Before customizing your own muscle building diet, your general goal should be to gain a half-pound to two pounds of muscle each week. That is two to four pounds of muscle each month. To accomplish this weight increase, you will need to gradually consume an extra 500-1000 quality calories a day above your basal metabolic rate and exercise exertion requirements. These additional calories will promote faster muscle growth.
The average hard-training individual will need to consume at least 10 calories per pound of body weight just to meet their daily basal metabolic requirements. These same individuals need to take in an additional 7 calories per pound of body weight to meet any daily activity need that requires movement and focused exercise such as weight training and cardio. For example, an individual who weighs 180 pounds, who is moderately active throughout his regular life, and who weight trains intensely and consistently, will need to consume approximately 3,600 calories to add quality muscle to his body (180lbs x 17 = 3,060).
Many bodybuilders will do well with a macronutrient calorie breakdown of 40 percent complete complex carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fats. Keep in mind, this example is intended to be a guideline because your body has a unique set of dietary responses. Others may find a different ratio works better for them. It’s strongly suggested that you use your body and the mirror as your main guidelines – if you’re not pleased with how you feel or what you see in the mirror each week, minor adjustments to your nutrient ratio and serving size are acceptable until you find what works best for your body.
To encourage muscle growth, strength gains, and recovery, you need to ingest sufficient amounts of high-quality protein along with enough complex carbs to fuel heavy, and intense, training sessions. Strive to consume at least 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight and 1.5 to 2.0 grams of carbs per pound of body weight for a baseline. Pay attention to how your body responds to the ratio of protein and carbs you are eating – depending on your body’s insulin sensitivity, metabolism, and body fat levels, your needs will vary but start with at least 1 gram of protein and 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight, and add 25% each week if you’re not growing. Your dietary fat intake should account for 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight.
There are 4 calories in every gram of carbs and protein, and 9 calories in every gram of fat, so an individual who weighs 180 pounds will consume 180 grams of protein per day (180 x 4 = 720 calories), 270 grams of carbs per day (270 x 4 = 1,080 calories) and 90 grams of fat per day (90 x 9 = 810 calories). In total, that’s 2,610 calories to gain quality muscle mass without unwanted body fat. So, how do we make up the missing 400 calories? (Remember, our daily calorie guideline is body weight multiplied by 17).
The answer: One “Freebie Meal” a day, which I’ll explain in a moment.
- Establish a regular meal cadence by consuming at least five calorie-dense whole-food meals and one muscle shake each day. At first, this might seem like a lot of surplus calories, but this amount is necessary to facilitate muscle growth.
- Earn your carbs by timing them as follows: one meal before you train, during your workout, one hour after you train, and four hours after you train. Only give your body carbs when they are required for intense exercise.
- Rotate your protein sources at each meal to optimize digestion and absorption. The best sources of protein are bison, buffalo, sirloin, venison, turkey, chicken, white fish, salmon, and whole eggs. Hydrolyzed protein is your best protein powder supplement.
- Rotating carb sources is not as important as rotating protein sources but I believe your body will be more responsive to variety. The best sources are potatoes (all colors), yams, white and brown rice, Ezekiel cereal, Ezekiel bread, oatmeal, beans, and small amounts of fruit. A carb powder like Vitargo or Karbolyn are your best carb powder supplements. Gatorade is sufficient if the first two options are beyond your budget.
- Eat at least 1 cup of veggies with every meal to optimize digestion and absorption and to control blood sugar levels.
- Rotate your fat sources each day to get a variety of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats into your diet — walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, all nut butters, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and a variety of seeds.
- Sip on 30-50 grams of carb powder, 5-10 grams of glutamine, 5-10 grams of branch chain amino acids, and 3-5 grams of creatine starting 30 minutes into your workout in order to blunt cortisol (a catabolic hormone released in response to stress), and to initiate muscle growth. I purchase the majority of my mainstay muscle building supplements from Blue Star Nutritionals.
- Drink a top-quality organic greens supplement when you wake up. This will infuse your body with easily-absorbed vitamins, minerals, amino acids, chlorophyll, enzymes, phytonutrients, and alkaline salts that help neutralize acids and ensure your cells are living in an environment in which they can thrive and grow. I recommend Super Greens from Living Fuel or Genesis from Prograde.
Here’s a sample diet for a 200-pound individual who wants to gain quality muscle, and is based on the rules above:
3 whole eggs
8 oz of extra lean beef
1 cup of veggies (spinach)
2 ounces of mixed nuts
Notes: This individual can rotate his protein sources by having buffalo, sirloin, turkey, chicken and venison. It’s okay to eat meat with breakfast!
Meal 2 – Pre Workout
2 cups of whole wheat pasta
1 cup of tomato sauce
8 oz of white fish
1 cup of veggies
Note: This individual can rotate his carb sources with yams, Ezekiel cereal, quinoa or rice. Any coloured vegetables are optimal. Any white fish option is acceptable because they are low in fat, rich in B vitamins, rich is selenium, a great source of iodine and high in protein.
Meal 3 – Workout Shake – Begin Sipping During Workout
80 grams of carb powder + Glutamine, Creatine, BCAA
15 minutes later – 40 grams of isolate protein
Note: The carb powder can be adjusted based on the intensity of the workout. I pack my Vitargo in my gym bag. Sometimes on leg or back days I need more. On a smaller body part day or lower intensity day, I might not have my carb powder at all or I’ll reduce the amount. Use your “current setting” to dictate the need for carb powder.
Note: If you have a Greens powder, having 1-2 scoops after your workout is excellent for reducing the acidity in your body and shifting your body to a more alkaline state.
Meal 4 – 1 Hour Post Workout
12 oz of sweet potato
12 oz of chicken
2 cups of veggies
Note: Sometimes I go to a healthy restaurant and get the Mixed Grill dish which comes with a variety of fish, chicken and steak plus brown rice and vegetables. A variety of protein sources post workout is an amazing option every a SUPER hard workout.
Meal 5 – 4 Hours Post Workout
1 cup of egg whites
8 oz of turkey
1 slice of low-fat cheese
2 cups of broccoli
2 cups of brown rice
Note: Mixing turkey, egg whites, brown rice and veggies into a stir fry is a great dish. Sometimes I’ll add hot sauce, spices or a salsa for healthy flavour.
10 oz steak or salmon
2 oz avocado
1 cup of veggies
Note: Unless you’re training late at night, always strive for protein and fats pre bedtime. This helps elevate growth hormone levels while you sleep and keeps you full with lots of quality nutrients while you sleep and get ready to do it again tomorrow!
Note: This is a very similar meal plan to the one I followed to bulk up from 214 pounds to 227 pounds (after eight years of training), and on days I could not adhere to the diet plan above, I would substitute one of the meals with a “freebie meal” which is basically anything you wish…even if it’s a ham- burger and fries. A “freebie meal” will make it easier to comply with the rest of the diet, and make it more likely that you will hit your goal calories each day.
Lastly, always keep a daily food log to track the calories you consume in the form of proteins, carbs, and fats. By logging your food intake, you provide yourself an accurate snapshot and ongoing reference guide for your nutrition. Think of it as a map. This map will become invaluable when analyzing your trek towards your end destination. Since you can see everything laid out before you, you can easily see where you made a wrong turn if you’re not on track or, where you made a right turn if you’re right on pace for your goal. As the famous business quote goes, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Attempting to build muscle without a “roadmap” is like trying to save a thousand dollars without looking at your bank statements!
Class is out. Leave your questions and comments below.
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