You Have to Eat to Grow Lean Muscle

The bottom line, if you want to build muscle you have tEating Healthyo eat. It’s clear, in order to perform well, you need to get your food to work for you. My clients regularly ask me, “How do I maximize my workouts to gain muscle as quickly and effectively as possible?”

My answer: What you eat and when you eat it profoundly improves your ability to build muscle mass and strength.

To build muscle, burn fat, perform at a high level, recover from workouts, maintain optimal brain and immune function, and high testosterone levels…you NEED carbs, protein and fats.

While nutrition is important, the quality of your strength-training workout is a key factor for building muscle mass.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing strength training for all of your major muscle groups at least two or three times a week. I encourage all my clients to get some kind of strength training so that when they lose weight, they not only look more toned and have more strength (who wants to be a flabby skinny person?), and they’re also healthier. You can achieve great results by working with a skilled trainer, especially if you are new to it.

First, important to know, muscle mass declines as you age, starting in your 30’s. An average person will lose 5 to 7 pounds of muscle between ages 35 and 50 due to disuse. For every pound of muscle lost, you lose the capacity to burn 35 to 50 calories per day. That means, if you’ve lost 7 pounds of muscle by the age of 50, at 50 calories per muscle, that’s 350 calories you need to avoid every day just to prevent weight gain, let alone lose weight.

Second, weight loss causes muscle loss. When you lose weight, about half of what you lose is muscle — though you can minimize muscle loss by eating right. This makes it even harder to keep the weight off, because you’re reducing your muscle, and therefore your metabolism, as you lose pounds.

This brings us to the obvious: Building muscle as you age, eating the right kinds of foods to make that happen — and to minimize muscle loss as you lose weight — is essential to staying lean.

For many of us, gaining muscle may conjure up images of countless hours in the gym, but diet doesn’t come to mind. Your body needs calories and nourishment to feed growing muscle mass and to adjust to varying amounts of activity. So, what do we eat in order to build muscle? Let’s look at different components.

Train And Eat To Build


The most important nutritional factor affecting muscle gain is calories — specifically, calories from carbohydrates. Building muscle requires systematic intense training. Muscle must be challenged and stressed in order to break down, and then grow back stronger and more robust. That level of training, called high-intensity or maximal-resistance training depends primarily on carbohydrates as the energy to fuel the exercise. Whether female or male, the science is clear that carbohydrate-dense diets give strength-training athletes an edge in their workouts; and the bottom line is, the harder you train, day after day, the more you need to supply your body with carbs in order to build muscle effectively and efficiently.

We benefit from an increase in calorie expenditure not only during resistance exercise, but also for hours after training. Called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the harder you train, the higher your calorie burn throughout exercise, and the higher and longer the after burn. If you fuel yourself well enough to lift multiple sets to failure, EPOC can continue for 24 to 36 hours post workout.

The best time to increase food consumption is around exercise: before, during (depending on total energy needs) and after. This strategy takes the greatest advantage of heightened sensitivity of skeletal muscle to absorb and utilize carbohydrates to refuel, recover and grow lean muscle. That’s when the calories know where to go and how to be used. It’s the magical benefit of high-intensity training matched with fueling your body with the right carbs at the right time: train, build, recover, sculpt, and repeat!

Proteins and fats play a critical role

Carbs may play the leading role for your training, but proteins and fats play a critical supporting role: tissue recovery, repair and growth. All three macronutrients work in concert with each other to optimize your fueling and maximize your training.


Protein is essential for healthy living. It is one of the most important nutrients for the human body, second only to water. Bone health, muscle function, muscle strength, muscle mass and immune function — all are impaired with a low intake of protein.

Numerous research has found that eating the right amount of protein —and at the right times — is essential not only for your general health, but also for effective muscle gain and weight loss. Eating enough protein while losing weight is more likely to minimize muscle loss and maximize fat loss. Keeping muscle stores high is critical, because when you lose muscle, it decreases your resting metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight or lose body fat.

Protein needs are met best when we consume moderate amounts throughout the day. Each source of protein has its own unique amino acid profile, so including a variety of protein-rich foods in your diet ensures the most well balanced nutrient composition. In addition, plant-based protein foods have a wide variety of phytochemicals as part of the structure of the food, while animal-based protein foods are typically high in minerals. We utilize protein most efficiently in amounts of approximately 20 to 25 grams per serving. This is the equivalent of about 4 ounces of animal protein or 1.5 cups of beans. If you include this much protein at every meal and snack, four to five times each day, you will consume very close to the amount of protein your body needs to grow lean muscle.

When you eat, how much you eat and what combinations of foods you eat together can make all the difference in your results. When you combine carbohydrates and protein together, you maximize the function of each nutrient, especially around exercise. Try to incorporate carbohydrates and protein together every time you eat, and especially around exercise.


Exercise intensity can vary during training bouts, and fats clearly play an important fueling role during training. Choosing the right high-performance fats will help you train at peak levels.

Fats, especially found in fish and plants play a significant role in synthesis of nutrients to grow lean muscle. These will keep your metabolism working at full speed and allow you to feel and perform at your best to build lean tissue. Eat small portions of fats at every meal and snack.

These are the “good” fats. They include:

  • Olive, peanut, sunflower, canola, and avocado oils
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed and pumpkin seeds

Meal timing is the other key to staying lean while trying to put on muscle mass. If you’re trying to gain only quality mass, increase the size of your meals at breakfast and after training. These are the two times of day when muscles crave more calories and nutrients—at breakfast because you’re nutritionally depleted after a night’s sleep, and post-workout because the stressed muscles are in dire need of replenishment to jump-start the recovery process. Providing the body with what it can put to use during these windows facilitates optimum growth, avoids loss of hard-earned lean muscle and keeps body fat levels down.

Eat well, stay strong!

Share the post with your friends.