If you’ve tried building muscle but didn’t know how to get results with your diet, today I’m going to show you two things.
Firstly, I’ll reveal why previous failure is not your fault.
Second, I’ll show you what you should eat, as well as how much and even how often, to build muscle quickly.
Yes, today’s article will give you a framework you can use to create a diet to build muscle without any fuss. If your goal is to pack some size on in the next 2-3 months, give it a go.
Setting Up A Diet To Build Muscle
In a recent post, I showed you how to get in photo shoot shape in 2 months.
I was touched by the positive feedback which came in from that article, but I also got a lot of emails asking if I’d do a follow-up post focusing more on gaining size and strength.
It seems there is just as much confusion about this topic.
Today you’ll get that. I only ask that you share it with any pals who are also struggling – there’s too much bulls**t in the fitness industry, and too many of us are lost.
Before we get down to some numbers, I’m going to reveal the top mistake people make when trying to diet to gain muscle…
The #1 Mistake Of A Muscle Building Diet
How many times have you seen pals wolf down plates of junk food, then justify it with the following phrase:
“I’m bulking bro.”
This is very common, and if you’ve done it before, it’s not your fault!
It’s a myth which has been pushed by so-called “experts”, without any scientific data to back it up (because there is none).
But if you dirt bulk, you add dirty size.
I hear this a lot in the gym, and the guys who diet in this way usually have one thing in common; a gut!
All calories are great for gaining weight, but we aren’t simply trying to gain weight, we’re trying to gain muscle mass.
That means we need to support our training in the gym with the proper nutrients to ensure we are maximizing muscle growth and recovery, while also ensuring we are in a calorie surplus in order to gain the size we’re aiming for.
A guy who eats 3000 calories of junk food will look like s**t next to a guy who eats the same amount of calories via nutritious foods, because he’s ensuring he gets enough protein, carbohydrates and fats to maximize his results.
That’s a fact (and one I’ve personally tested with PT clients!)
Protein: Consume 1.2g Protein Per Lb Of Body Weight
Protein is everything when it comes to muscle recovery and new muscle growth.
If there is one issue I consistently see in guys who are struggling to gain size, it’s that they’re not eating enough protein.
Sure, they may own a whey protein supplement…
But for many, that’s the only protein they are eating in a day!
If you want to get bigger, you need to up your protein intake.
Government guidelines set ridiculously low protein intake recommendations (0.3g per lb of body weight) because they aren’t based on individuals who are going to the gym with the sole goal of maximizing lean muscle tissue.
Studies have shown us that optimal results are achieved with a protein intake between 1-1.5g per lb of body weight. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Eating more than 1.18 grams per lb is likely not going to increase muscle growth (there appears to be a tipping point), but can minimize fat gain due to protein’s satiating effects (you’ll feel fuller), so it’s a no-brainer when “bulking”. (5)
My clients usually aim for 1.2g protein per lb of body weight each day.
A 200lb guy would shoot for 240g protein, and a 130lb woman would aim for 156g protein.
Fat: Aim For 0.5g Fat Per Lb Of Body Weight
Fat is often misunderstood.
But when your goal is building muscle, it plays a crucial role in your net results.
Think of fat the nutrient, and fat the thing which hides your abs, as two different things.
Optimal fat intake will help regulate your hormones (specifically, testosterone and cortisol) to promote maximum hypertrophy. A heavy weightlifting program which is supported by a diet too low in fat will eventually lead to a crashed endocrine system, and that’s catastrophic for gaining muscle tissue.
Set your fat intake to 0.5g per lb of body weight.
A 200lb guy would aim for 100g fat. A 130lb woman would aim for 65g.
Carbohydrates: Eat At Least 1.5g Carbohydrates Per Lb Of Body Weight
These days, most people are terrified of the C word.
But if you want to gain quality muscle mass, carbohydrates are your best friend.
Contrary to what the media have led us to believe since the early 2000’s, carbohydrates are nothing to be scared of, and they won’t lead to excess body fat storage. (6, 7, 8)
Instead, they’ll supplement your heavy lifting routine, helping you power through some tough sessions, and replenishing your muscle stores ahead of your next workout.
However, while it is very important to ensure we are eating enough protein per lb of body weight to support muscle growth, and enough fat per lb of body weight to regulate hormones, carbohydrates are the macronutient we need to “play around with”.
There are no essential carbs, we can survive without them if need be, and everybody reacts differently to them, depending on their long-term diet strategy and metabolism.
So start off by aiming for 1.5g per lb of body weight and if, after three weeks, you are not gaining as much size as you would like then increase this to 2 grams, and then again to 2.5 grams.
On the other hand, if you feel as though you’re gaining a little body fat because your body can’t handle as many carbs as you’d like, lower it from 1.5g to 1g, and work your way up from there.
Make sense? Good!
Set your carbohydrate intake to 1.5g per lb of body weight.
A 200lb guy would aim for 300g carbs. A 130lb woman would aim for 195g.
