If you want to grow lean muscle mass as quickly as possible, you’ll need to get your nutrition under control. There’s no denying it: you can’t achieve healthy, long-term muscle building without eating correctly. You might get stronger if you don’t provide your body with the correct raw materials at the right times, but you won’t get any bigger.
We covered how to calculate your goal calorie intake, as well as how to assess your bioenergetics demands (carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs) and discover the best sources of those macronutrients in my previous three posts. In this post, I’ll discuss timing:
- How long it should take you to gain muscle.
- How much muscle you can anticipate gaining.
- How often you should arrange your meals for maximum muscle growth.
Then, to help you put everything we’ve learned about gaining lean muscle into reality, I’ll walk you through a complete performance demands nutritional profile of a fictional athlete.
How Much To Eat
You’ll first need to adjust your calorie intake to accommodate development. You must provide the body with an excess of calories, which will serve as the additional fuel for the body to produce new lean muscle mass tissue. Most average male athletes keep their body weight at roughly 17-19 calories per pound of bodyweight to stimulate new growth. Thus you’ll need to increase your calorie intake.
First, realize that when you expend the same number of calories you eat, your body composition (percent body fat vs. percent lean muscle) remains constant. A pound of muscle, on the other hand, equals 3500 calories. To grow muscle safely and effectively, you must increase your overall calorie consumption by at least 3500 calories each week. That adds up to around 500 calories each day on top of your total calorie needs, which you calculated from my prior postings.
As much as you may despise it, calorie counting is necessary to achieve your goals. This kind of muscle-building assures that you gain lean muscle while minimizing fat formation in a way that your body can handle. Every 6-7 days, you’ll gain around a pound of muscle. If you gain weight at a rate of more than two pounds per week, you risk gaining more body fat than lean muscle, which is the opposite of what an athlete wants.
It’s critical to realize that when you follow a muscle-building diet, you will gain fat—this is natural. A one-to-two-pound-per-week weight growth objective should consist of 75% muscle and 25% fat. How do you know you’re hitting your mark? Analyze your body composition regularly.
Measuring Muscle Gain
It’s essential to recognize that just because the scale says you gained weight does not mean you gained muscle weight. A good rule of thumb is to have your body fat percentage measured every 4-6 weeks, in addition to body-girth measurements (e.g., chest, arms, waist, etc.). By adopting this practice, you will know if the experienced weight gain increases lean muscle or adipose tissue (fat).
Let me give you some guidance when it comes to body fat tests. Fat tests differ significantly, and some claim to be superior to others. Don’t get caught up in debating which test is superior to the others. Instead, ensure that the test you use is the same throughout your performance nutrition program. Additionally, have your body fat test administered by the same practitioner each time. The reliability of the body-fat test can be harmed by a variety of test types and testers, resulting in inaccurate measurements.
Finally, your muscle gain program should occur during the off-season to avoid sacrificing performance. Schedule it, so you reach your desired weight 6-8 weeks before the start of the season. This calendar allows your body to acclimate to its new weight and composition before you begin competing.
When to Eat
Now that you know how much food to eat and what sorts of meals are the most significant, let’s speak about timing. When it comes to how often you should eat, you’ll discover that eating every 3-4 hours works best because you’ll consume many more calories. If you only eat three times a day and stick to a calorie intake of 3500 to 4000 calories, it will be incredibly tough to stick to, and you will feel bloated and sluggish after each meal.
Instead, divide it over six meals each day so that you feel energetic after each one, and your muscles get a consistent supply of nutrients to help them grow.
Additionally, ensure meals have a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein, as well as simple carbs before and after your training and workout sessions. This schedule is the best time for muscular building, so take advantage of it by providing your body with the nutrients it needs. Then, within 4-5 hours of a vigorous workout, have plenty of unprocessed complex carbs.
The following is a bulleted list of important nutrient timing advice:
- Eat every 3-4 hours and aim for six small meals throughout the day.
- Avoid cramming all of your calories into three large meals, as this will make you feel sluggish.
- At each meal, consume at least 20-30 grams of protein.
- Consume simple carbs immediately before and after workout sessions.
4-5 hours after an intense workout, eat unprocessed complex carbs
Consider Liquid Calories
Finally, remember to use liquid calories as a tool to understand the best technique to build muscles.
For some people, trying to eat entire meals with such a high-calorie intake can cause intestinal distress, so make a high-calorie smoothie with additional protein now and again.
To increase calorie intake, combine milk, protein powder, Greek yogurt, frozen or fresh fruit, flaxseeds or nut butter, and, if desired, ground-up oats.
This tip is a quick and easy approach to increase your calorie intake without feeling like you’re overeating. Some people trying to grow muscle as quickly as possible may feel they can’t stop eating. Therefore smoothies and shakes can help with this responsibility.
Example: Performance Nutrition Plan
Johnny, a 17-year-old football player who stands 6′ 2″ and weighs 190 pounds, and has 10% body fat, wants to acquire 15 pounds of muscle for his senior season. His calorie maintenance needs are 3,576 calories per day to maintain his current body weight, according to his calorie needs (BMR x the Harris-Benedict equation for determining daily calorie expenditure + bioenergetic needs). How can he grow 15 pounds without harming himself, and how long will it take?
Johnny must do the following to meet his performance goal:
Consume a minimum of 6 meals every day, with one meal every 3-4 hours.
Increase your daily calorie maintenance estimate by 500 calories (3500 calories per week).
Increase calorie intake by adding liquid calories in shakes and smoothies.
In addition to eating well, Johnny must:
- Strength train 3-4 times per week to maintain or increase lean muscle mass.
- Do 30 minutes of cardiovascular conditioning training 1-3 times per week to avoid fat mass growth owing to increased calorie intake.
- Have your body fat analyzed every 4-6 weeks to verify you’re gaining the right amount of muscle.
When you add it all up, you get: 4076 new daily calorie goal = 3576 calorie maintenance + 500 calorie muscle growth.
If Johnny sticks to his strategy, he should be able to reach his 15-pound muscle gain objective in 7.5 and 15 weeks (at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week weight gain) or around 2-4 months. Remember that gaining weight at a rate of more than two pounds per week puts you at risk of gaining more body fat than lean muscle.
So there you have it: the most important things to keep in mind while you build your muscle-building diet. It will pay off dramatically in the results you see if you take the time to plan out your daily meals and snacks, ensuring that all nutrients are covered, and your calorie intake gets achieved. It takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it!
Keep an eye out for the next chapter in our muscle-building series, in which I’ll go through the various elements that might speed up or slow down muscle growth. To refresh your recollection, return to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of my 10-part series.
Part-5 of Series Coming January 2022