Evidence-based nutritional guidelines to building muscle

Disclaimer

  • Please consult with a doctor and/or an equally qualified Health Care Professional prior to starting any diet
  • Nutrition is only part of the equation, and it has to be supplemented with resistance training in order to optimize the muscle building process
  • Information given here is updated to the latest evidence-based recommendations as of the date that this guide is published, the landscape of exercise science is ever-changing, and as such, the information here may be considered outdated in the future.
  • Energy of each macronutrient:
    • 1 gram of carb = 4 calories
    • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
    • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Energy Surplus

  • Building muscle is metabolically costly to the body, and therefore requires energy
  • Approximately 360 kcal to 480 kcal above your maintenance calories is recommended to increase muscle mass and minimize fat gains.
  • Maintenance calories is the amount of calories needed to maintain your weight. It can be estimated using a BMR calculator
    • After you have established a number based on the calculator, track your food intake and weight for 1 week.
    • If you are losing weight, increase the calories by around 100 calories and track again for another week to determine your maintenance calories
    • If you are gaining weight, reduce the calories by around 100 calories and track again for another week to determine your maintenance calories

Protein requirements

  • Recommended intake: 1.6 g/kg/day to 2.2 g/kg/day
  • Exceeding the upper limit of this range does not necessarily build more muscle
  • This is still a wide range because it is only a general guideline. Individualization of protein needs have to be considered. For example, for 1 individual, 1.6g/kg is enough to build muscle, while, for another they might need slightly higher intakes at 1.8g/kg.
  • Monitoring progression in your exercises, bodyweight increases, and direct visual changes of your muscles can help determine if you are eating enough protein to build muscle.

Carbohydrate requirements

  • Recommended intake: 4 g/kg/day to 7 g/kg/day
  • Carbohydrates are the main energy source used in resistance training, up to 30 – 40% of muscle glycogen are reduced after a single bout of training

Fat requirements

  • Recommended intake: 20% to 25% of total energy intake
  • Athletes are discouraged from taking below 15% to 20% of total energy intake as this reduces absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Saturated fatty acids should not exceed 10% of total energy intake

Meal Frequency

  • There is mixed data on the effects of meal timings on muscle building, but in general there is no need to be pedantic about meal timings, as long as you eat the required calories and macronutrients for the day as outlined in this short guide.
  • Meal frequency on its own has no direct effect on building muscle BUT….
  • Increasing meal frequency, around 5 to 6 smaller meals in a day, is considered more tolerable for the gastrointestinal system
  • Smaller, more frequent meals have been shown to induce stronger hunger and desire to eat, which is advantageous for the athlete as this facilitates eating in a caloric surplus when trying to build muscle.

 

Putting it all together

  • Example Scenario: You are a 70 kg male who needs 2200 calories to maintain your current weight.
  • Caloric Surplus of ~ 360 calories is added, therefore your caloric intake for building muscle is 2200 + 360= 2560 calories per day
  • Protein intake: 2g/kg/day, which adds up to 140g/day, 560 calories coming from protein, 2000 calories left.
  • 30% of calories from Fat: 666 calories, which is around 74g of fat, 1334 calories remaining
  • 1334 calories from Carbohydrates, which is around 333 g of carbohydrates (approximately 4.75g/kg)

 

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References

 Slater, G.J., Dieter, B.P., Marsh, D.J., Helms, E.R., Shaw, G. and Iraki, J., 2019. Is an energy surplus required to maximize skeletal muscle hypertrophy associated with resistance training. Frontiers in nutrition6, p.131.