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How many calories should I eat to build muscle and lose fat?

January 1, 2017
Posted in Nutrition
January 1, 2017 admin

How many calories should I eat to build muscle and lose fat?

Welcome to the most controversial and most debated subject in fitness circles. Recomping, body recomposition, or building muscle and losing fat simultaneously has been the center of debate within fitness circles for the past decade or two! Many claim it’s not doable, while many claim that it’s doable but requires working harder. No matter whose side you are on, we all agree that building muscle and losing fat simultaneously is the pinnacle of weight training. Why would someone spend 6 months losing fat when they can also build muscle during that time, right? And why would someone continue to build muscle and gain fat when he can gain some muscle and lose some fat along the process?

To fully comprehend this article, you should read every previous article because the information builds up on each other. If you already did, you should have learned the following by now:

  • How to calculate your daily caloric requirements.
  • What a caloric surplus and a caloric deficit mean.
  • How to adjust your calories when you are gaining/losing weight too slow/too fast.
  • How to break through weight loss/fat loss plateaus.
  • How to break through weight gain/muscle gain plateaus.
  • Factors needed to build muscle (muscle stimuli and a caloric surplus).

Moving on, let’s first discuss who will gain muscle and lose fat very rapidly and why.

Recomping 101

Pros and anti recomp both agree that newbies will gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. By newbies I mean people who are new to weight lifting and don’t know what a weight room looks like. While this is true, the truth is that anyone can build muscle and lose fat at the same time if they train and eat right. Additionally, there are certain genetically gifted individuals who will have a very easy time recomping as well. But let’s assume you’re an average joe with average genetics.

Why do those individuals have such an easy time recomping?

The answer is that their bodies are primed to put on muscle and lose fat:

  • Weightlifting noobs have never stimulated their muscles. Thus, when they start picking up some weights, their bodies sense a foreign “danger” and tries to adapt quickly. As a result, the body becomes very efficient at many physiological processes that allow them to gain muscle rapidly and utilize their body fat to fuel the muscle gain process. So, they lose fat as well. Newbies also experience incredibly fast muscle gains, but this rate slows down after some time. This is known as noob gains in the bodybuilding realm. 
  • Genetically gifted individuals have excellent hormonal levels, are insulin sensitive (excellent nutrient partitioning), and have super-efficient metabolisms. Results = muscle gain and fat loss.

Note: this is not to suggest that recomping is out of our control. It’s merely just to point out a few quick facts.

Why do anti-recomp people claim it’s impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

We all agree that to gain muscle you need a caloric surplus, right? Meaning you need to eat more than your energy requirements every day since your body cannot build muscle out of thin air.

We also all agree that to lose fat/weight you need a caloric deficit. Meaning that you must eat less than your daily caloric requirements so that your body can use stored body fat as energy.

So, the next logical question would be: since gaining muscle requires a caloric surplus and losing fat requires a caloric deficit, isn’t it impossible to be in both states at the same time?

Yes, you are right. Technically! The 1st law of thermodynamics still applies, and thus we cannot be at a caloric surplus and a caloric deficit at the same time. But, the thing that anti-recomp fans neglect is that the human body is much more complex than a mere physical object that gains and loses energy.

I do not intend to make this a scientific article, but when it comes to this complex subject, a few scientific terms must be mentioned.

The human body gains or builds muscle through a process called protein synthesis.

The human body loses fat through a process called lipolysis.

PAY VERY CLOSE ATTENTION! The human body CANNOT naturally be at both states at OPTIMAL levels at the same time. HOWEVER, it can simultaneously switch between the two under proper conditions!

Still confused? In simple terms, this means that your body is not always building muscle and it’s not always breaking down fat, but it’s always switching between the two every single day! Thus, if you eat and train right, protein synthesis will be maximized during certain times of the day and the same goes for lipolysis.

So, what if you’re an average lifter with average genetics who isn’t a noob anymore? You can still recomp!

How can we, average people, recomp?

Allow me to start off by saying that it’s impossible to give everybody the same program or diet plan to recomp effectively. This is because body recomposition is very individual and requires a customized program that is tailored to the following aspects:

  • Lifestyle.
  • Stress levels.
  • Chronic inflammation levels.
  • Setting up the right caloric surplus/deficit depending on the individual’s goals and starting point.
  • The individual’s hormone levels.
  • Availability. How often can that person train?
  • Medical conditions.
  • Metabolic rate.
  • Age. 
  • Gender.
  • Weight.
  • Macros.
  • Sleep quality/duration.
  • Circadian Rhythm.
  • Nutrient timing.

With that being said, I can still give you some general guidelines on how you can recomp.

First, I strongly advise you to check out this interview of Menno Henselmans whom I personally think is very knowledgeable on this subject.

Second, allow me to tell you what you can manipulate to recomp effectively.

  • You MUST lift weights! When it comes to recomping, this is not an option. You must have an intelligently designed training program with the proper frequency, volume and intensity that allows you to make progress (behind the scope of this series). 
  • You MUST try to increase your strength every single training session. When you gain strength, you gain muscle, period. Thus, try to make progress every single session. Hit the weights hard. 
  • If you are an obese individual, eat a large caloric deficit as if you were trying to lose weight/fat. Your body will happily build muscle fast using the tons of energy you have stored (fat). Thus, you will build a lot of muscle fast and lose fat fast. This is even more true if you are new to weightlifting (noob gains). 
  • If you are an individual who isn’t obese but have some fat to lose, eat at a moderate caloric surplus and train hard. 
  • If you are already lean or have a fast metabolism naturally and just want to gain a bit of muscle and lose a bit of fat, eat at a slight caloric surplus (about 100-200). This will optimize an anabolic environment for muscle gain and you will also lose fat. 
  • Sleep well. The importance of high quality sleep cannot be over emphasized enough! Sleep contributes to energy expenditure, hormonal optimization, tissue repair and many more physiological functions. The importance of sleep will have its own article due to its major effect on body composition and optimal health. 
  • Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of high quality sleep every night. 
  • Teens should aim to get 8-10 hours of high quality sleep. 
  • Eat an adequate amount of protein (we will calculate that in the next chapter). 
  • Eat the proper amounts of other macros (carbs and fats). This will also be discussed in the next chapter. 
  • Manage your stress levels. The less stressed you are, the better your body performs overall. 
  • Decrease your inflammation levels. Eat fish to increase your omega 3 and omega 6 intakes. EPA and DHA are both potent at fighting inflammation. 
  • Train in during afternoon/night time. Check out this article by another great blogger, Dr. Andro. 

That’s it! That’s as much information as I can give you to recomp effectively without knowing who you are and all the formerly-mentioned details about your body and life. You may not be able to recomp as optimally as you would if you had your own customized plan, but these guidelines will be more than enough to put you on the right path and have you gain a good amount of muscle, strength and lose a good amount of fat.

What’s next?

This concludes the “calories” chapter. WOO HOO! The next step for those of you who want to recomp effectively will be to learn about macronutrients and how to calculate your ideal intake of each. So, let’s move on to the next chapter by clicking on the article below:

What is protein? And why is it important?

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