How many calories should I eat to gain lean muscle and lose fat?

Figuring out how many calories to eat to build muscle and lose fat at the same time can be tricky. The key is finding the sweet spot where you are fueling muscle growth through proper nutrition while also creating a calorie deficit to lose fat. With some strategic eating and exercise, it is possible to achieve both goals simultaneously and transform your physique.

What is the best macronutrient ratio for building muscle and losing fat?

Most experts recommend getting:

  • 40-50% of your total daily calories from quality sources of carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • 30-40% from lean protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, lowfat dairy and legumes
  • 15-20% from healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado

This macronutrient ratio provides a good balance of fuel for your workouts while helping regulate appetite and metabolism to promote fat loss.

How many calories should you eat per day?

Determining your optimal calorie intake for simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss depends on a few key factors:

  • Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the calories needed to sustain basic body function
  • Your activity level – calories burned through exercise and daily movement
  • Your body composition goals – desired rate of muscle gain and fat loss

Here are some general calorie intake guidelines based on activity level:

Activity Level Calorie Intake for Muscle Gain & Fat Loss
Sedentary (little to no exercise) BMR x 1.2
Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days/week) BMR x 1.375
Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week) BMR x 1.55
Very Active (intense exercise 6-7 days/week) BMR x 1.725
Extremely Active (very intense exercise, physical job, training 2x/day) BMR x 1.9

For most people looking to build muscle and lose fat, a calorie intake 15-20% above your BMR is a good starting point. Adjust up or down based on your individual needs and response.

How much protein is optimal?

Protein is the key macronutrient for building and maintaining muscle mass. Most experts recommend consuming:

  • 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.1-1.8 grams per kg) for building muscle
  • At least 25-30% of your total daily calories from protein
  • Spread protein intake out over 4-5 meals throughout the day

Consuming adequate protein ensures your body has the amino acids available to support muscle growth and recovery while losing fat.

How do calories need to change over time?

As your body composition changes, you’ll need to adjust your calorie intake accordingly. Here are some tips:

  • Increase calories by 200-300 per day if not gaining muscle as desired
  • Decrease calories by 200-300 if not losing fat as desired
  • Adjust carb/fat ratios to break plateaus – try lowering carbs and upping fats
  • Change up your workouts regularly to keep your body adapting

Monitor your progress every 2-4 weeks and tweak calories and macros as needed to keep making progress towards your goals.

How to structure your meal plan

Here’s a sample meal plan to gain muscle and lose fat structured around the nutrition strategies discussed:

Meal 1 – Pre-workout

  • 3/4 cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1/2 cup mixed berries
  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

Meal 2 – Post-workout

  • 8 oz chicken breast
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup broccoli

Meal 3

  • Tuna salad sandwich on 2 slices whole grain bread
  • Medium apple

Meal 4

  • 6 oz salmon
  • 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
  • 1 small sweet potato

Meal 5

  • 6 egg white 2 whole egg omelette with spinach and feta cheese
  • 1 cup cottage cheese

Meal 6

  • 1 scoop casein protein powder
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup lowfat milk

Additional strategies for optimal muscle gain and fat loss

Here are some other tips to maximize your results on a muscle gain/fat loss program:

  • Lift weights 4-5 days per week focusing on major compound movements
  • Include some HIIT cardio 2-3 days per week for fat burning
  • Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to support recovery
  • Manage stress levels with meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques
  • Drink plenty of water and limit alcohol intake

Supplements that can help

Certain supplements may also support your efforts to build muscle and lose fat when combined with proper nutrition and training:

  • Whey protein – provides protein for muscle repair and growth
  • Creatine – boosts strength and muscle gains
  • Caffeine – increases alertness, focus and fat burning
  • Beta-alanine – reduces fatigue for improved performance
  • BCAAs – stimulates muscle protein synthesis
  • Carnitine – helps transport fat for energy

Sample workout routine

Here is a sample 5 day split workout routine to maximize muscle growth and fat loss:

Day 1: Chest/Triceps

  • Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Chest Flys – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Triceps Pushdowns – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Overhead Tricep Extensions – 3 sets x 10 reps

Day 2: Legs/Abs

  • Barbell Squats – 4 sets x 6 reps
  • Walking Lunges – 3 sets x 12 reps each leg
  • Leg Press – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Leg Curls – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Crunches – 3 sets x 15 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets x 10 reps

Day 3: Back/Biceps

  • Deadlifts – 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Pullups – 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Seated Rows – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Bicep Curls – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Hammer Curls – 3 sets x 12 reps

Day 4: Shoulders/Calves

  • Overhead Press – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets x 12 reps
  • Front Raises – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Shrugs – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets x 15 reps
  • Seated Calf Raises – 3 sets x 12 reps

Day 5: Full Body HIIT

Perform 1 minute of each exercise back-to-back with no rest in between:

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Bodyweight Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Plank

Rest 1 minute and repeat circuit 2-3 times.


Gaining muscle while losing fat requires a strategic approach with your nutrition and training. Consuming an appropriate number of calories with plenty of protein, lifting weights regularly, implementing high-intensity cardio, and tracking your progress over time will help you achieve an athletic, toned physique. Be patient and consistent, and you’ll start to see muscle definition emerge as you shed excess body fat.

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