If you want to build muscle, you need to combine a smart eating plan with a consistent resistance training programme – one without the other will not produce significant gains.
The most important thing when it comes to building muscle is calories. To gain weight, you need to take in more calories than you burn. Scientists recommend increasing your usual calorie intake by 20% – that works out roughly an extra 400 – 500 calories daily for most gym-goers. If you normally consume 2700 kcal daily without gaining weight, you will need to eat 2700 x 1.2 = 3240 calories to gain muscle mass
To fuel your muscles while preventing an increase in body fat, divide your food into 5 – 6 meals a day. Smaller meals provide a more constant supply of protein and carbohydrates, two key nutrients needed for muscle repair and growth.
Muscles need protein to help them grow and rebuild from intense workouts. Aim to consume between 1.4 and 1.8 g of protein per kg of body weight daily. If you weigh 70 kg, you would need between 98 and 126 g per day.
Chicken, turkey, fish, lean red meat, eggs, dairy products and protein powders provide complete protein, including the eight essential amino acids muscles need to grow. Tofu and other soya products, quorn, beans, lentils, nuts and cereals provide smaller amounts of the essential amino acids. Combining two or more of these foods increase the overall protein value. If you’re trying to gain muscle mass but want to keep body fat under control, choose lower fat protein sources like skinless poultry and very low fat dairy products.
The timing of protein intake is actually more important than the total amount. Many studies have shown that athletes gain more muscle when they eat some of their protein before and also after training than when they consume the same amount of protein each day but consume none before and after their workouts.
You need to eat a minimum of 5 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight daily and, depending on your individual metabolism, body fat level and training volume, up to 7 or 8 g. If you weigh 70 kg, you would need between 350 and 560 g a day.
Choose fibre-rich carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, porridge, rice, pasta, fruit, beans and lentils. Honey, dried fruit, fruit juice are denser sources of carbohydrates and make it easier to reach your daily carbohydrate needs if you have a fast metabolism.
Weight gain tips
- Plan your meal and snack times in advance and never skip or rush them, no matter how busy you are.
- Increase your meal frequency – eat at least three meals and three snacks daily.
- Eat regularly and avoid gaps longer than three hours.
- Plan nutritious high-calorie snacks – yoghurt, nuts, dried fruit, and cereal bars.
- Try nutritious drinks such as milk-based shakes, smoothies and juice to help bring up your calorie and nutrient intake.
- Boost the calorie and nutritional content of your meals by adding extra dried fruit, bananas, honey, chopped nuts or seeds.