Diet plan for muscle provides the necessary nutrients needed to maintain strength while cutting/bulking. One of the biggest mistakes I see new clients making is not preparing their food properly or not keeping a record of what they are eating. This diet plan looks at what foods you should be eating and when, to gain/lose mass in the most efficient way possible.
How Does Your Body Build Muscle?
The process of muscle gain and fat loss happens primarily as a result of an energy imbalance i.e. the calorie equation.
Running on a treadmill for an hour each day won’t necessarily make you gain muscle mass. Neither will lifting weights alone. The real secret behind building muscle mass is a calorie surplus. A well-balanced diet combined with an efficient exercise regimen is essential to gaining lean muscle mass .
High-intensity training and hard weight lifting can provide dramatic results in muscle gain; however, without the right diet, it will not result in the body you want. In fact, without a balanced diet and sufficient calories, your hard workouts will be wasted on gaining no muscle at all.
How Many Calories Do You Need To Build Muscle?
A 7-day meal plan for weight loss and muscle gain consists of two phases, the bulking and cutting phase:
This phase allows for muscle gain and fat loss simultaneously. It lasts anywhere from a few months to years, depending on a number of factors such as experience level, time to reach desired goal, body weight, age, etc .
During your bulking phase, it’s recommended to increase your calorie intake by 15% (6). For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,500 per day, you should eat 2,875 calories per day (2,000 x 0.15 = 375) during your bulking phase.
After the bulking cycle has been completed, it becomes necessary to burn off the excess fat. The cutting phase is much shorter than the bulking phase, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to 6 months. During your cutting phase, it’s recommended to decrease your calorie intake by 15%. For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,500 per day, you should eat 2,125 calories per day (2,000 x 0.15 = 375) during your cutting phase.
How to diet for building muscle
Eating and sleeping are as important as working out when building muscle. Not getting enough calories or sleep will cancel your muscle gains.
This page shares the complete science of how to eat. It’s a master reference:
- How many calories to eat in a day
- How to design a meal plan that you can follow
- When you should eat
If you do just the following things correctly on a workout day, you should successfully see muscle gains:
- Complete all reps using proper form with heavier weights than your last workout.
- Eat enough calories to give your body the resources to build muscle. This page teaches this.
- Get enough sleep for your muscles to recover from workouts (study). To be safe, aim for the AASM and SRS recommendation for adults, which is 7 hours (study).
To repeat: If, on a given day, you nail a workout but don’t eat enough calories, you risk gaining ZERO muscle mass by the next morning. (You may still gain strength.)
Here’s the implication: If you suspect you’ll be unable to eat or sleep enough on a workout day, reschedule the workout to a day where think you will.
Meal calorie counts
On workout days, you have to eat enough calories to build new muscle. On non-workout days, you have to eat enough calories to avoid losing existing muscle.
If you don’t reach your bodybuilding diet’s daily calorie target, your body converts existing muscle and fat into energy. That means you lose the muscle you gained.
That’s the annoying part of building muscle: dieting consistency.
The Rock claims to eat nearly 5,000 calories per day. Watch his bodybuilding diet:
Your personal daily calorie target is calculated from what’s called your your basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the amount of calories you burn just by being awake for a day; your body uses a lot of energy to perform basic functions like pumping blood and powering your brain.
This means if you eat precisely your BMR’s worth of calories in a day, and you perform no physical activity (e.g. walking, running, weightlifting) to burn calories, you should get enough calories to prevent your body from breaking down your existing muscle.
However, since most of us aren’t sedentary, plus we’re regularly going to the gym, which itself burns calories, we must eat calories beyond our BMR to avoid being in a calorie deficit by the time we go to sleep.
Use the calculator below to estimate your daily target. The numbers outputted are how many calories you should eat on your workout and non-workout days.
Again, workout days require extra calories to make up for what you burn while exercising.
For the weight field, select what your scale says upon waking up (before eating). For the walking and non-weightlifting exercise fields (e.g. running, biking, swimming), enter how many hours of exercise you perform on average each week.
Here is a sample 7-day meal plan for muscles.
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs, stir-fried veggies, and oatmeal
- Snack: whey protein shake
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast, mixed greens, and baked sweet potato
- Snack: hard-boiled egg(s) and carrot sticks
- Dinner: broiled fish, green beans with brown rice
- Breakfast: protein pancakes with fresh berries
- Snack: apple slices and almonds
- Lunch: lean ground beef burger on lettuce with tomato, onion, and green beans
- Snack: protein shake
- Dinner: shrimp stir-fried with bell pepper and brown rice over spinach
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt, almonds or walnuts, whole grain granola, and fresh berries
- Snack: protein shake
- Lunch: grilled fish with a spinach salad and broccoli
- Snack: egg white omelet with bell peppers and mushrooms
- Dinner: chicken breast topped with fresh salsa with a sweet potato and a side salad
- Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and scrambled egg whites
- Snack: turkey breast with carrots and celery
- Lunch: sirloin steak with broccoli and mushrooms
- Snack: apples with natural nut butter
- Dinner: broiled fish, brown rice, and a mixed green salad
- Breakfast: protein shake with oatmeal
- Snack: hard-boiled egg whites with sliced peppers and cucumbers
- Lunch: grilled chicken with white bean and tomato salad
- Snack: Greek yogurt with berries and nuts
- Dinner: grilled fish with quinoa and green beans
- Breakfast: scrambled egg whites with cheese, peppers, herbs, and Ezekiel bread
- Snack: protein shake
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast with bell peppers, black beans, and onions over romaine lettuce
- Snack: apple and almonds
- Dinner: sirloin steak with sweet potato and asparagus
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with whole grain granola and berries
- Snack: turkey breast with carrots and celery sticks
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast over spinach with sliced strawberries and almonds
- Snack: protein shake
- Dinner: shrimp stir-fried with peppers, onions, and broccoli over brown rice
Supplements can play an important role in providing nutrients to a bodybuilder.
