Many people think the project of building muscle begins and ends at the gym door. They work hard and feel good, but typically don’t achieve the level of success they dream about. Gaining mass is a 24/7 endeavor that includes not just gym sessions, but everything they eat in between them as well. Taking a wide-angle view significantly increases your chances of getting “there,” wherever that may be for you.
APPROXIMATE YOUR DAILY CALORIES
Gaining mass starts with estimating the number of calories you eat daily. The best way to do that is to keep a food journal for at least three days, then run the numbers using a website like myfitnesspal. This requires a fairly meticulous accounting of portion sizes, but that’s a good thing. You need to master this skill in order to get where you want to go, and it’ll get easier over time.
To quickly estimate your daily caloric needs, you can use a traditional benchmark like bodyweight x 17, which has worked for many lifters in the past. By this method, a 180-pound hard-training lifter would estimate his or her daily caloric needs as 3,060 calories (180 x 17) to maintain bodyweight. I would still suggest and personally prefer using provided calculations from my previous posts.
It took me two years of competing to realize I should’ve been eating way more calories, especially carbs, to achieve my ideal physique. Don’t let this common mistake sabotage your results.
BOOST YOUR CALORIES
If you’re seeking to add mass, you’re going to have to tip the balance in favor of eating more calories than you expend. Start by adding 3-500 to your estimated energy requirements. Our 180-lb. lifter now has a target goal of 3,560 calories a day.
Stick with that number for two weeks before changing anything. At that point, audit your progress and start tweaking. If you’re losing definition or have excess body fat, pare that number down by 200 calories. Re-evaluate your numbers every two weeks.
You’ll quickly find that it’s hard to fit all of these calories into the traditional three-squares-a-day approach. This is why people start adding additional meals and post-workout shakes. Get comfortable with the idea of eating often!
To take in the amount of calories one needs in order to gain mass, meals needs to be spaced over more than just three times a day. It’s very challenging to cram the required number of calories from so-called ‘clean foods’ into just three meals.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT FUELS
Now you need to divide your daily caloric intake into the right foods for fueling muscle growth. There are countless combinations that people swear by, but these numbers are a solid place to start:
AT LEAST 1 GRAM OF PROTEIN PER POUND OF BODYWEIGHT
Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. It gets broken down during digestion into individual amino acids, then reassembled back together in the body. In short, protein is your highest priority, even though you only devote roughly 20-30 percent of your diet to it. Good sources (as they are specifically high in protein) include lean cuts of beef, skinless chicken and turkey, whole eggs and egg whites, fish, whey or casein protein, and low-fat dairy.
If you’re looking for one time in your day to add protein, look no further than after your workout. Two scoops—or roughly 40 grams—of clean whey protein in a shaker bottle will go a long way toward helping you meet your protein needs, though nutrient timing is a massively debated issue, you may be better safe than sorry when feeling exhausted and having just broken down muscle fibres to use this time as a quality excuse.
2.5 GRAMS PER POUND OF BODYWEIGHT
Don’t shun carbohydrates, especially when you’re trying to pack on muscle. Carbs fuel your energy needs, especially during high-intensity activity like resistance workouts. They’re your second-highest priority, and they should make up around 50 percent of your calories.
“Because they digest slower and keep you fuller longer, slow carbs give you more energy throughout the day and are better for stabilizing blood-sugar levels [than simple carbs],” A debated science again! Meal timing has been shown to be unimportant on many occasions. Yet once more, I personally do try to abide these old school rulings. The same applies to the following – Avoid sugary sweets and sodas as much as possible; these “empty” calories can send your blood sugar—and insulin—skyrocketing, and are more likely to be stored as body fat.
The exception to the slow-carb rule is immediately post-workout, the only time of day during which it’s preferable to consume “fast” carbs like glucose (dextrose). These shorter-chain carbohydrate molecules quickly raise blood-sugar levels, enabling insulin to drive the sugars (as well as amino acids and other nutrients) into muscle tissue and the liver to replace spent glycogen, the stored form of sugar in the body.
1 GRAMS PER 1.5 POUNDS OF BODYWEIGHT
Don’t fear fats! They’re necessary for the absorption of a number of key vitamins, as well as the production of key muscle-building hormones like testosterone. Roughly 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat. Half of that should be from unsaturated sources like olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish. The other half should come from saturated sources such as meat, dairy, and eggs.
GAINS ARE MADE IN THE STORE AND KITCHEN
The truth is that eating for muscle growth really begins with these three steps. Everything else is just details, customizations, and techniques to help you make the most of the big three, all of which will come with time. Simply run the numbers above and figure out how to fit them into your life, and you’ll see noticeable changes for the better.
Aspire to Inspire.