Gaining lean muscle mass is the passion and goal of nearly everyone who picks up a weight, joins a gym or reads Muscle & Fitness (or, for that matter, checks out our website regularly). Beefing up through bodybuilding can speed up your metabolism and radically change the shape of your body. Yet while many people make progress, most fail to achieve significant increases in muscle mass because they lack a concrete and detailed nutritional plan to support muscle growth.
Undefined goals are another reason many fumble and fail to achieve lasting results. If your goal is to build mass, your diet and training program must reflect that. My aim is to provide you with a fail-proof, systematic nutrition strategy to fuel high-intensity weight training and help you gain more quality mass than you ever thought possible.
Muscles Need FuelThe common thread in all mass-gaining plans is the demand for excess calories. Building muscle requires energy, and you must consume more energy, in the form of calories, than your body is accustomed to receiving. The quality and timing of those calories are just as crucial.
To determine the amount of calories you presently consume, add up all the calories you eat in seven days and divide by 7 to get your average daily caloric intake. This procedure takes into consideration two important variables. First, many people's caloric intake is inconsistent from day to day -- you may eat 3,000 calories one day and 2,500 calories the next. If you've been maintaining your body-weight, the average number of calories you eat daily could be considered your calorie maintenance level, and you must increase your intake to create a surplus and stimulate growth. The second variable is the concept of individuality: Many people who have similar physiques eat widely different caloric amounts.
According to 2000 Arnold Classic Champion Flex Wheeler, "You just can't radically change your body by eating three or even four times a day." He's right. Breaking your energy consumption into 5-6 smaller meals is a proven method to increase nutrient absorption, enhance muscle-glycogen synthesis (carbs that are stored for energy), and aid muscle growth and recovery. Colin Graham, a competitive amateur bodybuilder from Maine, agrees: "I always had a hard time adding muscle until I increased my calorie consumption and started eating six meals every day instead of four. As a result, I gained 25 pounds in three years."
Types of Calories Are ImportantBesides total caloric intake, you must consider the types of calories you consume. You can't simply eat more food and expect to get bigger; taking in too much refined sugar and fat and not enough protein could add more body fat than muscle. I recommend a low-fat diet that should supply approximately 15% of calories from dietary fat. Most of this fat will come as a fraction of your protein foods like chicken, lean cuts of red meat and turkey. (Even well-trimmed meat will contain some fat.) The rest is found in smaller amounts in complex carbs like rice, pasta, potatoes and whole-grain breads and cereals.
Fat. Essential fatty acids -- which must be obtained from your diet since the body can't produce them -- may help you add lean mass. Omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, canola oil and flaxseed oil contribute to a complex web of biochemical reactions that produce hormone like substances called prostaglandins. They influence most biochemical processes in the body and preserve muscle glutamine, an amino acid that supports the immune system and muscle growth.1 Besides making the fat-burning and protein-building hormone called growth hormone,2 prostaglandins make muscle more sensitive to the anabolic effects of insulin, the body's primary nutrient-transport hormone. Bottom line: Avoid extra (but not all) fat. Eat fish three times a week and scramble your morning egg whites in 2 teaspoons of canola oil.
A recent upsurge in the popularity of high-fat diets seems to dismiss the evidence that most contain large amounts of saturated fat. As you shun extra fat in your diet, make sure you avoid saturated fat -- it's solid at room temperature and is found in butter and fatty cuts of red meat and pork. Saturated fats promote the formation of a group of prostaglandins known as E2, which may depress the immune system and offset the beneficial effects of omega-3s.
Protein. Although essential fatty acids can influence muscle growth, amino acids from protein serve as your muscles' actual building blocks. Amino acids derived from protein foods may increase protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown. Research confirms that building muscle requires plenty of protein!
Nearly four decades of research and anecdotal reports paint a clear picture: If you don't eat the right amount of protein, you won't add significant mass. Consume about 1 ¼ grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, and include milk products, egg whites or protein drinks in three of your six daily meals. Besides total protein, the type of protein you consume may also affect your weight-gain success. In general, easy-to-absorb proteins are best. These include nonfat dairy products, egg whites and protein powders. Tissue proteins, like poultry, fish and meat, are good, too, but it's a bit more difficult for the body to break them down and absorb their amino acids.
Carbohydrates. The main fuel source for bodybuilding workouts. Protein often gets more attention than carbs, but don't let that fool you -- carbohydrates form the platform upon which the rest of your diet relies. Carbs are basically chains of sugar molecules of various lengths; the shorter ones are called simple and the longer ones are called complex. Your body can store carbs in muscle or the liver in the form of glycogen.
In causing the secretion of insulin, carbohydrates can also increase the uptake of amino acids into muscle and enhance protein synthesis. This insulin release is correlated with the quantity of carbohydrates you ingest, so consuming 400 grams of carbohydrate a day will produce a greater insulin release than half that amount. Most top bodybuilders eat large quantities of carbohydrate, mostly in the form of complex carbs. Besides stimulating insulin, a moderately high-carb diet is better at replenishing muscle and liver glycogen stores after exhaustive exercise than a low-carb diet.
