As most of you know, my focus has always been on ways to objectively increase a trainee’s power output on individual exercises.

I’ve never done any independent research into diet.

But over the years I’ve noticed that many people require a LOT of additional calories in order to see lean mass gain show up on the scale.

Since a pound of muscle contains about 600 calories, you might think you just have to eat an extra 600 or so calories and your body would have what it needs to pack on that much muscle.

But all the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen seems to point to people needing a heck of a lot more than that in terms of surplus calories.

Many people have reported needing 4,000 calories or more every day for weeks in order to see an increase in lean mass.

So Here’s My Question

What’s your experience in terms of required calories to build significant muscle mass?

(Please comment below.)

40 Comments. Leave new

  • Billy Crosbie

    Hi Pete, I did an experiment on myself in 2008. I had been about 147 lbs most of my adult life (my “fighting weight”!), but in 2008, at age 45, I decided to try to put on some muscle. I had done a lot of weight training, and was quite fit, but had never gained any real muscle, just definition. But in October 2008, in six weeks, I put on about 28 lbs, and about 70% was lean mass (I did body composition analysis using an electrical impedance scales). The secret was a combination of massive calories (about 4,500 per day – 3 meals and 2 weight gainer shakes every day) and intense heavy lifting (3 times a week for the first 2 weeks, then 4 times per week for the other 4 weeks – Mon,Thu upper body, Tue,Fri lower body, Wed, Sat, Sun rest days). I didn’t know anything about Static Contraction or Power Factor at that stage (when I found out about it, I joined one of your Power Factor experiments!), so it was the traditional approach to weight lifting. Still, it got great results. So I agree with you – you need to really up the calories if you want to make major muscle gains, but you can do it very quickly with the right combination of calories and weights.

  • Excellent. Do you remember how much muscle you gained in those 6 weeks?

  • Billy Crosbie

    I didn’t take any measurements, unfortunately, but as I said about 70% of the 28 lbs gained was lean mass (so over 19 lbs of muscle). I remember after the first 2 weeks I took off my shirt and my wife said “Wow!”. I certainly gained a lot in the chest and arms (the biceps really stood out).

  • Sorry Billy, I missed where you stated 28 @ 70%. That’s a fantastic gain at 45 and I have no trouble believing it because I’ve seen it before. I think more people could do that if they really jacked up their quality calories.

    There’s an unfortunate myth in gyms that people can simultaneously diet off the fat with reduced calories and train hard to pack on muscle at the same time. A catabolic/anabolic blend. I’m not saying it’s humanly impossible, but I think it takes near concentration camp levels of deprivation and overwork to make it happen in some people. I can’t see it being as healthy as just increasing calories in a big way while lifting heavy to gain all the muscle you want, then later dieting off any fat you gained because of overshooting the perfect calorie mark. That makes two difficult things as easy as possible individually.

  • Billy Crosbie

    I agree completely Pete. You either up the calories and weights to bulk up, or you cut the calories (and preferably increase the cardio) to burn the fat. In fact, I’m a qualified nutritional therapist, and in the past 6 months I’ve been doing experiments (on myself, again!) and my wife involving extended fasting, intermittent fasting and a cyclical ketogenic diet to see how much I can reduce body fat. My wife’s son is getting married on 1st June, and at Christmas she came to me and said she wanted to lose weight (she weighed about 260 lbs at the time). I asked her if she would do what I told her, and she said “Yes, I’m in your hands!). She didn’t believe that she could go more than a few hours without food, so I put her on what I call a progressive fasting regime (and I did it with her – she needs lots of support and encouragement). We started on the first week in Jan 2019, had dinner on Sunday evening and then did not eat again until dinner on Monday, a 24 hour fast. During the last couple of hours, she had a mild headache, but other than that no issues. We then did intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet for the next 5 days, skipping breakfast and eating only between 1pm and 7pm each day, low carb, high fat. Sunday was weigh in day, first thing in the morning, and then the rest of Sunday was a cheat day – eat what you want, when you want. The second week we did a 2 day fast, the third week a 3 day fast, and so on up to the 5th week where we did a 5 days fast. She lost about 30lbs in the 5 weeks, and my body fat went down from 14.5% to 10.5%! Once she was over the psychological hump of realising she would not pass out from fasting, she took control herself and is doing regular multi-day fasts on her own to get to her target weight for the wedding. It never ceases to amaze me what the human body can do when you give it the right raw materials and conditions.

