So you're smashing it in the gym but EVERYONE knows the real results come from the kitchen. If you're trying to add lean muscle then these 10 basic rules are something that I share with all my clients - make sure you're following them too and then watch the gains follow!
1. Understand Calories
Calories are the amount of energy provided by different types of food. The different macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) all contain different amounts of calories per gram. Fats contain the most amount of calories at 9kcal per gram, whilst proteins and carbs both contain 4kcal per gram.
Your body consumes calories from the food we eat, and then burns them through daily activity. Everyone will burn a different amount of calories on a daily basis, this comes down to age, gender, activity level and various other factors.
We could go on all day about how calories work etc. but the big rule you REALLY need to know about calories and muscle building is this:
When you eat MORE calories than you burn each day you will be in a CALORIE SURPLUS.
This means you will gain weight and muscle.
Understanding this is probably the most important factor when it comes to reaching any goal and is the very first thing I work on with my online bootcamp clients.
Start by figuring out your basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories your body will burn if you just stayed in bed all day. From here you can factor in your activity level, this gives you your daily calorie maintenance level, or the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight. Once you have that, aim to stay in a daily surplus of of around 200-400 calories a day.
2. Focus On Proteins and Carbs
Protein is used by the body to build new muscle tissue so it is essential if you're trying to add some size. You should try and aim for at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and aim to get it from sources that are as clean as possible. Lean animal sources such as chicken, fish, turkey and eggs are ideal. These are all complete proteins and give you all the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own.
Just like with calories we can manipulate our macronutrients to help get better results. The two macro nutrients you should focus on to build muscle are protein and carbohydrates. Try and split your meals into this sort of ratio:
Carbs are closely behind protein in terms of importance when it comes to building muscle. We need carbs to fuel us through our gym sessions and they also help keep your muscles looking full. They come in two types:
During the majority of your day aim for slow release/digesting carbs such as wholegrains, veg, oatmeal etc. These complex carbs will give you a sustained release of energy throughout your day.
Ideally keep simple carbs for post workout. Foods like white pasta, bagels and the carbs found in protein shakes are all types of simple or fast digesting carbs. Not only will they quickly help refuel your energy stores and give your muscles a quick hit of protein after your workouts, they will also spike your insulin levels which will have been depleted during the workout. Insulin is an important anabolic hormone which helps prevent muscle breakdown and also build new muscle.
4. Pre Workout
You need energy to push yourself through a heavy gym session regardless of your goals and regardless of what type of training you're doing. But what you choose for your pre workout meal can have an impact on the workout and your performance. Different foods will also be utilised and stored differently in the body.
When it comes to building muscle follow this rule prior to your session. Before your train, consume a meal that is roughly 75% carbs and 25% proteins, around 60 - 90 minutes before you pick up the weights. Ideally go for those slow digesting carbs (oatmeal, whole grains etc) to help give you that energy you need to push right through to the end of the workout. That little bit of protein will help fuel your muscles and increases amino acid delivery into the muscles during the workout.
5. Post Workout
No matter what or how we've trained, post workout our body has used up various sources of stored energy and is in a depleted state. The purpose of your post workout meal should be to replenish your energy stores.
Post workout you should aim to consume a meal that contains fast digesting proteins and the simple carbs mentioned above. These will give your muscles the protein it needs to build new muscle tissue and prevent further muscle break down. Protein shakes are ideal as they are designed to get the nutrients your body needs to the right places quickly, try and consume one within at least an hour of your session.
6. Clean Up Your Nutrition
Before you even start with counting your calories and tracking your macro nutrients I'd recommend giving your overall nutrition a bit of a clean up. Try and cut out processed foods as much as possible as these are damaging to your health in general and contain a lot of chemicals and poor quality ingredients. I try and follow a caveman style diet as much as I can. Before you go to eat something ask yourself has it come from a plant or animal source (has it been killed or grown?) if it has then go for it, if not then you need to keep those kinds of foods to a minimum.
HOWEVER I don't eat like this 24/7 and I wouldn't expect you too either. It's all about being sensible and eating those not so good foods in moderation. If you tell yourself you can NEVER eat chocolate for example then you're going to just want it more. You need to find an approach that works for you. Personally I eat super clean Monday to Friday then on weekends I allow myself a bit more flexibility. Factoring in 'cheat days' gives you something to look forward to and breaks up your week a little.
7. Muscle Building Foods
Not all foods are created equal! These foods will give you a big boost in the gains department!
Eggs - eggs are one of the best protein sources around. They are packed with nutrients and make a great choice whatever your goal, especially for breakfast!
Beef - firstly it is packed with protein, iron, zinc and b vitamins which are all important for building lean muscle. Secondly, opting for grass fed beef means you'll get high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a great fat burner!
Brown Rice - a portion of brown rice gives you a great slow digesting protein to fuel your body plus it also helps boost your human growth hormone (HGH) levels which helps promote muscle growth.
Cottage Cheese - there's two reasons that cottage cheese is great for building muscle. First of all it contains casein which is a slow release protein. A lot of people eat cottage cheese before bed to help their muscles recover whilst they sleep. It also contains good bacteria which will help your gut stay nice and healthy so it can effectively break down the nutrients your body needs to grow.
Tuna - one of my favourite protein sources - I actually keep an 'emergency' tin of tuna in my gym bag. Packed with protein and and very lean compared to many other animal proteins, its also pretty cheap making it a great option for anyone.
8. Eat Regularly
When trying to add size I find a great way to do it is to break up your calories into smaller portions throughout the day. Make sure you keep within your calorie allowance but by breaking up your meals you're actually keeping yourself fuller for longer and stopping your body from going into a catabolic (muscle break down) state.
9. Protein Before Bed
Consuming a moderate amount of protein before you hit the sack stops your body from breaking down muscle for energy at night. Try around 40g of protein before you go to sleep, this will help your muscles recover and repair overnight. A slow release protein like casein is ideal to keep your muscles fuelled as you sleep. Otherwise try a lean meat source such as chicken or turkey breast.
Some people turn their nose up at supplements but I believe when used in combination with an effective diet they are a great addition and can really help you reach your goals. First of all you need to have an all around healthy, balanced diet. Supplements are designed to do just that - supplement a healthy lifestyle. It's a bit like putting modifications on a car that doesn't run properly. You need to get the basics first. Once you get that these supplements are great for helping muscle growth.
Creatine: Creatine is a naturally found within our muscles and has been shown to help promote muscle growth and help you recover faster from workouts. It's one of the few supplements that is not just safe to use, but is also clinically proven to be effective. Taking a creatine supplement could help you increase your strength by 10% in just a few weeks.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's): BCAA's provide your body with three essential amino acids that the body is not able to produce itself. They help prevent muscles breakdown meaning they are great for anyone looking to add lean mass
ZMA: ZMA is a blend of zinc and magnesium. Zinc plays an important role in the production of testesterone and ZMA's as a whole can act as a sleep aid helping with rest and recovery.