“You have to eat big to get big” I’ve heard this so many times and it is partially true, but some advice on how to eat to gain muscle is actually kind of misleading and it can lead to unwanted results for some individuals. If you are wondering how to eat to gain muscle depending on your current training level and goals then you will want to read this.
What’s going on with the fitness industry?
It seems like gaining muscle nowadays is a special technique or an ancient trick, everyone claims to have the right formula, rep range or nutrition secret to gain muscle. I will tell you this, as a drug free lifter with average or below average genetics, building muscle will actually take time and a real effort but its not about complicated formulas or specific supplements.
What you really need to gain muscle
The reality is you only need a couple of things to build muscle:
- Train primarily compound movements like the bench press, squat, overhead press, deadlifts, pull ups among others.
- Have proper technique
- Be in a caloric surplus
- Have an adequate rest every night
- Eat enough protein
- Apply progressive overload
These are the fundamentals, you should keep all of this in mind and you can build muscle efficiently. One of the biggest mistakes is to think that there is some special trick or supplement that will help you to build muscle.
Building muscle is an adaptive response of your body. If the body is told to lift weights then the body will adapt (if it has enough nutrients and proper recovery) and it will build muscle as a byproduct of the training stimulus. It will also learn coordination and movement patterns, this is why people get “good” at lifting weights. There is no magical secret, just hard work and consistency for a prolonged period and you will get some muscular gains.
Stay away from those who claim they have the perfect diet, routine or protocol to build muscle. Of course optimal is different than perfect and what may work for some won’t work for every single person in the planet.
Progressive overload, where most people fail
I made this mistake too, i had everything in order, nutrition, rest, compound lifting and i still failed to build muscle. I did gained some muscle but i didn’t had much to show off. I failed to apply progressive overload, which ultimately means that i failed to make my muscles adapt, its only when you force them to adapt that they will grow.
How will you overload you think, well there are a couple of things you can do to achieve progressive overload.
- Increase the total weight you lift, add 5-10 pounds in your compound lifts once you get used to a weight in a certain rep range. You will get less reps but eventually you will adapt and increase the weight again, it is important to not ego lift and be cautious with the weight and the form of the lift.
- Do more sets, increase your training volume, so if you were doing 3 sets on the bench press this means you will now do 4 sets.
- Decrease your rest periods, instead of resting 3 minutes you will now rest 2 minutes.
These are the fundamental ways to achieve progressive overload, and until you reach a respectable level of strength you will need to search for more advanced ways to train.
How to eat to gain muscle when you are a drug free lifter
There are a lot of ways to diet, but there are some ways that are better than others, specially for drug free lifters.
Since research is very specific and you can expect to gain around 2 pounds of muscle per month as a new lifter you should eat only the necessary calories that will allow you to grow muscle optimally and track your weight gain over time.
Here are the basic guidelines:
- Multiply your body weight in pounds time 16-18 depending on your age, activity level and metabolism. For example if you are 23, have a fast metabolism and you work in construction, you will multiply your body weight times 18, if you don’t gain .5 to 1 lbs per week increase your calorie intake by 150-200 calories per day.
- Make sure you eat enough protein (.7-1 grams per pound of body weight)
- Fats should occupy 20% – 30% of your daily calories
- Fill the rest of the calories with carbohydrates.
- When increasing calories, try to increase them as carbohydrates.
Choose your bulking starting point wisely
A lot of people makes the mistake of bulking in a body fat percentage that is too high (16%-20%) why is this a problem you may ask, well body fat percentage has a direct correlation with hormones and nutrient utilization.
The leaner you start to bulk, the more your body is prepared to muscle growth, when you are leaner you have better insulin sensitivity, produce more testosterone and you will look more defined. This doesn’t mean that you should obsess about being always super lean, since prolonged periods of staying in a calorie surplus are optimal for muscle gain.
Make sure you follow a good workout routine
I’m not a proponent of a specific weight training routine but these are the most crucial aspects you should follow:
- You should use progressive overload, mainly in compound lifts.
- You need to enjoy your workout
- Make sure you train every muscle group to avoid injuries or imbalances
You could do a body part split, push pull, upper lower, push pull legs or full body depending on your needs and physique goals. More of that in this article in which i explain the type of workout routines.
Have a quality sleep routine
You should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep, more on how to get a great sleep here.
That’s the reality of gaining muscle and weight, the reality is you cannot speed the process by eating more food and you should do a controlled bulk which will be more efficient following this guidelines.
Do you have any thoughts, questions on building mucle, commments? Let me know.