Gaining muscle is hard work. You need extra calories to energize your heavy lifting workouts and to support muscle repair and growth that happens between these sessions. Understanding how to properly fuel will only enhance your efforts and help you reach your goals sooner.
In order to gain muscle, you must consume more calories than you burn. Your daily burn depends on many factors including your weight, age, gender and activity level. Use an online calculator, like the one found at CaloriesperHour.com, to determine your daily burn and then add between 250 and 500 calories per day. According to Dr. Melina Jampolis of CNN, your body can build only a half pound of muscle per week, so adding more than this amount of calories will likely result in gaining fat along with muscle.
Another way to figure out how many calories you should consume involves simply multiplying your body weight in pounds by 18 to 20, advises fitness expert Anthony Ellis of Iron Magazine. According to this formula, a 180-lb. man needs between 3,240 and 3,600 calories a day. A 130-lb. woman should eat between 2,340 and 2,600 calories.
Types of Food
Adding calories in the form of junk food will not result in muscle gain. Eat adequate protein which provides essential amino acids that help in muscle growth--"Muscle and Fitness Magazine," in a 2008 article, recommends at least 1 to 1.5 g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Choose high-quality sources like eggs, lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish and whey or soy protein powder. Make sure you still eat an adequate amount of carbohydrates to give you energy to perform your workouts--stick to fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Consume healthy monounsaturated fats in the form of flax seeds, plant oils, nuts, salmon and avocado to support hormone production and vitamin absorption.
When you need to take in a lot of calories during the day, you might prefer to eat often, rather than gorge at two or three large meals. To fit in all your calories, divide your daily needs by five or six and strive to eat that amount every three to four hours. For example, if you are the 180-lb. man needing 3,600 calories per day, eat six meals each containing 600 calories. Try timing one of these meals around your workout as consuming lean protein just before, during and within an hour after a lifting session can help enhance muscle gain. Protein shakes and supplement bars work well for these occasions.
If you find you gain fat easily, start with modest calorie additions to your daily intake. Remember, even if you are trying to change your body composition to carry less fat, you still need extra calories to build muscle. If you are consistently burning more than you eat, your body will not regenerate muscle efficiently. In fact, if your calorie intake is too low, it may start to use your muscle for fuel and derail your muscle building goals.