Nutrition can be so confusing.

Several decades ago, fats were bad. Then carbs became bad. Now gluten is the source of all evil. Red meat has gotten a bad rep too. Meanwhile bodybuilders tell you to eat every 3 hours while intermittent fasting has gotten popular…

What are you supposed to eat? It all seems so complicated and contradicting.

But this is a fairly new problem. Through human history, people didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what to eat. They knew. Because they followed eating habits formed through childhood. Eating habits they received from their family and that was part of the food culture.

This guide is about that. I’m going to share simple nutrition habits that I follow to be strong in the gym, and maintain a muscular and lean physique – without spending hours in the kitchen, or stressing over what I eat.

Contents

Eat Mostly Unprocessed Foods

Unprocessed foods have been unaltered – you can buy them in their natural state.

An example of an unprocessed food is an apple that was just picked up from the tree. The only processing is to wash the apple, then you can eat it.

Compare that Apple with Apple Jam bought from a supermarket. It’s rare for that apple jam to contain only apples. Usually the list of ingredients on the back is long – in most cases all kind of things were added on top the apples, including preservatives and sugars.

The main benefit of eating unprocessed foods it that you have better control over how many calories goes into your body. Most processed foods have hidden calories in the form of hidden sugars and fats. This may be good for people wanting to gain weight, but not if you want to maintain or lose weight.

The first nutrition rule is to focus on eating unprocessed foods as much as possible. It’s okay to eat cookies once in a while. I do it. But most meals you eat should consist of unprocessed foods so you have better control over how many calories get into your system.

Eat Protein with Each Meal

Protein is crucial for getting results when lifting weights. Without enough protein you don’t get proper recovery, and will not get proper progress.

Protein also helps with fat loss – it keeps you full longer, and has a higher thermic effect (more of your meal is burned for digestion if it’s higher protein).

Luckily you don’t need that much protein. You only need 0.82g of protein per lb of body-weight (1.8g/kg) for muscle recovery and to build extra muscle mass.

That means about 145g of protein if you’re 80kg/176lb.

The easiest way to get your daily protein intake is to eat a whole protein source with each meal

Eat Veggies with Each Meal

Veggies are low calorie. Salad actually has “negative calories” – it takes your body more energy to digest and absorb the food, than there are calories inside.

This makes veggies excellent for maintaining or losing weight (not for gaining weight though). Because you can eat your stomach full of veggies, so you don’t feel hungry, but while getting zero to no calories in.

A good goal is to have at least half your plate filled with veggies. This is the other benefits to eat veggies with each meal: it will push other things out of your plate. Most people eat way too many carbs because they’re easier to cook and cheaper. But carbs are higher in calories.

By aiming to eat at least half a plate of veggies each time, you are pushing other food sources out of your plate, and thus limiting how many calories you get. This makes it easier to maintain or lose weight.

Vegetables also have vitamins and minerals to help with recovery from lifting. And they have fiber to help with digestion.

Some of the best vegetables for lifters are:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Salad
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • etc

If you hate veggies, learn to use spices and condiments. Stop steaming and boiling, it tastes disgusting that way. Grill the vegetables and add a tbsp of olive oil, with pepper and salt.

Limit Your Carb Intake

100g of pasta or rice or bread has almost 400kcal. That’s before you add any topping. Those calories are fine if you want to gain weight, but not for maintaining or losing weight.

To keep your weight under control, you need to control how many calories you eat. The easiest way to do that is by controlling your carb intake.

You should not stop eating carbs. Low carb diets are popular, but few people can stick to them long-term.Because carbs are everywhere and most people like their taste. I like bread, I like pizza, I like oatmeal. I don’t want a life without pizza. And I’m not going to eat fake cabbage crust pizza.

Keep eating carbs but limit their intake. One simple rule is to eat carbs only once per day, like after your workout. You don’t need to eat bread or rice or pasta three times a days unless you’re looking to gain weight. Once a day is enough for most people looking to gain or maintain weight.

If you followed the first rule, you’re only getting carbs from unprocessed food sources. These would be the best:

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal

Eat Good Fats

Fat doesn’t make you fat. Excess calories do.

So you can eat real butter, whole eggs and full-fat yogurt.

Because you’re going to lift heavy weights three times a week, and eat unprocessed foods most of the time.

So a little saturated and cholesterol is not going to cause cardiovascular disease.

You do not have to eat fat-free yogurt or split the yolk from the eggs. Low fat food is tasteless. Just go full-fat. It will keep you full longer.

Eat also omega-3 fatty food sources like fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, etc).

Drink Water

You sweat when you lift weights, especially once the weights get heavy. You need to drink water to get all the fluids back that you lost through sweating. And you need water for proper muscle recovery.

Dehydration from lack of drinking will cause headaches. The same kind of headaches that you get after a night drinking (alcohol dehydrates). Headaches make it harder to motivate yourself to train, to get your reps, and to progress. You need to drink.

How much water you need depends on how much you sweat, which depends on the season and where you live. If I train in Bangkok, Thailand during the summer, I’m going to sweat more and easily drink 3-4 bottles of water. But I’m probably only drinking a 3 liters a day when it’s winter in Belgium.

You don’t need all those sugary drinks. This is not long-endurance training. This is lifting weights. The workouts are short, and you’re spending most of the time resting between sets.

Just take a bottle of water to the gym. Sip on it during your workout. I usually drink about 1.5l during my workout (but I live mostly in Asia now where it’s hot most of the time).

Then start your day by drinking two big glasses of water. If you drink somewhat during the rest of your day, you should get about 3 liters a day which should be enough.

Don’t Chase Perfection

You don’t need to be perfect with your diet. 80% of your results will come from following the above rules.

Trying to chase 100% perfection will set you on failure. Because no-one can stick to that. You will deviate. Someone will present you cake. You won’t be able to eat right in certain situations.

The problem happens when you think that breaking the rules equals not getting results. A lot of people end up binging or giving up because of that. That’s stupid and unnecessary.

I eat burgers, pizza’s and cakes. Because I like it. I don’t feel terrible when I do. I just eat them infrequently, and go back to following the above nutrition rules right after that.

Have a treat once in a while. Just don’t do stupid stuff like all-you-can eat buffets. One cake, then done. One pizza, then done.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Should I Eat?

80% of your results will come from eating the right amount of calories, and getting enough protein. The rest is details.

However you do want to focus on quality foods so you get vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. So you should eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods. Examples:

What should I not eat?

Again, what matters most is how many calories you eat, and getting enough protein. If you want to avoid eating too many calories, watch out with processed foods. These foods are usually also poor in vitamins and fiber. Examples…

  • Packaged Snacks. Chips, cakes, cookies, crackers, sugar coated nuts, …
  • Processed Meats. Hot dogs, bologna, sausages, lunch meats, …
  • Calorie Beverages. Sodas, fruit juices, sugar alcohol, …
  • Pre-made Meals. Frozen meals, cans of ravioli, pizzas, …
  • Deep Fried Foods. French fries, fish sticks, fried seafood, …
  • Junk Food. Ice cream, Mc Donalds, kebab, …
  • And all that other crap like margarine, sugary breakfast cereals, …

Do I need to eat a meal every 3 hours?

No. It’s fine if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, with maybe one snack in the afternoon. It’s also fine if you don’t eat breakfast but do Intermittent Fasting. What matters most is that you eat sufficient calories per day, and get your daily protein.

Do I need to drink a protein shake post workout?

No. There’s nothing special in protein shakes. The whey is just dairy protein, similar to what you get from eating cheese/yoghurt or drinking milk. You do not need fast-digesting protein post workout for better muscle recovery. You can just eat a regular solid meal that consists of protein and carbs (meat and rice with vegetables for example). The only benefit of drinking protein shakes is that they’re fast to make and portable. Personally I just just go home post-workout and eat oats with milk, yoghurt and fruit.

What’s an example meal plan?

These could be what you’d eat on workout days:

  • Breakfast: eggs with veggies
  • Lunch: chicken salad
  • Snack: mixed nuts, banana
  • Post workout: oatmeal, apple, milk, yogurt
  • Dinner: steak, veggies, potatoes

Non-workout days would be a meal less. If you do Intermittent fasting like me, then it’s only three meals a day (although bigger ones most likely).

Obviously this diet represents some of my personal food preferences that are influenced by my upbringing. My girlfriend is Asian and would rather eat rice than potatoes. Since the best diet is the one you stick to, your “meal plan” should reflect your preferences. It makes no sense to eat like me or someone else when you don’t like half the food that person eats.

Should I eat less/more on workout days?

I do. I eat less on days I don’t workout than days I workout. Because I don’t eat a post-workout meal when I don’t workout. There’s also slightly less calories burned since no workout took place that day.

But you don’t have to think about this. There’s value to cycling calories. But 80% of your results will come from just getting the right amount of total calories, protein, and drinking enough water.

What should my grocery list look like?