Post-workout Meal Is CrucialThe time of day when you eat carbohydrate and protein is a factor to consider if you want to maximize muscle growth. The sugar that powers your training, in the form of muscle glycogen, must be "paid back," and protein must be available to supply your body with the building blocks it needs to repair muscle damage. A proper post workout meal can replenish those energy stores and enhance amino-acid absorption.
As muscle-glycogen stores fall during exercise, the body calls upon protein, in the form of branched-chain amino acids (from dietary protein or muscle tissue), as a backup fuel source. The breakdown of protein to scavenge its amino acids is facilitated by a stress hormone called cortisol. High insulin levels resulting from a proper post workout carb meal can suppress cortisol levels and may mitigate some of its effects.
Consume about 25% of your daily carbohydrate intake after training. A 160-pound person who eats 500 grams of carbs a day should eat 125 grams in his postworkout meal within 1-2 hours after training. A person who eats 180 grams of protein a day should eat six nearly equal 30-gram servings per meal and throw in another 10 grams after training for good measure. Whey protein powders, which are higher in branched-chain amino acids, are an ideal postworkout protein source.
Building by NumbersThus far we've developed a dietary blueprint for adding mass; now we can put the plans into work. You can use several methods to calculate your caloric requirements. In general, the more simplified the formula, the less specifically accurate it is. On the other hand, to derive minutely detailed information usually requires complex equations that can be difficult to manipulate. When it comes to gaining mass, the following method of calculation provides a fair amount of detail within the context of relatively simple equations. With a calculator and a sharp pencil, you should be able to make short work of these formulas.
1. Using a nutrition log, add all the calories you eat in seven days.
2. Divide this weekly total by 7 to determine your average daily caloric intake or energy maintenance level.
3. Add 500 calories to your daily caloric intake to create the positive energy balance required to add mass. This is your new daily caloric intake.
4. Multiply your new daily caloric intake by 0.15. This is your total fat calories per day. Because 1 gram of fat yields 9 calories, divide your daily fat calorie intake by 9. This is your target daily fat intake in grams. The remaining calories will be divided between protein and carbohydrates.
5. Subtract your total fat calories per day from your new daily caloric intake.
6. Multiply your bodyweight by 1.25 to find your target daily protein intake in grams.
7. Because 1 gram of protein yields 4 calories, multiply your target daily protein intake by 4. This is the total amount of calories from protein that you should consume daily.
8. Subtract your total daily protein calories from the remainder in step 5. The new figure is your target daily carbohydrate calorie intake.
9. Because 1 gram of carbohydrate yields 4 calories, divide your daily carbohydrate calorie intake by 4. This is your target daily carbohydrate intake in grams.
The basic principles for the blueprint to add mass are the same for each individual. Both created a positive energy balance, both eat a low-fat diet yielding 15% of calories from fat, and both satisfy their protein needs in relation to their muscle mass. The remaining calories come from carbohydrates. From this we can surmise two things: Although both men have very similar builds, they have different metabolisms. Second, perhaps one must consume more carbohydrates to fill his glycogen reserves than the other. As a final note, don't look at these values as though they were written in stone. You may end up with slightly different numbers, which is fine, but you do need to stay in this ballpark.
The three core nutrients that make up the backbone of your mass program are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Obtaining these nutrients exclusively from food can become tiresome and inconvenient. Meal-replacement drinks, such as Metaform, Glutamine EFX or Mega Mass, are great ways to quickly and easily obtain the nutrition you need without being forced to miss a meal. Simply match up the carbohydrate and protein grams from your meal replacement to your meal-by-meal requirements.
Meal replacements also provide vitamins and minerals that are required for optimal health and to obtain the chemical energy from the carbohydrates, protein and fat you consume. Three other nutrients that will promote recovery and strength and prevent muscle breakdown are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine and glut-amine.
BCAAsLeucine, isoleucine and valine are found in all animal-source protein foods and in even higher concentrations in milk and eggs. BCAAs can be used directly for fuel by muscle tissue or sent to the liver to make new glucose. Studies suggest that BCAAs can prevent or decrease protein breakdown associated with heavy exercise.1 Besides consuming protein drinks that are naturally high in BCAAs, take 4-6 capsules of BCAAs before and after you train to increase muscle recovery and prevent muscle breakdown.
A potentially important question is, when should you take creatine? In terms of the big picture, it may not matter: Once your creatine stores are full, you're good to go. Yet research has shown that glucose can enhance creatine uptake. Maybe that's why so many top bodybuilders include creatine with their postworkout meal. While you can supplement with creatine in several ways, recent research has shown that a loading phase won't result in more creatine at the end of 30 days. So go ahead and choose your grams per day, anywhere from 5-20, and you'll do just fine.