A jacked man once said “bodybuilding is 80% nutrition” (Vince Gironda).
Most people who want to gain large amounts of muscle encounter the same problem, undereating in correlation to their goals. So how much should you be eating, what should you be eating, and when? Let me break it down.
To understand how many calories we need, we need to determine how many calories we use. Calories are energy, and we use energy for simply existing. Breathing, maintaining proper body temperature, and pumping blood all require energy. We refer to this as our basal metabolic rate (BMR), our caloric needs to keep the body functioning at rest. On top of this, we use energy when we workout, go on a walk, or do anything involving movement. Obviously, the more intense the activity is, the more calories you require. Now, when you add all of this together, you get the total amount of calories needed to maintain your weight. There are multiple tools that can be used to help determine this number for you, such as online calculators (most of them all use the same formula, so do not be concerned on legitimacy). This formula takes into consideration your height, gender, current weight, and general physical activity. Check this one out for reference:
Once you have discovered your calorie needs to maintain your current weight, you have to take that number, and add a bunch to it. To gain just 1 pound, an additional 3500 calories must be consumed (total). For example, if you wanted to gain 1 pound every week, you should be consuming an extra 500 calories per day on top of your maintenance calorie needs. Don’t forget to adjust this number accordingly while you gain muscle.
Next question, what should you eat? And this is IMPORTANT! The key here is to eat calorie/macronutrient dense food. Protein is very important to muscle growth as it aids in recovery and provides the body with amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of muscle. That being said, it is important not to underplay the role of carbs. Carbs are needed to restore and provide glycogen, the driving force of explosive, powerful movements. Some great sources of protein include any meat, eggs, and greek yogurt. Some healthy carb sources include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.
While supplements such as whey protein can help if you find consuming that much food difficult, whole foods should be your priority as it will help you meet that calorie number.
As a quick ending note, we should discuss meal timing. The traditional way of feeding is three times a day, with the largest meal being supper. This is the easiest way to do it, given when we are at work and when our breaks are provided. However, for most people, it is not the best way to do it. Ideally, it’s best to have several smaller meals throughout the day (every three hours or so). This way our blood sugar levels do not swing as much, and we can keep a steady intake of protein throughout the day, which is ideal for muscle growth. The protein turnover rate comes into play here. On average, people can only digest 30 grams of protein at a time, any extra will be stored as adipose tissue (fat). Therefore, if we have smaller amounts of protein more often, we can avoid this problem. Additionally, a slow digesting protein, such as casein, can be taken before bedtime, so that protein synthesis is always taking place.
To wrap it all up: a calorie surplus, a diet of dense and whole foods, an abundance of protein, and a steady intake of proper foods are major keys to gain the muscle you’re after. That being said, don’t forget to keep grinding in the gym!