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It doesn’t matter how hard you train in the gym. If you are not putting the right nutrients into your body, your muscle-building results are going to be disappointing. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of the most frequently asked bodybuilding related questions on Google is ‘what’s the best meal plan to gain muscle?’ In this article, we provide the definitive answer.
YOUR OVERALL EATING STRUCTURE
Before we focus on the ideal meal plan to gain muscle, let’s take a step back and look at the structure of what else you’re eating and how frequently you are doing so. The key nutrient for muscle gain is protein. If you don’t get enough of it, you simply cannot grow new muscle.
As a general rule of thumb, you should be consuming between one and 1.2 g of protein per pound of body weight, or 2.2 to 2.6 g per kilogram of body weight. That is quite a lot of protein, and more than most people are used to. If you weigh 100 kg, for example, you should be taking in 220 g of protein per day. That should be made up of a mixture of protein powder and whole food. It should be broken up into smaller portions over five, six, or even seven meals over the day. If our 100 kg guy is eating five meals per day, he is looking at consuming around 40 g of protein per meal. That is still a lot of protein. So, the first thing you should do in woking out your meal plan to gain muscle is decide whether you are better with larger or smaller meals.
Some people don’t have as large a stomach volume and find it more difficult to eat bigger meals. Experiment a little to find out what suits you. If you feel too bloated after a large meal, split it up into seven meals spread out every 2 ½ hours or so. Decide, too, whether you are better off eating in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night and adjust your meal sizes accordingly.
When it comes to the timing of your protein intake, the exact time is not that critical. You want to take in a decent amount of protein post-workout to promote protein synthesis, but the key is to meet your daily protein number. If you do that, you will automatically be getting enough protein after your workout.
After your workout, you need a fast-absorbing protein type that will get into the muscle cell quickly. The best option is a whey protein isolate (WPI) powder, such as International Protein Amino Charged WPI. In the evening, however, you need a more slowly digested form of protein that prevents your body from going into a catabolic state overnight. The best option here is a blend of protein types, including casein, such as is found in International Protein’s Protein Synergy.
Most people will find that, to meet their daily protein requirement, they will have to have two, or even three, protein shakes per day.
Your meal plan to gain muscle must have you consuming more calories than your body is burning each day. You should eat 500 calories more than your caloric maintenance level. Of course, to do this, you need to know what your maintenance level is. It pays to take a week or so where you eat relatively the same amount of food and yet a pretty good idea of how many calories that works out to. Then you will know what a total with 500 calories extra added to it looks like.
Once you know how many calories you need to eat per day to gain muscle, divide that number up over the meals of your day, using the same pattern as you did for your protein allocation. If you prefer to have roughly the same amount of calories at every meal, that’s fine. You may want to follow the traditional three large meals, supplemented by two or three smaller ones. That’s okay, too, so long as you are hitting your numbers.
To summarise so far, your meal plan to gain muscle should see you:
- taking in between 2.2-2.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- consuming 300 – 500 calories above your maintenance caloric level
WHAT TO EAT TO BUILD MUSCLE
To build muscle, you need to be taking in all three of the macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fats. You already know how important protein is. Get it from such high-quality sources as poultry, eggs, fish, red meat, and protein powder. If you are 35 or younger, carbohydrates will be essential for fuelling your workouts, fuelling muscle growth, and making sure that all of the protein you are consuming is going toward muscle growth rather than energy provision. As you get older, it flips a little, and you can reduce your amount of carbohydrates and still get really good results.
Focus on oatmeal, rice, pasta, creamed rice, vegetables, and fruits for your carb needs. Eat green leafy vegetables, along with a range of colourful veggies, beetroots, parsnips, pumpkin, bell peppers, and Brussel sprouts. Do not, however, go overboard with your consumption of fruits and vegetables. If you try to eat too many of them at every one of your meals, you will struggle to meet your daily caloric requirement and will be filling your stomach up with very low-calorie foods. Try to avoid sugar-filled or processed carbohydrates such as those found in packaged goods and fast foods.
Your fats should come from such healthy sources as MCT Oil, all avocado, olive oil, and nuts. Keep in mind that fat is more than twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates, so choosing the right types will help you to meet your daily caloric target.
CAN YOU GAIN MUSCLE JUST BY EATING
No, you cannot grow muscle just by eating. Building new muscle is a process that begins with stress being applied to the muscle to cause damage in the form of micro-tears to the muscle fibre. Food provides the building material to repair the muscle fibre and build it back a little bit bigger. However, if you don’t cause the stress in the first place, the muscle will have no reason to repair itself. The best way to cause stress on the muscle that will lead to gains in strength and size is progressive resistance weight training.
To build muscle, you have got to train hard and eat smartly and consistently. Work out your protein and caloric needs, divide them amongst your 5-7 meals per day and then follow through. When it comes to your meal plan to gain muscle, make meeting your protein and caloric number as important as hitting your set and rep count in the gym, and you will soon be rewarded with real, noticeable mass gains on your body.