In order to build muscle mass, you need a positive calorie balance – i.e. you need to consume more than you burn. For every pound (450g) of muscle you want to build, you’ll need to take in around 2,800 calories. This is mostly to support your increased protein turnover, which is likely to be elevated with training.
At most, your body can add around 227 (half a pound) of muscle mass every week. Consequently, if you consume a lot of additional calories while trying to build muscle, you are likely to gain excess fat as well. A daily increase of 250 to 500 calories is recommended.
Try to stay on the lower end of the range if you gain fat easily, and aim for the higher end of the range if you find it difficult to gain weight overall. Finding the right amount of extra calories to build muscle and stay lean will take some trial and error.
Moreover, research suggests that eating lean protein 15 to 20 minutes before, during, and within one hour of working out may help increase muscle mass. While you are unlikely to eat steaks or chicken breasts at the gym, a protein drink or supplement may be beneficial before, during, or after workouts.
It’s not all about protein, though. To build muscle, lose fat, and get stronger, a healthy, balanced diet should provide you with many meals that meet your caloric expenditures and provide you with nutrition. Here are eight great ideas to help you build muscle mass.
1. BREAKFAST WILL HELP BUILD MUSCLE MASS
You’ll need an immediate burst of energy and breakfast will help give you this. It’ll also help you stay full until your next meal or snack. It also sets the trend: you’ll tend to eat healthier if your day starts with a strong and healthy breakfast. Your best bets if your trying to build muscle mass are omelettes, smoothies and cottage cheese.
2. EAT EVERY THREE HOURS
Eating the right thing at the right time is crucial for helping you boost your muscle mass. The easiest way is to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner as usual, interspersed with meals post workout, pre-bed and with two snacks in between.
By keeping your food intake up, it will mean you won’t be as hungry, because eating smaller meals more often versus a few big meals will decrease your stomach size. You’ll feel full more quickly and your waist will trim, while you’ll also have fewer cravings.
Not eating for long periods can cause you to over-eat at the next meal or topping yourself up with unhealthy snacks from the vending machine. So to stop any cravings, eat at fixed times every day and your body will get hungry at those fixed times.
3. PROTEIN WITH EACH MEAL HELPS BOOST MUSCLE MASS
You need protein to build and maintain muscle mass. To achieve this, you should be looking to eat at least 1g per 454g of body-weight. That’s 200g/day if you weigh 91kg.
The easiest way to get this amount is to eat a whole protein source with each meal. These include:
- Red meat. Beef, pork, lamb, etc.
- Poultry. Chicken, turkey, duck, etc.
- Fish. Tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc.
- Eggs. Don’t believe the cholesterol myths. Eat the yolk.
- Dairy. Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, quark, yogurt, etc.
- Whey. Not necessary but great for easy post workout shakes.
- Vegan options such as lentils, tofu, seeds and nuts.
4. EAT FRUIT AND VEGETABLES WITH EACH MEAL
Most of them (not all) are low calorie: you can eat your stomach full without gaining fat or weight. Fruit and vegetables are also full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre which helps digestion, but just be careful to check the sugar content of some fruits.
5. EAT CARBS ONLY AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
While you need carbs for energy, most people eat more than they need. Limit your carbohydrate intake to after your workout only and you’ll start building plenty of lean muscle mass.
- Eat fruit and vegetables with all meals. These contain few carbohydrates compared to whole grains with the exception of corn, carrots and raisins.
- Another Carbs Post Workout Only. This is rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, quinoa, oats, etc. Avoid white carbs and eat whole grain where possible.
6. EAT HEALTHY FATS TO HELP BUILD MUSCLE MASS
Eating healthy fats helps improve fat loss and overall health as they digest slowly. In turn, this will help you build lean muscle mass.
Make sure you balance your fat intake, eat healthy fats with every meal and avoid artificial trans-fats and margarine. These are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that you’ll find in certain foods. These include:
- Vegetable oils, including olive and sunflower.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Oily fish such as mackerel and salmon.
7. DRINKING WATER HELPS YOU BUILD MUSCLE MASS
Strength training causes water loss through sweating which can impair muscle recovery. Therefore, if you don’t replace that water, all the strength training in the world won’t help you increase your muscle mass. Drinking plenty of water not only prevents dehydration but also hunger, since an empty stomach can make you think you’re hungry.
8. EAT WHOLE FOODS 90% OF THE TIME
To really get the results you want and to boost your muscle mass significantly, 90% of your food intake should consist of whole foods. Try and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
- Whole foods. These are unprocessed and unrefined (or little refined) foods that come as close as possible to their natural state. Examples of these are fresh meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, pulses, fruits, rice, oats, quinoa etc.
- Processed foods usually contain added sugars, trans-fats, nitrates, corn syrup, sodium and more chemicals. Examples include bagels, fruit bars, cereals, pizza, cookies, sausages, frozen meals, supplements
Of course, it’s not just about getting your diet right when it comes to building muscle mass. You need to get your workouts right, too. Spending enough time in the gym, doing the right exercises is absolutely vital if you want to achieve the gains you’re looking for.