  • Yeah, I think fasting is soon going to be widely recognized as a very powerful tool available to everyone. Last couple of months I’ve been fasting 16+ hours per day. I’ve gone up to 40 hours without discomfort. It really does help melt the fat off.

    That’s always been my battle. I can walk past a rack of dumbbells and gain two pounds of muscle but I’m a chronic overeater that can add bodyfat very quickly.

  • Bryan Evans

    I’m also into fasting in a big way. I’ve done a 10 day water fast and a 20 day water fast without much trouble. In fact I found it very easy. My thoughts on the subject is if someone is carrying excess fat. Then that fat can be used as fuel to increase muscle mass providing you stay in ketosis. Most of us carry a surplus amount of calaries in the form of fat. Fat is food. If the body is intellegent enough to store that excess calaries as fat when we over indulge. Then surely the body is intellegent enough to use that stored fat as fuel to add muscle mass. Providing you stay in ketosis and use your fat stores as fuel.

  • So how many calories do you need to gain muscle? Say 5 lbs of lean – how many calories per day?

  • Alec

    Hi Pete,

    Dont have an answer to this one yet, though I know a lot of people who grow a decent amount of muscle without a huge excess. Though lets be honest, easiest and tried and tested way is just a calorie surplus. Movie stars seem to go around the 3500-5000 mark depending on their size, and they obviously bulk up in a short time. All I know is you probably have to be careful depending on the size and previous calorie intake.
    I am 5 ft 8. When I was 22 I weighed around 65kgs, very light, some muscle, quite lean. I did a lot of circuit training and bodyweight. Probably averaged around 2200-500 a day. I started lifting to bulk up and instantly upped calories to 3000 without any adaption time, and all that happened was a massive bloating and excess fat. I think if I had been smart and increased a little more slowly (in line with increased exertion from progressive weights) I could have saved the large fat gain and digestive issues.
    Anyway for me at my height I would say 3000 is probably a good number to aim for. 4000 seems more the range for an average height 5 ft 10 +.

    Now for the reason I was initially going to comment: in the mass gain study, surely you saw people losing large amounts of fat and building good muscle simultaneously? Thats what the results showed, and as you said people werent told to eat any specific way (so unlikely they jacked up calories massively). Just a thought.

    In reply to the comments on fasting/ketosis, I definitely agree that it is a brilliant way to lose fat fast. Though other methods also work, such as the simple calorie deficit. Its good as it means people have many options to fit there lifestyle choices. Personally I dont mind fasting, and if I wanted to lose a large amount of fat quickly it seems like the best option. But I have recently lost a good amount of fat with a small calorie deficit and eating whatever foods I want (with good amounts of protein).

    Great story about the wedding Billy, clearly fasting and ketosis are great for quick fat loss!

  • Craig

    Throughout my 30 years of training,I have never consumed more than 3000 calories a day or ever had a need to workout my protein consumption or consume protein supplements. Taking extra protein above decent food to build muscle is ridiculous.( Like taking calcium tablets to repair a broken bone. Its bs). I’m amazed when I read how that some guys consume 200 grams of protein a day. That works out to 1400 grams per week or about 6Kg a month!! Doubt anyone can gain 6kg of muscle per month, or even quarter of that. My experience is eating a balance of carbs,fats and proteins without gaining a huge amount of unwanted bulk

  • Thanks Craig. When you eat 3,000 cal/day how much muscle do you gain in a month?

