To build muscle effectively takes more than just working out with weights. You need to eat right too. In fact what you eat is just as important as how you train (if not more so). So what exactly should the ideal muscle building diet plan consist of? In this article I’ll answer that question.
But first it’s important to note that if you are over 15% body fat (22% for women) you should really go on a fat loss program first. If you attempt to follow a diet plan to build muscle whilst you are carrying too much fat it’s likely that you will put on far more fat than muscle due to the fact that your insulin sensitivity will be very poor. So shed the excess fat first; and then you can start your muscle building program.
But if you are ready to get started, the best diet plan to follow in order to build muscle as fast as possible (whilst staying lean) is as follows…
Eat A Calorie Surplus
To gain muscle mass you need to consume more calories than you expend. But not a lot more as (with the possible exception of skinny teenagers who have never lifted before) you can’t force feed muscle growth. So if you eat too much you will only end up getting fat.
You need to eat enough to have some calories left over to build muscle, but not so much that you gain fat.
So if you take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 16 that should give you a good idea of how many calories you need each day. Everyone is different though so you’ll need to fine tune this. So weigh yourself once per week first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything. And then monitor the results you are getting from week to week. If you find you are not gaining any weight increase your calorie intake by about 300 per day; but if you find you are gaining fat decrease it by 300 per day.
Then simply continue to monitor your progress, adjusting your calorie intake up or down in 300 calorie increments, until you are getting the results you want.
Eat Plenty Of Protein
Protein is required to build the muscle fibers so you need to eat a good amount of it each day. But you don’t need the excessive amounts that some people recommend. Protein, like calorie intake, is permissive. You need sufficient to grow, but you can’t force extra growth by consuming more.
So aim for about 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day. This will be plenty to stimulate maximum muscle growth in most people.
The best sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs and whey protein. Milk and cheese are also great in moderation. And beans and nuts also provide protein, though the quality is not as good as that derived from the animal sources mentioned.
Carbs Are Crucial
Although low carb diets can be useful for sedentary people who wish to lose weight, if you are trying to build muscle you need your carbs.
Carbs supply the fuel required to ensure optimal performance in your workouts. They also plump out the muscles, making them full and hard. And on top of that they help you recover from your workouts, they keep your testosterone levels high and they help maintain optimal brain and immune system function.
So if you try to train without carbs you’ll be tired and unfocused, and you’ll get very poor results too.
Proper timing of your carbs is important though, as this will help to ensure you don’t get fat. Have some an hour or two before training, and then have some more within half an hour of finishing your workout with your protein shake. This could just be a piece of fruit though, e.g. a ripe banana.
Then have the rest of your starchy carbs an hour or two later as part of your main meal. And on off days simply eat most of your carbs with your main meal in the evening.
Good sources of healthy carbs include rice, oats and other whole grains (provided you can tolerate grains well), potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa and beans, as well as fruits and vegetables of course. But avoid refined white flour products and sugary foods as much as possible.
Don’t Neglect Healthy Fats
Fats are also a vital part of a healthy muscle building diet plan and your body needs them for all sorts of functions, including production of the steroid hormones that are required for muscle growth.
But don’t go overboard with them as fats are very calorie dense. A gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas a gram of protein or carbohydrate contains 4 calories. So you won’t stay lean if your fat intake is too high.
As a rough guide about 25% of your daily calorie intake should come from fats; good healthy sources of which include oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, extra virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil.
And Eat Plenty Of Fruits And Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are not only packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements; they also contain hundreds of health promoting phytonutrient compounds. So you should be eating plenty of them every day. You’ll not only be healthier but you’ll feel better and your performance will improve too.
Despite what you may have heard it doesn’t really matter whether you eat three meals per day or six. As long as you get your calories and nutrients in it will make no difference. So do what’s best for you. If you only have a small appetite and get hungry quickly you may want to eat more often. But if you can eat a lot and you tend to stay full for some time, eat less frequently.
For health reasons though, it’s better to eat less frequently as this gives your digestive system a rest so it will work better when you do eat.
Apart from the above it should go without saying that most of your calories should come from higher quality, nutrient dense foods. Some junk food is ok; but keep it to a very small part of your overall diet.
So that’s my guide to the best muscle building diet plan. If you’d like more in-depth information on how to eat to build muscle, the book I’d most recommend is The Renegade Diet by Jason Ferruggia. Check out my review of it here.
Photo credit: jakeprzespo, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr