When I’m asked how much should I eat to build muscle I answer with what follows and how I ate for the 15 years I chased bodybuilding and muscle mass.
I’m aware times change and that eating for gaining muscle is different than eating to get ripped or for pure health. I am also not a nutritionist. I am a personal trainer and deal with exercise.
So what I share here on eating to build muscle is what I did and do, when I need to build more muscle. I wanted to go from 126 pounds to over 200 pounds, no matter what so I could play football. You, should talk to your doctor about how to eat as I am not qualified to do so.
My quick answer to how much should I eat to build muscle is – A LOT. Start at 14 calories per pound of bodyweight and adjust up by 300-500 calories/day and stay with each bump for a week. Then bump again for a week and keep doing it until the scale starts to move.
The number of calories it takes to build muscle is different for each person and it will probably be between 16-20 calories per pound of bodyweight depending on your activity level and metabolism. Starting at 14 calories per pound of bodyweight gets you in the game and ramping up to the actual amount which will be a challenge for most people to eat all of it.
WARNING, I speak and write what I’ve learned but the science and suggestions by “Experts” change very frequently. So what I am saying is that this is an old-school approach to eating to build muscle size because even though what I’m saying works… I have no interest in debating what I’m sharing vs new tweaks and supplement discoveries. This is what worked for me.
How I Personally Ate To Build 50 Pounds Of Muscle
Are you ready? It’s pretty simple and I did it every day.
Every day I ate and drank 4 litres of milk, a 12 inch subway sub, a bowl of cereal, what ever was made for supper and a snack before bed. I also drank 100 grams of carbs before every workout.
I separated the milk into a litre at a time and carried it in two 500 ml containers and drank one with my morning cereal. The next I had (chocolate milk) with my foot long sub. Then I had one either before getting on the bus home or in class. The rest I drank spread out through the night.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Healthy? Probably not. Don’t know.
Did I count calories, grams of protein or carbs? NO. I just ate my face off every day.
Only when I decided to compete in a bodybuilding show did I ever start worrying about measuring ANYTHING.
My Muscle Building Meal Plan: What Are Macro-Nutrients?
When you decide to undertake a more bodybuilding approach instead of just mass, the foods you eat can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of your program. Many people don’t pay enough attention to the types of food they eat or how much. But what you eat to build muscle is almost as important as the training itself. Eating and training work together.
Food supplies us with calories. Calories are tiny bits of energy that your body uses to perform work. Counting calories isn’t as important as knowing what calories will be the best ones to consume for the maximum effect on your workout.
To have enough energy to perform your workout, you’ll need a lot of different nutrients. You also need to know about macro-nutrients.
Macro-nutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Each of these has a task and is used by the body differently for different for multiple purposes. Here’s a little break down of what each one’s major function is… as we know it.
Let’s start with the energy producers called carbohydrates.
What Should I Eat For Muscle Gain? Part 1 Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of glucose. Glucose is a simple carb that is stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is the principal form of energy that is stored in muscles. When your muscles are filled with glycogen, they both look and feel full.
Glucose also provides energy for your brain and making blood in your body. Glucose can be made from protein, but that requires the breakdown of body protein from muscle. If you’re not eating enough carbohydrates, your body will start breaking down muscle tissue for glucose.
Carbohydrates should be the bulk of your daily caloric intake when you are starting a bodybuilding program that has size as the main goal. Focus on unprocessed complex carbs like sweet potatoes, potatoes, whole grain breads, oatmeal, and brown rice.
These natural complex carbs are made of long “chains” of sugar and are digested very slowly. Slow burning carbs promote consistent blood sugar levels which help to offset fatigue while promoting the release of insulin which is the body’s principal anabolic hormone.
For men, the amount of carbs that should be taken in by multiplying their body weight by three (for size and weight gain). That number will be the amount of grams that should be consumed daily. Women multiply their body weight by two to get their carb gram intake. For example, a 200 pound man should consume 600 grams of carbs per day and a 125 pound woman would eat 250 carb grams daily.
