Although somewhat of a simplification, most nutrition experts will provide the guideline that one pound of body fat contains 3500 calories, which means that if you eat an excess of 3500 calories, you will gain a pound of fat, and if you create a caloric deficit of 3500 calories, you will lose a pound of fat.
But, what does 3500 calories look like in terms of a diet plan? Will a 3500 calories a day meal plan cause you to gain a pound a day? What is the best 3500 calorie meal plan PDF for bulking up?
It’s one thing to look at a 3500 calories diet plan and another to actually eat 3500 calories a day.
In this 3500 calorie meal plan diet guide, we will discuss how to eat 3500 calories a day, if eating 3500 calories a day is right for you, and a sample 3500 calories a day meal plan.
We will look at:
- Is 3500 Calories a Day Too Much?
- Tips for How to Eat 3500 Calories a Day
- Sample Healthy 3500 Calorie Meal Plan
Let’s get started!
Is 3500 Calories a Day Too Much?
Before we look at how to eat 3500 calories a day and a healthy 3500 calorie meal plan, let’s look to answer the question: “Do I need to eat 3500 calories a day?”
According to the 2020-2025 United States Dietary Guidelines, eating 3500 calories a day is more than most adults need on a regular basis.
This does not necessarily mean that a 3500 calories diet meal plan is not appropriate for you.
If you are trying to gain weight, have a larger body size and are highly active, want to bulk up and build muscle, or are an endurance athlete doing long workouts or a lot of training, you may find that eating 3500 calories a day is exactly what you need.To decide if a 3500 calories a day meal plan is right for you, you will need to consider your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE.
Essentially, TDEE is the sum total of four main sources of burning calories in a day: BMR, exercise, physical activity outside of planned workouts, and calories burned digesting food (called the thermic effect of food).
Then, if you want to lose weight with a 3500 calories meal plan, your TDEE needs to be above 3,500 calories a day.
If your goal is weight maintenance, a 3,500 calories a day meal plan is appropriate if you are burning about 3500 calories a day.
Generally, if you are trying to bulk up or lose weight, you want the difference between energy intake and expenditure to be around 500 calories per day (in the direction of a caloric deficit for weight loss or caloric surplus for weight gain and bulking).
Use an online calculator to determine if eating 3500 calories per day is right for your physique goals and needs.
Tips for How to Eat 3500 Calories a Day
If you have ever taken a look at a 3500 calorie meal plan PDF, you might be shocked at how much food it is, particularly if you have a small appetite but are trying to bulk up.
Other people who love eating or enjoy rich foods may find that eating 3500 calories a day isn’t inherently difficult, but what is challenging is finding the best 3500 calorie meal plan diet that is healthy and helps support muscle bulking rather than fat gain.
Here are some tips for how to eat 3500 calories a day:
#1: Spread Out Your Meals
Most 3500 calorie meal plan PDF downloads or free online 3500 calorie meal plans will include more than just three square meals per day.
If you are going to be following a 3500-calorie diet, splitting up your calories over at least four meals, or three meals and 2 to 3 larger snacks is ideal so that you don’t end up feeling totally stuffed at one particular sitting.
#2: Balance Your Macros
Many weight loss diets and bodybuilding diets in the cutting phase focus on protein, but if you are trying to bulk up or gain weight quickly, or you are struggling with figuring out how to eat 3500 calories a day because you just can’t imagine eating that much food, adding more carbs and healthy fats will help you reach your daily calorie target more easily.
Try splitting your macros so that you have at least 50% of the calories from carbs, 30% from protein, and 20% from healthy fats.
Endurance athletes might want to go even higher on the carbs and drop down on the protein. Carbs are also important for high-intensity weightlifting.
#3: Go for Caloric Density
If you are struggling with how to eat 3500 calories a day, make sure that you are choosing energy-dense foods like nuts and nut butter, whole grains, avocados, cheese, dried fruit, trail mix, protein bars, etc.
Cut back on non-starchy vegetables and watery foods like watermelon, cucumbers, soups, and foods with lots of fiber that take a long time to digest.
These low-calorie foods will make it difficult to have the appetite (and stomach volume!) to eat 3500 calories a day.
#4: Drink Calories
Smoothies and protein shakes could be a great way to decrease the amount of “eating“ you have to do on a 3500 calorie meal plan while still giving you the nutrition you need.
#5: Use Convenience Foods
In a perfect world, all of our food would be from a whole, natural, unprocessed state, and we would eat only home-cooked meals that are well-balanced and abundant with organic food products.
However, this isn’t practical for many people due to restrictions in time, finances, interest/energy in cooking, etc.
If you are trying to follow an easy 3500 calories a day meal plan, you may need to turn to convenience foods.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be going to the drive-through and picking up fast food every day.