Here’s a quick list:

  • Beef steaks – high protein
  • Chicken breast – high protein
  • Wild salmon – high protein, healthy fats
  • Whole eggs – protein and fats, good for breakfast
  • Full-fat yogurt – protein, good gut bacteria
  • Real butter – for cooking the meat
  • Olive Oil – extra virgin, good fats for veggies
  • Salt/pepper – for spicing things up, real salt
  • Mixed nuts – high protein/fat/fiber, easy snack
  • Broccoli – empty calorie, high fiber (alternate with cauliflower)
  • Spinach – empty calorie, high fiber (alternate with kale)
  • Potatoes – good carbs (alternate with sweet potatoes)
  • Oatmeal – good carbs, high fiber (great post-workout)
  • Berries – healthy stuff to mix with oatmeal (buy frozen)
  • Green tea – strong antioxidant, good to replace coffee

Four principles of gaining muscle

  • Eat your daily calorie targets ().
  • Get ~7 hours of sleep the night before and after workouts.
  • Lift heavier weights each time you go back to the gym.
  • Measure your arm size weekly to confirm you’re growing.

Workout plans

  • Starting weights• Choose a weight heaviness that isn’t overly challenging but also isn’t so light that you can barely feel it. Once you’ve found this weight, do 7 reps then take a 3 minute break before increasing the weight to the next heaviness level. See if you can do 7 reps again. Keep incrementing weight and taking 3 minute breaks until you get to a heaviness you cannot lift the full 7 reps with. When you get to this last level, make a note of the level that came before it. This second-to-last level is your starting weight heaviness.
  • Plan A (First 8 weeks)• Get a copy of the exercises from the app (iOS, Android) or scroll here.
    • Do each of the three workout days once per week. Rest at least one day between workout days. Resting longer isn’t necessary but won’t hurt. If you skip a workout, just pick up from the day you last missed.
  • Plan B (8 weeks and beyond)• Scroll here for exercises.
    • You can do all three workout types on back-to-back days if desired. But you must take 4 days of rest before repeating a day type. (Resting longer is fine, but isn’t necessary.) For example, you can do Day 1 on Monday, Day 2 on Tuesday, and Day 3 on Wednesday, but wait until Friday to repeat Day 1, Saturday to repeat Day 2, and Sunday to repeat day 3.
    • Recalculate your calorie target since you’ll weigh more by this point.
    • Never rearrange the order of exercises or the workout days.
  • Maintenance Plan (when you’re done growing)• You don’t have to keep lifting heavier weights
    • Stop taking creatine and citrulline malate, but still take protein on workout days.
    • You must continue hitting your calorie targets.

How to work out

  • Warmups and cardio• Stretching before working out and performing light warmup sets are unnecessary unless you have prior injuries or are still learning proper form for an exercise.
    • Don’t do more than 30 minutes of intense cardio (e.g. running, swimming, high-speed cycling) on workout days. You can do intense cardio on non-workout days so long as it’s not running/biking after a leg workout and not swimming after a bicep, back, or shoulders workout. Those muscles will need time to recover.
  • Form• Refer to the exercise videos for proper form.
    • Start with your non-dominant side for one-handed/one-legged exercises.
    • Throughout the lifting and lowering motions, squeeze the target muscle and make sure it’s the one doing the work.
    • Resist the lowering portion of any exercise so that you feel the burn on the way down too; don’t let gravity do all the lowering work for you.
    • Breathe out when you’re contracting the muscle (the hard part), such as pushing a barbell or lifting a dumbbell, and breath in for the opposite direction. You may be unable to complete all your reps if you fail to properly and consistently breathe.
  • Reps and rest time• Do 8 to 10 reps on each exercise. This means it’s okay if you vary between 8, 9, or 10 reps on each set. Do as much as you can, but stop one rep before failure.
    • Big, two-hand movements like chest exercises should take around 2.5s in each direction (raising and lowering). Small, one-handed movements like bicep curls should take around 1.5s in each direction. The exact timing isn’t critical.
    • Rest as long as you need to between sets (typically 3–5 minutes). You want your muscle to feel fully recovered. At minimum, wait until your heartbeat calms.

Supplements

  • Every day (at any time of day)• Creatine (for men): Take 1 scoop (5g) at the same time you take your protein.
    • Protein (whey or brown rice): Multiply 0.60 times your current bodyweight in lbs (or 1.32 times your bodyweight in kg) to get the total grams of protein you need to supplement from your protein powder. Break this total amount into 2 separate servings (e.g. a morning smoothie and an evening oatmeal and protein mix).
  • Before your workout• Citrulline malate: Take 4 scoops (8g/0.28oz) 60 minutes before working out. It is sour so take it like a shot with just a tiny bit of water.

Food

  • Calories• Eat as much food as is required to reach your daily target. If this is a workout day, remember to eat 300 calories more than your non-workout day target. If you have difficulty reaching your calorie target, try making a few high-calorie smoothies per day each packed with oil, oatmeal, fruit, and everything else you can throw in it.
    º Try to get the majority of your calories from these healthy core foods: black beans, lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, and Soylent. Brown rice is also acceptable, although it isn’t particularly healthy. Keep your kitchen stocked with core foods at all times:
    • 1 can of black beans: 350 calories
    • 1 can of lentils: 350 calories
    • 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 220 calories
    • 1 cup of cooked white or brown rice: 200 calories
    • 1/4 bag of Soylent powder: 500 calories
    • 1 packet of plain instant oatmeal: 125 calories
  • Familiarize yourself with how many calories are in your common non-core meals so you can avoid overeating. Below are conservative numbers: • A small meal (cup of brown rice, vegetables, fruit) is 200 calories.
    • A medium meal (small bowl of chicken, rice, vegetables, sauce) is 500 calories.
    • A large meal (8oz steak, potatoes, salad with dressing, beer) is 900 calories.
  • Meals• You don’t need to eat unhealthy starchy foods like pasta and bread for the purposes of “workout energy.” Eating healthy will give you just as much energy.
    • Eat your normal 3 meals per day. Try eating both before and after workouts.
  • Liquids• Try to drink 2 cups of water (or a healthy alternative) at every meal. This isn’t a requirement for building a muscle; it’s a health suggestion.
    • Be mindful of calories you drink: fruit juices, creamed coffees, and alcohol are appreciable sources of calories that you must count toward your calorie targets.

Overcoming plateaus

  • If you’re not getting stronger• Use magnet weights (get 1.25lbs and 2.5lbs) to increase weight by 2.5lbs if you can’t go up by 5lbs.
    • Try resting much longer between sets. This won’t impact your gains and will allow you to finish all your sets and reps (which is critical).
    • Sleep ~7 hours the night before a workout.
    • Sleep ~7 hours the night of a workout.
    • If you’re on Plan B, don’t re-arrange the exercise order.
    • Try resting an extra day between workout day types.
    • Watch exercise videos to verify your form is correct.
    • If you can’t progress on chest exercises, try adding more weight to your front shoulder raises. Your shoulders need to be strong to work your chest.
    • If you can’t progress on bicep/tricep exercises, try adding more weight to your forearm exercises. They need to be strong to work the rest of the arm.
    • Breathe out when contracting your muscle and breathe in when uncontracting.
    • Have a friend lightly assist by pushing the weight when you’re lifting.
  • If you’re getting stronger but not bigger• Don’t increase weight by more than the normal increment that’s been producing gains for you, or you might overwork your muscle and cause it to shrink.
    • Don’t do more sets than dictated by your workout plan or you’ll overwork your muscles and cause them to shrink.
    • Rewatch the arm measurement video to check that you’re measuring correctly.
    • Remember to take your measurement at least 30min after waking up on the morning after working out.
    • Try eating 300 calories above your workout day calorie target.
    • Sleep longer than usual on the night after a workout.
    • If you’re still on Plan A after ~8 weeks, try switching to Plan B now.
    • If you’re already several months into Plan B, you might be nearing a plateau where it’ll take months instead of weeks to continue getting larger.

Muscle Building Diet: How to Eat to Lose Fat and Build Lean Muscle

When I graduated college, the freshman 15 that happens to so many graduates skipped me. I could still fit into my high school clothes and I was proud I didn’t put on extra weight.

But there was one problem about my body that I was unhappy with, I looked dreadfully skinny in my pictures. My sister said my body looked really gangly, a very unflattering term I hated since I already thought my arms was excessively long and skinny like a monkey.

I longed to fill out my jeans and have more definition in the arms so I started lifting weights but didn’t pay attention to my diet or to what I ate because I ate healthy. I had three well balanced meals a day based on my Asian culture: a bowl of rice, little bit of protein and lots of vegetables.

After a few years of lifting, I compared my side by side pictures of before and after and I was shocked. I looked almost exactly the same as if I never lifted weights! It was a sad wake up moment that triggered me to hire a strength coach to help me out. He completely revamped my diet and helped me put on pounds of muscles in a short period of time.

In this article I will share with you what I learned about the muscle building diet to build lean muscle while shedding fat.

A muscle building diet and workout

What do you think is more important to building a body you want, your diet or your workouts?

Many say it’s 80% diet and 20% working out. As an experienced personal trainer, I say it’s 100% each. To get the results you want, your diet must align with your workouts.

You cannot expect to get great results if you train hard in the gym but eat like crap. A bad diet will translate into a sub-par workout which will not give you the energy and intensity you need to get results. By eating a healthy diet, you can train hard in the gym and recover properly to build muscles.

Likewise, you can eat 100% clean and healthy but if you’re not training in the gym multiple times a week with enough intensity, then you won’t be stressing your muscles enough to get them to grow.

So diet and training are equally important for optimal muscle growth and fat loss.

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Your calorie intake

The holy grail of body transformation is to be able to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. We are inspired by those amazing transformations we see on the internet and we think everyone achieved their results by transforming a fat cell into a muscle cell.

