Good Diet Plan For Building Muscle — Bodybuilders throughout the ages have sworn by certain diets for building muscle, and most seem to do one thing in common: They cut down on carbs. It may not be realistic for you to completely eliminate these energy-providing nutrients from your diet when you work out regularly, but it wouldn’t hurt to give a few of these tested and true tips a shot this year.
Diet is the cornerstone of any muscle-building and fat-reducing regimen. The right diet will make all the difference between adding lean muscle and simply toning your body. The wrong diet, on the other hand, can lead to frustration and disappointment.
The Bodybuilder’s Diet: 8 New Rules of Muscle Building
You can crank out heavy squats and curls until your quads and biceps scream for mercy, and still you can’t seem to build the muscle you want.
What’s going on?
If you’re struggling to grow muscle despite your dedication in the gym, your problem most likely isn’t your workout, but rather your diet and lifestyle.
Building muscle is a complex science. It’s a coalescence of your lifting, your nutrition, your hormones, and your rest. So, let’s assume you’re doing everything right in the gym—following a good program and pushing yourself hard. Keep it up.
But now let’s focus on the other stuff. Are you getting enough protein and calories? Are you supporting your endocrine system properly? Are you getting quality sleep? Tweaking these crucial variables will result in the kind of muscle that fills out a T-shirt—and then some.
“Nutrition is the cornerstone in building lean muscle,” says nutritionist and exercise physiologist Jim White, R.D. “If the protein isn’t there, it’s not going to help your muscles grow. If the carbs aren’t there, you’re going to feel sluggish. If the fat isn’t there, it’s going to affect energy levels and overall health.”
In short, it’s time to master the soft art of building hard muscle—meal time. Your diet needs to be strategically choreographed to accelerate the repair-and-grow process that follows that strenuous workout session you’re so proud of.
White knows the right formula. A former skinny athlete, he was a self-described “hard gainer,” frustrated by his inability to grow bigger and stronger and run faster. Then he took a hard look at his crappy diet: He ate like a bird. Rarely touched fruits and vegetables. He gravitated toward sugary processed junk.
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His nutrition training opened his eyes to his problem, and he changed his body and his life. He started eating six meals a day, increasing his daily calories to 3,500 and began experimenting with different percentages of macronutrients until he found the sweet spot.
Suddenly, his energy skyrocketed, making his time in the gym more productive. Now he’s jacked—he added 70 pounds of lean muscle and saw huge strength gains. The guy who struggled to bench 65 pounds can now press 295.
Best Meals for Muscle: A No-BS 3-Week Plan for Big Gains
White shares his story of total body transformation and the plan that got him there in the new book Men’s Health Best Meals for Muscle. Here’s a sample of White’s muscle building plan, below. To finesse your own massive growth spurt, grab a copy of Best Meals for Muscle; it’s full of White’s expert advice and tasty, easy-to-cook meals with the right macronutrient mix to fuel your transition.
1. Eat More Protein
The actual process of growing muscle, when cells rush in to rebuild your torn-down muscle fibers, happens not in the gym but after your workout, when you rest. And the composition of what you eat before and after you stress that muscle can mean the difference between building up the muscle or destroying it.
Making sure you’re eating enough protein is of paramount importance for two reasons:
1. Proteins deliver the amino acids that form the building blocks of muscle. When intense weightlifting breaks down muscle protein synthesis provides the proteins needed to repair that muscle and spur it to grow bigger.
2. Your body also looks to proteins to supply amino acids for producing hormones like insulin and human growth hormone, which can further drain protein reserves. A higher protein diet ensures you have more than enough to go around and shifts your body into an anabolic mode, one that builds tissues rather than breaking them down.
While the recommended daily allowance for protein is less than half a gram per pound of bodyweight, you should double that to a gram per pound of bodyweight to build muscle. That’s the maximum amount your body can use in a day, according to a landmark study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
So, for example, a 160-pound man should try to consume 160 grams of protein a day in order to fuel muscle growth. One hundred sixty grams of protein looks like this: 8 ounces of chicken breast, 1 cup of cottage cheese, a roast beef sandwich, two eggs, a glass of milk, and 2 ounces of peanuts.
