Q: Do you need a ton of calories to build bigger arms?
Every second article on hypertrophy focuses on how important it is to be at “caloric surplus” to gain even a gram of muscle. This has been of the main reasons for the rise of the natty fatsos, which is a group of people who underestimate their body fat percentage by 10-15%, thinking most of their bulking efforts are giving them thicker muscle fibers.
One of the places where muscular hypertrophy is the most admired tend to be the upper arms. Ironically, smaller muscle groups such as the forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders…etc. don’t really need a lot of nutrients to recover and grow. If anything, one can make progress at those places on a relatively low calorie diet. However, I am not talking about starvation or anything similar.
There are many examples in the physical labor world of men with large forearms developed extensively from work. One time I saw a man cleaning the street who had pretty decent forearms and striations on his triceps, which was much more shocking and impressive for a noob to see. Seriously, his triceps were cut. I am pretty sure the man was not involved in steroids given his social status and education. He was not big by any means, but in his case the “what does not kill me, can only make stronger” idea has given him a good physique. Unfortunately or not, I don’t think he was in a position to smile because of it. In my country most people who clean the streets get paid just enough not to die. Fatso businessmen gotta eat.
They say you need to gain 15-20 lbs of weight to add an inch on your arms. True or false?
People like to throw in “the golden rule” saying that one needs to gain 15-20 lbs of bodyweight in order to add an inch to his upper arms’ circumference. This may be true to some point, but there is no doubt that the better part of those 15-20 lbs will not go to your small muscle groups. Out of those 15-20 lbs the actual inch, you would eventually add to your arms, is probably around 5 lbs. In other words, it’s not a lot of meat.
It all makes sense when you think about it – smaller muscle groups need less nutrients to recover which equals less food. This also explains why some rock climbers have large forearms despite being quite light and skinny overall. Their training represents a good enough stimulus for growth, and the flexors and extensors of the wrist are one of the smallest muscles in your body. You don’t need an extra 2 000 calories to build those.
All of this goes against many of bulking methods presented by popular and unpopular fitness Gods. They would tell you to eat at least 3,000 – 4,000 calories and some would even go as far advising 6,000 to 7, 000 calories “for the untrained novice.” Since the body cannot effectively use all of this to build muscle, at least when we are talking about people who don’t take steroids and/or growth hormone, the excess energy is obviously stored as fat.
The preferred places for body fat storage are the belly and the legs. This is where those extra fat cells interfere the least with the natural moving patterns of humans. This is also one of the reasons many permabulkers (people who never stop bulking) like to brag about how big their legs are and how hard it is to find pants when you are a “real man” who squats. It’s funny how those fatsos’ legs are always “uncut” and lacking the slightest form of definition. It gets even better when you diet down those people, and their legs lose 4-10 inches. Which leads me to the conclusion that even larger muscle groups such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes do not require extreme caloric intake to grow.
The idea that you need to eat a lot to build bigger arms is a false one for two reasons:
1. When you are a natural bodybuilder/lifter/muscle worshiper any amount of excess calories makes you fatter, not more muscular.
2. The arms are a small muscle group and similarly to a small apartment require less amount of bricks to be constructed.
3. The most important factor seems to be the presence of sufficient growth stimulus which in the natural case represent a relatively frequent and progressive training.