Dos and Don'ts in Muscle Gain Nutrition
Article by James Collier BSc (Hons) RNutr, Nutrition Consultant and MuscleTalk Co-Owner
Gaining muscle is not easy, and there is so much conflicting information, that sometimes we need to take a stop back and look at the basics. The following are the ten most absolute dos and the ten most absolute don't when it comes to muscle gain nutrition, diet and supplements:
As the old adage goes 'Knowledge is power'. There is loads of information available directly from experts or from what you read in magazines, websites and books. Read and learn. If you then adapt this knowledge to suit your goals you can come up with a nutrition plan to suit you. Remain open minded and find out what works for you.
2) Stick to the basics
Although we always seem to be hearing about new ideas, do bear in mind that most of these theories are just variations on basic principles which have been around for years. Whether your goal is to lose fat, tone up, gain muscle, increase strength or simply to be fit and healthy, always remember that it's the basic principles which work.
3) Vary your food choices every day
'Variety is the Spice of Life' - Variety is not just important for psychological reasons to stop you from becoming bored with the same foods, but it's also important for nutritional reasons. You need to eat different foods every day for optimal nutrition as no single food contains all the nutrients we need in sufficient quantities. Also there are other constituents of food called phytonutrients which are not essential for life per se, but do have possible health benefits. Examples of these include flavanoid antioxidants and some fructo-oligosaccharides which are good for our digestive systems.
There is no single food you must have, despite what some people say! If you dislike something, simply do not eat it, there are plenty of suitable alternatives to choose from.
4) Include high protein foods
Consume foods which are high in quality protein, regularly throughout the day. High protein foods include chicken, turkey, fish, red meat, eggs, milk and dairy products, quark, nuts and beans. Eat these foods or have protein supplements at least every three hours.
5) Eat plenty of fruit and veg
Five servings of fruit and vegetables should be eaten per day. This is the absolute minimum and ideally eat more than five. For example: fresh fruit juice for breakfast, a banana mid morning, salad at lunch, an apple mid afternoon and veg for dinner. Home-made smoothies are a great way to consume extra fruit.
6) Eat your starchy carbs
If you're trying to gain muscle, consume plenty of fibrous, starchy carbohydrate foods regularly throughout the day - make these foods the core of your diet and will stop you wanting sugary snacks. Some of the best complex carb foods include granary and rye bread, new potatoes, sweet potato, basmati rice, wholewheat pasta, quinoa, couscous and oats.
7) Drink plenty of fluid
Lack of fluid is the most limiting factor for optimal performance in hard exercise. It's common sense; drink plenty of water and you'll train harder. Water is the most fundamental nutrient, yet many of us do not drink enough of it. Sip water all day – always have a drink with you.
8) Ensure your pre- and post-workout nutrition is correct
It's surprising how many people think they can just go to the gym after work, pay no attention to what they eat at this time, and expect results. Pre-workout make sure you have eaten in order to provide sufficient energy to fuel your workout, but not too much as to bloat you. Eat small amounts of slow release carb foods (see DO Point 6).
Then after training you need to ensure you have sufficient protein for growth and repair aswell as carbs to replenish your stores. The best time to fuel for a workout is actually after the previous exercise session. Have fast acting carbs like glucose or the supplement maltodextrin here.
9) Plan ahead
Know what times you should be eating and make sure you've done your shopping! If you're likely to be out, take a pack up with you. Don't miss meals or snacks. Maybe draw up a meal plan to suit your goals and lifestyle and then stick to it.
10) Enjoy you're food
Just because you're a bodybuilder doesn't mean you need to eat a bland diet, there are plenty of nutritious muscle building foods and recipes which you can consume to liven things up.
1) Believe everything you read
Okay, we need to learn, but there is more miss-information out there than there is good information. There are loads of unscrupulous experts out there who base their information on whatever comes into their heads. Believe no one unless you know you can trust their credibility. Those of you reading this who are particularly on the ball will now be thinking "Hold on a minute, James, why then should we trust your information?" Good! Don't... At least not yet! With any nutrition advice, look at the information from a range of sources, see which are referenced well and then make your own informed decision. If you're sill unsure, join a reputable on line discussion forum and see what others feel about the theory. If you employ intelligence you'll soon get a feel as to what theories should be accepted and which ignored.
2) Bother with faddy diets
In the UK there is on average a new generic weight loss regimen which comes out each week! Many of these are rubbish and sell through heavy marketing and those diets which are effective and safe are merely based on sound basic principles. There are no magic answers, you simply need to eat fewer calories than you expend, so eat a structured meal plan and take regular exercise.
The same applies for building muscle and strength. There are loads of diet plans out there, but really you simply need to eat protein and carbohydrate foods regularly in a structured fashion along with the other fundamental principles.
3) Think you can get big without eating big
And don't think you'll get big in a few weeks either! If you're trying to gain muscle you need to eat enough to grow. To gain muscle you need to be in calorie and protein surplus. Eat good quality protein and carbohydrate foods regularly through the day. Think a stone ahead: i.e. if you're currently 13 stone and want to be a 14 stone man, eat like a 14 stone man. Eat big, but don't eat junk, and remember growing takes time!
4) Rely too much on protein supplements
Protein supplements and meal replacement powders can be really useful aids in packing on quality size. They make life easier and can be consumed quickly when we need a 'protein fix'. However don't rely too much on them and real food is superior. Too many people think that they can consume protein drinks instead of good food, when really protein supplements are there to do just that, i.e. supplement. A good quality whey protein formula can be a useful addition to improving your gains.
5) Cut out all fat from your diet
For a healthy diet with optimal gains you need to still eat some fat. Fat is needed for energy and growth and some fatty acids are essential to life. Particularly good fat sources include oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, etc), olive oil and linseeds. Linseeds are a great source of flaxseed oil but need to be ground before you eat them. If you're not keen then you can buy flaxseed oil as a supplement. Nuts and other seeds are also good sources of fats, along with protein and micronutrients.
6) Take a supplement without researching into it first
There are loads of supplement powders and pills available these days; it seems like there's a new one every week. Some could really help your gains, but many would be a waste of cash. Read and learn about different supplements and find out which are for you – be wary of biased marketing information though!
7) Drink alcohol
Too many guys drink lots of alcohol and expect progress. Too much alcohol will dehydrate you and that is not good for exercise performance. Cut out alcohol where you can and only drink very occasionally.
8) Train through illness
We all get ill from time to time. Don't worry; you're not going to lose all you're hard earned gains over night! Rest up and let the illness pass. Drink plenty and eat what you can; don't worry too much about sticking to your nutrition plan, just try to get protein and carb foods in as frequently as you can stomach them. When you're back to full strength get back on your nutrition and training plan.
Bodybuilding is not an exact science and many factors will affect gains. What works for one person may not work for you. We all have different lifestyles and metabolisms, so stick to the basics. Don't try to mimic the Pro's routines either, you're different to them and they have years of experience and a lifestyle 100% dedicated to the sport.
10) Despair if you have a bad day!
Sometimes, things happen in life which may lead to you having to miss a meal, or indeed the whole day could go to pot. This is out of your control, so don't worry about it. Plan ahead where you can, but if you do miss a meal, simply get back on track at the next meal. Don't despair, or simply give up for a few weeks; a day's poor eating will make very little difference to the big picture.
...and finally DO heed the advice in this article!