Successful body transformations start with understanding a little bit about how your body works.

For fat loss to occur, you must burn more calories than you eat. When your fat cells start shrinking, your body will metabolize the excess fat leaving you reduced body fat.

Building muscle happens when you eat excess calories. The extra calories will help to increase the size of your muscle fibers so that you gradually get stronger and increase your overall metabolism.

You may be asking how are you supposed to lose fat and build lean muscles at the same time? The honest truth is you cannot. They are opposing metabolic processes.

If you want to lose fat and build lean muscles, pick out which one start out with. My recommendation is that if you’re a woman with more than 30% body fat or a man with more than 20% body fat, your first goal should be lose fat.

Having a layer of fat will often times mask the muscle gains you reap from the gym. It’ll look like as if you’re just getting bigger and softer rather than leaner and more defined as you add muscle to your frame.

In addition, as you eat in caloric surplus to build muscle, you will inevitably also put on some fat. It’s just the nature of building muscles unless you are extremely meticulous about your calories.

To lose fat, calculate how many calories your body is burning and cut out between 10-15% of the calories so you start the fat loss process.

To build muscles, add an additional 10-15% of the calories of your current caloric burn to your diet. Monitor your weight and body fat to ensure you’re not packing on too much fat during this period.

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Protein – your muscle building macronutrient

This missing macronutrient in my diet was the reason for my lack of results.

At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of protein till my strength coach had me eating 175 grams of protein every day in the last phase of my transformation. It was a huge struggle eating that much protein primarily because I ate so little of it in my meals. I had to really focus on planning my meals to meet those requirements every day.

In the long run, increasing my protein consumption paid off because I dropped from 30% body fat to 22% in a matter of months without starving or being hungry.

Adding more protein in your diet can benefit you in multiple ways as listed below:

  • Increase satiety. A big reason why people fall off the diet wagon and quit their diets is because they’re hungry ALL THE TIME. With food restrictions and calorie restrictions, the mentality of feeling deprived every day leads to an increase in hunger. Adding a substantial amount of protein to every meal will leave you feeling satisfied and keep hunger at bay.
  • Boost your metabolism. Yes, you read that right! Out of all three macronutrients — protein, fat and carbs, protein has the highest thermogenic effect. Everything you eat takes energy to digest, store and absorb the nutrients, and discard whatever is left. The digestion of protein takes the most energy out of all three, so about 30% of the protein you eat gets burned off in the digestion process. How awesome is that?
  • Build and retain muscle mass. Muscle itself is metabolically expensive to maintain. It costs a lot of energy and calories not just to build muscle but also to maintain it because it’s active tissue. Protein is a macronutrient that your body cannot store. This is why it is vital that you eat protein around the clock to support muscle growth and repair. Without protein, your body will be unable to build new muscles that you are breaking down in the gym.

How much protein should you eat?

The recommended dietary requirements (RDA) for protein is at a modest 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight per day. This means if you weigh 130lbs, it would translate to eating a minimum of 47g of protein or about a 2 small chicken breasts a day.

This RDA requirement is the bare minimum of protein consumption and is based on the average sedentary individual. If you don’t exercise and sit for 8+ hours a day, then the RDA recommendation is perfect for you and there’s no reason why you need to eat more protein.

I have found from training clients that a higher protein intake translates to faster fat loss and a higher metabolism versus a lower protein intake even if you don’t strength train. Just by adding more protein to your diet causes you to eat less which results in weight loss.

For building muscle and fat loss, I would recommend about 40% of your total calories come from protein or about 1 gram of protein per bodyweight in pounds.

If you are new to eating that much protein, start by adding about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal and work yourself up to including protein snacks or even proteins shakes to meet your daily requirements outside of your meals.

What are good sources of protein?

You can start making a dent in your protein intake by eating a big breakfast. Most people eat lots of carbs for breakfast like oatmeal, a bagel, a smoothie or a muffin of some sort and find themselves hungry well before lunch.

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Instead, swap out your breakfast with high protein choices like whole eggs, Greek yogurt, smoked salmon or throw in a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie or oatmeal.

Animal protein sources are complete protein sources and will be the best quality protein for your diet because they contain high sources of lysine which is the essential amino acid to build muscles. Make sure to get your protein from different sources so you’re getting different micronutrients and minerals.

For someone who is vegan or lean towards the more vegetarian diet, there are still plenty of options but it will be more challenging because most plants are not complete sources of protein. Soy and its products like tofu, tempeh and edamame are examples of a complete plant protein. Other examples of vegetarian sources of protein are quinoa, beans and nuts. Again, you want to vary your sources of protein so you get different vitamins and minerals from your food.

To supplement or not to supplement?

The most popular question that comes up when people think of building muscles is what type of protein supplement to buy.

My recommendation is to try your best to get protein from food sources first because they are a natural source of amino acids, minerals and micronutrients. Eating the protein versus drinking the protein will help to keep you full longer because your body needs to break down the food versus a protein shake just passes through.

But there are times where you’re on the go and you simply do not have time to sit down and eat. In that case, a protein shake would be a good option.

Do your research on a protein supplement before you buy so you get the best one for your needs. Below are recommendations of what you should look for in a healthy and clean protein powder:

1. It is 3rd party inspected.

The first thing you should research is to check if the protein supplement you are considering has been inspected by an independent third party company. This will tell you if the protein per serving on the nutrition label is accurate.

At the same time the inspection will also check for contaminants and heavy metals that could be present and harmful to your health.

2. Amount of protein (g) per serving is close serving size (g).

You also want to make sure that you’re paying for a protein supplement and not a meal replacement that is full of carbs and minimal protein. You can check by looking at the nutrition label.

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Often times the grams in a serving size are much bigger than the grams of protein in the serving size. This happens when there is excess filler in the form of coloring, flavors and sugar additives.

For example, one serving may be 30 grams but in it only has 23 grams of protein with the other 7 grams of miscellaneous filler. This means with each scoop of protein powder, 25% of your money is going towards paying for filler ingredients.

It’s also important that you want to make sure a serving size actually has a gram amount listed, otherwise you will have no idea how much protein you’re drinking in each serving which is deceptive marketing.

3. Very minimal to no fillers.

Extracting pure quality protein is an expensive process. To reduce costs, companies will add fillers such as natural and artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners and other components to make the powder mix nicely with whatever you blend it with.

If you’re consuming a protein shake or two everyday, it also means you’re drinking these artificial fillers which are unhealthy for you and do nothing to benefit your muscles. Do your best to look for a high quality protein and use your dollars to pay for protein versus fillers and flavoring.

Summing it up

Body transformation journeys are exciting life changing moments to really showcase your health and body potential. They are wonderful challenging moments that bring out the best in you.

Pairing the right workout with a healthy diet and macronutrient ratios will help you get results in a shorter time.

By following the recommendations in this article, you will be well on your way to building muscles and losing fat.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

The 40 Best High Protein Foods

Protein builds your body. It creates muscle. It controls hunger. It’s a win-win! Whether your goal is weight loss or muscle building, eating enough protein is key, but so is variety, since each kind has its own amino acid profile. Go beyond chicken and protein powder with these great high-protein foods.

To learn exactly how much protein you should aim for, plug your stats into the protein calculator. Then, choose foods from this list that add up to give you the grams you need to hit your weight loss or muscle growth goals.

1. Eggs

Protein in an egg:6 g per 1 large egg

Eggs are one of the most perfect high-protein foods at the supermarket: cheap, versatile, low-carb, and packed with branched-chain amino acids. Look for eggs fortified with extra omega-3 fatty acids to give your breakfast scramble an extra nutrient boost.

Hard-boiled eggs are one of the most portable protein foods. You can also make a shake with dried egg protein powder.

High Protein Dairy

2. Greek Yogurt

Protein in Greek yogurt: 23 g per 8-oz. serving

Greek yogurt has become such a popular choice because it has twice as much protein as other types of yogurt. It’s also rich in bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which is great for gut health. Look for plain varieties to keep calories—and your weight—in check.

3. Cottage Cheese

Protein in cottage cheese: 14 g per 1/2-cup serving

Make cottage cheese your go-to food for a healthy late-night snack. It’s high in casein, a slow-digesting dairy protein. Slow-digesting protein feeds your muscles all night so they don’t catabolize, and it keeps you from waking up starving at 3 a.m.

4. Swiss Cheese

Protein in Swiss cheese: 8 g per 1-oz. serving

Gram for gram, Swiss cheese provides more protein than other varieties commonly available in the supermarket, making it a muscle-friendly option for your sandwiches and burgers. And, like yogurt, it’s also high in calcium. If you’re concerned about the calorie density of full-fat Swiss, low-fat versions have a protein-to-fat ratio of around 8-to-1, while still providing good flavor.

5. 2-Percent Milk

Protein in 2-percent milk: 8 g per 1-cup serving

You could chug watery, flavorless skim milk, or you could enjoy the richer taste of 2 percent while getting a little extra fat to help you absorb the milk’s vitamin D and get you closer to your macro targets.

Organic milk has the highest nutrient content, including protein and omega-3s. Use it in place of water for a revved-up protein shake.

6. Whey or Casein Protein Powder

Protein in whey or casein powder: 24 g per scoop, on average

Whey protein powder is clean, fast-digesting, and most of its calories come from protein. It’s also convenient—just mix it with water in a shaker bottle. Use it whenever you need quick, no-prep protein, like after a workout, for an on-the-go breakfast, or alongside a low-protein meal.