Along with carbs, you must consume enough fiber in your diet. Eating fiber makes muscle tissue more responsive to anabolism by improving sugar and amino acid uptake, and aiding in muscle glycogen formation and growth. Beans and oatmeal are two excellent sources of fiber.
Divide your carb meals into six servings throughout the day. This divide and conquer approach stimulates a steady release of insulin to create an anabolic, or muscle building, state. If you eat too many carbs in one sitting, the net effect is that fat-storing enzymes kick into high hear and you lose than lean and hard look.
Eat some simple carbs after your workout and eat more of them. Honey, sugar and refined foods such as white bread and white rice – typical simple carbs – are digested quickly and easily. The resulting insulin spike is a double edged sword, however. After training, it can prevent muscle catabolism while promoting anabolism. If you have not been working out, the intake of simple carbs can stimulate fat storage.
A high carb intake at your post training meal will have less chance of being stored as fat, as carbs must replenish depleted glycogen levels before they gain the ability to stimulate fat storage. Eat about 25% of your daily carbs at this meal.
Breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day, and besides your post-workout meal, it is also the best time to load up on carbs. Blood sugar and muscle glycogen levels are low from your overnight fast. Your body must replenish these levels before stimulating the fat storing machinery in the body.
As your day wears on, your carb intake should decrease. Your energy requirements will also decrease at this time, so your body won’t need as much. If you eat carbs late in the day, your body will store them as fat and increase weight gain instead of muscle mass if you are not active.
If you need to lose some fat along with building your muscles, you will want to rotate your carb intake. Bodybuilders who rotate their carb intake tend to lose more fat than bodybuilders who maintain a steady flow of carbs while dieting.
For example, instead of eating 600g of carbs every day (the typical daily total for a 200 pound bodybuilder), try varying the volume of intake. Eat 50% fewer carbs (300g) for two days, then the standard 600g for the next two days, then 50% more (900g) for the next two days.
The total carb intake is the same, but this schedule works because it lowers muscle glycogen in the first stage (promoting fat loss), and then increases insulin levels (ensuring no loss of muscle) on the final two days. Carb rotation gives you the best of both worlds: decreased fat with no loss of muscle.
What Should I Eat For Muscle Gain? Part 2 Protein
Another, and very important nutrient every body builder needs is plenty of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Glucose molecules make up carbohydrates just like amino acids make up proteins.
Protein is involved in growing, repairing, and replacing tissues. That is made possible because proteins are the basis for body structures.
For body builders, nitrogen balance is an important concept to keep in mind when talking about proteins. Nitrogen balance is the difference between the amount of nitrogen taken in and the amount excreted or lost. If you lose more nitrogen than you consume, your body will break down muscle tissue to get it. On the other hand, if you consume more than you lose, you will be in an anabolic, or muscle building, state.
Protein intake exceeds output, and protein is retained in tissue as new muscle is added. Obviously, this is something that you want. Watch out, if your protein output exceeds intake you would have a negative nitrogen balance. This is not good because the opposite is now happening.
Your body is degrading muscle and other body proteins. You usually see this in people who are starving, burned, injured, or have a fever. This puts your body in what is called a catabolic state.
An anabolic state is when your body has a positive nitrogen balance. The term catabolic refers to the state of the body in which body compounds are broken down for energy purposes. In body building contexts, catabolic means muscle loss. Ultimately, your body won’t grow when it is in a catabolic state.
The general rule is to consume daily the same amount of grams in protein as your body weight. A 200 pound body builder, therefore, would need to eat 200 grams of protein every day to put the body in an anabolic state. When calculating the amount of protein you are eating, concentrate on the complete sources of protein like meat, fish, and eggs.
While there are proteins in other foods, you need to focus on the complete sources rather than those that are incomplete.
If you are dieting while body building, your protein intake should increase to 1 1⁄2 times your bodyweight. Many diets have you cutting back on fat and carbohydrate intake. This forces the body to burn more protein for fuel which can put your muscle tissue at risk. To compensate, you’ll need to eat more protein to counteract this effect.
