Calorie Surplus Summary
- The study examined the effects of different calorie surpluses (i.e., maintenance, moderate surplus, and high surplus) on strength, muscle mass, and skinfold thickness in resistance-trained individuals.
- The findings showed that muscle size and strength gains were similar among the different groups. The study also found no notable differences in outcomes between the maintenance energy group and the two surplus groups for muscle growth.
- Larger energy surpluses primarily led to increased body fat, while the size of the surplus did not significantly influence muscle gains. The study found faster body mass gain rates primarily increased fat mass accumulation rather than hypertrophy or strength gain.
Muscular hypertrophy, the process of increasing muscle size, is a goal for many athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Achieving hypertrophy requires a combination of resistance training and proper nutrition. One debated aspect of nutrition for muscle growth is the need for a calorie surplus. This article explores the role of calorie surplus in muscle hypertrophy and discusses the pros and cons associated with large calorie surpluses. The evidence suggests that a calorie surplus may support muscle growth but is also associated with increased fat gain. Therefore, carefully considering the pros and cons is essential when determining the optimal calorie surplus for building muscle.
What is Bulking? The Role of Calorie Surplus
Bulking is a phase in a fitness regimen where the primary goal is gaining muscle mass. This often involves consuming more calories than the body needs for maintenance, creating a calorie surplus. In any health food store, you will find “MASS GAINERS,” offering anywhere from 1000 to 5000 calories per serving. These products provide the body with enough energy and nutrients to support muscle growth through a calorie surplus for bulking. Some may remember these weight gainers coming in large containers resembling dog food bags or cement buckets. The idea is to provide the body with enough energy and nutrients to support muscle growth.
The Need for a Calorie Surplus to Gain Muscle
A calorie surplus is generally considered necessary for gaining muscle. (Ozaki et al., 2015) An energy deficit is never anabolic, and gaining muscle in a calorie surplus is always easier. A calorie surplus ensures the body has sufficient energy to fuel the anabolic processes involved in muscle hypertrophy. (Michel et al., 2022) It provides the necessary energy for muscle contraction, protein synthesis, and other cellular processes involved in muscle growth. Understanding the definition of calorie surplus helps in planning the right diet for muscle gain.
People who have never trained before can start a training program and gain muscle in a calorie deficit, especially seen in obese patients who lose body fat while gaining muscle in a calorie deficit. (Donnelly et al., 1993; Longland et al., 2016) Advanced athletes may need fewer calories to gain lean mass without the risk of gaining excess body fat. Overfeeding has been documented to increase lean mass and fat gains, with the response varying among individuals. (Bouchard et al., 1990) The most common recommendation is consuming a 400-500 calorie surplus daily to increase muscle mass.
Calorie Surplus and Protein Synthesis
In order to gain muscle, you need a small calorie surplus or at least maintenance calories. As discussed previously on Evidence Based Muscle, a female study found that a high protein diet with low calories blunted protein synthesis and led to lower gains in muscle mass. Studies suggest a calorie surplus, particularly when combined with resistance exercise, can enhance protein synthesis rates. (Langer et al., 2022) The surplus of calories provides the necessary energy and building blocks for protein synthesis, promoting muscle growth. This makes calorie surplus for building muscle a vital aspect of fitness planning.
Excess Calories and Fat Gain: How Much Calorie Surplus to Gain Muscle?
While a calorie surplus can lead to muscle gain, it can also increase fat and lean mass. When consuming a surplus of calories, the body stores the excess energy as fat (Wang et al., 2005). This can increase overall body fat percentage, negatively impacting aesthetics and health. It is important to note that fat gain is not localized to specific areas but occurs throughout the body.
A large calorie surplus provides abundant energy and nutrients, supporting optimal muscle growth. The surplus of calories ensures the body has ample energy to fuel the anabolic processes involved in muscle hypertrophy (Michel et al., 2022). This can increase muscle fiber size and protein content, resulting in significant muscle hypertrophy. Research has shown that 600 calories per day can lead to additional gains in body fat. (Garthe et al., 2013). This large surplus in calories led to a five-fold greater increase in fat compared to a group with a small calorie surplus.
Another study reported that weight gain significantly predicted lean mass gains during a concurrent overfeeding and resistance-training protocol. Ultimately, larger surpluses are likely to cause excess increases in body fat, but the degree to which relatively larger or smaller surpluses impact gains in muscle mass varies between individuals. (Smith et al., 2021)
The balance between lean mass and fat mass gains can be influenced by the size of the calorie surplus, the quality of the training program, and individual factors such as genetics and training experience.
