You Must Eat For Muscle Mass, Not Just Lift!
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This seven-day meal plan will maximize your mass-building potential, one meal at a time.
If you're looking to add muscle mass to your frame, hitting the weights hard is a given. Quality time in the gym begins a cascade or changes that will stimulate your muscles to grow bigger in response to the challenges you throw their way. It's tempting to think that's all it takes to add muscle to your body. After all, you can actually feel your biceps growing arter an intense set or curls.
That pump is tangible, real-time biofeedback to let you know that blood is flowing to your muscle cells, beginning a chain of events that stimulates protein synthesis. Maybe that's why it's easy to overlook how important good nutrition is in the mass-building equation. When you choose to eat, say, chicken instead of ice cream, there's no immediate muscle gratification - no pump to keep you motivated.
Make no mistake: Eating for muscle is just as important as lifting for muscle. The foods you grab in the morning on the way to work, the meals you pack for lunch and mid-afternoon, what you put into your body immediately following your workout, and your final meal of the day impact your results as much as, if not more than, the number of reps you squeeze out at the end of a set.
But in reality, it can be tough to stick to a "clean" diet when you're busy. We know that adding another layer of complexity to life in the form of reading food labels and studying ingredient lists just isn't an option for most of us. Not to mention actually preparing all those healthy meals.
So we asked nutritionist Chris Aceto, to devise a seven-day meal plan that'll put on muscle without putting you through a lot of time-consuming calorie calculations. Aceto has detailed grams of carbs, protein and fat as well as total calories - just in case you're interested in how the numbers break down - but the plan keeps things straightforward and gives a simple way to adjust for your particular weight.
CALORIES ARE KEY, BUT THEY'RE NOT EVERYTHING.
While it's okay to chow down on the occasional fast-food choice for convenience - you'll even find a few in the menu plan - a mass-gain program isn't an excuse to gorge on pizza and chocolate sundaes. "Rebuilding muscle tissue broken down by training requires energy - in other words, calories," Aceto says. "But many people, including many nutritionists, overestimate the energy needs for gaining mass, encouraging extreme high-calorie intakes. This often leads to an increase in bodyfat, making you bigger, for sure, but also leaving you fat."
In general, aim for 300-500 more calories every day than your body burns through exercise and normal functioning (multiply bodyweight by 17). And that's divided among six meals a day.
CONCENTRATE ON PROTEIN.
Protein is important for mass gains because it's the only nutrient that's capable of stimulating muscle growth. On this plan you'll consume up to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. Eating every three hours as prescribed here will help ensure you're absorbing and assimilating enough protein to support muscle growth.
EAT AFTER TRAINING.
It's especially important to eat a carb- and protein-rich meal immediately after a workout, Aceto says. "Right after training, it turns out that your body is really lousy at taking carbohydrates and sending them down fat-storing pathways," he says. "So post-training, carbs will be sent down growth-promoting pathways instead." And when these carbs are combined with a protein source, you've got a strong muscle-feeding combination because carbohydrates help deliver the amino acids into muscles by boosting insulin levels. This anabolic hormone drives nutrients into the muscle cells and kick-starts the muscle-growth process.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially in the hours leading up to your workout. This can help you feel full and reduce hunger pangs. During training, drink about 8 ounces every 15-20 minutes, more when it's hot and humid. The reason is simple: Your performance quickly begins to suffer when the body is dehydrated just 1%-2%. And if you wait till you feel thirsty, you've waited too long. A flavorful, low-calorie sports drink is a great way to hydrate. Try drinking fluids stored at cooler temperatures: Studies show that people consume more when the liquid is colder.
MASS GAINS VARY BY INDIVIDUAL.
In general, expect to add Â½-2 pounds per week. However, gains will differ from one individual to another depending on body size and level of experience in the gym. To make sure you're gaining muscle, not fat, don't just consider your scale weight. Instead, rely on what you see in the mirror and use a tape measure twice a month to keep track of your waist and hips - you don't want to gain there - as well as your biceps, chest and quads.
Also, don't think that you have to gain a set amount of weight each and every week. "Your mass gain doesn't have to be uniform," Aceto explains. That means you can gain Â½ pound one week and 1 Â½ the next, perhaps none the third week and still remain on course. "Expecting uniform gains ignores the intricate makeup of the body and the way it gains mass - or loses fat - which is by no means in linear fashion," adds Aceto.
