4,000 Calories per Day – How to Really Get It Done

 In Diet & Nutrition, Non-member

mind muscle academy, justin woltering

How much do you really need to eat to grow? It’s a common question among newer lifters, and even seasoned vets still argue about the particulars. There are some big guys who seem to grow just fine on simple chicken-and-rice diets, but there are skinny guys who can’t gain a pound no matter how much they eat…or can they?

The truth is, most of the calorie counts you hear are 100 percent, made-up BS. On the one hand, even some of the most experienced bodybuilders, powerlifters and strongmen have no idea just how much they eat, and one guy’s “3,000” might be another’s “6,000.” That’s not to say they haven’t dialed in their nutrition – If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be as big and strong as they are. What it does mean is that they didn’t count every calorie and every gram of protein, carb and fat when they were figuring out what worked. Instead, they just kept upping their portion sizes until they grew, and they kept doing that as they got bigger and bigger.

On the other hand, one of the most common themes in the fitness industry is the skinny guy who “eats a lot” and “still can’t gain weight.” These guys swear up and down that they’re packing in the food, and if their hunger and fullness are any indication, they are. But if you actually have them write down everything they eat in a day, their true totals are nowhere near what they need to grow.

How can we make sense of all this? The truth is, instinctive eating just works for some guys and doesn’t for others. If you’ve always been athletic and had both a healthy appetite and a healthy relationship with food, then your hunger is probably a good guide. When you want to get bigger, eat until you’re full, then eat a little more.

If you’ve been skinny (or fat) all your life, however, then you’ll actually need to measure, record and track everything you eat – at least until you get a good idea of how much food you really need to grow. I don’t care how full you get, you’re simply not going to gain muscle if you aren’t eating a significant calorie surplus. You’re going to have to take out the guesswork, put your discomfort aside, and keep eating until you’ve actually reached your daily totals. Here are a few tips on selecting, consuming and tracking those calories, along with a sample diet to get you on the right track.

Fats are Your Friend

olive oil

4,000 calories is a lot of food, especially when you’re avoiding processed junk (as you should be doing most of the time). Rice, oatmeal, chicken breast and other bodybuilding staples are nutrient-dense, but they’re not calorie-dense, and you’re going to have to shove a lot of poundage down your throat to get the energy you need.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be afraid of fat – by the far the most calorie-dense macronutrient. A gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrate both contain about four calories, while a gram of fat contains nine! This is why sedentary housewives tend to avoid fat when they want to lose weight, and it’s why you shouldn’t skimp when you’re trying to gain. If you allocate a significant portion of your daily calorie total to fat, you won’t have to eat nearly the sheer volume of food as if you were eating high-carb, low-fat.

Of course, not all fats are created equal. Trans fats are particularly bad, but you can avoid them by just staying away from fast food and pre-packaged food. Instead, focus on nuts and nut butters, avocados, olive oil and other cold-pressed oils. Contrary to what the media tells you, animal fat also does a growing body good, especially when you’re on a budget. Why spend 3 dollars per pound on bland chicken breast and another dollar on an avocado, when you can get the same amounts of protein and fat from tasty chicken thighs?

Get Enough Protein – and No More

steak, mind muscle academy

Protein is by the far the most essential nutrient for building muscle. However, everyone knows that by now, and most guys are just taking things way too far. Pro bodybuilders often brag about how they eat 10 ounces, 12 ounces or even a pound of meat per meal. If you’re pinching pennies AND having a hard time eating enough, that’s the last thing you want to do!

About one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is plenty. In practical terms, this means that a 180-pound guy eating 6 meals per day only needs about 30 grams of protein per meal. You can get that much protein in 5-6 eggs or 5-6 ounces of any meat, foul or fish. Anything beyond that, and you’re just filling your stomach and emptying your wallet, when you could be enjoying more fats or carbs.

Meal Frequency and Timing – They Matter!

alarm, sleep

The whole “if it fits your macros” craze has gotten way out of hand. Is your total calorie count the most important part of your diet? Yes. Can you allow room for some treats and “unclean” foods here and there? Of course. Can you get the same results on 3-4 haphazard meals as you would on 6 balanced, specifically timed meals, provided the calories and macros are the same? NO WAY!

I don’t care what the latest study says, there is a damn good reason why almost every huge, ripped dude eats 6 or more, evenly spaced meals per day. It just plain works. Massive meals bog you down and make it harder to meet your daily totals, while frequent meals keep your digestion and metabolism churning along at a good pace.

Most days, most of your meals should consist of the following: lean(ish) protein, starchy carbohydrate, healthy fat source and vegetables. You’ll want 5-6 of these meals every day, along with some kind of intra- or post-workout shake. It’s not fancy, but it’s what has worked for decades to produce the biggest, leanest, strongest lifters around. Trust me, after a few weeks of eating like this, the results you see in the gym and in the mirror will make you wonder why anyone does anything different.

Sample Meal Plan

veggies, protein shake

4,000 is a common target for guys who’ve already gained some size and want to take things to the next level. If you’ve got a super-fast metabolism, it might even be what you need when you’re first starting out. Either way, the following 4,000 calorie meal plan can be adapted to any target – just raise or lower the portion sizes according to your goals and needs.

Meal 1

  • 6 whole eggs
  • 3 pieces toast

Meal 2

  • 5 oz. lean ground beef
  • 10 oz. potato
  • 1 table spoon olive oil
  • Broccoli

Meal 3

  • 6 oz. skinless chicken thigh
  • 1 cup rice (cooked)
  • ½ avocado
  • Green beans

Meal 4 (pre-workout)

  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter

Intra-workout shake

  • 1 scoop carb powder (50 grams carbs)
  • 1 scoop whey protein

Meal 5

  • 5 oz. lean ground beef
  • 10 oz. potato
  • 1 table spoon olive oil
  • Spinach

Meal 6

  • 6 oz. skinless chicken thigh
  • 1 cup rice (cooked)
  • ½ avocado
  • Bell peppers


  • Calories: 3,975
  • Protein: 252 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 389 grams
  • Fat: 162 grams

Simple as that! This meal plan is a little repetitive, but when you’re on a budget and a tight schedule, you’ll pretty much have to eat the same things for a few days on end. Fortunately, if you’re trying to put on weight, there’s no reason you can’t spice things up a bit with some tasty sauces, even if they add some calories. It can also be helpful to vary the exact foods you buy from week to week. You’ll prep everything and eat similar meals for one week, then buy some different foods and enjoy the variety the next week. Other than that, keeping a variety of condiments on hand ensures that you don’t have to eat the exact same meals day in and day out.

mind muscle academy, justin woltering

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