Meal Frequency: Eat As Many Meals Per Day As You Need
Meal frequency has been a hot topic in the fitness world for many years.
But it’s never been something I’ve had my clients particularly focus on.
Because the main thing which is going to achieve results with any diet (whether to gain muscle or lose fat) is to create something you can stick to.
And while meal frequency causes a lot of debate, it is nowhere near as impactful as some “gurus” will lead you to believe, and is not worth you trying to eat a designated number of meals per day if it proves impossible to keep up in the long-term. (9)
For example, have you ever heard the phrase “Eat 8-10 small meals per day because it will speed up your metabolism”…?
I’m sure you have.
In fact, this belief is so ingrained in fitness folklore that I remember being taught it on a personal trainer qualification course about twenty years ago! However, it’s complete bulls**t.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals will not speed up your metabolism. (10)
There is some interesting research out there which suggests that consuming protein in smaller doses leads to a slight improvement in muscle growth after a workout (i.e. 20-30g appears to be the “sweet spot”, yielding a similar anabolic response to much larger doses of 40g+), but across the course of a whole day, research shows us that the big picture is all that really matters (i.e. hit your total protein). (11, 12, 13)
Plus, once again, this is nitpicking when we compare it to the benefits of having a diet you can stick to. (14)
When it comes to the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates), there are zero benefits to meal frequency. (15)
So do what works for you, build something which fits around your day.
Supplements: Keep It Simple
The world of supplements thrives on consumer confusion, so this section should save you a lot of money.
I can think of nothing worse than spending upwards of £200 per month on pills and powders, and still not seeing the results I want in the damn mirror.
Yet so many of us do.
And that’s because every product claims to be the missing link to increased muscle growth.
So here’s a new approach, something I have all my personal training clients do. By keeping your supplement list restricted to only the most proven items, with the most research to show they actually work, you’ll save money and remove stress.
Let’s keep that supplement cupboard (and monthly spend) down to just the basics:
- Whey Protein
Whey is the ultimate convenience food.
You don’t need it. You can survive just fine without it. But grabbing a protein shake is far easier than cooking another load of chicken, right?
You don’t become the best-selling bodybuilding supplement of all time, without being good.
Creatine is #1 for increasing explosive strength and power output, as well as improving muscle mass. (16)
It’s been used by athletes for decades because of this, and it’s a substance any man or woman can benefit from alongside a weight training program because it’s just damn awesome.
- Omega-3 Fish Oil
What?! Damn! Not a sexy pre workout, or testosterone booster?!
Good old fashioned Omega-3 is one of the most under-rated supplements on the market, and definitely something you should be using on a regular basis.
The healthy fatty acids found in fish can improve fat loss and hypertrophy, and they are dirt cheap to pick up in comparison to more expensive products which have never actually been shown to work.
- Multivitamin & Minerals
Another forgotten gem, a multi is easily overlooked but plays a huge role in long-term results in the weights room.
Now, I want you to be getting plenty of vegetables as part of your daily diet (your carb allowance should certainly allow for it), but it’s highly unlikely we’ll hit the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, and that’s simply because of food preferences.
For example, when was the last time you ate turnip?
Grab a good multivitamin, tick the box without even thinking about it.
Days Off: Every 2 Weeks, Give Yourself A Day Off And Enjoy It
You’ll get better results by taking occasional days off, because it leads to greater long-term sustainability.
Every 1-2 weeks (depending on the client’s needs) I instruct people to have a day off and enjoy themselves.
This is a time to enjoy a treat food, but remember from earlier in the post, it isn’t an excuse to all-out binge eat.
And that’s it for today’s post!
If you enjoyed this write-up on How To Create A Simple Diet For Building Muscle, jump on my free email list in the box below and you’ll see email tips from new articles as I write them – straight out of the gym!
Yours in training,
- Thomas, D. T., et al. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2016)
- Jäger, R., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2017)
- Morton, R. W., et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. (2018)
- Witard, O. C., et al. Effect of increased dietary protein on tolerance to intensified training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2011)
- Leaf, A., et al. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. Int J Exerc Sci. (2017)
- Leibel, R.L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition. Am J Clin Nutr. (1992)
- Golay, A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. (1996)
- Golay, A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1996)
- Schoenfeld, B.J., et al. Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews. (2015)
- Munsters, M. J. M., et al. Effects of Meal Frequency on Metabolic Profiles and Substrate Partitioning in Lean Healthy Males. PLoS ONE. (2012)
- Norton, L., et al. Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis Examinations of optimal meal protein intake and frequency for athletes. Agro Food Industry Hi Tech. (2009)
- Moore, D. R., et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. (2009)
- Stewart, T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. (2002)
- Bandegan, A., et al. Indicator Amino Acid-Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance. J Nutr. (2017)
- La Bounty, P. M., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2011)
- Butts, J., et al. Creatine Use In Sports. Sports Health. (2018)