4000 Calories A Day Meal Plan + 5 Tips To Help Maintain It

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For most people, eating 4000 calories a day is well above what their body may need, but for bodybuilders or those trying to bulk and build muscle, or highly active endurance athletes, eating 4000 calories a day may be necessary to support activity and muscle growth.

But, is 4000 calories a day too much? How do you even eat 4000 calories a day?

In this guide to eating 4000 calories a day for gaining muscle, we will discuss who should eat 4000 calories a day, tips for how to eat 4000 calories a day, and a sample healthy 4000 calories a day meal plan for bulking, building muscle, or supporting endurance exercise.

A person making a meal plan.

Is 4000 Calories a Day Too Much?

Before we look at how to eat 4000 calories a day for muscle gain, let’s answer the question: “Do I need to eat 4000 calories a day for bulking?”

To gain weight, the number of calories you consume needs to be higher than the calories you burn. When your calorie consumption is greater than the calories you burn, this is known as a calorie surplus.

Eating 4000 calories a day is more than most adults need on a regular basis, according to the 2020-2025 United States Dietary Guidelines.1United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 -2025 . USDA. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

However, whilst it may be too much for the average person, a 4000-calorie diet is fairly common for bodybuilders in the bulking phase who are trying to put on muscle mass while supporting training.

Endurance athletes with a very high activity level, such as marathon runners and triathletes, may also need a 4000-calorie-a-day meal plan to support long-duration workouts and high-volume endurance training.2familydoctor.org editorial staff. (2016, October 17). Nutrition for Athletes – familydoctor.org. Familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-for-athletes/

Determining whether you should follow a diet plan with such a high-calorie intake is considering your caloric expenditure and weight goals (gaining muscle or bulking, maintaining your weight, or losing weight).

TDEE refers to your total daily energy expenditure and is the 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).

A body builder flexing.

Of these factors, BMR generally constitutes the largest portion of your TDEE; however, if you are a bodybuilder spending numerous hours in the gym lifting heavy weights, your energy expenditure from exercise is also likely very high.

The primary factors that contribute to your BMR are your body size, body composition, age, and sex. The larger you are and the more muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR will be.

Regarding the NEAT—the calories you burn during daily life outside of exercise—the more active you are at your job or lifestyle, the more calories you will burn.

To determine if you should eat 4000 calories a day, you can estimate your BMR or even your entire daily caloric expenditure with our online calculators.

Additionally, rather than just looking at food purely in terms of a calorie goal, it’s important to organize your eating habits and diet and pay attention to the quality of what you are eating.3familydoctor. (2010, May). Changing Your Diet: Choosing Nutrient-rich Foods – familydoctor.org. Familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/changing-your-diet-choosing-nutrient-rich-foods/

By optimizing your diet and consuming all of the correct macronutrients, as well as avoiding fast food, you’re likely to reap the maximum benefits from your diet.

5 Tips For How to Eat 4000 Calories a Day

If you are trying to gain weight, the notion of following a 4000 calories-a-day meal plan may be enticing, but it can actually be hard to maintain such a high caloric intake for some people and keep up with training and feeling well.

Here are some tips for how to eat 4000 calories a day bulking diet for bodybuilding or trying to build muscle vs gain fat:

A variety of healthy carbs.

#1: Eat More Carbs

Although most bodybuilding meal plans or bodybuilding diets for muscle gains focus on protein, if you are trying to eat 4000 calories a day, increasing the relative percentage of carbs can be helpful.

Carbs tend to be slightly less filling, and eating too much protein is associated with kidney strain.

#2: Eat Often

Snacks and smaller, frequent meals can help you eat 4000 calories throughout a full day without feeling stuffed in one sitting.

#3: Drink Your Calories

Smoothies, shakes, and milk or plant-based milk can add nutritious calories to a healthy 4000 calories a day meal plan without feeling like as much “work” to eat.

A variety of healthy fats such as avocado and almonds.

#4: Use Healthy Fats

Fats and oils are energy-dense, with 9 calories per gram vs 4 calories per gram of carbs of protein.

This means you can eat more calories in a smaller volume or portion size with fat vs protein sources or carbs.

Adding healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and coconut oil can help you eat 4000 calories a day to gain weight or gain muscle.

You can find some of the best nut butter to add to the healthiest 4000-calorie meal plan here.

#5: Eat Calorie-Dense Foods

Calorie-dense foods, also called energy-dense foods, contain a lot of calories for the volume or weight of the food.

For example, a good energy-dense food for a 4000-calorie weight gain meal plan would be dried fruit versus fresh fruit.

Because the water has been removed, dried fruit is a calorie-dense food and a much higher calorie food per gram than the fresh fruit version.

