Have you been putting in the work but not seeing the results you want?
If you’re trying to gain muscle, and aren’t where you want to be, you need to take a good look at your nutrition.
There are many factors involved with building muscle, so it’s critical to make sure you aren’t missing out on a few basics.
I’ve been a personal trainer for over 20 years, and I’ve seen the same mistakes come up time and time again.
I’ve seen people train like animals in the gym with every set and rep planned out — but then completely neglect their nutrition.
I’ve also seen people rely on supplements to help them achieve their goals, but not have the basics in place first.
Before you make any other adjustments, make sure you’re applying these 4 important nutrition tips when trying to gain muscle.
#1. Make Sure You Get Enough Calories Each Day
You’d be surprised how many people are under-eating when trying to gain muscle.
Calorie counting and equations are far from a perfect science. You’re better off not devoting your entire day and energy to crunching every number on something imperfect.
But you want to get a good starting point to know where you’re at.
The rough guide is 20 calories per pound of body weight to gain muscle.
This is when it’s a good idea to at least track your calorie intake for a few days — just to see where you’re at. From there, you can adjust as needed.
If you want to gain muscle, not eating enough is going to make it tough. A simple way to bump up calories is to increase carb intake.
You’ll also get the increased caloric energy for more intense workouts.
Instead of counting calories, focus on portions, and use your hand size to determine them. The size of your hand correlates well to your own body.
With carbs, a decent portion size would equal what would fit into one of your cupped hands.
You want to have at least 2 servings of those at each meal. And your idea carb choices would be:
- Brown or wild rice
- Sweet potato
- Kidney beans and chickpeas (also high in protein and an excellent choice for vegans/vegetarians)
Speaking of healthy choices, here are some other great foods you should include each day.
Again, every person is unique, but this is a good starting point and you can adjust for your own personal needs.
#2. Understand That You Will Gain Some Body Fat
It’s pretty tough to gain just straight, lean muscle. If we’re getting specific and talking about pure muscle tissue, you can only gain a certain amount of it over the course of the year.
When we’re talking about muscle size; that’s something different, and we’re essentially talking about gaining weight.
Muscle size is a combination of things including muscle fiber tissue, water, glycogen storage, muscle belly size, and tendon attachment.
If you gain 20 pounds of “muscle” in a few months, it’s most likely going to be a combination of those things with some extra body fat.
Stuart Phillips, Ph.D. from McMaster University in Ontario says he expects the average person to gain 4 to 7 pounds of muscle over 3 months.
That 12-week period will also be a good indicator of your ability to put on muscle. Some may gain more, some less.
Since you need a surplus of clean calories to help achieve more muscle growth, gaining some body fat may be inevitable.
This isn’t the worst thing, however. Use this time, and bit of extra weight, to push yourself more in the gym. The extra weight will help you lift heavier than normal.
You will also have increased caloric energy, so use it in your favor to train harder to lead to even more muscle.
#3. Make Sure You Consume Enough Protein
Protein can be a complicated subject, but without it, gains in muscle will be difficult.
Protein — along with making enzymes and hormones — is a structural component that aids in the repair and recovery of the body.
Protein can be tough for the body to process and digest. You need to consume enough of it as a percentage of the protein is used just to digest and process itself.
Protein can help keep hunger under control and is a real metabolism booster, but shortchanging yourself of protein will stall your muscle-building goals.
Keeping yourself in a positive protein balance is key in gaining muscle, and you want to aim for around 0.7–1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
There are differing opinions on the exact amount ideal for building muscle, but studies show this is a good range to be in.
Look to include the cleanest beef, chicken, and fish you can find but also include free-range eggs, nuts and seeds, and don’t forget the protein from oats, quinoa, and beans to keep your muscles fed through the day.
#4. Don’t Neglect Your Water Intake
Two-thirds of your body is made of water and two-thirds of that is contained in your muscle. Among other things, water is critical for,
- transport of nutrients
- temperature regulation
- cognitive function
You need protein for muscle tissue to grow, but it’s important to not neglect your water intake. Water helps to keep muscles full and is involved in the pump you feel when you work out.
Without adequate water intake, it is drawn from the muscle back into the blood to help with circulation and to keep blood pressure safe.
When water intake is not up to par, you won’t have enough to fill the muscle cells. This can slow protein production and increase protein breakdown.
Dehydration not only can affect your appearance, but also your performance. A lack of water can lead to plummeting energy levels, and your workouts will suffer.
To make sure you get enough water each day, simply drink half your body weight in ounces each day.
These tips may seem simple, but it’s the simple things that create the foundation for success.
If you’re having trouble gaining muscle, address these specific things first before you make other alterations. These key components of nutrition need to be dialed in for true muscle gain.
You can’t just gain muscle by accident, it takes hard work, planning, and consistency to make it happen.
If you focus on these four nutrition tips, along with smart and intense training, you’ll put yourself in a better position for those muscle gains.