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blog Eat Big To Get Big: Nutrition For Muscle Hypertrophy

Eat Big To Get Big: Nutrition For Muscle Hypertrophy

One of the most influential factors for muscle growth is nutrition, hands down. To gain muscle mass, one must consume enough calories to support growth and see an overall increase in mass.

As the saying goes, “eat big, get big”.

By increasing your caloric intake and inducing a surplus, you’re able to improve total body mass, whereas being in a caloric deficit will cause you to lose weight.

The most common approach in bodybuilding to gain weight and increase muscle is to consume an unearthly amount of food, most notably known as the bulking phase or ‘off-season plan’.

These are periods of intense gluttony where food quality and quantity controls are relatively ignored in favor of cheap and calorically-dense foods.

The problem, however, is that the mass gained during this phase can be mostly fat. Following a duration of the bulking phase, the cut finally begins and much of the muscle mass gained is subsequently lost.

So, how does one effectively utilize calories to their benefit to gain lean mass and put on a high amount of eye-gazing muscle?

Finding the Pros and Cons

There are potential long-term metabolic and hormonal health concerns as well due to the yo-yo dieting.

What is ‘yo-yo’ dieting, you ask?

This highly popular term is about weight cycling or when an individual repetitively drops weight and gains it back, creating this cycle can cause many underlying issues over time.

It is more ideal for your health and body composition to take a conservative approach that results in sustainable muscle growth without excess body fat. The best way to do this is with a caloric intake that is slightly above what is required to sustain one’s activity and muscle mass (versus an excessive surplus).

Muscle gain should be a slow ascent to a distant horizon with expectations that it will not be an overnight process.

Combine a tailored diet with hypertrophy-based training for the ultimate performance increase.

Getting Started

Gaining 0.5-1 pounds (lb) of body weight per week is a much more realistic goal to shoot for when enduring the bulking process without putting on an unnecessary amount of fat and eating like an uncultured swine.

This rate maximizes the muscle mass to fat ratio, as specified previously by shooting for a slow but effective process. A rough caloric guideline for this rate of mass gain is eating 15-20 calories (cal) per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 200lb male may start at 20 cal/lb ending up with a caloric target of:

Caloric Guideline    
200lb Male x 20 Cal/Day = 4,000 Cal/Day

A quick caloric guideline example for a 200lb male.

However, the exact target and overall elements will be tailored to an athlete’s metabolism and activity level.

A steady manipulation of the trial and error process will result in finding the sweet spot for your best calculations toward your caloric intake which, in turn, creates an effective mass gaining process.

If you put on weight fast with the majority of it being fat, you will need to lower your daily caloric intake. If you aren’t gaining weight, you will need to continue to increase your caloric needs to kick start this process.

For hypertrophy, a caloric surplus is vital toward making this method effective.

So, if you aren’t gaining weight, you simply aren’t eating enough.

It really is as simple as that.

The main focal point that tends to be easily overlooked is the need for enough quantity and quality of food daily.

The hardest part of this process is maintaining consistency for a manageable amount of time to actually see the results they want.

One of the most crucial factors toward your nutritional needs is having the comprehension and knowledge of what Macronutrients are, as you will be continuously tracking these numbers and manipulating your targets each week (or day).

Macronutrients are significant sources of calories toward the daily diet which consist of the following:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

By utilizing and balancing the macronutrients in your favor, performance and hypertrophy goals can be the most beneficial in the result.

Macronutrients are used for different endpoints but collectively provide the fuel sources for training and nutrient sources for tissue growth.
Protein has many different uses in the body, including comprising skeletal muscle. Proteins in food are broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins manufactured in the body.

The amount of protein influences the nitrogen balance in the body. A negative nitrogen balance means you are breaking down proteins faster than you are synthesizing them, where a positive nitrogen balance means you are making new proteins faster than you are breaking them down.

Building new muscle requires a positive nitrogen balance, therefore a high protein diet is beneficial for muscle growth.

A rough starting point for athletes looking to increase muscle mass is consuming 1 gram (g) of protein/day per pound of bodyweight. For a 200lb male, a solid template would be the consumption of 200g protein/day.

This a reasonable target to achieve a positive nitrogen balance for athletes without being excessive.