Here’s a quick guide to the protein content of some foods:
Steak, cooked 5 oz. – 35 grams protein
Roasted chicken 5 oz. – 43 grams protein
Tuna 5 oz. – 43 grams protein
1 egg – 6 grams protein
1 c. milk – 8 grams protein
2 T. peanut butter – 9 grams protein
Two slices of cheese – 14 grams protein
2 slices of whole wheat bread – 5 grams protein
1 c. cooked broccoli – 5 grams protein
1 c. beans (legumes) – 15 grams protein
Some people don’t feel that loading up on protein is a good idea for anyone, but if you want to get ripped with your body building program, you’ll need the amino acids in protein to work in your body. Be aware of the amount of protein you are eating and make them work for you instead of against you.
Eating To Build Muscle Includes Healthy Fats – Part 3
Yes, even when you are building the perfect body, you’ll still need some fats in your diet. Fats are the main source of energy in the body. Fat combines with glucose for energy in order to spare the breakdown of protein. That way, protein can do what it is supposed to do – build muscle.
The key to fat intake is to stay away from bad fats and only eat the good fat. Saturated fat is bad. These are the fats that contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol. Because of the chemical composition of saturated fat, your body cannot break it down very well.
Saturated fats are commonly found in animal products such as meat, seafood, whole milk dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as egg yolks. Saturated fats elevate blood cholesterol by increasing both the good HDL and the bad LDL. Elevated levels of LDL can clog arteries and cause heart disease. They are also more readily stored as body fat, so they should be limited.
Trans fats should also be avoided. This type of fat is often used in commercially processed food because they are preserved longer. Trans fats cause an over activity in the immune system and are linked to stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. You should truly strive to eliminate all trans fats from your diet.
Unsaturated fats are easier for your body to break down. Some of them can actually help in losing stored fatty tissue in the body. These fats are found naturally in foods like nuts and avocados. These fats have a great effect on the cardio system as they work to lower the bad LDL cholesterol in the body.
The easiest way to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is to look at them. At room temperature, saturated fats are hard and solid. Unsaturated fats are in liquid form as in oils.
So basically, you should stay away from fats like animal lard and use oils such as olive oil.
Pay close attention to the fat content of any processed foods you are eating and keep it to a minimum or else your body will store that fat as, well, fat.
Probably the best type of fat to have in your diet would be Essential Fatty Acids. These fats are most often found in fish and can have some significant health advantages. They can reduce inflammation, help prevent cancer growth, and improve brain function.
Essential Fatty Acids can actually help combat conditions such as depression, fatigue, joint pain, and even Type 2 diabetes. Because they reduce inflammation in the body, they are good for the body builder because they help promote muscle recovery which can be important in the body building process.
Fats are actually an important part of any diet. They play an important role in protecting the body’s vital organs. Fats keep the body insulated, maintain healthy hair and skin as well as providing a sense of fullness after meals.
Obtaining sufficient fat in its healthy form is one of the keys to good health and well being and a great body! However, you must be careful not to overdo on the fats, so consider the following suggestions for keeping your fat intake at a healthy level:
- Snack on almonds instead of chips or candy. About a 1⁄2 cup is a good amount.
- Use olive oil in salad dressings and when cooking
- When baking, instead of topping with chocolate or candies, consider using
nuts and seeds instead
- Try making sandwiches with avocado and tuna instead of higher fat lunchmeats
- Eat fish at least three times a week to increase your Omega 3 intake
- Limit or even eliminate fast food as well as sources of trans fats like
commercially processed cookies and cakes
I Stay Away From Alcohol When Eating For Muscle Growth
When you start on a bodybuilding program, you will want to pay close attention to the foods you are feeding your body. That includes alcohol as well. Many people like a drink or two or even three to help them unwind and relax. But when you are a body builder, alcohol can have a detrimental effect on your progress.
