Nutrition for Muscle Building
Learn nutrition basics for muscle building - improve your muscle gains and limit fat gains.
Learn how to eat healthy and how much to eat.
Design a diet that meets your needs.
Evaluating your diet keeps you on track.
What to Eat & How Much
You should get at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight (ie. for example, if you weight 130 lbs, you need 0.8×130 = 104g of protein), 175g or more carbohydrates and 50g or more fats. For more details on these numbers, see the caloric needs and recommended nutrient amounts sections.
Healthy Food Choices
The concept of "clean eating" to reduce fat gains is highly flawed. If you get enough protein and carbohydrates, and your daily caloric surplus is not too large, you will not gain too much fat (go to the healthy eating section to read more). Instead of "clean eating", I ascribe to healthy eating. Some good healthy eating principles are:
- Consume foods from all food groups in nutrient-dense forms (this is the same as "less-processed").
- Reduce intake of trans-fats which are found in hydrogenated oils.
- Replace solid fats with oils (major sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids) when possible. You may wish to avoid corn oil for its high Omega 6 (inflammatory) content.
- Reduce intake of added sugars.
- Reduce intake of refined grains (eg. white flour, white rice) and replace some refined grains with whole grains.
- Reduce intake of sodium (major component of salt).
- If consumed, limit alcohol intake to moderate levels (one drink a day at most).
- Increase intake of vegetables and fruits.
- Increase intake of whole grains.
- Increase intake of milk and milk products.
- Increase seafood intake by replacing some meat or poultry with seafood to increase Omega-3 intake.
How Much to Eat
I recommend you eat approximately 200-300 calories over your maintenance. The best way to determine your maintenance calories is by trial and error - ie. find the calorie level that stabilizes your weight. If you have no idea what your maintenance is, use the caloric needs calculator to get an estimate. If you are not gaining any weight over a 4 week period, you are not going to be gaining much muscle. Do not put your caloric intake too low!
How to Design your Diet
Now that you know how many calories you will be eating, you can design 3 meals and between 0 and 2 mini-meals (snacks). This is easily done using the online diet tracker SparkPeople. If you are having trouble learning how to use SparkPeople, watch this youtube how-to video. If you like, you can start with the meal plan inside sparkpeople and adjust the food quantities to meet your needs. I suggest designing the meal plans weekly as this will aid in grocery shopping and help abate last-minute choices.
In order to tell if your diet is working, you will want to be fairly compliant with your diet. I recommend following your diet at least 90% of the time. If you eat 5 meals per day, that means at most 3 meals per week will be off diet (0.90×(5×7)=3).
When you are following your diet plan, try to measure most things with a food scale and/or measuring cups. Eyeballing is not recommended.
To make it easier to follow your diet, consider premaking meals/snacks on the weekend and freezing (for perishible foods) or storing in baggies (for non-perishible foods). For example, chicken and rice freezes well; and you can put 1 oz servings of almonds and raisins in little snack bags.
Evaluating Dietary Success
If you are trying to gain muscle, as a female, you should be seeing monthly changes to how you look in the mirror and your measurements (measure biceps, waist, hips, thighs and calves). Typical weight gain for a novice female trainer should be at most 2 pounds a month.
If you are trying to gain muscle, and your weight is stagnant, you are probably not eating enough calories. If you are not seeing monthly changes to appearance, you either aren’t eating enough, or you need to have another look at the effectiveness of your weight training program. To fix the issue, raise calories slowly, 100 every week.
If you are on a muscle gain diet, and would like to end your diet you can lower your calories to your maintenance right away. Ensure that you account for any gains in body weight when determining how many calories you need.