How to eat for optimal muscle growth

There are many factors outside of the gym that play a role when it comes to optimal muscle growth. Factors such as sleep, stress, and activity level play a role, sure. However, the most important of them all might be nutrition.

Let’s have a look at how to eat for optimal muscle growth. We’ll look at how much you need to eat, what you need to eat, and how often before we finish off with an example.

How much to eat for optimal muscle growth?

To give the body the optimal conditions to build muscle mass, we have to be in a small calorie surplus. Being in a surplus will ensure that the body has the needed energy to repair and rebuild the muscles after you break them down with your weight training routine.

It’s a common mistake to believe that the higher the surplus, the faster we can gain muscle mass. However, it isn’t that simple. Instead of just building muscle mass, we gain fat too. This approach won’t bring better results and makes the summer cut more difficult.

The goal is to be in a small surplus that won’t make you gain fat too fast but still gives the energy for optimal muscle growth.

First, you’ll want to calculate your BMR. It can either be done with an online calculator or by using the Harris-Benedict formula.

  • For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
  • For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161

Once you’ve calculated your BMR, you want to account for activity.

  • Little or no exercise: BMR x 1.2=Calories
  • Light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week: BMR x 1.375=Calories
  • Moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week: BMR x 1.55=Calories
  • Hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week: BMR x 1.725=Calories
  • Very hard exercise/sports and a physical job: BMR x 1.9=Calories

Once you’ve calculated how many calories you need, it’s time to add the surplus. Add 300-500 calories to your result above.

The calculations are rarely 100% accurate. If you’re gaining more than 0.5kg a week, you might be eating too many calories. If you’re losing weight, you’re not eating enough.

What should I eat for optimal muscle growth?

How much you eat isn’t all that matters when trying to build muscle what you eat matters too. The easiest way to make sure that you’re eating the right things is by calculating and tracking your macros.

Macronutrients are the three main energy sources, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. All three are crucial for muscle growth and performance. Let’s have a look at how to calculate them.

Before you can calculate your macros, you need to know how many calories you need.


  • 4 calories per gram.
  • 25-30% of total needed calories.
  • Protein=(calories x 0.25-0.3)/4=Protein


  • 9 calories per gram.
  • 25-35% of total needed calories.
  • Fats=(calories x 0.25-0.35)/9=Fats


  • 4 calories per gram.
  • 40-50% of total needed calories.
  • Carbs=(calories x 0.4-0.5)/4=Carbs

The optimal macro ratio might be different from person to person, which is why there are no exact numbers.

How often should I eat for optimal muscle growth?

Now that we know how much and what to eat, we can have a look at the timing. Most will benefit from eating many small meals instead of just a few big. Most have found that consuming around 6 meals a day, with a maximum of 3-4 hours in between, is optimal for staying energized. Make sure that each meal contains all three macronutrients.

Some might struggle with both eating enough and that frequent. The best solution to this is liquid calories. Mix the protein powder, milk/other liquid, fruit or berries, and oats in a blender, and you have an easy meal.


Now that we know how often, what, and when to eat for optimal muscle growth, we can have a look at an example. Our example will look at a guy. He’s 20 years old, weighs 80 kg, and is 180 cm tall. He exercises 4 times and wants to build muscle mass.

First, let’s calculate how many calories he needs.

  • BMR: 10 x 80 + 6.25 x 180– 5 x 20 + 5=1830
  • Calories: 1830 x 1.55=2836.5 calories
  • Calories + surplus: 2836.5 + 300=3136,5 calories

To make the number easier to work with, will round up to 3200 calories.

Now that we know how much he should eat, we can have a look at what to eat.

  • Protein: (3200 x 0.25)/4=200 g of protein
  • Fats: (3200 x 0.3)/9=107 g of fat
  • Carbs: (3200 x 0.45)/4=360 g of carbs.

That means that he should eat 200 g of protein, 107 g of fat, and 360 g of carbs.

The last thing he’ll want to consider is when to eat. There are many ways to do this, depending on when he wakes up, his bedtime, and many other factors. The most important thing is that he eats many small meals without too long breaks between. Every meal should consist of protein, carbs, and fats.

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