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Eating to gain muscle

December 04, 2014

Healthy chicken salad

So many fitness lovers spend hours in the gym trying to grow their muscles without really focussing on their diet. But our bodies need nourishment and calories to feed and grow muscle mass and give us the energy to carry out these exercises. Below I discuss some diet tips that shouldn't be forgotten when trying to gain muscle bulk...

1. Complete (whole) and incomplete proteins
It's important to know the difference. Our bodies need complete proteins which are found in eggs, meat, fish, cheese, milk and most other animal products. Proteins found in plant products tend to be incomplete but there are some exceptions, for example, soy, beans, quinoa and potatoes.

2. Eat the right amount of protein for your body
We should eat approximately between 1 and 1.5 times our body weight in grams of protein. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should eat between 150 and 220 grams of protein per day if you want to consistently gain muscle. If you are overweight then base the measurement on your optimum weight. Professional bodybuilders can eat 2 to 3 times their body weight in grams of protein (and sometimes more) but for most of us, this would be too much. Our bodies wouldn't be able to use it up and it would then store as fat.

Muscle building proteins are in food such as:

  • Red meat - Beef, pork, lamb, venison, bison, etc.
  • Fish - Tuna, salmon, swordfish, bass, trout, mackerel, etc.
  • Poultry breast - Chicken, turkey, duck, etc.
  • Eggs - The yolk is high in cholesterol, but one or two a day isn't unhealthy.
  • Dairy - Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yoghurt, etc.
  • Whey - Protein shakes rely on whey protein regularly

3. Eat carbs
Include carbohydrates in your diet, especially in the morning and post-workout. This is important as carbohydrates supply energy to your muscles. Whilst working out our bodies tap into glycogen (energy) stores within the muscle, if we do not eat enough then our bodies will not have energy reserves and will break down muscle instead!

When making your carbohydrate choice, try to select ones low on the Glycemic index, these are healthier and release energy more slowly:

  • Brown Basmati Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Rolled Oats
  • Sweet Potato
  • Wholemeal Rye Bread
  • Wholemeal Spaghetti

4. Always eat breakfast
A healthy breakfast helps to kick-start that metabolism! It should include protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Remember, don't scrimp on the food at this time! The well-known saying goes “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper”, but you're not on a diet so you don't ever have to eat like a pauper.

Great protein-packed breakfast options include omelettes, smoothies (or shakes) and cottage cheese and complex carb options include oatmeal, bran, beans or whole grains. Don't opt for simple carbohydrates like cakes and sweets as these are broken down easily and cause a spike in your sugar levels leaving you feeling hungry whereas the opposite happens with complex carbs that have a low glycemic index.

5. Eat little and often
Eat smaller meals more often and make sure you eat around your work-outs as this is when your body needs certain nutrients the most.

By doing this your metabolism functions more efficiently helping you to burn more calories and you tend not to binge eat as your not starving. This means you eat fewer total calories at the end of the day and you burn more total calories also.

Try eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, post-workout, before-bed and 2 snacks in between (such as nuts, seeds, veggies or fruit). If you're trying to gain muscle but lose weight skip the before-bed meal. This is because your body won't be using up the energy from the food you've just eaten whilst you're asleep so it will metabolise into fat instead of energy or muscle.

6. Consider supplements
Whey and soy proteins are most common, these are a quick and easy way to consume more protein without having to eat it. Some doctors argue that whey protein is difficult to digest and it, therefore, puts a strain on your liver and kidneys but the same can be said about a high protein diet so it's important to drink plenty of water. Water will flush out your system and negate the negative effects of eating a high protein diet.

7. Eat healthy fats
You should get 20% - 35% of your calories from fats, but this doesn't mean go eat doughnuts!

Not all fats are equal, some are good for you (“good fats”)! Eat monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in:

  • Olive, peanut, sunflower, canola, and avocado oils
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Flax Seed and pumpkin seeds
  • Soy products such as tofu or soy milk 

Saturated or trans-fats (“bad-fats”) are the ones to stay away from. These are found in:

  • Ice cream, candy bars, and packaged snack foods
  • High-fat cuts of meat
  • Lard, stick margarine, and vegetable shortening
  • Fried foods

8. Learn about protein quality
Research Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). This is the measure of how well different proteins are digested by the body. Different foods are given a number between 1 and 0, 1 being the highest score and 0 the lowest. See here for a table of foods.

9. Drink lots of water
Drinking lots of water throughout the day is very important. If you become dehydrated your muscles won't recover as well. Recommended water intake for men is 3 litres and for women, it's 2.2 litres.

10. Don't eat too much salt
Consuming an excessive amount of salt can cause abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) but we lose sodium when we sweat so it's still important to consume some salt. Sodium is a key electrolyte, which means it aids in muscle contractions, this is why it's found in many sports drinks.

11. Don't think you have to eat a boring diet
As long as you stick to the above you can eat what you like, if you're diet is boring and you're not enjoying it then it will be harder to stick to it long term.

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