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Diet for gaining muscle mass

Daily plan

Most of modern diets used in bodybuilding are not quite correct. This is due to each author’s desire to create their own diet and invent something new. But in 99% of cases these innovations are completely absurd, and sometimes even harmful. Sophisticated methods of cycling, specific food preferences, difficulty of food preparation, absurd combinations – all these attempts are to bring in bodybuilding diets something new and eye-catching. If you are advised to eat horseradish, garlic, or use a narrow range of products only, such as vegetables with violet color, etc., you can safely close this book or article.

To whom this diet fits?

This article has been prepared by experts of this site based on the up-to-date data of bodybuilding nutrition and successful experience of its application. It’s not a description of some special diet plan but rather a compilation of effective principles of bodybuilder’s nutrition, regardless of his experience and state of muscle mass. They will allow you to understand the basics of nutrition, to make your own diet, to improve your health and achieve highest results in bodybuilding.

The diet described in this article can be followed for an unlimited time period, it has no specific features of "entry" and "exit" from it. Remember that one must gradually increase or decrease the amounts of food consumed (volume and caloric value), otherwise there can be metabolic and digestive disorders. Your body needs time to adapt to new features of nutrition.

2. Basics of diet

5-6 meals a day

Recent studies [1] [2] showed that the anabolic effect of meal lasts for about 3-4 hours, despite the fact that high level of amino acids is maintained longer. Therefore to gain muscle mass one should eat often enough: the optimal number of meals is 5-6 times a day. With this frequency your digestive system is not overloaded, and your blood is constantly receiving small amounts of nutrients, which fuels your muscles throughout the day. If you eat the same amount of food for 3 meals, the absorbed nutrients come in abundance, so the body begins to deposit them as fat, and it’s not possible to extract them during a high-calorie diet.

High-calorie food

About 70% of food taken should be high-calorie, otherwise there can be an overload of digestive system, besides there can be reduction in assimilation of nutrients. No one denies the usefulness of fruits and vegetables, but during the gain of muscle mass the fraction of them should not exceed 30%. In large quantities their fibers are not digested and stimulate contraction of intestine, thus most of high-calorie food will not have time to digest.

Limitation of fats and carbohydrates

Try to limit consumption of food rich in animal and other saturated fats (fatty meat, lard, margarine, butter, etc.). For muscle growth and energy production our body primarily uses carbohydrates, so most of the fat being in excess will be deposited in adipocytes (fat cells).

Avoid eating fast carbohydrates, the most dangerous of them are sweets (pastries, sweet fruits, etc.), less dangerous are bakery products. Fast carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed from digestive tract, resulting in a sudden increase of blood sugar level. In response to it our body converts glucose into fat.

Fast carbohydrates can be consumed after workout, when muscles and other organs can quickly utilize glucose. Besides they increase secretion of anabolic hormone insulin, which is crucial in the gain of muscle mass.

Drinking water regimen

When gaining muscle mass many metabolic reactions are intensified which generates a need for more water consumption. On the average the optimum amount of fluid, including water contained in foodstuff, is 3 liters per day. Avoid of dehydration, always drink in case of thirst.

Distribution of portions during a day

When gaining muscle mass the amount of food should be roughly equal, but about 70% of all food should be eaten in the first half of the day (before 16:00). Although recent studies have shown that the distribution of the daily portions plays a secondary role.

Never eat sweets or fatty stuff at night. The food before bed should be digestible and rich in protein. Sour-milk products, vegetables (beans, etc.), poultry, salads, fish, eggs are ideal for that.

Pre-workout meal.Be sure to eat before workout (for 2 hours before it). Protein rich food and slow carbohydrates are suitable for that - cereals, farinaceous foods, vegetables and others. Carbohydrates before exercise are necessary to load glycogen depots and provide energy for muscle and brain during training, meanwhile amino acids start anabolism.

Post-workout meal.The greatest need for nutrients is observed soon after workout. Have your carbohydrate-protein shake (gainer) immediately after training and then follow with substantial meal within 1-1.5 hours. It should include protein-rich food and slow carbohydrates, even small amounts of fast carbohydrates (sweets) can be consumed. After training the so-called “protein carbohydrate window” is opened, during this time the organism is inclined to assimilate large amounts of food, and nutrients go for muscle and power recovery.

When gaining muscle mass the amount of food should be roughly equal, but about 70% of all food should be eaten in the first half of the day (before 16:00). Although recent studies have shown that the distribution of the daily portions plays a secondary role.

Proportions of proteins, fats and carbohydrates (kcal)

Food pyromide
  • Carbohydrates content - 50-60%

Try to consume only slow carbohydrates.

  • Protein content - 30-35%

These are the most important nutrients for muscles. Ideally 50% of proteins should be taken from food and the rest from sports nutrition. It is recommended to calculate the need for protein using the calculator based on the body weight, physical activity and other factors.

  • Fat content - 10-20%

Don’t limit the amounts of fat below 10%, it will cause undesirable metabolic alterations. Try to consume only vegetable fats. Also eat plenty of fatty fish, fish oil is very useful.

It should be remembered that there is no ideal ratio that would fit everyone. Therefore, the main task of the beginner is to find his own ratio which will be effective for him personally. Here we represent the average figures suitable for most people. You can start with them and then experiment in your own way. Interestingly, the ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates differs little from the nutritionists’ recommendations for ordinary people, and this is not surprising, since such proportion is best suited both for an ordinary person and an athlete.

