Muscle Gain Math

So there is a fairly short list of topics that I keep meaning to write about and never seem to get around to (I’m running out of stuff to talk about).  Today is one of those since it addresses a question that gets asked fairly frequently.   And having officially released my Nutrition for Injury Recovery e-book, it’s time to finally get around to it.

That question has to do with what kind of calorie surplus is optimal for muscle gain.  That is, people continuously ask what kind of daily, or weekly, or monthly surplus is required to optimize muscle gain and hopefully avoid excessive fat gain.  And, at long last, having run out of podcasts to post links to for a bit, I want to address that question. Now I have mentioned this at least obliquely in earlier articles, primarily the one on the energy balance equation but I want to look at it more comprehensively here.  Basically to examine the factors that determine the actual calorie numbers that we are looking at for gains in muscle mass.

I want to make it clear that these numbers are not perfect.  Actually pinning down good values for them has been a long-standing problem although there are some decent estimates, based on what limited literature is available, along with some rough estimates and practical experience that can give insight.

I will only say as a preview of what I’m going to talk about in detail that the size of the surplus needed to damn near maximize muscle gain while avoiding excessive fat gain is a lot smaller than most people think.  Almost depressingly so.  Let me first briefly re-examine a slightly different question.

Maximal Rates of Muscle Gain

In a previous article, I examined some different models on maximal muscular gains and at least two of those included at least some estimates on what kinds of gains per year or per month might be realistic.  The primary one I want to focus on is the model that, so far as I can tell, was developed by Alan Aragon although I’ve seen it presented in Eric Helm’s excellent and highly recommended Muscle and Strength Pyramid books.  Basically I’m not sure who created it even if I attributed it to Alan originally.  No matter.  I’ve reproduced the model below.