How Many Calories To Gain Weight?

How many calories do I need in order to gain weight?

I’ve grappling with that question for about 25 years. Ever since I got started down this path. I’m a lot like many kids who grew up in the age of Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk. I always wanted size like Lou but I turned out more like Bill Bixby.

Many times over the years I have calculated the number of calories I need. In the old days I got it from books and magazines. In my latest attempt I turned to the internet and started with this article that I found on Bodybuilding.com.

No matter what fitness topic I search, the top four or five results are always Bodybuilding.com.

But I digress.

We start out with an estimate of my basal metabolic rate, which I gather is the calories I would burn if I did absolutely nothing. The result for me at 5’11”, 165 lbs and 47 years old is 1,683. That’s slightly less than the “rule of thumb” number of 11 calories per pound. Bottom line, my bmr is in the range of 1,700 – 1,800 calories per day.

I do more than nothing every day so 1,800 calories will not cut it.

Further research indicates that anywhere from 150% to 200% of bmr is what I need. That brings me to somewhere between 2,550 and 3,600. Quite a range.

What to do, what to do, what to do.

The accountant in me would determine the number of calories that consume each day and adjust from there based on movements in the scale. A logical approach if not for the number of variables that go along with calorie counting.

First, you would need a food scale in order to accurately weigh your food.

Second, calorie information is hard to apply. Are we talking about cooked chicken breast or raw? Does the cooking method have an impact?  Does medium rare differ from well done?

Third, activity levels differ from day to day? After I all, it seems obvious that more calories are burned in a squat workout than a bench press workout.

Then there are other variables such as the amount of sleep you got last night and even the weather.

Calories are tough to figure exactly. The approach is not to use it as a scalpel but as an axe. Ballpark estimates serve us much better. A chicken breast is a chicken breast for our purposes (approx. 250 calories). The practical approach is to gather these estimates and bundle these individual food estimates into a calories per meal estimate. I shoot for the right number per meal. I look not so much at the number of calories consumed today, but the number consumed this week or even this month. Over a long period my estimates should serve me well.

How many calories per meal? Based on the results obtained above I’ll start with 2,600 calories per day. My daily eating consists of a green smoothie first thing in the morning, an afternoon snack and four other primary meals.

I estimate the smoothie to be 200 calories and the snack (usually a can of tuna) is another 100. That leaves 2,300 calories. Make it 2,200 as I take coconut oil in my coffee. That leaves 550 calories four times a day as the goal.

Bulking – July 2015

Gaining weight is easier said than done. Let me rephrase that, gaining muscle is easier said than done. Novice bodybuilders in the home gyms out there know what I am talking about. At 5′ 11” 165 lbs, the idea of bulking is a no brainer. The problem is the fat that goes with it. Although it comes with the territory of a bulking cycle and is well understood in the beginning, the feeling you get when your clothes start to fit tighter around the waist sucks.

How much fat should you expect to gain during a bulking phase? “None” would be a great answer but that would also be unrealistic. Read a few books or articles on the subject and do some research in the popular bodybuilding forums and you will find estimates of the amount of fat you can expect. Those estimates on muscle/fat gain range from 75%/25% to 50%/50%. Taken in isolation, those numbers sound reasonable. However, its important to think those numbers through and consider the consequences

  • you will gain fat as you gain muscle, and
  • the gaining ratio is probably disproportionate to your current body fat %.

So even if your gains are in line with the optimistic end of the estimates, unless you are 25% bodyfat to begin with, your bodyfat % will go up. That’s the part that is hard to wrap your head around when planning to bulk. Adding a quarter of a pound of fat in exchange for three times as much muscle seems like a great trade off. In reality, it probably is.

In my case I started my most recent bulk at 12% body fat. Five lbs later, that number has climbed to 13%. That’s a gain ratio of a little more than one to one. Not great but a reasonable result and one that is in line with the conventional wisdom. Reality – I had to buy some new clothes. The shorts that fit comfortably last year do not fit as well this year.

My approach to this bulking phase started with a plan for a calorie surplus and a goal of gaining muscle. A better approach would be to get more specific about the acceptable range of weight gain on the basis of muscle to fat ratio. Plan for both the best and worst case scenario and place your expectations in a range of possible results.

Here’s a question – is it even possible for me to do better than 1 to 1. In other words, are we genetically programmed to add weight in a specific ratio. Is it my genes that determine how much fat I gain or do

I have some control over it?

The moral – prepare yourself and go in with your eyes open.

Here’s a great article on bulking – http://strengthunbound.com/bulking-complete-guide-for-beginners/

Avocados Can Save Your Diet – July 2015

Avocados can save your diet.

Before I began eating them on a daily basis it was very difficult to stick to a restricted calorie plan for any significant length of time. Avocados help. The ain’t ice cream, but I like the taste, I like the texture and I like what they do for your body.

Bodybuilding Nutrition Now by Skip Lacour is where I first read about avocados in the context of bodybuilding. Most of the meals he recommends are salad and chicken. Not much of a surprise. Not too interesting.  That’s what you would expect on a diet used by a bodybuilder preparing for a contest.  However, what is interesting about the diet is his use of fats. By adding some avocado to his salads he was able to stimulate additional fat loss and break through a plateau.

I leave it to the reader to follow up on the nutritional aspects of avocado. I did some reading and found all sorts of information regarding carotenoids, heart health, monounsaturated fats and insulin. Good luck sorting through it all. To me, it is irrelevant. As an unprocessed food that tastes good it meets my requirements for adding to my meal plans.

The biggest problem I have with avocados is getting them when they are ripe. If you are planning on making a batch of guacamole you may have to buy them a few days in advance. The reason is that they have to be ripe. A firm avocado is not ready to eat. After it passes the squeeze test it will keep for a while in your refrigerator. Ripe avocados at room temperature will not last long.

Try making a batch of this black bean salad and leave it in the fridge for a few days.

Another tip I found – try them frozen. Check out this article and just ignore the part about chocolate pudding and chocolate chip cookies, at least until your cheat day!