Many people think that a good diet for packing on muscle is simply that of loading up on egg whites, chicken breasts, dry tuna, yams, brown rice, steamed broccoli and green salads, while shunning anything with white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
These foods are actually part of an effective dietary plan for putting on muscle, but there is so much more to a muscle building diet for mass gain and fat loss than simply stocking up on these particular foods.
The fascinating thing about muscle building diets is that they differ from one enthusiast to the next. Let’s begin with the best overall foods for a bodybuilding program.
Just follow this rule: If man made it, don’t eat it. Now, of course, this is nearly impossible in today’s modern world, but at least it’s an excellent golden rule to at least try to follow.
More Realistically, Here Are Easier-To-Follow Rules:
1. Avoid grain-fed beef; eat only grass-fed beef. Grass-fed livestock is not given hormones or antibiotics, and the grass they eat has not been treated with pesticides.
Grain-fed animals consume crops that have been treated with pesticides. Grain is not their natural food, so they get sick; they’re given hormones to plump up; this makes them sick, too.
Consequently they’re given antibiotics.
A person training for muscle size and fat loss should not eat a sick animal. Additionally, the fat profile of grass-fed beef is much better, with more healthy omega 3 fats. Grass-fed beef is much closer to what primitive man ate than are grain-fed meats.
2. Eat wild game like bison, buffalo, duck, lamb and turkey; and fish (preferably wild-caught) like salmon, tuna, scallops and halibut.
3. Eat whole eggs for their mineral, vitamin, omega 3 and quality protein content. The bodybuilding community is divided regarding egg yolks, namely due to the fat content, but this is because many men aiming for significant muscle can’t stop at just two eggs; they want six, seven, even eight at one sitting.
One whole egg has two grams of saturated fat, so six would give the trainee 12 grams of sat fats. Hence, many avoid egg yolks. Saturated fat is not a “good” fat, so the recommendation is to limit whole eggs (preferably cage-, hormone- and antibiotic-free) to two a day.
4. Include nuts/seeds of any kind, and raw is the best, though if you choose roasted, make sure there’s no sugar added. Though nuts are high in calories and good fats, they easily satiate and can suppress urges to overeat.
5. Heavily restrict the following: frozen dinners/pizzas/burritos/pot pies, etc., waffle and pancake mixes, baked goods, fast food fare, ice cream, candy, etc.
Complete avoidance is unrealistic, though some trainees actually pull this off. For those with a sweet tooth or yen for salty processed foods, a once-a-week “cheat day” is a reasonable plan.
6. Avoid artificial sweeteners. These can trigger hunger and cause overeating.
7. Avoid the very unhealthy trans fats, which also go by the name “partially hydrogenated.”
8. Load up on raw and steamed vegetables, and eat plenty of whole fruit.
9. Include whole potatoes, yams, barley, steel cut oats and rice for carbohydrate sources. Minimally processed whole grain bread, rolls and cereal are also acceptable.
10. Make diet based as much as possible in whole foods. This means if you want a sliced turkey, rice and broccoli for dinner, buy whole turkey parts, whole broccoli (frozen in a bag is fine) and rice preferably from a bulk source to season yourself.
However, many find bulk brown or wild rice unpalatable and prefer rice in a box that comes with seasoning. The shorter the ingredients list, the better.
11. Abstain from alcohol. Alcohol has a blunting effect on the hormonal response from weight lifting, and also can promote fat storage. An occasional drink won’t hurt, but those who drink “regularly” and want to build their best physique need to make a choice.
These restrictions look intimidating, but the less processed foods that one puts in his or her body, the better the response to a serious training regimen, not to mention more efficient fat loss.
Mass Gainers, Protein Shakes, Drinks And Bars
There is no scientific evidence that trainees who consume these highly processed products have an edge at growing the big muscles they so desire.
The closer food is to nature, the better it is for you. These products, especially the bars, are very much removed from nature.
