How To Calculate Your Calories For Muscle Building In 6 Easy Steps

In 6 easy steps!

You’re throwing weights around five days per week, but you’re still not seeing the size gains you want. Sound familiar?

Muscle building is a two-sided coin: On one side, you need a comprehensive workout program focused on specific acute variables to target hypertrophy or muscle growth. In other words, you need to lift the proper amount of weight and use the correct sets and repetitions ideal for muscle building. If you don’t have a workout, check out our article on how to build muscle.

The other side of that coin is nutrition and a specific number of calories you need to eat daily. This is where most guys and girls fall short. Afraid of gaining too much fat or simply being oblivious, those focused on muscle building don’t eat enough.

Calories are key if you want to boost your size. Let’s look at one of the easiest and most reliable ways to calculate your calories for muscle building.


Hands down, the easiest way to calculate your calories is to use an online BMR calculator. No argument there. The problem with those calculators is that some of them are based on untested equations; they’re as good as a guess. If you’re going to use one, make sure it’s based on the Harris–Benedict equation. Better yet, why not learn how to calculate your own unique calorie needs?

The Harris–Benedict equation is the go-to formula for health coaches, personal trainers, and nutritionists. It’s been used for decades, and nothing has come close to knocking it off its pedestal.

We love using this equation because it allows you to calculate your personalized calorie needs. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all number; it fits your lifestyle and goals. This is something that personal trainers will charge you an hour of their time to do. We’ll teach you how to do it for free.


Ready to calculate your calories for muscle building? To get started, collect the following pieces of information:

  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Age

Using this information, we can determine your basal metabolic rate, BMR, total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE. Think of it as part one and part two; your BMR and TDEE are needed to calculate your personalized caloric number.



Your basal metabolic rate or BMR is the number of calories that you need to eat in one day to maintain your current weight without the influence of physical activity. For now, let’s forget about all those calories that you burn during workouts. That’s coming up after your BMR.

To calculate your BMR, take the information that we collected from above, and place it into the formula below.

  • Female = 655.1 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches) - (4.7 × age in years)
  • Male = 66 + (6.2 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.76 × age in years)

Having trouble? Here’s an example that can help you step by step:


  • Male = 66 + (6.2 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.76 × age in years)
  • 66 + (6.2 X 140) + (12.7 x 68) – (4.7 x 21)
  • 66 + (868) + (863.6) – (98.7)
  • = 1896.3 (round to the nearest whole number)
  • = 1,896

Tom’s BMR (basal metabolic rate) is 1,896. Tom should eat 1,896 calories per day to maintain his current weight without any physical activity.

The hardest part of this equation is over. Let’s move on to the second step: calculating your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE.



Think about how active you are. Do you have a job in construction where you’re constantly on your feet and performing manual labor? Are you in a desk for eight hours per day? How many times per week do you go to the gym? Be honest with yourself. Now find your current activity level based on the chart below:


  • Little or no exercise
  • TDEE = 1.2 x BMR


  • Light exercise (1 to 3 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.375 x BMR


  • Moderate exercise (3 to 5 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.55 x BMR


  • Heavy exercise (6 to 7 days per week)
  • TDEE = 1.725 x BMR


  • Intense exercise (Daily)
  • TDEE = 1.9 x BMR

Have your activity level? A quick reminder: Your activity level should be based on how active you currently are and not how active you’d like to be.

Now take your activity level number and multiply it by your basal metabolic rate. That’s it; pretty simple, right? Using the example from above:

Tom has a basal metabolic rate of 1,896. Tom goes to the gym three days per week. He has a desk job, but he goes for a 20-minute jog during his lunch break. Tom would fall under Activity Level 3.

Tom’s TDEE =

  • 55 x BMR (basal metabolic rate)
  • 55 x 1,896
  • 2,938 calories

At his current activity level, if Tom wanted to maintain his weight, he would need to eat between 2,900 and 3,000 calories each day. But Tom doesn’t want to stay at his current weight. He wants to build muscle just like you do. Here’s how to adjust your caloric needs to reflect the goal of muscle building.



You’re here to pack on size, so you’ll need to increase the number of calories you eat each day by 15% more than your TDEE:

  • TDEE x 15%
  • TDEE x .15
  • = Calories for muscle mass

Let’s look at Tom’s example again: To maintain his current weight, Tom has to eat between 2,900 and 3,000 calories per day. Tom wants to build muscle, so he needs to bump up his calories by 15%. Here’s how to determine Tom’s new caloric needs:

  • 2,950 (use the middle number between 2,900 and 3,000 calories)
  • 2,950 x 15%
  • 2,950 x .15
  • = 442.5 (round up)
  • = 450 calories

Tom has to eat an additional 450 calories. What’s Tom’s new total?

  • 2,950 + 450
  • = 3,400

Tom’s new daily caloric intake for building muscle is between 3,300 and 3,400 calories per day.

Truth be told, that number is large. For newcomers, it can be a bit intimidating. What’s more, you don’t want to only focus on reaching that number of calories by any means necessary. This sets the stage for consuming high-calorie, empty-nutrient junk food in the quest to meet your number.

