Gaining muscle is hard… there’s no getting around that. You need to change habits, make smart choices, plan ahead and stick to your commitment to yourself.
Meal plans work well, but there are some basic principles that once you learn them, you can use them forever to maintain your health and fitness.
So I decided to write them down and share them with you in Part One of my Ten Tips for Gaining Muscle to give you a head start.
Do you have our Muscle Gain Checklist to find out how well what you eat is matched to your goals? Get it here
Here I go with my top tips….
1. Adjust your energy intake based on your training loads (aka energy expenditure)
We are creatures of habit and we tend to follow the same basic eating habits every day, so our energy intake also remains the same.
But think about your activity more… on the days you have structured PT sessions or group classes compared with a lazy day at home or a rest day. We use less energy some days but unfortunately our appetite isn’t the best guide to navigate those changes in energy expenditure.
People tend to over-eat on low training days but also under-eat on heavy training days, which compromises fuelling and recovery AND limits those changes in body composition we so badly want to see.
Instead, try increasing your energy intake on heavy training days while moderating energy intake on training free days. Because carbs are the main fuel used during training, it makes sense that your carb intake particularly should be adjusted to reflect training loads.
Changing the ratio of veggies to carbs on your plate can go a long way to achieving this... more carbs and less veg on heavy loading days and less carbs with a bigger veg serve on lighter loading days.
Try just that one trick for a few weeks and notice the changes!
2. Make sure you add pre and post-training snacks to your eating routine
A pre-training snack rich in carbs has repeatedly been shown to increase work capacity during training sessions, especially longer and/or more intense sessions. The specific snack you choose will vary around your personal daily energy needs, your routine, what you can access, where you are and your taste preferences … but find what works for you and stick to it!
Easy and convenient choices are sandwiches and rolls, fruit loaf and other flour-based snacks, cereal, fruit in all of its forms and dairy snacks.
After a training session, your muscles are in recovery and become particularly sensitive to carbs and protein. The carbs fast track restoring your muscle energy levels so your body is ready to back up for the next session while the protein turns on muscle protein building and repair.
You should aim for a carb intake of about 1g/kg of your body mass within 30 min of finishing training and match this with a protein serve equal to 0.3g/kg of your body mass. Depending on your size, that could be 50-100g carbs and 15-30g protein.
BONUS post-training PRO-tip
Try weighing yourself before and after training, especially during summer. Any weight loss you see shows a mismatch between fluid intake and sweat losses. So whatever you lose during training, aim to drink 150% of this over the next 2-3 hrs to promote effective rehydration.
So if you lose 1 kg during training, drink 1.5L fluid over the next few hrs. Drinking with meals is particularly beneficial, as it takes advantage of the salt naturally found in food to better retain the ingested fluid.
3. Use of energy (and nutrient) rich drinks after training if you find your appetite subsides post-training
If you’re trying to maximise the satiety of your diet (i.e. how filling it is) I advocate eating your calories and avoiding drinks that contain empty calories like soft drink, cordial, juice and sports drinks. BUT hard training sessions can knock your appetite around, and sometimes post-training snacks are difficult to stomach, despite their importance in kickstarting the recovery process. If this happens to you, then grab a nutritious drink (like a low-fat flavoured milk or meal replacement powder) that simultaneously helps meet carb, protein, electrolyte and fluid recovery needs.
4. Move your daily carbohydrate intake to occur around training
Don’t fear carbs! Carbs are our friends when you use them smartly. They help you do more in a training session, stimulating better training adaptations (aka GAINZ).
The key is getting their timing right and adjusting how much you have based on your daily energy needs. It makes good sense to take in more of your daily carb intake around training, including your pre and post training snacks. This gets petrol to the muscles when they need it most while also moderating intake at other times of the day.
For longer training session i.e. 60-90 min plus, taking on board additional carbs during the session via a sports drink may offer a further performance boost.
And that’s a wrap for Part One of my Ten Tips for Gaining Muscle.
If you know my motto is “eat the right food at the right time”, you can see this has been ALL about exactly that. But I am just fleshing out the details and giving you some specifics.
And while a lot of this sounds so obvious, when you are really honest with yourself about your habits, you will likely find you are undoing a lot of your good work and making it that much harder to gain muscle mass.
My Muscle Gain Checklist is really useful for shining the light on those habits so you can find out how well what you eat is matched to your gainz goals? Get my checklist here!
And if you need more support to plan your meals or measure your fat loss, BOOK HERE for a consultation with a dietitian or DEXA scan.