Okay, we've covered how to train for muscle growth, but how do we eat for muscle growth?? The simple answer: eat often and eat a lot. Let's get into it.
1. You often hear gym bros refer to this as "bulking".
Bulking is old school and not very effective for athletes.
2. Hypertrophy is the result of both training hard in the gym AND eating enough calories.
3. It's not a race. Growing muscle takes a lot of time and we need to be patient.
Table Of Contents
What Is Hypertrophy?
I went over this in the Training For Hypertrophy blog, so I'll keep this quick.
Hypertrophy = muscle growth/ an increase in muscle size by increasing the size and amount of muscle fibers in the muscle. We want to achieve this while minimizing or avoiding excess fat gain. Let's emphasize that last part: we want to increase muscle mass while minimizing or avoiding excess fat gain.
Why? Because excess body fat can deter from athletic performance.
Who Should Train For Hypertrophy?
It would be ignorant for me to say that every athlete, at every level, should always be training for hypertrophy. There are some instances where athletes could benefit from losing a small to moderate amount of body fat. It all depends on if it's hindering or enhancing performance.
More often than not, if you're a high school/college athlete, &/or are new to strength training (1-5 years), and are not overweight, you're in a fantastic spot to put on a significant amount of muscle mass. The less experience someone has in the weight room (consistently following a program) the easier it is for them to put on muscle. As an athlete gets more experienced, the harder it is and longer it will take.
So how do you know if you should be trying to build muscle?
You're new to the weight room (1-5 years of experience).
You're an athlete.
You're not overweight. **This can be tricky because how we view our bodies can be an inaccurate representation of actual body fat percentage. We have to be objective here and take emotion out of it. Most individuals lack a significant amount of muscle when they first start training, so they look flat and think they need to lose weight. When in reality if they put on muscle, they'll get the desired look they're trying to achieve, in addition to the improved performance.
Eating For Hypertrophy
I hear a variation of this sentence all the time when it comes to talking to athletes about gaining muscle, "I eat a lot but I'm not gaining weight". I hate to break it to you, but if you're not gaining weight, you're not eating enough food... Period. But just saying that doesn't help anyone. I'm gonna get pretty direct and blunt, so here we go.
First of all, you have to be consistent with your food intake. Eating like an animal one day and barely eating at all the next will lead to inconsistent caloric intake and inconsistent results. Get consistent with your food intake for a week to get an idea of how much you actually eat and what kind of food you're eating. Because one of the biggest struggles for athletes trying to put on muscle is knowing how much to eat without going overboard and gaining excess body fat. Once you have an idea of how much you're currently eating to maintain your current body weight, then you can start to make add more food.
My rule of thumb for athlete nutrition, whether they're trying to put on size or not, is this:
3 meals before 3pm, 5 meals before you go to bed.
*Disclaimer: 2 of those "meals" can be snacks.
Following this framework will allow athletes to take control of their nutrition. Want to gain weight? Add a little more food to each meal. Good where you're at? Stay the course. Want to lose a little weight? Take away a very small amount from 1-2 of those meals.
It's simple, and it works.
Calories And Macronutrients
I'm not a huge fan of high schoolers, even college athletes, tracking calories and macros. I personally don't think it's necessary. But we still need to acknowledge what calories are and the impact that macronutrients have on body composition and hypertrophy.
Research shows that following a moderate-high protein, high carbohydrate, low fat diet works best to maximize hypertrophy. Protein is required to repair and build muscle tissue that is damaged during training, carbs shuttle that protein into the muscle in addition to fueling performance, and fats are needed to maintain our hormones. Carbs tend to get demonized in mainstream media and in modern diet culture, but they are essential for performance and muscle growth. So when it comes to eating for hypertrophy - DON'T NEGLECT YOUR CARBS.
This is the ideal starting place to base your daily caloric and macronutrient intake:
30% of your calories will come from protein, 50% from carbs, and 20% from fat. When you start to add more calories, you'll add them in the form of carbs. This will change the percentages but it won't matter because this is just a starting point.
Food And Supplements
Now you know how much to eat, let's talk about what to eat. We're going to start with supplements because while they do play a roll, they're not magic. So this will be quick. Here are two supplements that I use and recommend when trying to put on muscle:
Creatine - I wrote a whole article here on Creatine Monohydrate. It's one of the most studied and effectively proven supplements to help with hypertrophy.
Protein Powder - Some athletes find it difficult to eat enough protein through real food, especially if they don't eat animal products. Finding a solid protein powder can make it that much easier, and it tastes good! I use Bare Performance Nutrition because it's delicious and third party tested, meaning it's safe for athletes.
Moving on to what food you should eat when dieting. 85% of your diet should consist of whole foods that are easily digestible and can easily fit into your daily routine. Even when you're trying to build muscle, we still make to make food quality a priority. This will reduce bloating and inflammation, promote nutrient absorption, and leave you feeling full and satiated compared to processed foods. It also gives you a lot of control because if you're eating almost the same thing every day, all it takes is minor adjustments to hit your goals.
This isn't to say you can't have anything that comes from a package, because lets face it, life as a busy athlete is challenging and sometimes you just have to eat what you can, when you can. Below is a list of food ideas for each macronutrient.
Lean Cuts of Steak
Lean Beef or Bison
Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
Low Fat Cottage Cheese
Bread (Whole Grain &/or White)
Pasta (Whole Grain &/or Regular)
Rice (Whole Grain &/or White)
Trace Fat From Animal Products
I covered how you should train for hypertrophy in detail in this blog, so again, I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Here are 3 tips for your training when trying to build muscle:
Training Shouldn't Change - Especially if you're an athlete. Just because you're trying to grow muscle doesn't mean you need to train body parts splits.
Stick To The Program! - If you're constantly hopping from one program to the next, you'll never spend enough time to actually progress and see results. If you need help with programming, click here.
Keep Doing Your Conditioning - Getting bigger and stronger is great, but it's pretty useless if you're losing your breath and can't keep up during practice and games.
I'm not going to sugar coat it, gaining muscle is hard and it takes time! But it's not impossible. The biggest take away, like most things when it comes to training and nutrition, is consistency. You have to consistently train hard and eat enough food to not only sustain your level of activity, but promote muscle growth. If you have questions or want help, contact Maine Gainz and join our team of elite athletes.