When it comes to sculpting your body for lean muscle gain– hitting the gym just isn’t enough. Ask any professional bodybuilder, personal trainer, weightlifter, or fitness model, “what’s the best way to achieve lean muscle gains?” and they will quickly say, exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. It’s not rocket science, but it is important.
Here are Six Nutrition Rules for Lean Muscle Gain with tips from your favorite pros.
1. Protein Consistency
A high protein diet is important when you are looking to stay lean and build muscle. In fact, protein can act as your secret weapon when it comes to also achieving fat loss goals. From the moment it hits your body, you start to reap the benefits. Why? Because protein, compared to carbohydrates, is fairly hard work for your body to digest – therefore, your body uses more energy (calories) to break it down.
The rule of thumb is usually to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis. Although the recommended daily allowance for protein is set at less than half a gram per pound of bodyweight for the typical person – research shows that athletes, especially those concerned with muscle mass and strength, need roughly double that amount. When it comes to lean muscle gain, this still holds true.
Four-time World’s Strongest Man, Brian Shaw, knows a thing or two about the importance of protein in his diet. With his extremely high-dosed protein nutrition plan, particularly leading up to a competition, Brian is quick to point out that consuming enough protein throughout the day is essential to keep his muscles stacked and energy up for his next workout.
“As far as protein consistency goes, I have had the best results eating protein frequently throughout the day – every two hours or so,” he says. “I eat protein at every meal and normally get protein from several different sources including: red meat, salmon, protein shakes, etc. The bonus is that good protein sources stay in your stomach for a longer period of time, which keeps you feeling full for longer, so you can stick to your plan.”
Even if you’re not training for the next big Strongman Competition, it’s evident that your protein choices should come mainly from lean animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, eggs and dairy. These are the most complete protein sources, meaning they provide your body with every essential amino acid, defined as those your body cannot manufacture on its own.
2. Meal Frequency for Lean Muscle Gain
Another important part of achieving lean muscle gain is meal frequency. Most athletes and bodybuilders know that eating the proper number of meals will allow your body to continue “working hard” even at rest. The idea is that optimal results occur by maintaining a near continuous influx of nutrients to the muscles.
Experts suggest eating protein and carbs every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism elevated. In other words, you should be eating 6-7 times per day to make sure your body is constantly being fed – and so you can get a steady supply of energy and amino acids for continuous muscle growth.
Recognized NSL and Musclemania pro, Mike Lee, believes the number of meals you eat should be frequent. However, he prefers to keep his nutrition approach simple and sustainable. “It all depends on your individual body’s needs and how you feel best.”
For example, Mike eats a big breakfast, moderate lunch, and a smaller dinner – and if he’s still hungry, he adds in a high protein snack or two. He also advocates that you should feed your body only when you are hungry.
So always listen to your body.
“I eat a macro-based diet, calculating the exact amount of carbs, protein, and fats that I need for the day,” says Mike. “For instance, if I am eating 200g of protein, then I'll eat 75g for breakfast, 50g for lunch, 30g post-workout and 25 for dinner and 25 for a snack. That's a total of 205, right at my target protein goal for the day.”
3. Pre-Sleep Meal
Most athletes buy into the idea that you should stop eating at 7 p.m. at night. The reason they think this is because your body goes into “starvation mode” until the next morning and feeds off the food already consumed during the day. However, what you should know is that eating right before bed can actually speed up lean muscle gains as well.
Brian Shaw is a huge fan of the pre-sleep meal. “It’s critical to continue the work your body is doing all day long while you are sleeping,” he says. “Since protein supplies amino acids, which builds muscle, your muscles also repair when you sleep.”
How does it work? Growth hormone is elevated during the rest period, and therefore this hormone boosts muscle growth and decreases fat. Now you know why most people prefer to step on the scale first thing in the morning. Your body is at its optimum and has been recovering, repairing and refuelling all night long.
Here’s what Strongman Brian Shaw consumes before bed to help feed his muscles:
“I normally train later in the evening, so when I finish, I slam down a 100% BIO-ACTIVE WHEY™ protein shake (2 scoops, 50g protein) and then follow that up with a whole food meal about 30-45 minutes later,” he says.
“The whole food meal is normally either steak and rice or bison and rice. And then after I eat, I head to bed. Eating an ample amount of protein before bed can actually help your body take advantage of this spike in growth hormone and maximize muscle gains, which is what I’m all about. It works!”
4. Post-Workout Recovery
Post-workout recovery is critical when you are trying to reach your fitness goals. After tearing down muscle tissue and using up your glycogen stores, it is necessary to eat the proper nutrition post-workout to repair and grow muscle proteins. NSL bikini pro, nutritionist, and entrepreneur, Siera Capesius, agrees it’s all about smart consumption.
“Protein and carbs are the primary foods you want to consume after a workout,” she says. “Some simple and fast-digesting foods for post-workouts include: rice, potatoes, fruits, pasta, rice cakes [carbs] and a variety of protein powders, fish, eggs and chicken [protein].”
Siera is also a big advocate of incorporating supplemental protein powders into her regimen, such as iSatori 100% BIO-ACTIVE WHEY, which is great after a workout because it’s quick to digest and easy to take on the go. “Drinking a liquid form of nutrition of about 20 grams of protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis. It is important to consume protein immediately after a workout to properly replenish,” she says.
Siera’s quick and easy packable post-workout snacks:
• Grilled chicken, veggies, and rice
• Salmon with sweet potatoes
• 100% BIO-ACTIVE WHEY and banana
• Whole grain toast and eggs
5. Bio-Active Peptides for Lean Muscle Gain
Bio-active peptides are active constituents of protein that signal your body to repair and grow muscle tissue. Active peptides including growth factors in high quantities, essentially trigger your body to increase protein synthesis almost like flipping a light switch turns on a light. iSatori’s BIO-GRO is a true advancement in muscle and strength building with a unique extraction process that does not denature the peptides. The final formula has also been clinically studied in multiple trials to show how it increases strength and muscle mass. Read the study results on this page.
6. Muscle-Friendly Fats
When working toward lean muscle gains, it’s important that you don’t avoid fat. Experts suggest that about 20-30 percent of your total daily calories should come from fat. In fact, 5-10 percent of your fat calorie intake should be saturated because higher-fat diets appear to maintain testosterone levels better than low-fat diets. Remember, maintaining optimal levels of testosterone is paramount for lean muscle gains.
In addition, polyunsaturated fatty acids are a healthy type of fat found naturally in many common foods like seeds, nuts, and fish. There are also subcategories of fatty acids, including omega-6 and omega-3. Some of these fats are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs) and some are not, however, the body needs all of them to function properly.
Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a term used to describe an essential fatty acid in the omega-6 category. Without getting too scientific, CLA can be broken down into approximately 28 smaller compounds known as isomers which offer different benefits to your overall health. But most important, as an omega-6 fatty acid, CLA is essential to the proper function of many body systems including lean muscle gains. iSatori’s ULTRA CLA + OMEGA is designed to support fat loss and muscle gain. The combination of CLA and Omega Fatty Acids is perfect to help people reach their goals faster.
What does this look like in layman’s terms?
Well, when it comes to your nutrition plan, make sure to choose red meats for your saturated fats, such as steak and ground beef (because these also provide quality protein); as well as avocados, mixed nuts, olive oil, olives and peanut butter for monounsaturated fats; and keep in mind that fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish), flaxseed oil and walnuts are good sources of essential, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Kerrie Lee Brown is the former Editor in Chief of Oxygen Magazine: Kerrie Lee Brown