As I talked about in the other two articles to lose weight you need to take in less energy (calories) than you expend. If you want to gain weight then you need to take in more energy than you expend. There are multiple factors when it comes to expending energy, the obvious is activity level, but there are others that you need to pay attention to as well. They are your Basal metabolic rate(BMR), Resting metabolic rate(RMR), Thermic effect of feeding(TEF), Exercise activity, and Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Lets go over what each one is briefly.
Basal metabolic rate- This is the minimum level of energy we need to maintain vital functions, such as breathing, heart beating, basically everything when we are not moving or digesting. This accounts for up to 75% of your total energy expenditure.
Resting metabolic rate- this is also measured during rest like BMR, but it involves small amounts of movement, and digestion so it involves a little more than your BMR.
Thermic effect of feeding- digestion and absorption of food increases your metabolism! Depending on which macronutrient we eat will determine how much energy we expend during this process. Proteins will have the highest thermic response because it takes the body more energy to process them, fats are the least thermic. This accounts for about 10% of your overall energy expenditure.
Exercise Activity- This varies for everyone as some people are more active than others, according to Precision Nutrition this can make up to 10-15% of sedentary peoples energy expenditure while active people can have up to 30% of their energy expenditure due to exercise activity.
Non-activity thermogenesis(NEAT)- This is everything that you do on a day to day basis that requires very little energy. It could be things such as steps throughout the day, housework, playing with pets, fidgeting, or carrying groceries. This also can vary so it is very important to be mindful of this as it can play a big part in weight gain or weight loss.
As you can see just going to the gym and exercising is just one part of the equation to expend energy, the ones we can control the most are exercise activity and NEAT. In saying that all of these account for your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and can have an effect on whether you lose or gain weight.
How to Find Your Maintenance Calories
We just previously talked about your BMR, which is the amount of energy you expend doing basic bodily functions. In order to find this, I find the Katch-Mcardle formula easiest. This takes into account your lean body mass, body weight, and activity level. Here is the formula for the Katch-Mcardle
BMR=370 + (21.6*LBM)
First we need to find our lean body mass(LBM). Here is the formula:
LBM= (1-BF% expressed as decimal numeral)* total body weight
For example, a 170lb male with 10% percent body fat would look like this:
For this particular individual their LBM would be 153. Next we need to convert the 153lbs to kilograms.
Now you just plug in that number to the original formula:
BMR=370+(21.6*70)= 1,882 calories per day
Therefore this person’s BMR is around 1,900 calories. Next you want to take into consideration how active they are so we use estimates to find TDEE. If you exercise:
- 1 to 3 hours per week multiply 1,900 by 1.2.
- 4 to 6 hours per week multiply by 1.35
- 6 or more hours multiply by 1.5
Remember these are just estimates, as we went over earlier there are many factors that attribute to this number. The best we can do is start with these and make adjustments accordingly. Now that you have your maintenance calories set up, the next step is to figure out whether you want to bulk or cut.
Setting up your Bulking Diet
Take a second to remember our rule of energy balance, take in more calories than we expend and we can gain weight, take in less calories than we expend and we lose weight. Lets go over the first one, taking in more calories than you expend to gain weight/mass. You can still build muscle while maintaining your weight, but consuming more calories than you expend will speed this process up a bit.
If you are under 15-17% body fat and are wanting to put on more size, then consuming more calories than you expend will benefit you. If you are over 15-17% I do recommend cutting down below 15% before trying to put on more mass. While bulking, you can expect to see some fat gain, this is normal. Where many people go wrong is over doing it and letting too much fat pile on. The best rule of thumb would be to have a 1:1 fat to muscle ratio. Meaning for every pound of muscle gained you will also gain a pound of fat. You are on the right track if you gain about .5 to 1 lb of body weight per week, once again anything more and its most likely more fat accumulation than muscle.
Lets now go over what a good starting point for your macros should be. One of the misconceptions with bulking/massing is that many people think you need to eat a ton of calories and eat whatever you want, with these numbers you will not have to eat massive amounts of food each day. Not only can this be daunting, imagine having to eat 4,000-5,000 calories daily, but this will also lead to too much fat gain. In saying that, you will be eating more than you are probably used to and even this can cause you to get sick of eating food, also if you have never eaten in a surplus before you can also expect to gain some extra water weight. Remember earlier I said that when carbohydrate consumption increases so does water retention. This will cause your muscles to have a puffier look to them, the good news is that your arms will look much bigger in shirts.
