Dear Coach: How Should I Eat to Gain Muscle?
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I was wondering if I could get some advice on protein intake. Recently I've been eating a bit more but my meals haven't been balanced and I feel like my progress is shortened to a point because of it. Today for breakfast I randomly decided to have a huge breakfast consisting of lots of grains, fruits, vitamins, and oatmeal. This breakfast totalled out to be about 70-90 grams of protein, as well as lots of calories and carbs. This is one of the first times I have ever eaten a breakfast this big and it had a huge effect on my vitality and energy throughout the day.
My fitness goals are to gain weight (roughly 10 to fifteen lbs) but I have no scale to measure myself with. So I have two curiosities here. The first being if you have any opinion on whether eating that much protein and eating light and healthy meals throughout the day will help me reach my goals. I find when I eat big suppers and relatively small breakfasts the meals I eat throughout the day don't feel like they're going down well. My second curiosity is any tips or advice you have that could help me towards my goal of gaining 15lbs without a scale to know if I really am or not. I'll be getting a job possibly in a few weeks so if I do I'll buy a scale. But in the meantime I was wondering if you could help me with this.
Dear Tyler -
It appears your goal is clearly defined. A pretty easy conclusion for me to jump to is that you are also looking to add this as primarily lean mass as opposed to fat stores. Goals of adding lean mass are pretty common place in the areas that I coach (strength athletes), so I am quite familiar with a number of strategies that have worked well on me and those I coach.
Before getting into the discussion on diet I would like to start with your second point in regards to measuring your progress. It is critical in goal development process to identify the measures of success against that goal. I understand your constraints with getting a scale, but only you know the priority of where this goal fits in your life. With this in mind I will offer up some simple solutions for assessing your progress of gains in lean mass:
- Scale - You will need one to monitor your bodyweight.
- Flexible Tape - Monitor growth of waist diameter at 1-inch below the belly button (Quick tip: in men a one inch gain is typically five pounds fat (for men in the 175-275lb range))
- Mirror - Simple, but a very effect way to be aware if you are gaining fat versus muscle.
In regards to diet it’s important to remember that it’s not meal composition or food timing that has the significant impact on mass gains. Sure you can do some fine tuning with these methods, but overall gains in mass are from you total macronutrients over a longer period of time such as a week. This makes meal frequency, amount, and timing (except for post workout discussed below) relatively moot points, despite what a lot of diet gurus will tell you. Understanding this allows you to manipulate these variables to find the best fit for your digestion and energy levels.
I usually look at a week time period and shoot for a 10-20% increase in calories over maintenance levels (approx. 500cals/day) when bulking. With the proper training, rest, and food sources you should be able to gain .5-1lb of muscle per week, depending on how close you are to your genetic peak.
When bulking for muscle gains here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Protein Amount – Shoot for 1-1.5+ grams of protein per pound of bodyweight a day when bulking. The higher your protein intake the better. Maintenance levels can drop to as low as .75g/lb bodyweight.
- Protein Source – Don’t rely on low grade protein sources such as grains, legumes, cheeses, or nuts. The best sources are meats, eggs, and milk in that order.
- Carbohydrates – Eat the majority of your daily carbs in the 1.5hrs following your workout, so they can be utilized when your body’s anabolic pump is turned on to shuttle carbs to muscle tissue versus fat stores.
These methods are straightforward, easy to follow, and will provide results.
Coach Chris Duffin