2.1 The main principle of gaining muscle mass

Muscle mass begins to grow only when the amount of energy supplied in the form of consumed food exceeds the amount of energy used up by the organism. In addition, we must remember that our body always tries to maintain homeostasis (constancy of internal environment), so you can increase the caloric intake by 5, 10 or even 30%, while the weight doesn’t change! If you want to move your weight from "dead point" it is required to increase the calories of your daily diet by 50 or even 100%!

To determine the amount of required food for gaining muscle, you need to follow a simple rule:

Gradually increase the caloric intake, as long as the weight gain begins with 600-800 g per week. If the weight gain is less - you need to eat more, and vice versa.

To do this, you have to weigh yourself at least once in three days. In a month you can figure out the required amount of food. Do not exceed the weight gain more than 800 grams per week, otherwise your body starts to deposit a lot of fat!

3. Monitoring and data analysis

4. Bodybuilder’s Menu

Many bodybuilders face the problem of food choice, so we consider it necessary to list the foodstuffs from which one can form a complete diet for gaining muscle mass. Most of products contain proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, so their separation is performed only to put the emphasis. Do not eat one and the same product in large quantities for a long time, otherwise you will develop an aversion to it over time. Try to alternate food items and constantly update your menu.

4.1 Protein products

In fact, there are not so many of protein-rich foodstuffs. Here are the most popular and affordable ones, listed in the order of their importance to athlete:

1. Meat - any, lean. Poultry is preferable as it almost has no fat and easy to digest.

2. Fish and other seafood. One can eat any fish, including fatty one at least 2-3 times a week.

3. Dairy products. Give preference to low-fat products. The most popular are cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt, milk, kefir and others.

4. Eggs. You can eat 6-8 eggs with yolks a day. Recent research has showed that if your blood cholesterol level is not high, then eggs will not affect it in the future.

5. Legumes. French beans, beans, peas, mung bean, lentils - are the most important source of vegetable protein, although its value is lower than that of other products. Lentils and chickpeas additionally comprise a significant amount of BCAA. Soy is not included in this list, because now it is often genetically modified, moreover men are not recommended to use soy because of its hormonal activity.

6. Nuts - contain not only proteins, but also valuable unsaturated fatty acids

4.2 Carbohydrate foodstuffs


  • Porridge contains slow carbohydrates, proteins, as well as micronutrients and vitamins. The most useful porridge: buckwheat, barley, oats, rice, millet, corn, wheat, quinoa.
  • Macaroni and noodles. Give preference to products made from wheat flour and durum wheat.
  • Bread. Eat mostly black bread.
  • Muesli and flakes allow to diversify the menu of an athlete.

Vegetables and mushrooms.

One should limit all starchy vegetables such as potatoes, boiled or stewed carrots and beets. The most useful are fresh vegetables, as they contain maximum of vitamins. Vegetables should be combined with almost every protein meal because they help digestion of animal proteins. They are the source of fiber which is necessary for digestion, and also contain large amounts of vitamins, macro- and micronutrients. Mushrooms provide flavor and taste for the dish, but they do not represent nutritious and protein values as the fungal proteins are not digested in human organism.

Fruits and greens.

They are very useful foodstuffs containing many vitamins and minerals. However, there are a lot of simple sugars in sweet fruits (grapes, pears, bananas, persimmons), so their use should be restricted.

4.3 Fats

It is recommended to take the Omega-3 fatty acids as they have a positive influence on our organism. Otherwise use vegetable oils in minor amounts. An important source of fat is seafood.

See also: Healthy fats.

5. Combination with sports nutrition and steroids

This diet can be used both independently and along with sports nutrition and anabolic steroids.

Protein shakes should be taken between meals, at bedtime, immediately after waking up and immediately after training.

If gainer is available, it should be taken only in an hour before workout and also after it. After workout you need to drink a whey protein isolate containing high levels of BCAA.

It is desirable to take vitamin and mineral complex, as bodybuilder’s diet lacks for vitamins, because the resources of intestine are often not enough for fruits and greens.

Take creatine after workout along with a sweet juice or mix it with a gainer or a protein. This will ensure its best absorption by muscles.

Anabolic steroids do not introduce any changes into the diet, besides, one can eat considerably more with ideal weight gain of 1-1.5 kg per week, which is 2 times greater.

6. See also

How to increase your appetite

How to improve digestion

Digestive enzymes

Complex of sports nutrition for gaining muscle mass

Protein food (recipes)

Protein-carbohydrate cocktail

7. Notes

1. ↑ Bohe J, Low JF, Wolfe RR, Rennie MJ: Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. J Physiol 2001, 532 (Pt 2): 575-9.

2. ↑ Atherton PJ, Etheridge T, Watt PW, Wilkinson D, Selby A, Rankin D, Smith K, Rennie MJ: Muscle full effect after oral protein: time-dependent concordance and discordance between human muscle protein synthesis and mTORC1 signaling. Am J Clin Nutr 2010, 92 (5): 1080-8.

3. ↑ 2013 "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window" of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Authors: Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld.

4. ↑ Bosch TA, Chow L, Dengel DR, Melhorn SJ, Webb M, Yancey D, Callahan H, De Leon MR, Tyagi V, Schur EA. In adult twins, visceral fat accumulation depends more on exceeding sex-specific adiposity thresholds than on genetics. Metabolism. 2015 Jun 6. pii: S0026-0495 (15) 00163-8. doi: 10.1016 / j.metabol.2015.06.00

5. ↑ McGee, Harold (2004). McGee on Food and Cooking. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 70.