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Are Excess Calories Really Required To Build Muscle?

Excess Calories are necessary – what an oxymoron!

Think about that statement for a second,

you need more calories than your body needs to build muscle


I said it in response to a comment in a previous post and I’ll say it again, you need SUFFICIENT calories, not EXCESS calories.

Now, it is important to understand that more calories than ‘maintenance level’ are required, but, these cannot be classified as ‘excess’ by any stretch of the imagination.

If they’re required they’re not excess
If they’re beyond required, they’re excess

I have used the terms ‘excess‘ and ‘surplus‘ in the past to describe the ‘extra’ calories beyond what a sedentary version of yourself should consume, but I’ll be revising this as I feel the term is misleading.

In this post I reveal how you should calculate how many calories you need to build muscle. In summary you should:

  • Calculate your Resting Metabolic Rate
  • Calculate Calories Burned from Exercise
  • Calculate Calories Burned from Occupation
  • Add a few hundred calories to support muscle growth

I personally would opt for the lower end of the scale i.e. 300 extra calories per day.
These aren’t ‘excess’ calories though.
Your body’s metabolism and protein synthesizing machinery have been ramped up and will require the extra energy. However, there is a definite limit to how many calories constitute ‘sufficient’ before you get into ‘excess’.

If a guy uses the formula in this post and requires 2400 (maintenance) plus 300 = 2700 calories, this is his/her SUFFICIENT calorie level. Sufficient calories are your TOTAL requirement including ALL calories needed to support muscle growth.

However, if this person starts to listen to the ‘experts’ at the local gym, they’ll probably start eating like a madman – well into the 3000 cal zone – BIG mistake!
In an effort to rush results, the guy gets fat.

So many guys are jumping on the scales every week expecting to see a 2lb or greater increase. They actually get frustrated when they gain less!

If you were to train correctly and gain just 0.5lbs of muscle every week for a 10-week training cycle, you’d gain 5lbs of lean muscle. Do you realize how much of a noticeable difference that makes to your frame? It’s huge! Trust me, people will comment on it – do not rush this.

The ‘eat everything in sight’ brigade are struggling to gain 5 pounds of muscle in a whole year due to ineffective training. They delude themselves with fat increases and start to believe that their training is paying big dividends.

Let me make it clear; if you’re gaining more than 1.5 lbs of total body weight week on week, for more than 1 full THT cycle (10 weeks), you’re probably getting fatter. Note: this does not apply to beginners.

The take-home message: Get smart and build lean muscle only. It looks much better AND makes cutting periods a breeze! I can tell you from experience that cutting from 12% body fat is SO much easier than cutting from 22% body fat!

So, the next time you’re told you need excess calories to build muscle, just ask what the hell they mean by ‘excess’.

NOTE: This may not apply to low-carbers! As I’ve stated before, there are very good reasons to believe that you can’t gain fat on a low-carb diet. Not because ‘excess’ calories magically disappear, but because several metabolic processes are cranked up and waste away these calories without any conscious effort on your part. I go into this in more detail in Total Six Pack Abs, you can also read a little about it in this post.

By the way, if you’re wondering why I have to cut at all since I’m a low-carber, it’s because my weekend carb-ups can be very dirty sometimes – Burger King, McDonald’s, Chinese Food etc. Over a 9 or 10 month period it adds up to a few pounds of fat.

Stay Lean & Stay Motivated!

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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Son of Grok January 5, 2009, 11:19 pm

    That is one of the most novel ways to put it that I have ever heard. Love it Mark! That is very true… who would ever need “excess” calories? Grrrrrrrrrreat post.

    The SoG

  • Mark McManus January 6, 2009, 12:23 am

    Yep, makes perfect sense when you think about it, right? There’s no excess if it’s needed.

  • johnny January 6, 2009, 12:47 am

    So what is a typical cut like for you?
    Do you still carb up?

  • Sharpman January 6, 2009, 3:41 am

    Hey Mark thanks for the great post. I would like to thank you for all your hard work and dedication in providing very detailed posts and for free of charge. One of the best and most useful sites I have come across. Very true about stuffing up on carbs. Thanks and keep up the great work. Cheers.

  • WHO AM I January 6, 2009, 8:48 am

    I agree with what Sharpman writes, you have done a really good job with the whole site so congrats on that. I only started M.A.N.S early December but I believe I’m seeing better results than I have in the past. I spent from November 2007 to December 2008 trying to improve my body and in that time I bulked and cut many times, eating well over 3000 calories at times while bulking, yet I entered Decemeber 2008 pretty much the way I looked in November 2007. Getting fat while bulking with loads of carbs put me off so I would cut and the cycle continued. Now I have to thank you Mark, because I believe with the advice you’ve given I will finally be able to actually add some muscle mass.


  • Mark McManus January 6, 2009, 10:47 am

    @ johnny. Good to hear from you again. No I don’t carb up when cutting, it’s all a out aggresive fat burning at that stage.
    @ sharpman – Thanks!
    @ who am I – that was exactly my story year on year too. Fatter and skinnier, fatter then skinnier. It’s best to end this cycle once and for all and make life easy on yourself.

  • Johnny January 6, 2009, 12:21 pm

    So what about glycogen, flattening out, and workout performance?

    Anyways, I ran this new post. I sent it to t-nation and they liked it but said it needed broader appeal. I would like everyone to read/comment on it.


  • Andrew Mast January 6, 2009, 12:32 pm

    Good stuff. I’m finding that if I eat just a few hundred calories above my resting metabolism, I get much better results where I’m gaining muscle and losing (or maintaining the same) fat. Also, more water intake seems to help my muscles stay thick and better to carry out their flushing and energy transportation. My prior 8 week program was lacking water intake. Now that I’m increasing water to almost a gallon a day, I’m finding it helps with so many aspects of muscle gain and energy. I drink a cup before a meal followed by one after.

  • Yavor Marichkov January 6, 2009, 1:22 pm

    Good call. Probably only very lean folks can get away with bulking without becoming fat.

  • SupplementPricing.com January 6, 2009, 3:10 pm

    Very well put. I think it’s a mistake for people to just assume that they have to eat 3500 calories or something to gain weight. It makes a lot more sense to calculate what you need and then try to stick with that.

  • Mark McManus January 6, 2009, 9:07 pm

    @ Johnny. On a TSPA Cut, the workouts are structured slightly differently to allow ketones alone to do he job. I notice no difference in workout performance despite the glycogen depletion.
    @ Andrew. Water is so important. Hydration impacts upon strength, strength obviously impacts upon workout performance.
    @ Yavor. Depends on the diet too. I keep updating my testimonials section with new emails from people who are not only staying lean but oftentimes building muscle and losing fat at the same time
    @ SP. Exactly, thanks!

  • kenny January 7, 2009, 12:23 pm

    great info mark.cheers

  • Sean Cook January 11, 2009, 1:30 am

    Right on Mark! Eating 5-7 small meals throughout the day keeping within your caloric needs will do the trick. Pre- and post- workout meals are the most important along with getting enough quality protein. It is the % of Protein/Carbs/Fat the each one needs to figure out for their own unique situation. 😉

  • Alex April 23, 2009, 3:04 am

    Hey Mark, i totally agree with you on this, but do you really think that eating 500 or 600 calories extra a day is too much when entering a bulking period (about 1 pound of extra weight per week).