Building lean muscle is a universal goal, but many of us don’t fully understand what it takes. For starters, your energy balance needs to be in a surplus, meaning you need to be consuming more energy from food than you’re burning. Why? Because lean muscle mass is metabolically active tissue, and any increases in muscle mass require an increased energy intake.
Consuming high-quality protein sources as soon as possible after a workout will help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, helping damaged muscle repair and grow. Beyond that, daily training strengthens this cycle of breakdown and repair, with meal and nutrient distribution essential for optimizing lean muscle gains.
An increase of approximately 2000kJ (or 500 calories) above your basal metabolic rate helps to fuel muscle growth. The distribution and timing of high-quality protein and energy sources is key to muscle growth, and can be achieved through consuming three main meals and three snacks throughout the day. Protein foods consist of animal sources—such as meat, fish, chicken or eggs, dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and milk—and plant-based sources, such as legumes or tofu. Including protein sources of approximately 20-40g at main meals (approximately ⅓-¼ of your plate/bowl) and 15-25g at snacks ensures an adequate distribution of protein to facilitate daily total protein goals. As a recommendation for physically active individuals, a total daily protein intake should be around 1.4 – 2.0g protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 70kg person should have a range of 98 – 140g of protein throughout the day.
Where do carbs fit in?
Carbohydrates are essential for building lean muscle mass and shouldn’t be avoided, as they are the key fuel source to be burned during workouts. Consuming carbohydrates before resistance training improves the ability to maintain higher intensity and duration of the exercise. Consuming carbohydrates after training, ideally within 30 minutes, allows replenishment of depleted glycogen stores and optimizes gains from the previous session.
Use nut butters to give your snacks a boost, add avocado to main meals or snacks, or drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil to your vegetables to boost your total daily energy intake.
The right food choices at the right time of day will help build lean muscle mass, but remember—it’s staying committed to your training and lifestyle routine that allows you to reach your goals.
Now, show us those muscles!