As with anything in life – you gotta want it. The starting point to all great achievement is desire. Once you have decided that you are serious about building some quality muscle all you have to do is game plan.
A lot of variables come into play when it comes to building lean muscle; training, rest, recovery, age, genetics, etc… For the purposes of this article we are going to focus on the most important aspect of improving your lean body mass with nutrition since so many people are completely lost here. Proper Nutrition is by far the most important aspect of building a bigger, stronger and more muscular body. You cannot build a house without raw materials like wood, brick, metal etc…
Building muscle is the same way, food is the raw material that will allow you to increase the size of the muscles you have. The training is the stimulus -or what stimulates the muscles to grow and you can think about that stimulus very much like the construction workers using the raw materials to build the house.
There are 5 key elements when it comes to nutrition; protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins/minerals and water. And building muscles is very much a numbers game when it comes down to what, how much and when you consume these vital nutrients. Here is a simple guide that will get you on the right path to building the solid lean quality mass you are looking for.
PROTEIN – it’s what builds muscle – it’s what it does and you cannot build muscle without it protein and many people simply do not consume enough protein. Protein is made up of amino acids and helps to repair damaged muscle tissue and build bigger and stronger muscles. As a general rule of thumb, you need to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to facilitate growth. So for someone weighing 180 pounds you need at least 170 grams of protein a day spread out over 5 to 7 meals daily. That comes out to around 30 grams of protein per meal, give or take, depending on the frequency of your meals and your diet flexibility. As mentioned this is a starting point for protein consumption and based off your gains you can make adjustments up or down.
Mass Building Tip: Consume a protein rich meal prior to bed, preferably one that contains slow releasing protein like casein found in dairy products like a milk, cottage cheese, greek yogurt. The theory here is that you are not eating while your are sleeping and this is when you recover and grow. Your body naturally produces hormones that help you recover and regenerate. Having a slow releasing protein meal prior to sleep helps keep key amino acids readily available to facilitate the growth and recover process.
Make your own shake of some greek yogurt, whey protein, peanut butter or almond butter. I make a decadent dessert comprised of non-fat cottage cheese, whey protein isolate, greek yogurt and my favorite choice of nut butter. I mix that in a bowl and I have a sinfully delicious anabolic and anti-catabolic dessert that tastes like cheese cake filling and gives me just what I need to facilitate growth and health. Slow releasing casein from the greek yogurt and cottage cheese, probiotics for optimal gut health and digestion from the greek yogurt, key amino acids and growth factors in the whey protein and healthy fats in my nut butter of choice.
Hard Gainer Tip: if you get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, make a trip to the kitchen and slam down some protein. Make sure to have plenty of readily available protein sources handy. Hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, chick breasts, protein shakes that are made for the midnight owl. Keep feeing the machine and grow!
CARBOHYDRATES – provide fuel – energy – for your body to perform. Lifting weights to build muscle and recovering from training uses up a lot of energy. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle in the form of glycogen and provide fuel for your workouts. The better your workouts, the greater stimulus you can generate for building muscle and allowing protein to do its work. As a general rule of thumb, I like to recommend on lean mass building programs is 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight to start. Taking that 180 lb. individual this is going to be 360 grams of carbohydrates divided over the 5 to 7 meal range. If you find that this formula is not working gradually build up your carbs by .5 gram per lb. of bodyweight until you get the desired results. If you are putting on too much body fat, then lower the amount of carbs.
The majority of carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates which include; whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley, millet, spelt pasta, lentils, black beans, kidney beans etc… other good sources are sweet potatoes or yams and some whole grain pastas like spelt or buck wheat. Make sure to include a cup of green veggies with a few of your meals for added fiber and key vitamins and minerals that help your body run better. Complex carbohydrates fill you up more making you less likely to over eat and put on excess body fat. The rational for choosing a diet rich in complex carbohydrates is that they slowly release and provide long lasting fuel throughout the day and keep insulin levels in check. Insulin is a tricky hormone and if you are trying to keep body fat in check you need to keep insulin at bay. It is both friend and foe as I will soon explain.