Do You Need a Calorie Surplus to Gain Muscle?
Whether a calorie surplus is essential for muscle gain is complex. Some studies suggest that excess protein will not contribute to excess fat gain. (Antonio et al., 2015; Antonio et al., 2014) An earlier study in experienced lifters who were in caloric maintenance was able to gain muscle with higher protein intakes. (Kerksick et al., 2006) A meta-analysis found that an energy deficit of 500 calories resulted in blunted increases in lean muscle mass, suggesting that being in a caloric surplus is advantageous. (Murphy & Koehler, 2021) However, the degree to which relatively larger or smaller surpluses impact gains in muscle mass varies between individuals. However, the question of how much calorie surplus to gain muscle without unnecessary fat gain remains crucial.
New Study Suggests that Large Calorie Surplus Do Not Result in Greater Muscle Gains
A new study investigated the effects of different energy surpluses on strength, muscle mass, and skinfold thickness in resistance-trained individuals. The study aimed to determine the optimal energy surplus that maximizes muscle gain while minimizing fat gain. The participants were divided into three groups:
A high energy surplus group (HIGH). The high surplus calories in the study were designed to increase body weight by 1.4-1.6% every two weeks. The high surplus calories in the study were estimated to be around 15% above maintenance energy intake. Participants in the large energy surplus group consumed an average of 3585 ± 601 kcal daily. This was approximately 600 kcal greater than the comparative group.
A moderate energy surplus group (MOD). The moderate surplus calories in the study were estimated to increase body weight by 0.4-0.6% every two weeks. The moderate calorie surplus group participants consumed approximately 5% more calories than the maintenance group.
A maintenance energy group (MAIN). The maintenance energy group consumed an energy intake target predicted to keep their initial weight stable, within ± 1%, as defined during the maintenance phase.
All participants were instructed to consume a minimum of 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, 20% of energy from fat, and 40% from carbohydrate sources. Additionally, all participants were instructed to consume their food during three to five meals spread relatively evenly throughout the day while ingesting at least 20 grams of protein within two hours of finishing their training sessions.
The resistance exercise protocol consisted of a thrice-weekly, full-body, hypertrophy-oriented supervised training program for 8 weeks. Participants performed exercises such as back squats, bench presses, lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows, dumbbell shoulder presses, barbell curls, and dumbbell hammer curls. Subjects trained to complete failure each set.
The results showed that all three groups (HIGH, MOD, and MAIN) experienced increased squat and bench press 1-RM strength. Most people would assume increased bodyweight would result in greater gain in strength. However, the results did not reveal any evidence of a relationship between strength gains and increases in body mass. This suggests that the training protocol was sufficient to produce maximal strength gains, but an energy surplus did not augment these gains. Therefore, the size of the energy surplus did not significantly impact strength gains in this study.
Lean Mass Results
The results showed no significant differences in muscle thickness or growth among the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, rectus femoris, and triceps groups. However, there was weak evidence that moderate surplus had a slightly greater increase in biceps growth than the other groups. Overall, the findings suggest that the size of the energy surplus did not significantly impact muscle thickness in the studied population.
The findings showed that participants in the MOD and HIGH groups who consumed larger energy surpluses experienced increased body fat. These results suggest that a larger energy surplus is likely to cause excess gains in body fat. In summary, the study found that consuming a larger energy surplus increased body fat, while the impact on muscle mass gains varied. (Eric R Helms & Dustin J Oranchuk, 2023)
Practical Applications of the Study
Optimizing Muscle Gain: The study provides insights into the relationship between energy surplus and muscle gain in resistance-trained individuals. It suggests that a larger energy surplus primarily increases subcutaneous fat rather than muscle mass. This information can help individuals tailor their nutrition and training strategies to optimize muscle gain while minimizing fat gain. Generally, 100-200 calories above maintenance calories can increase muscle mass. This can help individuals tailor their nutrition and training strategies to optimize muscle gain while minimizing fat gain, using a calorie surplus for building muscle.
Individualized Approach: The findings highlight the importance of individual differences in response to energy surplus. The study suggests that the impact of energy surplus on muscle gain varies between individuals. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach may not be effective, and a more individualized approach to nutrition and training should be considered.
