Eating for muscle gain 101

Hi lovely!

With the new round of Challenges, we were amazed to see how many of you have picked muscle gain as your goal, which we think is incredible! 💪 As we’ve touched on before, building lean muscle is the ultimate way to shape and sculpt the physique you desire.

Pictured: our Ambassador Ellie's incredible muscle gain journey!

Something we’ve been getting lots of questions about is how to approach nutrition when aiming to build lean muscle. Not that it’s absolutely impossible in a calorie deficit, however the optimal environment for steady gains is a calorie surplus - or eating more calories than you burn throughout the day.

The idea of extra calories can be very exciting - especially if you’ve been in a deficit for a long time! However, it often comes with extra challenges, such as:

  • Feeling uncomfortably full
  • Experiencing bloating, especially initially
  • Not feeling hungry enough to finish all meals
  • Being overwhelmed by having to distribute your targets between fewer meals (e.g. if you’re someone who only has time for 3 meals a day) 

The secret to overcoming these challenges is finding the right balance between the volume of food and its nutrient density.

If you want to optimise your nutrition during a building phase - this blog is for you!

HIGH CALORIE, LOW VOLUME (HC-LV) FOODS

Usually when you think of high calorie, low volume foods - your mind jumps to your “soul foods”, like donuts, pizza, ice cream, fries and alike! 

However, resorting to these options may put yourself at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies, as a building phase should ideally last for at least several months. Fear not - as you can certainly achieve a calorie surplus by consuming predominantly nutrient-dense, wholesome options (with occasional treats, of course - we’re all about that 80/20 approach 🍩🍞🍔).

Here are some great examples of nutritious foods that pack a punch in relatively low volume:

Basing your meals around these and similar options will make hitting your daily nutritional targets much easier while preventing the constant uncomfortable fullness! 

SPREADING OUT MEALS & MACROS

When eating in a calorie surplus, it is beneficial to spread out your meals strategically across the day. This prevents consuming very little in the morning and then having to eat a lot at night, and vice versa. Not only would doing this be challenging, it may also cut your nutritional targets short if you get to the night time and simply cannot consume what is left for the day. Imagine having a 2000 calorie target and only consuming 500 calories throughout the day - playing catch up later that night would be quite hard!

Distributing your meals also ensures not leaving a large amount of a particular macro to hit at the end of the day (looking at you, protein 👀). This approach has additional perks, too - for example, a steady supply of protein can be beneficial for muscle protein synthesis, supporting muscle growth! 

EATING FEWER MEALS

With many having busy schedules, it can be extremely difficult to eat more than 3-4 meals a day. Not to worry, Sis! We’ve got you covered with our top tips:

  • As outlined above, try and consume balanced calorie and macro meals throughout the day - this will prevent having to play catch up at night time.  
  • Choose higher calorie, more nutrient dense ingredients to put into your meals 
  • Always keep dense snacks on hand to fill any gaps in your nutrition - being that a high energy smoothie, homemade energy bliss balls, trail mix, or a protein bar
  • Consume a bedtime meal/snack 
  • If you’re really struggling to get your macros in, consider replacing your regular protein shake with a “gainer” - those are packed with carbs and sometimes fats in addition to protein, making reaching your goal more efficient. Still remember though - supplements are NOT a replacement for a balanced diet!
  • To up the protein and fat content of your meals, you can add milk powder when cooking - this is great for mashed potatoes, creamy pasta, and casseroles! Just need to boost the protein? Pick skim milk powder.

EXAMPLE MEAL GUIDE - 2200 calories, 140g P / 60g F / 275g C

To help explain how to create your own Meal Guide using high calorie, low volume foods using the BBR Food Journal*, we have created an example below! 

*you can use a different tracking app if preferred - please note macros may slightly vary

Meal 1: Bagel and Smoothie

  • Bagel (90g) with 15g Biscoff spread & 15g raspberry jam
  • Banana smoothie with 40g whey protein powder, 250mL full cream milk, 20g honey, 95g banana

Calories: 852
Macros: 48 P, 22 F, 117 C 

Meal 2: Chicken stir fry

  • 125g cooked chicken thigh
  • 160g cooked brown rice
  • 43g stir fry sauce
  • 50g capsicum
  • 50g mushrooms
  • 50g green beans

Calories: 586
Macros: 42 P, 16 F, 70 C

Meal 3: Ginger-soy salmon

  • 130g cooked salmon
  • 200g cooked sweet potato
  • 80g broccoli
  • 35 corn kernels
  • 35g green peas

Calories: 586

Macros: 42 P, 16 F, 70 C

Meal 4: Dried fruit and yoghurt

  • 40g dried apricots
  • 20g dried cranberries
  • 135 regular fat Greek yoghurt

Calories: 227

Macros: 13 P, 5 F, 32 C

CONCLUSION

We know that creating an optimal meal plan when you’re in a calorie surplus can be challenging - so there you have it!

We hope this has helped break down some useful strategies, and given you the confidence and tools for being more creative during your building phase.

Much love, 

Dietitian Em & Rach

xx