(If this does not apply to you check out How to lose weight)
So you have been going to the gym a few times a week and have slowly increased the weight you can lift. You feel better overall and are motivated by your strength gains but you do not really see a difference in your body. Putting on muscle won’t happen overnight but if you have been lifting hard for a few months and are not seeing a marked improvement in size and strength, you may not be eating enough.
The point of this section is for those of you who are looking to put on muscle. Before I say anything else I want you to be aware that if you want to put on muscle you will also put on fat (if you are brand new to weight training, you will have a window of time where this is not the case). BUT WAIT, I do not want this fact to scare you away. I do understand that many people cringe at the idea of putting on weight but if you gain weight slowly, you can have minimal fat gain.
In order to put on muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus. This means that you need to be eating more calories than your body requires for daily function. The excess calories can then be used for muscle protein synthesis. If you are currently maintaining your weight you are eating at maintenance level. In other words, you are consistently eating enough food to meet your daily caloric needs. In order to be at a caloric surplus you need to eat above maintenance. If you add 500 calories to your maintenance amount of calories then you will gain about 1 pound per week. Unfortunately this is not all muscle. I prefer a slower gain and when I eat at a caloric surplus I aim to gain 2 pounds per month. This is where keeping track of your weight comes in so you can work on gaining weight at a pace that you are comfortable with.
So how do you know what your maintenance calories are? There are a ton of websites with TDEE, BMR, and RMR calculators that are very inaccurate. You will hear me say this a lot but I want to make the point that everybody is different. People have varying caloric needs and using a standardized calculator only gives us an extremely rough estimate.
So what should you do instead? If you have not gained or lost weight over the past few weeks it is safe to assume that you are currently eating at maintenance calories. I recommend using a food tracking app like myfitnesspal.com to track your foods for 1-2 weeks and then figure out your average daily calorie intake. You now have your maintenance calories and then you can add 300-500 calories to get the amount of calories you need to eat to be in a caloric surplus. Once you know your calories you can now determine your macronutrient ratio here.
After months of eating at your caloric surplus, you may get to a point where you are ready to stop. Of course you do not have to stop if you are happy with your progress and want to continue getting stronger. Personally, I ate at a surplus for about 6 months and gained about 8 pounds (of muscle and fat) so I wanted to start cutting calories to lose some of the fat and show off the muscle. For more information you can refer to How to lose weight.
You can be as strict or as lenient as you want to be when counting your calories or macronutrients, some people find it easiest to only count their calories for a few weeks just to get an idea of how much food they should be eating and then they just estimate. I personally counted the entire time because I eat a varied diet from day to day and found it hard to correctly estimate the amount of calories I was taking in. I started out pretty small so it was sometimes a struggle to make myself eat at a surplus and having a number to hit kept me in check. Again, this is my own personal experience and what works for me may not work for you. It’s all about trial and error. It is well worth it once you begin to get stronger and leave your rut in the dust.
Disclaimer: Please take my advice at your own risk. I am not a dietitian or a doctor. See our disclaimer page for more information.