Proper nutrition doesn’t have to be hard and can actually be straightforward. What makes it difficult is the popular diet trends that tend to cause confusion. In this article I’ll break down the three essential macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fats into their simplest form and tell you how how much you should be consuming of each to create a muscle building diet plan.
We now know a healthy diet will drastically reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, the world’s leading killers. It will improve brain function, physical performance and even sexual performance.Big picture we should all be incorporating a healthier diet into our lives. This is especially true if you have a certain goal in mind such as building muscle.
Your nutrition plan is the foundation to your fitness goal. No matter how much cardio you do, or how long you stay in the gym, if you’re not eating the right foods you won’t see the results you want.
Between fears of high protein diets, high fat diets and any type of carbohydrate, eating has become a complicated mess that creates more anxiety than needed.
I’m going to explain why it’s not that hard and break it down into a simplified version where all you need is a little common sense.
The First Step Of A Muscle Building Diet
The first step is to find out what your daily caloric needs are (how many calories you should be eating everyday). You can do this by using the calculator below.
BMR Calculator provided by calculators.tech
Now you want to add 200 to 300 calories to your total, this is called a calorie surplus and it has to be done in order to give your body the extra fuel it needs to build muscle.
Remember that the amount of calories I’m telling you to add is a recommendation. Everyone’s genes are different and some people may see results adding only a 100 calories and others may need to add 400 calories.
I would start at the low end and raise if needed, if you start at the higher end you may store excess fat and you don’t want that.
What Should You Eat To Build Muscle
Knowing your daily calorie total is the first step in creating a muscle building diet, the second step is breaking that total down into specific amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
This is because not all calories produce the same effect. 2500 calories from cookies and doughnuts isn’t the same as 2500 calories from chicken, rice and vegetables.
Customizing your diet will ensure that you create a calorie surplus that will build muscle without adding excess fat.
I’m going to explain the three macronutrients, the best foods to eat for muscle growth and how to calculate your daily needs for each.
Protein is the most important macronutrient in a fitness plan.
Protein contains 4 calories per gram and after being digested it is broken down into amino acids which helps your body perform a countless number of functions.
- Repairs tissue (organ tissue, muscles, hair, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments and blood plasma)
- Involved in hormonal systems
- Makes up enzymes that regulate metabolism
- Involved in acid base balance to maintain a neutral environment in your body
I could go on about other activities protein does for the body, but the most important function in context to this discussion is how it rebuilds broken down muscles.
Every process that builds muscle relies on the amino acids that come from protein.
Taking water out of the equation, protein is the most prevalent bodily substance and can be found in every one of the cells that comprises the human body.
If you don’t attribute the right amount of protein into your diet, building and maintaining muscle is impossible.
Certain proteins are better than others. You want proteins that have a grouping of amino acids that will trigger muscle recovery and growth. One of the most important amino acid is L-leucine, this is believed to cause protein synthesis in the body.
You also want proteins that have the highest percentage of being absorbed into your body after digestion, this is called protein bio availability.
For example eggs and milk are rated as more than 90% being absorbed but only 58% of beans are utilized.
Eggs are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and brain nutrients that people don’t get nearly enough of.
Another great benefit of eggs are their versatility. Scrambled, fried and hard boiled are just a few ways you can prepare them. They can be made in so many ways that you can eat them regularly without feeling like you’re eating the same thing everyday.
Eggs are very high in protein, coming in second on the bio availability chart only being beat out by whey protein.
Egg whites are almost all protein, since the egg yolk is very high in nutrients you should mix whole eggs with egg whites to receive the maximum amount of protein and vitamins.
PROTEIN % 1 large egg contains 6 grams of protein, with 78 calories. 1 cup of egg whites have 26 grams of protein.
Skinless Chicken Breast
Chicken is a staple in any macronutrient and bodybuilding diet plan. It is a great source of protein, it’s also low in fat and sodium and contains zero grams of carbohydrates.
A serving size of skinless chicken breast is 3 ounces (about the size of the palm of your hand) which contains;
- Only 2 grams of fat
- 0 grams of carbs
- 19 grams of protein
Remember that the preparation method and any sauces or condiments you add can have a huge effect on the nutritional value.
The healthiest way to cook chicken breast is to bake it in the oven or saute it with vegetables.