If you need something that’ll help you hide from hunger a little longer, go for slow-digesting casein powder. It won’t hit your muscles as fast, but it can keep you full for hours and can help you lose fat without losing muscle mass.

You can also use either type of powder to make high-protein pancakes. They make a great pre-or post-workout snack if you need a break from shakes. If you’re sensitive to artificial sweeteners, look for an unsweetened powder or one sweetened with stevia.

7. Smoothies

Protein in smoothies: 16 g per 1-cup serving, on average

Up your protein-shake game by blending protein powder into a smoothie with fruit for a higher vitamin content. You can also buy premade smoothie drinks, but make sure they have a substantial dose of protein (at least 20 grams for a 2-cup bottle) and not just fruit, too much of which can send you into sugar overload. To make a plant-based smoothie, substitute a blend of rice protein and pea protein

8. Frozen Greek Yogurt

Protein in frozen Greek yogurt: 6 g per 1/2-cup serving

This sweet treat is frosty and creamy like ice cream, but contains about twice as much protein. Compare brands and look for those with the lowest sugar levels (or make it yourself). Some brands actually list fruit before sugar in the ingredient list, which is a plus.

High Protein Seafood

9. Yellowfin Tuna

Protein in yellowfin tuna: 25 g per 3-oz. serving

Tuna delivers a boatload of easily digested, high-quality protein. You’ll also benefit from the healthy amount of vitamin B and the potent antioxidant selenium, making it a great nutrition choice. When possible, look for troll- or pole-caught tuna, which are considered the most sustainable options.

10. Halibut

Protein in halibut: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

Among white fish species, halibut reigns supreme when it comes to the protein you need to build muscle. Each 3-ounce serving also has a mere 2 grams of fat, making halibut an even better catch. Pacific halibut is generally considered a more sustainable choice than Atlantic.

11. Octopus

Protein in octopus: 25 g per 3-oz. serving

An increasing number of fishmongers are now offering up this seafood choice. So if your goal is to pack on granite-dense muscle, this protein-packed cephalopod is a great choice. Frozen octopus actually has an advantage over fresh because the freezing process helps tenderize the meat.

12. Sockeye Salmon

Protein in sockeye salmon: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

Not only does wild salmon like sockeye taste better than its farmed cousin, it also supplies more protein. In addition, you’ll reap the benefits of its plethora of fat-fighting long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Look for salmon with the skin still intact, as it provides added flavor during cooking.

13. Tilapia

Protein in tilapia: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Commonly available at most fish markets, tilapia is a mild-tasting fish with a good supply of protein to keep your muscles well fed. Look for American-farmed tilapia, which is a safer fish choice than tilapia imported from Asia.

14. Anchovies

Protein in anchovies: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

Ounce for ounce, anchovies are the surprising winners when it comes to canned protein. Because of their size, they also don’t accumulate toxins the same way that bigger species do. To reduce their saltiness, soak anchovies in water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry.

15. Light Tuna

Protein in light tuna: 22 g per 3-oz. serving

Frugal shoppers, rejoice! Less-pricey canned light tuna actually provides a little more protein than more expensive canned white tuna. To save yourself some calories sourced from lackluster vegetable oils, opt for water-packed tuna.

Canned tuna is a very low-calorie food. Combine it with something fatty, such as olives, to stay full longer.

16. Sardines

Protein in sardines: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Humble canned sardines are making a comeback! This high-protein fish is full of omega-3 fats and vitamin D, and is relatively low in mercury since it’s small and low on the food chain. Try stirring them into mashed potatoes or cauliflower to cut their strong taste.

High Protein Meats

17. Steak (Top or Bottom Round)

Protein in steak: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

These leaner cuts of steak provide a fantastic 1 gram of protein for every 7 calories; rib eye, on the other hand, delivers roughly 1 gram of protein for every 11 calories. Plus, round steak is considered one of the more economical cuts. Leaner cuts of steak like round and loin will become drier than the Sahara with overcooking, so cook them quickly over high heat to medium-rare.

18. Ground Beef (90% Lean)

Protein in ground beef: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Using 90 percent ground beef provides just the right amount of fat so your burgers and meatloaf won’t taste like cardboard. Beyond raising your protein intake, this red meat is also a good source of the almighty creatine. If you have some extra cash, opt for grass-fed beef, which is more nutrient-dense than its factory-farm counterparts.

19. Pork Chops (Boneless)

Protein in pork chops: 26 g per 3-oz. serving

The bounty of amino acids in easy-to-prepare pork chops gives you more than enough of an excuse to eat your fill. Pro tip: Soaking your chops in brine can yield more tender meat. Submerge the meat in a brine made with a 1/4 cup of salt for every 4 cups of water, and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

20. Chicken Breast (Boneless and Skinless)

Protein in chicken breast: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

This bodybuilding and weight-loss staple is a better protein source than other poultry cuts, which is why it should remain a constant presence on your shopping list. To save money, stock up on this staple when it’s marked down for quick sale.

21. Turkey Breast

Protein in turkey breast: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

As with chicken, this big bird can flood your muscles with protein while keeping the calorie count low. Like pork chops and chicken breast, turkey breast can benefit from a pre-cook brining. If you’re concerned about antibiotic use in large-scale poultry farming, you can look for turkey breast labelled “antibiotic-free.”

22. Corned Beef

Protein in corned beef: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

The protein in corned beef is high-quality and has a great taste. Try sautéing corned beef with chopped vegetables and serve it over rice, or pile it on rye with plenty of mustard.

23. Canned Chicken

Protein in canned chicken: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Pop the lid on a can of ground white chicken meat to instantly add a shot of high-quality protein to your sandwiches and salads. Treat it the same way you would canned tuna. Compare brands, looking for those that deliver lower amounts of sodium so you don’t pack on water weight.

24. Roast Beef

Protein in roast beef: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Roast beef is leaner than you’d think, and higher in amino acids than other deli-counter picks. As with steak, pasture-raised roast beef is more nutritious. Make a roast beef sandwich with spinach and red onions, or just snack on it as-is.

25. Canadian Bacon

Protein in Canadian bacon: 15 g per 3-oz. serving

Canadian-style bacon is a better high-protein food than regular bacon since it has about six times less fat. And yes, we just gave you permission to eat bacon.

26. Chorizo

Protein in chorizo: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Looking for good high-protein foods for breakfast? This seasoned pork sausage can turn scrambled eggs into a flavor-packed meal. It’s also great for lunch or dinner in pasta dishes, soups, and salads. Spanish chorizo is cured, so it doesn’t need to be cooked before eating, but Mexican chorizo does.

27. Pepperoni

Protein in pepperoni: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

The stellar amount of protein in pepperoni makes it a surprisingly healthy topping for pizza or salad. Sodium levels can vary widely, so compare brands and look for options with the lowest amount.

28. Roasted Turkey Breast

Protein in roasted turkey breast: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Sliced turkey is an easy way to get a lot of nearly fat-free protein, so pile it high. Steer clear of flavored turkey and other deli meats to avoid bringing home stuff you don’t need, like salt, sugar, and lab-made flavorings.

29. Beef Jerky

Protein in beef jerky: 13 g per 1-oz. serving

Cleaning up your diet might mean saying goodbye to potato chips and microwave popcorn, so look to jerky for a salty treat that won’t derail your goals. Keep some in your desk at work for an afternoon snack. Look for healthier brands that are free of MSG and nitrites.

High Protein Plant-Based Foods

30. Navy Beans

Protein in navy beans: 20 g per 1-cup serving

Heart-healthy beans are a fantastically cheap vegetarian protein source, and of the most commonly available canned legumes, navy beans lead the way. They’re also rich in fiber, which is important for healthy eating.

Mash navy beans with garlic and lemon as a hummus alternative.

31. Dried Lentils

Protein in lentils: 13 g per 1/4-cup serving

Inexpensive dry lentils are a sure-fire way to ramp up your intake of protein, fiber, and a range of vital minerals. Unlike other dried beans, lentils don’t require an annoying presoak. Simply simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. For a nutritious lunch, toss cooked lentils with chopped chicken breast, diced vegetables, and a lemon vinaigrette.

32. Peanut Butter

Protein in peanut butter: 8 g per 2-tbsp serving

Though not as trendy as other nut butters like almond, peanut butter still leads the way in the protein department. Make sure to watch labels for sugar, though. Natural versions made from just peanuts are best—some stores even let you grind your own.

If you’re working to get your weight in check, look for peanut butter powder, which has less fat but the same protein content. You can even use the powder for baking. Fun fact: Peanuts are technically a legume, not a nut.

33. Mixed Nuts

Protein in mixed nuts: 6 g per 2-oz. serving

Nuts (and honorary nuts) like peanuts, cashews, and almonds make for a crunchy way to add more protein and healthy unsaturated fats to your diet. Keep a can in your glove compartment for hunger emergencies. If you’re watching your sodium intake, look for packages labelled “unsalted.”

34. Bean Chips

Protein in bean chips: 4 g per 1-oz. serving

If you’re craving crunchy chips, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than the ones made with protein-rich black beans. For a few extra grams of protein, use them as a delivery vessel for a homemade yogurt dip.

