If you are new to working out and your goal is to get big, build muscle, and feel great, but you just don’t know where to start, you’re not alone.
After all, I get it-living in the age of the Internet is nice, but with ALL the resources out there, it’s hard to know who to trust.
Don’t worry, and stop searching now. I was once a newcomer and felt like you did-a bit lost and a little confused. You can count on us to provide you all you need to know when it comes to what to eat to grow muscle.
Bear in mind our program is designed for gents, so ladies, I graciously ask you to look at a plan designed for women.
To get you warmed up for this guide, here’s how IFBB Pro Evan Centropani eats…
Ok, let’s go ahead and get started on this definitive guide to eating right while working out!
How Many Cals Should Meals Have?
There’s no strict calorie count for everybody-one size does not fit all. On workout days, your primary goal is to eat enough cals so that you build new muscle. On days where you’re not working out, you still have to eat enough, so you don’t lose what you’ve gained!
If you fail to reach the calorie goal as per your bodybuilding plan, your body will turn muscle and fat into energy. This will make you lose whatever muscle you’ve gained.
If you don’t believe me, you can learn the hard way (I did). There was a couple of days in which my work had me going so hard I failed to eat a proper lunch, opting for a protein bar and water instead.
I measured my arm after these two days of protein-bar lunches, and to my disappointment, my arm’s circumference had clearly lost some growth.
Indeed, it can get really annoying, but you have to stick to it.
Go take a look at how Chris Hemsworth ate to prepare for the role of Thor-you will be amazed at the number of calories this man had to consume.
Let’s take a look at one of his daily meal plans.
- Breakfast: 1.5 c sultanas, 4 egg whites, fat free milk, an egg, 50g cheese, Orange Juice, protein shake, 1 c oatmeal, and 1 banana
- Snack: Cottage Cheese, protein shake, yogurt, turkey roll, mix nuts
- Snack 2: Beef jerky
- Lunch: 3 chicken breast, 1 c broccoli, 100g brown rice, 1 glass fat free milk, 1 c kidney beans
- Dinner: 3 salmon fillets, 100g asparagus, 100g quinoa, a glass of fat free milk, yogurt
- Supper: 2 brown bread slice, protein shake, 2 hard boiled eggs
Granted, Chris Hemsworth likely had a nutrition coach that helped him get ready for the role, but you’ve got to take that initiative yourself and stay on track.
The amount of calories you need is gleaned from what we call Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. This is the calories you burn just by existing. Just by waking up and doing the normal stuff you do, your body needs energy.
After all, blinking eyes, performing brain functions, and getting blood pumped all over the body isn’t something the body can do on zero energy!
On that note, if you were to eat the EXACT amount of calories relevant to your BMR and didn’t do a darn thing-walking, lifting, swimming, running-you would have just enough calories so your body won’t break down the muscle you already have.
This is impossible for most of us. Even if we are not working out, you are still performing day to day activity. We have to eat to account for calories burned, just being humans and going to the gym.
Now here’s where you figure it out for yourself. Using the calculator we provide, figure out the calories you need.
Click HERE for the Bodybuilding.com calculator.
It’s a good idea to write down these numbers for yourself. Writing them down forges a connection between your hand and your brain and will make it easier to remember. Make sure you put the number in a prominent place, like on your desk, so you always know.
I’m Dining Out-What To Do?
Make sure you keep it smart when you dine out. Look for healthy options on menus and calorie counts. If you don’t see that info, use these rough numbers:
- Large meals such as 8oz steak, beer, and potato-750 cals
- Medium meals, such as a small serving of turkey and gravy-500 cals
- Small meals such as a chicken breast and veggies-250 cals
All this stuff has been seriously underestimated because if you don’t eat enough when exercising, your muscles may not grow or will be hindered in their development.
And even if you gain a little fat, it’s okay. You will work it off through good nutrition and consistent hard work at the gym.
