Do you eat “a lot” but find yourself unable to build muscle? You may be making one (or more) of the 4 fatal muscle-building mistakes that relate to diet.
Here’s how to stop once and for all – and what to do instead.
I should know. I spent the first years of my muscle-building journey just as confused. Finally, one of my early mentors sat me down and gave it to me straight, no chaser.
“Eric, you’re training plenty. The problem is your diet. It doesn’t matter if you eat a lot. If you’re not building muscle, it’s still not enough. It’s as simple as that.”
That was hard to accept.
But once I got over this barrier, everything changed.
The truth is everyone is different when it comes to building muscle. If you’re not gaining, you need MORE calories, even if its “more” than whatever equation you read about to calculate calories. Chances are, it just comes down to “more calories” and being consistent.
Reflecting on this conversation got me thinking: what are the biggest muscle building mistakes we help our clients navigate in the Minimalist Muscle Monthly and Bach Performance Physique Coaching Programs?
Pitfall #1: Not Tracking Calories
Without tracking calories, it’s impossible to know where the gaps are in your nutrition.
Most lifters think they are eating enough most of the time. But most of them are mostly wrong most of the time.
They are undereating as much as 50% of the time, despite their efforts. This is enough to stop muscle building in its tracks.
If you’re really struggling, track everything for a month.
If you just need to check you’re on the right track, try tracking what you eat a few days per month on different days of the week in MyFitnessPal to see where your gaps are.
Without the awareness of your blind spots, you’re flying blind when it comes to building muscle.
When you track, even if only periodically, you’ll have tangible advice on where you need to improve going forward.
Pitfall #2. Following Inherently Restrictive Diets
Every few years there’s a resurgence in calorie reduction diets.
Paleo, Keto, Fasting…you name it. All of these diets have their place. In fact, any diet can work well for fat loss when it eliminates time periods of eating OR restricts food.
Here’s the problem. Again, the main reason you’re struggling to build muscle is that you’re not eating enough.
Any diet that’s predicated on making it harder to overeat is less than ideal for building muscle.
I love how I feel with fasting. I DO use it when cutting down (or even for maintenance). But fasting is simply an inferior option when it comes to building muscle. The same is true for keto, paleo, and whatever “diet of the month” is hot at the moment.
Pitfall #3: Drastic Overeating
When I was in college, I was desperate to gain muscle for football.
Heck, even after I hung up my cleats, I wanted to grow. I continued DEVOURING ice cream and weight gainers to hit my calories.
Much to my chagrin, I grew softer than Charmin. There is a point of diminishing returns to eating up a storm in hopes of building muscle.
It takes patience and testing to find the right amount of calories to add when you’re lifting. But the truth is you only need to add 300-500 more calories than you burn each day to build muscle.
Here’s the sad truth. If you’re housing an extra 1,500 calories you may see more progress on the scale, but the vast majority of it is going to be blubber.
Pitfall #4: Mini-Cut and Diet Break Errors
A common mistake “bulkers” make is adding mini-cuts, one to two week periods of lower calorie eating during a bulk.
They know, or think they know, that short term “mini-cuts” have been shown to help optimize insulin sensitivity and boost nutrient partitioning, which helps you stay leaner.
So, why is it a problem?
First, I’ll admit we do use mini-cuts and calorie cycling in our coaching programs. But we only do this because of the extreme accountability we offer to our clients in sticking to the process.
But most people in most situations lack that support, guidance, and accountability. The vast majority of people who try mini-cuts end up sabotaging their muscle-building goals due to poor execution.
The key mistake? Most lifters end up taking mini-cuts too far and pivot completely away from trying to build muscle.
Soon, they enter the vicious “bulk cut cycle” where they change diet plans every few weeks without giving their body enough time to truly change.
They fail because they haven’t laid the necessary foundation. They misapply the science.
Most lifers end up ditching the bulk altogether. They don’t adequately reflect on months past and realize they really haven’t made the progress they wanted.
Remember, building muscle is a long- term process.
Research has consistently shown that adding:
- 1-3 pounds per month of muscle a month is great for a beginner (1 year or less proper training)
- 1 pound per month of muscle is great for a semi-experienced lifter (1-3 years)
- .5 pounds per month is great progress for someone who’s advanced, with 3-5+ years of proper eating, training, and sleeping.
In other words, building appreciable muscle takes a great plan in the kitchen, gym, and bed over the long haul if you’re going to add steak to a wiry frame.
If you’re serious about building muscle, everything should be focused on building muscle for months and years at a time, not weeks and months.
Like many things in life, you need tunnel vision and a road map to success. Most of all, you need consistency and accountability to stick to it when times get tough.
Join us at Minimalist Muscle Monthly to get all the above in three hours per week or less.