35. Tofu

Protein in tofu: 12 g per 3-oz. serving

If you’re looking to go meat-free, slabs of tofu can fill you up with soy protein. Slices of firm tofu work well in stir-fry, or cook them on the grill to infuse them with some smoky flavor. A good marinade goes a long way. You can even blend plain, uncooked tofu into a smoothie.

36. Edamame

Protein in edamame: 8 g per 1/2-cup serving

Another great vegetarian option, these nutrient-packed green soybeans will give your diet a boost of plant protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. To avoid snack boredom, prepare shelled, frozen edamame according to package directions, then season with fresh lemon juice, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.

37. Green Peas

Protein in green peas: 7 g per 1-cup serving

While protein is not abundant in most vegetables, green peas contain enough that you’ll want to keep a bag stashed in your freezer at all times. They’re also high in fiber, so they help manage your weight and cravings.

Wheat Germ

Protein in wheat germ: 6 g per 1-oz. serving

The wheat grain is made up of three components—endosperm, bran, and germ. The germ is the most nutrient-dense part and includes significant amounts of plant-based protein. You can use it to add a protein boost to your oatmeal, pancakes, and even shakes.

Soba Noodles

Protein in soba noodles: 12 g per 3-oz. serving

Consider using these buckwheat Japanese-style noodles for your pasta nights since they are a better protein source than most wheat-based noodles. Even better, they cook in about half the time as whole-wheat pasta. To remove the excess starch that can make the noodles gummy, rinse cooked soba after draining.

Quinoa

Protein in quinoa: 8 g per 1-cup serving

Among whole grains, South American quinoa (technically a seed) is a rarity in that it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein with muscle-building potential. Toasting quinoa in a dry skillet or saucepan before simmering it in water can enhance its natural nutty flavor.

Looking for more healthy food ideas? Check these out:

  • The Ultimate List of 40 Low-Carb Foods
  • 26 Best Healthy Snacks
  • 50 Delicious Protein Shake Recipes

Katherine Tallmadge, M.A.,R.D., is a registered dietitian, author of “Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations” (LifeLine Press, 2011) and a frequent national commentator on nutrition topics. This article is adapted from one that first appeared in the Washington Post. Tallmadge contributed this article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

One of my 50-something clients recently lost 20 pounds through a combination of a few nutrition, eating and behavior modification tricks I provided to her, along with her increased pedometer steps and added weight training.

Afterward, she confided in me that she feels sexy for the first time in years! On the tennis court, she performs better and is more flexible, stronger and quicker. Who could ask for more in your 50s — or 40s, 60s and beyond?

To get results like these, weight training is key. My clients regularly ask me, “How do I maximize my workouts to gain muscle as quickly and effectively as possible?”

My answer: What you eat and when you eat it profoundly improves your ability to build muscle mass and strength, and new surprising studies show an ancient beverage — and an ancient exercise — can make a huge difference, too. Let me explain.

Your workout

While nutrition is important, the quality of your strength-training workout is a key factor for building muscle mass. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing strength training for all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week. I encourage all my clients to get some kind of strength training so that when they lose weight, they not only look more toned and have more strength (who wants to be a flabby skinny person?), they’re also healthier. You can do this by working with a skilled trainer, but also through vigorous yoga, Pilates and even swimming. Whenever there is resistance and you work your muscles to exhaustion, such as when you can’t do just one more pushup, you’re building muscle.

And getting stronger comes with more healthy benefits. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns. In other words, muscle mass increases metabolism. That’s why a man who weighs the same as a woman can eat so much more, and will lose weight more easily. He has relatively more muscle, so he burns more calories — even at rest!

For seniors, strength training can make big quality-of-life improvements. Studies of 80-year-olds show muscular strength can mean the difference between independence and a nursing home: it improves balance and walking ability, while reducing the risk of falls.

But, for a variety of reasons, it’s not easy to build muscle.

First, muscle mass declines as you age, starting in your 30s. An average person will lose 5 to 7 pounds of muscle between ages 35 and 50 due to disuse. For every pound of muscle lost, you lose the capacity to burn 35 to 50 calories per day. That means, if you’ve lost 7 pounds of muscle by the age of 50, at 50 calories per muscle, that’s 350 calories you need to avoid every day just to prevent weight gain, let alone lose weight.

Second, weight loss causes muscle loss. When you lose weight, about half of what you lose is muscle — though you can minimize muscle loss by eating right (so read on!). This makes it even harder to keep the weight off, because you’re reducing your muscle, and therefore your metabolism, as you lose pounds.

This brings us to the obvious: Building muscle as you age, eating the right kinds of foods to make that happen — and to minimize muscle loss as you lose weight — is essential to staying lean.

Katherine Tallmadge with the manager of One-to-One Fitness in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Katherine Tallmadge)

Now for the nutrition…

Protein

Protein is essential for healthy living. It is one of the most important nutrients for the human body, second only to water. Bone health, muscle function, muscle strength, muscle mass and immune function — all are impaired with a low intake of protein.

New research has found that eating the right amount of protein —and at the right times — is essential not only for your general health, but also for effective muscle gain and weight loss. Eating enough protein while losing weight is more likely to minimize muscle loss and maximize fat loss. Keeping muscle stores high is critical, because when you lose muscle, it decreases your resting metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight or lose body fat.

The National Academy of Sciences, in a recent report, recommended Americans get at least 15 percent of their calories from protein, but never exceed 35 percent. At that point, adverse symptoms begin to appear. (Low carb diets are often as high as 80 percent protein, and can damage your health in many ways.)

If you’re losing weight or are worried about muscle or bone loss, consider increasing your protein.

How much protein?

A personalized formula: Studies of aging populations have found that about 1.2 grams to 1.6 grams of protein per one kilogram of body weight helps to reduce age-related muscle and bone loss. This amount should also be enough to maximize your workouts. (Determine your ideal body weight.)

Example: If you weigh 150 pounds, this means the amount of protein you should eat is: 150 lbs (divided by 2.2 lbs per kilogram) = 68 kg; 68 kg x 1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight = 82 grams of protein daily. For the maximum amount of protein, multiply 68 kg x 1.6 grams of protein per kg = 109 grams of protein per day.

Where should you get protein?

Protein can be found in a wide range of foods. Animal protein is in seafood, dairy products, meat, poultry and eggs. Vegetarian protein can be found in legumes, soy, vegetables and grains. And while it’s true that high-protein foods often bring fat and calories along as uninvited guests, it doesn’t have to be that way. The lowest-calorie animal protein sources are the leanest. Go for seafood, poultry with no skin, lean veal cuts, pork tenderloin, lean beef cuts (such as the round or tenderloin), or 95-percent-lean hams (less than 3 grams of fat per ounce). Skim milk, nonfat yogurt and low-fat cheeses are also great options. Soy products provide great low-calorie options, too, and are high-quality proteins that are lean substitutes for meat.

To add some protein to your diet, toss four ounces (120 grams) of lean beef, chicken or seafood or 12 ounces (36 grams) of spiced tofu into your salad. This will add 30 grams of high-quality protein and no more than 150 to 200 calories.

If you’re a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

Here are the numbers for some other great sources of protein:

8 ounces milk or yogurt: 8 – 16 grams protein, depending on the type 1/2 cup cooked beans or tofu: 8 grams protein 1 ounce meat/fish/chicken/cheese (the leaner the meat, the more protein and the fewer calories): 7 grams protein 1 large egg: 7 grams protein 1/2 cup cooked or one ounce dry (1 slice bread) grain: 3 grams protein 1/2 cup cooked or one cup raw vegetables: 2 grams protein

Timing is everything!

Eat a food or beverage high in protein about 20 minutes before, and again immediately after, your strength-training workout. And do the same after a vigorous cardiovascular workout, such as tennis or kayaking, or even just a long walk. When you work out, you break down your muscles. Taking in a high protein food — with a little bit of carbohydrate and nutrients — when your muscles are being broken down by exercise will build your muscle mass and your strength more effectively. And don’t forget to drink water, because you also need to make sure you hydrate yourself properly!

My personal regimen includes drinking some skim milk before my workout (all you need is about 1/2 a cup, or about 4 grams of protein) and eating yogurt immediately after my workout or yoga session — in the gym! If I forget the yogurt, I’ll run to the nearest coffee shop after I exercise and buy a skim latte, which contains milk — or soy milk — for my protein. But I like yogurt the best: In addition to high-quality protein, it contains important probiotics which keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy. It also offers high-quality carbohydrates, calcium, potassium and magnesium — important nutrients that you need to replenish your muscles.

Current thinking among protein researchers is that this nutrient is more bioavailable for your muscles if eaten in relatively small quantities throughout the day. For women, 20 grams per meal is the ideal amount the body can utilize efficiently. For men, that can go up to 30 grams per meal. So, with my personal protein-goal of 60 grams per day, I make sure to have about 20 grams in the morning, 20 grams mid-day and about 20 grams in the evening. My body may not benefit from taking in more than that at one sitting.

If you’re a man who needs 100 grams per day, you could spread out your protein intake for the day to four meals of about 25 grams each — separated by at least two hours in between. So an 8-ounce steak at night, containing 56 grams of protein, just won’t cut it!

Surprise … Tea!