As a quick comparison, one cup of fresh grapes has 104 calories, while one cup of raisins (dried grapes) has 493 calories.4FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1102665/nutrients 5FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168165/nutrients

This is almost five times as many calories for the same volume of food in the same actual food product.

#6: Meal Prep & Bulk Cooking

Preparing each meal and snack individually in a 4000-calorie-a-day diet can involve a lot of effort and time.

Therefore, meal prep are bulk cooking are your friends.

Planning and preparing your food in advance can save you a lot of work, helping you to stick to your diet in a healthy way and maybe even saving you some money.

A person making a protein shake.

Sample Healthy 4000 Calories A Day Meal Plan 

Here is a sample 4000-calorie-a-day meal plan:

Protein Shake After Waking Up: 540 calories, 42 g of protein, 49 g of carbs, 6 g of fiber, 23 g of fat

Post-Workout High-Carb Breakfast: 1050 calories, 37 grams of fat, 21 grams of fiber, 115 grams of carbs, 45 grams of protein

  • Yogurt and granola parfait made with one cup (8 ounces) of whole milk Greek yogurt (320 calories, 20g of protein, 6 grams carbs, 7 grams of fat)
  • One banana sliced (105 calories, 27 g of carbs, 3 g of fiber, 1.5 g of protein)
  • One cup of raspberries (64 cal, 1.5 g of protein, 14 g of carbs, 8 g of fiber), 
  • One cup of healthy granola (we recommend Bear Naked Protein Granola Honey Almond flavor) (560 calories, 30 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, 68 grams of carbs)
Three tuna wraps.

Snack: 300 calories, 16g of carbs, 37g of protein, 14g of fat, 14 g of fiber

  • Small tuna salad wrap: One can of no-salt-added tuna (130 calories, 30 grams protein), 2 celery stalks chopped (2 grams of fiber), 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 high protein tortilla (70 calories, 15 g of carbohydrates, 12 grams of fiber, 3 grams of fat, 7 g of protein), 1 tablespoon of avocado mayo (we love Chosen Foods!) (100 cal, 11 g of fat) 

Lunch: 740 calories, 41 grams of fat, 66 grams of protein, 32 grams of carbs, 12 grams of fiber

  • 7 ounces of salmon, 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, 1 tablespoon of olive oil (380 cal, 22 g of fat, 40 g of protein, 2 g of carbohydrates)
  • Broccoli with hummus (we love Ithaca Hummus!) and sesame seeds: 2 cups of broccoli chopped (60 calories, 5 g of fiber, 6 g of carbs, 5 g of protein) 1/2 cup of hummus (240 calories, 12 grams of protein, 6 g of fiber, 16 g of fat, 24 grams of carbs), 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds (60 cal, 3 g of fat, 9 g of protein) 
Yogurt, berries and granola.

Dinner: Cals: 650, Fats: 23 g. Protein: 62 g. Carbs: 50 g, fiber 8 grams 

  • Chicken and Sweet Potatoes: 8 ounces (227 grams) of baked chicken breast, 1 medium baked sweet potato, 1 cup Brussels sprouts, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Snack: 350 calories, 20 grams of carbs, 12 grams of fat, 37 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber

  • 1 cup of low-sodium cottage cheese (180 calories, 1 gram fat, 12 g carbs, 28 grams protein) with 1/4 cup blueberries (20 calories, 5 grams of carbs 3 grabs fiber) and 3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds (150 calories, 3 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 11g fat, 9 grams protein) 

Bedtime Snack: 450 calories, 32 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbs, 13 grams of fiber, 30 grams of fat

  • “High Protein Nice Cream”: 1 scoop of chocolate protein powder, 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder, 1 ripe avocado (320 calories, 4 grams protein, 13 grams fiber, 17 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams of fat), a splash of unsweetened almond milk, stevia to taste

Total: 4080 Calories, 170g of fat, 79g of fiber, 321 grams of protein, 300g of carbs

For more ideas on high-calorie snacks that are low on carbs, check out our guide to the best keto snack ideas here.

Avocado ice cream.

Other FAQs:

Why am I not gaining weight by eating 4000 calories a day?

If you are seemingly eating 4000 calories a day but not gaining any weight, it is likely because you are still burning more calories than you are consuming, resulting in a calorie deficit. This could be possible if you are exercising at a very high intensity every day and have a high BMR.

It is also worth making sure you are counting the calories with complete accuracy to avoid any errors or overestimation.

How much does it cost to eat 4000 calories a day?

Depending on the quality of the food you eat and where you buy it from, it is easy to spend $300 to $400 or more on food a month when following a 4000-calorie-a-day diet.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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