Lean Bulking: Setting Up Calories

I want to outline some guidelines as to how to setup calories when 'lean bulking'. First, what is 'lean bulking'? Generally, lean bulking means gaining muscle mass while minimizing fat gain. It is a smarter approach to typical bulking, which generally meant just to eat as much as you can (while usually gaining a substantial amount of bodyfat). The problem with this is that when you put on a lot of bodyfat, it means a longer period of cutting the individual would have to go through, along with possible poor insulin sensitivity. Below are some ways to determine how to setup your calorie levels.

How Do I Setup My Maintainance Calories?

There are many ways to approach this, I will go through the more complicated methods and then with finally, what I usually use and see as the simplest.

First off, we need to determine maintainance calories. What are maintainance calories? They are the calorie amount you can eat, and not gain or lose weight. For example, if I eat at maintainance calories and I weigh 180lbs, in a week when I step on the scale, I will not see a gain or loss, I will still weigh 180lbs. Now, how do I setup these maintainance calories? Well, there are a few ways to go about this.

To estimate maintainance calories, you can calculate and add Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), the Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA) and the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF). I really do not want to get into those calculations, as I see them overly complex for most people, if you want to setup your maintainance calories that way, do the calculations.

I like rough estimating maintainance calories from this method:

Females - Multiply bodyweight x 15
Males - Multiply bodyweight x 16


Female 120lbs x 15 = 1800 calories per day
Male 190lbs x 16 = 3040 calories per day

Ok, now that we have maintainance calories setup, lets move on to setting up calories for muscle gain. First off, lets set some ideal expectations of muscle gain for a given time period. It is not realistic to expect 20lbs of lean muscle gain in a month. Generally speaking, a good range to expect to gain a week is about 1-2lbs. If you are gaining more than that, you are most likely gaining body fat.

How Do I Setup My Lean Bulking Calories?

To 'Lean Bulk' you will need a calorie excess. This means calories added to your maintainance calories. Lyle Mcdonald recommends a good starting point of increasing your calories by 20% over maintainance. This number however will vary person to person. Some may find this number to be perfect in terms of gaining 1-2lbs a week, some may find it not enough, some may find it too much. In this case, calories adjustment upwards or downwards can be used. We will use the examples from above:

For Females:

In the example above we used a 120lb female with a maintainance calorie amount of 1800 calories per day. So:

120lb Female - 1800 calories (maintainance calories) x .20 = 360 calories
1800 calories + 360 calories = 2160 calories per day for Lean Bulking

For Males:

In the example above we used a 190lbs male with a maintainance calorie amount of 3040 calories per day. So:

190lbs Male - 3040 calories (maintainance calories) x .20 = 608 calories
3040 + 608 calories = 3648 calories per day for Lean Bulking

So, here we have how to setup your calories for Lean Bulking. Please remember these numbers are rough estimates, and while perfect for some, may need adjustment based on your individual status.