Packing on quality mass is essential to a lean and sculpted physique. Anyone who has ever attempted to go through a bodybuilding-style regimen knows that there are usually two phases to the program: cutting and bulking. In the bulking cycle, one tries to build as much muscle mass as possible without gaining too much body fat, while the cutting cycle is for burning fat to reveal the muscle that has been built underneath.
As the saying goes, “muscles are built in the kitchen.” Yes, hard work is put into training, but it will be for nothing if you cannot support growth with your nutrition.
Calories In vs. Calories Out
In order for you to grow, you must first be in a caloric surplus. What this means is you have to be consuming more calories than you are burning in the gym and at rest. So for example: if your maintenance calories are at 2000 calories, you must be consuming more than that in order to be in an anabolic state. Start by adding in 100-200 calories per week to make slow but consistent muscle gains. This ensures that you are still providing enough calories for growth, but you are keeping body fat storage to a minimum.
Consume 1-1.5g of Protein per Pound of Bodyweight
Your diet is extremely important when it comes to making changes to your body composition. Without the proper nutrients, your hard work at the gym won’t get you the results you are hoping for.
Your muscles are composed of water, glycogen and protein. While people generally understand the importance of consuming protein, the amount of protein one is supposed to consume is still up for debate. Some say as little as 0.4g per lb. of bodyweight is enough, while others would recommend up to 2.0g per lb. of bodyweight. So how much protein do you really need to get huge?
Aim for at least 1-1.5g per lb. of bodyweight to support muscle building. This is a good baseline, but remember that it also depends on the quality of your diet, your activity level and your genetics.
What Kind of Protein Supports Muscle Growth?
When it comes to nutrition, the quality of your protein source also matters. There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete. To put it simply, complete proteins are sourced from animals while incomplete proteins are sourced from plants. Animal proteins have a higher biological value (BV), which means that they are more readily utilized by the body for recovery and growth. Eggs have the highest BV at 100%, while beans are scored at less than 50%. Whey protein also has a high BV, ranging from 90% up to 105% depending on the quality of the supplement.
Consume Adequate Amounts of Carbohydrates to Fuel Your Workouts
Consume roughly 30-40% of your daily caloric intake from carbohydrates. Both slow-digesting carbs and fast-digesting carbs have their place in any nutrition plan. Fast-digesting carbs boost insulin, which helps to shuttle nutrients into the muscles, while slow-digesting carbs do not spike insulin as much and keep you feeling full longer.
Carbs have a reputation for causing fat storage, but this could not be further from the truth. Anything can cause fat storage—vegetables, fruits, burgers, green smoothies—if they are consumed in excess. Remember: eat everything in moderation.
Dietary Fats are Important, Too
There are three types of fatty acids:
Saturated fatty-acids (SFAs) – butter, coconut oil, egg yolks, cheese, red meat, whole milk, etc.
Monounsaturated fatty-acids (MUFAs) – avocado, nuts, olive oil, margarine spreads such as canola or olive, etc
Polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFAs) – canola, oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, margarine, walnut oil, omega fatty-acids (3,6,7,9), etc.
According to studies, diets high in MUFAs and SFAs showed an increase in testosterone levels, while high-protein diets that were also high in PUFAs showed a decrease in testosterone levels. Aim to get at least 20% of your daily caloric intake from dietary fats. Higher testosterone levels have been linked to more muscle growth.
Find Ways to Consume More Calories
Most of the time, hard-gainers are just people with small appetites. Some people scarf food down like vacuums, but there are others who simply do not like to eat. If you’re a hard-gainer or you simply do not have time to eat often, here are some tips to get your calories up:
- 1.Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your whey protein shakes. Just a tablespoon of this heart-healthy oil adds 170 calories to your daily intake without feeling heavy on the stomach. If you consume three shakes a day, that’s already 510 calories added.
- 2.Have one cheat meal a week that is higher in calories than your usual meals. Use this technique only if you have trouble increasing your intake on ‘clean’ calories only. Limit to 1-2 meals a week and avoid refined sugar if you can.
- 3.Do small bouts of low intensity exercise to stimulate hunger. If you’re the type to feel hungry after a workout, then adding in 1-2 bouts of short, low-intensity can cause you to eat more. Make sure to have some quick meals ready post-workout.
- 4.Switch to foods that have lower dietary fiber. Dietary fiber slows down digestion and increases satiety levels. Chances are if your calories are high enough, you will already consume enough dietary fiber without even trying.
- 5.Eat fast so that you don’t really ‘feel’ your food. When you eat too slowly, the stomach sends signals to the brain that it’s being fed and hunger levels start to decrease. By eating fast, you can get more food in before the brain signals you to stop.