Many of us seem to think that losing weight demands careful planning and plenty of dedication and patience, while gaining mass is easy and doesn’t require any special attention – just lift a bunch of heavy weights for an hour every day and your muscle growth will explode, right?
Wrong, because your diet amounts to almost half of your bodybuilding success and you can’t expect great results if you don’t put in the effort to feed your body properly. Other people, who at least realize that eating like a bird won’t help you build a mammoth physique, tend to favor the lazy road to bulking by simply taking their diet to the extreme and stuffing themselves with a ton of food without crafting any strategy in regard to optimal food choices and daily amount of calories.
In reality, succumbing to any of these two naïve approaches can actually obstruct your progress and not having a game plan that lets you meet all your caloric and macronutrient needs will make your gym efforts more or less futile.
Mass building is a skill, after all, and it’s of vital importance to let your unquestioned expectations go and learn the exact steps to growing huge and lean in the shortest time possible. Bulking can be a crazy ride, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But if you follow the right guidelines, your transition from skin-and-bones to can’t-fit-through-the-door can turn out to be smooth and satisfying. There are some big decisions to be made here, so let us help you cut through the confusion by uncovering 12 fundamental mass-building nutritional tips that are guaranteed to help you reach your dream size!
#1. Count Calories
It’s true: you have to eat big to get big. Since muscle mass is a very metabolically active tissue and it requires a lot of calories to keep growing, establishing a caloric surplus is the first and most important step to successful bulking. But how much food is enough food?
You might think this completely depends on the individual, but collective experience and scientific date have already figured it out: lifters who are looking to gain mass should take in about 20 calories per pound of bodyweight each day. That being said, personal modifications are normal and expected – if you find you’re storing too much fat with this plan, reduce the intake to 16 calories per pound of bodyweight, and if you’re not quite satisfied with your gains, increase it to 25 calories per pound of bodyweight.
#2. Get Your Protein
As you know, the amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of muscles and that makes protein a crucial nutrient in your bulking diet. Nutrition experts agree that you should aim for 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis, depending on the frequency and intensity of your training sessions.
If your workouts are nothing less than brutal and you hit the gym more than 4 times per week, you should strive to consume around 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, while making sure to include as many different high-quality protein sources as possible, such as grass-feed beef, wild fish, dairy products, eggs and beans, and always have your protein powder with you.
#3. Slow-Digesting Carbs
Low-carb diets are a very bad idea for athletes, especially bodybuilders. Carbs are your body’s primary source of energy, so if you don’t have enough glycogen in your tank you won’t be able to train as hard as you should and your gains will suffer. A good rule of thumb is to consume 2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight every day, although you should adjust this number based on your personal results. If you find that your body fat percentage rises, cut down to 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight.
That being said, most of the time you should stick to good quality slow-digesting, slow-glycemic carbs – such as yams, sweet potatoes, corn, whole grains and quinoa – that allow for a slow and steady release of energy and won’t spike your insulin levels. The only good time for a meal comprised of fast-digesting carbs is immediately after you finish your gym session, when you actually want to elevate your insulin levels to prevent muscle breakdown. For the post-workout meal, consider high-glycemic carbs such as white potatoes, refined pasta and white rice.
#4. Don’t Forget Dietary Fat
Dietary fat plays many important roles in the human body, and one of them is hormone production. A low-fat diet will eventually harm a bodybuilder’s ability to produce enough testosterone, and low T-levels make it practically impossible to build muscle (and maintain mental health, for that matter). Also, since fat is more calorie-dense than both protein and carbs, including it in your meals will help you meet your caloric needs easier.
However, this doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to stuff your face with fatty foods all day long. Aim for 0.5-0.7 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight every day. Also, eliminate all sources of trans fats from your diet such as fried foods and over-processed packaged goods.
For best results, focus on obtaining 7-10 percent of your total calories from saturated fat from foods like beef, coconut oil and dairy, 10-15 percent from monounsaturated fats, mostly found in avocadoes, nuts, seeds, olive oil and peanut butter, and another 10 percent from polyunsaturated fats from fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts.
#5. Increase Meal Frequency
During a bulking phase, you are supposed to consume a caloric surplus, which can be a bit difficult on your digestive system if you plan to get all of your calories from three huge meals. A lot easier way to meet your caloric demands and keep your metabolism revved up all through the day is to spread your food intake more or less evenly over the course of the day.