Alcohol contains nothing but empty calories. It has no nutritional value but it does contain high caloric content. In fact, just one shot of vodka contains 100 calories! Not only will drinking increase your caloric intake, it slows down your metabolism hindering your body’s ability to process foods.
Alcohol consumption also hurts muscle growth. Not only will having a hangover lower your workout intensity, but drinking actually lowers protein synthesis by twenty percent. There are several reasons why it does this.
For one, it dehydrates your muscle cells. As many know, hydrated and even over hydrated muscles allows for a much higher anabolic environment. Because your cells aren’t holding as much water, it becomes much harder to build muscle.
The second reason why alcohol can severely hurt muscle growth is because it blocks the absorption of many important nutrients that are key to muscle contraction, relaxation and growth including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium.
Not only that, but alcohol lowers the amount of testosterone in your body and actually increases estrogen. Having higher levels of testosterone can help with your workouts by making you more aggressive, so when those levels are down, you will not be as intense in your lifting and weight training.
Don’t Forget To Drink Enough Water Support Muscle Growth
Probably one of the best things you can do to help your bodybuilding workout progress the way you want it to is to drink plenty of water. Water is good for you anyway, but for body builders, it can be especially important. Water is part of every single metabolic process that the body undertakes.
Most experts recommend everyone drink six to eight glasses of water daily to stay healthy. For body builders, you’ll need much more. Soda, coffee, and tea don’t count either. The caffeine can increase fluid loss, so you’re not getting the hydration you need. Bodybuilders need at least a half gallon to a gallon per day depending on the intensity of your workouts.
Water flushes out toxins and other metabolic waste products from the body. Water is especially important when following a “high protein” diet, as it helps remove excess nitrogen, urea (a toxic substance), and ketones. If you’re eating what you need to eat to build muscle, then you need even more water to help your kidneys do their work.
Without enough water, the kidneys can’t function properly. When this happens, some of the load is transferred to the liver. The liver metabolizes stored fat for energy. If the liver is doing some of the kidneys’ work, it burns less fat. In addition, water can actually reduce feelings of hunger.
Contrary to popular belief, drinking water can actually help you shed excess water weight.
When water is in short supply, the body, thinking there’s a shortage, begins hoarding it. This water is stored in extra cellular spaces. In other words, your skin starts looking soft and puffy.
If you’re going to be using supplements in your bodybuilding program, and you should, water can help them work. Supplements like creatine work in part because it pulls water in muscle cells, creating an anabolic environment needed for muscle growth.
For this to work properly, you need plenty of water. Plus, if you’re training hard, then you need a basic mega-vitamin. Many vitamins are water soluble, and water unlocks the power of those vitamins.
Quick Tips On What To Eat To Build Muscle And Stay Lean
If you want to get leaner or stay lean, consider these general tips for what to eat to build muscle.
- Drink skim milk or soy milk
- Cut sugar from your diet. If you must, use artificial sweeteners but some studies have shown them to have toxic qualities so it is our advice to severely limit your intake of this chemical.
- No regular soda! Diet is better for you anyway and doesn’t contain sugar. Again, be aware of the chemicals potential side effects.
- Pizza and hamburgers regularly are a big no-no if you already have some extra fat. Not only are they high in bad fat content, they are highly caloric and can cause you to overeat. If you a skinny, these types of food may be exactly what you need to eat to build muscle. (not necessarily healthy)
- Eat lots of fish to increase your levels of Omega 3 fatty acids – Chicken breasts are good for you as well
- Allow yourself one cheat day a week where you can indulge in something you’ve been craving. Just don’t overdo it on your cheat days or you can undo all you’ve accomplished.
- Limit the amount of fruit you eat. While fruit is healthy, and contains lots of vitamins, it also contains sugars.
- Protein and complex carbohydrates are very important
- Instead of eating three large meals a day, eat six smaller ones
Don’t skip meals
- Vegetables are always a good choice at mealtime
When eating out, choose foods wisely. You can’t go wrong with chicken and salad or a potato.