The best sources of protein that tend to provide the widest amount of amino acids per calorie are animal-based protein.

Related - Top 10 Protein-Packed Foods for Dieting
Carbohydrates break down into glucose and act as the primary fuel source for the brain and muscle tissue while supplying an efficient energy production output.

Glucose is also stored in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen which acts as the main source for energy that your body needs to push through some of the most intense workouts.

Training in a depleted state of glycogen increases muscle catabolism, causing the body to breakdown muscle to supply you with energy due to its main source lacking sufficiency.

Excessive consumption of carbohydrates including; highly-processed, sugar-laden, and calorically dense carbs have been linked to chronic diseases such as:

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Issues

Furthermore, highly processed and carb-laden foods are stripped of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential for the body’s health and performance. Therefore, the majority of one’s carbohydrates should come from whole foods to promote muscle gain and health.

A baseline starting point is 1.5-3 grams/day per pound of bodyweight while a 200lb male may consume roughly 300-600g carbohydrates/day.
Fats are essential nutrients as they can be used for multiple health benefits such as:

  • Absorption of Vitamins
  • Hormone Productivity
  • Overall Tissue Recovery
  • Efficient Fuel Source

Healthy fats are particularly beneficial for the production of anabolic muscle-building hormones, such as testosterone. Consuming healthy fats are also a great way to obtain calories, simply because they are much more calorically dense (less volume needed).

For people eating in a caloric surplus, consolidating the volume has practical significance particularly for sustainability. Fat consumption, for the sake of hypertrophy and health, should range anywhere from 20-30% of total caloric intake.

Generally, the best practice is to set protein and carbohydrate levels first then fill in the remaining balance of caloric needs with fats.

Caloric Target Protein Carbs Fat
200lb Male x 20 Cal/Day = 4,000 Calories/Day 200lb Male x 1g Protein/LB Bodyweight = 200g Protein/Day Goal 200lb Male x 2g Carbohydrates/LB Bodyweight = 400g Carbs/Day Goal Fat Calories = 4,000 Cal – (800 + 1,600 Cal) = 1,600 Calories
  800 Calories 1,600 Calories Fat Grams = 1,600 Cal / 9 Cal/g Fat = 178g Fat/Day

Sample Baseline Hypertrophy Calculations for a 200lb Male

Track Your Intake

Many people complain that they aren’t seeing a substantial amount of change with muscle mass being added but they tend to overlook the most crucial aspect of dieting.

Tracking your Macros.

In the same way, you might approach your training and tracking performance in the gym, tracking nutrition is paramount for success. This is especially true for people who want to put on weight as it can be excruciatingly hard to eat more than your caloric needs every day for a long period of time.

You can audit yourself and your overall consistency with a simple food log such as MyFitnessPal.

Yes, plenty of online and mobile applications are available if you prefer them since convenience is a major factor in most cases. If digital media is not your specialty, going old school and busting out the pen and paper is also a very effective approach once you know how much you need to be eating.

Most of us eat the same things most days and you can come up with some template meals to be sure you hit your caloric needs. You will see very quickly the reasons for your progress (or lack thereof).

Remember that the small deviations in caloric intake aren’t the main problem that can persist. You don’t need to worry about the calories in spinach, for example, as healthy green micronutrients can fly under the radar without needing to be tracked as they contain a healthy amount of fiber.

So, don’t get too caught up in perfection.

As a general guide, staying within a couple of hundred calories per day is a fine enough approach (though it shouldn’t always be under 200 calories of your target, otherwise it will hinder progression).

To put it simply, tracking nutrition is paramount for success.

Final Thoughts

While most individuals would prefer an overnight process, it simply does not work like this for gaining muscle mass or cutting weight significantly. Trusting the process and following nutritional education is vital toward creating an effective diet, whether that be bulking or cutting.

Adhere to specific guidelines and listen to your body, most importantly.

Create a mental fortitude of knowing that this is a marathon and not a sprint will benefit you long-term and can prevent the overindulgence of food as your patience begins to dwindle leading to an increase in more fat than muscle.

By all means, if you’re having trouble gaining weight, eat more.

You can listen to all the broscience that floods bodybuilding forums, but you can’t beat common sense. Track your macronutrients, train hard, and eat wholesome foods to give your body the best chance at meeting your goals.