Building muscle is a marathon, not a sprint, but there are ways to make sure that you make progress faster. An area that people often overlook is their nutrition. Use these guidelines to make sure you are nailing the basics:
Create a Calorie Surplus
Most people don’t eat anywhere near enough food, let alone enough nutritious food. Don’t be afraid of eating, especially when it comes to carbs. They are vital for your success. Let’s break down the three main macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) in to the actual amounts that you will need.
Take your bodyweight in kilos. Now multiply it by 2.5 – the number that you get is how many grams of protein you should be eating every day. That number will stay the same, until you put on weight and it can be increased accordingly.
On to Carbohydrates. Multiply your bodyweight in Kilos by four. That is your starting point – if you are going to put on muscle, you are going to need carbohydrates to help you recover, and to drive your thyroid hormones higher. This in turn will switch on your metabolism, allowing you to eat more. A healthy pancreas should be able to deal perfectly well with about 300g of carbs a day in fit individuals. Try to avoid excess sugar.
Fats are essential. Even saturated fat. They go on to create your hormones, which are essential for muscle building. Take your bodyweight in Kilos and multiply it by one, and that number in grams is your daily minimum. I’m not saying you need to go out of your way to eat loads of fats – but they are the most calorie dense of the three macros (at nine calories per gram, compared to four per gram for protein and carbs).
Consistency and Meal timing
Now that you have worked out your minimum daily amounts (and I stress minimum), consistency is the next step. Half an hour in the evening is enough time to get most of your food sorted out for the next day. Four or five meals (three main meals + pre and post workout snack) is fine. Just get the food in.
The first time you increase your calories, you will likely notice a slight increase of body fat over the next few weeks. You’re not doing anything wrong – what you are doing by eating more is pushing your body’s set point higher. Your body will catch up, so carry on – you will get leaner again.
How much do you increase? 500 calories. It’s enough of a difference for you to make changes to your diet and to get things moving. 500 calories may sound like a lot, but remember that 100g of carbs is 400 calories. So, simply add in an extra 125g to your daily totals of carbs. That’s it. Give it another two weeks of absolute consistency, and then reassess. If you’re not tipping the scales up, then add another 500 calories/125g of carbs.
Don’t immediately do what I always see when guys start going to the gym. They buy chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli. Be as healthy as possible to support your training, and that means eating a varied and nutritionally dense diet.
Your body will need variety not just to keep you interested, but also so you aren’t just using the same digestive pathways again and again. Most people will choose similar foods week in/week out, but you must branch out your choices.
Try to rotate through these foods every two weeks.
Protein sources, choose:
Chicken, Eggs, Turkey, Tuna Steak, Beef, Duck, Lamb, Venison, Prawns, Squid, Shellfish, Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Sardines
Carbohydrate sources, choose:
Sweet Potato, Basmati Rice, Rice Noodles, Butternut Squash, New Potatoes, Baked Potato, Swede, Pasta
Fat Sources, choose:
Avocado, Feta Cheese, Olives, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Full Fat Organic Butter
And finally, vegetables. Fruit is fine, but prioritise vegetables.
Vegetables: Broccoli, Kale, Asparagus, Brussel Sprouts, Watercress, Spinach, Leeks, Fennel, Rocket, Mixed Leaves, Bok Choi, Celery, Courgette, Peas, Cucumber, Lettuces, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Aubergine, Beetroot, Carrots
Food is the most important thing when it comes to building muscle. But, training correctly is also vital. In part two, we’ll take a look at training principles and methods, how often you should train and how you can get the most out of your gym sessions to build muscle.