Keep Calories In Check
Got certain foods you eat regularly? Write down their calories as per their nutrition facts. You can also count up the meal you’re eating using an app like MyFitnessPal to track calories. You can look up and count portions of steak, rice, yogurts, and more with it.
You don’t have to do this constantly. The idea is to get familiar with the foods you are eating when it comes to non-key foods so that you know how much of them you DON’T have to eat on that day.
Let’s Talk Water
One of my buds at the office carries around a gallon jug like it’s a rite of passage. He guzzles that thing everywhere. Do you need to tote around your gallon?
Nah. That guy really just loves his H20. 8 cups of water a day is great, which is roughly two quarts.
Another way to figure out the water you need is to take your body’s weight in pounds and then multiply it by .55. This will tell you the ounces you need each day.
So for a man weighing 210 lbs x .55 means he needs 115.5 oz of water. If this guy is hitting the gym and losing weight through workouts or even playing pickup basketball with friends, he needs even more water to replace what he lost during those physical activities.
People that plan on working out or playing sports, you should be drinking water before, during, and after your session. This will keep you hydrated and prevent you from overheating.
You should also drink even when you’re not feeling super thirsty. When you are thirsty, you have already hit dehydration, whether you know it or not.
Did you know that you have lost about 2% of your body weight when you begin to feel thirsty? Your performance could decline in the gym or on the field.
The next step is to drink, drink, and drink some more. Even after you feel good, keep on drinking. If you stop when you feel quenched, you will only get about half of what you really need.
The bottom line? Keep that water flowin’.
Timing Your Meals
Meal timing is super important. When you eat matters! It won’t affect your muscle building when you eat, but there are some smart times to eat that you should know about. For example, eating before and after a workout will help you gain more endurance and lower the exhaustion you feel after the session is complete.
Try to do your workouts near having breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
If you tend not to eat breakfast, or eat a small one, try to avoid working out during the morning. Wait until you’ve had your dinner or lunch.
When it comes to post-workout meals, evidence points to it making you more alert for the hours following the workout. And when we say a meal, it can simply be a healthy snack.
A 300 calorie snack is fine – that’s 1.5 cups of brown rice for me, or some plain oatmeal totaling 300 cals.
My gym also makes protein smoothies with calorie counts all laid out, which I occasionally buy.
- I heard you had to eat six small meals a day… do I have to do that? Nope, not required. You just have to eat the necessary calories and put in the work. So, you can do breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack-that’ll be fine.
- What is this bulk phase I heard about? You don’t need it. Just eat the calories the calculator recommended for you. There is no need to eat constantly to gain muscle.
- High GI foods are good, right? Starches like sugar, bread, and other carbs are not necessary and can make you gain fat. They do not provide you with boosted performance compared to low GI foods.
- I can’t eat all this. If you’re having trouble fitting it all in, try making calorie dense smoothies. You can use yogurt and protein powder to make it taste great. I even throw some oatmeal into mine and call it a day. They make great breakfasts, and one smoothie can get me to 700 calories. Best of all, I feel great during the day, enjoy a healthy lunch, and then eat dinner at home.
Another thing you should do is always have snacks around. Don’t just wait until hunger hits you. It becomes harder to resist temptation. Keep healthy snacks nearby and eat them as the day goes on.
Ready To Commit?
Time to get started. Find somebody you respect greatly. It can be your spouse, a best friend, your mom, your dad, even your kid.
Now tell that person you are going to make a change, and in 90 days, you are going to really show them. Take out your phone and call them if needed.
You wouldn’t want to let down your person, would you?
Then don’t! You now have to stick to the eating program and the gym at least 3 times a week for 90 days.
Snap before pics of yourself and get ready to make your person proud-not to mention yourself!
Food Prep And How To Do It
So remember that little story I told you about the time I ate protein bars at work and thus hindered my arm’s growth?
That was before I discovered the joy of food prep. Meal prep is another term for this phenomenon, and it will save your skin in times of extreme business.
