- Your Muscle Building Diet should focus on overall calories ->protein->carbs-> fat
- Aim to gain 0.25-0.5% of bodyweight per week
- Supplements are trash
Let’s travel back in time to 2004-2005.
Trucker Hats were cool
The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie had just come out
And I was playing Semi-Pro football in Rhode Island.
Cornerback and wide receiver if you’re wondering.
At the time I had been lifting consistently for a few years, but I was still small by football standards. I was 180lbs soaking wet playing against guys that were 220-230. Basically, I was gonna be someone’s bitch and my mom didn’t like that.
So she agreed to pay for a personal trainer so I could put on some muscle.
Over that summer, I went from 180 to 220.
You read that right, 40 lbs in a summer.
Now before you start calling bullshit, keep in mind most of that was fat. Looking back at my old training sheets (which I still have btw), for the 40 pounds gained I shoulda been a helluva lot stronger.
My diet consisted of everything and anything I wanted. Footlong sandwiches, bags of chips, protein shakes and lots of beer….lots of beer.
The only instruction I was given by my personal trainer was to keep eating. No guidance on calories, the importance of carbs and protein, or meal timing. Basically, I was to fulfill my every gluttonous desire when it came to food.
Now flash forward to today and you’re prob overwhelmed by all the information on nutrition which wasn’t available to me at the time. Everyone seems to have the “one trick” but oftentimes they conflict with each other and it seems like everyone is getting results but you.
So with this article I’m gonna cut through all the bullshit and give it to you straight.
So without further ado…here’s me with a fu-manchu.
HAHA YES! I’ve been looking for a way to drop that pic into an article for a year. This is the stuff of nightmares, isn’t it?
For real though, here’s how to setup a muscle building diet.
Muscle Building Potential
Before we get into nutrition, I have to make sure your expectations are in-line with reality. There’s nothing worse than expecting to add 20lbs of muscle and only adding 3 and feeling like a failure.
When it comes down to it, muscle gain isn’t going to be as much as you might expect…unless you’re taking steroids then you are a whole different animal.
For the normal guy your muscle building potential breaks down as follows:
As a beginner can expect to put on 1-1.5% of your bodyweight in muscle per month for the first two or three months of his training.
An intermediate might see 0.5-1% of bodyweight in muscle per month.
^^Most people reading this, will fall into this category.
An advanced lifter, on the other hand, should be happy with just 0.25-.5% of bodyweight per month
This means that when you hear about an athlete gaining “20 pounds in an offseason” he really put on closer to two pounds of muscle and 18 pounds of water and fat or you shouldn’t draft him in fantasy because I fully expect him to get popped for PEDs.
Muscle Building Calories
Being a coach for the last 6 yrs and having worked out for the better portion for two decades I usually see people fall into one of these three categories when it comes to building muscle nutrition:
-eat everything and get fat
-afraid to get fat so they keep calories low and gain nothing
-don’t pay attention to calories only to spin their wheels for years
When it comes to building muscle you need enough extra calories to build muscle, but not so much where you look like the Pillsbury Doughboy in 3 months.
If you don’t pay attention to calories or are afraid to lose your abs you’ll never put on a noticeable amount of muscle. You simply don’t have the fuel (calories) to build new muscle and your performance in the gym will likely be piss poor.
The happy medium is what is called lean gaining. You take in enough calories to be in a slight surplus while not going absolutely ape shit eating everything in sight.
So what does a slight surplus look like?
Well it looks like a gain of 0.25-0.5% of your bodyweight a week.
If you’re under 200lbs you’re looking to gain about 0.5-1lb per week. At that point, you have reached the right calorie amount for you.
To get you started off, set calories to 13x your bodyweight (in lbs). Then pay attention to your weekly weight average and increase or decrease calories by 100 to hit that 0.25-0.5% rate of gain per week. This is where counting calories becomes super helpful.
Some people can get away with 12x bodyweight while others need 18x. The easiest way to figure out how many you need is to pay attention to your rate of gain and your hunger.
