Most people think that muscle gain only happens in the gym, and naturally that’s where a lot of the attention goes.
But, the difference between making gains and staying in the same place really comes from what you are putting into your body, and whether your nutrition is on point. A muscle gain diet is a must if you want to make those gains.
The right types of food, taken at the right times, and in the right amounts are key to not only supporting your training efforts, but also the recovery process as well.
Having the fuel you need to push yourself is important, as well as the building blocks for repair.
In this post, we’re going to cover exactly what you need to consider in your diet and with your nutrition in order to maximize your training efforts. We’ll also talk about some of the best foods for muscle gain.
Protein For Muscle Gain
Protein is synonymous with muscle gain, for good reason. Muscle is literally made from protein. It’s the core building block for making new muscles.
The core constituents of protein are amino acids. These act as building blocks for new cells, not just for muscle but for bones and other tissues, too.
The main reason we are consuming protein though, is in fact for skeletal muscle. There are other benefits to consuming higher amounts of protein, but for weight training we will focus on muscle gain.
The general consensus for consuming ‘enough’ protein is based around an amount that will stimulate the process of creating new muscle, also known as muscle protein synthesis.
Studies say that ~0.3g/kg/meal of high quality protein is enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis after a single meal (1). This should be repeated at every meal during the day.
For the average person of 70kg that would be (0.3g x 70kg = 21g protein per meal).
This is roughly 1.2g protein / kg per day (based on 3x meals and snacks) this person needs to take to gain muscle.
1.2g/kg is the lower level to shoot for with muscle gain. Some studies say consuming levels of up to 2g of protein per kg of body weight is optimal for muscle gain (2).
Try to shoot for at least 1.2g/kg body weight, and increase as needed up to 2g.
Not all protein is created equal. You may have heard people talking about protein quality, which can vary from food to food.
The protein quality of a food depends on the mixture of building blocks they have (amino acids), and whether they contain the ‘essential’ amino acids. The body can't make essential amino acids, so it has to get them from food. Then others can be made from them, in order to make new muscle tissue.
The best sources of complete protein are:
- Chicken, Beef, Pork, and Salmon are some of the most easily absorbed and highest quality sources of protein.
- Milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of complete protein, as well as calcium and other essential nutrients.
- Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein, and can be prepared in a variety of ways.
- Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all complete proteins, and are a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
- Quinoa is a complete protein grain, and is a great alternative to rice and other grains.
- Beans, lentils and peas are all good sources of complete protein when combined with grains such as rice, and are also a great source of fiber and other nutrients.
- Nuts and seeds can be combined to create a complete protein source.
To summarize, it's key to take in at least 1.2-2g protein per day to gain muscle.
Carbohydrates and Muscle Gain
Carbs are a key source of stored energy, which comes in the form of glycogen. This glycogen is then used as energy during exercise, allowing the muscles to work harder and for a longer period of time.
So carbs literally fuel workouts, by providing the energy needed to perform work.
Having carbs after a workout can also help replenish glycogen stores and aid in the recovery process. This is important for muscle growth because muscles need energy to repair and grow.
Consuming carbohydrates after a workout can also help to increase insulin levels, which can help protein synthesis and muscle growth.
To properly incorporate carbs into a muscle-gaining diet, focus on consuming nutrient-dense, high-quality carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
These types of carbohydrates provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber in addition to energy.
Consuming carbs both before and after a workout is important for both fuelling exercise, as well as supporting the recovery process.
The amount of carbohydrates for muscle gain is also something to consider. This will vary depending on your goals, body type, and activity level.
In general, it is recommended to consume between 2-5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day, with the majority of those carbohydrates coming from nutrient-dense sources and consumed around the workout times.
Fats and Muscle Gain
Fats are an essential part of any diet and fitness regimen, because they have energetic and functional properties. Not only do they provide an amazing fuel source for exercise, but they also serve to help repair and rebuild cells, and assist in hormonal communication, which is important for gaining muscle. Quality fats are some of the best food to gain muscle.