It’s a lot easier than you think. You don’t have to use old raggedy plastic food containers and guess at the amounts-I personally like using Evolutionize containers because they go in the microwave, dishwasher, and freezer with no qualms.
How You Do it
So, the best thing to do is go shopping, knowing what you want to eat for the coming week. Look at what your schedule entails for the week, and decide how many meals you need before you head out to the supermarket.
Once you figure out how many are needed- in my case, I need 5 because of work lunches-you can shop accordingly, centering around the key foods we talked about earlier.
I like to replicate foods I’ve eaten out for lunch. Last week, for instance, I made my own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl for my lunch-it had chicken breast, brown rice, pinto beans, and some salsa. Lunch was exciting and healthy for me all five days.
Think about what you like to eat and make it healthy for yourself. Select the recipes you’d like to make before you get to the market.
- Choose recipes that make use of the same ingredients. This helps you cook up big batches of beef, chicken, or turkey to use in many different meals that week.
- Another strategy is to buy three different types of meat and cook them up all together. This helps you change up your daily meals. Keep your key foods the same. It keeps things interesting. You could have beef and sweet potato one day, then pork and rice the next, and so on.
Don’t Get Lazy
People have this tendency-myself included-to buy the prep foods and then get home, throw them in the fridge, and do something else. The food could go to waste, which is like flushing money down the toilet.
Set time aside to do the prep. As soon as you get home from buying it, wash and prepare the veggies, and fire up the stove right away for cooking. Make it fun. I personally like to listen to Youtube videos as I work.
It’s like that one famous sneaker brand: Just do it!
Make Food You Can Use
If you make a nice chicken and rice bowl, but have no microwave to heat it up while at work, that’s gonna be some cold and probably not so tasty chicken. You should focus on making foods that taste great cold, such as salads or stir-fries.
Microwaves make everything easier. Just make sure your prep containers are safe for microwave use. If possible, use containers crafted of heavy plastic, glass, or ceramic, and be careful taking them out of the microwave.
Post Workout Snacks and Meals
Many of us get up, hit the gym, shower, and get to work or class. This means we have to get some post-workout snacks in, but how?
One of the strongest cases for meal prepping is the chance to keep your post-workout nutrition on point.
This is, after all, your recovery meal, and muscles are seeking to absorb and take in nutrients after their hard work.
And how many of us have craved something to eat after the workout was over?
Having a balanced and nutritious snack on hand afterward is critical to your good health and muscle growth.
Find a post-workout snack with carbs and protein to add into your meal prep plan. I personally think protein bars are great because they are easy to eat at work or school.
Put two of these guys into your lunch box, and don’t forget to include some protein powder and your blender bottle. Eat your bar and have a shake after working out, then have your meal 1-2 hours after.
Keeping Meals Cold When You Don’t Have A Fridge
If you are carrying a single meal around, then a standard lunch box is just fine. You might need a bigger bag to hold more meals if you know you have a long day ahead.
Working overtime, studying long hours at the library, and other things can happen that require you to have more than one meal on you.
Thankfully, there are bags you can buy that cater to people who meal prep, and they are designed to hold many meals, feature special pockets for drinks and snacks, and keep things cold through insulation and ice packs.
This makes it so easy to keep things cold when you’re on the move.
TO GO, for example, has a great starter pack-this is a nice meal prep bag that is insulated, complete with containers, and a mesh pocket to hold your drink.
It has all you need to get started and stay on track, regardless of whether or not you have access to a fridge to keep things cold.
The Bottom Line?
Just get started! The only way to do something is to, well, get started. Maybe your first few meals aren’t going to be the greatest, but practice makes perfect. As time goes on, you will get better and better at it.
Whey Protein Isolate
A lot of our discussion today centered upon protein and why it matters in your diet.
I know I mentioned a few times getting a good load of calories from the shakes I make every morning.
