My Guide to Eating for Muscle

Written by: Brad Pilon

Truth be told, I dislike the word ‘bulking’ and even ‘overeating’.  The real question should be: ‘are you eating enough to build muscle’, but for the sake sanity I’m going to use bulking and overeating in this post…but you know what I mean.

Not everyone should bulk, I hope I made that perfectly clear in my last blog post.

However, I hope the fact that some people can eat more  was equally clear.

So how do you tell if you should be eating more or dieting (or somewhere in between)?

Simple, you borrow a whole heap of info from the Adonis Golden Ratio.

Firstly, lets look at your Lean Body Mass – The amount of lean mass you can carry (and thus muscle mass you can carry)  is largely dependent on your height.

This is the Adonis Equation for predicting the possible range of Lean Body Mass a person is likely to carry at any given height:


Lean mass (kg) = C x H3.2


Where H is your height in meters and C is the coefficient we use to account for age.

The standard deviation is roughly 0.5.

OK now for “C” use the following numbers:

  • If you are between 20-24 use 11
  • If you are between 25 and 34 use 10.9,
  • if you are between 35 and 44 use 10.7
  • If you are 45 and older  use 10.5

So using myself as an example:

I’m 5’10” or 70 inches tall.

To get your height in meters simply multiply your height in inches (70) by 0.0254.

In my case I get 1.778

(if you are lazy just go to Google and type “how tall is X inches in meters?”)

Plugging my height into the equation and using the Coefficient for my age (10.7) I get the following:


10.7 x 1.7783.2


Now for the standard deviations – if we add or subtract 2 standard deviations from C then we get the lean mass for roughly 95% of the population of 5’10” guys.

So for my height there is a 95% chance my lean body mass is somewhere between:


9.7 x 1.7783.2  –  11.7 x 1.7783.2



Somewhere between 61.17 KG and 73.8 KG. Since I’m Canadian and for some weird reason still think of body weight in pounds, this would be:


134.5 and 162 pounds of Lean Body Mass


OK, so now we know that realistically 162 pounds would be a best case scenario for 35 year old me. At 10% body fat that would be a body weight of about 180 pounds,  which would be pretty darn impressive on my frame.

However, I’m NOT 180 pounds at 10% body fat. In fact, right now I’m about 176 pounds at 12.5% body fat.

So should I bulk? Is there ‘growth potential’ left in me that is left untapped due to my refusal to eat more?

In terms of muscle mass I’m better than average (154 pounds of lean body mass by DEXA, whereas ‘average’ would be around 148)

So what to do, what to do.

Well, here’s what we would do over at Adonis Effect.


The Adonis Guide to Eating for Size, or Fat loss, or Both

Take your waist circumference the morning of a 24 hour fast. Measure across your belly button while standing in good posture.

From our standards ‘ideal’ is having a waist circumference that is roughly 45% of your height. Using this number we can help guide you on how much you should be eating.

Could probably get away with eating more


If your waist is under 40% of your height, and your BMI is in the 22 or lower range, then there’s a good chance that eating more and training more will result in muscle mass gains. Especially if your friends refer to you as ‘skinny’, ‘slender’ or ‘scrawny’.


Is probably right around where he needs to be


If your waist is between 42.5% of your height and 47.5% of your height and your BMI is below 27.5 then bulking will probably just make you fat, but extreme dieting isn’t needed either. You are somehwere in a slow-recomp / maintenance / contest type shape. This is the place where you could probably build muscle and lose fat at the same time, but you would be looking to do so in small increments. If your friends already refer to you as ‘muscular’ ‘jacked’ and ‘lean’ then this is probably you. Oh, and the superman pic is just an example, you may not necessarily have abs at this level.. or be able to fly.


Needs to think about leaning down


If your waist is above 50% of your height, regardless of your BMI, you should not even consider bulking… you should be dieting. At this size your friends could either refer to you as ‘thick’ ‘big’ or just plain old ‘fat’ depending on how hard and often you lift weights.   If somehow you have a waist over 50% of your height AND have a BMI under 25  you should also be trying to build muscle while dieting… actually regardless… you should always be trying to build muscle 😉


My Body as an Example


So for me, my waist is 33 inches and currently I’m about 176 pounds.

My waist is 47% of my height and my BMI is 25. From the Adonis Equation I already know that I’m ‘above average’ in terms of my muscularity, and given the fact that I’ve been training for well over 10 years I simply may not have the genetics to get to 162 pounds of Lean Body Mass. So for me, right now, slow and steady is the best choice. Slow and steady means if I want to get into photoshoot shape, then I would need to drop about 5 pounds, which I could do in about a month, but until then I’ll stick with the plan of SLOWLY trying to build some more mass, while maybe dropping a pound or two of fat since a waist that is 47% of my height is pushing it on my frame.

And here’s the really important common sense part of all of this – I like how I look, so I don’t see much reason to change it too drastically…

However, If I was 165 pounds at roughly 12% bodyfat and a 28 inch waist (AKA me at 20) then these numbers would tell me I could probably get a way with eating more…not getting fat mind you..just more.

And if I was 216 pounds at roughly 30% bodyfat and a 41 inch waist (AKA me at 25 during my ‘power lifting phase’) then these numbers tell me to put down the fork and walk away from the table… for a long time.

So as I’ve said before there is a bit of an art to knowing how much you should eat, but here is the super important part.


Equations cannot tell you how much you should eat

But your body can. So know your measurements, and adjust your diet as your measurement change. Even the measurements above are rough guidelines. Probably the most important is the first equation. It will help you set some realistic goals as to what is, and is not attainable. Overeating when you are already near your limit of lean body mass is just a recipe for fat.

If you are trying to gain muscle and fall into our ‘probably a good idea category’ then eat more, BUT track your measurements…. slow down your eating when you get into our ‘good range’ of a waist around 45% of your height, and STOP and hit reverse if you hit 50%.

And if you are dieting, but your waist has dropped to below 40% of your height, then more than likely it’s time to up the calories, drop the cardio and remind yourself that zero percent body fat is not the goal.

Finally, I know all of these numbers are for guys. We have numbers for women over at Venus Factor, but this was really just mean to be a guide not the definitive answer to how much should you eat.

Bottom line – don’t let equations or on-line gurus tell you how much you should be eating. Let your body shape guide you.


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