ratio. The method I prefer to use myself and with clients, (and which I think you’ll prefer) is a lean gaining approach. This enables you to gain muscle, albeit at a slightly slower rate, but with much less in the way of fat gain. Using this approach (depending on your starting point) you could bulk for 12 to 24 months while still looking lean and without fear of gaining an uncomfortable or excessive amount of body fat.
Step 1: Determining Calories
First step again is to calculate roughly how many calories you need per day.
Contrary to the cutting article, there will be no category for sedentary folks who do little to no exercise. If you’re not training hard at least twice per week, you’ll have a very hard time gaining lean mass, as your muscles won’t be being exposed to enough stimulation to grow. Here’s how to work out your required calories –
Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 18, 20 or 22 –
Multiply by 18 if you have a sedentary job and train hard with weights two to three times per week.
Multiply by 20 if you have an active job and train hard with weights two to three times per week, or have a sedentary job but train hard with weights four to six times per week, or two to three times per week with additional high-intensity cardio sessions thrown in.
Multiply by 22 if you have an active job and train hard with weights four to six times per week, or you’re an athlete performing multiple weights and cardio sessions weekly or even daily.
In my experience, women gain muscle much more slowly than men, mainly due to having lower levels of muscle-building hormones like testosterone. Therefore, going with the 18/20/22 figures would lead to excessive fat gain in all but the most active, genetically gifted females. Here’s what women should do
Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 16, 17 or 18 –
Multiply by 16 if you have a sedentary job and train hard with weights two to three times per week.
Multiply by 17 if you have an active job and train hard with weights two to three times per week, or have a sedentary job but train hard with weights four to six times per week, or two to three times per week with additional high-intensity cardio sessions thrown in.
Multiply by 18 if you have an active job and train hard with weights four to six times per week, or you’re an athlete performing multiple weights and cardio sessions weekly or even daily.
Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 0.8 to get your required protein intake per day.
If you read the cutting blog, you may be surprised that protein requirements are lower here than they were for dieting, considering we think of protein as the “Building blocks of muscle.” More protein = more muscle, right?
Not necessarily. The general consensus of the research suggests that you need around 0.8 grams per pound daily to build and maintain muscle mass. When cutting, we upped this to 1 gram per pound, as a lower calorie intake can cause muscle loss, so a little extra protein acts as a buffer. Additionally, you will be hungrier when dieting, and protein has a satiating effect. As this is a bulking diet, your calories will be higher, so you needn’t worry about muscle loss or hunger, hence the 0.8 grams per pound recommendation.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that the following is almost an exact replica of the fat calculation from the cutting article. This isn’t a mistake, though there are some extra caveats at the bottom.
You need between 0.3 and 0.6 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.
This should be largely based off personal preference, as provided you’re hitting a minimum of 0.3 and not exceeding 0.6, you’re okay. To determine what your ideal intake should be, ask yourself what your favourite types of foods are.
If you tend to err towards fattier foods, such as cheese, bacon, nuts and fatty desserts, then aim for 0.5 or 0.6 grams of fat per pound. You’ll likely enjoy a diet far more (and therefore be much more likely to stick to it) if you have more room for your preferred higher-fat foods in your diet.
If, on the other hand, you’re more of a carb-o-holic, and crave bread, pasta, crisps and pretzels, aim for 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound. Your carb and fat intake will be inversely proportional, so the higher one is, the lower the other. Therefore, you can go lower with your fat intake in order to consume more carbs.
The only caveats to the above (though these are really minor details) is that athletes focused on performance and needing to recover quickly should keep their carbs high to moderate, so may fare better with the 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound figures to allow for a higher carb consumption. Plus, for those of you who carry a large amount of muscle mass and have a higher bodyweight, your calorie intake will be fairly high. Carbs and fat are inversely proportional, so the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Therefore, it may benefit you to go with 0.5 to 0.6 grams of fat per pound, so that your carbohydrate intake is a little lower, unless you want pretzels and rice cakes coming out of your ears. Eating lots of carb-based foods with little fat can get monotonous, tasteless and become a chore, so adjust your macros accordingly.
The calculation for working out carb intake is the same for a fat loss diet, but clearly you’ll be working with different numbers. You’ll need your daily calorie target handy to begin with.
Take your daily protein intake and multiply it by 4. There are 4 calories in a gram of protein, so this will give you how many calories you’re consuming from protein each day.
Then multiply your fat intake in grams by 9 to give your fat calories.
Add these two numbers together, and subtract the result from the total number of calories you’re aiming for each day.
This will give you how many calories you need from carbs each day. Divide this by 4 (remember – carbs have 4 calories per gram) and that’s how many carbs you need each day.
Case Study 1: 140 pound female with a sedentary job who trains twice per week and prefers higher-fat foods –
Calories needed = (140×16) = 2,240
Protein = 140 x 0.8 = 112g
Fat = 140 x 0.5 = 70g
Protein and fat calories = (112 x 4) + (70 x 9) = 1,078
Carbs = (2,240 – 1,078) ÷ 4 = 290.5g
Daily Macros = 112g protein, 70g fat, 290.5g carbs
Case Study 2: 190 pound male semi-professional athlete, training multiple times per week at high intensities.
Calories needed = (190×22) = 4,180
Protein = 190 x 0.8 = 152g
Fat = 190 x 0.4 = 76g
Protein and fat calories = (152 x 4) + (76 x 9) = 1,292
Carbs = (4,180 – 1,292) ÷ 4 = 722g
Daily Macros = 152g protein, 76g fat, 722g carbs
Learn what supplements you need to take, WHATEVER YOUR GOAL
I have found that bulking is actually a more precarious process than cutting. Some people grow like weeds on a relatively low calorie intake, while others virtually need to be hooked up to an IV drip of liquid carbs to gain just half a pound of muscle. For this reason CLOSE MONITORING OF PROGRESS IS VITAL.
Take our athlete above. 722 grams of carbs per day seems like a huge number, and most normal people would struggle to eat that on a daily basis. However, this guy is likely highly trained, burning a high number of calories each day, and using a lot of glycogen in the process. He still needs to be careful though — bodyweight, measurements and progress photos should be assessed once every couple of weeks. If he’s gaining fat, he needs to cut his intake slightly (preferably in the form of carbs.) If his weight is stagnant or decreasing, he can increase carbs, fat, and possibly protein.
The same goes for the female trainee above.
How successful your bulk is also depends on where you’re coming from. If you’ve been on a severely restrictive, or low-calorie diet, you may need far fewer calories to bulk. Again, use your initiative to judge progress and make necessary changes.
One final point I will make is that total calorie intake is the most important factor and provided you’re hitting your protein and fat minimums you can tweak the diet to make it easier. Using the athlete as an example again, hitting over 700 grams of carbs daily with only 152 grams of protein and 76 grams of fat could prove extremely difficult, unless he’s happy eating bagels, white rice and fruit all the time. A more appropriate macro split, while still hitting over 4,180 calories may be along the lines of 200g protein, 600g carbs and 108g fat.
As with a cutting diet, these macros are also ranges, and needn’t be hit to the tee. I’ve aimed to provide a blueprint you can follow to design a productive, flexible bulking diet, now take these tools, go forth and build a beastly physique.
Tags: bulking, IIFYM, macronutrients, macros, muscle gain