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Howshould I eat to build muscle mass?

Asked by Charles, Atlanta, Georgia

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I've been wondering how many extra calories I should consume to build muscle mass. One program on Fit TV suggested that I should take in between 700 and 1,000 extra calories; another said I should take in only an extra 250 calories. How many extra calories do I need to gain muscle mass?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi, Charles. This is an interesting question to which there is no simple answer. In order to help you better, I consulted with Dr. Steve Fleck, chair of the Sport Science Department at Colorado College and a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Here are a few suggestions.

First of all, building muscle requires a positive energy balance, which means that you have to take in more calories than you burn. So the question of how many extra calories you should eat to gain muscle mass depends on how many calories you are burning each day. There are mathematical formulas that can help you figure this out based on your age, height, sex, weight and activity level. Click here for one of the most commonly used formulas.

Once you know how many calories you burn each day, the answer to how many additional calories you should eat has not really been established and depends to a great extent on how hard you work in the gym. Your body can build at most about a half-pound of muscle each week, so if you eat too many extra calories trying to build more muscle, you will gain fat, too. I would suggest consuming an extra 250 to 500 calories per day. If you gain fat easily, stay on the lower end of the range, and if you find it very difficult to gain weight in general, aim for the higher end of the range. It will take a bit of trial and error to find the right amount of additional calories to build muscle and stay lean.

It is important to take in adequate amounts of lean protein such as chicken, fish, lean red meat, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese or a protein supplement. The average person requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight each day, but if you are trying to gain muscle, you may want to increase the protein in this ratio to closer to 1.2 grams each day. Professional body builders consume up to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight each day, but unless you are spending several hours in the gym on a regular basis, this is too much for the average person trying to gain muscle. In addition, research suggests that consuming lean protein 15 to 20 minutes before, during and within one hour of working out may help improve muscle gain. Since you are probably not going to be eating a steak or chicken breast at the gym, a protein drink or supplement may be beneficial immediately before, during or after workouts, but is not necessary.

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