Man's Gotta Eat! Nutritional Tips For Optimal Muscle Gain
Let’s be honest for a moment:
We all want to build muscle. There is no other feeling quite like that of working on your body and seeing it transform into something beautiful and strong.
Plus, it feels great to earn the admiration of others. After all, a well-built physique doesn’t just mean that you have an armor plate chest or guns of steel. It also signifies that you’re disciplined and you can work hard.
As the saying goes, “We can’t buy fitness; we can only rent it. And rent is due every day.”
But there is a small problem: our nutrition.
There is so much conflicting information out there, and picking out the valuable bits can feel impossible at times. To that end, we’ve put together this guide. We’ll go over the most important things you need to know about eating for optimal muscle gain.
First Thing’s First: Get Your Calories In Order
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Eat big to get big.” While we don’t entirely agree with this philosophy, there is a lot of truth to it.
Building muscle optimally comes down to creating and sustaining an energy surplus. In other words, consuming more calories than you burn every day. This provides your body with all of the energy it needs to carry out its many processes and still have excess calories to build tissue.
In general, we should aim for a surplus of 200 to 300 calories over your maintenance level. This is enough to optimize muscle growth but without leading to significant fat gains. For instance, if your maintenance calories are 3,000 per day, you should aim to consume 3,200 to 3,300.
But how do you find what your maintenance calories are? Well, there are plenty of decent online calculators you can use. These typically ask you about information such as your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. Based on that, they give you an estimate of the number of calories you burn each day. Here is one such calculator.
While you certainly don’t need to be in a surplus to build muscle, you will slow down the process significantly if you try to do it while eating at maintenance or in a calorie deficit. As a rule of thumb, you should aim for one to four pounds of weight gain per month, depending on your gym experience and current muscular development. Beginners can aim for quicker weight gain, where more advanced folks should add weight moderately to avoid too much fat gain.
Second: We Can’t Forget About The Building Blocks
Eating enough food is vital for optimizing muscle growth. But without an adequate protein intake, you won’t get far. This is like having various building materials but failing to get enough bricks. Sure, you can lay down a foundation and start building. But you won’t get to build the house without the essential bricks.
Protein is what provides these bricks for the body - the amino acids. Each molecule of protein consists of various amounts of essential and non-essential amino acids. Once ingested, the body breaks down the protein, and the amino acids contribute to the plasma amino acid pool. This is something of an internal storage that travels through the bloodstream and lends building blocks where needed.
In the context of building muscle, the body needs amino acids to repair damaged muscle tissue and strengthen it. Without an adequate supply, these processes can’t happen as they should. Our recovery is slower, we don’t get stronger, and we are unable to build muscle.
All of this can happen even if we are otherwise eating enough calories, simply because fats and carbs don’t have protein’s muscle-building properties.
As a rule of thumb, we should get around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For instance, if you currently weigh 150 pounds, you should consume 120 grams of protein daily. You can even go as high as one gram per pound, but research doesn’t find extra benefits if you’re in a calorie surplus.
Carbs, Fats, And All That: How Big Of An Impact Does It Have On Us?
You can find a lot of information about the theoretical ‘best’ macronutrient split. Some recommend a low-fat approach; others tout low-carb and ketogenic dieting.
The truth is, your body needs some amounts of all three macronutrients to function well and build muscle optimally. In general, you might want to control your fat intake while eating in a surplus because the body readily stores dietary fats as adipose tissue.
No, this doesn’t mean ‘fat makes you fat.’ Instead, it means that certain energy sources might be a bit more beneficial. We still need some fats because they play an important role in our health and well-being. But getting too much can lead to slightly higher fat gains.
In contrast, a high-carb and moderate-fat approach allows you to train harder, recover better, replenish lost glycogen more quickly, and gain slightly less fat (so long as you control calories well). The last one is true because your body can’t readily store carbs as fat. It first needs to convert them to fatty acids through a process called de novo lipogenesis.
As a rule of thumb, once you’ve covered your protein needs, consume more carb-rich foods, and limit high-fat and pure fat foods. Aim for around 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight. For the same 150-pound person from above, that would be a daily goal of 60 grams of fat.
Nutrient Timing And Frequency: Learn How to Optimize Your Eating Schedule
What matters most is that you get enough calories and protein each day. Still, your meal frequency can have a small positive impact on your recovery, performance, and long-term results.
Specifically, research by Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues finds that multiple daily protein servings allow for a steady stream of amino acids. Theoretically, this should enable us to recover more quickly, break down less muscle tissue in response to training, and achieve better results.
For instance, if your daily protein needs are 160 grams, it would be a good idea to split that up into three or four servings, spaced a few hours apart.
Besides that, a meta-analysis by Schoenfeld and colleagues finds that post-training nutrition can play an essential role in our recovery and muscle gain. This is particularly true if we haven’t had any food in the hours leading up to our workout.
The researchers recommend a healthy blend of carbs and protein a couple of hours before training and a similar meal within a few hours of finishing a workout.
Pair you’re eating habits with one of our workout programs to start seeing some great results:
And show those gains off with our signature workout gear: