For most guys building muscle seems impossible. I understand. I’ve been there.
As a 103lb pipsqueak, I tried it all. Show 14-year old Eric a flashy label promising “big gainz” and I’d give it whirl. As it pertains to nutrition and supplementation it’s impossible to know what works and what’s bullshit.
Should you be bulking and cutting?
How about Paleo? Intermittent Fasting?
Low carb…right? I heard carbs make you fat.
It becomes more difficult when you’re trying to build a lean, athletic physique without tons of body fat. Most guys try everything and remain in a constant “bulking cycle,” only to wind up fat, confused, and defeated. You don’t want to be a massive blob that can’t move off the platform.
I get it.
You want a body that projects confidence, athleticism, and health. That’s where I come in. Instead of reading (and trying) every new diet method you need to relax. Sit back. Now breath. There’s no perfect diet. Stop making it so damn complicated and make sure these nutritional mistakes aren’t preventing muscle growth.
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple”- Dr. Seuss
You Don’t eat enough food
Every skinny dude in the history of skinny dudes says “ I eat a lot,” but still can’t gain muscle. I’ve done it too.
Here’s the hard truth: If you’re not building lean muscle then you aren’t eating enough. Obvious right? Well, it’s still the biggest problem for most dudes. It’s not easy, but without excess calories, you won’t gain muscle.
Start with these caloric calculations to gain lean muscle.
Bodyweight in pounds x 18-22
Ex.) 155 lbs x 18-22 =2790-3410 calories per day.
For 2790 calories:
Protein: 25%= 697 calories/ 4 cal/g= 175 g Protein
Fat: 25% = 697 calories/ 9 cal/g= 77.5 g Fat
carbohydrates: 50%= 1395 calories/4cal/g= 348 g Carbs
Tinker with these percentages slightly, but the bottom line remains the same: you need to eat a serious amount of food. Anything less than 2790 calories per day for this person won’t result in muscle gain. Hate counting calories? More on that later, but start consuming Super Shakes on top of your regular diet, they’re a game changer. Instead of struggling to eat more drink your calories with a high-quality protein, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats in a shake on top of your current diet.
You don’t know how to cook
I often hear guys complain about the cost of eating healthy and building muscle on a budget. These are the same dudes who tell me they ate Quiznos four times this week. What gives? For the same cost of a sandwich or burrito at your favorite lunch spot you can buy two pounds of chicken at your local grocery store. If you don’t know how to cook you’ll never develop the body you want. You need to be able to cook. Learning 3-5 awesome meals should be a prerequisite to your adulthood.
Bottom Line: You need to be able to cook. You’ll make healthier choices, save cash, and impress your next date.
Check out these awesome resources:
Paleo’s Keeping You Skinny
A high fat Paleo diet is great for general public and those looking to maximize fat loss. If everyone ate a cleaner Paleo diet we’d have a lot less obesity and sick people. Problem is, with the limited food selection and all around “cleaner” food options it’s harder to consume the calories needed for muscle growth. Always staying low-calorie and low-carb will keep you lean, but it’s a huge muscle-building mistake. If you’re eating Paleo and not seeing gains its time to let loose and expand your food repertoire to gain lean muscle.
You’re fasting too long
Intermittent fasting has risen to the forefront of nutrition from guys like Martin Berkhan and books like Engineering The Alpha. I’m a big fan of fasting, it works great for people trying to lose weight. Problem is, for guys trying to build muscle it’s hard enough to get a caloric surplus in 24 hours, let alone eight. Taking 12-16 hours off from food and then attempting to horde 3000+ calories in 8 hours is too steep a task for scrawny guys. There are awesome benefits for fat loss and digestive health to fasting, but it’s not ideal for gaining lean muscle mass. If you prefer this style of eating shorten your fasting window to no longer than 10-12 hours or only fast on non-workout days.
You Suffer from carb phobia
Low carb diets are great for the sedentary couch-dweller looking to lose fat. However, when you’re looking to build muscle staying “low-carb” sucks. Too few carbs is one of the biggest nutritional muscle building mistakes possible.
Here’s why: Muscle tissue glucose uptake is stimulated by insulin, which triggers the migration of glucose and amino acids to muscle cells. This promotes protein synthesis, which is kinda important. Muscle contractions increase the facilitated diffusion of glucose into muscle cells more, promoting greater insulin sensitivity. Simply, when glucose is present in the blood the blood the body uses it as energy over stored fuel – an ideal recipe for building muscle mass. Yes, your body synthesizes glucose from other substrates through gluconeogenesis, but this process takes time and potentially breaks down amino acids for fuel.
