Calorie Density for Muscular Immensity!
By Tom Venuto author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
The secret to packing on pounds of solid muscle mass is simple: For the most
part, the types of foods you eat on a muscle-gaining program are the same ones
you should eat all the time, whether you want to lose, gain or maintain - you
just need to eat more of them. "Just eat more" is easier said
than done, however. It seems like you're constantly shopping, cooking and
eating. Sometimes preparing food and eating it can seem like a full time job!
One way to make gaining weight and forcing down all that food less of a chore
is to choose foods (or supplements) with a HIGHER CALORIE DENSITY. By doing so,
you can get more calories in the same amount of food.
All proteins and all carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and all fats
have 9 calories per gram, but not all foods have the same number of
calories per unit of volume. Let me explain:
Imagine for a moment, two measuring cups (the kind you have in your kitchen)
and notice the amount of space in each container. Got it? Now visualize the two
cups side by side; one filled with chopped cucumber and one filled with
raisins. Each cup now contains exactly the same VOLUME of food, right? But did
you know that the cup of raisins has 37 times more calories? That's right! The
cup of cucumbers contains 14 calories, while the cup of raisins contains 520
calories. If cucumbers and raisins both have four calories per gram, then how
could this be? The answer has to do with calorie density. The cucumbers have a
lower calorie density because they have a higher fiber and water content. The
calories in the raisins are more "concentrated."
And that's the secret to getting enough calories to gain weight: choose
If you learn which foods are nutrition dense and calorie dense, you
can use this information to help you gain lean weight more easily than ever
Fibrous carbohydrates and vegetables such as lettuce, asparagus, cucumber
and broccoli have very low calorie densities because your body can't absorb the
caloric content of fiber. That makes veggies an excellent choice when you want
to lose body fat. Before competitions, bodybuilders usually reduce or remove
high calorie simple sugars and starches from their diets and replace them with
fibrous carbohydrates. (Goodbye bagels and pasta, hello broccoli and
On the other side of the coin, the low calorie density of most vegetables is
the very reason that they don't help you gain weight. Think about it; you would
have to eat a wheelbarrow full of lettuce, cucumbers or spinach before you
consumed enough calories to make the scale budge at all! It's wise to always
include vegetables in your diet (because they're good for you), but you won't
get enough calories to gain weight from veggies alone; you have to eat lots of
high density foods or you'll be fighting an uphill battle.
So now let's look at some "calorie-dense" foods that can help you
pack on the pounds:
Simple carbohydrates such as fruit have higher calorie densities than
vegetables because simple carbs are more concentrated and have less fiber.
Fruit juice is even more concentrated than the fruit itself. A medium sized
orange contains about 60 calories. A glass of orange juice has about 160
calories. Fruit and fruit juice, therefore, make great additions to a
Taken to the extreme, concentrating and refining carbohydrates results in
empty calorie products like white sugar and white bread. Although these are
calorie dense foods, they have little or no nutritional value. Don't add
nutritionally void foods to your diet just for the sake of more calories - it's
the quality and nutritional value of the calories you want, not just the
quantity. You should look for foods that are high in calories that are
unrefined and as close to their natural form as possible (the way they came out
of the ground).
Complex carbohydrates (starches) such as whole grains, pasta, cereals,
beans, yams, potatoes and rice also have higher calorie densities than fibrous
carbs. A typical restaurant sized serving of pasta contains 800-1000 calories.
Obviously, pasta and other complex carbohydrates are great foods for gaining
Ok, now that you know what carbs to eat, let's talk about fat. Fat can also
have a major impact on the calorie content of foods. Fats have more than twice
as many calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein (9 calories per gram
vs. 4 calories per gram), so foods that are 100% fat have the most calories per
volume. Olive oil, which is pure fat, contains 1920 calories per cup. Any food
that has a lot of fat in it will have a high calorie density. Peanut butter,
for example, has 1600 calories per cup; Cashews have 780 calories per cup.
I'm not suggesting that you start devouring French fries, cheeseburgers and
sausage every day for the sake of gaining weight - if you do, you'll gain
weight all right - right on your belly or backside! Your diet should always be
low in fat (15-25% of your total calories), but not all fats are bad. It's the
saturated fats like fried foods, butter and tropical oils that you should
In small amounts, unsaturated, "healthy" fats are not only good
for you, but they can help you gain weight more quickly than if you didn't eat
any fat at all. Just one tablespoon of flaxseed oil and two tablespoons of peanut
butter would add nearly 500 calories to your daily diet and you'd hardly notice
that any extra food was added.
