Calorie Surplus: What Is It and What It Means for Your Goals

Calorie Surplus: What Is It and What It Means for Your Goals

Usually, when you want to lose weight, your goal is to burn more calories than you eat. This leaves you with a calorie deficit every day — or at least you break even. Whether you’re doing resistance training or you focus on cardio, that tends to be the general move.

But what happens when you have a calorie surplus? While it's clear that you didn't burn every calorie that you ate, leaving you with some leftover, does this mean that your progress has been derailed? Or are there some good things about having a calorie surplus?

These are all great questions. Keep reading to find out the answers and more!.

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What Are the Different Calorie Designations?

You'll hear about three different ways to categorize your calorie intake. They are calorie deficits, surpluses, and maintenance. You need to understand all three before we move ahead with discussing a calorie surplus.

Calorie Deficits

A calorie deficit is often the goal when you're trying to lose weight. Having one means that you burned more calories (through your workouts and your general daily activities) than you ate that day. When this happens on a regular basis, you'll more than likely start to lose weight.

With that said, your metabolism plays a role here as well, and you might have to boost it in order to get the results that you want.

Calorie Maintenance

There are two different ways to look at calorie maintenance. One, you ate as many calories as you burned that day. This puts you at an even level. While you may not lose weight, you most likely won't gain it either.

The second way to view calorie maintenance is through the lens of keeping your goal weight steady. Once you hit that goal weight, you'll need to follow a calorie maintenance plan in order to stay there. After all, you don't want to lose any more weight, and you don't want to gain any. You want to stay right where you are.

Calorie Surplus

Finally, there's a calorie surplus. As you've probably guessed, this means that you ate more calories than you burned that day, also known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You have an excess of calories.

While this usually means that you might gain weight, especially if you have a calorie surplus for several days in a row, it might also help you gain muscle mass. This means that a calorie surplus isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Muscle Building Through Calorie Surplus

It isn't always a bad thing to have a calorie surplus. Look at it how many bodybuilders, professional and amateur athletes, and weightlifters do – those surplus calories provide your body with additional energy. After all, that's what fat cells are, stored energy. Some people just use or store more than others based on their diets, activity levels, and metabolism.

According to studies, athletes, particularly women, who have acalorie surplus and work out regularly grow stronger skeletal muscles. These are the muscles that attach to the skeleton and make you move faster and lift heavier weights.

Anyone who has a slight calorie surplus at the end of the day will grow larger skeletal muscles, even non-athletes. This is due to the fact that the additional calories, which the body stores as future energy, stimulate the skeletal muscles, causing muscle growth.

What Is Dirty Bulking?

Serious bodybuilders often practice something calleddirty bulking. It involves eating far more calories than usual for a certain period of time, anywhere from several days to a week. During that period, they work out more intensely than normal, hoping that the additional calories are converted into muscle instead of body fat.

In addition to helping them build larger and stronger muscles, dirty bulking also allows them to cheat a bit on their normal diets. Usually, these bodybuilders eat very lean, healthy foods and are on a strict calorie count. During the dirty bulking period, they go off of that diet and ingest specialty shakes and drinks made with mass gain powders to get the kind of calories they need.

The Right Kind of Caloric Surplus

Although you can change your diet to get a caloric surplus each day, you still need to watch what you eat, especially if you want to gain muscle mass instead of fat. Starting each day realizing that you can eat more calories than you burn isn't necessarily code for "eat whatever you want, no matter what."

Instead of reaching for chips, cans of soda, and candy bars, you should focus on these particular foods.

Healthy Foods

The goal of gaining muscle mass or a little additional energy storage through caloric surplus practices works best if you eathealthy foods.

Stick to a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Choose whole eggs, turkey, and chicken, as well as beans and nuts like almonds and peanuts or peanut butter. You can also mix in fish products like tuna, as well as dairy products like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.

Carbs, like bread, noodles, and rolls made of whole wheat or multigrain blends, are also a good addition to your caloric surplus diet (so yes, you can eat a sandwich or two). You can also incorporate healthy carbs like oatmeal and brown rice. Essentially, stick to the food pyramid or food plate, and eat as many foods that are packed with nutrition as possible.

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Foods To Avoid on a Calorie Surplus

What should you avoid? This has an easy answer: anything with added sugar. Instead of reaching for snack cakes, pre-made cookies, frozen treats, and sugary beverages, all of which are bad for you and won't help you gain muscle mass, choose foods that fit all of the categories listed above.

Items with added sugar might lead to excessive fat gain instead of muscle gain, which is the opposite of what you want to do. That means you should be careful about the sugar content of your fruit juices and protein shakes, too.

How Much of a Caloric Surplus Do You Need?

On top of eating the right goods to help you gain muscle mass instead of fat, you also need to keep an eye on your calories counts. Yes, a caloric surplus means that you can (kind of) cheat on your diet. However, you don't want to go overboard unless you plan on dirty bulking.

Most people won't do this extreme version of eating more calories than they burn, so stick to a small amount of overage, between 200 and 400 calories per day. You'll still need to track what you eat, but you do have some additional leeway.

Is Having a Caloric Surplus Right for You?

Following a diet that includes ending each day with a caloric surplus isn't for everyone. When it’s done incorrectly, adherents end up gaining weight instead of muscle, which isn't the point at all.

However, if you want to gain muscle mass, particularly in your skeletal muscles, can keep an eye on how many calories you eat each day, want to focus on healthy food, and are dedicated to the diet, then having a caloric surplus might just be right for you.


Is a Calorie Surplus Necessary to Increase Skeletal Muscle Mass in Resistance Trained Female Athletes? | NASM

Dirty Bulking: Everything You Need to Know | Healthline

The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition | A Narrative Review | PMC

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About Author: Mario Mendias

Mario was a personal trainer for more than 10 years before starting and founding My Fit Foods. Now almost 20 years later he is helping with more than tasty food.
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