  • Alec Pendred

    Pete, any thoughts on my comment on the mass gain study ie size gains and fat loss simultaneously? I think this is an interesting factor in the study. Even if those being studied ate extra calories, this still means they lost fat while potentially in a surplus (or they didnt eat ‘enough’ extra and gained muscle while in a deficit).

  • Alec Pendred

    Great comments Craig, I definitely agree that people eat too much protein. Even in ‘mainstream’ fitness people seem to be dropping their protein amounts these days. On kcals as I mentioned, at 5 ft 8 3000 is definitely more than enough for bulking without silly fat gain. Whereas my brother at 6 ft 2 needs around 3000 to keep his size…height seems very important (my brother weighs less than me even at that height btw).

  • Well, you’re looking at averages of several people there. So if one guy only gained 10 lbs of muscle, and another guy only lost 10 lbs of fat, the study would say “Average person gained 5 lbs of muscle and lost 5 lbs of fat.” Which is true in the aggregate even if nobody actual achieved those exact numbers.

    That’s why I’m asking for the experiences of individuals. Just trying to get an idea if substantial extra calories are required for substantial mass gains.

  • Alec Pendred

    Youre right, clearly I dont understand averages! I have been doing power factor 30 second sets for 9 weeks, around 3-4 days between workouts, I have improved every week (who knows if I have improved properly or if I just started a little too low on weight first few weeks). Either way I have been eating around 2600 kcals and have gained some visible size. Will try and get some measurements done to confirm.

  • Billy Crosbie

    I remember reading a comment from a body builder a few years ago (can’t remember who exactly) who said “The difference between the big body builders and the massive body builders is that the massive body builders treat eating as a job”. I think that speaks for itself. Your body needs the raw materials to be able to build muscle, so you need to get the nutrients in (both macro and micro) and then challenge the muscles. The program I followed in 2008, that helped me put on about 28 lbs in 6 weeks, is The Bio-Genetic Muscle Gain Program, by Bryan Kernan and Lee Hayward. I highly recommend this program to anybody who wants to bulk up. They provide a formula to calculate the amount of calories you should consume in order to gain this kind of mass, and it is based on your resting metabolic rate (you can get this from a relatively cheap electrical impedance scales) and your activity level (1.2 for sedentary, 1.4 for moderate activity, 1.6 for very active). So let’s say your resting metabolic rate is 1850 calories, and you are moderately active – your maintenance calories are then 1850 * 1.4 = 2590. You then add 1000 calories to this to give 3590, and you eat (or drink!) that many calories every day. Of course, there is also the exercises and schedules to be followed, but that’s another story.

  • That’s interesting. And once again we’re knocking on 4K calories.

    And if you eat quality food (especially a lot of vegetables) it would be a full time job getting all those calories into every single day.

  • JIM

    I am sorry but i am calling B*S* on this and many posts here. After 40 you eat 4,500 cal’s a day all you are putting on is fat…
    You won’t lose muscle until you get to about sub 8%…try and get there dieting, fasting, cardio etc…VERY difficult
    After 40 years old you should never bulk.

    As a natural you can only put on extra few KG of muscle….you probably have that if you have been lifting properly for 5+ years…So why ruin it and fatten up?

    Go and look at natural body builders. Notice how little they weigh. Cut the fat to sub 8% and you are 70-82kg TOPS!

  • Many post here are BS, Jim? Can you explain that without resorting to calling people ignorant? Or without making sweeping generalizations about how 100% of people are all the same?

  • Frank DeFazio

    I agree that gaining lean mass while losing fat mass is not possible for most people in most situations, at least not on a sustained basis.  My general guidance not knowing anything else about a person other than that s/he wants to gain muscle would be eat around 14 calories per pound of body weight (or better yet, 18 calories per pound of lean mass) and target 20% calories from protein, 60% from carbs, and 20% from fat.  Some adjustments will likely be required based on data, but it’s a pretty good place to start for many.  Shameless plug: I actually wrote a user-friendly book (FiTT Basics) on the topic available at most booksellers.  Landing page is: eattoimprove dot com or bodyastemple dot net. 

