When it comes to building muscle mass, there are three main components. The first is training. If a muscle is not sufficiently challenged to the point of breaking down, it has no reason to grow. This is the part of muscle growth that most people are aware of and understand; however, there are two other key factors. Nutrition and rest are just as, if not more important than your actual training. In order to build your muscles, you must train and then consume adequate calories to provide the necessary building blocks. You must also ensure that you get enough rest otherwise you will either overtrain or end up with lackluster results.
In this article we will focus on nutrition. When it comes to nutrition you must do more than just eat. If you spend all your calories eating junk food it will likely manifest as fat making you more likely to see a spare tire than a chiseled torso. However, you must do more that just eat healthy to gain muscle mass. You need to have a plan. As Winston Churchill once said "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Nutrition is about more than just avoiding grease. I would define nutrition as a cross between selecting a variety of different foods and meal planning. In my opinion, this is the definition of healthy eating habits.
When it comes to building muscles, this is the key macronutrient for you to consume. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. Without them, your muscles cannot rebuild themselves. Protein has the added benefit of providing increased satiety. This means it makes you feel full longer.
Lean protein is best because it is lower in fat which we know is a substance we want to pay close attention to. Some of the best proteins include eggs, lean beef, chicken, fish, turkey, Greek yogurt, beans, and nuts. (Nuts have some fat but the fat they tend to contain is better for you.)
Reading that word makes you feel like you are back in science class, doesn’t it? Carbs are energy. You need to have them to make it through the day and to have the energy to power through exercises. Without carbs, your body will begin to tap into the body’s proteins, potentially breaking down your precious muscle in order to function and operate. This is obviously counterproductive to the goal of building muscle mass. Consume carbohydrates throughout the day.
A good rule that I follow is consuming two parts carbs for every one part protein. Reserve fast (simple) digesting carbs (i.e. bananas, white bread, white rice, etc.) for early in the day and before or after workout. Your body will need the faster carbs to function in the morning and have something to burn for energy.
Eating carbs post workout is helpful because you will need to replenish the energy you burned during the workout. The rest of your meals for the day should contain slow (complex) digesting carbs items like sweet potatoes, whole grains, and legumes. Many fruits and veggies are also classified as slow carbs.
It is important to remember that fat is dense and the consumption of it can mean less appetite for protein and the body needs protein to build muscle. Still it is important to note that fats help with many essential bodily functions like improving heart health and cholesterol. Fat is essential in this way since we need our body operating at its best capacity while we aim to increase muscle mass. We want most of our fats to come from healthy sources. This means olive oil, fish oil, avocado, and nuts. These can be spread throughout the day in moderation.
There are some protein sources that also provide healthy fats. Examples include cashews, almonds, and most nut butters. Fish is another source that has a high healthy fat content. Look for tuna and other fish that are wild caught and/or have low mercury levels.
Below is a meal plan that outlines these principles:
- Time: First few hours after waking
- Food: 3 Eggs, 1 Muffin (any kind), Fruit
Meal: Mid-morning Snack
- Time: 2-3 hours after Breakfast
- Food: 4oz Tuna, 1Tb Mayo, 1tsp Relish, Whole Wheat Crackers
- Time: 2-3 hours after Snack
- Food: 6oz Chicken Breast, 1/2 cup Brown Rice, 1/2 cup Steamed Veggies
Meal: Afternoon Snack
- Time: 2-3 hours after Lunch
- Food: 5 oz Greek Yogurt w/ Honey, 1 piece of Fruit, handful of Almonds
- Time: Approximately 1-2 hours after Lunch and 1 hour before workout
- Food: 20g Whey Protein, 1 slice Whole Wheat Toast
Meal: Post Workout
- Time: Approximately 30 min-1 hour after workout
- Food: 20g Whey Protein, 8 oz Milk, 1 Banana
- Time: 2-3 hours after Post Workout
- Food: 5oz Lean Sirloin, 1 cup Spinach, 5 Cherry Tomatoes, and a drizzle of Vinaigrette.
The total protein intake for this plan is about 177g. This can be adjusted to suit your needs. To gain muscle mass I recommend you try to consume 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight. This is a little lower than the recommended amount for athletes and as such is a good starting point. You can adjust and include more or protein at each meal based on your weight.
Notice the lack of simple carbs with the exception of post workout and early in the morning. Also note the spacing of the protein consumption. Your goal is to consume adequate amounts of protein. Avoid gorging and the inevitable hour long wait for food to digest.
Anthony Fowler is a certified Army Master Fitness Trainer who has been a fitness and nutrition enthusiast since he was 19. He has tried everything from Kefir to Tribulus in his quest to gain muscle mass and maintain a healthy lifestyle. He is a husband and father of three, and aspiring chef who enjoys lifting heavy weights, cooking healthy meals, and sharing his knowledge and experiences with anyone who will listen.
Main Photo Credit & Fifth Photo Credit: Jasminko Ibrakovic/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Kiian Oksana/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Dokmaihaeng/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Eugenia Lucasenco/shutterstock.com