Does losing fat seem hard? It’s the easy part, compared to building muscles. Check out how to do them both to reach dreamlike ambitions!
The holy grail of many dieters, especially men, would be to swap the fat weight on their body into muscles mass. Because of muscle tissue being denser than fat, this would inevitably mean a leaner body. Unfortunately though, putting on the same amount of weight in muscles, is far more difficult than just keep it around as energy for later needs.
What do we need to build muscles?
We have to let our body know that its size is puny for our needs and it’s time to beef up a little. It’s quite a rudimentary process. We have to tear our muscles up and let our body rebuild them better. In practice, this requires repetitive resistance training (lifting weights), then ensure the adequate amount of rest is provided ( 7 – 8 hrs sleep) so the body can recover.
Tearing muscles into pieces sounds like a painful process and it really is. Hence comes the old body building adage, no pain no gain.
Fascinatingly, nitrogen that is also in the air we breath, is the essential building block of life. Although, it’s in the air (and in fertilizers for a good reason) but unfortunately, we can’t metabolize it by simply inhaling it nor we are able to absorb it from the soil like plants (this is why we give them as fertilizers) so we have to deliver it through our diet (never eat fertilizers!).
Our Nitrogen is locked into nucleic acid which is the building blocks of DNA and RNA but more importantly in dietary aspects, it is also locked into amino acids, we call protein.
We need protein because that is what muscles or in fact any cells need in order to grow. Providing enough protein is not always a clear cut case because it depends on our activity level. A healthy body needs 0.8g – 1.6gs of protein for each kgs of body weight.
What’s really unfortunate is, that our body can’t store protein or more precisely, our protein storage is our muscles. So, if the body needs protein for recovering from injuries or illnesses and we haven’t got enough protein floating around, it will break down our muscles to get the necessary protein for cell recovery. This is why it’s important to eat enough protein during recovery from illnesses so our hard earned muscles may stay in shape.
3. Calorie surplus
A calorie surplus occurs when we consume more calories than we burn over a certain period of time, whether it is an hour, a day, a week, or a month. If this surplus continues for an extended period, we will likely gain weight.
To determine if we are in a calorie surplus, we need to look at changes in weight, over a significant period, such as two weeks, as short-term fluctuations can be caused by various factors. For instance, weight changes from one day to the next are not necessarily indicative of fat gain but may be due to the amount and type of food, we’ve consumed or water retention. Food high in starch, such as white flour, needs a lot of water to go through our body. We can lose as much as 10lbs / 5kg in 5 days just by stop its consumption. It won’t be a fat loss though and we can just as easily pick it back on once we start eating flour based produce again.
What are the fat facts?
- 1kg of body fat equates to around 7,700 calories (or 3,500 calories per pound).
- To gain a 1kg (~2lbs) of body fat, we would need to consume 7,700 calories more than our maintenance level.
- Given that, our maintenance calorie level is 2000cal, consuming 9,700 calories in a day could result in a kilogram of weight gain in approximately 24 hours. However, such weight gain is unlikely to happen as it depends on several factors.
Are all calories the same?
The concept of calories in vs calories out is not without complications, as the number of calories, we consume can affect the number of calories, we burn. Although, our metabolism (BMR) does not speed up on its own, an increase in calorie intake can lead to more physical activity, whether it is through unconscious movements, like fidgeting or through intentional exercises like weight training or running.
Additionally, consuming more protein can lead to a higher thermic effect of food, where the process of digestion burns calories. However, not all the excess calories, we consume will be stored as fat, and weight gain is typically a gradual process that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
For example, consuming just 257 calories above maintenance each day can result in a 0.5kg (1lb) of weight gain in a month, which is quite easy to do for someone who normally maintains their weight at 2,000 calories.
Is consuming calorie surplus necessary for building muscle?