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy Note9, an AT&T 5G Evolution capable smartphone

  • broslav

    After a very long break I have started working out every Saturday at the gym, one exercise per muscle group, same order of the same exercises. Power factor style. I have been obsessed with logging calories and water past few weeks, I prepare most of my meals using 0.1g precision kitchen scale and I started logging everything so I have very precise data. But my goal is not to mass gain at the moment but it is to lose belly fat while maintaining weight and increasing the lean mass and strength as much as I can before summer. I have seen great increase in strength in just 4 workouts while I eat only 1500-3000 kcal per day. I actually try to have 4 low calorie days (Mon-Thu) of 1500kcal and three “high” calorie days (Fri-Sun) of 2000 kcal so I have a weekly deficit, and that has been sustainable so far as I eat whatever I want as long as it fits the goals. I’m 83kg, 182cm, age 31, working at the computer, no other daily activities so my energy expenditure is not high. I’ll start tape measurements weekly so if you want to make some new study, I’m in.

  • Bent Nissen

    I have never had trouble increasing weight, but now I have trouble losing weight again.

  • John

    Having the right kind of Enzymes for breaking down Dietary Protein, is way more important than the Protein itself, or the quantity. I will not post any links. research the subject

  • I guess it’s too soon to ask about your mass gains after 4 workouts and 1500-3000 calories. But please let us know what your calories/lean gain is down the road.

  • Maybe so. (I’m not a nutritional scientist and I don’t know how to quantify enzymes per day.) My question is, how many calories per day do you need to gain substantial muscle mass?

  • John

    I still believe you are asking the wrong question.
    You can have 2 people with identical diets and Training programs, and the one who will create more Muscle Mass, is the one with the most complete profile of Enzymes and Probiotics. The results of your Training programs, will explode if you educate your customers about this simple fact. You don’t have to be a Nutritional Scientist to tell good Enzymes from bad, you only have to perform the meat dissolving test, to understand their potency.
    People who need to eat large amounts of Calories to bulk up, lose their muscle mass in a blink of an eye if they change their eating patterns. People who create Muscle Mass from the least Calories / Protein, hold on to their gains much longer. If you look for Enzymes, make sure they come from a “Natural” Bodybuilding philosophy. You could start here:

  • I don’t think I’m asking the wrong question. Maybe you’re just fixated on enzymes.

    Because I’m sure you’re not saying that with the “right enzymes” a guy can eat 800 calories a day and pack on all the muscle he wants.

    And that brings me back to my question: How many calories per day do you need to gain substantial muscle mass?

  • John

    If you can handle opposing viewpoints, let me make my self clear. In very email you send us, you sign off, with this reminder:
    Use your Brain.
    At the same time, you are asking us a question, which is IDENTICAL in nature to this question:

    ‘Guys, how many times, and how long do you train every week, in order to gain muscle?’

    Do you see the point I am making? You try to teach us the concept of ‘Intelligent Quality’ over ‘Brute Quantity’ in muscle training, and then you turn around and with your calorie question, you imply that muscle mass comes from a mass of calories.

    Since you preach the ‘Use your Brain, Scientific Method’, shouldn’t you put your training philosophy to the test, to see if Enzymes are actually MORE important than the quantity of Calories? Isn’t this a critical aspect of your Training Technology? Shouldn’t it be?

    How successful has the ‘Quantity and Frequency’ of exercise proven to be in building muscle mass consistently, in your research over the years?

    I am just using my Brain on this question, and thinking out loud.

  • I see your point about a broad question like “how many calories.” I wasn’t implying it’s the ONLY factor in muscle gain.

    I rarely discuss anything to do with nutrition because this is what I run into so often.

    Ask about calories and somebody wants to make it ALL about protein, or ALL about fats, or ALL about how many meals per day, or ALL about enzymes. Then everybody’s an irrational bonehead for not having his/her same singular focus.