- Avoid most fast food restaurants or opt for healthy choices – remember no burgers (or at least no white buns)!
The body is very adaptable to change. At first, you may have problems getting used to your new diet. But once you get used to eating right, you’ll find yourself not even craving the foods you used to eat.
In case you’re a little confused over what and how to eat to build muscle, consider the following sample meal plans.
Sample Meals Of What You Should Eat To Build Muscle
Choosing the right way to eat to build muscle can be a little overwhelming. But once you start eating the way you need to, it will become second nature to you. Following is a list of good foods for you to eat in each of the categories you need to concentrate on:
White meat chicken or turkey
Protein Powder Canned tuna Canned salmon Fresh Fish Shellfish
Red meat like steak or roast
Yams, Sweet potatoes, Acorn squash Rice
All water based types. Lettuce, Cabbage, Spinach Asparagus
Bok Choy, Leeks
Broccoli, Cauliflower, Radish Zucchini Squash Mushrooms
3 Small Apricots
1-Cup Berries, Grapes 1 mango, small papaya
1-Cup low fat cottage cheese
1-Cup non-fat milk (I use vanilla soy milk instead!) 1/2 Cup non or low fat cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread 2-Cups whole wheat pasta Whole wheat tortillas
Snack Foods (occasionally)
Rice cakes Non-wheat cereals
Raw Vegetables (whenever you want) Nuts
Enough fats will sneak in on their own without you trying when you are eating to build muscle but stay really lean. If you need some more, go to a fattier cut meat or have a handful of almonds.
Sample Meals You Should Eat To Build Muscle Laid Out In The Day For 3 Days
A good diet is well-rounded and contains some of each of the food groups. You should also include a supplement in your diet which we will get to in a later section. As we’ve said, you should be eating 5 or 6 smaller meals every day instead of three large ones. Space your meals about 2 to 2 1⁄2 hours apart. Try out a few of these meal plans to start out with.
Vegetable omelet (3 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1 cup veggies) You can also add some chicken or lean beef if you want.
One cup yogurt or a protein shake
6 oz Chicken
Small raw vegetable salad 1 whole wheat bread
1 piece fruit 3-4 oz Chicken
6 oz fish
1 – Cup grilled veggies 1 – Cup brown rice
3 packs instant oatmeal 1 banana
1 cup of yogurt
1 cup of cottage cheese
1 large baked potato
8 ounces chicken breast 2 cups pasta
1 cup yogurt
1 can of tuna
1 – 2 cups broccoli
1 cup brown rice
8 ounces broiled fish 1 cup veggies
2 cups rice
Breakfast burrito (3 egg whites, 1 whole egg scrambled, 1 cup onion/green pepper mix, salsa)
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup berries
1 cup raw veggies
Salmon burger on whole wheat bun (canned salmon, 1 egg white, onions cooked in a non-stick fry pan)
1 large potato cut into strips, brushed with olive oil, and baked in oven until crispy
1 garden salad drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar
Protein shake 1 cup yogurt
8 ounces chicken breast, cut into chunks, fried in olive oil and seasoned with oregano, garlic salt, and basil
1 cup cooked tomatoes
2 cups pasta
1 cup broccoli/cauliflower mix
Protein shake 1 cup melon
1 cup yogurt
Of course, these are only suggested meal plans for eating to build muscle. You can mix it up as you want to. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and pre-cook your meals. Keep vegetables, precooked chicken, precooked rice and other commonly eaten items in the refrigerator so you don’t have to work too hard at mealtime.
Recipes are always good to have on hand, so I’ll be linking to a PDF download with a few bodybuilding recipes to try on for size.
Nutrition is very important when you are trying to build up muscle mass. You don’t necessarily have to be dieting, but you do have to be conscious about what you are putting into your body so that you can maximize your workouts.
Another huge thing you have to be aware of in your body building program is sleep which I will link to here if I write such an article.
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