Weight gain tends to be looked at as only fat gain. I have heard women say things like “I have gained 5 lbs. I need to stop eating” or “I am up 3 lbs., what am I doing wrong?” and my response is always “why do you assume it is fat gain? What if I told you it was a 5 lb. muscle gain?”. Most of the time we are all ok with muscle gain, and not fat gain. But why is it we always assume all weight gain is fat or is bad? Let’s look at the facts about weight gain.
When it comes to gaining muscle, there are some things to consider. To gain appropriate muscle without gaining excessive amounts of fat, caloric intake needs to be increased by only 5-10%. To gain a pound of muscle it takes around 2,600 calories. Due to the fact that our bodies do not only gain muscle, fat does and will be gained as well, the ratio will be 75% muscle and 25% fat. This means that to accomplish an actual pound of weight gain you will need closer to 3,500 calories and of that pound only 0.75 lbs. will be muscle and 0.25 of that pound will be fat. If you want to increase that 0.75 number to a whole pound, then know you will also gain more fat (almost half a pound).
How much of a caloric increase is needed to increase muscle? The answer is around 100-300 calories. Now, there are ways to know which side of this approximation you are on. If you are smaller and/or leaner, you may only need 100 calories a day while larger, heavier women and those who do more endurance work would need around 300 extra calories a day.
If this feels confusing, let me use some examples and do some math; If a 125 lb. female with around 20% body fat wanted to gain 1 lb in a month, she would need 3,500 calories that month. This leaves around 875 calories per week, and around 125 calories per day. If she wanted 1.5 lbs. of weight gain she would need a 5,250 calorie monthly surplus breaking that down to 1,312 cals a week and 187 cals a day.
If you do the same math with a larger woman for example someone who is closer to 170 lbs. with 35% body fat, the number comes out closer to 250 cals per day. This is due to larger women burning more overall calories daily.
Taking an average between leaner and larger women makes the 100-300 range appropriate for women. Choosing which number to go with would depend on where the individuals weight is.
The next question is when can the surplus be used? If training days resulted in increased hunger, an athlete can use the extra calories on training days. So let’s use the 120 lb female example from above. If she trained 3 days a week, we can take the 875 calories allowed for the week and divide it by 3 giving us 290 calories. She can add an additional 290 calories on her training days and keeping maintenance calories for her days off. If she trains 5 days a week, then she could add 175 calories on those 5 days. Remember these numbers are for only gaining 1 lb per month and if she wanted a larger weight gain, then the numbers used would be higher. If more muscle gain is the goal, just adding a ton of extra calories to the diet will result in unwanted fat gain. This process needs to be taken slowly if muscle gain is the desired result.
I hope this is helpful for anyone trying to put some size on and wants to know what they need to change in their diet to help with the most muscle gain and least amount of fat gain. Remember that you need to know what your “maintenance” calories are. If you don’t know how much you are eating, it isn’t possible to add the required number of calories to your diet. If you want to begin this process, check my article “Exactly How Much Should I Eat?” and log your food using those calories for at least 3 months. If your weight goes up, your maintenance calories are too high, if you lose weight, your maintenance calories are too low. Figure out what your maintenance calories are, then add calories to that number as you see fit from the information above.