Like I mentioned, your rate of gain should be in the 0.25-.5% of bodyweight range while hunger should be low. Tracking, or at very least paying attention, to these two things will help you find the right calories for you.
If your goal is to build muscle optimally, being in a slight surplus is where you want to be. Everything else and you’ll just be wasting time or getting fat.
How Much Protein Do You Need
Let’s say I asked you to build me a car tire and in doing so, restricted your use of rubber. Prob going to be a little hard, if not impossible, to build a tire without the main raw material.
That is exactly what it’s like to try to build muscle on a low protein diet. And before we go any further, a low protein diet is anything under 0.8g/lb of bodyweight.
Anywhere in the 0.8-1.2g/lb of bodyweight is going to be the optimal range for daily protein goals.
Protein is your muscle building raw material. Protein breaks down into amino acids and those amino acids are used to build your big sexy muscles you’ve always wanted.
When you eat protein, specifically the amino acid leucine, you spike muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is exactly what it sounds like, you’re shifting your body to synthesize muscle proteins. The inverse of MPS is MPB or Muscle Protein Breakdown. This is where muscle protein is broken down.
If more MPS than MPB is happening, you have positive protein balance and you’re building muscle.
If more MPB than MPS is happening, you have a negative protein balance and you’re losing gainz.
To build muscle optimally, you need more time in MPS.
So with the optimal range being 0.8-1.2g/lb of bodyweight and knowing that eating protein triggers MPS which in turn helps you build more muscle we can pull together that getting protein spread out throughout the day is going to be the best plan for optimal muscle growth.
As far as adherence goes, it’s a helluva lot easier to get 180g of protein in smaller 30g chunks than devouring 24 oz of chicken breast at dinner every night to hit your protein target.
Also, in that instance you’d only be spiking MPS once per day. Not exactly ideal and why Intermittent Fasting isn’t the best dietary approach to building muscle.
Muscle Building Carbs
Carbs are not the enemy. They are delicious and required for muscle building.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy when it comes to activities lasting 15-60 secs. Think short bursts of energy like sprinting, weight lifting and sex are all predominantly fueled by carbs.
Here’s a great image from my coach, Jeremiah Bair to explain which are the predominant energy sources depending on duration of the activity.
So while the Keto community might be better suited for long duration exercise like marathon running, carbs definitely win out when it comes to weight lifting and sex.
OK, let’s take a quick detour to prehistoric times when humans were being chased by giant cats and animals to help explain the importance of carbs when it comes to muscle building.
In order for that human to survive, they needed a quick burst of energy to get the hell outta the way.
That’s where cortisol, the stress hormone, comes in. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that is used to break things down for energy. This same thing happens when you workout. Cortisol spikes to give you the energy you need to bang out those reps. But once the workout is done, you need cortisol to drop so you can start the muscle building process.
The evil insulin that everyone is so afraid of has an inverse relationship with cortisol. So when insulin spikes, cortisol drops and the muscle building process begins. This is why post workout carbs are so important for the recovery process.
Now as far as carb choice goes there’s a little nuance that goes into this.
Under the umbrella of “carbs” are vegetables, fruit, rice, potatoes, chips, doritos, and bread. Pretty wide range of stuff here.
The foods that actually are just carbs (rice, potatoes, bread, fuit, veggies) are getting wrongfully lumped into the snack high fat/high carb area.
The foods you should limit are the ones that are high carb/high fat realm. These are mainly processed foods. This high carb/fat profile increases flavor so you keep coming back for more. Hell, the Pringle’s slogan openly tells you that.
There are slower-burning carbs that will provide a more consistent energy level, think oats, quinoa, fruits or veggies. And then there are starchy and sugary carbs, think rice, bread or pasta, burn much faster than other types of carbs, causing your blood sugar levels (and insulin) to spike rapidly. The difference being fiber content. More fiber equals less of an insulin spike.
So pre and post workout, focus on low fiber carb sources. This will ensure you have energy for workouts and an insulin spike post workout to drop cortisol and start the muscle building process.