Primitive man, though not jacked with bulging muscle, still had to perform amazing feats of physical prowess to survive, and he certainly didn’t have “scientifically formulated” foods to depend upon. “Science” never beats nature when it comes to food.
Many weight gain shakes and some whey protein powders, and chocolate and vanilla flavored “post-workout drinks” and neon-colored beverages are loaded with synthetic chemicals, and the bars have manmade sugars as well as artificial sweeteners, plus other additives.
On an occasional basis, these are fine, as sometimes convenience dictates eating these. Outside of the occasional intake, avoid these products due to their artificial content.
These products are not to be confused with “purer” forms of whey protein powder that do not contain synthetic chemicals, and instead offer a great, no-nonsense protein source.
How Much Should One Eat?
Here is another area of divided perspective. Ten muscled physique competitors will give 10 different responses to what is the best diet for building muscle. The rule, then, is to be sensible.
- Protein. Adequate amounts of this macronutrient are necessary for building muscle. A common recommendation is one gram a day per pound of bodyweight.
Other directives call for 1.5 pounds of bodyweight. Still another camp insists that 70 or 80 grams of protein a day are adequate.
The flaw with this “per pound” rule is that it doesn’t take into account body composition. Follow the first rule here, and this means that a 250 pound man with 35 percent body fat should eat 250 grams of protein a day! That’s eight to 10 chicken breasts!
Find out what works best for you and don’t go out of your way to make a protein quota. If you’re eating six meals a day, it’s not necessary to have 30 grams of protein for each meal.
The take on this is so divided that it’s crucial to hear it again: Do what works best for you. The most important times to eat protein are for breakfast, within an hour of a workout, and two hours after that, and protein should be the size of a deck of cards.
- Carbohydrates. Ideal amounts for this macronutrient also come in many recommendations. Complex carbs are necessary for helping “shuttle” protein to muscle cells.
Do what works best for you, in that if you want to pile on whopping muscle, it’s not necessary to stuff yourself with tons of carbs to the point of dreading the next meal.
Examples of smart carb servings would be one to one and a half cups of oatmeal, pasta, yams, barley, rice or whole grain cereal; one medium to large boiled potato; one dinner roll or two slices of whole grain bread. These are just guidelines.
Men with significant muscle development, such as competitive bodybuilders, football players and other power-based athletes, have been known to pack away three cups of carbohydrate and two chicken breasts or a 12 ounce steak at one sitting.
Those seeking fat loss, particularly women, will benefit from smaller servings.
- Fats. The rule is simple: Avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats, and one should do well, as long as he or she consumes on a regular basis fish and nuts, and takes in other sources of beneficial fats such as olive oil, flaxseeds and grass-fed beef rather than grain-fed.
Some muscle building camps say to have fats with every meal. On the other hand, some people go bonkers trying to figure out how to include good fats in every single feeding.
Bottom line: Don’t obsess about the number of protein, carb and fat grams in your meals; this habit can become tedious, frustrating and de-motivate a trainee.
How Often Should One Eat?
The “eat every three hours” plan was popularized by supplement companies as a way to get consumers to use up three “meals” a day on protein shake mixes or protein bars.
However, many nutritionists and dieticians urge five or six small meals a day to
- keep metabolism stoked and
- keep blood sugar levels stable.
Five, six or even seven meals a day work splendid for some trainees. Others do well on three or four. Eat at least three meals a day, and always have breakfast. If you work out first thing in the morning, eat breakfast as a post-workout meal.
For maximum fat loss results, avoid carbohydrates within three hours of bedtime, though again, periodic intake of carbs late at night against a backdrop of clean eating won’t sabotage fat loss goals.
The Post-Workout Meal
After working out, the muscles are ready to gorge on fuel. Within an hour of a workout is the best time to consume any kind of “cheat” foods you have planned for the day. Insulin sensitivity is highest after a hardcore workout.
