How many calories do you need when bulking?
You can go to the gym all you want with the goal of getting more muscular but if you’re not adjusting the amount of food you eat throughout the day it’s going to be an uphill battle. You absolutely need to know how many calories you should consume on a daily basis in order to reach your personal goals. In this article we will discuss everything you need to know to successfully start bulking!
People refer to bulking when an individual makes a commitment to gain weight. Obviously the goal isn’t to gain just any weight, the goal is to gain musclemass while limiting the addition of extra fat. In order to do so people will eat more calories than usual in combination with a well thought-out, structured training-plan that focuses on gaining muscle.
Keep in mind that bulking requires time and dedication and above all, you need to be consistent. So if you want to bulk successfully, you should be consistently eating more calories than you actually need for weeks and even months while still performing a progressive, intensive and structured training. Knowing by how much to increase your calorie intake is important though, you can’t just eat whatever you want and expect good results. Ofcourse you’ll gain weight if you stuff yourself with high-calorie junkfood all day long in addition to the nutrients you need but this will result in you putting on a lot of extra fat aswell. To prevent this from happening, you can’t just start eating whatever you want and in the amounts that you want.. There are guidelines to follow.
Ok, nice but how do I know how many calories my body needs in the first place?
There are a number of formulas out there, but trial and error has shown that the equation below is one of the most accurate and provides good results whether an individual is CUTTING or BULKING.
1) Calculate your calories for maintenance:
Ok, let’s do this.
- Men: BMR* = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age in years)
- Women: BMR* = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age in years)
*Basal Metabolic Rate
Both these equations also require an activity level estimate to provide the maintenance calories needed by an individual to maintain their current weight.
Little to no exercise
BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1-3 days per week)
BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3-5 days/week)
BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6-7 days/week)
BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts)
BMR x 1.9
The above may seem daunting and you are probably thinking of just putting your details into a calorie counter app. I would urge you to rethink. The equation above is more accurate to you and will yield better results. It may be a little more work in terms of mathematics, but it’s worth it; nothing worthwhile is ever easy. The calorie counters often give far too few calories which can leave you exhausted and put your body in danger.
Also, when choosing your activity level, don’t just think about going to the gym but also take into account how active your job is. If you have a desk job which means you’re sitting most of the time and you go to the gym 3 times a week, I would choose light exercise (BMR x 1.375). If you work in sales and you’re walking around most of the day and going to the gym 3 times a week then moderate exercise would be more fitting (BMR x 1.55). See where I’m going with this? Always choose the one that’s most accurate for your situation.
Let’s take an average male and female and work through the formulas.
Age 25, Weight 75 kg, Height 178 cm. He trains at the gym 3-4 days a week and goes for a longish run on the weekend.
BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x 75) + (4.799 x 178) - (5.677 x 25)
BMR = 1805.434 kcal
His activity level is x 1.55
Maintenance Calories = 1805.434 x 1.55 = 2798.423 kcal
Age 22, Weight 52 kg, Height 165 cm. She trains at the gym 3-4 days a week and does a crossfit class once a week.
BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x 52) + (3.098 x 165) - (4.330 x 22)
BMR = 1344.347 kcal
Her activity level is x 1.55
Maintenance Calories = 1344.347 x 1.55 = 2083.738 kcal
So this is how you calculate the amount of calories you need as a man or woman to neither gain nor lose weight with your current age, weight, height and lifestyle/activity level. In other words: This is what your body needs for maintenance.
Now that we know our BMR, we can easily calculate how much more we have to eat in order to reach our goal when we’re starting a ‘bulking’ period.
2) Calculate your calories for BULKING:
In order to successfully ‘bulk’ you need to increase the amount of calories you need for maintenance (BMR) to create a calorie surplus that will ensure you will be gaining weight. To make sure your gains will be mostly from muscle, you will need to monitor how much you eat, what you eat and follow an intense and well planned training-schedule.
At this point, you need to decide if you want a slow bulk over a longer period, or a faster bulk over a shorter period. Either way, I wouldn’t suggest a calorie increase of more than 20% considering the types of food you will be eating. These will make your bulk ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’. For a slower bulk, an increase of 10-15% calories is advisable.
Let’s work through our examples again:
He wants to bulk quickly over 6-8 weeks so he can then cut for his summer holiday in 12 weeks.
His maintenance Calories are 2798.423 kcal
We will increase this by 20% (to do so we multiply by 1.2)
2798.423 x 1.2 = 3358.108 kcal
She wants to bulk more slowly as she doesn’t want to risk adding too much body fat over the next few months.
Her maintenance Calories are 2083.738 kcal
We will increase this by 15% (to do so we multiply by 1.15)
2083.738 x 1.15 = 2396.298 kcal
With this knowledge you will be able to calculate how many calories you need for bulking up. For those that are absolutely new to all this, I do have to add that this is just the first part. You will need to split the total amount of calories in carbs, protein and fat but I will discuss more about this is a future article. During a bulking phase, it is not uncommon that people split their calories in for example 45% carbs, 35% proteins and 20% fat. Variations are possible and every body is different so even after you've calculated everything right, you should still track your progress by weighing yourself weekly and then adjust if and where necessary.