In my last article, I went over training tips to help you break through your muscle-building plateau.
This time I want to talk about the other piece of the equation. Nutrition.
Just like with training, in the beginning, you can get away with a lot of things nutrition-wise and still see great progress. But eventually, you have to get more serious if you want to build more muscle.
So I again have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that just by making a few adjustments training-wise, you will be on the right track to building muscle again.
The bad news is that your diet/nutrition plays a very important role in building muscle, so if this is off you could still be spinning your wheels and shooting yourself in the foot, even if you are crushing your workouts.
Let’s go over common nutrition mistakes when trying to build muscle and how to fix them.
This is a killer. Low protein levels will almost certainly shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to building muscle. We need protein to help build and repair our muscles from training. Lifting weights sends the signal to build muscle, but if we don’t get enough protein we wont build it.
It would be like having the blueprint to build a skyscraper, but once it’s time to start building it the parts aren’t there.
I get it, protein can be tough to get in. It requires cooking (most of the time) and it just doesn’t taste as good as carbs or fats.
However, if you are not getting enough protein in, you can kiss your muscle gains goodbye.
How to fix it:
8.-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. For example, a 170lb person would aim for 136-170g per day.
Here are some foods that are high in protein:
Lean Steak Cuts
You could also incorporate 1-2 protein shakes per day to help you get more protein in.
Here are some easy ways to get protein in:
A sample day could look like this:
Meal 1: 30-40g
Meal 2: 30-40g
Meal 3: 30-40g
Meal 4: 30-40g
Meal 5 (optional): 20-30g
Not Eating Enough
This one is simple. Just like when people have issues losing weight, chances are they are just eating more than they think. In this case, if you are having trouble gaining weight/building muscle then chances are you just are not eating enough food.
You have to work hard to build muscle because your brain thinks it’s unnecessary and could hurt your chances of survival in times when there is no food available. But what the brain doesn’t realize is that long periods of no food are not normal anymore.
So you need to feed your body to grow.
How to fix it:
Eat full meals, then you can supplement with snacks if need be. Aim to eat 3-5 full meals per day. If you are still having trouble gaining weight then look at increasing your carbohydrates and decreasing your protein intake.
The biggest mistake people make who have trouble gaining weight is just snacking throughout the day rather than eating full meals.
Some other ways to help you get more calories in are by drinking your calories. Think protein shakes, gatorade etc.
A typical question I get:
Them: I’m a hard gainer, I already feel like I’m eating a ton but can’t gain weight, what can I do?
Me: What is a normal day like for you?
Them: (tells me all this food they eat)
Me: That looks good, is this what you do EVERYDAY?
Them: Well most of the time.
If you follow something less than 5-6 days per week then chances are you don’t need to add or subtract anything, but you just need to get more consistent with what you’re doing.
Too many times people tell me what they eat, but they actually don’t do that every day. It’s 2 or 3 days like that then no structure for a few days then 1-2 days of eating like that again.
That’s a guaranteed way to make sure you get nowhere fast.
Be honest with yourself.
If you aren’t making the progress you want, chances are it’s something you are doing and consistency is usually the first place I look at for clients and myself.
It gets boring, but if you want something then you have to get used to days where you have to push through and do them even when you don’t want to.
Or you can stay in the same place you are in.
Too Much Junk Food
One mistake I made for years was trying to gain weight so you think this gives you the green light to eat anything and everything: chips, cookies, cake, candy, fast food etc.
Just straight crap basically.
Yes, you will gain weight, but more than likely your performance will suffer, you will lack protein and high-quality nutrients that help your body grow and recover from training. Therefore hurting muscle growth in the process.
How to fix it:
A good rule of thumb is to eat 80% whole foods and then fill in the rest with whatever you like. If you are trying to gain weight/muscle you could maybe switch this to 75/25%.
If you can add more nutritious foods into your diet, your workout performance will increase, your recovery will improve, and you will feel better all around. Leading to more muscle growth.
As with anything, not having some sort of plan/structure towards your nutrition will hurt your muscle growth progress.
If you’re not tracking anything (whether it be weight, progress pictures, food logs etc.) or have a plan, how do you know where you are going?
When you first get started you can set vague goals and partially follow through on them and you will see progress. However, when you get to a certain point that stops.
So if you want to progress after this initial stage then you must set goals and have more structure.
For online clients, we set goals in about 12-week cycles.
How we go about reaching those goals will be different for each client.
For some it’s just making sure you get protein 3-5x per day and that your weight is going up .25 to .5lbs per week.
For others its tracking calories and macros and finding a number that helps them gain around .25 to .5lbs per week.
And then we decide how we will measure this progress.
It’s usually via progress photos, scale weight, measurements, or performance in the gym.
The main thing is that you have dedicated phases to building muscle, leaning out, or maintaining and no more that whatever happens, happens mentality.
Trying to Gain Weight Too Fast
When most people try to put on muscle, again they think it gives them the freedom to eat whatever they want when they want.
I made this mistake when I was trying to put on muscle. My only focus was to see the scale go up because I associated weight gain with muscle.
In reality, the quicker you gain weight the more likely more of it is going to be fat compared to muscle.
One way to combat this and to make sure more of your weight gain is muscle compared to fat is to gain weight at a slower rate. I do want to let you know that when you’re trying to gain weight, some of it will inevitably be fat. In saying that, we can limit how much fat gain comes with weight gain by slowing your rate of gain.
The ideal amount of weight to gain per week is around .25 to 0.5% of bodyweight per week.
Too Much Alcohol
The last nutrition killer for building muscle is drinking too much alcohol regularly.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is how much and how often.
Having 1-2 drinks a few times a week isn’t going to affect your muscle growth much, or one night where you get completely drunk.
However, you start to run into issues when you have 3-4 drinks multiple times per week, or you get blackout drunk once or twice a week.
When it comes to drinking I tell clients to focus on:
- Avoiding going to be bed drunk or buzzed (drink earlier in the day).
- Stick to low-calorie options (whiskey on the rocks, vodka and club, dry red wine).
- Moderation 1-3 drinks (some occasions call for a few more).
- Drink water and stay hydrated.
- Make sure to avoid going hours on end without protein.
Drinking to the point of getting drunk regularly isn’t good for your health for obvious reasons, however, when it comes to building muscle alcohol is a huge killer because it can affect your sleep and recovery. Therefore hurting your workout performance and muscle growth in the long run.
The main thing is that you have goals/structure around your training and nutrition. Too many people aimlessly wander from day to day saying they want to gain muscle, strength, or lose body fat and just hope it happens.
If you are ready to build muscle like you know you should, then take this first step by applying here for online coaching.