Let’s be honest. Gaining muscle can be a chore. It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to put on any appreciable amount, but it is one of the driving forces behind why people go to the gym: putting on muscle to create greater definition and aesthetics. So, what are the secrets to putting on this amazing tissue? Obviously, heavy resistance training is a must. Nothing else stimulates our bodies more to grow muscle than resistance training. Sadly, that is only part of the equation.
Our bodies are made up many different ingredients and we need to supply our body with those on a continuous basis if we want our efforts to pay off! The body cannot making something out of nothing. So, that brings us to nutrition and specifically foods you should be eating to increase your muscle gaining potential. Now, before I hit on specific foods, I will preface that if you goal is to gain muscle, you must be in a caloric surplus (in most cases; beginners can actually put on muscle even in a caloric deficit). So long as you are consuming more calories than you are burning, you are providing the fuel necessary to create new tissue. You now must supply the building blocks. Let’s dive in shall we!
1) Animal Proteins
Proteins are just combinations of amino acids. Our muscles are made up primarily water, blood sugar (glycogen), and amino acids. Of the 22 amino acids proteins can be made up of, our body cannot create 9-14 of them and must come from exogenous sources. Animal proteins are one of the few places we can get complete proteins for our body to breakdown and take the essential amino acids within and use them muscle building, among other things. Examples include poultry, fish, beef, pork, dairy, etc. It is recommended you consume .8-1g/lb of body weight in protein unless otherwise dictated by a health professional.
2) Non-Animal Protein
For those who choose to be vegetarian or vegan, all is not lost. There are plenty of plant based sources that can be combined to achieve a complete protein. Most plant based proteins are usually missing 1 or more key essential amino acids, so it is key to combine them and eat a plethora of them over the course of a day. Your body is an amazing machine and does not require all amino acids to be present at the same time and instead creates a pool. So, by eating plenty of vegetarian based products, you can easily achieve your daily protein needs.
3) Protein Supplements
Achieving your daily protein needs by eating solely whole foods can be costly and hard. Finding a solid protein supplement may be critical to help you getting the right amounts of protein per day. You have plenty of choices these days as well. From dairy based proteins such as whey and casein to egg protein to vegan based ones such as cranberry, pea, rice, and hemp.
Believe it or not, carbohydrates are key to putting on muscle mass overtime. Primarily in the form of energy. Carbs are what fuel our workouts. Ensuring that you get enough of these bad boys is essential for long term improvement. When our bodies do not receive enough nutrients and energy, it makes it hard to create new tissue and less likely that the protein you consume goes to muscle building. This does not mean to eat crap for carbs like chips or fries. Make healthy and nutrient packed choices such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, or any gluten free options if you have an insensitivity!
So this one is not necessarily a food group, but it is another supplement that can improve muscle mass over time. Creatine is a substance that helps store excess energy within our muscles, potentially giving us greater strength and endurance. Now, we are only taking small amounts, but if you have everything else in a row, then it makes your goal towards muscle gain that much more optimal. Creatine is found in animal protein products, but in small quantities. It is much better to supplement via powder form in a shake if you can handle it.
Our bodies require calories and micronutrients to run efficiently. When we do not have all the necessary materials, our body will not prioritize muscle building. In fact, muscle building is very low on the priority list. So, it is our responsibility to give our body everything it needs to run so it can make muscle building that much easier. When we are lacking micronutrients from our diet, our body cannot perform its hundreds of thousands of bodily processes each day. Taking a multivitamin may help ensure you are getting optimal levels of the necessary vitamins and minerals you need daily.
7) Healthy Fats
Fats are critical in our bodies. They sheath our nerve cells, allowing transmission of signals to be passed and they are essential in hormone production, specifically testosterone and growth hormone. These two are extremely important in putting on new muscle tissue. They are two of the primary reasons why males have more muscle than women. So, when you limit your fat intake over long periods, you are making it harder on your body to produce optimal amounts of these hormones. Saturated fats are healthy in this instance, but we are only talking about 10-20% of your daily fat intake should come from this kind of animal fat. The rest should come from your plant based fats such as avocados, nuts, olives, etc.
This is not a food group, but needs to be stated. Muscle building is an extremely costly endeavor for our bodies. It takes resources (food), stimulus (exercise), and time to see its growth. Outside of extreme beginners, do not expect to see pounds of this stuff come on weekly. Average muscle mass improvements can be 10-20lbs within the first YEAR of serious training. After that, it goes down to 5-10lbs/year if you are still on point and will reduce to maybe 2-5lbs/year as you become much more advanced (think high level athletes and bodybuilders). So, trust the process, put in the work, and let time do its thing!
There you have it! The 8 “foods” that are the best at helping you put on muscle mass. There are many other factors out there, but with these 8 items, you can dramatically help your cause in improving how much muscle you put on.