Building muscle has some major perks…
You get to eat more food, which means more nights out and social events, more brewskis and happy-hour cocktails; you get to do less cardio and hit more weights; and that’s not to mention the “gains”: getting jacked and boosting your metabolism. Life is better when you’re building muscle.
But a lot of people think there’s isn’t much to it. They might think all you have to do is eat a boat-load of food and lift weights. Well, there’s a little more to it than that.
In this article, we’ll give you four nutrition tips to enhance your gains. Try at least one of these on your muscle-building journey… you’ll thank us later!
Use Shakes/Smoothies to Add Calories to a Meal
To put on muscle, you have to be in a calorie surplus—eating more than you burn. For some people, (and especially when they’ve been adding calories for a while,) that can get tricky: It either gets uncomfortable to eat more, or the high-calorie foods required don’t have much protein.
Enter the shake/smoothie…
Because smoothies are liquified food, you can pack almost as many calories into them as you want. If some of those calories are in the form of protein powder, you’re off to the races. And the best part is: they aren’t terribly filling! You can easily add one or two calorie-bomb smoothies to your day, which would boost your protein and take care of your surplus.
Here are a few simple things you can add to smoothies to pack in the protein, calories, or both:
- Protein powder—obviously, this is a staple of any shake or smoothie.
- “Mass Gainer” powders—these are basically super-high-calorie protein powders. A single serving can have up to 2,000 calories, depending on the brand!
- Coconut oil—you can add oils for calories that are easy to mix and easier to taste.
- Low-fiber fruits—think bananas, pineapple, etc. Once these fruits are pulverized in the smoothie, the fiber goes down and the calories stay up.
You should also avoid adding things to a smoothie that would make it too filling, like high-fiber veggies or oatmeal. (Some people do that, we swear.) Adding ice or lots of liquid to a smoothie can give it tons of volume, too, which is great if you’re dieting. But the added volume will take up more room in your stomach, which isn’t what we’re after here.
Take Home: Try incorporating shakes into your nutrition program, especially when your calories and macros are high. At the end of the day, do what works best for you, whether that’s eating solid foods or having shakes.
Having a High-Quality Protein Meal or Snack Before Bed
Now you know you can keep the gains going with high-protein/high-calorie shakes during the day… but what about the eight hours you spend knocked out each night? How do you keep the muscle growth going? Well, some research has shown that having extra protein in your system (digesting) overnight can keep your muscle protein synthesis elevated while you sleep .
For instance, let’s say you have a nice bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese right before bed. As you sleep, your digestion will slow down, but you’ll still process the protein and other nutrients in the food. This will create a slow, sustained release of amino acids (broken-down proteins) into your system, and your muscle protein synthesis can stay up even while you lay down. Dairy sources are good choices here because they’re high in casein protein, which digests more slowly than the whey proteins you find in most supplements. This could keep your muscle-growth going longer.
Getting late-night protein can help build muscle directly, but you can also use nighttime as a window for getting in those hard-to-eat macros that you missed during the day. You can simply have a shake in the middle of the night with the extra protein, carbs, and fat that you need to get your total daily calories in. (It’s important to experiment and find foods/shakes that won’t upset your stomach or keep you awake. Sleep is important, too!)
Take Home: Try having 20-40g of a high-quality protein source before bed or during the middle of the night.
Eat More of Your Carbs Pre- and Post-Workout
If it’s all the same to you, try to eat the majority of your carbs in the hours immediately before or after your workout. This time (called the “peri-workout period”) could be the best time to eat carbs because they can boost your performance in the gym (if eaten before) or help you recover from your workout (if eaten after). If you feel groggy or depleted while you work out, this can be a game-changer. Better workouts usually mean more progress over time, since you can lift heavier weights or the same weight for more reps, which helps build volume.
Take home: Try eating the majority of your carbs with your pre- and post-workout meals. Throw a little protein in there, too, of course! Avoid fats here because they can slow down digestion and cause stomach upset while training.
Try Incorporating Some Refined or Processed Foods
Finally, don’t be afraid to eat some refined or processed foods. The world of bodybuilding often gets torn in two over this controversy, with some people saying you need to eat “clean” all the time, while others say it doesn’t matter. “Clean” or “dirty,” “good” or “bad”—these words don’t have scientific meaning when it comes to food. It’s hard to even separate them into “healthy” and “unhealthy”!
For our purposes, some foods are useful (like sources high in protein and calories) while others aren’t. And refined/processed foods can easily fit into either group.
Sure, a diet should consist mostly of whole and minimally-processed foods. But some super-processed foods can be very healthy and help you build muscle (like protein powder).
So, if your calories are high and it’s tough to hit your nutrition goals with only “whole” foods that are filling and lower in calories, try incorporating those “bad” foods—like pizza, French fries, and fatty meats. As long as you’re hitting your macros, micros, and fiber, there’s not really a downside to venturing into the processed food section of the store and enjoying the ride!
Take Home: When your calories are high, use some refined and processed foods to meet your daily calorie intake. This makes life much easier. Think 80% nutrient-dense foods and 20% “other stuff.”
- Try having shakes along with solid meals, especially when calories get high
- Have a high-quality protein meal or snack 30-60 minutes before bed to stay full and keep your body in a positive protein balance for muscle growth
- Try having more of your daily carb allotment pre- and post-workout for better training
- Incorporate refined and processed foods in your diet, especially when calories get high
Enjoy the muscle growth gains!
- Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, et al. Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2012). 44(8): 1560-1569.
- Groen BBL, Res PT, Pennings B, et al. Intragastric protein administration stimulates overnight muscle protein synthesis in elderly men. Am J Physiol Endogrinol Metab (2012). 302: E52-60.
- Schliess F, Haussinger D. Cell volume and insulin signaling. International Review of Cytology (2003). 225: 187-228.
- Haff GG, Lehmkuhl MJ, McCoy LB, et al. Carbohydrate supplementation and resistance training. J Strength Cond Res (2003). 17(1): 187-196.
- Weaver CM, Dwyer J, Fulgoni Victor L III, et al. Processed foods: contributions to nutrition. American Society for Nutrition (2014). 99: 1525-1542.