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Is there a benefit to eating excess calories while strength training? Programs like Starting Strength suggest that a novice should be eating many calories in excess of what is needed, and that in the first few months, one may actually gain some additional body fat (if one is starting slim).

Is the benefit to this only to avoid trying to fine-tune the calorie intake to be right on the line of what is needed for muscle growth? To make sure you're on the excess side of the calorie balance so that strength gains are not affected?

Or is there an additional benefit to over-fueling yourself during this initial phase of strength training?

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Eat like a horse if you're focusing on strength gains

First, how do you know how much is enough? If you eat everything in sight, you know you're doing what you can to give your body enough fuel. If you lift heavy and eat light, you might be leaving strength gains on the table. Fine-tuning caloric intake is hard, and inevitably involves missing out on strength increases that your lifting already earned you.

Secondly, having a significant surfeit of calories--enough to gain fat as well as muscle--may cause muscle growth at a higher rate than if one tries to put on all or mostly muscle. The way I understood this was that having more than enough gives the body carte blanche to really grow. (I believe this is in one of Rip's articles or forum posts, but can't find the reference.)

Pure strength gain versus other goals

However, there are good reasons not to do an all-out mass-and-strength gain program. Maybe you're in a weight class sport, or care more about body composition than strength gain, or you want to maintain conditioning while progressing more slowly with strength.

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@Dave-do you believe this to be the same for cardio? As a competitive swimmer, wouldn't these excess calories cause weight gain? – Bee Jun 30 '12 at 11:20
@Bee I'm not as up on the science for metabolic conditioning, so I don't know. I do know that cardio should be matched to carbohydrate intake, for recovery. I would expect, but would not say with any confidence, that eating big (though not in mass-gaining quantities) would be necessary to not leave cardio gains on the table. – Dave Liepmann Jun 30 '12 at 13:08

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