A 2016 study showed that two groups of men in an energy deficit, one consuming lower protein (1.2g/Kg) and the other higher protein (2.4g/Kg), found that the latter group had more effective results in promoting lean body mass gains and fat mass losses when combined with high-volume resistance and anaerobic exercise.
It’s possible to lose weight (fat) while gaining muscle mass, resulting in a net overall weight loss.
However, this is not considered optimal.
It’s important to note that calorie intake and macronutrients distribution are still essential for muscle building and overall health but consuming calorie surplus is not strictly necessary. Ideally, to optimize muscle gain, we should be in a calorie surplus that provides our body with the needed calories (including adequate protein) to repair and rebuild muscle after resistance training.
Unfortunately though, if our calorie surplus exceeds the amount required for building muscle, the excess calories will be stored as fat. The traditional belief among bodybuilders is that a surplus of 500 calories per day is necessary for muscle building. Yet, this surplus is more than what is needed and can lead to unwanted fat gain.
Most people aim to gain muscle without any fat gain, and even those who initially feel comfortable with gaining some fat may eventually want to lose it. Therefore, it’s better to adopt a slower, more strategic approach to gaining muscles, instead of the traditional ‘bulking’ method. The number of calories, we need to gain muscle, should depend on the rate at which we can build muscle.
For beginners, a gain of up to 5kg muscle mass in a year is feasible, while intermediate and advanced lifters could expect to gain between 1-3kg. However, it’s difficult to determine precisely how much muscle can be gained, so it’s advisable to set a realistic goal.
What are the muscle facts?
- Suppose, we aim to gain 3kg of muscle in a year.
- Building 1kg of muscle requires about 5,940 calories (or 2,700 calories for 1lb).
- As a result, we’d need to eat an extra 49 calories per day to build 3kg (6.6lbs) of muscle in a year.
It’s crucial to note, that protein digestion and synthesis, are calorically demanding processes which means, it may require a few more calories than the 49, mentioned above. However, it won’t be significantly more than that. Therefore, blindly bulking and gaining a kilo each month is futile.
If we want to achieve lean gains, which entails gaining muscle mass without gaining fat, we should aim to gain around a ¼ kg (½ pound) each month. This implies that our calorie intake should be similar to our maintenance calories.
How big can we dream to build muscles?
Now, suppose we attempted a “dreamer bulk,” which is also known as a dirty bulk. In that case, we’d aim to gain a significant amount of weight while assuming, it would all be muscle.
Let’s consider the previous suggestion of a 500 calorie surplus per day which is widely recommended by bro-science.
- In one year, this would result in a surplus of 182,500 calories.
- To build 3kg (6.6lbs) of muscle, we’d need to consume around 17,820 calories, leaving us with 164,680 calories.
- If all these extra calories were to be stored as fat, it would result in 21kg (46lbs) of additional fat (164,680/7700).
Clearly, this kind of approach is not desirable as it would lead to a substantial increase in body fat. Therefore, we need to determine an appropriate calorie surplus to meet our goals without gaining excessive fat.
The following recommendations can be used as a starting point, however, it’s important to note that, there are many variables and everyone is unique.
Assuming a maintenance calorie intake of 2000 per day, the following percentage increases can be applied to determine a suitable calorie goal:
- Beginner: 10% increase (actual calorie goal of 2200)
- Intermediate: 5% increase (actual calorie goal of 2100)
- Advanced: 2.5% increase (actual calorie goal of 2050)
- To build muscle we need exercise, rest, right amount of protein and enough calories to support growth.
- The number of calories, we consume in excess, should be in line with our natural muscle-building potential, which is typically between 1-5kg (2-11lbs) per year.
- Anything beyond that would result in unnecessary fat accumulation, unless gaining fat is acceptable.
- Bulking is a slow process, and we should aim to gain no more than 0.5kg (1lb) per month at the highest end of the scale.
- It’s crucial to monitor our weight and protein intake to ensure that we’re not gaining unnecessary weight.