Altering your body composition comes down to only two factors:
Diet and exercise.
Considering that your workouts are on point, i.e. they include multiple sets of squat, bench press, and deadlift, then diet becomes the major factor in determining the quality of your lean mass gains.
The following is a comprehensive list of 15 mass building diet strategies that you can use to put on some serious muscle.
Action #1: Calculate Your Ideal Protein Intake
- Determine how much mass you want to gain – For example, you might want to gain 10 lbs of mass.
- Add this amount to your current weight – If you currently weigh 160 lbs, you would get 170.
- Multiply this amount by 0.82 – 170 x 0.82 = 139.4. This is your ideal protein consumption in grams.
- Lemon et al. (1992) study bodybuilders training 1.5 hours per day, 6 days per week, and conclude that 0.75g/lb is the highest protein intake at which body recomposition can occur1.
- After analyzing a number of review papers Phillips & Van Loon (1998) conclude that 0.82g/lb is the upper limit at which protein intake affects body recomposition2.
Best Sources of Protein:
- Fish, eggs, lean meat, nuts & legumes, poultry
Action #2: Calculate Your Ideal Fat Intake
- Multiply your current bodyweight in pounds by 0.5 – If you weigh 160 lbs, aim for a fat intake of about 80 grams.
- Divide this number by 3 – Spread your fat intake over monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats.
- Hämäläinen et al. (1983) and Reed et al. (1987) report that male athletes consuming higher amounts of monounsaturated and saturated fat maintain higher levels of testosterone3 4.
Best Sources of Fat:
- Monounsaturated: Vegetable oils, nuts, avocado, almonds
- Polyunsaturated: Flaxseed, walnuts, salmon
- Saturated: Cheese, animal fats, coconut
Action #3: Manipulate Your Carbohydrate Intake
- Multiply your current bodyweight in pounds by 2 – If you weigh 160 lbs, start with a carbohydrate intake of about 320 grams.
- Experiment and adjust – Measure your weight on a scale every week. Increase your carbohydrate intake if you feel like you are not gaining mass fast enough. Decrease your carbohydrate intake if you feel like you are putting on excess fat.
Best Sources of Carbs:
- Sweet potato, Chick peas, Brown rice, Oats, Fruit, Beans
Figuring out your fat, protein, and carbohydrate intake will set the basis for your mass building diet plan. The next strategies will work to enhance it.
Action #4: Eat Frequently
- Space your meals no more than 3 hours apart throughout the day – Any longer than 3 hours between meals seems to increase protein breakdown to a point where even a spike of protein levels are unable to make up for it.
- Consume between 20-40 grams of protein per meal – Any less than this amount seems to result in only a suboptimal increase in protein synthesis.
- Moore et al. (2012) had participants perform a leg workout and then consume 80 grams of whey protein over the next 12 hours in three methods5.
- The first group was given 10 grams of whey protein every 1.5 hours.
- The second group was given 20 grams of whey protein every 3 hours.
- The third group was given 40 grams of whey protein every 5 hours.
- Moore et al. (2012) report that the net protein balance, i.e. protein synthesis minus protein breakdown, is the greatest with the second group.
Action #5: Use A Mixed Protein Powder
- 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after workouts consume a protein shake that is a mix of whey and casein – An easy way to do this is to mix whey in about 2 cups of milk.
- Consume 20-40 grams of whey protein upon waking – Sleeping for 6-8 hours is a very long period without nutrients. Your body begins to break down muscle protein for fuel. A whey protein shake first thing in the morning can reverse protein breakdown by putting your body back into an anabolic state.
- Consume 20-40 grams of casein before bed – Casein protein is a very slow digesting protein (can take up to 7 hours). In this way, casein provides a steady supply of amino acids for most of the night, thus minimizing muscle break down.
- Soop et al. (2012), Reidy et al. (2014), Reidy et al. (2013), and Kerksick (2006) conclude that a combination of casein protein and whey extends the length of time that muscle protein is spiked resulting in better long-term gains of muscle growth and strength, when compared to whey alone 6 7 8.
Action #6: Use a Variety of Carbohydrates Around Workouts
- Within 1 hour before a workout consume between 20-40 grams of carbs from a low glycemic source – Fruit is a good option because most fruit is half glucose and half fructose. The glucose will provide your body with quick energy while the fructose will provide longer lasting energy preventing you from a crash.
- Within 30 minutes after a workout consume between 20-40 grams of carbs from a high glycemic source – Dextrose is the best option because it requires no digestion, i.e. it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. You can buy dextrose power or eat Pixy Stix or gummy bears which are made of dextrose.