Cut into strips or leave whole, place in a baking pan with a little olive oil, add cut vegetables and season to taste with garlic and other spices of choice. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 to 50 minutes until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached and there is no pink in the middle. There are endless ways to prepare chicken so that you don’t grow tired of it.
PROTEIN % The average chicken breast without skin is about 2- 1/2 servings, so that means you would receive around 47 grams of protein, with only 284 calories.
Lean Red Meat
Chicken and fish are well known bodybuilding staples but red meat contains the highest amount of muscle supporting nutrients of any protein source. It’s loaded with high percentage amounts of creatine, b- vitamins, iron and zinc.
It’s very important to pick the right cut, the wrong choice of steak can quickly go from a top-notch food to a diet crusher.
Consider a 12 ounce cut of ribeye trimmed of all visible fat still has 480 calories from fat alone. The total amount of calories will be around 600.
Can your diet handle this amount of calories in one meal?
You want to pick lean cuts of meat such as;
- Eye of round (protein to fat ratio 7:1)
- Sirloin tip side steak (protein to fat ratio 7:1)
- Top sirloin (protein to fat ratio 5:1)
- Bottom round (protein to fat ratio 4:1)
- Top round (protein to fat ratio 3:1)
- Extra lean ground beef is also a great versatile choice
Protein % One serving of cooked lean red meat (65 grams) contains 25 g of protein, 180 calories and 9 grams of fat.
Another high protein, versatile food group is fish and seafood, which also has dozens of options and different ways to prepare.
Tuna, salmon, halibut, snapper and tilapia, are the most popular choices that contain 26 to 29 grams of protein per 100 g serving. With swordfish and cod containing about 23 gram of protein at the same serving size.
Don’t overlook other sources of seafood including shrimp, lobster and scallops.
One 8 ounce glass of skim milk, also referred to as fat free milk, contains 8.5 grams of protein. nearly 40% of the 90 calories come from protein. Almost all of the remaining calories come from carbohydrates.
Skim milk is utilized by mixing it into protein shakes and incorporating it into cooking methods.
This makes for a protein rich snack. Nonfat cottage cheese has 24 grams of protein per cup, while nonfat Greek yogurt is just under 20. Both options are a great snack options high in protein and calcium.
Milk is made of two proteins, casein and whey. Whey protein is separated from the casein in milk or formed as a by product of cheese making. Whey protein is a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids.
This process isolates the whey protein into a powder form, at this point it is actually food in the same way chicken or fish are food.
Whey has the most abundant amino acid profile of all the protein options. It has a very high concentration of L-leucine and the highest bio-availability. It also raises the anti oxidant levels in the body.
Whey in a powder form has versatility and can easily be added to recipes, smoothies and protein shakes to make it into a quick and convenient protein source.
My top 3 recommendations for whey products are
- Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey
- Cellucor COR Performance Whey
- Elite Dymatize Whey
How Much Protein Should I Eat On A Muscle Building Diet
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
To keep this simple I suggest you eat 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight.
Is A High Protein Diet Bad For You
Protein has been unfairly blamed for many conditions including kidney damage and osteoporosis. However these claims aren’t supported by science.
If you have an existing kidney problem, a high protein diet will be strenuous and not recommended. Protein has never caused any documented issues in people with healthy kidneys.
In fact, a higher protein diet has been linked to lower blood pressure and help fight diabetes, which are two of the main culprits for kidney disease.
Simply put, once you put the research in. There are no documented cases in which a high protein diet has caused any negative side effects in an otherwise healthy person.
There are a lot of misconceptions about fat and since the 80’s we’ve been told to stay away from all fatty foods if we want to lose weight.
This is true in some ways, fats have 9 calories per gram. This is more than double of protein and carbs which only have 4 calories per gram.
Since fats are dense in calories they need to be monitored closely but it is important to eat the right amount, because they do play important roles in your body.
- Keep testosterone levels optimized
- Enhance brain and nervous system function
- Support your bones and joints
- Strengthen the immune system
The same rules apply to fats that apply to carbs, there are 2 different types of fatty foods and common sense will go a long way in being able to tell which are good and bad.
Good fats, which include monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, come from plant based sources like nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and fish. These are all important to keep your body working properly.
