When it comes to programming your macronutrients for gaining muscle, it’s first important to decide whether you’re bulking or simply focusing on body recomposition.
Recomp refers to the process by which you attempt to gain muscle and lose fat while remaining at roughly the same weight throughout. This is a very doable process (for beginners at least) and is really how most people attempt it. However, this isn’t usually ideal, and becomes harder and harder to do as you get higher in fitness level. It’s still possible at an elite level, but it’s just far easier to focus on bulking instead.
Bulking refers to the process of gaining weight in order to also gain muscle. Bulking will also mean gaining additional unwanted fat, but it’s generally the fastest way to build muscle as well. Ideally, this is later followed by a weight loss/cutting cycle in order to trim off the excess fat while retaining as much of the built muscle as possible. Such a process is usually the standard, though it’s not universally followed.
With recomposition, you're sticking to maintenance calories but increasing your activity level and your protein consumption to ensure some degree of muscle building while losing fat. With bulking, you're overshooting your maintenance calories in order to gain weight and muscle simultaneously.
When it comes to gaining weight in general and muscle in particular, this means that you’re looking to maximize protein synthesis via protein consumption (so you can build as much muscle as possible) while overshooting your daily needed calories in order to gain weight. While some people might advocate eating a crap ton of calories over and above your needs in order to gain weight quick, this usually isn’t ideal because your body simply can’t build as much muscle in the short term.
Instead, it’s usually better to take a steadier approach. This typically means aiming for a safe overconsumption of 500 cal/day or so, resulting in about a pound of weight gain per week. It’s possible to gain weight quicker, but it’s also more likely to lead to unwanted fat gain.
So the first thing is to make sure you’re getting in enough protein. As I’ve already mentioned in the general health and wellness macros post, 0.82g/lb of bodyweight per day is all most everyone needs. However, unlike the recommendations in that article, you need to be making sure you’re always hitting that target, since you’re a mean machine who needs all the protein you can get. It may be easier to overshoot a bit and round up to 1g/lb of bodyweight per day, but it’s certainly not necessary.
When it comes to your remaining calories per day after protein is accounted for, again it’s not too important. You typically don’t want to cut out fat entirely for health reasons, and you don’t want to cut out carbs entirely because they’re your body’s preferred energy source for high intensity activity, like all the lifting you’re going to be doing to build muscle.
Another warning I like to give guys looking to build muscle is not to worry too much about food quality. Sure, when you’re looking to build muscle, you don’t want to sacrifice your health in the process by eating zero veggies or doing nothing but drinking protein shakes. But at the same time, you don’t need to be eating super healthy. A lot of people tend to believe that food quality has a huge impact on body composition during a bulk, but it probably doesn’t. That means that provided that you have space for it in your macros, it’s fine to eat a few burgers or whatever if it’ll make it easier to get your calories in. Trying to bulk on kale, for example, is a pointless treadmill - there’s just so few calories in it relative to its degree of filling-ness that you could eat it forever and never gain weight. On the other hand, cheap, crappy food typically contains a high number of calories relative to how filling it is, and this can be a boon when you’re trying to gain weight. I’m not giving you permission to go overboard, way overshoot your targets, and eat a ton of crap, but being willing to eat a little crappier might go a long way towards helping you pound down some extra calories while looking to gain weight.
So to break down for your numbers:
Take BW and multiply by 10. This is a rough estimate of your total calories, or you can use more accurate equations. If you use these equations, they’ll often automatically adjust for activity (the lifting you’ll be doing to build muscle) or otherwise you may need to add 300-500 calories per day to account for it. Again, this is just a rough estimate, and tinkering may be needed (adjusting the calories up 100 once per week if you’re not seeing the average 1lb gain you’re expecting) if you’re not on point to begin with.
Add 500 calories to your total - this is the amount of calories intended to cause the average weight gain of 1lb per week. You can increase this a bit if you want to go faster or decrease if you want to go slower, but this is a good starting point.
Take your BW and multiply by 0.82 or 1 (depending on how conservative you want to be on protein). This is your g of protein per day. Multiply this number by 4 - this is the number of calories of protein per day. Subtract this number from your overall calories per day to get your number of remaining calories.
Your remaining calories can be split up however you want between fats and carbs. Again, it’s not a good idea when gaining muscle to completely cut one or the other.
That's really about it! It's best not to overthink your macros and focus instead on actually adhering to them over worrying about the tiny little percentages here and there. One of the most common mistakes a lot of people make when looking to gain muscle is either not tracking (and therefore not having any clue how many calories they're eating, and not gaining weight) or simply not having a good exercise program. While I'll cover exercise programs for hypertrophy later, this should cover the diet end of things!
As a reminder, this is part two of an ongoing series on programming your macros. You can find part 1 here.
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