Most people know that a bulking phase is where you put on as much muscle as possible, followed by a cutting phase where you lose the fat you’ve put on so that you can show off your hard-earned muscle.
But how about when you are trying to maintain your physique in a maintenance phase.
Can You Build Muscle On Maintenance Calories?
Yes, as long as you are progressively overloading in the gym and eating adequate protein, your muscles will be broken down and repair bigger and stronger. Carbohydrates are also important to provide you with enough energy to get through workouts.
What Are Maintenance Calories
Every food or drink you put into your body has a calorie count which goes towards your body’s energy expenditure. Each day, your body requires a certain amount of energy just to perform basic functions.
These functions include muscle movement, cell growth, and energy conversion. The amount of energy required is your maintenance calories.
It’s important to note that your activity must also be calculated when looking at your maintenance calories. If your maintenance calories are 2500, but you burn 400 calories in a day from sports and walking, then your maintenance calories would be 2900.
If you are trying to add on muscle, lose fat, or just be healthier knowing your maintenance calories is an important part of the process. If you are eating at your maintenance calories, then you will stay the same weight and size. You will not be gaining weight nor losing weight.
So, this is most suitable for those who are happy with their weight and don’t want to change it. However, most people wish to either gain or lose at least some weight. Figuring out your maintenance calories is the first step. Then you can add or subtract from this amount to find out how much you should be eating daily.
For example, if someone wants to lose weight and they decide that their maintenance calories are 2600, then they would want to eat slightly below this amount. They could start at 2400 and then slowly decrease as they watch the scale.
Many bodybuilders or gym goers will usually be in a bulking or cutting phase. Bulking, where they are gaining weight and muscle, and cutting is where they are losing weight and fat.
However, maintenance is also used when they are satisfied with their physique and don’t want to put on fat or lose any size.
How do you find out your maintenance calories?
It is calculated by finding out your basal metabolic rate and your activity level. Your basal metabolic rate depends on your height and weight whereas activity level is obviously different for everyone.
Start by multiplying your weight in pounds by 10 if you are a female and 11 if you are a male.
This number would be what you would need to eat to maintain your weight if you did no activity and laid on the couch all day. This is not the case, so we need to factor in activity level next.
If you are relatively sedentary on an average day, your multiplier is 1.3 for both men and women.
If you do light activity on an average day, it is 1.5 for women and 1.6 for men.
If you do moderate activity on an average day, it is 1.6 for women and 1.7 for men.
If you’re active on an average day, it is 1.9 for women and 2.1 for men.
If you are very active on an average day, it is 2.2 for women and 2.4 for men.
You do not have to be exact, just pick what you think closely fits you. Being 200 calories off does not make much of a difference and you can easily fix it by watching the scale and adjusting calories later on!
I’ll provide a quick example to help you figure it out. A male who weighs 170 lbs would multiply his weight by 11 to get 1870. If he was moderately active on an average day he would then multiply 1870 by 1.7 to get 3179. This means if he eats roughly 3200 calories per day, he should stay the same weight.
There are plenty of BMR calorie trackers online you can also use if that is easier!
How To Build Muscle At Maintenance
Now you’ve figured out how to stay the same weight, but you’re wondering if you can still put on muscle while doing so. The answer is yes.
As long as you are progressively overloading in the gym, then your body will be putting on muscle. This is even possible in a calorie deficit.
Progressively overloading means gradually increasing the weight, frequency, or number of reps in your training. It can also mean using shorter rest times or training with more intensity. Basically, training harder than you did last time.
If you are always doing this in your training, you can ensure that you are breaking down the muscles so that they can regrow bigger and stronger, resulting in building muscle.
This provides you from plateauing and allows you to build muscle.
Another factor to consider is your protein intake. Your muscles simply cannot build themselves and repair without adequate protein. If you are eating a gram of protein per pound of body weight, you can ensure that you are building muscle.
Don’t forget about carbs! The reason some may not be able to build muscle while not eating in a surplus is because they don’t have enough energy to do so.
Carbs will energize you in the gym and allow you to breakdown your muscles to allow them to grow. Learn more about carbs and muscle building here.
Benefits Of Being At Maintenance
One of the greatest benefits of being on maintenance calories is that you can maintain your physique. If you’ve worked hard over the last 3 years doing bulking and cutting phases and finally got to where you want to be, now you can keep it.
However, most people in the gym are never satisfied with their body and always want to be looking better, so this does not always last.
Another benefit is that as long as you are eating reasonably healthy foods, you can keep your physique without putting on any added fat. Since you aren’t in a surplus you aren’t gaining weight or fat. It is also pretty easy to do so. You’ve already worked hard to put on the muscle, now you are just trying to keep it.
Likewise, you also can’t lose any size or muscle as long as you are still hitting the gym and eating adequate nutrition.
Maintenance calories can often make you feel the best compared to cutting and bulking. Many people feel sluggish and don’t have a lot of energy when cutting due to reduced energy in the body. They also tend to lose strength over longer cuts.
Bulking can make a person feel sluggish as well due to an increased amount of fat intake. Near the end of the bulk when a person has put on a lot of fat, they won’t be able to move as quickly and feel gross from all the calories they are consuming. This will obviously be a lot worse on a dirty bulk as opposed to a lean bulk.
Eating at maintenance calories has actually proven to slow the body’s metabolic rate, reduce leptin levels or the satiety hormone, and increase ghrelin levels.
Maintenance periods are also a great way to take a mental break from a cutting phase and give your body a chance to recover and provide it with more calories.
While it is possible to build muscle eating at maintenance calories, it is not optimal. Eating in a surplus is always the best way to gain muscle.
This is because you will be gaining muscle and size. The extra calories will you consume will give your body fuel to grow your muscles.
This is why maintenance calories are usually only ate for a short period before returning to a bulk.
Leave any questions or comments below and I will get back to you!