I’ve made changes to the rates I recommend people aim to gain weight at when bulking.
This was sparked when I received a comment from a reader last week on the Calorie and Macro Calculator, asking why the calculations there did not match what I have in my How To Bulk Without Getting Fat guide.
I have spent the week fixing this. At the risk of getting a little geeky today, I’d like to explain what has changed and why.
Before I get into the specifics though, it’s important to remember that this is not an exact science — recommendations given are based on observations of what we have seen people achieve, on average, over the years working with clients.
As a reminder, when bulking, it is important to set a realistic rate of weight gain. If this is too high, an unnecessary amount of fat is gained along with the muscle; if it is too low, the rate of muscle gain will be lower than your potential, and the changes are hard to track.
CHANGES TO My RECOMMENDED RATES OF WEIGHT GAIN
In both the How To Bulk Without Getting Fat article and our Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid book (MSP) you will have seen the following numbers:
- Novice: 1–1.5% of bodyweight
- Intermediate: 0.5–1% of bodyweight
- Advanced: Less than 0.5% of bodyweight
In the book, these represent our recommended rates of body weight gain per month (some of which will be fat). But in the article, I had these listed as estimated rates of muscle growth per month, recommending that people set their bodyweight gain target 75-100% higher.
So, the article suggested more aggressive rates of weight gain than the book and was more optimistic about what people can achieve. And yet, all indications are that these guidelines have served readers well over the years. For this reason, I didn’t change them, but the incongruency bothered me. — Why did they continue to be different yet work so well?
I’ve concluded that when given a choice of novice, intermediate, and advanced categories, most novice category trainees (by our definition) don’t associate themselves as being novices, rather intermediates. Therefore, the guidelines worked for many people by accident.
As the book is nearly 300 pages and targets a more serious trainee on average, I think having three levels of trainee there works just fine. However, I decided to add a category called ‘Beginner’ intended for those who are brand new to training to the article on the site.
I’ve also changed the recommendations for the rate of body weight gain to be 2%, 1.5%, 1%, and 0.5% for the four categories. This uses the upper boundary of the recommendations we have in the MSP books, and by adding the following definitions, I’ve kept things congruent:
Beginner: 2% — New to serious training, first few months.
Novice: 1.5% — Able to progress most training loads in the gym on a week-to-week basis.
Serious intermediate: 1% — Able to progress most training loads in the gym on a month-to-month basis.
Advanced: 0.5% — Progress is evident only when viewed over multiple months or a year.
I’ve skewed things to the upper end of the range for two main reasons:
1) This is going to be better for genetically lucky people.
2) As I often say to coaching clients: when it comes to goal setting, it is imperative that the outcome is measurable if we are to gauge success and correct our course of action if we fall short of our targets. When results are hard to measure, it is tough to stay motivated. Most people reading will not be working with a coach with an experienced eye to help them decide whether they are gaining muscle at an appropriate rate. So, by setting things toward the higher end, this makes the changes more apparent, measurable, and manageable.
ADJUSTMENTS TO THE MATH ON THE WEIGHT GAIN
This is about to get super geeky, but here goes.
The calculations in my article take into account that one pound of muscle requires 2500 kcal to synthesize it (~5500 kcal/ kg), whereas it takes ~3500 kcal to burn or store a pound of fat. (~7700 kcal/ kg). This differs from the MSP book, where we decided to keep the 3500 kcal rule for both fat and muscle. This adds some calories for NEAT also, just a little less and in a different way.
I’ve added this expanded section on where the numbers used when making the calculations and adjustments I have in the guidelines and examples in the article come from:
→ It takes roughly ~2500 kcal to synthesize a pound of muscle. (~5500 kcal/ kg)
A pound of muscle by itself is only 600-800 kcal (protein + glycogen + trace intramuscular adipose tissue). But when you go through the metabolic processes to synthesize 600-800 kcal of muscle protein, those processes themselves consume an extra 1500-2000 kcal. That’s 2100-2800 kcal total. Furthermore, let’s say you’re glycogen super-compensated and well-hydrated. That makes your muscles themselves slightly larger and less dense. — Fewer calories per pound.
→ It takes roughly ~3500 kcal to burn or store a pound of fat. (~7700 kcal/ kg)
Fat takes 3000-3500 kcal to burn or store. But let’s say you have small adipocytes (fat cells) — after being obese and dieting, for example – with more organelles and smaller fat droplets (less fat per unit volume). — Fewer calories per pound.
→ It takes roughly a 100 kcal daily surplus to gain 1 lb per month when bulking. (~220 kcal for 1 kg)
If we assume a 1:1 ratio of fat and muscle gain, 1 lb of tissue gain will require a 3000 kcal surplus (3500/2 +2500/2). If we say there are 30 days in a month, this gives 100 kcal as the daily calorie surplus needed.
→ To achieve a 100 kcal surplus, add 150 kcal. (220 kcal » 330 kcal)
Every time we raise calories, some of that calorie increase will be eaten up by NEAT and not result in a caloric surplus. The NEAT increase will be different from person to person and it is impossible to predict, but I suggest we add 50% to these numbers. I think this is conservative, but it can always be adjusted later.
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE FROM THE ARTICLE:
1) Consider 180 lb intermediate trainee, finished his cut to shreds, recently losing 1.0 lbs per week.
- He is currently in an approximate 500 kcal daily deficit. [(1 lb * 3500 kcal )/7]
- We will target a weight gain of 1% per month, which is 1.8 lbs.
- Therefore, he needs to increase daily caloric intake by 770 kcal per day. (1.8 lbs * 150 kcal + 500 kcal)
- As he’s been dieting, fat intake likely had to be cut down to the lower end of the recommended range to keep carb intake high enough to support the training. Now we can push this back up. Therefore, we’ll skew the first calorie increase a little more toward fat than I usually would, and we’ll make a daily increase of 25g fat, 135g carbs. (25 * 9 kcal + 136.25 * 4 kcal = 770 kcal)
You’ll then wait 5 weeks, tracking scale weight data. [Reason for this in the article.]
2) Five weeks later, here’s the scale weight data since the calorie and macro change:
- 180 » 186.1 lbs
- 186.3 lbs
- 186.5 lbs
- 186.8 lbs
- 186.9 lbs
You can see there is a big bump in weight in the first week for our intermediate trainee because we will have muscle glycogen, gut content, and water in the mix. We’ll ignore this and look at the weeks after.
The change from the end of week 1 to the end of week 5 has been 0.8 lbs. This is also 1 lb short of the monthly target, so he needs to add 150 kcal to his daily calorie intake. He does that by adding ~25 g of carbs, 5 g of fats.
The bulking article is something of a labor of love. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link.
The updated calorie and macro calculator is here.
I hope this was useful and I wish you a very happy, healthy, and jacked 2020! ✨💪