Mass Building Tip: Post workout nutrition should be your biggest/highest calorie meal and should contain simple carbohydrates to generate and insulin spike. I am of the belief that almost anything goes post workout. Have a Bagel with some Honey and some Fast acting whey protein right after your workout. Feel like a pop tart – go for it. Provided that you really trained hard your body is primed to take in those simple carbs and store them in the muscle as glycogen and use those anabolic amino acids to generate muscle growth. Here is the deal, insulin is the most anabolic hormone our body produces. It is anabolic both to fat tissue and muscle tissue, meaning if there is a surplus of nutrients in the blood that cause the body to produce insulin, it is going to store them. That is why we want to keep at bay at other times of the day. Post workout, the transporter mechanism of glucose that is in both muscle and fat tissue called GLUT-4 is activated in the muscle, meaning and insulin spike post workout works wonders for the anabolic process of building muscle. Initiating this insulin spike drives glycogen, nutrients and water in the muscle cell aiding in recovery and growth of muscle tissue and suppresses the stress hormone cortisol that eats up your muscles and makes you fat.
Hard Gainer Tip: Throw in a couple of cheat meals. You may have one of those metabolism that is just on fire. Pick a day or two where you sensibly indulge in foods like pizza, bacon cheeseburger for a meal or two to really ramp up the calories and keep your bodies anabolic hormones producing at optimal levels.
FATS – I like to recommend about 20% your total daily calories should come from fat. And while fat tends to scare most people away, it is essential to overall health and particularly building muscle. Diets that contain a higher amount of fat, those in the 20 to 30% range of total calories, specifically some that contain some saturated fats can help to maintain testosterone levels which are critical to overall muscle growth and even fat loss. Essential fatty acids like Omega 3’s help to support recovery, reduce inflammation, aid joint health and heart disease and actually help reduce body fat by reducing stress hormones.
MASS BUILDING TIP: Have a jar of almond butter handy at all times as well as ziploc bags with mixed nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. These are quick nutrient rich snacks that offer you energy to fuel your metabolism and extra calories to help your body be in a state that is conducive to muscle growth. Be careful to not go too crazy and eat too much of these tasty fats as the calories pile on quick.
HARD GAINER TIP: Drizzle your veggies in olive oil or add chopped up nuts to your veggies. You can also sauté your meats and veggies in olive oil or coconut oil as a way to add extra calories and key anabolic producing fats to your diet.
In focusing on these types and amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, again it is also important to spread your meals out over 5 to 7 portions to make sure your body always has the nutrients it needs to facilitate growth and repair. Largest meals of the day should be breakfast and post workout.
There is a lot of people right now just focusing on hitting their macros for the day. Meaning it does not matter where the food comes from, but as long as they get X amount of Protein, X amount of Carbs X amount of fat and calories it does not matter where the food comes from and when they eat them. Real world as well as research shows that nutrient timing and food sources play a pivotal role in improving body composition. Certain foods the body simply utilizes better than others, so focus on the quality food sources mentioned here and go out and find some others of your own liking.
Another key recommendation of mine is to eat as wide of a variety of foods as possible and include as many colors in your diet as possible. Especially in a diet for those of you looking to build muscle. A variety and color rich diet provides many key vitamins and minerals, not to mention phytonutrients that acts as co enzymes and help your body work and stay healthy.
Lastly remember to hydrate. I recommend drinking at least a gallon of water per day and on extremely hot days or days where you exert even more stress like leg day or back day, shoot for a gallon and a half. Water may be one of the most under rated or acknowledged aspects of health. Our bodies are about 70% water and it fuels many processes in the body. A dehydrated body is going to be weaker and not perform optimally, so if you want to be your strongest in the gym so you can improve your build drink up throughout the day.
Well, that sums up the nutrition basics of improving your composition in regards to muscle mass. Following these guidelines will set you in the right direction to achieve your goals. So get in the trenches, train hard and smart. Rest properly and eat because it is growing time San Diego!