That said, picking the healthiest protein bars, frozen or heat-and-eat meals, and food delivery services can be life savers when it comes to getting in quality nutrition without spending all day meal planning, prepping, or sitting down for formal meals if you need to eat on-the-go as a busy athlete and working professional.
Here are some of our favorite convenience foods for healthy ways to add calories or get quality nutrition:
- High-protein cereal such as Magic Spoon Cereal
- Protein bars that don’t use artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (which is surprisingly hard to find!); we suggest Think 150 Bars (the small ones use real sugar/carbs and no sugar alcohols) or Bobo’s Protein Bars
- Protein chips like Pure Protein Protein Crisps
- Fruit and Veggie Frozen meals, smoothies, power bowls, etc., like Daily Harvest
- Low-sodium trail mix like Second Nature
- Healthy granola like Bob’s Red Mill Granola
- High-carb healthy granola bars like Bobo’s Oat Bar (any flavor, but we love Almond Butter or Chocolate Chip!)
- Superfood bites like Nutsola Superfood Bites
- High-protein frozen waffles like Banza Chickpea Waffles (these are awesome, delicious, healthy waffles made from chickpea flour, so they won’t cause bloating, and they have more protein. Plus you can get them in different flavors)
Sample Healthy 3500 Calorie Meal Plan
Here is a sample 3500 calorie high protein meal plan for building muscle:
Protein Shake After Waking Up: 540 calories, 42 g of protein, 49 g of carbs, 6 g of fiber, 23 g of fat
- 30 g of whey protein powder (120 calories, 25g of protein), 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 1 cup of reduced fat milk, one medium banana, one cup of baby spinach
Late Post-Workout Breakfast: 1058 calories, 84 g of protein, 91 g of carbs, 40 g of fat, 24 g of fiber
Egg scramble: (406 calories, 41 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs, 23 grams of fat)
- 3 whole eggs (78 calories, 6.5 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat each) 234 calories,19.5g protein, 15 grams of fat
- 3 additional egg whites (51 calories, 12 grams of protein)
- 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (107 calories, 8 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of carbs)
- 2 cups of baby spinach (7 calories per cup)
- Salt, pepper, and other seasoning to taste
PB&J Protein Overnight Oats: (652 calories, 43 grams of protein, 87 grams of carbs, 24 grams of fiber, 17 grams of fat)
- 2/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Protein Oats (380 calories, 8 g of fat, 20 g of protein, 64 g of carbohydrates, 12 g of fiber)
- ½ cup raspberries (32 calories, 7 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein)
- 2 scoops of PB2 Almond Protein Powder with Madagascar Vanilla (180 calories, 20 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber)
- ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
- 8 oz of unsweetened almond milk (we love Califia Farms) (60 cal, 5 g of fat, 1 g of carbohydrates, 1 g of fiber, 3 g of protein)
Lunch: 618 calories, 31 grams of fat, 58 grams of protein, 24 grams of carbs, 8 grams of fiber
- 7 ounces of salmon, 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil (350 cal, 19 g of fat, 40 g of protein, 2 g of carbohydrates)
- Greek salad: 1/2 cup of chopped kale, 1/2 cup of chopped spinach, 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes, 1 ounce low-sodium feta cheese, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, dressing made from 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil (268 calories, 22g of carbs, 18g of protein, 12g of fat)
Snack: 220 calories, 18g of carbs, 34g of protein, 1g of fat, 9 g of fiber
- One can of no salt added tuna (130 calories, 30 grams protein), 10 celery stalks chopped (56 calories, 10g carbs, 3 grams protein, 6 grams fiber), 10 baby carrots (35 calories, 8 grams carbs, 1 gram protein, 3 grams fiber) 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
Dinner: 767 calories, 84 grams of protein, 65.5 grams of carbs, 15.5 grams of fat, 14 grams of fiber
- 6 ounces chicken breast (268 calories, 50 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat)
- 3.5 ounces of legume pasta like Chickapea Organic Chickpea Pasta with Greens (360 calories, 3.5 g of fat, 24 g of protein 11 g of fiber, 60 grams of carbs)
- ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese (125 calories, 8 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of carbs)
- 2 cups of steamed baby spinach (14 calories, 2 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber)
Bedtime Snack: 297 calories, 32.5 grams of carbs, 30.5 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber, 2 grams of fat
- 3/4 cup no salt cottage cheese (120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, 19.5 grams of protein)
- ½ cup (80 grams) cubes of cantaloupe melon (27 calories, 6.5 g of carbohydrates, 3 g of fiber, 1 g of protein)
- Think! 150 Protein Bar (150 calories, 5 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein)
Total: 3500 calories, 280 grams of carbs, 69 grams of fiber, 112.5 grams of fat, 332 grams of protein
For more ideas on high-calorie snacks, check out our guide to the best keto snack ideas here.