How to gain muscle mass healthily
Building muscle requires a positive energy balance, which means that you must take in more calories than you burn. You need roughly 2,800 calories to build a pound of muscle, largely to support protein turnover, which can be elevated with training. By following these eight tips, you’ll be able to build muscle mass more efficiently and quickly.
Your body can build at most around about 227g of muscle each week, so if you eat too many extra calories trying to build more muscle, you will gain excess fat, too. We would suggest consuming an extra 250 to 500 calories per day. If you gain fat easily, stay on the lower end of the range, and if you find it difficult to gain weight in general, aim for the higher end of the range. It will take a bit of trial and error to find the right amount of additional calories to build muscle and stay lean.
In addition, research suggests that consuming lean protein 15 to 20 minutes before, during and within one hour of working out may help improve muscle gain. Since you are probably not going to be eating a steak or chicken breast at the gym, a protein drink or supplement may be beneficial immediately before, during or after workouts, but is not necessary.
However, it’s not all about protein. It’s about eating many meals that meet your calorific expenditure and provide you with the nutrition that will help you to build muscle, lose fat and get stronger. Here are eight simple tips to help you gain muscle mass the right way.
1. Eat breakfast
This gives you an immediate burst of energy and helps you to stay full until your next meal or snack. It also sets the trend: you’ll tend to eat healthier if your day starts with a strong and healthy breakfast. Your best bets for building muscle mass are the likes of omelettes, smoothies and cottage cheese.
2. Eat every three hours
The easiest way is to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner as usual, interspersed with meals post workout, pre-bed and with two snacks in between. By keeping your food intake up, it will mean you won’t be as hungry, because eating smaller meals more often versus a few big meals will decrease your stomach size. You’ll feel full more quickly and your waist will trim, while you’ll also have fewer cravings. Not eating for long periods can cause you to over-eat at the next meal or topping yourself up with unhealthy snacks from the vending machine. So to stop any cravings, eat at fixed times every day and your body will get hungry at those fixed times.
3. Eat protein with each meal
You need protein to build and maintain muscle. To achieve this, you should be looking to eat at least 1g per 454g of body-weight. That’s 200g/day if you weigh 91kg. The easiest way to get this amount is to eat a whole protein source with each meal. These include:
• Red meat. Beef, pork, lamb, etc
• Poultry. Chicken, turkey, duck, etc
• Fish. Tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc
• Eggs. Don’t believe the cholesterol myths. Eat the yolk
• Dairy. Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, quark, yogurt, etc
• Whey. Not necessary but great for easy post-workout shakes
• Try vegan options too, such as lentils, tofu, seeds and nuts
4. Eat fruit and vegetables with each meal
Most of them (not all) are low calorie: you can eat just about as much as you like without gaining fat or weight. Fruit and vegetables are also full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre which help digestion, but just be careful to check the sugar content of some fruits as some – especially the likes of bananas – can contain lots of sugar, thereby increasing your chances of gaining fat, rather than muscle mass.
5. Eat carbs only after your workout
While you need carbs for energy, most people eat more than they need. Limit your carbohydrate intake to after your workout only.
- Eat fruit and vegetables with all meals. These contain few carbohydrates compared to whole grains with the exception of corn, carrots and raisins.
- Another Carbs Post Workout Only. This is rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, quinoa, oats, etc. Avoid white carbs and eat whole grain.
6. Eat healthy fats
Healthy fats improve fat loss and health as they digest slowly and will help you gain muscle mass. Make sure you balance your fat intake, eat healthy fats with every meal and avoid trans-fats such as butter (along with all full-fat dairy products), beef fat and artificial trans-fats such as margarine.
7. Drink water
Strength training causes water loss through sweating and dehydration is a major factor in impairing muscle recovery and, by extension, gains in muscle mass. Drinking plenty of water prevents dehydration but also hunger, since an empty stomach can make you think you’re hungry, even if you’ve eaten lots that day.
8. Eat Whole Foods 90% of The Time
To see the muscle gain you want, 90% of your food intake should consist of whole foods.
- Whole foods. These are unprocessed and unrefined (or little refined) foods that come as close as possible to their natural state. Examples: fresh meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, pulses, fruits, rice, oats, quinoa etc.
- Processed foods Usually contain added sugars, trans-fats, nitrates, corn syrup, sodium and more chemicals. Examples: bagels, fruit bars, cereals, pizza, cookies, sausages, frozen meals, supplements