Eating for muscle gain
Wanting to build muscle but unsure what
to eat and how much to consume?
Well here's our quick guide to gaining muscle:
- Try to eat 5-6 meals per day
- Eat every 2-3 hours
- Eat a ‘whole food’ diet
- Consume a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
- Consume 500-1000 calories above your Basal Metabolic Rate.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water per day
By eating 5-6 meals spaced evenly every 2-3 hours throughout the day, you regulate the supply of nutrients to the muscles. Each meal should contain protein, carbohydrates (carbs) and fat. As a general rule of thumb, follow the 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
Eat a whole food diet. By this we mean eat foods that are in their most natural state (the less processed the better) as the body more easily processes these foods. Whole foods contain much more fibre, which helps to maintain a healthy bowel.
The average Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) for adult males is 2500 kcals. In order to facilitate muscle growth you must consume around 500 - 1000 extra calories per day on top of your BMR.
You must consume at least 2 litres of water per day. Olympic athletes drink up to 8 litres per day during competitions. We are but mere mortals compared to these elite athletes, so drinking 2-3 litres per day is a good target.
The term macronutrients refer to carbohydrates, protein and fats.
In short, carbohydrates (carbs) provide the energy for the body. Carbs come in two forms, simple and complex. One gram of carbs contains 4 kcal. You should aim to consume 6 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight - i.e. if you weigh 80 kgs you should eat 480 grams. According to the whole food diet, 60% of your total calories should come from carbs. Avoid refined sugars.
Good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
• Brown rice
• Pasta (wholewheat)
• Wholemeal bread
• Potatoes/sweet potatoes
• Porridge oats
• Fruit and vegetables*
*Eating fruit and vegetables are often overlooked by many body builders’ diets. However, they are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. It is much better to get these micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in their natural form rather than from supplementation.
Amino acids etc complete/incomplete. 15-20%. Maximum amount of protein your body can absorb is 2 grams per kilo bodyweight. Chicken, turkey, fish (inc. oily fish), egg whites (not too many yolks), lean red meat are good examples of protein.
The basic roles of fats, along with carbs, are to provide energy. In fact it is the most energy rich nutrient, with 1 gram of fat providing around 9 kcal. As a guide, your fat intake should be under 30% of your total energy intake.
Not all fat is ‘bad,’ some fat in the diet is essential. Fats are a vital component of every living cell, particularly in cell membrane structure. Fat provides fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) and aids their absorption. Fat also protects internal organs.
Saturated fat (bad fat) should be reduced to a minimum. Unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (good fats) should make up the majority of your fat quota. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), namely omega 3 and 6 are often overlooked in most people’s diets. EFA’s allow the body to burn the bad fats, maintain healthy joints and are vital for opening hormone pathways (testosterone), examples of which are Omega 3 – Flaxseed (Linseed) oil, Cod Liver oil and Omega 6 – Evening Primrose Oil. EFA’s are present in oily fish (for example; salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and pilchards) and in seeds and nuts.
Pre & post exercise nutrition
Pre exercise nutrition - How soon you eat before exercise is down to the individual. Before a weights session you might find you can eat almost immediately before, while others need longer to digest. As a rough guide, have a glycaemically balanced meal 1 hour before your session. There is nothing worse than feeling nauseous mid workout.
Post exercise nutrition is commonly overlooked. During a workout you deplete your Glycogen stores (stored glucose at the muscle site). To maximise your recovery, you should replenish these stores as soon as possible after a workout with high glycaemic carbs. Again as a guide, consume 50g of high GI carbs immediately after exercise (within 20 mins) and another 50g within the hour.
Supplements are convenient and can be seen as a fast route to muscle gain. However, it has not been scientifically proven by anyone other than supplement companies, to be any better quality than the protein you can get in food. One of the most popular is Creatine.
The three key principles are:
- 1. TRAIN
- 2. EAT
- 3. REST
If any of these three principals are overlooked: you will NOT grow.
Weight training only stimulates growth. Do not confuse achieving a pump with stimulating muscle growth. You grow when you are away from the gym, when you eat and rest. Less is more…. Keep weights session under 1 hour and you must train to muscular failure. Use a split routine and train each muscle group once every 5-7 days. Training with a gym partner is fantastic for motivation and they will also allow you to do forced reps.
If you train too often, muscle shrinks. If you don’t train frequently enough, muscle shrinks. If you don’t eat enough quality food, muscle won’t grow.
Keep cardio to a minimum, use all energy for muscle growth. However, I would never recommend that an individual completely stops all cardio…as after all staying fit and healthy should be paramount. 1-2 maintenance sessions a week should suffice ….. Alternatively, try sprinting. Have you seen the musculature of sprinters?
To sum up, eat a lot, sleep a lot and train as hard and as heavy as you can but make sure you rest. During a bulking phase, you have to take onboard a surplus of calories so don’t be surprised if you put on a little body fat. It is virtually impossible for most people to put on a large quantity of lean mass. Reducing body fat comes later through dieting in the ‘cutting phase.’
One of the main reasons for plateaus in training progression and muscle mass, after an initial improvement over the first few weeks, is that people forget that all the quantities of macronutrients are calculated by using your body weight. It’s simple! As your bodyweight increases you must recalculate your required amounts and increase the quantity of carbs, protein and fat accordingly.