What To Eat In Order To Gain Muscle Mass (An Easy To Follow Guide)

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
August 23, 2012

“Sell yourself short on nutrition and you’re selling yourself short on maximizing your physique development.”
– Ernie Taylor

*This is a guest post from Personal Trainer Steven Madison*

What Should I Eat In Order To Pack On Muscle?

The question of what and how to eat in order to build muscle mass is often full of confusion and sometimes seemingly contradictory advice scattered across the internet and various books on the subject.

If you want to get a grip on all the information overload, what you need to do is sort
the wheat from the chaff and answer a few key questions about exercise and nutrition. This is what we’re going to cover here by answering some of the most fundamental exercise nutrition questions out there…

How Do Muscles Grow?

In very basic terms, the answer is still not completely known. What we do know is that muscle growth occurs through one or both of two different processes: Hyperplasia or hypertrophy.

Hypertrophy is an increase in the different size dimension of muscular fibers, whether in terms of size increases in the contractile or non-contractile fibers of muscle tissue.

Hyperplasia is growth through splitting of muscle fibers; causing new ones to form that
eventually have the same size as their parent fibers. This is the process that is thought to cause some of the most important mass gains that occur during exercise; the widely accepted theory is that muscles fragment as a form of stress compensation during heavy use.

In addition to this there is a secondary part to widely believed theories of muscle growth which states that as muscle breakdown is accelerated during exercise, the body then learns to perform the process more efficiently, creating more reserve energy inside the muscles themselves and thus allowing more work to be done by them, repeating the cycle.

A crucial aspect to muscle growth isn’t in working out to the limit, this can actually be harmful. It’s in working out to a limit that can be sustained by proper nutrition and plenty of muscular rest. If the muscles are being worked to their extremes, but getting no new reserves of energy to repair themselves and grow, your body as a whole won’t get bigger either.

The key behind all these main theories of muscle growth is that energy has to be supplied to them for anything to occur

How Much of What Nutrition Sources?

Right off the bat, we can clearly tell you that your muscle building diet has to be well balanced… it should not consist solely of protein or even abnormally large amounts of it.

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The human body will only digest a set amount of protein in a given day and anything beyond that amount is just slowly converted into blood glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.

Ideally, you should receive about 15 to 30% of your daily calorie intake from protein. Another way to calculate your useful daily intake if you’re in the middle of intensive strength training is to multiply your weight in pounds by 1 to 1.5 (the higher amount for more intense daily strength training regimes). The result will give you how many grams of protein your body probably needs per day. In the case of a 150lb man who is exercising heavily, this would mean about 150 to 225 grams per day.

Thus, you need to add fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients that come from vegetables, fruits and dairy products into your food intake to make it complete and well balanced.

In terms of these latter calorie sources, ideal quantities can also easily be worked out with ratios: For carbohydrates, try to eat around 2.5 grams per pound of body weight and for fat, stick to a lower range of 0.25 to 0.30 grams per pound of body weight per day. This means that if you weight 150 lbs, you should eat about 150 to 225 grams of protein, 375 to 400 grams of carbs and about 45 to 50 grams of fat. However, these amounts aren’t etched in stone and you should experiment to see what works best for you.

Since protein and carbohydrates both give you about 4 calories per gram and fat gives you 9 per gram, the above ratios will amount to between 2,900 and 3,000 calories per day. This means that, obviously, if you’re going to be training at a super intensive level, you can increase the amounts for one or all of them in order to boost that calorie intake.

What Kinds of Foods Should I Eat In Order To Build Muscle?

You don’t have to eat meat to get protein, since many dairy products, legumes, nuts and eggs are also sources of the nutrient, but red meat and poultry really are the richest sources you’re likely to find, usually the tastiest too. Fish can also be a good source and comes with the added benefit of high omega-3 content, particularly fattier fish like salmon and sardines.

Your fat intake can come either in the form of unsaturated fats like olive oil or naturally through the meat, dairy and eggs you’re eating up as part of your protein rich portions.

As for carbohydrates, stick to whole grains and unprocessed foods. Avoid anything too sugary and forget about all the usual junk food pastries and foods like that except for rare occasions as light treats.


About the Author: As a personal trainer and health expert, Steven Madison often does research for Anatomynow.com. He encourages his clients, friends and family to eat right for a longer, stronger life.

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Show/Hide Comments (9 comments)
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  2. Justin

    What is your opinion about supplements?


    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hey Justin,

      I take a multi and vitamin D as well as protein as a convenience. Most other supplements are not needed.

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  5. Dennis Habern

    I would like to observe any of these bodybuilding agencies, sponsoring a nutrition list

    that will ensure at least 4000 calories per day, ingesting at least 6 small meals, for a

    period of 7 days. On the 8th day, one can start over ingesting what was consumed on

    the first day.

    It will be nice to hear from someone as soon as possible.

    Please send your suggestions to: dennishabern@hotmail.com

    Thank you .


    Dennis P. Habern, an American residing in Germany

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Dennis,

      I think it depends on how much you weigh currently. Consuming 4,000 calories for someone that is quite small will probably be a bit to much but I definitely agree with more frequent smaller meals.

  6. Cecilia

    Thanks Todd for this informative post. However I have a question. I’m currently engaging in the primal lifestyle (like paleo) and is it possible to build muscle when I don’t eat any grains?

    Thanks for your assistance

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Cecilia,

      I am very familiar with the primal lifestyle. Yes, you can certainly build muscle on it. Make sure however you are getting enough carbohydrates from your vegetables sources. I think some people on the paleo diet tend to think that protein is the only answer to muscle gains when in reality you need to have the right combination of macro-nutrients. You don’t need to eat a ton of grains but carbs are essential to have in one’s diet.

      Let me know if you need further clarification.


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