Lastly, you can't help but be exposed to the latest and greatest extreme diets and weight gain plans that litter the interwebz. Wouldn't it be nice to cut out the clutter and hammer down the few but essential principles that you can build a solid, practical eating plan on?
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10 Muscle Building Diet Principles
Principle #1 - Keep your macros in checkAt risk of sounding like a broken record, getting in enough macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) is imperative toward success in and out of the gym.
First, you need the energy to perform in the gym and then enough of the right kinds of food to recovery after. Think that this is a bit basic? Go ahead and log in what you eat in a day. Is it what you expected?
Do you fall short on fiber-rich, complex carbs, whole food, lean proteins or healthy fats? If not, it's time to get honest with yourself and either plug up your macro holes or overhaul altogether. Shoot for one gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight, about two grams of carbs for each pound and around .5 to .8 grams of fat per pound.
Principle #2 - Eat real foodAs science gets more and more involved in nutrition, the more food manufacturers develop new forms of supplemental foods and compounds. Powders, pills and potions can only get you so far. Supplements are just that added to an existing eating plan of real whole foods. They aren't for replacing food.
If you aren't eating plenty of actual food then you aren't taking advantage of your ability to build real muscle. This also goes for all of the liquid meals and convenience foods that bear little resemblance to something found in nature. Stick to foods such as potatoes, rice, green vegetables, fruit, oats, fish, chicken, turkey, red meat, yogurt, milk, eggs, avocados, nuts and nut butters.
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Principle #3 - Supplement wiselyAs stated earlier, supplements are great aids to an already balanced diet full of real whole foods. Supplements are convenient, easy to transport and can be advantageous regarding pre and post-workout nutrition. They can do some amazing things for increases in strength, more muscle and recovery in general. So their importance is noted.
The important things to remember here are not to rely too much on supplements and to try only one at a time. If you were to take several supplements all at once then how would you which worked and which didn't.
As they're only a few scientifically proven supplements available it's also important that you don't go overboard and end up with a huge collection along with a huge bill. Stick with the proven basics: Whey and casein protein, creatine and several key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D 3, magnesium and zinc.
Principle #4 - Don't eat too oftenThe practice of frequent eating reached a peak up until a few years ago. It was once believed that you needed numerous small meals all day in order to pack on muscle mass. If you ever missed a meal then you were doomed and needed to start over. Any skipped meals were looked at as a sin your muscles wouldn't grow, pure and simple.
Well, that mentality is an old one by now.
Aside from extreme diet plans that have you eating only one giant meal per day, which is more for fat loss, you don't need so many meals. Three balanced, whole food meals along with pre and post-workout snacks will be plenty for anyone. Plus, all those meals and calories are more for professional bodybuilders that have a few unfair advantages.
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Principle #5 - Avoid overplanningAnother big no-no is the practice of overplanning. You see this on social media often numerous pics of pre-planned meals for an entire week. Every ounce of protein, gram of carb and fat is measured or weighed to exacting detail. This not only takes an unwavering attention to minutia it also is extremely time consuming.
Like I said, adding muscle isn't rocket science and, yes, there are degrees of discipline, consistency and planning that need to take place but going overboard will make you miserable. Revolving your life around eating and training will eventually lead you to yearn for a life. Eat your meals, train consistently and keep your stress levels in check and then have some fun in life.
Principle #6 - Adjust with timeSome gym goers try too many diet plans seemingly all at once. Jumping from one to the other without any substantial time spent on one in particular. Reading or watching the latest and greatest secret diet and switching from one to the other becomes so common that you never make any headway toward your ideal physique.
For starters, stop it. Secondly, choose a diet plan, any plan and stick with it. After four, five or six weeks adjust when progress comes to a halt and you need a small tweak. Consistency is truly the "big secret."
Principle #7 - Experiment with carbs and fat
So, you're packing in the protein and eating all the right amounts of carbs and healthy fats like a good student but something isn't right. Maybe you're not getting stronger, or bigger or leaner. Do you need more protein? How about more meals? Sometimes you'll find that you need a shift in macronutrients in order to progress again.
Some of us, for example, are carb sensitive a little goes a long way. If that's the case then you may need to lower carbs and up your consumption of fats. In the other hand, maybe you're someone who can't afford to eat a substantial amount of dietary fat so increasing or decreasing carbs is the way to go. Whichever it is don't be afraid to play around with carbs and fats and not just protein.
Principle #8 - Beware of "diet" foodsEverywhere you go there seems to be a new diet food making outlandish claims about being the greatest solution to your eating needs. Low sugar, gluten free, low calorie, low fat, high in protein and packed with fiber are just a few of the phrases you stumble across. These so-called health foods are often packed with sugar or other chemically derived compounds that just aren't from nature.
Sure, it may claim sugar free but what in the world are they putting in there to make it taste so sweet? Nothing from the earth, that's for sure. Again, stick to real food. Vegetables, fruit, lean meats, oils, rice and eggs. Things made for human consumption without the threat of digestive problems and malabsorption.
Principle #9 - Limit alcohol and stay hydratedBinge drinking is on the rise. Many feel that if they simply limit their alcohol consumption for the weekend and train hard and eat right during the week everything will be fine. Work on your perfect body all week and then let loose and have a little fun on the weekend.
A little, moderate intake is fine and some will tout the benefits of a serving of red wine, for example, but getting smashed is a whole other story. Not only will heavy drinking dehydrate muscle cells it will also halt protein synthesis the process of building muscle. If you want to drink, keep the alcohol at responsible levels and don't overdo it. Stay hydrated throughout the day with good ole fashioned water.
principle #10 - Don't overthink and stay consistentFinally, let's talk about analysis paralysis. Are you the type who overanalyzes everything to a fault? Do you painstakingly mull over every single aspect of training and nutrition until you feel like just throwing in the towel? Do you find yourself increasingly frustrated with all of the information available today?
I can't hit this point home enough: When it comes to nutrition the simpler the better. Overcomplicated, confusing diets and eating habits only lead you to more questions. Don't do that to yourself. Don't overthink the simple stuff. Just cut out the fluff, stick to the basics, stay consistent and enjoy the journey.