As a teenager I had a desire to build muscle but really struggled to build anything significant. I didn’t understand where I was going wrong and had very little concept of how to effectively to go about doing so. Looking back I clearly see why…
Nutrition. That’s what it all came down to.
I had a misconception that as long as I was consuming a good amount of protein I would build muscle. So I bought myself a protein shaker and big bag of protein and began consuming 3 a day. However, at the same time, I was being cautious about how many calories I was consuming daily. I didn’t want to put on any body fat, just grow muscle and that was my problem.
Focus on Calories
So where did I go wrong as a teenager? I focused on the wrong thing. I focused on protein intake rather than my overall calorie intake. It is important to consume an adequate amount of protein to sustain muscular growth. I was not wrong there. The body requires protein in order to repair and grow muscle fibre after exercise. However, I needed to focus more on calories. Simply put, I was not consuming enough calories in order to see any form of gain in muscle mass.
It’s quite common to see individuals focus on either limiting or increasing the amount a specific macronutrient (carb, fat or protein) in order to see changes in body composition. In actuality it’s a lot simpler than that.
More calories* = Muscle Building Less calories = Fat loss ,
(*and resistance-based exercise)
The bottom line is, whilst increasing protein intake is important during the muscle building phase, focusing more on overall calorie intake is essential.
The Calorie Surplus
To effectively build this muscle the body must be placed in what is known as a calorie surplus over a chronic period of time. So what is a calorie surplus and what purpose does it serve?
Quite simply, in a calorie surplus you are consuming more calories per day than your body burns and continuing to do this over a prolonged time period. For example, if your body roughly burns 2500 calories a day, you must consume more than 2500 calories a day to place the body in a calorie surplus.
The body requires this additional energy in order to repair muscle fibres after a strength training session. The muscle fibres strength and size will increase as a result of this recovery process. However, if the body receives an inadequate amount of calories, size gain will not occur to a great extent.
Being within a calorie surplus will increase body fat and this is perfectly normal within the muscle building phase. In fact, if there is very little change in terms of body fat then it’s unlikely that you are effectively within a calorie surplus and as a result you are unlikely to see a big change in terms of muscular growth.
Calculating your Daily Calorie Target
It’s important therefore that you track your calorie intake to ensure that you do consume the adequate amount of calories necessary for muscle building. The first thing to do is to calculate what is called your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. Your BMR is the amount of calories your body will burn at rest.
This handy link uses something called the Harris-Benedict equation to calculate your BMR. Give it a try!
My BMR is estimated at 1792 calories. That means if I consume 1792 calories and rest all day I can expect to no change in terms of my body composition.
However, I do not rest all day and therefore will need to use the below BMR Exercise Multiplier in order to calculate my daily calorie requirements.
Once this has been done you will be left with a figure.
Again using my BMR as an example (1792 calories). Let’s say I exercise 5 – 7 x per week; I’m then going to multiply 1792 by 1.725.
1792 x 1.725 = Approx. 3100 calories per day
This figure indicates how many calories my body requires per day.
To efficiently place my body in a calorie surplus I must exceed this figure. The standard recommendation is to increase your calorie intake by 250 calories more than your body burns daily. Therefore, I would require approximately 3350 calories per day to be in a calorie surplus.
Can I Build Muscle and Lose Fat simultaneously?
This was another problem that I experienced as I wanted to build a decent amount of muscle without increasing my body fat percentage.
As mentioned previously, with the muscle building phase, an increase in body fat will be expected. Therefore, it is important to focus either on muscular growth or fat loss. Trying to do both at the same time is difficult, verging on impossible. The reason for this is down to differing calorie intakes. Both phases require a different number of calories to be consumed – within a muscle building phase we are required to consume a high amount of calories to place the body in a calorie surplus whereas within a fat loss phase it is required to reduce the number of calories to ensure that the body is placed within a calorie deficit.
As mentioned before, being within a calorie surplus is essential, however that is not to discount protein consumption which is also important during the muscle building phase.
The below guide will help you understand how much protein your body requires, depending on your age, training goals and weight.
As you can see, an adult building muscle mass should aim for between 1.5 – 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
I weigh approximately 72 kg and therefore I should be consuming approximately 108 – 122 grams of protein per day (1.5 x 72 = 108 and 1.7 x 72 = 122).
In conclusion, focus on creating primarily on creating this calories surplus, train hard and expect to see changes in muscle mass!