Bad fats, also known as transaturated fats, are found in highly processed animal based products like meat and dairy. These should be limited in your diet. You should especially avoid processed meats like sausage, bologna and other treated meats.
Examples Of Healthy Fats
- natural peanut butter
- dark chocolate
- olive oil
How Much Fat Should You Eat Daily
You want about 25% of your total daily calorie intake to come from fats.
To equate this percentage:
First multiply your daily caloric intake by 0.25
This will tell you what 25% of your calories come to.
Now take that number and divide it by 9, since fats have 9 calories per gram. This will tell you how many grams of fats you should eat a day.
- (Daily calories) X (0.25) = X
(X) divided by (9) = Daily grams of fat
Here’s an example of using a daily caloric intake of 2500
- 3000 X 0.25 = 750 (number of daily calories that will come from fat)
- 750 divided by 9 = 83 ( grams of fat to be eaten daily)
The individual in this example would need to eat 83 grams of fat daily.
Simply put carbohydrates are sugar, eating a spoon full of sugar or eating a piece of bread will have the same end result. No matter what type of carbohydrate you eat, your body will eventually break it down into glucose other wise known as sugar.
When you search carbs on the web you’re going to find articles that use words like monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, polysaccharides. Which are long fancy words for different types of carbs.
Or you’ll read about the Glycemic Index which is a scientific based chart ranging carbs from 0 to 100 depending on how fast or slow they raise your blood sugar levels in a two hour period after you eat them.
I’m not saying this information isn’t valuable.
If you have diabetes then the glycemic index is very useful If you’re a personal trainer or professional bodybuilder then breaking carbs down using a scientific approach may benefit you.
For everyone else who is just trying to understand enough to develop a proper diet, the good news is common sense is all you really need.
We are going to break carbs down into two groups.
What Are Simple And Complex Carbohydrates
Simple carbs are the foods you will mostly stay away from. Refined sugar products and processed foods, make up the bulk of this category.
- raw sugar
- soft drinks
Common sense will tell you not to include these foods in any diet plan unless during a cheat meal which is okay once a week.
You can also find simple carbs in fruits, which for the most part are healthy but like anything else in life need to be in moderation.
My recommendation is to get the bulk of your carbohydrate intake around 80% from starchy minimally refined sources that haven’t been over processed. This is where complex carbs come in.
Complex Carbohydrates are foods that haven’t been radically changed from their natural state . Foods in this category will only contain one or two ingredients.
Here is a list of 15 complex carbohydrates
- Oatmeal (old fashioned or steel cut)
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Multi grain hot cereal
- White potatoes with skin
- Ezekiel bread (a better source of wheat bread)
- 100% wheat bread (in case you can’t find Ezekiel bread)
- 100% whole wheat pasta
- Beans and lentils (great for healthy chili recipes)
- Cream of rice hot cereal
- Butternut squash
- Fresh beets
How Many Grams Of Carbs Should You Eat Daily
The amount that is left over after you calculated how much protein and fat is in your diet will be allotted to carbs.
Example Of A Bodybuilder’s Diet Plan
This might sound confusing but let’s break it down piece by piece.
Remember calories per gram of each macronutrient
- protein = 4 calories per gram
- carbs = 4 calories per gram
- fats = 9 calories per gram
In our example we’re going to use an individual who weighs 180 pounds and consumes 3000 calories a day.
Since this person weighs 180 pounds he is eating 180 grams of protein a day. Since protein contains 4 calories per gram we’re going to multiply 180 x 4 to get the daily amount of calories from protein, which is 720 calories.
You want 25% of your daily caloric intake to be from fat consumption. So from this example we take our 3000 calories and multiply by 0.25 that number is 750.
Now add the total calories from protein and fats up: this number is 720+750=1520.
We now take our daily calorie number (3000) and subtract the protein and fat calories (1520) from it;
This means 1480 calories a day should come from carbohydrates.
Remember carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. so if you divide 1480 by 4 you get 370.
Your end result is 370 grams of carbs will equal 1480 calories.
It’s easy once you break it down BUT if you find yourself still confused, just read through the article again and more importantly redo your calculation to make sure it checks out.
