Gaining weight is something of an art form. Knowing what and when to eat when bulking is tricky, and maintaining your discipline is another thing entirely. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you eat well when building muscle.
If you want to gain weight, you need to pay attention to your nutrition – without proper nutritional support, any exercise you do can easily go to waste. Essentially, you need to be eating well while you’re also putting your body through its paces in the gym (or wherever/however you exercise). As the expression goes:
Having the right nutrition will never win you a gold medal, but it can cost you one
Even if you’re not quite aiming for a gold medal, the principle still applies. Balancing nutrition and exercise to produce the optimal results is a bit of an art form, but it doesn’t need to be difficult.
Whatever stage you’re at – whether you’re a complete novice or a gym addict – we’ve put together a guide for making sure you understand the link between exercise and nutrition, and what you should be eating when trying to bulk up.
First things first… we need to talk about fat. People often make the misconception that all fat is bad, and therefore if you consume it, you’ll end up fat yourself, jeopardizing your efforts to build muscle or tone up in the process.
… it doesn’t quite work that way. Fat needs to be part of your diet for it to be truly balanced, and the good news is not all fats are bad for you.
Here’s a brief reality check: if you’re gaining weight, then you’ll have to accept that you’ll gain both muscle and fat. It is, theoretically, possible to gain muscle without adding any fat, but it’s incredibly difficult and involves being meticulous with training and nutrition – which most of us aren’t (and that’s fine!)
What is hypertrophy? No, it’s not an award they give you for smashing your last workout (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) – hypertrophy is simply the increase and growth of muscle cells. When we say your body has achieved hypertrophy, we mean that your muscles are getting bigger, and lifting weights is the most popular way to achieve this.
To get in a state of hypertrophy, however, you need to eat a lot as well as lifting weights (those muscle cells need to recover somehow!). It takes a lot of calories, but they all need to count – those calories need to come from high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
The role of nutrition in exercise
Take an elite rugby player, for example. They are – for the most part – massive, incredibly fit individuals. Their day job involves crashing into and throwing other massive rugby players around a pitch for 80 minutes, doing the same in training, and lifting weights in the gym. To maintain their size, the average rugby player will eat almost double the amount of calories that we do in a day.
The recommended daily caloric intake for the average adult male and female is around 2500 or 2000, respectively – a top-level rugby player will easily consume around 4000 a day.
But chances are, you’re not a professional rugby player. A good rule of thumb for achieving hypertrophy is to eat an extra 500kcal/day, every day, to achieve an added 0.5kg per week.
But rugby player or not, you’ll both be eating along the same lines, and it starts and ends with protein.
If you’re trying to build muscle, protein is your best friend. Why? Because roughly 50% of the protein in your body right now is muscle protein, and most of it is being used for maintaining muscle structure.
The two are inextricably linked, which is why they’re the ideal ‘food’ for your muscles. During a heavy weights session, your muscles become damaged due to the strain of the exercise. You need to give them the substrate (for example, amino acids from protein) to adapt (for example, building muscle) to that increased workload.
That’s not to say protein is your only friend when it comes to recovering after highly intensive physical exercise. Carbohydrates also contribute in a number of ways:
The average sedentary person needs around 50g of protein per day, but more active people would need more – as a guideline, an 85kg (around 13 stone) person would need around 128-196g of protein per day.
That might sound like a lot, but it’s far more manageable if you break it down per meal. Five portions of 25-40g of protein per day will see you hit that target, and it gets even more manageable if you use Huel to help out – one portion, or two scoops, of Huel Black Edition contains 40g of protein (33% more protein than Huel Powder).
Consuming protein after the gym to replenish your tired muscles is all well and good, but you’ll need to maintain that habit in order to see the best results.
Going to the gym every so often and ‘rewarding’ yourself with a takeaway after isn’t going to cut it. Squeezing a run in before going to the pub won’t either.
You need to exercise regularly and time your protein intake around it. Aim to eat a protein-rich meal two-to-three hours before you hit the gym, and another less than two hours once you’ve finished a workout.
So you need a lot of calories… and you need a lot of protein… but you’re probably wondering where you can find all of that.
What, specifically, should you be eating to sustain muscle growth?
We’ve put together our top five foods to eat when gaining weight to help you on your bulking journey:
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