Part of it is the healthy ingredients; the other part comes from having a good protein powder that helps your muscle recovery.
I have collected three great protein powders-these are all favorably reviewed by other athletes, taste great, and are conveniently able to be bought right on Amazon!
IsoPure Zero Carb Keto-Friendly Protein Powder
You will never get bored of your protein powder when you have this stuff around. There are over five different flavors from which to choose, which will always keep you on track and looking forward to getting your protein.
Things to love about this particular formula is that it is zero carb, which is great for our friends on keto, is low in calories (great if you prefer to have more healthy foods in your daily consumption instead of protein powder) and is great for people that are gluten or lactose free.
Indeed, this particular formula lends itself well to doing great things for your body. It is great for helping with muscle building and recovery, making it a really great post-workout snack.
The protein you get in every serving is generous, also-it gets you 25g per serving.
Another thing I liked about this particular protein powder is that they pride themselves on offering healthy recipes using their protein powder.
For example, keto-friendly pancakes can be made using the unflavoured protein powder, which is a huge win for people sticking to their keto lifestyle-or anybody who wants a healthified recipe for pancakes!
This stuff is great any time of day, whether you need a good post-workout snack or a great protein powder for your morning smoothie or shake.
You can mix this up with water, milk, or anything else you want. Just blend it up, and you’ll be good to go.
One thing I would like to note is that the formula for the vanilla and the chocolate contained sucralose. Some users found it too overly sweet, so do be warned.
Otherwise, this is a great protein powder with 5g BCAAs, 25g of protein, and 4g of L-Glutamine.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder
Here is another great-tasting protein powder that features 24g of protein, 4g of L-glutamine, and 5.5 g of BCAAs.
It has only 3 grams of carbs per serving, 3g of sugar, and 1g of fat. This one also contains no sucralose, which can make the product taste overly sweet.
There are five different sizes to choose from, including the option to buy individualized packs of the powder. This makes it a winner to take on the road for class, work, or the gym.
This protein powder is also quite versatile. Not only does it make great drinks which help you hit nutrition goals, but it also helps you make treats that keep your sweet tooth satisfied.
The Double Rich Chocolate protein powder can be made into some great whey peanut butter cups, great for keeping you on track and hitting calorie goals.
Indeed, you get a lot out of one great serving. And it’s just 120 calories for that serving, so enjoy it!
Users noted the great taste, and they also mentioned that it mixed very well with anything, including cold water.
However, be ready to dig for the scoop-some users talked about having to use wooden spoons or other kitchen utensils to dig for the buried item.
The first thing I liked about this powder is that you can buy it in the 1.6, 3, or 5 lb sizes. It makes it easy never to run out. One serving gets you 25g of protein, 5.5g of branched-chain amino acids, and it all has less than a gram of fat and sugar per serving.
This stuff is the real deal when it comes to building muscle size and strength thanks to the ISO100 formula. It is also great for gluten-free eaters.
One serving of this stuff contains 120 calories alone, which is a really nice boost. Add in some other healthy ingredients, and you will be well on your way to a healthy workout or super recovery.
Now the flavors are absolutely out of this world. I don’t care much for sweet stuff, but the flavors here are actually pretty good.
For example, the chocolate coconut is great, and so is the gourmet chocolate.
I can’t deny that it still has that protein taste, but If you need a protein powder that tastes good mixed with other stuff, and pretty decent on its own, this is a great item.
It really is not as chalky as some of the other protein powders I have tried, and it tastes great with almond milk or regular milk alike.
Users rated the product favorably, noting that it blended well without leaving any lumps or powder residue at the bottom of the bottle from which you are drinking.
Learning how to eat all over again is easier than you think. And once you get into it and you start feeling great, seeing those gains and feeling energetic, thanks to eating the right foods, you won’t want to stop.
Stay with it and don’t give up. The work you put in today will be something you’ll be glad you did once you see how strong you can really become.