If you're looking to add muscle mass to your frame, hitting the weights hard is a given. Quality time in the gym begins a cascade of changes that will stimulate your muscles to grow bigger in response to the challenges you throw their way. It's tempting to think that's all it takes to add muscle to your body. After all, you can actually feel your biceps growing after an intense set of curls.
That pump is tangible, real-time biofeedback to let you know that blood is flowing to your muscle cells, beginning a chain of events that stimulates protein synthesis. Maybe that's why it's easy to overlook how important good nutrition is in the mass-building equation. When you choose to eat, say, chicken instead of ice cream, there's no immediate muscle gratification -- no pump to keep you motivated.
Make no mistake: Eating for muscle is just as important as lifting for muscle. The foods you grab in the morning on the way to work, the meals you pack for lunch and mid-afternoon, what you put into your body immediately following your workout, and your final meal of the day impact your results as much as, if not more than, the number of reps you squeeze out at the end of a set. But in reality, it can be tough to stick to a "clean" diet when you're busy. We know that adding another layer of complexity to life in the form of reading food labels and studying ingredient lists just isn't an option for most of us. Not to mention actually preparing all those healthy meals.
Rule #1: Calories are Key, But They're Not Everything
While it's okay to chow down on the occasional fast-food choice for convenience, a mass-gain program isn't an excuse to gorge on pizza and chocolate sundaes. "Rebuilding muscle tissue broken down by training requires energy - in other words, calories," Aceto says. "But many people, including many nutritionists, overestimate the energy needs for gaining mass, encouraging extreme high-calorie intakes. This often leads to an increase in bodyfat, making you bigger, for sure, but also leaving you fat." In general, aim for 300-500 more calories every day than your body burns through exercise and normal functioning (multiply bodyweight by 17). And that's divided among six meals a day