The reality is that calorie balance is what ultimately and fundamentally dictates what happens with your body composition and weight change - whether it’s fat loss that tickles your fancy or building some of that muscle mass.
In order to build muscle and weight, the general consensus is that a calorie surplus is the most effective and efficient way to do so; especially if you are a well trained athlete or weekend warrior who isn’t completely new to all of this.
So how do you know if you are in a calorie surplus consistently over time?
How can you audit yourself to make sure you are eating enough calories?
In today’s blog, I share the 4 signs of a calorie surplus that you NEED to know. If you want to build strength and muscle (or both!), then eating at any bit above maintenance may serve you best as an athlete.
Alongside fat loss, building juicy muscle mass is up there as one of the most popular and “prized” goals among dieters and people who are focusing on improving their nutrition.
Achieving this goal is multifactorial and as with anything “nutrition”, it is nuanced. However, a calorie surplus diet is still the most streamlined method in which you can use to maximise growth.
This doesn’t mean that in order to build lean muscle that you need to be dirty bulking or eating a bunch of calories above your maintenance. There is strategy that needs to be taken into consideration here and for many athletes, starting at a small calorie surplus is ideal.
“So how do I know that I am sticking to a calorie surplus properly?” - you may be wondering.
Time to reveal the 4 major signs that you are successfully sticking to a calorie surplus diet for lean bulk and muscle gains.
Let class commence now!
Calorie Surplus: Meaning
Let’s first quickly just explain what a calorie surplus is in a nutshell…
Our energy balance (calorie balance) is the relationship between how many calories we consume through food and drink and how many calories we expend as humans.
This is known as the thermodynamics of our bodies and this is what dictates what happens with our weight mass and body composition at the most basic level. Calories are king essentially.
A calorie surplus is when the consumption of caloires is greater than the “burn” - leading to a net positive calorie balance. Essentially, it is consuming enough calories that you end up eating above your maintenance and your body grows.
This growth is from both muscle but also fat - the degree at which each increases is determined by multiple factors (not the least being your strategy).
The Signs You Are In A Calorie Surplu
Sign #1: Average Weight Trending Upwards
This is THE sign to look for first and foremost when venturing out into the realm of calorie surpluses, searching for the holy grail of muscle "gainz".
If you are building muscle, you will be gaining weight. If you are gaining weight, you will (to varying degrees depending on other factors) be building muscle.
Track your weight to some degree of frequency so that you can see if your nutrition adjustments are actually leading to increase in mass. Without mass building there is no muscle building. Make sure you track over time and average it out to truly see the real picture as one-off measurements tell you near zero.
However, please keep in mind that if you notice that the weight is trending upwards at a very fast rate that seems unusual to you…then maybe you overdid the surplus. Re-calibrate as needed or see a Sports Dietitian if you are feeling overwhelmed and stuck (CLICK HERE to learn more about my 1:1 coaching experience).
Sign #2: Increased Energy and Strength Levels
When you are increasing your calories, there is an expectation that you will feel more “complete”. This makes perfect sense because we know that food is fuel, so it is not unusual to imagine that more food will mean operating at full capacity.
Therefore, the second sign to look out for and that may tell you that you are eating in a surplus is increased energy levels and/or improved strength performance. As an active person, these are 2 signs that will more easily noticeable due to the nature of your lifestyle bringing these 2 in the spotlight - whether they drop or improve.
Has your gym lifting improved?
Do you feel better during the work day?
Noticing sports performance improving?
All of these could be signs you are eating in a surplus (or bare minimum at maintenance).
Sign #3: Faster Recovery Speeds and Effectiveness
Food = fuel. We know this.
So is it really surprising that recovery is strongly linked to not only nutritional adequacy and strategy but also sheer calorie intake too?
If you notice that you are recovering more effectively and/or more quickly, this could be a reliable sign that you are consistently eating enough calories. Improving recovery metrics are one sign of a calorie surplus when coupled alongside an increase in weight.
Use this opportunity to reap the benefits of eating more food and recovering to your full potential. Funny enough, this improved recovery will also help facilitate increased muscle and strength gains that you are desiring so it works hand in hand.
Sign #4: Increased Fullness / Diminished Hunger Levels
Finally we have the last sign/symptom of a potential calorie surplus - feeling frickin’ full!
The level at which you feel full will vary from person to person and is highly individualsed. However, more often than not, dieters who increase calories and actually achieve a surplus will see that eating becomes a bit harder to do.
I have had clients who are naturally hard gainers and super lean and when I put them onto a calorie surplus, they struggled to eat the food because it was beyond their appetite threshold.
A calorie surplus is literally eating more food than your body technically needs at a physiological level so it’s not surprising that you will become less hungry.
While this sign is less reliable and can not be used alone as a determining factor of whether or not you are in fact in a surplus consistently, it can help when using it alongside some of the other symptoms mentioned above.
However, if you went from a deficit or maintenance where you either felt hungry or neutral; seeing a diminished level of appetite and hunger when trying to build muscle should not be ignored.
There you go. Now you know the 4 key signs of a calorie surplus diet and what you need to try and look out for to make sure your nutrition strategy is trending in the right direction.
Achieving a calorie surplus can be the first key step towards building muscle and/or strength levels so you want to make sure you are aware of what this entails. Your goal will depend on your nutrition game so understand it properly.
If you had to choose 2 of the signs to personally track bare minimum, I would definitely choose the first 2 - weight trends and energy/strength levels. These 2 are very reliable signs of eating more and eating above maintenance as food is fuel and more fuel leads to these outcomes more readily.
Now go on and work on your goals! Perhaps you will start seeing some solid gains come your way.
Out of curiosity though….
Are you feeling stuck and struggling with your nutrition game?
Not seeing the body you feel happier, healthier, and more confident in?
I may be able to be of assistance.
If you are ready to take your nutrition and body to the next level and elevate your performance in a way that doesn’t make you want to punch your Sports Dietitian, then let’s chat.
I have developed a 90 Day Macro Sherpa program that is a 1:1 nutrition coaching experience to help start bridging the gap between where you are now and where you want to be with your physique & performance.
In this program, I'll personally coach you using my flexible nutrition system to help you harness the power of calories and macro strategy to regain your competitive edge - think of it as a bespoke nutrition solution that empowers you to eat better to achieve better.
Interested in learning more? Simply email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then we can have a chat about this and see if we are a good fit to work together and get you your best results yet.
Or to apply now to see if you are a good fit, simply CLICK HERE and start the process for reaching your peak potential.
Brisbane Sports Dietitian and Nutritionist
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.