Trying to Build Muscle? Don't forget about calories!

  • 2 Minutes Read
  • Feb 7, 2012

Trying to Build Muscle? Don't forget about calories! Building muscle requires some additional protein but not as much as you would think. There are three keys to building muscle: 1. Additional calories to support an increase in muscle mass. 2. Additional protein to support an increase in...

Trying to Build Muscle? Don't forget about calories!
Building muscle requires some additional protein but not as much as you would think. There are three keys to building muscle:
1. Additional calories to support an increase in muscle mass.
2. Additional protein to support an increase in muscle mass.
3. Adequate resistance training to stimulate an increase in muscle mass.

I will leave the strategies for effective resistance training to our guest athletic trainers and exercise physiologists - this post will address calories and protein intake.

Protein & Calories

Excess protein beyond the maximum that a body can utilize will not get stored as muscle. Rats! One's body appears to max out in terms of how much protein it can use "anabolically" - that is, how much protein can be incorporated into other protein tissues over the course of a day.

The RDA for protein for adults is only 0.8 grams of protein/kg body weight (or 0.36 grams/lb body weight). Maximal anabolic use ranges between 1.2 - 1.7 grams/kg body weight (0.55 - 0.77 grams/lb) depending upon sport, with power/strength training in the upper end of the range. For instance, a 68 kg (150 lb) person's estimated maximal use of protein is going to be somewhere between 82 - 116 grams per day. If that person consumes 200 grams of protein, then up to 84 grams might get used for purposes other than protein synthesis. Nitrogen gets stripped off the protein building blocks (amino acids), and then those carbon backbones get oxidized for energy or they get shunted into other pathways such as carbohydrate production and fat storage. If you are in a calories deficit to lose weight, then those molecules are likely to be used for energy. If you are in a calories surplus, then they are likely to be stored as fat.

If you eat a lot of protein, then you better have good kidneys! The stripped off nitrogen gets converted to ammonia and then to urea, which is then excreted in the urine.

Spread It Out!

The information in this post come mostly from "Advanced Sports Nutrition, Second Edition" by Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, LD, FACSM. Benardot recommends avoiding "peaks and valleys" of intake throughout the day if maintenance or growth of muscle mass is desired. Consuming calories and protein throughout the day in meals and snacks readies the body for muscle growth when an appropriate stimulus presents itself. Consuming carbs and some protein after training appears to be particularly helpful in maximizing muscle growth. As well, good quality protein is important. Whey seems to be particularly helpful - a natural source is milk.

Vegans need to be especially careful to get enough calories and protein for muscle growth. Please see the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics position paper on Vegetarian Diets. If you click on the PDF link, you will see the entire report, which was written by vegetarian dietitians.

What If I Want to Lose Weight?

A calories deficit will allow you to lose weight but weight loss will always include both body fat and some amount of lean body mass (e.g. muscle). You can minimize loss of muscle during weight loss by continuing to exercise, including regular resistance training, and not going too low in your calories intake. When you don't meet your calories required for basal metabolism, your body accelerates loss of both lean body mass and fat so that your total energy expenditure can drop quickly. You can view your BMR calories in MyNetDiary Details tab on the web, or in My Plan in apps.

Are You Choosing the Right Goal?
If you are a competitive athlete, then consider visiting a sports medicine facility so that your body composition (i.e. percentage of body fat and lean body mass) can be tested accurately. You would benefit from having a weight goal based upon a range of body fat percentage in line with your sport. Contrary to what many athletes assume, sometimes a better goal for performance is not weight loss or gain per se, but a change in body composition. And that may or may not involve a net change in weight.

Exercise->Fueling for Exercise Exercise->Weight resistance Weight Gain->Calories & Protein
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

Start Your Free
Food Diary Today

Sign up Devices