Monitoring Body Composition: The study emphasizes monitoring body composition changes during resistance training. By regularly assessing skinfold and muscle thickness, individuals can track their progress and adjust their nutrition and training protocols.
Consideration of Training Protocol: The study suggests that the training protocol plays a significant role in muscle gain. While the energy surplus is important, the quality and appropriateness of the training program can also impact muscle mass gains. Therefore, individuals should carefully design their resistance training program to maximize muscle hypertrophy.
The relationship between calorie surplus and muscle hypertrophy is multifaceted. While a calorie surplus can promote muscle growth, the size of the surplus and the individual’s training program and experience can influence the ratio of muscle to fat gain. Careful consideration of these factors can help individuals optimize their approach to muscle growth without unnecessary fat gain. Understanding the calorie surplus necessary to build muscle and how much calorie surplus to gain muscle can guide fitness enthusiasts in their journey.
Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Orris, S., Scheiner, M., Gonzalez, A., & Peacock, C. A. (2015). A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women – a follow-up investigation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0
Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19
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Donnelly, J. E., Sharp, T., Houmard, J., Carlson, M. G., Hill, J. O., Whatley, J. E., & Israel, R. G. (1993). Muscle hypertrophy with large-scale weight loss and resistance training. Am J Clin Nutr, 58(4), 561-565. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/58.4.561
Eric R Helms, A.-J. S., Colby Sousa, James Krieger, Steve Taylor,, & Dustin J Oranchuk, B. P. D., Casey M Watkins6. (2023). Effect of Small and Large Energy Surpluses on Strength, Muscle, and Skinfold Thickness. Sports Medicine, Preprint. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-3184470/v1
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Kerksick, C., Rasmussen, C., Lancaster, S., Magu, B., Smith, P., Melton, C., Greenwood, M., Almada, A., Earnest, C., & Kreider, R. (2006). The Effects of Protein and Amino Acid Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations During Ten Weeks of Resistance Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 20, 643-653. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-17695.1
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What is a calorie surplus and how does it work?
A calorie surplus is when you consume more calories than your body needs for maintenance and daily activities. This excess energy is stored as fat, leading to weight gain. It is commonly used in the context of muscle building.
Bulking up is a term often associated with bodybuilding and strength training. It refers to a phase where individuals increase their calorie intake to gain muscle mass. This process involves understanding various factors such as extra calories, carbs, metabolism, and more. This article explores the right way to approach the bulking phase, considering aspects like dietary intake, insulin resistance, and avoiding unnecessary fat levels.
Caloric Intake and Macros
Extra Calories: An additional calorie intake is required to build a pound of muscle. This is often referred to as a caloric surplus.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are essential for replenishing glycogen stores, providing energy for weight training.
Macros: Understanding the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs is crucial. A gram of protein per pound of body weight is often considered the sweet spot.
Strength Training and Supplements
Strength Training: Weight training is vital for stimulating muscle growth. The amount of muscle gained depends on factors like the given time period of training and individual metabolism.
Supplements: Many bodybuilders use supplements to enhance their performance and reach their desired amount of muscle.
Lean Bulking vs. Traditional Bulking
Lean Bulking: This approach focuses on minimizing much fat gain while maximizing muscle growth. It emphasizes the right dietary intake without leading to inflammation or cardiovascular disease.
Traditional Bulking may lead to a higher fat level, requiring a subsequent dieting phase to shed the extra fat.
Insulin and Metabolism
Insulin: Insulin plays a role in nutrient ingestion and can affect how the body stores fat and builds muscle.
Metabolism: Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories the body needs to maintain basic functions. Understanding BMR helps in calculating the caloric intake needed for bulking.
Cardiovascular Disease: Excessive bulking without monitoring fat levels can lead to health risks.
Starvation: Conversely, inadequate caloric intake can lead to starvation mode, where the body conserves energy, hindering muscle growth.
Insulin Resistance: Poor dieting practices during bulking may lead to insulin resistance, causing long-term health issues.
Bulking up is more than consuming extra calories and lifting weights. It’s about balancing calorie intake, strength training, and understanding the body’s needs. Whether it’s the first thing on a bodybuilder’s journey or a continuous process, careful planning and consideration of factors like lean bulking, inflammation control, and avoiding insulin resistance are essential.
By following a well-structured plan that considers all these factors, individuals can achieve their desired muscle growth without compromising their overall health.