How Many Daily Calories to Build Muscle?

First, congratulations on looking for your daily calorie intake requirements to build muscle – you’re one step ahead of the majority of gym rats out there.

Most people are lazy, and won’t take the short time to work this out, to insure they hit a daily calorie surplus needed to build muscle.

You really want to build muscle and turn heads in the gym? Then you MUST get your numbers sorted or you will forever struggle to gain muscle, this is not a guessing game.

It’s crazy how many guys are busting their ass in the gym every week, but fail to eat the right number of calories and macronutrients to recover and grow muscle. There’s really no point in even training until you have your numbers sorted, and a solid diet plan in place.

The purpose of todays’ post is to help you find the optimum calorie intake to maximize muscle gains, while minimize fat gains.

So, how do you really work out how many calories to consume for maximum muscle gains?

You’ll need three things:

  1. Good Estimate of Lean Body Weight
  2. Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
  3. Daily Calories Burned Through Activity

First, you need to find out your fat free mass (lean body weight). Your lean body weight is the amount of weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat.

Here’s how to work this out.

First, step on the scales and find out your total body weight. In this example, I will use 190lb.

Bodyweight: 190lbs

Next, get a good estimate of your body fat percentage. There are several ways to do this. You could use body fat calipers, or electronic body fat scales, but there is an easier way.

The good news is that you don’t need to be 100% accurate in measuring your body fat percentage. You just need a good estimate to work with. You can use the handy picture below as a guide to help you estimate your body fat percentage.

In this example, we’ll estimate that you’re a 190lb male and your body fat percentage is around 20%.

Now for some calculations:

Step 1: Bodyweight x body fat percentage = BF (190 x 0.20 = 38lbs. of body fat)
Step 2: Bodyweight – body fat = fat-free mass (190 – 38 = 152lbs. fat-free mass)


Bodyweight: 190 lbs.
Body fat Percentage: 20%
Total Body fat: 38lbs
Fat Free Mass: 152 lbs.

Next, we need your BMR.

Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is the number of calories your body burns at rest. These are the calories that your body needs to keep your alive and functioning. Things such as breathing, your heart beating, body temperature, cell turnover, brain, and nerve system, all require a number of calories to function.

Your BMR can account for up to 75% of the daily calories burned, and everyone has a different BMR. There are a number of factors that influence your BMR such as your weight, height, metabolism, age and gender.

Now, to calculate your BMR you can use a calculator and crunch some numbers, but there’s an easier way.

Thankfully, there are a number of helpful online BMR calculators that use a formula, so that you can easily find your BMR by filling in a few fields with your stats.

Use this Online BMR Calculator.

Here’s an example using this calculator on a 30 year old male with a lean body weight of 152lb.

You can see that our 152lbs man has a BMR of 1723. So, he burns around 1723 calories per day at rest.

Now, the BMR does not include extra calories burned throughout the day through exercise and other daily activities. So, next we need to add an Activity Multiplier to the BMR number. This is very easy to do using the popular and fairly accurate Harris-Benedict equation.

Take your BMR and multiply it by your daily activity level with the closest match from the list below.

Harris Benedict Activity Formula

  • Sedentary:
    little or no exercise – BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly Active:
    light exercise or sport 1-3 days per week – BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately Active:
    moderate exercise or sport 3 – 5 days per week – BMR x 1.55
  • Very Active:
    hard exercise or sport 6 – 7 days per week – BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely Active:
    very intense exercise or sports plus physically demanding job – BMR x 1.9

Let’s say the example male I used with a BMR of 1723 calories exercises 3 days per week and is fairly active throughout the day. He would choose the Moderately Active activity level and would multiply it by his BMR.

BMR 1723 x 1.55 (Moderately active) = 2,670

We now know that on average he burns 2,670 calories per day through natural body functions and activity. This is his calorie maintenance level. So, to maintain his current body weight he will consume 2,670 calories per day.

The Daily Calorie Surplus

Now you need to add 300 – 500 calories per day on top of that to build muscle.

If you’re a very skinny ‘hard gainer’ then you must make sure your daily calorie surplus is closer to 400 – 500 every day. This is an ideal surplus of calories, big enough to build muscle yet small enough to avoid excessive gains in unnecessary fat.

Our example male above will take his daily calorie maintenance level of 2,670 calories and consume an additional 400 calories. So, he will now eat 3,070 calories per day to build muscle mass.

Of course, there’s no perfect set-in-stone calorie surplus, some people might do great with 300, while others do better with 500. You might find that you’re gaining too much fat with 500, and you need to cut back a bit.

Bottom line – consume slightly more calories than you burn each day.

There you have it, just take your BMR, multiply it by an activity level and add an extra 300 – 500 calories and you have your ideal daily calorie range for building muscle while minimizing body fat.

Most people struggle to put on muscle because they fail to consume an adequate calorie surplus. You don’t need to be bang on accurate to the calorie here, but taking the time to get a good estimate of your numbers will ensure you’re eating more calories than you burn, creating an environment where muscles can grow at an optimum rate.

Make sure that your calories come from healthy whole foods in a ratio of 50% complex carbs, 30% lean proteins and 20% healthy fats.

NEXT: Calculate Your Macronutrient Ratio to Optimize For Lean Growth

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