Do I Have to Eat a Lot to Gain Lots of Muscle?

If you want to gain muscle mass, you may think you have to eat a lot of food, but requiring a calorie surplus to build muscle is a myth. Instead of focusing on eating all you can, you should focus on exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep, and eating just your required caloric needs for each day.

Eating a lot while lifting weights will not help you gain muscle. Instead, you should focus on exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and getting your recommended calories from good food sources. (Image: Claudia Totir/Moment/GettyImages)

Tip

Eating a lot while lifting weights will not help you gain muscle. Instead, you should focus on exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and getting your recommended calories from good food sources.

Simply eating more is not a substitute for the harmonious application of these four principles.

Eat the Right Amount

One question you may be asking is "if I eat a lot and workout, will I gain muscle?" Strictly speaking, if you are exercising regularly, then yes, you will likely gain some muscle while eating more calories. But eating more is not the best way to go about gaining muscle, and it may produce results that you don't want, like extra body fat.

Read more: The Best Way to Gain Lean Muscle Mass

What you eat is far more important than how much you eat. There are some foods to avoid when building muscle, like alcohol and anything deep-fried. Instead you should focus on nutrient-dense foods and food groups that fuel your nutritional needs.

According to a May 2014 review of studies published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, to gain lean muscle mass, you should focus your diet around 4 to 6 meals a day. Each meal should consist of protein, fats and carbohydrates. They recommend eating in the following manner:

  • Eat 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per day, per kilogram of your lean body mass.
  • Get 15 to 30 percent of your calories from fat.
  • Any remaining calories should come from carbohydrates.

The total number of calories needed from protein, and that are required in terms of overall caloric intake, will vary based on a your size. Also, according to the review, you should actually have a slight caloric deficit to help avoid the loss of muscle mass.

Though you may have heard that you need lots of extra protein when trying to gain muscle mass, this may not be true. A June 2018 review of studies published in Osteoporosis International reported that extra protein and protein supplements had little effect on gaining lean muscle mass.

Another, smaller study published in April 2018 in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at increased protein intake by older, functionally-impaired men. They found that added protein did not help increase muscle mass, or improve any strength in their study group.

Still, the minimum-recommended daily intake may not be enough. According to Harvard Health, the average Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is that 10 percent of total daily calories come from protein itself.

However, they suggest that there is evidence that a person needs to eat between 15 and 25 percent of total daily calories as protein. This number may vary by individual, based on gender, age, weight, and activity level. This is a higher percentage than the current RDA, and something you should consider if looking to gain muscle mass.

Exercise is Important

When it comes to your ability to gain muscle mass, exercise is key. However, there are some important things to keep in mind when you hit the gym.

First, cardiovascular exercises, such as running, walking and biking, will not cause you to lose muscle mass. They will, however, help with your overall fitness level and help you lose fat. Cardio can also help prevent heart disease.

Second, to gain muscle mass, you should focus your energy on a resistance routine. Ideally, your routine should work the entire body (legs, arms, back, shoulders, chest and core) two to three times a week. You can use weights, body weight, or bands in your resistance routines. There are even some workout routines to build muscle that don't require weights.

Resistance training should focus on pushing your muscles to the point where they start to give out. You should be wary of starting too fast, or adding too much weight all at once, in order to best avoid injury. Ideally, you should be able to lift a weight 8 to 12 times in a set. You should complete two to three sets per exercise.

It is also important to get adequate rest. You should rest enough between sets to allow the muscles to partially recover before starting again. Rest also includes getting adequate sleep each night. You should aim for about eight hours every night to give your muscle mass time to build.

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