2. Consume More Calories
If you’re weight training to bulk up, don’t eat like a guy who’s trying to lose weight. Growing a pound of muscle requires about 2,800 calories. That means you may have to overeat to consume enough calories to build size.
In fact, in some studies, researchers found that lifters with the greatest gains in muscle were the men who were the biggest eaters. White’s plan calls for boosting your calories to 3,000 a day. That’s a lot of food to consume in three squares, so White recommends you . . .
Eat Every 3 Hours (roughly)
By spreading your calories out over, say, six meals spaced about 3 hours apart, you’ll avoid that full-belly feeling that can make you sluggish, and you’ll ensure your muscles get consistently stoked with protein and carbs. Your body needs a constant supply of macronutrients and micronutrients to operate properly, especially when it is being taxed by intense exercise.
Shoot for about 30 grams of protein per meal. That’ll get most people into the proper range for muscle growth.
Get the Right Mix of Macros
Protein is critical, but it shouldn’t be a soloist when you’re orchestrating a plan for building mass. The other macronutrients, namely carbohydrates and healthy fats, influence muscle growth, too. By getting your macro ratio right, you can expect to see your gains skyrocket and avoid adding body fat even with the increase in calories, says White. Best Meals for Muscle makes hitting that holy grail ratio of 50 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent fat easy by translating it into ideal meal examples (and recipes) you can use to fuel your day.
Hydrate for More T
Exercise-induced dehydration slows your motor neurons. Not only will you feel fatigue sooner during a workout than you otherwise would, but your performance slips as well.
What’s more, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that dehydrated weight lifters produced more of the stress hormone cortisol, while reducing the release of testosterone, the body’s best muscle builder.
Find Your Whey
Right after your workout, drink a whey protein shake that delivers about 25 grams of protein per serving. Whey digests more quickly than other types of protein, so it hits your muscles faster. Whey protein also has the highest concentration of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, which is required for protein synthesis.
Have a Banana Before a Workout
Or some Greek yogurt. Or a low-sugar sports drink. All are rich in electrolytes, which help your muscles contract. Exercise depletes electrolytes fast. Be sure you don’t run short and cramp up.
Time Your Meals
If you’re serious about packing on more muscle, get serious about being more disciplined about when you eat. You can start by creating a meal plan and sticking to strict meal times. Begin refueling shortly after you wake up and stop eating three hours before going to bed. Remember, your body repairs and builds muscles as you sleep. Eating just before bed can disrupt your sleep and throw a monkey wrench into that crucial repair process.
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Clean vs. Dirty Bulking
Simply getting bigger is not better when it comes to the ideal bulking strategy. Old-school bodybuilders like Frank Zane and Vince Gironda—arguably two of the greatest physiques of all time—would tell you that you look a lot more impressive by adding five to eight pounds of fat-free muscle mass than by slapping on 10 pounds of muscle with 20 pounds of belly marbling. These days, traditional bulking strategies tend to fall under two broad categories, and they both leave much to be desired.
It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right, just eat it, eat it, eat it: The “dirty” school of thought is that as long as you down enough protein, you can garbage disposal whatever else you want, regardless of food quality. Even if this “crap loading” works physique-wise, it’s not a wise choice from a long-term health perspective. (Admit it, you know.)
If you are pounding foods loaded with sugar, trans fats, and omega-6 vegetable oils every day, cell-membrane integrity and elasticity can be compromised, chronic systemic inflammation can predispose you to disease—or at least debilitating joint pain—and you may just end up with the emotional stability of a seesaw.
Even if you’re not scared of disease and care only about how you look, consider that poor food choices can reduce insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning toward the muscle cell. This makes it harder to gain quality muscle mass with each successive bulk, and next to impossible to shed that last layer of flab when shifting into a shredding phase.
What’s the unappealing alternative? A hyper-micromanaged diet, or traditional “clean” bulk, where you eat every 1 1/2 hours, carry around seven, different plastic containers containing a weird mix of tuna and broccoli, display obsessive-compulsive behavior, have your life revolve around your diet, and likely become a hermit.
