I am currently on the 5x5 program with the goal to get stronger. I understand that in order to achieve this goal one must consume a surplus of calories in order to actually gain the muscle. I am 5 foot 7 and weigh 160lbs, so my caloric needs to gain weight and ultimately muscle is about 2800 calories a day. Also required in order to gain muscle is protein. From my understanding a person should consume about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For me that would be about 160 grams of protein.

Now I have not done the calculation yet, but I'm fairly certain that i can reach 160 grams of protein while still consuming my maintenance amount of calories which is 2300. My question is, can i get stronger while only getting my target amount of protein without my surplus in calories?

  • A lot of strength gains are neurological, where your muscle fibers learn to work better. I have added over 100lbs to most of my lifts over 3 years without any weight gain at all and some small body composition improvements.
    – michael
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


Do understand that the 1g per pound total body weight is a rough guideline. It will give you more than your body's daily protein requirements. The excess is burned as energy. As a rough guideline:

  • a serving size of meat (beef, pork, chicken, fish) about the size of your closed fist contains roughly 20g of protein
  • a serving size of meet about the size of your open hand contains roughly 40g of protein.

Unless you are a big guy trying to lose weight, hitting your dietary protein requirements without breaking your calorie limits for the day is quite easy to do with real food. Protein shakes come to play when you need to increase your protein while still trying to stay below a Calorie limit.

That said, there are four things your muscles need to grow and get stronger:

  • Work: if you don't push yourself your body will never realize it needs to get stronger
  • Rest: the actual building happens when the muscle is in a relative state of rest. In fact sleep is when a lot of your strength gains actually happen.
  • Protein: Obviously, to create the protein pairs that help with contraction the body needs it's essential amino acids which come from various sources of protein.
  • Energy: Without sufficient energy to synthesize the proteins necessary for strength, the body won't be as efficient and you will have harder times getting stronger and keeping up with the program.

I already posted it as an answer on another question. The high protein needs are a myth to sell shakes. Well actually they are no myths but old research that is obsolete now.

Muscle mass and strength can be gained on a wide range of protein intakes, from as little as the RDA up to very large amounts. There is little support for the necessity of very high amounts, e.g. >2 g protein/kg body mass per d, for optimal muscle hyper-trophy during energy balance or excess. (source)

Maybe you need more protein than before, but even though you are probably extremely proud of your achievements, doing 5x5 still doesn't make you a professional athlete and keeps your needs well below the 2g/kg/day mark.

So to answer your question, you will probably burn more calories, it does not make a huge difference through which means you consume them, although I personally would recommend carbohydrates before exercise (or during prolonged cardio exercise). Always keep in mind that calories are a rough measurement at best. If you consume less than your body needs, it will collect the energy from other sources, first of fat but at some point from the muscle mass itself.

How much your body really needs is hard to measure or estimate, instead of making calorie calculators the main guideline. I'd recommend listening to your body, when you are hungry: eat. (granted you are not suffering from an eating disorder, have general weight problem or something comparable, of course)

  • Actually the reason why i dont want to simply eat every time I feel hungry is because I am very prone to gaining weight. I used to be very overweight and then I did a weight loss surgery. As it happens I have been getting stronger but along with that my pants are getting tighter around my waist. This is why I really want to eat less. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 13:55
  • Maybe you should check your diet. People often forget to account their drinking habits (drink water or tea instead of coke). Also avoid processed food, try to eat more vegetables. For your size your base rate of 2300kcal seems a bit high, too. I have a comparable size and mine is about 2000kcal. The calories/hour numbers for many exercises are often calculated for extreme workouts and way to high. At the moment I am not counting calories, but when I do, I even ignore a 3 hour bike tour and try to stay below 2000kcal either way.
    – Baarn
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:14
  • 1
    The paper suggests 1.5-2g/kg. The OP is targeting 2g/kg. Your suggestion that because he is not a professional athlete, he needs well below 2g/kg is speculation that is not supported by your citation.
    – michael
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:17
  • @michael the abstract of this paper cited in the linked answer suggest lower amounts. The Information that no normal gym-goer needs those high amounts (exceeding RDA) comes from a physician with expertise in nutritional medicine, count that as anecdotal if you wish.
    – Baarn
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:25
  • 1
    @Informaficker That paper says "protein intakes in the range of 1.3–1.8 g/kg consumed as 3–4 isonitrogenous meals will maximize muscle protein synthesis". Sounds pretty close to 2g/kg to me. It also says "experienced athletes would require less", which is the opposite of what you stated. The information from your physician may be anecdotal, but most importantly, it is second hand and unverifiable.
    – michael
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:49

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