- A low glycemic food causes blood sugar to rise slowly and steadily providing a more sustainable source of energy, i.e. glycogen, for the muscles to use during a workout.
- After a workout, muscle glycogen levels are depleted. A high glycemic food causes an instant spike in blood sugar and the carbs are quickly ingested by the muscle fibers.
Action # 7: Supplement With BCAA’s
- Purchase BCAAs – Go for a BCAA that offers a ratio of 2:1:1 of leucine to isoleucine and valine.
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs within 30 minutes of working out – A dose of BCAAs before a workout will increase muscular endurance and reduce fatigue.
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs within 30 minutes after working out – A dose of BCAAs after a workout will boost protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth.
- During a workout your brain begins to take up tryptophan.
- In the brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin.
- Higher serotonin levels signal fatigue to the body.
- This results in reduced muscle strength and endurance.
- Valine competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain.
- Less tryptophan uptake by the brain will allow for your muscles to contract for a longer time before getting fatigued.
- After a workout leucine plays the critical role.
- Upon ingestion, leucine activates mTor; a complex that boosts protein synthesis.
- Leucine also triggers a release of insulin from the pancreas.
- Insulin is then driven into the muscle cells9.
Action #8: Supplement with Creatine
- Purchase creatine monohydrate – There are many different forms of creatine, but monohydrate is the one that has been tried and tested.
- Take 20 grams spread over 4 doses throughout the day for 5 days – This is known as the loading phase and will shorten the amount of time needed to see results from creatine.
- Take 2.5 grams before workout – This will ensure that the creatine levels in the muscle cells are maximized.
- Take 2.5 grams of creatine after workout – This will replenish what was lost during a workout.
- Dosing with creatine pre-workout provides the muscle fibers with a powerful energy source.
- Creatine hydrates the muscle cells.
- This increase in water uptake by the muscles causes the muscle cell membrane to stretch.
- This leads to increases in muscle growth and strength through boosted protein synthesis.
- Creatine also increases the amount of satellite cells in the muscle fibers.
- More satellite cells = More muscle size.
- Vandenberghe et al. (1997) report that participants supplementing with creatine while on a 10-week weight training program increased their one rep max for squat by 25 percent more than placebo10.
- Noonan et al. (1998) report that trained college athletes supplementing with creatine while on an 8-week program had a 6 percent increase in their one rep max for bench press, while those on the placebo had no strength increases at all11.
- After analyzing 16 creatine studies, Rawson and Volek (2003) report that the average increase in strength is 10 percent more in those taking creatine compared to placebo12.
Action #9: Supplement with Beta-Alanine
- Purchase beta-alanine – The brand doesn’t matter because the product will essentially be the same.
- Take 2 grams of beta-alanine before workout – It takes about 30 minutes for beta-alanine to take effect.
- Take 2 grams of beta-alanine after workout – The uptake of amino acids is improved after workouts.
- Upon consumption beta-alanine combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine.
- When taken up by the muscle fibers, carnosine results in an increase of the muscles capacity for hydrogen ions.
- Hydrogen ions are produced as lactic acid levels rise during intense exercise.
- An increase in the muscle’s capacity for hydrogen ions also increases the muscle’s ability to maintain stronger contractions for longer periods during exercise.
- You will be able to lift more weight and complete more reps towards the later stages of the workout.
- This results in increased gains of strength, power, and muscle mass.
- Hoffman et al. (2008) report that subjects who took 4 grams of beta-aline per day for 30 days were able to increase the amount of reps for a squat workout by about 25 percent more than placebo13.
- Donovan et al. (2012) find that after supplementing with beta-alanine for 4 weeks, amateur boxers were able to increase their average punching power in the final 10 seconds of stimulated 3-minute rounds by 2000 percent more than placebo14.
- Hoffman et al. (2006) find that athletes who consumed 3.2 grams of beta-alanine alongside 10 grams of creatine daily for 12 weeks were able to gain significantly more muscle mass while also losing more body fat, compared to those taking just 10 grams of creatine alone and placebo15.
Action #10: Cover Your Vitamin And Mineral Needs
- Purchase a multivitamin – Training intensely results in a loss of many critical vitamins and minerals. Even with a well-rounded diet, you may be missing out on some essential micronutrients.
- Consume a multivitamin with your first meal of the day – Having it with your first meal of the day will enhance the absorption of the nutrients stocking them up for the day ahead.
- Over the course of an 11 years Li et al. (2012) studied 24,000 people and found that those who took a multivitamin at the start of the study had up to a 42 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 48 percent reduced risk of cancer related death16.
