Calorie Goals For Muscle Gain or Fat Loss

Chicken and Rice

It’s often thought that muscle growth or fat loss boils down to the simplicity of calories in vs calories out. As easy as that might sound, that’s not the end of the discussion. Why, you might ask? Because not all calories are created equal. Depending on the macronutrient source, they can affect the body differently. In other words, different calories affect your body in different ways. We will find out more in this article. Let’s get started!

What Is A Calorie?

A calorie can be defined as the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of a single gram of water by one degree Celsius. (1) However, this would suggest that all calories, no matter what macro they come from, serve one function – to provide energy for the body. As noted, calories from different macros are used differently by the body. 

The Function Of Calories From Each Macronutrient

Let me be clear – don’t fall for the myth that all calories are the same. Yes, it’s a myth because each of the 3 macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) perform vastly different bodily functions.

Protein – 4 Calories per Gram

Calories that come from protein are “building” calories, they are not energy calories. Protein, generally speaking, is only used as an energy source by the body in the absence of carbs and fat. However, amino acid metabolism involves the mitochondria, which is involved in the use of fat for energy. In addition, any amino acids left over from the process of protein synthesis can be oxidized as energy sources. Protein performs a multitude of crucial bodily functions, including muscle growth. Unlike other macro calories, protein calories being converted into body fat is unlikely. (2, 3)

Carbohydrates – 4 Calories per Gram

One thing that is true is that calories from carbohydrates provide energy. But there are different kinds of carbohydrates and each kind absorbs differently. Your body uses carbohydrates for energy, and any excess is stored as body fat. For the average person, the number of carbs stored for energy needs is approximately 300-500 grams, and it is stored as glycogen mainly in the muscles and the liver. It should be noted that this number varies based on how much you weigh, your level of activity, exercise, and diet. 

The Types Of Carbohydrates

There are basically 3 kinds of carbohydrates: simple, complex, and fibrous. Simple carbs are sugary, they are fast absorbing, and are the most likely to be stored as body fat. Complex carbs are absorbed more slowly. They are less likely to be converted into body fat. This only changes if you consistently eat more carbs than your body needs for energy. 

Fibrous carbs are not digested, rather they pass through your digestive tract. So that means fiber grams should be subtracted from your total carbohydrate consumption. There are basically two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, both types offer health benefits. For example, fiber helps control your levels of blood sugar and helps you feel full longer. (4, 5, 6)

Fat – 9 Calories per Gram

At various times in history, fat, like carbohydrates, has gotten the blame for causing unwanted body fat gain. Even so, the body needs a certain degree of fat to function normally. One example of the use of fat by the body is the manufacture of hormones. In addition, the brain is roughly 60% fat. Finally, fat is required for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins. (6, 7)

The Caloric Approach For Fat Loss

The calorie-in/calorie-out method suggests simply cutting 3500 calories, any calories. BTW, 3500 is the amount of calories in 1 pound of fat. While it’s true that you need a caloric deficit to lose fat or a caloric surplus to gain mass, there’s more to it. For fat loss, focus on cutting carbohydrates. If excess carbs are being converted to body fat, that’s the obvious place to start, and you should specifically cut sugary carbs. Increase your cardio and you will gradually lose body fat. Never mind the “lose 30 lbs overnight” mindset. Think gradual fat loss. 

Notice I said “fat loss”. It’s a mistake to think in terms of “weight loss”. That means you’re losing muscle, bone density, and fat. If you’re really serious about looking your best, focus on losing fat. 

So What’s My Caloric Approach?

The best way to begin a fat loss program is to cut 500 calories per day of sugary carbs. If you need to cut to reach 500, cut unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fat). If you still have sugary carbs left over, that’s OK for the moment. Follow this caloric approach for 2 weeks. If you have not lost any fat, cut another 250 calories per day. Always cut sugary carbs first, then unhealthy fats, then complex carbs. Never cut protein. Keep following this approach, eat healthy meals, and do more cardio. Do this until you are losing 1-2 lbs of fat per week, and then maintain that level. 

The Caloric Approach For Muscle Growth

Ok, to determine a good starting point for muscle gains, multiply your body weight by 18. Let’s assume you weigh 220 lbs. Therefore, 220 x 18 =  3960 calories per day, your mass-gaining starting point. Sure, you can use an app that does the work for you, but this approach is simple and fast.

The next step is to monitor your new daily calorie intake of 3960 calories per day for 2 weeks. If after 2 weeks, you aren’t gaining muscle, increase your calories by 500. Continue increasing calories every 2 weeks until you begin to gain muscle. You don’t want to gain fat, if you are, drop your daily calories by 500. Reduce carbohydrates, never protein. You can also add 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 days as desired.

