By:  TJ Lopez, BS, CSCS, FMS, Pn1

  •    Most athletes looking to add muscle to their frame don't fully understand the amount of food (most importantly protein) it takes to reach their goal.

  •    First, you should calculate your calories and macro-nutrients to understand what a muscle gaining plan will look like.

  •    Track your nutrition, see if you're reaching your goals, readjust if necessary

  •    Quality matters, so do your best to make healthier choices

Here at AMP, we get many athletes and parents looking to put on weight, bulk up, build "lean muscle"... As if there's another, "fatty" type?? The question they should be asking is "am I ready for the amount of mastication (that's chewing... get your mind out of the gutter!) it takes to put on 15-20 pounds of muscle."  There are many variables that will determine the plan and nutrient ratio that's right for you.  First, lets start with gauging the basic measurables that we'll be able to compare your current eating habits to.

Let's start by calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.  This is commonly referred to as the average amount of calories you would burn if you didn't move or just slept all day, so... Sunday. Sunday every day. OK, back to business. BMR calculations consider your gender, weight, height and age.  Try this calculator here: iifym.com/iifym-calculator/  I like to have our athletes go through this process at least once so they understand what a true muscle building plan looks like.

Next, your goal.  Most likely, you'll want to put on 10, 15, or even 20 pounds of muscle. So, lets say you're a 20 year old male, 5'10" and 170 pounds.  With those metrics, you can enter your info into the calculator and see that your BMR is 1789 Calories/ Day.  In order to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) we need to know a little more about your every day lifestyle.  So, you're active and train 4 times per week for 90 minutes.  That will bring your TDEE to just under 3000 calories per day. You want to be 190 pounds.  The simplest way to look at that is you'll have to eat like your 190 pounds to get there.  The truth is, eating this way will take you a while to get there.  So instead eat like your an athlete looking to maintain 200 pounds. So lets work with 3200 calories from here on.

Now for the math and some other norms.  Although nutrition calculations are not exact, we still think its important to do the math to at least get close to your needs.  A great way to track this process is the MyFitness Pal app. Check it out... So get out your food scales and measuring cups and bear with me here...

Protein intake:

0.8 - 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass (fat free mass)

  • So that athlete that's 170 lbs at 10% Body Fat would be 153 lbs of lean mass.
  • That would put this athlete's range of protein intake to 122 - 230 grams of protein per day.
  • 230 grams of protein will put you at 920 calories.
  • For muscle gain we definitely want to stay at or near the top of that range.
  • Meat, Fish, Eggs, Nuts, Yogurt and Cheeses are great choices for protein intake.


The protein intake will be the main driver of muscle gain.  Protein intake supports muscle gain.  Makes sense doesn't it?  From this point we know how many calories we have left from that 3200.  3200 total calories - 920 calories of protein will leave us with 2280 calories for fat and carbohydrates.



Fat intake:

0.3 - 1.5 grams of fat per pound of lean mass.  The minimum requirement is the more important number to look at for basic brain and bodily function.  It's important we do not fall below that minimum.  The maximum however will probably not be necessary for muscle gain.  The top number would represent a ketogenic diet where you eat little to no carbohydrates throughout the day.  So, I'd say a safe range to look at in this case would be 0.3 to 0.9 grams of fat per pound of lean body mass.

  •   This would put us at roughly 46 to 135 grams of fat per day.
  • Fat is more calorically dense than protein and carbohydrates are (9 calories per gram for fat, and 4 calories per gram each for both protein and carbohydrates.)
  • Fish Oil, Grass Fed Meats, Avocado, Coconut Products, & nuts are all great sources of healthy fats.

Carbohydrate intake:

Carbs don't actually have an essential minimum or maximum requirement.  That's why they're so addictive!  Our bodies have developed an affinity toward high carbohydrate foods because in nature, carbs are usually associated with the essential vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables.  Sadly, this doesn't hold true with a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. One of the reasons you can eat so many at a time is that your body is craving the nutrients and not the actual carbohydrates in the donut, so you won't feel satisfied.

It's best that the majority of our carb intake comes from whole, non-processed foods.  I like to break the carbohydrate category down into 3 subcategories including Green Leafy Vegetables, Starches and Sugar.

  • Green Leafy Vegetables: Spinach, Kale, Broccoli, etc.
  • Starches: Potatoes, Rice, Wheat Products, Beans etc.
  • Sugars: Fruits (best choice), Cakes, Candy, Juices, Sports Drinks etc.


Any diet should have a well balanced-variety of these three carb categories, with limited amount of processed sugary drinks and/or foods of course.



Now to put it all together:

We're set with our 230 grams (920 calories) of Protein.

Let's go right in the middle of the fat range with 100 grams (900 calories).

That will leave us with 1,280 calories of carbohydrates or 320 grams of carbohydrates to play with.  This may seem like a lot, but for someone that's training hard every day, this will be the fuel that'll drive your workouts.

When you look at your macro-nutrient ratios this will be right in the ranges of the often used Zone Diet of 30% Protein, 30% Fat and 40% Carbohydrate.  This is a great place to start for anyone that's new to diet changes and "macro" measuring.  This is by no means the only ratio that works, but again it is a great place to start and then you can make adjustments from there.

OK, its time to get out there and start chewing. A lot. And if after a month (yes, 30 whole days) of eating like this, you don't see any changes in body composition or muscle gain, then increase your calories or adjust your ratio of fats to carbohydrates.  Again, the math here is not exact due to inaccuracies in food labeling, metabolism calculations and food measurement error.

Next time we'll talk about preparing meals, changing fat and carbohydrate amounts for cutting body fat, nutrient timing and tracking progress for best results.

1 Comment