Nutrition is just as important as training if you want to get bigger, so how do you eat to gain muscle?
Muscles grow through progressive overload; when you apply stress to your muscles fibres they experience microscopic damage which, during the repair process, makes muscles bigger and stronger.
Our bodies are good at meeting the demands we place on them however, so the muscles progressively adapt to greater demands, which means that, to grow them, you need to continuously expose to higher workloads than they are used to.
Additionally, nailing your training isn’t the only variable you should worry about, muscles rely on more than just activity to grow. Nutrition, hormones, and rest also play a huge role in helping our muscles grow.
So, how can you eat to gain muscle?
Sean Nalewanyj, best-selling fitness author and fitness coach, answers this question.
3 Important Rules on How to Eat to Gain Muscle
Nutrition is a complicated subject, but regardless of what approach you choose to take, there are a handful of rules you should follow if you want to support muscle building with nutrition.
Sean Nalewanyj outlines them below.
1 – Eat enough protein each day
To support muscle recovery and growth, eating enough high-quality protein every day is the number one rule.
This is easy to do, as a rule of thumb, people generally need around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily to gain muscle at their full potential. “You can eat more if you prefer, but this amount will be enough for maximum muscle growth,” says Nalewanyj.
Read more: 5 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough, Explained by CrossFit Games Athlete
2 – Eat in a small calorie surplus
“A calorie surplus will be ideal if you want to build muscle at the most efficient rate,” says Nalewanyj. He admits that, if you’re eating enough protein and your calories aren’t excessively low, you can still gain muscle to some degree.
However, unless you’re stating out on the overweight side, or you’re a beginner, or you’re experienced but coming back to training from a break, being in a calorie surplus will help you build muscle and gain strength at your maximum potential.
“Just because you can gain muscle in a deficit doesn’t mean it’s going to be optimal,” says Nalewanyj. He recommends eating 200-300 calories above maintenance per day.
Read more: How the Low Carb Diet Can Help You Lose Weight
3 – Eat mostly minimally processed, nutrient dense whole foods
For the sake of optimal overall health and performance, base the bulk of your diet around nutrient dense, minimally processed, whole foods.
You can still have your favourite treats in moderation, but make an effort to make the majority of your diet to consist of foods as close to their source as possible.
“There are no individual foods you must eat, there are no muscle-building super foods,” says Nalewanyj. “Just focus on whatever minimally processed whole foods you most prefer.”
“The main reason for this guideline […] is to make sure you’re getting in the fibre and the vitamins and the minerals that you need for maximum health, performance, and recovery.”
A good, realistic goal is to aim for 80-90% of your food to come from “clean” sources.
Read more: What Is Intuitive Eating and How Can it Improve Your Health and Performance
How to eat to gain muscle conclusion
Consuming enough daily protein, eating in a small calorie surplus, and basing your diet mainly around minimally processed, whole foods are the majority of the nutritional aspects you need to care about to build muscle.
While you can always tweak and change a couple of things and personalise your diet, and there are additional contributing factors, these are the primary variables that will be responsible for the vast majority of your results in the real world.
- Good Nutrition: Brooke Lark on Unsplash
- athlete back barbell overhead: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.