A new study has found that tea improves muscular strength. Tea? Apparently, as people age, oxidative stress and inflammation cause age-related breakdowns of muscle and bone. Tea’s healthy compounds, called “polyphenols,” reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, preventing this breakdown, and even improving muscular strength and bone mass. A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked into tea’s effects on muscle. In the study, post-menopausal women with osteopenia (the beginning of osteoporosis, or brittle bones) were given tea or performed Tai Chi exercises. After six months, the tea alone caused an improvement in muscle strength and bone-building biomarkers. (You can learn more about the health benefits of tea here.) Tai Chi alone — certainly not the rigorous or impactful exercise that researchers understand is necessary for muscle and bone building — also helped. Apparently, Tai Chi reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, too.

With the amazing results of that study in mind, it makes sense that any foods high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fruits and vegetables, may help improve bone and muscle strength. And, if Tai Chi helps improve bone and muscle mass, shouldn’t other forms of meditation or meditative exercise, such as yoga, do the same? More research is needed to establish these links, but the results certainly are promising.

Nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge giving a presentation at the Four Seasons Spa. (Image credit: Viggy Parr)

In the meantime, I’m drinking tea every day, doing vigorous yoga at least 2 to 3 times a week, working with a trainer once a week, walking a lot to keep body fat down (at least 10,000 pedometer steps is my daily average), eating plenty of yogurt and cooking batch recipes from my books. All of this helps keep my muscles and bones strong, and my body in shape.

Tallmadge’s most recent Op-Ed was “Why Childhood Obesity Drop May Herald a Change of Habit,”and her additional contributions are available on her profile page. Her latest book is “Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes: 50 New Reasons to Cook In Season.” You can follow Tallmadge on Facebook, Twitter @KETallmadge and on YouTube. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com.

This is how you should eat if you want to build lean muscle

  • Eating to grow your muscles isn’t as complicated as you might think.
  • The most important thing is to consume enough protein, carbohydrates, and total calories.
  • That said, you need to make sure you don’t overdo it.

There are over 600 muscles in the human body — and keeping them strong is good for your health.

In addition to increased joint health and stronger bones, gaining muscle mass can change the shape of your body. So it’s no wonder regular people and celebrities prioritize strength training and building muscle. Working out, however, isn’t the only factor in muscle growth: your diet also plays a huge role.

INSIDER spoke with experts to find the proven nutrition strategies you can use for your own optimal muscle gains.

You have to eat enough total calories.

Cutting calories is counter productive. Toa Heftiba/ Unsplash

For your body to have enough energy to grow your muscles, you need to eat more calories than you burn per day. Nutritionist Malina Linkas Malkani, the media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian™ Lifestyle, told INSIDER that this has to do with how our body breaks down energy.

“When you consume fewer calories than you burn, the body breaks down muscle as a source of energy,” she said. “If the goal is to build muscle, you need to eat adequate protein and enough carbohydrates so that the body doesn’t turn to protein as an energy source.”

In fact, eating too few calories is one of the biggest mistakes that personal trainer Bryan Goldberg sees in his muscle-building clients. He told INSIDER that the extra calories you consume are necessary for the results you want.

“How can we expect to perform at levels necessary to build muscle if we aren’t prepared,” he said. “If you want to go on a road trip you can’t put five bucks in the tank.”

The amount of calories that your body needs depends on your weight, metabolism, and the intensity of your workouts. You can determine your total daily calorie expenditure (TDEE) with an online calculator. This is the number of calories your body burns per day. You need to eat more than that number to gain muscle but consult with your doctor before making any chances.

You should emphasize protein.

Chicken is a great source of protein. Howard Holley/Flickr

Dietitians aren’t joking when they say that protein is an important part of a healthy diet, but this is especially true if you want to build muscle. Registered dietitian Andy Bellatti, strategic director of Dietitians For Professional Integrity, told INSIDER that this is because protein is made up of amino acids, which help build and repair muscle tissue.

You can get your amino acid fill by eating foods like chicken, seafood, beans, eggs, and dairy. Bellatti, however, recommends minimally processed sources like hemp seeds rather than processed protein sources with added sugars.

“I also encourage prioritizing plant-based protein sources since they also offer fiber which the average American does not eat in sufficient quantities,” he said.

There might be benefits to eating your protein throughout the day, rather than at one big meal.

Meal prep can help you spread out your food.

Some studies have shown that how often you consume protein can impact your muscles and your muscle building capacity. The verdict is still out, however, on the size of this impact. Malkani said that it is beneficial for your muscles to spread your protein throughout the day, but Bellatti noted that the research is not totally conclusive. Even if the muscle benefits aren’t proven, divvying up your protein throughout the day has been shown to help curb hunger cravings.

It’s possible, however, to overeat protein.

Eating too much protein can have consequences.

Malkani recommends eating 20 to 25 grams of protein per meal for an average high protein meal. She did note that a common misconception is that eating extra protein builds more muscle.

“If your calorie needs are being met, eating more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day has not been shown to offer additional muscle-building benefits and can actually be harmful,” she said.

In some cases, like that of Australian bodybuilder Meegan Hefford,it can even be deadly. Hefford, who died this past August, had a disorder that prevented her from breaking down protein. That, coupled with her high protein diet, lead to her death. Overeating protein has also been associated with kidney issues, so stick to Malkani’s recommendation of no more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight and consult with your doctor.

Water is your friend.

Drinking water will allow you to maximize your effectiveness at the gym. Sergio Perez/Reuters

Despite the fact that muscles are made up of 79% water, many people underestimate its importance when it comes to building muscle.

Going to the gym while dehydrated means instead of putting energy toward building muscle, you’ll be fighting fatigue, nausea, and headaches with every step. However, when you’re drinking enough water, your body achieves the right level of fluids and electrolytes and therefore can function optimally. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you drink 16 to 20 fluid oz of water prior to exercising and16 to 24 oz after.

Aside from the benefits at the gym, getting the correct amount of H2O can actually help you avoid overeating and covering your newly gained muscle with fat.

Eat both carbohydrates and protein before you workout.

Oatmeal is a popular pre-workout meal.

According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you should have both carbs and protein pre-workout to build muscle, and you should ideally eat one to three hours before exercising. Carbs fuel your body while protein builds and repairs it. But having both before helps “prime the pump,” according to the academy, and makes the right amino acids (or building blocks of muscle) readily available to your muscles.

Post-workout protein and carbs are crucial, too.

Greek yogurt and fruit is a good option. Celeste Lindell/Flickr

Nutrition is just as important post-workout as it is pre-workout. The “anabolic window” is the name for the ideal post-workout eating time range. Medical professionals used to think that the time frame or window was much shorter, but according to Bellatti, the latest research shows that the window is actually open for several hours.

To get maximum muscle growth and recovery, one study recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found you should aim for protein and carb consumption four to six hours post-workout. Bellati noted, however, that nutrient timing isn’t as essential as your overall consumption of healthy minimally processed protein for the day.

Don’t slack on micronutrients either.

Spinach is a high-iron food. Isador Emanuel/ Unsplash

Your body needs micronutrients in addition to protein, carbs, and extra calories to stay healthy. Malkani said that micronutrients even play a part in the muscle-building process.

“Muscle cells need iron, a mineral micronutrient, to produce energy,” she said. She explained that iron is a component of hemoglobin which is a part of your red blood cells that carry oxygen to the cells in your body.

“Endurance athletes, particularly those who are female vegetarian or vegan, are at special risk for iron depletion and should have iron levels checked periodically by their doctor,” she said.

If you are eating a balanced diet, you won’t need to take extra vitamins, minerals, or supplements, according to Malkani.

Make sure that you are working out and putting those calories to good use.

Strength training is a key part of muscle growth. Bojan Milinkov /

You might be eating to build muscles, but you won’t actually develop any if you don’t exercise.

“Muscle growth requires that muscle fibers be stressed damaged,” Bellatti said. “It is the repair process that results in muscle growth. Simply consuming high amounts of protein without also stressing the muscles will not result in muscle growth.”

Goldberg agreed and added that reaching aesthetic goals comes down to two controllable factors: input and output.

“The amount of food you take in will determine whether or not you gain or lose weight,” he said. “The type of training you do will determine whether or not you develop lean muscle or not.”

Goldberg recommended performing anaerobic exercises such as moderately heavy weight training as well as a combination of sprints and interval training for maximum muscle-building results.

Remember, before trying a new diet or workout regiment consult with your doctor — then safely proceed to make those muscle gains.

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Think Lean

When it’s on your plate, which it should be at every meal, protein needs to be the right kind. “My emphasis is lean,” Bonci says. “I don’t want my players saying, ‘I got all of my protein because I ate wings.'” Lean chicken, lean beef, soy, and beans are some of the healthiest protein sources.

During the season, former Tennessee Titan defensive tackle Torrie Griffin was burning so many calories on the field that he had to consume upwards of 8,000 calories each day just to maintain his 290-pound playing weight. “That is, I would say, a standard portion for some of the guys,” he says. “I was one of those who had to work to keep the weight on.”

Griffin, who is now a certified personal trainer and owner of TTrain Fitness Bootcamp in Atlanta, doesn’t recommend the kind of diet he and his teammates ate to stay big. For breakfast, they’d down supersized restaurant portions of waffles, eggs, bacon, grits, and toast. At dinner, they’d pack in two burgers, mac and cheese, and fries. “In general for the linemen, it was three very large meals,” Griffin recalls. “I didn’t really think about how much of the bad stuff or fat and calories were in the food when we ate out.”

