If you want to gain muscle, then you need to train hard and get plenty of sleep and rest, but you also need to make sure you’re taking in enough calories. Beyond just eating enough, though, does it matter how you divide up your calories?
In particular, what’s the best ratio of calories for muscle gain?
Let’s look at the factors involved.
The heart of any muscle-building eating program is your protein intake. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle (and for just about every other body tissue) in the form of the the essential amino acids.
That’s why you need to make sure you get enough protein each day, and at each meal.
Opinions vary, but a good rule of thumb that has served strength athletes well for decades is to shoot for about one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. If we consider a typical 150-pound man trying to build muscle, then, he would target about 150 grams of high-quality, complete protein per day.
At 4 calories per gram, that works out to 600 calories of protein per day. If we assume he’s eating around 2000 calories per day, that would be 30% of his calories from protein.
Carbohydrates and Fats
If you’ve been around the iron game for any length of time, you know there is a TON of debate around whether high-fat or high-carbohydrate diets are better for losing fat or gaining muscle. Even science can’t decide, as some studies show that low-fat is superior for fat loss, while others point to low-carbs. Still others say it’s a toss-up.
When you’re trying to build muscle, though, you should consider that carbohydrates in the form of glycogen stored in your muscles are the preferred energy source for muscular contractions. Since you need intense muscular contractions to build muscle, it makes some sense that you would prioritize high-quality, complex carbs in your diet.
But you also need essential fatty acids to stay healthy and aid tissue repair.
So what’s the best ratio for gaining muscle? A good place to start for many lifters is about 45% of calories from carbs and 25% from fats
If you feel stringy and can’t get a pump at that level, you may need to go heavier on the carbs OR bump up your calories. On the other hand, if you feel puffy all the time or start noticing blood sugar fluctuations, then you might need to lean towards dietary fat a bit more.
What’s Best for YOU?
Keep in mind that some people are overly sensitive to carbs or may even have diabetes. Others might struggle with high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease.
In those cases, specialized diets will be the best and only viable option to ensure future health. Regardless of whether you have a known condition or not, you need to talk with your doctor and have a complete physical before you embark on any dietary changes.
For most healthy lifters, though, a focus on quality proteins with a decent balance between complex carbs and essential fatty acids will be the right ticket to support your muscle-growth efforts.