- Over the course of 1 year Barringer et al. (2003) studied 130 adults and found that those who took a multivitamin supplement had less infection and a lower rate of absenteeism due to illness compared to placebo17.
Action #11: Make Your Own Mass Gainer (800+ calories)
- Add 2 cups of whole milk to blender – Milk will provide whey, casein, and some simple sugars.
- Add 1 cup of oats – Complex carbs from oats will provide steady release of energy as well as calories.
- Add 1 serving of chocolate whey protein – Self explanatory.
- Add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and blend for 1 minute – Go for a natural peanut butter. You can tell if its natural if the only ingredient is peanuts.
- Add a banana – You can add a banana if you like them.
- If you have trouble getting in enough calories from food alone, drinking them can help because they digest easier.
- Typically, mass gainers that you buy from the store are expensive and contain a lot of sugars and bad carbs.
- This homemade mass gainer is a nutritional powerhouse containing complex carbs, monounsaturated fats, and a mix of casein and whey protein.
Action #12: Get Enough Water
- Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply by 0.55 – This is the minimum amount of water in ounces required for your water replacement requirements. Considering you are lifting weights and sweating it out, consider drinking up to 2x this amount.
- Account for creatine intake – Drink 4 more ounces of water for every 3 grams of creatine you take.
- 70% of lean muscle is comprised of water.
- Water is essential for proper digestion and nutrition absorption.
Action #13: Supplement With Fish Oil
- Purchase Fish Oil – Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for muscle growth and recovery.
- Consume 7 grams of fish oil per day – “Look at how much DHA and EPA your fish oil provides per capsule and try to get close to 1500 mg DHA and 1900 mg EPA per day for maximal benefits.”
- Smith et al. (2011) report that supplementing with fish oil leads to a higher anabolic response, i.e. increased protein synthesis, when consuming protein18.
- This leads to increased muscle growth in the long term.
Action #14: Get a Boost of Nitric Oxide
- Purchase Arginine – Arginine is a precursor to Nitric Oxide.
- Consume 5 grams with breakfast – Mix with 4-8oz of water.
- Consume 5 grams before bed – Take a couple hours after your final meal on an empty stomach.
- Appleton (2002) reports that supplementing with arginine results in a boost of GH, removes toxic waste more efficiently, and boosts immune system19.
- Reyes et al. (1994) suggest that arginine could be crucial for muscle growth due to its ability to expand blood vessels and involvement in protein synthesis20.
Action #15: See What Works
These actions will work well for most people. In order for maximum results, however, you will have to see what works for you.
It could be that your schedule does not allow for frequent eating.
It could be that you are vegan, in which case you will have to replace dairy-based protein powders.
Whatever the case, these actions should be used as guidelines. They are not set in stone.
Stick with the ones that work for you.
What are some mass building diet tips you have seen results with that aren’t on this list?
Let me know in the comments below!
- Lemon et al. “Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders.” Journal of Applied Physiology.
- Phillips & Van Loon. “Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation.” Journal of Sports Sciences.
- Hämäläinen et al. “Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet.” Journal of Steroid Biochemistry.
- Reed et al. “Dietary lipids: an additional regulator of plasma levels of sex hormone binding globulin.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
- Moore et al. “Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males.” Nutrition & Metabolism.
- Soop et al. “Coingestion of whey protein and casein in a mixed meal: demonstration of a more sustained anabolic effect of casein.” American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism.
- Reidy et al. “Protein blend ingestion following resistance exercise promotes human muscle protein synthesis.” Journal of Nutrition.
- Kerksick et al. “The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
- Stoppani, Jim. “Nutrition for Maximizing Muscle Mass and Strength.” Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength.
- Vandenberghe et al. “Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training.” Journal of Applied Physiology.
- Noonan et al. “Effects of Varying Dosages of Oral Creatine Relative to Fat Free Body Mass on Strength and Body Composition.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
- Rawson & Volek. “Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
- Hoffman et al. “Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise.” International Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Donovan et al. “β-alanine improves punch force and frequency in amateur boxers during a simulated contest.” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
- Hoffman et al. “Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes.” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
- Li et al. “Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort.” European Journal of Nutrition.
- Barringer et al. “Effect of a multivitamin and mineral supplement on infection and quality of life. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine.
- Smith et al. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Appleton, J. “Arginine: Clinical potential of a semi-essential amino acid.” Alternative Medicine Review.
- Reyes et al. “Role of arginine in health and in renal disease.” American Journal of Physiology.