You should be eating clean and healthy macronutrients with an emphasis on protein in order to reach your muscle-building goal. Let’s break down your caloric intake into macronutrients to make it easier to understand and accomplish each day.



First, what are macronutrients?

Pick up any nutrition label, and you’ll see fat, carbohydrates, and protein. These three are the macronutrients you’ll be focusing on. By aiming to eat a certain amount of macronutrients at each meal instead of reaching one big number by the end of the day, you can space out your meals and prepare healthy recipes ahead of time based on your macronutrients.

How’s that possible? One gram of a macronutrient has a set number of calories:

  • Carbohydrates: One gram contains four calories
  • Protein: One gram contains four calories
  • Fat: One gram contains nine calories

Let’s go back to Tom for an example: Tom eats a meal with 25 grams of protein. How many calories has Tom eaten?

  • 25 grams of protein
  • One gram of protein contains four calories
  • 25 x 4 = 100
  • 100 calories

While protein and carbohydrates contain four calories for every gram, dietary fat is more nutrient-dense, providing nine calories for one gram. Here’s another example:

Tom ate a serving of coconut oil. The nutrition label states that one serving contains 20 grams of healthy fats. How many calories did Tom eat?

  • 20 grams of fat
  • One gram of fat contains nine calories
  • 20 x 9 = 180
  • 180 calories

Make sense? Now, in order to figure out how many of each macronutrient you should be eating at each meal, you’ll need to know your body type.



There are three primary body types that the majority of people will fall under. Each body type is more or less sensitive to macronutrients. This is why some people do great on a low-carb diet, and others can’t last a week.

Take a look at the three body types below. Which one most accurately describes you?

Endomorph Body Type

Endomorphs have a thicker build, and they are often called thick, short, and stocky. An endomorph body type has a naturally slower metabolism, making it easy for them to get bigger or bulk, but when cutting season comes around, they struggle. Endomorphs typically focus on fat loss.

A quick tip: If you’re an endomorph body type, have you tried using a waist trimmer belt to lean out and get cut?

Ectomorph Body Type

On the opposite side of the spectrum, an ectomorph body type is lean, skinny, or lanky. They are often called hard gainers. They have a naturally high metabolic rate, allowing them to eat all day and not gain a pound. They can quickly lose weight but always have trouble with bulking up or putting on weight. Ectomorphs often focus on getting bigger.

Mesomorph Body Type

The mesomorph body type is the one we all want to have. They have a naturally lean and muscular physique, often called athletic or sporty. They have a higher metabolic rate that allows them to stay lean, but not so high that it doesn’t allow them to pack on muscle size. They can gain muscle as easily as they can burn fat. Some mesomorphs have weak points, such as small calves, but this will differ from person to person.

Which body type best describes you? Once you identify with one of the three, we can move to the last step of this process to calculate how many of each macronutrient you’ll need per meal.



Remember how we said that each body type responds better or worse to each macronutrient? Based on this, we can suggest a percentage of macronutrients based on your total caloric intake. (Still, have that number nearby?) Locate your body type below:


  • 25% Carbohydrate
  • 40% Protein
  • 35% Fat


  • 40% Carbohydrate
  • 30% Protein
  • 30% Fat


  • 40% Carbohydrate
  • 35% Protein
  • 25% Fat

Now, we can break down your total caloric daily intake into the total number of each macronutrient. Let’s go back to Tom’s example to help illustrate this point:

Tom has an endomorph body type. An endomorph diet should be based on 25% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 35% fat. His total caloric intake is 3,400.


  • 3,400 x .25 (25%)
  • = 850
  • 850 / 4 (There are 4 calories in one gram of carbohydrates)
  • = 212.5 (round to the nearest number)
  • Tom should be eating 213 grams of carbohydrates per day.


  • 3,400 x .40 (40%)
  • = 1,360
  • 1,360/ 4 (There are 4 calories in one gram of protein)
  • 340
  • Tom should be eating 340 grams of protein per day.


  • 3,400 x .35 (35%)
  • = 1,190
  • 1,190 / 9 (There are 9 calories in one gram of fat)
  • 132
  • Tom should be eating 132 grams of fat per day.


  • Total calories per day: 3,400
  • Total grams of carbohydrates: 213
  • Total grams of protein: 340
  • Total grams of fat: 132

Finally, how many times per day do you eat? Four meals? Six meals? Divide each of the macronutrients by the number of times you eat per day. This number is how many of each macronutrient you should eat with every meal. Back to Tom:

Tom eats five meals per day:

  • Total grams of carbohydrates: 213
  • 213 / 5
  • 43 grams of carbohydrates with each meal

  • Total grams of protein: 340
  • 340 / 5
  • 68 grams of protein with each meal

  • Total grams of fat: 132
  • 132 / 5
  • 26 grams of fat with each meal

And that’s it! Congratulations. If you stuck with us to the end, you now have a personalized number for your caloric intake, and you know exactly how many macronutrients to eat with every meal.