Protein foods that contain some fat will also be higher in calories. 4 oz of
Chinook salmon has 262 calories and 15 grams of (good) fat; 4 oz of Haddock has
137 calories and only 1 gram of fat. Because of the higher calories and the
essential fatty acids (good fats), cold water fish like Salmon are another
great addition to a weight gain program.
The best proteins for gaining muscle are the lean ones like chicken, lean
beef, egg whites, turkey and fish. Lean cuts of red meat like round or flank
steak are excellent for gaining weight. Avoid fatty cuts of beef, as well as
pork, sausage, bacon and whole milk products because they contain large amounts
of artery-clogging, unhealthy saturated fat.
I'm a huge believer in always choosing whole foods over supplements whenever
possible. However, it's not easy to eat whole foods 5 or 6 times per day if you
have a busy schedule. If you have a hard time getting enough calories from
food, then you should consider using a weight gain or meal replacement product
because drinking your calories is a lot easier than eating them.
Meal replacements are usually powdered products that you mix with water,
milk or juice. You can also increase the calories further by adding peanut
butter, flax oil, fruit or your other favorite ingredient and mixing up the
whole concoction in a blender.
Don't just blindly follow the instructions on the container. One thing that
most people don't realize is that you need to customize your supplement intake
to your exact calorie needs. Just because the package says there are "1000
calories per serving" doesn't mean that's how many you need. Adjust the
serving size to fit your own diet.
For example, if you need 3000 calories to gain weight, that breaks down into
five 600-calorie meals or six 500-calorie meals. There's no need to shovel down
1000 calories at a time just because the label says so - that's only going to
make you fat.
Some products were designed as meal replacements for fat loss programs.
These usually come in individual serving packets, they have about 280-300
calories per serving and they contain more protein than carbohydrates; this
way, they fit into the guidelines of a low carbohydrate, high protein, fat
burning diet. These products are not as cost-effective when you're trying to
gain weight. 300 calories is not enough for mass-building meal. If you decide
to use this type of product for weight gain, you'll need to mix it with a
calorie containing liquid like juice or skim milk to bring the calories up to
500-700 (or whatever your diet calls for).
When you want to gain muscle, you'd be better off choosing a product that
was specifically designed for that purpose. These "weight gainers"
are much more concentrated in calories and contain more carbohydrates.
Using mostly carbs (sugars) and skimping on the protein is a dirty trick
that supplement companies use to make a product cheap to manufacture. Read the
labels carefully and avoid any product that is mostly sugar with very little
protein. A good product will have approximately one part protein for every two
parts of carbohydrates and small amounts of fat. For example, a drink mix with
40 grams of protein, 80 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of fat would provide almost
500 calories. If you wanted even more calories, you could mix the powder in
skim milk or juice instead of water.
So, let's summarize your strategy for quickly and easily adding more
calories to your diet:
1. Continue to eat the same healthy foods
you always eat, but simply eat more of them.
2. Choose foods with a higher calorie density.
You could eat broccoli and salad until your face hurts from chewing so much,
but you still won't get enough calories.
3. Eat plenty of starchy carbohydrates including
whole grains & cereals, pasta, potatoes, yams, beans, rice and oatmeal.
4. Don't be afraid of adding a little bit of fat.
Keep your diet low in fat overall, but add in some of the healthy
"good" fats (such as flax oil, olive oil, or a couple tablespoons of
peanut butter) and you'll gain weight more quickly.
5. Just because you're trying to gain weight
doesn't mean you have a license to eat anything you want. Go for nutritional
value as well as calorie density; avoid saturated fats, sugar and processed
6. If you can't seem to get enough calories from
food, then a meal replacement or weight gainer supplement can make your life a
lot easier. Adjust the serving size to fit your calorie needs and make sure the
product has a good protein to carb ratio.
7. Don't be afraid to drink a lot of your
calories in the form of low fat/skim milk, juice or supplements/shakes.
Well, that's it! Follow these strategies diligently and you'll gain pounds
solid muscular weight more easily than you ever have before without having to
chain yourself to the refrigerator!
You can learn much more about calories, metabolism, and muscle growth by visiting Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle!
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer,
gym owner, freelance writer, and author of “Burn The Fat, Feed
The Muscle”: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders
and Fitness Models. Click here to visit Tom's Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle website.