Gaining muscle is a common goal among many of my clients. And for good reason – having more muscle mass on your frame takes up less space than fat mass. You will naturally appear more lean, toned and fit by having more muscle on your frame. And, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism is and the more calories you burn all the time, which often translates to fat loss later. It’s a win-win if you ask me.
But, when these clients come to me there’s another common theme – they aren’t eating near enough calories, or protein, to even build the muscle they desire.
This post includes a few tips you can follow if you, like my clients, have goals to put more lean muscle on your frame.
eat enough protein so your body has the raw materials to build muscle
If you don’t want to find your personal protein needs, a sweeping, general recommendation for active women is no less than 100 g of protein per day. If you’ve never paid attention to protein consumption or have just started tracking, 100 g is a great daily baseline to meet, but understand that to maximize building muscle, you’ll probably need more.
Eating 0.8-1.2 g of protein per pound of current body weight leads to lean muscle maintenance (and sometimes gain) when combined with effective strength training activity. However, if you’re actively trying to gain muscle, you’ll want to shoot for that 1.0-1.2 g protein per pound body weight range.
Keep in mind that if you have a lot of body fat to lose, aiming for 0.6 g protein per pound of current body weight is a great measure, too. You can also use this free guide to calculate your protein needs if you want to be confident they’re right for you.
EXAMPLE: At 145 lb body weight, 0.8-1.2 g protein per pound is 116-175 grams of protein per day.
eat enough calories to build muscle
It’s tough to build muscle if you’re in a calorie deficit, especially if you’re not new to strength training. This is why eating at maintenance (or more!) is preferred. Eating at maintenance means eating about as much as your body needs.
Eating at maintenance ensures you are well-fueled for and recovered from your tough workouts. Think about it this way – energy is required to have an effective workout, but energy is also required to recover and rebuild afterwards, too. Without adequate energy (calories), your workouts and recovery could take a hit.
While eating at maintenance supports muscle gain, if you are brand new to strength training, you might also see fat loss at the same time. This is termed recomposition.
HOW TO: Average the calories you eat over a 2-4 week period where no changes in body weight are seen. You can also use the DIY Macros Guide to find your maintenance calories.
Eat a surplus of calories to build muscle
Eating in a surplus means eating slightly more calories than your body needs, and it is one of the best ways to support muscle gain. This is because you’re simply providing your body with the extra fuel it needs to build muscle.
Eating in a surplus alone might not make you gain muscle though. You also need to be eating enough protein (see above) and participating in progressive overload strength training. And while eating in a surplus is great for gaining muscle, there is also a chance of gaining some body fat at the same time, but it’s a small price to pay for the most efficient way to put lean muscle on your frame.
HOW TO: Find your maintenance calories and multiply by 1.05-1.10 which represents 5-10% over maintenance calories. If you want to minimize the amount of body fat you gain in a surplus, you can stay at 5-10% above maintenance for the remainder of your surplus phase. However, if you don’t care as much about a little fat gain, you can increase your surplus in increments of 5% every few weeks until you’ve reach a maximum 0f 20% over maintenance calories. Best practice is to spend at least 4-6+ months here for best results.
If you’re ready to create the best environment to build muscle, download my free DIY Macros Guide to set your goal calories and macro targets. And the best part is, the guide has recently been revised and improved to be easier to understand and calculate! This post also has some great habits you can adopt if you want to maximize lean muscle gains and improve your body composition.