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The Muscle-Building Diet | 3 Steps To Gaining Muscle Mass

So you want build some muscle but you’re struggling to add mass?

You’re putting the time in the gym, training hard, but nothing. Your weight won’t budge. Soon enough your strength stagnates. You hit a wall and need to get past it.

As obvious as it may seem, taking a bit more time to focus on your nutrition can be the ultimate game changer, taking your results to the next level.

Your No.1 Tool for Muscle Growth?

muscle building diet

At this point simply picking up a weight isn’t gonna pack on muscle, chugging down a protein shake won’t cut it either. At this point the number one tool for muscle growth is a calorie surplus. You gotta eat more than you burn. It can be as simple as that!

You will not grow without sufficient calories, your body cannot build muscle out of nothing.

This is our most powerful tool for muscle gain. You get a continual supply of nutrients to fuel muscular development. Plus our testosterone is maintained at a higher level, this hormone is very anabolic, it is what turns boys into men.

Furthermore, insulin is also raised for longer periods of time, which is needed to store nutrients to grow muscle – both of these hormones are highly anabolic. Finally eating in a calorie surplus enhances cellular signalling, that allow for direct stimulation of hypertrophic pathways, just from eating more!

1) Continual supply of nutrients

2) Hormonally anabolic environment

3) Enhanced cellular signalling

So we now know we have to be in a caloric surplus if we want to build muscle. Here’s 3 steps to setting up your muscle diet…

Step #1: Work out your calorie intake

muscle building diet

So – we know we need to eat more than we burn, so we can put those extra calories towards building new muscle tissue. Now we need to know how many calories it takes to maintain our weight, and then add some on top of that to produce a surplus!

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to give you a quick easy estimation:

Bodyweight in lbs x 14 to 16

That’s it – multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 14-16, the more active you are the nearer 16 you go.

Lets use myself as an example, I am 177lbs, I have a desk based job and train 5 times per week. So I would say I am pretty bang in the middle, thus we will use 15: 

177 x 15 = 2655

You can see above that by using this calculation my estimated maintenance calories are 2655. Remember this is an estimate, some people may find this calculation to be way off, but it will work for most!

Step #2: Add calories for surplus

muscle building diet

Once you have your maintenance intake you are going to want to add some calories in, otherwise you’re not in a surplus and you’re not going to be building muscle as discussed. Keeping things simple, I recommend you gain at a rate of 2lbs a month. That’s right A MONTH, not a week like the old school bodybuilders might tell you, a month.

Muscle takes a long time to build, and 2lbs is a good catch all figure for most people. Imagine if you could gain 2lbs every week – within 6 months you would have added almost 3 and a half stone of muscle…not very realistic. Instead you would gain a lot of fat, and therefore give yourself a lot of work to diet it off, plus you may lose some muscle in that process. So much better is to keep gains slow and long, so you can keep gaining and stay lean for a long time!

My recommendation is to add 300 calories to your estimated maintenance and adjust from there.

So for me I would have 2655 + 300 = 2955 calories to gain muscle. Once you have this figure be sure to keep a note of how your weight is going, if it is rising too fast, drop 100kcal, if it isn’t moving up then add 100kcal.

Make small subtle adjustments until you are gaining at the desired rate!

Step #3: Work out macronutrient split

the muscle diet

Now we have our calorie intake, we need to take this a step further and split it out into where the calories come from. Namely food, but all foods are made up of macronutrients; protein, carbohydrate and fat. Each macronutrient has its own unique purpose that our body uses it for, and all are very important:


This is what is going to build and repair our muscles, it is definitely important for muscle growth, it contains 4 calories per gram. However, we can have too much of it, and from the latest research my recommendation is:

Protein – 0.8 to 1.2g per pound of bodyweight


Fat doesn’t just make food taste good, it is also our main energy source at rest and contains some essential nutrients for good health. With 9 calories per gram it is the most calorie dense macronutrient. I recommend you get:

Fat – 0.3 to 0.6g per pound of bodyweight


Good old carbs, they are our bodies prime energy source, especially when we workout at higher intensities, therefore essential to productive workouts. Like protein they contain 4 calories per gram and I recommend:

Carbohydrates – the rest of your calories

My Example

Using the above figures we come to where you get your calories from. To make this easy I will again use myself as an example:

Body weight 177lbs
Protein intake: 177 x 0.8 to 1.2 = 142-212g (568-848kcal)
Fat intake: 177 x 0.3 to 0.6 = 53-106g (477-954kcal)

So as you can see my recommendations give some quite broad ranges, if I were to pick the lower end of each I would get 1045 calories, and therefore have (2955-1045=1910) 1910 calories to put to carbs (1910/4=477.5) which would be 478g carbohydrates.

However, if I picked the upper end of each I would get 1802 calories, and therefore have (2955-1802=1153) 1153 calories to put to carbs (1153/4=288) which would be 288g carbohydrates.

Carb intake: 288-478g (1153-1910)

How might you split that? My advice would be to go for personal preference, I like a middle ground, so shoot for 1g of protein per pound so roughly 180g and 0.4g of fat per pound so roughly 70g of fat and that leaves me around 400g of carbohydrates.

Protein  180g – 720kcal
Fat 70g – 630kcal
Carbs 400g – 1600kcal
Total Calories 2950

As you can see from the above by working within the ranges for protein and fat I give myself a high carbohydrate intake which is great as it will help fuel growth and performance. I recommend like I have that you round these figures off, and then give yourself some room to manoeuvre.

Say 10g either side of your protein and carbs, 5g for your fat and 100 calories, this will make life a lot easier:

Protein 170 – 190g
Fat 65 – 75g
Carbs 390 – 410g
Total Calories 2850 – 3050

By doing this you will still get enough calories and of each macronutrient to grow by the end of the week, but it will allow you much more freedom and flexibility day to day.

Chasing a particular number is not a healthy or fun life to live, so I highly recommend using ranges!

Take Home Message

? Multiply your weight (lbs) by 14-16 to give your estimated maintenance calorie intake.

? Add 300 calories to this to give a caloric surplus.

? Divide your calorie intake by the macronutrients.

? Adjust by 100kcal up or down to keep gaining at 2lbs a month.

And there we have it, a diet that if you were to follow you would be on your way to building muscle. You wanna grow, you gotta eat!

Get the best results with these Essentials:

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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