The only guys who need to be as huge as defensive linemen are defensive linemen. If you work a desk job and eat like a lineman, the only thing that’s going to grow is your belly. Guys who work out but eat nothing but junk food will gain fat on top of their muscle and bulk up. “When you’re talking about lean muscle mass, you’ve got to have a clean diet … a balanced diet of protein and carbohydrates low level of fat, and lots of fruits and vegetables,” Livingstone says.

For that, you’re better off taking nutrition tips from the NFL players who keep their diets lighter and cleaner.

Crocker only gets 3,000 to 3,500 calories on days when he trains. “As a free safety, it is best for me to be lighter on my feet so I am able to get to the ball and get to the plays a lot quicker.” He says he can cover the field faster when he’s a pound or two lighter.

If you’re working out three days a week, you can eat about 15 calories per pound of body weight, according to Bonci. Men who work out five days a week can up their calorie count to 20 per pound. That doesn’t mean everyone gets a free pass to eat more than 3,000 calories a day, though. “The range of calories you require on a daily basis varies greatly and is dependent upon your weight, your activity level, your age, and your muscle mass,” Bonci says. “So one size does not fit all when it comes to determining your calorie cap!”

Nutrition 101: Eat To Build Lean Muscle

Main | Q&A | Burn Fat | Build Lean Muscle

The 14 Best Lean-Muscle Building Foods

1. Beef (From Grass-Fed Cattle)

Beef is important for building lean muscle due to its protein content, cholesterol, zinc, B vitamins and iron content.

Beef from grass-fed cattle have much higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventionally raised cattle, which gives you a boost in shedding body fat and building lean muscle.

2. Beets

A good source of betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, this nutrient not only supports liver and joint health, but also has been shown in clinical research to increase muscle strength and power.

Beets also provide an NO boost which can enhance energy and aid recovery.

3. Brown Rice

A slow-digesting whole grain that provides longer-lasting energy throughout the day and during workouts.

4. Oranges

Another good fruit that can actually help to boost muscle growth, strength and endurance, especially when eaten before workouts.

5. Cantaloupe

Due to its relatively low fructose content, this melon is one of the few fruits that is actually a fast-digesting carb. That makes it a good carb to have first thing in the morning after a long night of fasting and one of the few good fruits to eat after workouts.

6. Cottage Cheese

Rich in casein protein, cottage cheese is a great go-to protein source, especially before bed.

Casein protein is the slowest-digesting protein you can eat, so it prevents catabolism while you fast during the night.

7. Eggs

Eggs are known as the perfect protein, but their ability to boost lean muscle and strength gains isn’t due to just the protein alone. It gets a lot of help from the yolks, where the cholesterol is found.

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8. Milk (Organic)

Milk contains both whey and casein and is rich in the amino acid glutamine. Organic milk has about 70% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk.

9. Quinoa

A complete protein in addition to being a slow-digesting carb, quinoa has been linked with an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels, an important factor associated with lean muscle and strength gains.

10. Spinach

Spinach is a good source of glutamine, the amino acid that is important for lean muscle growth.

11. Apples

The specific polyphenols in apples help to increase muscle strength and prevent muscle fatigue, allowing you to train harder for longer.

Other research also shows that these polyphenols can increase fat burning as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to make apples a pre-workout carb source.

12. Greek Yogurt

Like plain yogurt, Greek yogurt starts from the same source: milk. Greek yogurt, however, has more protein (a whopping 20 grams per cup) and fewer carbs (9 grams per cup) than regular yogurt (16 grams protein and 16 grams carbs per cup). It’s also a good source of casein protein.

13. Ezekiel 4:9 Bread

Ezekiel bread is made from organic sprouted whole grains. Because it contains grains and legumes, the bread is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the amino acids your body can’t produce on its own—the ones needed for lean muscle growth.

14. Wheat Germ

Wheat germ is rich in zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, and B vitamins, high in fiber and protein, with a good amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), arginine and glutamine.

This makes wheat germ a great source of slow-digesting carbohydrates and a quality protein that’s a perfect food before workouts.

The Lean-Muscle One-Week Meal Plan

The following plan is designed for a person weighing 140 pounds. When trying to gain lean muscle during a rigorous exercise program, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for an intake of about 13-15 calories per pound of bodyweight, so adjust up or down depending on your weight.

So for a 110-pound individual, total daily calories would be between 1,430 to 1,650; for a 150-pound individual, about 1,950 to 2,250. Tweak the amounts in the meal plan to hit your desired macronutrient targets, which you can identify using this calculator.

Monday

Breakfast 1Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoopCantaloupe (small or medium) 1/2 Breakfast 2 (30-60 min after B1)Omelet (2 large eggs, 2 slices low-fat deli ham, 1/4 cup fat-free cheddar cheese) 1 Oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup Late-Morning Snack Greek Yogurt (reduced-fat) 4 oz Blueberries (mixed with yogurt) 1/2 cup Lunch Ground Beef (lean) 4 oz Hamburger Bun (whole-wheat) 1 Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Midday Snack Chicken (canned) 3 oz Mayonnaise (light) 1 tbsp Crackers (whole-wheat, mix mayo in chicken, eat on crackers) 5 Dinner Chicken 6 oz Broccoli (chopped) 1 cup Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Nighttime Snack Cottage Cheese 3/4 cup Salsa (mix salsa in cottage cheese) 2 tbsp

Nutrition Facts Totals for the Day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 1,835
  • Total Fat: 65 g
  • Total Carbs: 135 g
  • Protein: 185 g

Tuesday

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Orange 1 Breakfast 2 Eggs 2 Egg Whites (make scrambled eggs) 2 Waffles (whole-grain) 1 Syrup (maple) 1 tbsp Late-Morning Snack Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Wheat Germ (mix wheat germ in whey shake) 1/2 cup Lunch Deli Turkey 4 oz Mayonnaise (light) 1 tbsp Ezekiel Bread (make turkey sandwich) 2 slices Midday Snack Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 1/2 cup Pineapple (mix pineapple in cottage cheese) 1/4 cup Dinner Tilapia 6 oz Broccoli 1 cup Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Nighttime Snack Casein Protein 1 scoop Walnuts (halves) 7 Peanut Butter (dip walnuts in peanut butter) 1 tbsp

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 1,870
  • Total Fat: 60 g
  • Total Carbs: 145 g
  • Protein: 190 g

Wednesday

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Apple (small) 1 Breakfast 2 Eggs (cooked as a frittata) 1 serving Oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup Lat-Morning Snack Greek Yogurt (reduced-fat) 1/2 cup Strawberries (sliced) 1/2 cup Lunch Stir Fry 1 serving Midday Snack Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 1/2 cup Mandarin Oranges (canned) 1/2 cup Dinner Steak (top sirloin) 6 oz Asparagus 20 spears Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Nighttime Snack Greek Yogurt (reduced-fat) 1 cup Honey 1 tsp Flaxseeds (mix honey and flaxseeds in yogurt) 2 tbsp

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 1,900
  • Total Fat: 55 g
  • Total Carbs: 160 g
  • Protein: 180 g

Thursday

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Cantaloupe (medium) 1/2 Breakfast 2 Milk (low-fat) 1/2 cup Cereal (Kashi Go Lean) 1/2 cup Protein Powder (whey) 1/2 scoop Late-Morning Snack (Make salad by adding all ingredients together.) Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Eggs (hard-boiled and sliced) 2 Oatmeal (dry) 1/4 cup Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Lunch Tuna (seasoned fillets, packet) 5 oz Quinoa (cooked) 1/2 cup Vegetables (frozen, mixed) 1 cup Midday Snack (Make quesadilla: add cheese to one side of tortilla, cook on medium.) Pita Bread (10″ whole-wheat) 1/2 Cheese (reduced-fat cheddar) 1/4 cup Dinner Salmon 6 oz Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Nighttime Snack Cottage Cheese 3/4 cup Salsa 2 tbsp

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 1,850
  • Total Fat: 75 g
  • Total Carbs: 130 g
  • Protein: 165 g

Friday

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Apple 1 Breakfast 2 Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 1/2 cup Mandarin Oranges (canned) 1/2 cup Celery 2 stalks Peanut Butter (fill celery grooves with peanut butter) 1 tbsp Late-Morning Snack Deli Turkey 4 oz Cheese (reduced-fat American) 1 slice Mayonnaise (light) 1 tbsp Pita Bread (10″ whole-wheat) 1 Midday Snack Cheese (fat-free) 2 oz Crackers (whole-wheat) 5 Dinner Tilapia 6 oz Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Nighttime Snack Casein Protein 1 scoop Walnuts (halves) 7

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 1,915
  • Total Fat: 65 g
  • Total Carbs: 145 g
  • Protein: 195 g

Saturday

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Orange 1 large Breakfast 2 Eggs 2 Egg Whites 2 Cheese (shredded reduced-fat cheddar, make cheese omelet) 1/4 cup English Muffins (whole-wheat) 1 Peanut Butter (spread peanut butter on toasted muffin) 1 tbsp Late-Morning Snack Soy Beans (boiled) 1/2 cup Chicken Noodle Soup 1 cup Lunch (Add ingredients to salad and eat with pita bread.) Tuna (albacore in water) 3 oz Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Beets 1 cup Feta Cheese (fat-free) 1 oz Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Pita Bread (sliced into wedges) 1/2 large pita Midday Snack Greek Yogurt (reduced-fat) 1 cup Honey 1 tbsp Dinner Spaghetti Noodles (with meatballs) 1 serving Nighttime Snack Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 3/4 cup

