How Do I Calculate Calories For Muscle Gain? Includes A Handy Calculator

By Steve Hall

April 13, 2021

*We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links. Please see our Disclaimer to learn more.

If you're looking for a calorie calculator for muscle gain check out our guide on how to calculate the right amount of calories for your specific situation.

 - Jump straight to the calorie calculator -

Getting the right amount of calories is always a topic that is brought up in and out of the weight room. Topics like should you count them or even how many should you get pop up all the time. In other articles we give brief introductions on nutrition. Covered some general topics and clued you into what you should be keeping an eye on. In this article we're going to get into the thick of things and begin to discuss what a calorie is, how to calculate them and how many you need.

Each day we go through numerous tasks. Some are mundane while some are very physical and demanding. In order to complete those tasks we need energy. Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the beverages we consume. These energy units are more commonly known as calories.

Calories Are Your Fuel

Calories act as gasoline if you will. If you wanted to go on a road trip you would need to fill up your car with gas. In a way they act in the same manner. When you workout your body is going on a road trip. Therefore before you head to the gym you need to supply yourself with the right amount of energy to get the job done. At the end of your lifting session your tank is going to be empty. You have expended calories and used up your nutrients.

calories are fuel

One of my favourite post-workout meals is a smoothie packed full of protein. The nutrients help to replenish the body and provide energy to build strong muscles. Like your car, your body's gas tank needs to be refilled. Consuming more calories in this case refills your body with what it is missing. But not just any type of calories, you need good nurturing calories.

To go a little bit more in depth we also need to understand that when reading a food label the calories listed on the label are representing the amount of energy needed to digest that item. Along with being a beneficial energy source too many calories can become detrimental.

As with most things, moderation is key. Calories come in two forms good and bad. If we have too much of either our body will store the excess and we will put on fat. Although powerlifters are not usually as concerned with physical image as bodybuilders, and weightlifters, most people want to look good as well as be physically strong. Assuming that's you, you need a good balance.

How Many Calories You Need Depends On Your Goal

calorie calculator

Based on the latter we have gathered that calories are something to keep an eye on. Consuming the right amount is very essential and based on the route of our individual sport or fitness goals. They are a very important factor in determining the end result. Calculating the amount you need is typically referred to as caloric intake.

Knowing what your caloric intake is helps you to gauge whether you want to maintain your weight, build muscle, gain strength, or burn fat. Having too many calories is the cause of obesity and weight problems here in America and in many other countries. People tend to put on weight by eating without any regard.

It's quicker and more convenient to stop at a fast food restaurant and order dinner than it is to go home and cook. We've all experienced that. And sometimes in some cases it can become the only option available at that moment. However more and more people tend to eat out whether it be fast food or not and they are not keeping an eye on the amount of food they are taking in. These quick and easy meals however, are loaded with a ton of (generally empty ie 'Bad' calories).

In weightlifting and fitness related sports we need to take in the proper amount of calories to fuel us for our workouts and create the necessary change we are looking for in our bodies. A good example would be a bodybuilder preparing many months for a show. Bodybuilders will go through phases whether it be bulking, losing fat, or cutting.

Each phase has a series of variables that are in place to help the end result. During a bulking phase a bodybuilder will be looking to put on lean mass and growing their muscles. At this point in time the bodybuilder will have decided what an appropriate surplus of calories should be. Meaning they would be consuming more nutrients than those being spent. While the bodybuilder is trying to lose fat they are eating in a deficit and trying to maintain the muscle they created while losing any unwanted body fat.

Closer to a show, the final stage of preparation for the bodybuilder would be to cut. At this point in time they are looking to shred the last few inches, get rid of any excess water weight, and really hone in their figure. This period of time is about 2 weeks out from a competition and sometimes can become drastic in measures. Calories are really manipulated at this point and messed around with in a variety of ways.

Whilst you may not be preparing for a bodybuilding show, my point here is that we need to know that our bodies need a different calories depending on what our fitness goal is at the time, Your goals will determine what you need to factor. This is a personal journey so make it yours.

How To Calculate Your Calories

Now that you have a grasp on what calories are and what all the hoopla is surrounding caloric intake lets go over what we need to factor in order to decide where on the scale we need to go.

Factoring your intake rests on a few things. There are a few methods available for concluding this number. One calorie calculator for muscle gain that I know of personally and feel is an easy approach is the Harris-Benedict principle. Which calculates your basal metabolic rate or BMR.

BMR is the amount of energy your body needs to function. Therefore the total amount of calories. We use about 60% of the energy we consume each day for basic bodily functions such as breathing, digesting, talking, moving about, et-cetera. Factors that influence our BMR are height, weight, age, and sex.

Men and women can calculate their own BMR by using a simple formula.

  • Women: 65 + (4.3 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
  • Men: 66 + (6.3 x weight in lbs) + ( 12.9 x height in inches) - ( 6.8 x age in years)

After you have calculated your basal metabolic rate you now need to factor in your daily activities. We can do this by using the following guides.

  • Sedentary (little or to exercise) :  BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days per week) : BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week) : BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise 6-7 days a week) : BMR x 1.725
  • If you are super, super active (ie very hard exercise and sports and a physical job) : BMR x 1.9

A moderately active person would work out on average 3 to 4 times per week. Those that are exercising intensely on a daily basis could be considered very active. And for those that are performing hard labor or vigorous athletic training you can safely assume you are extra active compared to most. If you fall into any of those latter groups you’ll need a lot more calories than you think.

To make it easy for you try the calculator below. Make sure to use it in advanced mode and just change the f you the 'Physical Activity Level (PAL) setting according to you situation!

calorie calculator for muscle gain

Harris-Benedict Calculator (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)

The Last Bite

As you can see, finding a calorie calculator for muscle gain is important. Getting the right amount of food and having enough energy to accomplish the tasks at hand are essential aspects of reaching your fitness goals. The confusion around how many calories you need to eat each day boils down to a simple mathematical equation and some know how on how to formulate the right approach.

Social box scroll stop element

Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!

More to explore


Getting the right amount of water each day is consistently recommended by health and fitness professionals across the board. Essential for many bodily functions, it is a key [...]

Muscle nutrition is a key factor in determining what your body will look like despite your best efforts in the gym. Without a sound diet building muscle, gaining [...]

Building muscle takes hard work, dedication and consistent effort inside and outside of the gym. It’s important to make sure you’re training when you need to be. You [...]