Eating To Build Muscle Mass & Lose Fat

There are two components to eating to build muscle mass or lose fat – eat the right amount of calories for your goals and eat certain types of foods.

There are two methods both men and women can use to figure out how much to eat for muscle building and/or fat burning:

1. The portion method
2. Count calories

We're going to take a look at both, but counting calories is the fastest way to build muscle mass and lose fat.

No matter which method you choose, your goal is to eat 5 to 6 meals a day. At each meal have a…

portion of lean protein,

whole grain or starchy carbohydrate,

fibrous carbohydrate (vegetable, with 3 to 4 meals at least), and

a glass of water.

NOTE: You will learn a TON about muscle building and fat loss nutrition (and much more) by reading fitness expert Tom Venuto’s excellent book Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle. Tom even gives you tips on eating for your specific body type. I knew a lot about fitness before reading the book but I still learned new things! Check it out here.

Now, let's take a look at the Portion Method and Counting Calories.

Using The Portion Method

If you’re anything like me, you’ll prefer the portion method. I’ve tried counting calories in the past but was never able to do it for more than a few days before I fall off the wagon.

Whether you're eating to build muscle mass or lose weight, here’s what to do:

Protein: Eat a lean source of protein about the size of the palm of your hand with each meal.

Carbohydrate: Carb portions should be equal to the size of your clenched fist.

Vegetable: The amount can be the same as carbs or even more. Try to eat vegetables with at least 3 to 4 meals.

Again, you’re gonna eat 5 to 6 small meals a day.

Is this method perfect? Uh, nope. But it does work.

To make it work, you have to listen to your body. If you feel too stuffed after eating, you ate too much.

If you're still hungry, you ate too little or you ate some empty calories (such as processed carbs).

It doesn't matter if you're eating to build muscle mass, lose fat or both; you’ll have to watch your results to know what's working. If you’re eating well, training hard and getting 8 hours of sleep and you don’t see the changes you want, ya need to make some adjustments. For example…

If you’re trying to lose fat but you’re having a hard time, you can try eating less carbs and/or eating more protein.

If you’re trying to gain size and it’s not happening, you can try increasing your portion sizes.

Check your results on a weekly basis by measuring, looking in the mirror, and/or feeling the fit of your clothes.

Counting Calories

If you want to count your daily calories, choose 1 of the following 3 ways to do it:

1. The easy way: Choose one of the goals below and do a quick calculation.

Lose Fat: 12 - 13 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Maintain: 15 - 16 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Gain Muscle: 18 - 19 calories per lb. of bodyweight

So if you want to build muscle for example:

Your weight x 19 = daily calorie intake.

Pretty easy right? BUT, it is less accurate than the following two formulas.

2. The Harris-Benedict Formula: The Harris Benedict equation uses your height, weight, age, and sex to determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Drawback: If you’re very muscular the Harris Benedict formula will underestimate your calorie needs. If you are very fat, it will overestimate your needs.

Formula for men and women:

First, figure out your basal metabolic rate:

Here are two calculators you can use to complete the formula just below:

Weight in kg
Height in cm

Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 X height in cm) - (6.8 X age in years)

Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 X height in cm) - (4.7 X age in years)

Now that you have your BMR, use the activity multipler that best describes your life:

    Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little to no exercise; desk job)

    A little active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise and/or sports 1-3 days/wk)

    Moderately active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)

    Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise or sports 6-7 days/wk)

    Extremely active = BMR X 1.9 (daily intense exercise/sports + a physical job)

You’ll have your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) after you’ve done the math. In a minute I'll tell you what to do with this number.

3. The Katch-McArdle Formula: The Katch-McArdle equation is the most accurate, but it does require you to measure your body composition/body fat percentage. The steps are the same whether you're a man or woman.

(This will seem long, but it's not complicated trust me...)

Two ways to measure your body fat:
1) You can go to your local gym or ymca and get measured, or
2) You can do it yourself at home.

(You'll need a device to do it at home. See this article.)

After you have your body fat percentage calculated, here are the steps...

Figure out your lean body mass:

    Weight x Body fat percentage (in decimal form) = Body fat in pounds
    Weight - Body fat in pounds = Lean body mass

Convert your lean body mass into kg:

Use this calculator or use division (Lean body mass divided by 2.2)

Figure out your BMR:
370 + (21.6 x lean mass in kg) = BMR

Determine TDEE (total daily energy expenditure):
BMR x Your activity factor (see above) = TDEE

So if you weigh 180 pounds with 15.5% body fat, your calculations would look like this:
    190 x .155 = 29.5 (pounds of body fat)
    190 - 29.5 = 160.5 (lean body mass)
    160.5 / 2.2 = 73 (kg)
    370 + (21.6 x 73) = 1946.80 (BMR)
    1946.80 x 1.55 (activity factor) = 3017.54 (TDEE)

Use Your TDEE To Adjust Your Caloric Intake

To maintain your current weight, eat the number of calories equivalent to your TDEE.

To lose weight and burn fat, either

  • subtract around 500 calories from your TDEE or
  • reduce your calories by 15-20% below TDEE as a start.

I say “as a start” because a bigger drop might be necessary for some. You determine this by paying attention to your results.

Alternatively, you can increase your activity instead of reducing your calories. DO NOT drop your calories more than 1000 below your TDEE.

If you're eating to build muscle mass you need to increase calories above your TDEE.

Add around 300 – 500 calories or increase by 15-20%.

Monitor Your Results!

No matter which method you chose, the numbers you come up with are estimates to give you a starting point. Sorry, that means your work isn’t done.

You’ll have to monitor your results on an ongoing basis. Keep track of your

  • calorie intake,
  • your bodyweight, and
  • your body fat percentage.
Whether you're eating to build muscle mass or lose fat or both, if the results you want aren’t materializing, adjust your caloric intake and/or exercise program.

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