As most of you will no doubt be aware, nutrition plays a huge role in muscle-building. It is as important as training itself.
If you are serious about your muscle-building goals then your need to get serious about your nutrition. I can guarantee that if you are not feeding you body with the right nutrients then you will be wasting 70% – 80% of your efforts in the gym.
BASIC NUTRITION FOR MUSCLE BUILDING
To build muscle effectively, you need to give your body the right balance of essential nutrients. You also need to take in enough calories for energy. If you are training to build muscle, you need extra calories – around 40 to 50 calories/kg of body weight each day. So if you weigh 90 kg, for example, you’ll need between 3600 and 4500 calories daily while you are training.
Once you know how many calories you need, the next question to answer is how much of which foods you should eat in order to get all of the nutrients your body needs to build quality muscle. The basic nutrients you need fall into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Here’s an overview of how to divide your calories for optimal nutrition.
MACRONUTRIENTS: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat
Protein is especially important for muscle-building because it is the nutrient used to build muscle! Body builders have a slightly higher need for protein in order to repair muscle fibers that break down during training. You should include 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in your daily diet. So again, if you weigh 90 kg, you need between 108 and 153 grams of protein per day.
An important point to remember with protein is that if you want the extra protein to be used for tissue repair and muscle-building rather than for energy, you must eat a sufficient number of total calories as well. The rest of your calories will come from carbs and fats.
Your body uses carbs for short-term energy. This is the energy you need to get through intense bursts of physical activity (weight training). Carbohydrates are converted into glucose, which is stored in your muscles as glycogen. Glycogen is your body’s fuel tank. In other words, when you work out, carbs provide the fuel. You need to have enough fuel (glycogen) in the tank so that your body doesn’t turn to breaking down muscle for energy.
To build muscle, about 55-75% of total calories should be from carbohydrates. The higher end of this range applies to times when you are training intensely. The athlete who weighs 90 kg would need between 1980 and 3375 calories from carbs depending on the level and intensity of training. One gram contains 4 calories, so that is between 495 and 843 grams of carbs each day.
Fat is necessary for healthy cell membranes. The body also needs fat to absorb certain vitamins (known as “fat soluble” vitamins). Of course, too much fat is stored as body fat, and of course, you want to avoid that. The good news is that as you build muscle, your metabolism will increase and you will be able to burn fat more easily.
You should keep your fat intake low, but not too low. Your body needs some fat for proper balance. Aim for 20 to 35% of total calories from fat. A gram of fat contains 9 calories, so that’s somewhere in the range of 90 to 150 grams of fat per day for a 90 kg man.
MICRONUTRIENTS: Vitamins and Minerals
Your body needs vitamins and minerals for energy and to build and repair muscle tissue damaged during exercise. When you’re working out to build muscle, you will probably have a greater need for vitamins and minerals than the average person.
Antioxidant vitamins are probably the most important vitamins for muscle-building workouts. The antioxidant vitamins are A, C, E and K. These vitamins repair damage to cells and muscles caused by oxidation, which occurs normally in the body every day as you use energy. Exercise increases the amount of oxidation, so antioxidants are very important for athletes. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamins A, C and K. Nuts, eggs and wheat germ are good sources of vitamin E.
Another group of vitamins important for muscle-building are the B-complex vitamins. They play an important role in chemical reactions that create energy, and they are also involved in making red blood cells and repairing tissue. Your metabolism, which increases when you train, also depends on B vitamins to function. B vitamins are found in whole grains, wheat germ, nuts, beans, milk, eggs, dark leafy greens, beef and liver.
Minerals are essential for the immune system, energy production and the proper function of the hormonal systems. They are also involved in the production of blood and in maintaining healthy bones. The most important minerals for muscle-building include calcium, iron and zinc.
Calcium – is needed to maintain bones and decrease the risk of stress fractures. You need at least 1000 mg of calcium in your diet each day. You can meet this requirement with three or four servings of low-fat dairy products or fortified cereals or juices.
Iron – is needed for the formation of substances in the blood that carry oxygen. Without enough oxygen, you will not have enough energy for exercise and bodybuilding. Athletes often have low iron, which can negatively affect performance and energy levels and lead to iron deficiency anemia. To prevent this, be sure to include iron-rich foods such as lean red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, beans and dried fruits in your diet each day.
Zinc – is another important mineral involved in building and repairing muscle and in the production of energy. A diet that contains meats, fish, poultry, whole grains and vegetables should provide enough zinc for muscle-building workouts.
To sum up
In general, you can get the nutrients you need to perform at your best by eating a healthy diet. This means choosing lean meats and dairy products, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid “trans” fats and saturated fats like those found in whole milk dairy products, animal products and junk food. Instead, choose “good fats”, which come from fish, nuts and seeds. Also be sure to limit your intake of foods made with white flour and white sugar because these foods have been stripped of most of their nutrients and are generally “empty calories.” (calories which add to your daily diet but contain no nutritional value)
If you’re not sure that you’re eating well enough, you should consider adding high quality nutritional supplement to your diet. There are some good carbohydrate supplements in the form of powders, shakes, energy bars etc. Good quality protein shakes or protein drinks are definitely useful for muscle-building as well. Be sure to read the labels of these products and avoid brands that have a lot of sugar, preservatives or additives in them.