According to a recent review, supplements and vitamins that may help a bodybuilder include:
- creatine monohydrate: 3 g a day
- beta-alanine: 3–5 g a day
- citrulline malate: 8 g a day
- caffeine: 5–6 milligrams per kg of body weight per day
- omega-3 supplements
There is some debate about whether protein shakes are necessary for bodybuilding.
Protein shakes can help people who cannot get all the protein they need from their daily diet. A person may want to avoid shakes with excessive added sugar unless it is consistent with their nutritional needs.
When choosing any supplement, a person should note that the regulation of the supplement industry by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source is not as strict as for pharmaceuticals. People should look for supplements that verify their products using a third party.
They should also seek advice from their doctor or nutritionist when choosing a supplement or shake.
Bodybuilding diet meals
All of this advice is recapped for you in the cheatsheet at bottom of this page.
First, there is no special “bodybuilding diet.” There’s just common sense nutrition and daily calorie targets. You can follow any diet you want: ketogenic, paleo, whatever. So long as you hit your protein and calorie targets, research suggests you’re fine.
To consistently reach your daily calorie target, it’s critical to develop a reliable muscle building meal plan based off what I call “core foods.” These are healthy, high-calorie foods you should stock in your kitchen to form the basis of meals:
- 1 packet of plain instant oatmeal: 125 calories (easiest to cook)
- 1 5″ sweet potato: 115 calories (cooks quickly in the microwave)
- 1 cup of cooked brown rice: 200 calories (this is the least healthy option)
- 1 can of black beans: 350 calories (easiest to buy canned)
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 220 calories (hard to find pre-cooked for a low price)
- 1 can of lentils: 350 calories (easiest to buy canned from the supermarket)
- 1/4 bag of Soylent powder: 500 calories (a meal substitute)
If your day’s target is 2,000 calories, and you’ve chosen to eat the majority of your calories from brown rice (200 calories per can), that’s 10 cups of brown rice to eat.
In practice, I’d vary it up a bit so you balance your nutrients. For most people, the intersection of ease, price, and taste makes brown rice, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal the go-to muscle building core foods.
Every day for as long as you want to build or maintain muscle, you must eat enough to reach your calorie target.
Decide which of the core foods you’re willing to eat. Then buy a ton of them. Don’t overlook the convenience of having these simple go-to foods on-hand. Otherwise you’ll cave and eat out more than you should. When you eat out, it’s tough to know how many calories you’re getting. There’s a lot of hidden oil and sugar.
Of course, you can also eat other foods beyond these core foods. You have a life to live, and who doesn’t like dining out and making home cooked meals! That’s no problem. But you’ll need to develop a rough idea of the calories in the non-core meals you eat so you know how much of your core to avoid eating that day.
Keep in mind alcohol is a common sources of sneaky calories. They add up quicker than people realize. For example, a typical 250 ml bottle of fruit juice is 120 calories, and 1 can of coke or beer is 150 calories.
Now let’s walk through a calorie counting example.
If you eat a 500 calorie restaurant lunch and a 1000 calorie restaurant dinner, subtract 1,500 from your 2,000 daily target to determine how many calories you must get from core foods. 500 remaining calories is 1.5 cans of beans or lentils we must eat. Hopefully we add some spice and veggies to keep it interesting.
To keep your calculations simple, you can make some assumptions when eating out:
- A small meal (e.g. chicken breast, vegetables, lettuce): 250 calories.
- A medium meal (e.g. small portion of turkey, heavy oil and sauce): 500 calories.
- A large meal (e.g. 8oz steak, sweet potatoes, beer): 750 calories.
These numbers are low-balled by 25-35% because we can’t risk undereating. Failing to hit your calorie target will hinder or prevent muscle growth from that day’s workout. (Yes, slightly overeating on workout days means you might gain a couple pounds of fat by the end of this program. But you can burn that off when you’re done gaining muscle.)
If there are certain foods or meals you regularly eat, take the time to jot down the calorie counts listed on their nutritional labels. If you’re eating a prepared meal that doesn’t have a label, you can use MyFitnessPal to tally up the calorie counts for the meal’s individual food items (e.g. steak, potatoes, gravy).
You don’t have to constantly do this. The goal is just to have a rough idea of how many calories you’re getting from non-core meals so you instinctively know how many cups/cans of core foods you don’t have to eat that day.