Mike Matthews from Bigger, Leaner, Stronger recommends these numbers while bulking:
- 1g of protein per bodyweight
- 2g of carbohydrates per body weight
- .4g of fat per body weight
Now that you have your numbers set up give them a try, if after a week or two you are not gaining weight, then increase this numbers. Look to increase by 100 calories, we want to mostly increase our carbohydrate sources. We still want to make sure we are eating high quality minimally processed foods, just because you are bulking does not mean you can eat whatever you want, as I stated earlier this will lead to excess body fat. Having a cheat meal here and there is ok, especially if it help keeps you sane, although you probably will not have as many cravings as you would if you were cutting. Later in this guide I will go over some cheat meal tips.
Setting up your Cutting Diet
Cutting means we are taking in less energy than we consume. This requires a little more discipline than when bulking, as eating more will help you gain weight, but eating more while cutting will derail your goals. Just like in the bulking phase, ideally we want to see a weight loss of .5 – 1.0lbs per week. When gaining too much weight too fast leads to excess fat, the opposite is true when cutting, cutting too fast can lead to lean muscle loss. Remember, when cutting our main goal is to preserve as much lean muscle mass as possible. While losing .5-1.0 pounds per week is the goal, some overweight people may lose upwards to 2-3 pounds per week when getting started, over time this will go down.
Lets now go over your macro numbers during a cutting phase:
- 1.2g of protein per day
- 1g carbohydrate per day
- .2g of fat per day
Protein numbers go up because we want to preserve as much lean muscle mass as possible. Protein also is the hardest to digest and requires your body to use more energy when breaking it down. Just like with bulking these numbers are starting points, access where you are out after a week or two. If the number is not going down first look to increase movement, you can do this via more steps, or adding in a little extra cardio, but be careful when adding cardio as this could take away from your strength training. Once movement is increased then look to decrease calories by about 25-50, once again take away carbohydrates. Weight is only one factor though when it comes to accessing your progress. Here are some other factors to consider when cutting:
- Clothes- do they fit better?
- Energy levels- up or down?
- Mirror check – do you look shredded?
- Sleep – are you getting good sleep?
While looking shredded is awesome, do be aware that being in a calorie restriction for too long can have some negative side effects. So its important that you do not stay in a calorie restriction for more than 4-8 weeks. Now this does not mean you need to start bulking again, but consider increasing your calories for a few weeks to resensitise your body. Our bodies do not like being at extremely low body fat percentages for too long. Look to get back to your maintenance calorie levels for about a week or two.
What to do from here
Now your job is to figure out what you want to do, remember if you are over 15-17% body fat you should consider cutting for a little while to get that body fat under that 15-17% mark. From there use these numbers to build the body you want, these are just recommendations, so your goal should be to constantly assess your progress and make small subtle changes when needed. The key word there is when needed. A mistake many people will make is if they do not gain 4 pounds in a few days they feel like their current plan is not working and will make too big of changes too often and then you will not be able to figure out what does and does NOT work for YOU and staying consistent becomes an issue. Consistency is key when it comes to building the body you want. If you consistently make the right choices you will see results.
BONUS: Cheat Meal Tips
If you are like me and love food, then you are going to want to add in a cheat meal here and there to help keep you sane while dieting. Lets go over some cheat meal hacks so you can enjoy that burger or pizza you have been craving all week and not gain excess body fat while doing so. First, let me say that you should have a cheat meal and NOT a cheat day. A cheat day can quickly ruin all that progress you made throughout the week. Here are some hacks to ensure that you will not gain unwanted body fat while enjoying your cheat meal
- Eat undistracted( no phone or TV)
- Slow down your eating, savor the food
- Eat a serving of vegetables during or before your cheat meal
- Limit water intake during the meal
- Take a walk 30-60 minute post meal
- Pick days where you are your most active
Do not feel like you need to do every single one of these everytime you indulge in something you enjoy, but the more you do the better the result will be. Remember being consistent is key to achieving your goals. I also recommend having at least one cheat meal per week, now of course this is going to depend on your goal at the time, if cutting limit it to one per week, if bulking think about 2-3 cheat meals per week. Be careful when cheating, for some people this can trigger a week long eating binge. Listen to your body and look out for things like this, if it does happen look into it more and ask yourself why this is leading to overeating.
Matthews, M., 2014. Bigger Leaner Stronger. 2nd ed. Oculus Publishers Inc.
Beradi, John, et al. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Third ed., Precision Nutrition, Inc., 2017.