1. Eat plenty of protein: You’ve heard it before; take in around one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is essential if your plan is to build instead of maintain muscle mass.
2. Eat the right kinds of protein: Make sure your proteins are from lean sources such as lean beef, lean ground meats, turkey, fish such as salmon and tilapia, chicken breasts, protein powders, egg whites with a few yolks, skim milk and fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese.
3. Eat the right kind of carbohydrate: Stick with complex carbs such as oatmeal, wheat bread, brown and wild rice, sweet potatoes, wheat pasta, and quinoa. This will ensure that your blood sugar stays steady throughout the day to supply you with ample energy for your hard workouts.
4. Eat healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential for many functions such as brain and heart activity, hormone regulation and energy. Get healthy fats from sources such as oily fish, almonds, avocado, natural peanut butter and oil dressings.
5. Eat your fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables provide a myriad of benefits including a great source of fiber, photochemicals, vitamins, minerals and natural sugars. For vegetables go for dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, peas, and green beans and for fruits go with bananas, apples, cherries, blueberries and grapefruit.
6. Consume fiber: Consuming food high in fiber helps keep blood sugar levels steady and can aid in your goals of leaning up. Fiber provides bulk to foods, therefore making you feel fuller longer.
7. Don’t eat too much: We keep on talking about what to do. Well, here is something NOT to do: overeat. Give yourself just enough food to fulfill your protein requirements and to give you enough energy for your intense workouts and that’s it! Eating beyond your needs will result in fat gain.
8. Eat a surplus while bulking: This may sound contrary to the last principle but you need to eat a little more than what you maintain your current bodyweight with in order to gain muscle. Here is the main point: you only need around 200 to 400 additional calories to start gaining quality weight, not a buffet!
9. Eat into a deficit if dieting: The same hold true for the opposite. A 200 to 400 calorie decrease is all that is needed for your body to start burning fat for fuel. In other words, starving yourself will just make your body hold on to fat tissue.
10. Protein for breakfast: Make sure to get in some quality protein as soon as you rise in the morning. Something like some egg whites with one yolk will do the trick. Eggs are easy to digest and are an excellent source of amino acids. Research has shown that starting your day with a protein food will steady blood sugar and rev the metabolism for the entire day!
11. Complex carbs for breakfast: With that protein you need some energy. Complex carbs with a little fiber thrown in for good measure is perfect for stoking the furnace after an eight hour fasting.
12. Carb fuel pre workout: Eating complex carbs an hour or so prior to training will ensure you will have enough energy to make it through your entire workout. Try around 50 to 100 grams of carbs.
13. Fast-acting protein pre workout: This is a good time to surge your muscles and blood with amino acids from a fast absorbing protein source such as egg whites or whey protein powder. By having this rush of protein you will pack the muscle with protein and be ready for the rebuilding process when you are finished. Consume around 20 to 30 grams pre workout.
14. Quick protein after training: The perfect time to start the rebuilding process post training is within 30 minutes of finishing. Taking a fast-acting protein source will guarantee that your muscles will get the muscle building nutrients they need as fast as possible to grow larger and stronger. Consume around 40 to 50 grams of whey protein powder or egg whites.
15. Simple carbs post training: With your protein source you need fast-acting carbs as well. The simple sugars will enter into the muscle cells at a quick rate and will react with certain hormones to kick-start the rebuilding process. Try 50 to 100 grams of a simple carb source with no fiber such as Gatorade, white bread, fruit juice, or dextrose.
16. No fats immediately after the gym: Taking in fats after training will only slow down the absorption of vital nutrients trying to get to the broken-down muscle tissue.
17. Curtail the carbs at night: As the day progresses lower your carb intake. This will help keep the fat off and aid in fat burning. Have a lean source of protein with a healthy fat and a little fiber. A meat or chicken salad with avocado and oil dressing would be perfect.
18. Cycle calories: After a while you will hit a plateau in your efforts to either lose or gain weight. The body is incredibly adaptable and sooner or later it will fight change. Try cycling your carbs by having a few days of baseline calories then have a high calorie day followed by a low calorie day. This will keep the body guessing and help to continue your progress.
19. Cheat once per week: This is similar to the last principle. Have one meal or entire day per week of whatever you want-within reason. Of course don’t drink massive amounts of alcohol and fast food, but go ahead and eat some food you enjoy eating and have dessert too. This will shock your body out of its normal routine of eating, but just be sure to get back on your diet plan the following day.
20. Relax: Relax and be patient. Progress does not happen overnight. With careful planning and diligence your efforts will be rewarded so don’t worry too much about making giant leaps. Relax and enjoy the process.
Written by Brad Borland, MA, CSCS