Showing off the muscles you work so hard for is not just about the way you train, but more importantly about the way you eat. Carrying more muscle relative to body fat will make our bodies tighter, help us burn more calories and fit into our clothes better. With that comes a sense of accomplishment and confidence from seeing our bodies change due to our hard work, sweat and determination.
When it comes to building lean muscle mass there are a number of aspects you need to think about. Of course, your training stimulates muscle growth, but your diet is also extremely important. The body requires nutrients in order to build muscle. If you want to pack on muscle you need to not only think about how many calories you are taking in, but also where those calories are coming from. Follow these 5 diet tips to maximize muscle growth:
1. Eat protein
There are a lot of opposing arguments as to the protein requirements for athletes. Recommendations range from .5g – 2g per lb. of body weight. At .5g per lb. a 150lb athlete would be eating 75g of protein per day, which is not very much at all. On the other end of the spectrum that same athlete at 2g per lb. is eating 300g of protein, which may be too much.
What we do know for sure is that protein is necessary for the building, maintenance and recovery of muscle. Protein will also help you feel full longer and aid in the burning of body fat due to its thermic effect; the body burns more calories digesting protein than carbs or fat.
The most important thing for you as an athlete is to ensure that you are getting enough protein in your diet to realize its benefits, but not so much that it will keep you from eating enough of the other macronutrients (carbs and fat). I recommend 1g – 1.5g per lb. of lean body mass (the amount of weight carried on the body that is not fat). This is because fat cells do not have the same protein requirements as muscle.
What sources should you get that protein from? Try not to rely too heavily on supplements and mix up your protein sources to get a variety of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and digestive speeds.
2. Carbohydrates are you friend
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel. Carbs provide your body with the energy it needs to get through intense workouts more efficiently and directly than any other energy source. To put it simply, your body will break down the carbohydrates into glucose and either use it directly for energy or store it as glycogen for when the body demands it. In order to avoid the body using protein as an energy source, it is important to incorporate carbohydrates into your diet, especially around periods of exercise.
Before training choose slower burning carbohydrate sources such as sweet potato, rice, and pasta due to their ability to keep blood sugar levels consistent and avoid any crashes in energy. Try adding a serving of protein to this meal and amplify all those gains! Save the more sugary carbs for pre/during/post training to boost insulin and maximize the repair and growth of muscles post-workout. For those that follow a Paleo-style diet, carbs do not always equate to candies and grains. You can get your carbs from vegetables and fruit too!
3. Get enough calories
To gain any sort of body mass it’s important that you are in a caloric surplus, the same way that trying to lose body fat requires a caloric deficit. How to set this surplus is the tricky part and completely specific to the athlete and their needs. As a rule of thumb, choose an amount, stick to it and monitor your body weight as well as your body composition. If you are losing weight on the scale while your body composition remains the same you may want to consider increasing calories, if you are gaining weight as well as body fat adjust in the other direction. Contrary to popular belief, if the weight on the scale is going up it is not always muscle so take all factors into account!
4. Drink water
With all this talk of ood, don’t forget to monitor your water intake. More than half our body is made up of water so any dehydration will lead to a reduction in the functioning of vital bodily processes. Although water may not be a direct source of energy the same way carbohydrates and fat can be, it is critical in the transport of nutrients to the cells. Without proper hydration it is likely that your training session won’t go as well as it could. Not to mention that your muscles will look bigger and fuller if they are hydrated appropriately.
5. Be consistent
Following these tips will get you on your way, but if you stick to the plan for a few days and then veer off track for the next few, you are unlikely to see any progress. Find a way to motivate yourself to remain consistent. Whether that is a particular coach, gym, training partner or program, stick with it and remember that there is no magic trick to replace hard work and determination. Changes in your body will be cumulative so keep at it and allow your body the opportunity to adapt!