Muscle cells have been depleted of their fuel source: glucose (blood sugar). Thus, incoming carbohydrates (sugar) will be put to use as fuel for muscles, rather than stored as fat (unless the trainee pigs out).
Simple sugars from high glycemic foods get absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, and these more effectively expedite protein to muscle cells, than do complex, slower-digesting carbohydrates.
This is because fast-acting carbs stimulate secretion of the hormone insulin, which plays a major role in hypertrophy. In other words, a big glass of chocolate milk will be put to great use by famished muscles soon after working out.
Another source of fast-acting carbs is fruit juice (all-natural; avoid “drinks” or juices marketed at children); fresh-squeezed is best.
The post-workout meal should always include protein, and whey powder is best because of its high absorbability.
However, as mentioned prior, be aware that some whey powders are full of additives. Choose those with minimal ingredients.
Sixteen ounces of milk has only 16 grams of protein, so additional protein should accompany milk as a post-workout fueling, such as a handful of nuts, a few hardboiled eggs or some chicken.
Neglecting the post-workout meal puts muscles at risk for catabolic activity: feeding upon each other for recovery fuel.
The next meal should be within three hours, and some fitness enthusiasts and fitness professionals believe it should be only two hours after. If you’re hungry two hours after, eat up.
What Is The Absolute Best Diet For Muscle Building?
For trainees with low body fat, diet should provide a surplus of calories to facilitate muscle building.
For those wanting hypertrophy yet also fat loss, a balance must be achieved so that there’s adequate food for exercise and recovery, yet not too much such that excess fat isn’t utilized.
Certain types of food stand out in terms of comprising effective muscle building diets, even though there may be variations within those various dietary plans:
Whey protein powder. Derived from milk, this contains branched chain amino acids, which spur insulin production. It’s also, as mentioned prior, fast-absorbing, and best taken post-workout.
- Dairy foods. Interestingly, though dairy items don’t have quick-acting carbs, they do spark insulin production, and of course, deliver protein.
- Poultry. This is an excellent source of protein. Occasional indulgence in dark meat is fine.
- Grass-fed beef and wild game. Red meat contains the important amino acids carnosine and carnitine, which contribute to muscle synthesis.
- Beans. These are packed with fiber, offer relatively high protein and also deliver carbohydrates.
- Eggs. As mentioned previously, eggs deliver quality protein plus important nutrients like selenium and vitamin D. Egg-white omelets are popular amongst people training for hypertrophy, but whole-egg salad in whole-grain bread makes a great meal (along with a green salad).
- Potatoes. The beauty of these is that they can be eaten in 100 percent natural form (save for the cooking aspect, which should be boiling for best results). The carbs are fast-acting and stimulate insulin.
- Rice. Rice is loaded with carbs, and white rice especially, is great for post-workout recovery.
- Spinach. This leafy green contains phytoecdysteroids, which a study by Rutgers University Researchers showed enhances muscle growth. Add to omelets, salads and even sandwiches.
- Fruit such as berries, oranges, grapes, plums, peaches, apples and bananas. These fruits offer quick-acting sugars and are thus insulin-spiking, and they are also loaded with antioxidants.
- Juicing. Juicing is a great way to pack down antioxidants without the hassle of chewing through lots of fruit and vegetables, which is challenging for some individuals. Appetite-suppressing and nutrient-dense candidates for juicing include berries, apples, kiwi, mangos, carrots, leafy greens and cucumbers.
- Water. A common recommendation is a gallon a day. This is difficult for many trainees, but at least aim for six, 8-ounce glasses a day.
The best muscle building diet for mass gain and fat loss begins with a decision to overhaul one’s eating habits.
This won’t be easy for some, and in that case, the changeover can be done gradually, such as adding one smart eating habit per week, such as eating a large green salad every evening with dinner, or swapping the vending food snacks at work with nuts, raisins, dates, fruit, yogurt or strips of whole chicken.