What Should You Not Eat When Building Muscle
I told you before you have to put the right food into your body to make significant gains in and out of the gym, but that means avoiding certain foods and drinks also.
- Alcohol – I know you don’t want to hear this one but too much alcohol will actually deter your body from building muscle, and make you gain fat especially if you drink it in excess.
- Processed foods – All processed foods are high in calories, fat and salt. They’re made for convenience not healthy nutrition plans and don’t belong in your diet.
- Fast food – I’ve had clients that use fast food as an easy way to reach their daily calorie needs, don’t do this. you get out what you put in meaning if you eat shit your results are going to be shit.
- Added sugars – Your common sense will tell you that these foods shouldn’t be in your nutrition plan to build muscle. Candy, icecream, cupcakes, soda, juice will not help you build muscle only a gut.
- Fried foods – High in unhealthy fats and calories, foods such as french fries, mozzarella sticks, fried chicken and fish are a no go.
Diet Changes You May Or May Not Have To Make To Build Muscle
We’ve gone over the foods you need to eat and avoid during a muscle building diet, now I want to go over some of the questions I constantly get that seem to confuse people.
Some of these I consider myths that don’t need to be followed, but as always I want you to decide what works best for your individual situation and in the end to do what is best for you.
Do You Need To Eat 6 Times A Day
When you’re trying to eat a diet that will sufficiently build muscle the only thing that is important is that you eat the correct amount of calories, proteins, healthy fats and carbs throughout the day while using the correct type of food to do it.
How you split this up is up to you, some people don’t like eating large meals so they prefer to eat 5, 6, or 7 smaller meals throughout the day. Other people get annoyed at having to constantly eat all day, so they eat 3 large meals.
In the end it’s the same damn amount of calories, carbs, fats and proteins, I would try to eat a bodybuilders breakfast every morning since your body is catatonic from not eating for 8 hours and is ready to absorb every nutrient you put in it.
The Importance Of A Pre Workout Meal
You’re trying to achieve 2 goals with your pre workout meal.
- Provide the correct type of fuel to achieve muscle recovery and growth after your workout is over. This is the most important factor, if your energy levels are at their peak you’ll be able to create the most powerful muscle stimulating effect possible.
- The proper nutrients to aid in muscle recovery and growth after your workout is over.
Most people think that this is the job of the post workout meal, but this is mostly untrue.
Nutrient absorption is such a slow process, it is actually the nutrients from your pre workout meal that are being broken down and absorbed after your workout.
What types of food should you include in your pre workout meal
High quality protein and carbs will suffice.
The protein will give your body the amino acids it needs to recover and grow, while the carbs will provide your muscles with the energy needed to optimize performance.
Any high protein source will do whether it’s whey protein, chicken, fish or red meat.
As for the carbs a minimum of 20 to 30 grams from any source like fruit, pasta, oatmeal or rice is fine.
The one exception I would make is to keep your fat content of your pre workout meal low. Fats slow down the movement of food from your stomach to your lower intestine which may increase the chances of a bloated or sluggish feeling during your workout.
What Should I Eat Post Workout (Not a damn thing if you don’t want to)
I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments with other personal trainers and gym goers about my opinion on what you should eat at certain times of the day, but my thought process still hasn’t changed.
It doesn’t matter when you eat your food just as long as you meet your daily requirements of calories, proteins, carbs and healthy fats.
There isn’t one shred of scientific proof that eating a high protein meal within the so called 2 to 3 hour magic window after a workout will give you better gains then someone like me who eats when they’re hungry.
There are 2 arguments that people will make about your post workout meal and I’m going to refute them here.
Do You Have To Consume A High Protein Meal Right After Your Workout.
The truth is that protein digestion is very slow, Even the fastest absorbing proteins will only be used by your body at 8 to 10 grams per hour.
What this means is that if you were to consume a protein shake a couple of hours before your workout that same protein would still be breaking down and utilized both during and after your workout.
For that reason, consuming a new serving of protein immediately after your workout is simply unnecessary.
Do You Have To Eat Simple Carbs To Spike Your Insulin and restore glycogen levels
Your glycogen levels are only depleted by about 30% during an intense workout, even then there is no need to stress about immediately replenishing these levels unless your going to work the same muscle groups out again that same day.