MASS GAIN SUPPLEMENT STACK
These supplements should be the mainstay for any guy looking to add bulk.
- ZMA This zinc/magnesium combination provides about 450 mg of magnesium, which is required to produce ATP, the energy source for muscle contraction. It also offers 30 mg of zinc, a mineral that's one of more than 100 enzymes involved in metabolism, digestion, reproduction and wound healing. Take ZMA following label directions 30-60 minutes before bedtime on an empty stomach.
- Creatine 3-5 grams with your pre- and post-training meals. Creatine helps boost strength and improve recovery.
- Calcium 1,000-1,200 mg taken roughly in two doses (500-600 mg per dose), one in the morning, then again after training. Calcium is a mineral that's important for muscle contraction and regulation of metabolism.
- Multivitamin/mineral Taking a daily tablet that provides 100% of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals helps to avoid any lapses your diet may have in micronutrients.
- Whey Protein This fast-digesting protein floods your body with the amino acids necessary to put your muscles in growth mode. Maximize your gains by consuming 25-40 grams of whey protein in both your pre- and postworkout meals.
EATING FOR MUSCLE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS LIFTING FOR MUSCLE
YOUR GUIDE TO GAINING MASS
- Eat six meals a day. This allows you to get sufficient amounts of protein and carbohydrates for building muscle, without packing too much food into one meal, which could hinder absorption.
- Get roughly one-sixth of your protein at each meal. Since you're consuming up to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight daily, compute onesixth of that and become familiar with protein sources that provide approximately that many grams.
- Focus on quality protein sources. Good choices Include skinless chicken breast, lean cuts of beef, fish, fat-free dairy, products, egg whites and protein powders, which are useful if vou're in a hurry.
- Don't avoid all fats. "Good" fats such as those found in salmon, olive oil and nuts are important for health, as well as supporting hormone levels and joint function. Animal fats that are saturated, as well as hydrogenated fats and trans fats, are the bad guys you want to watch closely, but you still need some of the former for muscle growth.
- The plan is meant to give you an easy way to eat for mass without having to count calories, but don't get tunnel vision. "With this menu, you can pick a favorite day and repeat it for a couple of days before switching to another day's menu," says Aceto. "Or you can combine meals from different days to customize your menu plan."
- Check with your physician before changing your nutrition and exercise program, especially if you have any health issues. The menu contains multiple servings offish, largely because of its health benefits.
- Personalize the program. Based on a 180-pound bodybuilder, it should be effective for most people weighing 175-195 pounds. If you weigh more than 195, double the portion size of carbs at your posttraining meal. (For instance, use 6 ounces of pasta instead of 3.) If you're still lagging in energy during the day or during your workouts, double a second carb portion size - eat two baked yams instead of one, for example. If you weigh less, reduce portion sizes of carb sources at two meals; that is, eat fewer pancakes and half a dinner roll instead of one. If you're lagging in energy, cut back on only one carb portion size.
- Hardgainer strategy. If you're following the plan but still aren't adding lean mass, increase the carbs at both your first meal of the day and your post-training meal by another 40-50 grams. These two meals are the primary windows where a hardgainer needs extra energy to coax the body into an anabolic state, Aceto says. "Also, in general when you eat more at your first meal, it helps drive up your metabolism, which is conducive to muscle growth." For these extra grams, aim for faster-digesting carbohydrates like cream of rice cereal, fat-free muffins, bagels, honey or white rice.
ONCE IN THE GYM
Your workouts should be taken as seriously as your diet. Here are a few tips to help you maximize your time in the gym:
- Focus on mass-building moves - bench press, overhead press, squat, deadlift, row, barbell curl and triceps extension. Favor compound exercises over single-joint ones.
- Keep your rep range at 8-12 reps per set. Do at least three sets per exercise, but not more than six. A 10-rep set has been found to produce big boosts in circulating growth hormone - much more than a low-rep strategy. GH is a potent stimulus for muscle-building.
- Because you'll be taxing large muscle groups, rest enough between sets. Split up bodyparts following a three-days-on/one-day-off routine. For example, chest/shoulders/triceps on day 1, legs on day 2, and back/traps and biceps on day 3, with rest on day 4. This rest day will give your muscles plenty of time to recover, repair and grow between sessions.
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