    I get that you focus on getting your enzymes “right” – so when you do that, how much do you eat in order to sustain significant muscle gain? And how much muscle did you gain doing that?

    That would be a helpful answer. Thanks.

  • John

    I am sorry I can’t offer you more specific information. When I asked you to help me with a Training Program, you dropped me like a Hot Potato and run away. I told you I had a serious Health Challenge, which has been scientifically proven to benefit from intense exercise, and I asked you for help and guidance, and you simply blackholed me without even the common courtesy of an explanation, or a polite response. I had bought a Static Contraction Machine, and a unique Aerobic Range of Motion Gym, and I wanted to combine SCT Training to increase Muscle strength, and then use that strength in a HIIT Aerobic – Cardiovascular program, which would apply SCT training principles, but you pulled the plug on me. My effort could have helped millions of people. Maybe your noble ‘Free Society’ philosophy, does not include people with health challenges.

  • I don’t even know you. We’ve certainly never met. And if you have a medical condition you need the services of a physician, not me. I’ve never contracted to assist you.

    Please get some professional help.

  • Ralph

    I’m certainly not an expert on diet or nutrition, but I still would like to tell my experience with muscle gain/fat loss. When starting out with power factor or static contraction training (for me, decades ago), gaining muscular weight was very easy. I was simply on the “See Food” diet and I ate when I was hungry, I didn’t over eat consciously, and I gained about 30 lbs over the course of 4 months or so. I did not use fancy supplements or eat super clean foods, I just ate when I was hungry. I believe the body will tell you when you need those “extra” calories in order to build the muscle triggered by PFT / SCT training. As far as enzymes go, I believe an 18 year old kid drinking a gallon of whole milk will have better healthier enzymes than a 21 year old kid drinking beer and whiskey during a weekend. Alcohol kills the enzymes in your gut, avoid drinking alcohol during your muscle gain / fat loss adventures. Its literally poison to your body.

    As far as fat loss is concerned, I find it amazing just how little food my body really needs before I start losing weight! Obviously, during my fat loss adventures, I’m still training using PFT principals. I believe the biological process of building new muscle uses stored body fat as a biological fuel, in other words, Yes you can build muscle while simultaneously losing fat (The MASS GAIN STUDIES confirm this). As you get stronger, this becomes a problem when your PFT workouts are spaced 6 weeks apart or more. You have to find a form of exercise the simulates a PFT workout without wreaking your recovery. Right now, I believe it is using stationary bike sprints. The bike sprints keep my metabolism high, and encourages my body to preserve muscle mass while using body fat as a biological fuel, all this while on a calorie restricted diet. Did I mention how little food my body needs! THX

  • JIM

    Because there is no way we have the hormone levels to burn off 3,000+ calories day. I am a lean 78kg…I do your SC training. Do some cardio. I eat less than 1,800 cal’s a day and i maintain. If i eateven 2,500 cal’s consistently I am putting fat on.
    You know who east 3,000, heck even 5,000+ cal’s day and does not get fat?
    1) Full time attaletes that burn of 2,000+ cal’s a day.
    2) PED takers.

    You see all those overweight/obese people I guarantee they are eating a minimum of 2,500 cal’s day.

    3,500 cal’s = 1lb

    The proof is the pudding though.

  • JIM

    Movie stars seem to go around the 3500-5000 mark depending on their size, and they obviously bulk up in a short time. All I know is you probably have to be careful depending on the size and previous calorie intake.”

    Who like? The Rock? Superman actor? Thor actor, Stallone, etc? The ones taking PED’s for their role. How else can they go beyond the natural limits so fast…Put muscle on at 60+ years of age But it’s all in the measurements. etc.and then often back down just as quickly. Please do not tell me it’s all about hard training. We are adults right that do not believe in the Tooth Fairy?