Since your muscle-building workouts have all-out bouts of activity like sprints, jumps, throws, and heavy lifting then you’ll need readily available carbs rather than breaking down muscle for energy. If you think you’re getting pudgy by eating a banana before your train look at rest of your diet, there’s something else wrong. Carbs fuel high-performance.
You rely on Bodybuilding Supplements
Most Supplements are Flat out a waste of money. Sketchy “cutting” of supplements with fillers occurs to the detriment of your wallet and health. (Read Protein Pixie Dust by Bryan Krahn) That said, supplements that aid your health will also you help you build lean muscle.
Proteins are the building blocks for muscle and muscle repair. Besides their muscle-building properties, proteins manufacture hormones, enzymes, cellular messengers, nucleic acids, and immune-system components. Bottom line: Protein is essential for numerous bodily functions besides muscle growth.
Creatine is the most researched dietary supplement in exercise science. Creatine is proven to increase strength, power, muscle, and endurance with high-intensity exercise. Although creatine is in the diet from red meat, supplementation increases saturation to increase force production of the muscles. It’s important to stick with creatine monohydrate. Leave the fancy marketing aside, creatine monohydrate is the most researched and effective variation of creatine available.
To learn more about Creatine click here: Creatine: Cutting to the Chase
Most guys struggle to get enough fruits and veggies in their body. With a high protein diet, it’s important to have a balance between acids and bases. Get your greens. Bonus: Some Greens supplements also contain vitamins and minerals to replace a multi-vitamin. Check mineral levels to avoid over consumption.
On day’s I’m not eating fatty fish like salmon I’ll take an Omega-3 supplement. Research on Omega 3 supplementation has shown improved nervous system function, cardiovascular function, immune function, and insulin sensitivity. As a starting point take 2-3 grams daily to notice the benefits of fish oil, split up between meals throughout the day.
Bonus:When shopping for a fish oil supplement look for each gram 1 soft gel in pill form) to contain 500 mg out of 1000 mg of DHA and EPA. I recommend 500 as the number to look for, but these products are more expensive. When the levels are below 500 mg they’re pumping the product full of fillers.
If you’re looking shred fat, build muscle, and improve your health then carb cycling is your answer. Problem is, most make it so inconvenient that they only last a few days. I’m a realist: I know you’re too busy to track down every damn detail. Here’s my simple chart:
||I almost died
||As many as possible
||1-2 meals with starchy carbs
||I took it easy
||1 meal post-workout with carbs
Carb cycling doesn’t need to be complicated. Focus on healthy food options, base your carb intake off of your activity level, and reap the rewards of nutrient timing.
7b. You don’t track calories, ever.
Tracking calories sucks. I hate it. Labels are often wrong, it’s time-consuming, and a pain in the ass. I like to keep things simple with my clients rather than have them worry about every detail.
Still, without any tracking you’re limiting your lean muscle gains. Rather than track everything take a few days per month to see where you’re at. Guys who build muscle eat the same foods and meals pretty consistently, so you’ll be able to re-use the calories. If you track periodically it will keep you on-point with portion sizes and give a realistic view of what you need to eat.
Nutrition Muscle Building Mistakes Wrap Up
Rather than crying yourself into a corner about you need to take action. The solution is often more simple than your question: eat more. Pick any strategy below and follow it for the next two weeks. From that point, move on and adopt another habit. Soon, you’ll be avoiding these muscle building mistakes and build new, swolltastic habits.
- Eat. More. Food.
- Drink a supershake daily.
- If you fast, shorten it to 8-12 hours
- Occasionally track your food.
- Learn to cook.
- Dirty up your Paleo.
- Supplements are only a small part of the picture, focus on food and health first.
- Maximize insulin sensitivity with carb cycling.
Want to simplify muscle building with done for you workouts and muscle building meal plans?
Berardi, J. , and Ryan Andrews. “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” 2nd. Toronto : Precision Nutrition Inc., 2012. 115. Print.
Berardi, J. , and Ryan Andrews. “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” 2nd. Toronto : Precision Nutrition Inc., 2012. 358-361. Print.
“Amino acid catabolism” by Mikael Häggström – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.