Just like with losing weight, adding extra muscle isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some people may need extra help to optimize their muscle gains.
In general, a 500 calorie surplus isn’t required for hypertrophy to occur because muscle protein synthesis works even in the calorie deficit. However, for people who struggle to gain muscle mass, adding additional calorie intake may be beneficial.
In this article I will explain everything there is to know about adding extra 500 calorie to your diet.
Is A Calorie Surplus Needed To Gain Muscle?
As a whole, calorie surplus isn’t needed to gain muscle. Hypertrophy is triggered by the adequate amount of protein intake and optimal resistance training with progressive overload. However, naturally thin people may require additional calories for optimal muscle gain.
Normally if you want to add extra muscle mass you don’t need to go above your daily calories. You can gain muscle even on the calorie deficit with just enough protein.
It is brutally difficult to stay consistently under a hypocaloric diet and eating 1.6 g – 2.2 g of protein per pound of body weight. Because that’s the most optimum level to maximize muscle protein synthesis (source).
It sound easy when you read about it. But in the reality it means eating 200 to 300 grams of protein per day, while being in the deficit.
Plus, when you’re on calorie deficit, your body:
- Lowers energy expenditure
- Lowers melatonin levels
- Increase cortisol levels
- Lowers testosterone and IGF-1
- Increase hunger and appetite
Plus, another factor that plays a role in hypertrophy is resistance training. This means, to optimize your gains, you need progressive overload.
Which means adding more volume week by week. So when you’re on diet, with low test levels, low energy, and high stress levels, it won’t take too long until you start to crash (source)
To build muscle, you want your intensity to go up, not down.
500 Calorie Surplus
Going 500 calorie surplus can benefit people who struggle to gain muscle. However, adding 500 calories extra doesn’t necessarily add extra muscle per se. It only allows you to train harder, recover faster and reduce cortisol levels.
Here’s the thing.
You can gain the same amount of muscle mass whenever you’re on calorie deficit or calorie surplus.
So the only reason why it is recommended for someone to go over is that extra 500 calories can make a huge difference in the intensity of your workouts that will lead to greater hypertrophy.
- A calorie deficit is great for reducing body fat. But you cannot go all out with your training. You cannot blast PR’s left and right because your body is literally too weak. You can go hard and heavy. But the more volume you add in your workouts, sooner or later it will crash you.
- A calorie surplus delivers the same results as the deficit. But when you eat 500 calories over your maintenance level, you can literally go 120% with your workouts. You can add volume. And you can recover faster. So you can do it again. That’s how your performance goes up. And your muscle mass.
Calorie Surplus To Build Muscle Myth
The myth of getting to calorie surplus to build muscle was popularized in the 80s and 90s where bodybuilders eat 2x their daily intake during the “bulking” phase, and then reduce their calories during the “cutting” phase.
The problem with this approach is that any calorie surplus will end up in stored body fat. And the reason why those bodybuilders weren’t gaining fat is that they’re on the anabolic juice.
In that case, the body is literally burning any extra fat 24-hours. But when you go all-natural, the moment you go into a calorie surplus, your body will store any additional calories (source).
What Happens If You Eat 500 Extra Calories?
As a general rule, when you eat 500 extra calories, your body will move any surplus of calories to be stored as energy in the form of body fat, which leads to weight gain. The rate of weight gain will be dependent on physical activity, lean body mass, and the duration of a calorie surplus.
The law of thermodynamics.
Here’s the thing.
Some people may really struggle to gain weight. It happens all the time.
Just like people struggle to lose weight.
Sometimes genetics may play a role. And people who are really thin, may eat what they want, even beyond they maintenance calories, and still not put any weight.
But in most cases, just like with weight loss:
- People who struggle to gain weight overestimate how much food they really eat
- People who struggle to lose weight, underestimate how much food they really eat.
From my experience, this is the most common reason. It’s not the only reason, but it is most likely that the perception of actual food intake vastly differs from reality.
How Many Calories Should I Eat To Gain Lean Muscle?
As a general rule, you should be eating around 2 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight per day to gain lean muscle and promote muscular strength. The tolerable upper limit is 3.5 g of protein per 1 kg body weight per day for well-adapted and highly trained individuals.
Studies show that the amount of carbohydrates does influence the recovery rate.
Having a carbohydrates drink during the workout helps to shuttle glucose into the muscle and therefore, improves recovery. However, it doesn’t influence muscle protein synthesis (source).
So it is not about the calories. It is about the protein.
How Much Of a Calorie Surplus Is Too Much?
In general, having a 500 to 1000 calorie surplus per day can result in gaining 1 to 1.5 pounds of fat. The amount of weight gain will be influenced by age, gender, lean body weight, and physical activity. Physically active people with more lean mass will gain less weight comparing to sedentary people.
In summary, a 500 calorie surplus in favor of muscle gain isn’t necessary, unless your goal is to gain muscle, despite having extra body fat.
People who can benefit from extra calories are the ones who may have a hard time adding muscle mass or who struggle with performance while being on a calorie deficit.