As for spiking insulin levels, proteins elicit a significant insulin response from the body on their own, making additional carbohydrate consumption far less important than you think.
Given these 2 points it’s fairly evident that that there is no need to eat a meal right after your workout.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat a post workout meal, you certainly want to provide your body with high quality protein and carbs to help with growth and recovery, but if your appetite isn’t there yet, don’t feel like you have to fit your meal into this so called magic window of opportunity.
Do You Need To Eat a lot Of Protein
Yes, Yes, Yes
I always recommend receiving your protein through whole foods as much as you can but a protein shake makes things a lot easier and convenient as well.
Your muscles can’t use more than 35 grams of protein at one time, so your body will start to place it other places to use it as energy or flush it out with your urine.
Try to eat 20 to 35 grams of protein with each meal to help with protein synthesis, in fact a study was done showing that people who ate high amounts of protein throughout the day increased their protein synthesis by 25% compared to people that ate it in larger bulks in only a couple of meals.
Are Carbs Important
Remember when I told you about your body only using about 35 grams of protein at each meal, this means that you need to find other sources to provide energy and this only leaves you with 2 options.
Fat and Carbohydrates
Since calories from fat is more easily stored as excess fat on your body carbs are the best choice for this.
Protein gets all the glory when it comes to a muscle building diet but carbs are a fuel source you need to have the proper amount of energy to stimulate muscle growth.
Do You Need To Eat A lot Of Calories
You definitely need to be on a calorie surplus during a muscle building diet, but exactly how much is going to depend on your genes and how active your lifestyle is.
I have clients that build muscle only adding 150 calories a day to their diets and I have others that need to add 350 to 400 a day to see results.
Keep track of your muscle growth progression and add calories if you don’t see results.
How Much Water Do You Drink To Build Muscle
There isn’t one set amount that will work for everyone because water intake will vary greatly between different people for a number of factors.
Aside from different body weights, how much you sweat plays a large role. The more you sweat the more water you need to drink to replenish your body, and this can add up to a significant amount over the course of the day.
Drinking coffee throughout the day will dehydrate you and you’ll need to drink more water.
A lot of recommendations range from 8 glasses per day to half an ounce per pound of body weight. These are fine and will generally get you in the right level of hydration, but there is an easier way.
You can gauge if you need to drink more water by simply paying attention to the odor and color of your urine.
If it’s clear and odorless than you are sufficiently hydrated, if it’s yellow and has an odor tom it than you need to drink more water.
Overtime you will notice how much water you need to keep you hydrated and it will become a daily habit that you don’t need to think about.
What class of body type are you
There are 3 classes of body types and each one should attack their diet differently in order to build muscle.
- Ectomorphs – If you have a skinny lean body, light build, small joints, thin limbs with stringy muscle then you’re an ectomorph. Think of a long distance runner.
- Endomorph – If you store fat easier than others, get tired easily, have a large appetite that makes it hard to lose weight then you’re an endomorph. Think of an offensive lineman, large bone structure, very strong but accompanied by significantly more fat.
- Mesomorph – If you have a high percentage of muscle, find it easy to stimulate muscle growth and high metabolism then you’re an mesomorph. Think of a boxer or professional bodybuilder.
If you’re an ectomorph you’ll want to stay away from cardio and isolation moves and focus on multi compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once and increase the hormones needed to help your body build muscle. You’ll also need a larger calorie surplus probably around 300 to 400 calories extra per day.
Endomorphs will need to use cardio as a tool to keep excess fat down, you’ll want to create a fitness routine that uses isolation and compound exercises together to also help with fat loss. You’ll want to start your calorie surplus around 100 calories and slowly go up, make sure to keep track of your weight per week to make sure you’re not putting on too much fat. If you’re gaining more than 1/2 a pound a week it’s most likely fat instead of muscle.
If you’re a Mesomorph then you won the gene lottery and your body is balanced well enough that just as long as you eat a healthy whole food diet 80% of the time and you keep yourself on a fitness routine and don’t half ass it you’ll do just fine.
Creating a nutrition plan to support a muscle building diet isn’t hard and complicated as long as you take the time to learn the basics and apply what you learn and have the discipline to actually do it.
Remember the ratio of proteins, carbs and healthy fats and make sure to not overthink it when it comes when and what you eat.