As far as your macronutrient ratio, think 35-45-20, or 35% lean protein sources, 45% quality carbohydrate sources, and 20% healthy fats. The only simple carbs you should eat should be in the hours around your workout. In fact, 50% of your daily carbohydrate intake should be in the hours around your workout.

Example: Using our example 3,960 calories, here’s the calculation: 225g of protein per day (3960 calories x 35% = 1386 calories divided by 4 grams = 346). From there, it’s 445g of carbs per day and 88g of healthy fats.  

Food Suggestions

Here’s some food lists for each macro nutrient so we know what foods we should be eating:


  • Lean Red Meat (Top round, very lean ground beef (95%)
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Low Fat Dairy
  • Protein Powder


When it comes to carbs, two guides can help you determine the absorption rate of various carb foods: the Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Load.

The Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index breaks down the rate of digestion of a carbohydrate food, with pure sugar being the baseline (with a score of 100). The lower the number the better the food. For example – a rating of 55 or less means a low GI. This includes things such as fruits, beans, and so on. A medium rating of 56 to 69 includes foods like sweet potatoes and whole wheat. The high GI range is 70 and up and includes processed foods such as white bread. 

The Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Load (GL) is another way to determine the impact of carbohydrate consumption. It takes the glycemic index into account but gives a more complete picture. A GI value tells you how rapidly a particular carbohydrate turns into sugar. However, the problem is that it doesn’t tell you how much of that carbohydrate is in a serving of a particular food. You should know both for a more complete understanding of a food’s effect on blood sugar levels. This is where the glycemic load enters the picture. The carbohydrate content of a watermelon, for example, has a high GI. But there isn’t a lot of it, so watermelon’s glycemic load is relatively low. A GL of 20 or more is high, a GL of 11 to 19 is medium, and a GL of 10 or less is low. (8)

So, when choosing carb foods, you should use these tools as reference points. Given that, here is a list of good carbohydrate choices:
  • Oatmeal – not the instant stuff!
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Multi-Grain Bread
  • Brown Rice
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas


Choose healthy fats, such as

  • Cold Water Fish
  • Nuts (such as almonds)
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds (sunflower seeds)

This list is by no means all-inclusive but is a great starting point as far as being able to set up meal plans.

The Supplements You’ll Need

For Muscle Mass

If muscle mass is your goal, one way to help get the calories you need is by using a weight gainer. Not a super high-calorie, sugar-overloaded gainer, but one that makes caloric sense. A great example is Hi-Tech Pharma Critical Mass. One serving of this well-thought-out gainer provides 50g of whey and casein protein, 75g of carbohydrates from maltodextrin, oats, sweet potato powder, and quinoa, and 10g of fat. Sugar makes up 10g of total carbs, and there is 365 mg of sodium. You can also add a protein powder, such as Hi-Tech Precision Protein


Another supplement that can help with muscle mass gain is creatine, such as Condemned Labz Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine is a cell volumizer, which means it pulls water into the muscles. This creates extreme muscle fullness. It does do many other things, of course, but for our purposes here, it’s one way to help you reach your goals. Add creatine to your program and you will see gains. There are also prohormones, such as Hi-Tech Halodrol. This type of supplement is the most powerful when it comes to gains. Ultimately, it all begins with how much quality food you eat, as described above.

For Fat Loss

To aid fat loss, begin with a thermogenic fat burner such as Hi-Tech Lipodrene. This speeds up your metabolic rate and helps you burn more calories for faster fat loss. It also happens to be one of the best-selling thermogenics on the market. What about a stim-free approach? Try Alpha Lion Cravings Killer, a powerful appetite and cravings control formula. I also suggest an MRP (meal replacement powder), such as Axe & Sledge Homemade. MRP’s are high in protein but have more moderate carbohydrate calories, making it ideal for fat loss. Also, for any goal, it’s makes sense to add a good multi-vitamin, such as Myogenix Myo Vite, easily one of the most advanced multi’s on the market.


As you can see, there’s more to fat loss and muscle gain than merely cutting or adding calories. You have to work with the right kind of calories. Once you understand this point, it becomes a simple question of math. Add to that are the right choice in supplements, quality time in the kitchen, and 100% devotion to your training program. Stop by, stock up, and get started today!


  3. Li, Q., & Hoppe, T. (2023). Role of amino acid metabolism in mitochondrial homeostasis. Frontiers in cell and developmental biology, 11, 1127618.
  5. Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition reviews, 76(4), 243–259.
  7. Calder P. C. (2015). Functional Roles of Fatty Acids and Their Effects on Human Health. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition, 39(1 Suppl), 18S–32S.
  8. Essentials of sports nutrition and supplements, Antonio, Jose et al.

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