    This is where it all goes wrong. Kids (and many adults) see a movie star come in lean to the bone, 30lb of muscle …. They cannot own upto PED’s. But it goes on. They tell tjheir fans “It’s al ldown to eating healthy and working out 6 hours a day…blah,blah…” AS pete himself says….the key is work very hard but very little.” 6 hours a day….you do not build 6X more muscle. Naturally we can only put so much muscle on then that is it. Why else do they take PED’s?

    So much lying going on in the fitness world. It’s amazing there are so many gullible people around that believe what they are told.

    Anyone not on PED’s. EAT 4,000 cal’s day for a month….show us before and after pic’s Guarantee you have a lot more fat.

  • JIM

    Billy Crosbie
    I remember reading a comment from a body builder a few years ago (can’t remember who exactly) who said “The difference between the big body builders and the massive body builders is that the massive body builders treat eating as a job”. I think that speaks for itself. Your body needs the raw materials to be able to build muscle, so you need to get the nutrients

    You leave out one huge point. Without a huge dose of PED’s they will not build that muscle nor convert that nutrient into muscle but fat. The difference is mostly hormonal.

  • JIM

    40% Hormones, 40% diet, 20% workout

    Bursts the bubble of many. As we get older we think (well some naive people do…) if we exercise more it can make up for the hormone loss. Sadly, it cannot to a large degree. But it can help along with a good diet. But you’ll never have the physque of a 20 year old again.
    Why are young people so naturally fit as long as they don’t mess it up with a really bad diet? Hormone levels are optimal. Ever seen a 60+ year old guy on Hormone replacement therapy? And the common factor is? Hormone levels. HUGE factor.

    A natural BB cannot even compare to a PED taker. No matter how hard they work….To not even be aware of that is very naive

  • admin

    Jim, my limited experience visiting Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA in the early 90’s would provide anecdotal support for what you’re saying about movie stars and their fantastic training results. There always seemed to be be people in the gym who would say, “See that guy over there? He supplied [insert A-List Actor] with the drugs he took for [insert blockbuster movie.] He’s my dealer too.”

    And obviously, an actor is not going to do a publicity tour mentioning the felonies he committed to ‘get in shape.’ Hence the furtherance of BS mythology about how training and eating in just the right way will give anybody at any age a magazine cover physique in a few months.

  • Nate_tureboy

    I’ve always been a tall and lean dude. I’ve been strength training for 6 or so years now and am 39yrs young. Most of my training has been experimenting with different protocols and experimentation. A few yrs ago I found calisthenics and have pretty much not touched a “weight” since. However, lately, after reading MM’s books and now the kindle SCT book (awaiting SCT paperback in the mail!), I am beginning to employ max contraction and heavy duty principles and it feels SO good!
    I’ve always had a fear of getting fat. I think it would take quite a bit of neglect on my part to become fat though. However, I “feel” deep down that years of being underfed have really just kept me lean and toned while not really getting bigger at all! I have experienced strength gains but not much muscle size increase. I eat extremely well and only intake pure protein and pure creatine as supplements. I do not think however that I consume enough calories/carbohydrate to fuel muscle size growth. We do not need excess calories to grow stronger but I’m leaning towards believing we do in order to “bulk up.”. I’ve never counted calories macros micros but have a great understanding of what I am consuming. I think an often overlooked issue is that many people have food sensitivities and or allergies that they’re often completely unaware of. Eating these foods is detrimental to our entire system! For me I’m finding difficulty in consuming carbohydrates that my body does not digest! Realizing I need the carbs to fuel the anaerobic exercising. But, maybe we don’t need so much carb without the extended time under tension. I too am not a professional but I’ve not come across that info in any of my dedicated research!
    Thanks Pete

  • Alexander Breeding

    Pete – I’d like to sign up for the Mass Gain workout tracking services. I’ve modified the exercise selection a little bit due to individual preferences and equipment. Are you still able to assist me?1

  • Sorry I didn’t see this earlier. Yes, you can substitute any exercise you need to as long as the total is six heavy exercises.

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