That may work for the five percent of the population who are professional athletes and models, but it is not a sustainable approach for most of us with more common careers and lifestyles. These plans may look immaculate on paper, but they rarely work off of it. Luckily, there is an alternative plan that optimizes food choices for overall health and quality of gains and is also flexible enough in structure to be practical in the real world.
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Bulking by the Numbers
Lets take a step back for a second. Make no mistake, while we can argue over optimum dietary approaches into eternity, consistently hitting the right calories and macronutrients will always be the most important step in achieving any body composition goal, including bulking. Here’s a recommended starting point, using a 175-pound male as an example:
16 per pound of body weight
16 x 175 lbs = 2,800 calories
1g per pound of body weight
1g x 175 lbs = 700 calories (175g protein)
25% of calories
2,800 calories x 0.25 = 700 calories (75g fat)
2,800-700-700 = 1,400 calories (350g carbs)
From this starting point, everything needs to be tested, assessed, and refined in the real world to produce optimum results. Ectomorphs may need to push the calories up to 20 per pound of body weight. Endomorphs may need to implement a more cyclical dieting strategy by lowering calories to maintenance levels or below on rest days (12–14 per pound of body weight) in order to avoid gaining fat.
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The Science Behind the Size
Once you get your optimum numbers dialed in, the flexibility of your diet opens up. That’s because research shows that as long as you account for calories and macronutrients, meal frequency is irrelevant in terms of changing body composition. If that’s the case, choosing the right diet structure for you is about making your plan as realistic, functional, and sustainable as possible, and not about clinging to bro science.
Theoretically, you could eat your 2,800 calories over six small meals, three average-size ones, or one to two large meals and get equally impressive results. But which one is the most practical in the real world of a working professional—plastic containers and clock watching or consistently nailing down a solid lunch and dinner?
I advocate following an intermittent, fast-eating structure—going light and low-carb during the day and then eating the majority of your calories and carbs at night—simply because it is the easiest plan to follow for the majority of guys out there. It fits in with our business and social patterns. It aligns with our natural instincts. It breaks dietary obsession.
Human beings evolved on a fasting and feeding cycle. We spent the majority of our existence fasting or eating lighter during the day while actively tracking, hunting, and gathering our food. Then we spent the evening relaxing and feasting on the majority, if not all, of our daily food intake. Train. Feast. Repeat.
This method is extremely effective on a physiological level. It controls insulin and blood sugar levels, and maximizes fat-burning hormones and cellular factors like growth hormone (GH) and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) during the day. This ensures that you are burning fat for a large portion of the day. It also boosts energy and improves cognitive function.
Going big with a nightly feast maximizes muscle-building hormones and additional cellular factors like cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). And with depleted energy reserves and damaged muscle fibers from training, you’ll be more than ready for a chowdown throwdown. The best part is you’ll be craving foods that serve a metabolic purpose—high-quality proteins, clean carbs, and healthy fats. The desire to dirty bulk with crap and eat useless foods will be dramatically reduced after eating a complete, satiating, whole-food dinner.
What the heck does this mean outside of the lab in the real world of the gym? You get to bulk the right way, and you build muscle while keeping body fat in check—all without compromising your overall health.
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How to Intermittent Fast
Skip it. Black coffee is recommended. Plain tea is fine, too.
Combine an 8- to 12-oz. serving of protein with 1 to 2 servings of whole-food fats. Unlimited non-starchy vegetables can be included.
Combine a 12- to 16-oz serving of protein with 5 to 6 servings of starchy carbs. Unlimited, non-starchy vegetables can be included.
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Sample Meal Plans
- 8-oz. chicken breast
- Mixed salad
- 1 whole avocado
- 16-oz. sea salt and pepper flank steak
- 48-oz. baked potato
- Steamed vegetables
- 8-oz. sirloin steak
- 1/2 cup almonds
- 16-oz. garlic chicken and vegetable stir-fry
- 6 cups white rice
- 12-oz. turkey breast
- Mixed salad
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
- 12-oz. baked salmon
- 5 cups mashed sweet potato
- Green beans and shiitake mushrooms