Hormones like testosterone are made from fatty components like cholesterol, which is key for helping instruct muscle growth. This is one of the main hormones, but muscle gain is also a result of harmonious hormones across the board.
A diet that's balanced in fats can also help keep levels of inflammation in check, especially when it comes to the omega-3 fats. This is good for muscle gain because you don’t want too much inflammation. A little is ok, but too much is destructive for muscle protein synthesis.
Monounsaturated fats are an excellent source of fat for muscle growth, as they provide a rich energy source, and are anti-inflammatory as well as being metabolically efficient.
Saturated fat is healthy in moderate amounts, but too much can be inflammatory and is generally not as metabolically efficient as the other types.
Here are some places that you can find quality fat for muscle growth:
- Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and macadamia
- Peanut butter
- Sesame seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Coconut milk
- Grass-fed butter
- Grass-fed beef
- Pork belly
- Dark chicken meat
Meal Planning For Muscle Gain
Meal planning for muscle gain can seem daunting, but it's actually a lot simpler than you might think. By following a few key principles, you can create a meal plan that supports muscle growth and helps you reach your goals. With good meal prepping, you can gain muscle much easier.
The first step in creating a muscle-gaining meal plan is to make sure that you're consuming enough calories. Building muscle requires energy, and that energy comes from the food you eat. If you're not eating enough calories, your body won't have the fuel it needs to build new muscle tissue. To determine how many calories you need to eat, you'll want to calculate your daily calorie needs based on your bodyweight, age, and activity level.
We offer this for you, if you take one of our consultations, we’ll show you how many calories you need to be eating as well as what meal providers are suitable to achieve your muscle gain goals.
Marvins Den takes the headache out of meal prep, and we help to align the right meals to you for your goals. But if you like to try a little bit of meal prep on your own, then here’s some practical tips for muscle gain:
Plan your meals in advance
To make sure you're getting the right nutrients to support muscle growth, plan your meals in advance. This will help you stay organized and make sure you have everything you need on hand.
Get creative with leftovers
Leftovers can be a great way to save time and money. Make extra when cooking and use them for lunches or dinners throughout the week.
Cook in bulk
Cooking in bulk can save time and money. You can cook a large batch of protein, like chicken or fish, and use it throughout the week in different meals.
Make use of freezer-friendly meals
Make a big batch of a freezer-friendly meal, like chili or a casserole, and freeze it for a later date. This will save you time and money when you're short on time or don't feel like cooking.
Invest in good containers
Invest in good quality containers to store your meals, so you can take them with you to work or school.
Keep a calendar or planner to keep track of your meal plans and grocery list, and make adjustments as needed.
Remember that meal planning doesn't have to be rigid. Be open to making adjustments and be flexible with your meal plan.
Hydration & Muscle Gain
Staying hydrated is crucial for overall health and well-being, and it's especially important when it comes to muscle growth. Proper hydration is essential for muscle function and recovery, and it can also help to improve your performance in the gym. Here are a few tips for staying hydrated throughout the day:
- Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and take sips throughout the day.
- Fruits and vegetables like cucumbers, watermelon, and strawberries are high in water content and can help to keep you hydrated.
- A good way to check your hydration levels is to monitor the color of your urine. If it's pale yellow, you're probably well hydrated, but if it's dark yellow or amber, you need to drink more water.
- Drinking water before, during and after a workout will help to keep your muscles hydrated and improve your performance.
To sum up, building muscle requires a combination of proper nutrition, not just exercise. A diet that supports muscle gain should include adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates, and should be tailored to your own nutritional needs, such as with protein amounts and calories.
Meal planning is a useful tool to make sure you're getting the right nutrients in the right amounts, and staying hydrated is also essential for muscle function and recovery. A well-rounded diet, with a balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, combined with proper training and adequate rest, is key to achieving muscle gain.