The Big ol’ Muscle Training Primer, Part 5

Welcome back, all! This is the fifth installment in our current series, “The Big ol’ Muscle Training Primer”. (And at this point I think we can all agree it’s destined to become en eBook!) You can find the first four parts: Here 1, Here 2, Here 3, and Here 4.

Today we’re going to talk about eating for muscle gain. We’ll cover calorie intake, macronutrient choices, pre/post-workout eating. Let’s get to it!

Calories in > Calories out

First, when it comes to building muscle you need to get out of the all-too-common “calories are bad” mindset. When you’re trying to lose weight (fat or in general), putting yourself into a caloric deficit is the best way to consistently lose the unwanted pounds. The down side is you won’t be building muscle while you’re in a calorie deficit because your body needs those extra calories to build new muscle tissue.

The secret to getting solid lean muscle is to eat at a maintenance or slight caloric excess so that your body has the basic energy it needs to build new tissues. There are a myriad of ways you can find your calorie needs, but the most accurate one I’ve found to date uses your lean mass and your activity level (plus a little math) to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) as well as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

To find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), do this…

1. You need two measurements…

  • Body Weight (from an accurate scale) in pounds
  • Body Fat (from calipers or another testing method) in percent

2. Subtract your Body Fat Percent from 100, to get your Lean Weight Percent

3. Change your Lean Weight Percent to a decimal, then multiply the new number by your Body Weight to get Lean Weight

4. Multiple your Lean Weight by 9.8, and then add 370

BMR Example:

Jeff finds his Body Weight by using the scale at his gym each morning for one week. He averages 170 lbs, so he uses that. He also asks one of the trainers to test his body fat using calipers on three of those days, and gets an average of 20%.

Next, to get his Lean Weight Percent, Jeff subtracts 20% from 100% to get 80%.

A little math conversion turns 80% into 0.80, and then Jeff multiplies that by 170 lbs to get his Lean Weight of 136 lbs.

Jeff than calculates his BMR by multiplying 136 lbs by 9.8, to get 1,332.8, then finally adding 370 to get his BMR of 1,702.8.

A Note on Body Fat Scales: Some scales are better than others, but they do tend to provide you an okay estimate of your body composition. The best way to take measurements on these devices is under the following circumstances: soon after waking, with 8 ounces of water in your stomach, after using the bathroom, and with as little clothing as possible (yes, naked if you can). Take two measurements each day, five minutes apart, on Monday/Wednesday/Friday of the same week. Use the average measurement as your result.

To find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), do this…

1. Start with your BMR from the last section

2. Use the charts below to find your Multiplier based on how many times you workout per week.

Note that a “workout” in this case is a session of at least 30-60 minutes of moderate or harder exercise. Your heart rate should be up and you should be working at a reasonably difficult level of your personal capacity for 90%+ of the workout time.

3. For the average person, the following chart should give you a sufficient Multiplier…

Multipliers for Average Training Volume
Workouts Description Multiplier
3 Three day even split (e.g. M/W/F) 1.25
4 Four day even split (e.g. M/W/R/F) 1.29
5 Five day even split (e.g. M/T/W/F/S) 1.34
6 One rest day weekly 1.38
7 Daily Workout 1.42

…but if you are a higher level athlete, or someone who is actively training to compete, you may workout more often and thus need a higher TDEE to progress. The following chart is for you…

Multipliers for Competitive Training Volume
Workouts Description Multiplier
8 Doubles 1/week 1.46
9 Doubles 2/week 1.51
10 Doubles 3/week 1.55
11 Doubles 4/week 1.59
12 Doubles 5/week 1.63
13 Doubles 6/week 1.68
14 Double Workouts Daily 1.72

4. Now, just multiply your BMR by your Multiplier and you’ll get your TDEE!

TDEE Example: We know that Jeff has a BMR of 1,702.8. He also gets into the gym for an hour per day, four days per week, so his Multiplier (from the first chart) is 1.29. If we plug these two together –  1,702.8 x 1.29 – we find that Jeff has a TDEE of 2,196.6.

You’ll probably notice that your TDEE is much higher per day than you expected. This is a normal reaction, since we’re almost always told to eat less, but the truth is that many people don’t progress (and they hold onto body fat) because they’re eating too little!

Some major notes on your TDEE and eating habits:

1. Your TDEE is the total calories you should be eating EVERY DAY, regardless of whether or not you’re in the gym that day. The caloric load is averaged out over the whole week and your body will handle it just fine. If you end up with a week where you’re missing workouts, adjust your TDEE accordingly using your BMR and the Multiplier tables. The same goes for if you’re exercising MORE than before; adjust TDEE based on workout frequency and stick with it.

