Eating for muscle gain
Diets for weight loss are two-a-penny and while many people need to lose weight, there are still some people, predominately men, who want the opposite – they want to gain weight or, more specifically, gain muscle.
Losing weight is a relatively straight forward process – eat less than normal and do some calorie burning exercise; virtually any diet and any type of workout will work if you stick with it long enough.
However, gaining muscle is a bit more involving.
For a start, your workouts need to be more than just an exercise in calorie burning; you need to focus on compound exercises, get stronger in things like the bench press, squat and deadlift and you need to balance rest with exercise as it’s only when you are resting that your muscles grow.
Then you need to consider your diet. For weight loss, skipping a meal or two a day will work but to gain muscle you need to eat enough to supply your body with muscle-building nutrients without supplying so many calories that you gain more fat than necessary.
If your aim is to gain muscle, follow these guidelines to ensure you provide your body with all the muscle-building nutrients you need but remember; building muscle takes longer than losing fat so be prepared for the long haul!
Create a calorific surplus
You can’t build a house without bricks and you can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus. Aim to eat 500 calories per day more than you need to maintain your weight. If you aren’t gaining muscle size add another 250 calories a day. Continue adding 250 calories per day until you start to gain muscle. Track your waist measurement though – if your waist measurement is increasing noticeably, you are probably gaining a lot of fat along with your muscle. If this is the case reduce your calorie intake slightly.
Get enough protein
To build muscle, you need around 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight so if you weigh 175 pounds, you need around 175 to 262.5 grams of protein per day. This should be spread evenly throughout your day and come from meat, fish, eggs or dairy. To achieve this, make sure each of your main meals are built around protein and that you also snack on protein too.
Focus on complex carbs
Hitting the weights requires energy and that energy comes from complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, bread, oats and pasta. Make sure each of your daily meals contains not only plenty of protein but also an abundance of complex carbs. Whenever possible, shoot for the less refined “brown” versions of things like bread, rice and pasta because the fibre they contain is essential for digestive health.
Eat the rainbow
Building muscle is a complex metabolic process that requires an abundance of vitamins and minerals. While you can get your vits and mins in supplement form, you’ll do much better if you get them from real food namely fruit and vegetables. Make sure you eat at least the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day and, if possible, go over this target. Choose a variety of colours to ensure you get a variety of nutrients in your meals.
Don’t fear fat
Fat is an essential ingredient in muscle building as it is required for production of testosterone – the hormone responsible for making you manly and hopefully more muscular. Low fat diets cause your testosterone levels to decline. Eat a reasonable amount of raw, healthy fats such as butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nut butters and full fat dairy to ensure you are getting all the fats you need. Stay away from processed vegetable oils and trans fats which are very unhealthy.
Speaking of fat, albeit a different type, don’t worry about gaining a few pounds of fat along with your muscle – this is all but unavoidable. You can lose the fat in a few short weeks when summer rolls around but for now, focus on gaining muscle along with a little fat rather than try to gain muscle without any fat which is virtually impossible.
Eat more than three times a day
Three square meals a day might be fine for “normal” people but gaining muscle is not a normal pursuit and requires an abundant supply of calories and nutrients. This means that you need to eat four, five or even six times a day. While this does mean you will have to be very organized and carry food with you, you will see much better results if you follow this guideline. Start your day with a substantial breakfast of eggs, fruit and oats and then maintain your momentum with five more similarly substantial, healthy meals. Skipping a meal is squandering an opportunity to gain a little more muscle so don’t do it!
Contrary to popular bodybuilding belief, you don’t need a whole lot of supplements to help you gain muscle – especially if you are eating and training properly. However, some wise supplementation may be beneficial. Consider using a whey protein shake to help you hit your daily protein requirements, use a carb drink before, during and after training to help give you plenty of energy and consider taking 5-10grams of creatine a day for more workout energy and fuller-looking muscles. Finally, a gram or two of fish oils a day will help keep your joints healthy and pain-free.
Your muscles are made up from a large percentage of water and will only look and function at their best when you are properly hydrated. Aim to consume around two-litres of water per day to stay properly hydrated. Tea, coffee, alcohol and cola do not contribute toward your daily fluid intake so prioritize your water intake.
Exercise is only half of the muscle building conundrum and hitting the weights without paying attention to what you eat will get you nowhere fast. Pay as much attention to your diet as you do your workouts and you will well-deserved progress – both on the scales and in the mirror.