Throughout the rest of the day focus on higher fiber carbs sources like your brown rice, fruit, veggies.
Muscle Building Fats
When it comes to building muscle, fats are by far the least important thing of the important stuff.
If we look at what is needed to build muscle you need energy to be performing in the gym and the ability to recover between workouts. This is our main goal.
That means overall calories ->protein->carbs-> fat.
Fats are predominately the raw material for your hormones so to completely take them out of your diet would be counterproductive and crap all over your testosterone production. However, eating more fats does not mean more testosterone.
Your body has a certain range of testosterone it can produce naturally and the only way to increase outside that range is through steroids.
And since fats aren’t the preferred energy source, fats aren’t being used for energy due to the abundance of carbs.
So really, hormone production is where the utility of fats usage lies.
So when it comes to giving my online coaching clients fat targets I keep it in the .3-.4g/lb range.
This is enough fat to keep testosterone coursing through your veins while keeping enough room in your total calories for carbs and protein.
Muscle Building Supplements
The secret key to your success is supplements…I kid, most of them are trash.
The only supplements that are worth anything when it comes to building muscle are protein powder and creatine.
And protein powder isn’t necessary if you are getting enough protein through whole foods.
Personally, I like protein powder in oatmeal and in a pinch if I don’t have leftovers or time to cook. That’s it.
Creatine on the other hand is worth its weight in Bitcoin.
Creatine is one of the most intensely studied supplements out there. But do you know what it actually does?
Well besides retaining water.
Creatine is not a steroid.
It’s not even a hormone.
It doesn’t make you gain muscle either.
What it does is give you a bigger gas tank.
One of the energy pathways used during exercise (6-30 rep range) uses Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) for energy. This is the green line in Jeremiah’s graph above. After ATP is used it turns to Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP).
ADP is useless until it gets converted back to ATP.
The turnover from ADP to ATP is the limiting factor in how many reps you can do.
What creatine does is floods the muscle with the material needed to turn ADP to ATP. Hence the bigger gas tank. This allows you to squeeze out a few more reps which in turn helps build more muscle.
So if you are looking for the secret to building muscle in a supplement, try creatine, everything else is just stealing your money and giving you false hope.
My Muscle Building Diet
To wrap everything up, I’ll show you the macro breakdown and then I’ll show you what my muscle building diet looks like.
Calories: Initially set calories to 13x your bodyweight in lbs. Then adjust each week by 100 calories based on rate of gain (0.25-0.5% of bodyweight)
Protein: 0.8-1.2g/lb of bodyweight
Fats: 0.3-.4g/lb of bodyweight
Carbs: (Total Calories) – (Total grams of protein x 4) + (Total grams of fat x 9) then divide that by 4 to get the grams of carbs
Meal Timing: Get protein every couple of hours to make sure you are spiking MPS throughout the day.
Supplements: Throw them in the trash unless it’s creatine or protein powder.
OK, now onto my diet. Please don’t copy my diet because it is custom to my metabolism, size, activity, and food preference. I’m just showing it to you so you can have some idea of what it can look like. Below the pic I’ll explain my choices and the framework.
You’ll notice I eat multiple times per day, sprinkling in the stuff I need (chicken, broccoli, etc) and the stuff I like (Butterfinger, Lucky Charms and Popcorn). I could make better food choices and remove the candy and cereal but I like it and see no need since I’m getting the results I want. When I switch over to a fat loss phase these will be the first to go.
Protein is spread out throughout the day so I am constantly spiking MPS and my morning workout is surrounded by fast digesting carbs (cereals). Even though the first header says Post Workout it’s actually Pre Workout and I’m too lazy to change it within the app. Breakfast is actually post-workout.
I’m a little higher with my protein target for my size but I find it easier and more satisfying to eat in the 200g range.
Fats are kept low so I can focus a majority of my calories on protein and carbs. I’m currently sitting at 195lbs so my fat goal is between 60-80g.
I make sure to get some fruit and veggies throughout the day for fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
There you have it and there it is.