2. DO NOT add or subtract calories based on how many calories you (in theory) burned during any given workout session. For instance, if you jump on an exercise bike for an hour and it says you burned 500 calories, DO NOT eat an extra 500 calories that day! Eat what your TDEE says.


Now that we have your TDEE, it’s time to figure out where those calories are coming from! This is where we find your Daily Macronutrients, which we’ll refer to as your “macros” from here on out.


There are three macronutrients which the human body gets through diet, and those are Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate. These are the compounds within food that provide all the caloric energy, and so when we’re adjusting calorie intake we have to adjust these three things. In addition to the calorie contents, each macro also plays a role in the human body:

Protein provides the basic building blocks that the body needs to create and repair tissues. In our case, we’re mostly thinking in terms of muscles, but many other tissues in your body are built from the same blocks. Each gram of Protein you eat provides 4 calories of energy.

Fats are involved in a lot of stuff, but of note here is transport of certain fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body, long term energy storage, and general “lubrication”. Dietary fats provide 9 calories of energy.

Carbohydrates are primarily responsible for supplying sugars to your body, and the primary usage is for the energy production within cells (including muscle). Every gram of Carbohydrate in your diet yields 4 calories of energy.

Dietary Breakdown

For our purposes here, Protein is the most important Macro, because it’s what the boy needs to take in so that the maximal amount of muscle growth can occur. Now, I say “muscle growth” but don’t let that get you thinking that eating lots of protein is going to make you bulk up like a body builder. Increasing protein intake by itself will just increse your calories, unless you cut down on something else, and provide a better environment for your muscles to grow. Basically, you feed yourself the materials and then training does the work of using those materials.

Our diet is going to focus on the macros in this order: Protein > Carbs > Fats.

  • Protein Goal: 1.0 grams Protein per pound of body weight
  • Carb Goal: 50% of remaining calories after Protein
  • Fat Goal: 100% of remaining calories after Carbs

Here’s an example how to find these numbers, using our friend Jeff from earlier:

  • Jeff weighs 170 lbs, so his Protein goal is 170 grams per day. This accounts for (170 grams x 4 cal/gram) 680 calories
  • With Protein figured out, we have 1,516.6 calories left, and Carbs should make up 50% of those. Since 1 gram of Carbohydrate provides 4 calories, 758.3 calories from Carbs would equate to 189 grams of Carbs each day.
  • That leaves 758.3 calories that should come from dietary Fats. Each gram of Fat provides 9 calories, so that’s (758.3 / 9) 84 grams of healthy Fat each day.

So, based on Jeff, we see that his total 2,196 calories per day should be broken down to 170 grams Protein, 189 grams Carbs, & 84 grams Fats.

Pre-Workout & Post-Workout Nutrition

Prior to a workout, we’re trying to prime our bodies to use what we have in our system to fuel our exercises, allowing us to push our limits and get in the most work in the safest, strongest manner possible. While the majority of your macro intake should be from whole food sources (meats, veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts) a Protein shake with some Carbs can be a good way to prime for exercise and then jump-start recovery afterwards. Here are some general rules for when to have what:

What: About 30-45 minutes before your workout, consume 20-25 grams of Protein along with 40-50 grams of slow digesting Carbs.

Why: Slower digesting Carbs have been shown to sustain energy levels throughout a workout better than faster digesting Carbs, allowing athletes to maintain their efforts for extended periods of time in comparison. The Protein primes the system to have “building blocks” ready at the end of the workout, and as you fatigue during the workout, so that the boy can kickstart recovery ASAP.

What: Within 60 minutes after your workout, consume 30-40 grams of Protein along with 60-75 grams of faster digesting Carbs.

Why: Once your workout is over, you need to jump into recovery and repair mode as soon as you can. Consuming Protein will provide the rest of those building blocks for tissue genesis as your body needs it. The faster digesting Carbs will spike your insulin response, which shunts glucose into the muscles along with the Protein, providing the actual energy for the repairs to take place.

What: Eat 30-40 grams of slow-digesting Protein before bed (cottage cheese, Casein protein shake, etc)

Why: When you sleep you enter into a fasting state for 6-8 hours (depending on how long you sleep), which will continue until you eat upon waking up. Unfortunately for people looking to gain lean mass, this means that your body starts breaking down some muscle fibers (not much, but some) to run your on-board processes as you rest. You can help prevent this by taking in slow digesting Proteins, which provide building block amino acids to your body as you sleep.

And that’s it for today! Next time we’ll go into the fun (and sometimes confusing) world of Supplements!