Eating 6-7 small meals will ensure that your body receives a consistent stream of nutrients to support optimal protein synthesis. And if you struggle to get all of the calories you need from whole foods, include a few liquid meals into your diet plan. Drinking a few protein shakes during the day can help you add 500-600 calories to your daily count pretty effortlessly.
Furthermore, you can always up the caloric value of standard protein shakes by enriching them with nut butters, Greek yogurt or whole nuts.
#6. Cheat Meals Instead of Cheat Days
Including an entire cheat day in your week can backfire and encourage fat gains, so it’s advisable to avoid them and opt for one cheat meal per week. This can help you cope better psychologically with the demands of your restrictive lifestyle if you choose to see it as a symbolic reward for all of your hard work. So once per week, give yourself a nice pat on the back and activate the one-time permission to go wild and eat whatever you want.
But remember, it has to be only one meal in the week – if you’re not careful you’ll end up indulging yourself week of junk food indulgence and too many poor dietary choices can easily ruin your physique and set you a few steps back, so don’t overdo it.
#7. Embrace Bedtime Snacks
You know how everyone keeps saying that eating late at night will make you instantly fat? Well, that depends heavily on what type of food you’re eating. If you have the habit of destroying a bag of chips and a chocolate cake before hitting the sack, you are most certainly on the road to make excellent fat gains.
But if you opt for a slow-digesting protein like casein, found in cottage cheese and casein protein powder and a handful of nuts or seeds, you can actually boost your mass-building capacities. As you sleep, your power snack will be slowly digested and absorbed and your muscles will receive a steady supply of amino acids, thus stimulating anabolism and preventing muscle loss.
#8. Don’t Miss the Post-Workout Meal
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you have already been notified about the importance of post-workout nutrition. By consuming particular nutrients after your workouts, i.e. fast-digesting high-quality protein and fast-digesting carbs, you can make sure that your body has enough raw materials available for protein synthesis to occur.
Also, the post-workout meal has the purpose of replenishing your depleted glycogen reserves and accelerating muscle recovery. If you don’t take care of your post-workout nutrition, you shouldn’t expect to get great lean mass gains, period.
#9. Drink Plenty of Water
Bodybuilders in general tend to forget about hydration which is a really important part of health and fitness. Besides being essential to life, water is a critical component of your mass-gaining diet because it helps maintain muscle fullness and supports digestion and nutrient absorption. The carbs and proteins that you ingest are metabolized and transported by water in the bloodstream, so if you don’t drink enough water your body won’t be able to properly use all the calories you’re consuming.
Also, water is crucial for proper blood circulation in the body, which means that when the body is well hydrated, you have greater levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. And the more oxygen the body has readily available, the more fat it will burn for energy. Aim to drink 12-16 cups of water every day to allow your body to function optimally.
#10. Use Supplements
Proper supplementation can help maximize your mass gains so don’t forget to make the most out of it. Creatine is one of the best studied supplements which has proven ability to increase energy production in muscle cells and reduce muscular fatigue during lifting, so take 3-5 grams of creatine before and after each training session to boost your performance and reap more gains.
Another crucial supplement is whey protein isolate, which packs all of the essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and should be a staple of your post-workout nutrition. Finally, consider including fish oil in your everyday supplementation because the long-chain polyunsaturated fats it contains have been shown to powerfully stimulate protein synthesis.
The Monster Bulk Meal Plan
If you hate planning your own meals, you can start by trying out our sample mass-gaining meal plan based on the guidelines discussed above, guaranteed to enable unprecedented size gains even for the hardcore hardgainer. It’s important to note that it was designed for individuals that weigh around 180 pounds, so make sure to adjust serving portions according to your bodyweight.
- 3 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1½ cups oatmeal mixed with 1 chopped apple and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts.
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with ½ cup blueberries and 2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds.
- Sandwich wraps made with: 2 whole-wheat tortillas, 6 ounces sliced cooked chicken breast, 2 cups baby spinach, 1 cup sliced red pepper and ½ sliced avocado.
- 4 whole-grain crackers
- 1 low-fat string cheese
Shake made with: 1 cup milk, 2 scoops whey protein powder, 1 large banana, 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter.
- 6 ounces salmon
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 2 cups steamed broccoli
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
DAILY TOTAL: 3,573 calories
PROTEIN: 265 grams
CARBS: 352 grams
FAT: 130 grams
Stay strong and happy bulking!