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 2,000
  • Total Fat: 70 g
  • Total Carbs: 170 g
  • Protein: 180 g

Sunday (High Carb “Cheat” Day)

Breakfast 1 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Cantaloupe 1/2 medium Breakfast 2 Sandwich (breakfast sandwich with eggs, ham, and cheese) 1 Late-Morning Snack Greek Yogurt (reduced-fat) 1/2 cup Blueberries 1/2 cup Lunch Deli Turkey 4 oz Ezekiel Bread 2 slices Mixed Greens (including spinach) 2 cups Olive Oil 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 1 tbsp Midday Snack (Make cheese quesadilla.) Pita Bread (10″ whole-wheat) 1/2 Cheese (fat-free cheddar) 1/4 cup Dinner: Cheat Meal Pizza 3 slices Beer 12 oz Ice Cream 1 cup Nighttime Snack Cottage Cheese 3/4 cup Salsa 2 tbsp

Nutrition Facts Totals for the day:

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 2,500
  • Total Fat: 75 g
  • Total Carbs: 255 g
  • Protein: 160 g

The Recipes

1. Frittata

Ingredients Eggs 2 large Egg Whites 1 large Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 1/4 cup Broccoli (chopped) 1/2 cup Onion (chopped) 1/2 medium

Directions

  1. In frying pan on medium heat, cook onions for about five minutes with fat-free cooking spray; add broccoli and cook for about five minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix eggs, and cottage cheese and add to pan, lift and rotate pan so that eggs are evenly distributed; as eggs set around the edges, lift to allow uncooked portions to flow underneath.
  3. Turn heat to low, cover the pan and cook until top is set.
  4. Invert onto a plate.

Recipe PDF

2. Stir-fry

Ingredients Shrimp 4 oz Eggs 1 large Brown Rice (whole-grain, cooked) 1/2 cup Vegetables (frozen, mixed) 1 cup

  1. In a pan over medium heat cook shrimp in nonfat cooking spray, add boiled rice and vegetables, add scrambled egg and soy sauce if desired.
  2. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Recipe PDF

3. Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients Ground Turkey (lean) 4 oz Spaghetti Squash (cooked) 1 cup Cheese (fat-free ricotta) 1/4 cup Marinara Sauce 1/2 cup Spinach (raw) 1 cup

  1. Mix desired spices with ground turkey and roll into balls; add desired spices to sauce and cook meatballs in sauce until done.
  2. Cook spaghetti squash in a shallow baking pan with ½ inch of water in pan at 350 degrees in oven until tender. Scrape out spaghetti squash with fork to make spaghetti strings.
  3. Top spaghetti squash with meatballs and sauce, and spinach and top with ricotta.

Recipe PDF

4. Breakfast Sandwich

Ingredients Eggs 1 large Cheese (reduced-fat American) 1 slice Ham (low-fat) 2 slices English Muffins (whole-wheat) 1

  1. Make breakfast sandwich: toast muffin; fry ham in pan and place on one half of muffin.
  2. Fry egg in pan using nonstick cooking spray and place on ham; top egg with cheese and cover with other muffin half to make breakfast sandwich.

Recipe PDF

The 10 Best Muscle-Building Foods

First things first…

If you want to build muscle, you need to lift weights AND eat enough calories to gain weight.

But not all foods are made equal! With the wrong diet, it can be very easy to gain excess body fat along the way.

Below you’ll 10 cheap foods that are easy to prepare and great for gaining muscle. Plus, I’ve included some quick meal ideas for each food.

Bonus: and get a proven step-by-step routine to take full advantage of these foods and quickly pack on mass.

#1: EGGS

You’ve heard it before: eggs are the perfect protein. Not only do they contain all the essential amino acids required for muscle growth, but the fat and cholesterol found in eggs are a key part of a testosterone-boosting diet.

They are also extremely cheap and versatile – you can include them as part of your breakfast, lunch, or dinner. All of this makes them a staple of any muscle building diet.

Note: Don’t worry about the “bad cholesterol” myth – the cholesterol found in eggs has actually been shown to decrease the amount of LDL (bad cholesterol) in your body.

3 QUICK MEAL IDEAS:

  • Bacon, eggs, and a bagel
  • Omelette (with veggies and meats)
  • Hard boiled eggs (convenient to take on-the-go)

#2: GROUND BEEF

We all know that meat is an amazing source of protein and calories — and this makes it ideal for packing on mass.

Plus, it’s full of iron. And iron deficiency has become quite common. If you experience this deficiency, your strength levels will drop (along with other bad symptoms), and this will ultimately prevent you from building muscle and making progress in the gym.

If you have trouble gaining weight, I recommend getting the “80/20” variety because it packs more calories than a leaner cut like “90/10”.

  • Ground beef scrambled with eggs and veggies
  • Ground beef mixed with instant brown rice and veggies
  • Ground beef hamburgers patties on buns

#3: ORGANIC MILK

Organic milk is a combination of pretty much everything you need to gain weight…

It contains a good source of both whey and casein protein (fast and slow release). Plus, if you stick with whole milk – and get the organic kind – it also contains more calories and more omega-3.

Why do you want omega-3? It boosts cognitive function, lowers blood pressure, and even increases rates of muscle growth. For this reason, I also recommend taking a solid fish oil supplement daily.

  • Mixed with protein powder in a shake
  • Stirred in with oats, protein powder, and peanut butter
  • Chocolate milk (just add chocolate syrup)

#4: AVOCADO

If avocado is not part of your diet, you’re missing out bro. Not only is it stacked with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, it’s also fucking delicious!

An average avocado contains about 200 calories. Adding just one to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner is an easy way to pack in some extra calories… and make your meal taste WAY better.

I personally prefer to mash it up with a fork and turn it into guacamole. This way, it’s easier to spread on a sandwich or mix in with some rice.

  • Mashed up on a piece of toast with an egg
  • Mashed up and mixed in a bowl of rice with ground beef
  • Mashed up and spread on top of a sandwich or hamburger

#5: QUICK OATS

Oats should be a go-to food for everyone who’s trying to gain weight.

First of all, carbs need to be a large part of your diet if you want to optimize testosterone levels and supply your body with the energy it needs to get stronger and pack on mass.

Second, oats are a “slow carb” which means you can eat a massive bowl of them and not have your insulin levels spike all over the place. When bulking up, your best bet is to eat your oats as part of your breakfast. This will maintain healthy blood sugar levels, control your appetite, and therefore help protect against extra fat gain.

  • Blended with whole milk and protein powder
  • Oatmeal with whole milk and protein powder
  • Chocolate oatmeal breakfast cake

#6: INSTANT RICE

Rice is another slow-carb that’s easy to eat in large quantities, making it great for bulking up.

It will provide your body with the energy you need to get stronger and build mass. I recommend the instant variety, because you can just throw it in the microwave and it will be ready in 60 seconds.

Also, contrary to popular belief, brown rice is not necessarily superior to white rice. Sure, it has more fiber, but it also contains grains that can lead to an upset stomach if you eat a large quantity. Try both and decide which type you prefer.

  • Rice with ground beef and veggies
  • Rice with stir fried chicken and veggies
  • Rice mixed with beans

#7: PROTEIN POWDER

There’s nothing magical about protein powder, but you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle if you try and gain mass without it.

This is because studies show that you need around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight if you want to maximize muscle growth… And it can be challenging to consume this much protein with only whole foods. For this reason, I suggest taking one scoop of protein per day. You can have it at any time (it does NOT have to be post-workout) .

I recommend finding a basic whey powder that tastes good, because it’s cheaper than other types of powders (and they’re all just protein at the end of the day).

  • Protein shake with milk
  • Stirred in with oats, milk, and peanut butter
  • Gainer shake (blended with milk, oats, peanut butter, and banana)

#8: PEANUT BUTTER

Anyone who’s tried gaining mass without eating peanut butter is insane!

It has a huge amount of protein and healthy fats that are perfect for gaining lean muscle. Plus, it’s dirt cheap and can added to nearly any meal for an instant boost in calories.

If you struggle to gain weight, make sure this is always in your pantry, because it’s often going to be the easiest way to make up for those last 200-300 calories of the day.

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Gainer shake (blended with milk, protein powder, oats, and fruit)
  • Straight by the spoon

#9: QUINOA

Here’s another great slow carb that’s super cheap, quick to prepare, and easy to eat large quantities of.

A lot of people prefer the taste and texture of quinoa (compared to rice). Not only that, but it’s also contains a lot more protein than rice.

This makes it a great substitute for rice. I recommend alternating between the two, so your diet doesn’t get boring and repetitive.

  • Quinoa with ground beef and veggies
  • Quinoa with stir fried chicken and veggies
  • Quinoa mixed with beans

#10: GREEK YOGURT

Greek yogurt is amazing for packing on muscle because it relatively cheap and it contains a shitload of protein!

It’s also very versatile and can be added to lots of different meals.

If you’re trying to gain size, then I recommend getting the fattier “whole milk” version because it contains more calories (and tastes better, too).

  • Served with honey and nuts on top
  • Blended in with your gainer shake
  • Straight out of the cup

Note: Shout out to my man Kale Panoho for helping me create this list! Check out his website here.

Food for building muscle

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