Words by Sarah Kasman
Are you trying to gain lean muscle mass? Do you have a fast metabolism and feel like no matter what you eat, you will never see any gains? Are you fed up with trying different types of mass gainers, protein powders, or creatine? In my experience, male athletes constantly look for the hidden secret to gaining muscle mass. I want to help you reach your goals with three simple nutrition strategies that focus on your timing, quality and quantity of foods.
Strategy 1: Quantity
No, more protein is NOT necessarily better!
Calories: To gain muscle mass, you need to go SLOWLY to prevent large gains in fat. It is ideal to gain muscle at a rate of 0.5-1.0lb per week. This is as easy as adding an extra 250-500 calories to your diet each day.
Protein: Athletes commonly guzzle down protein shakes and consume large meat portions to increase protein intake. YES, you do need to eat more protein in general, but the quantity of protein consumed in a single sitting is also important. It is optimal to eat 15-25g of protein at each meal or snack in order to see gains in muscle and not fat, as it is better absorbed by the body. 15-25g of protein is as follows: 3oz of meat, fish or poultry, 1 can of tuna or 3/4 cup of beans. Note: 3oz of meat is equal to the size of your palm or a deck of cards.
Protein powders can also range from 20-60g of protein per serving size. Look at the label on your protein powder and only use 20-25g worth of protein at a time. By mixing with milk, you are consuming too much protein. 1 cup (250mL) of cow’s milk has 8g of protein. If you enjoy the taste of milk as a mix, then a good solution is to cut back on the size of your protein scoop or use unsweetened almond milk. 1 cup of almond milk only contains 1g of protein.
Carbohydrate: Consuming carbohydrates with protein will help stimulate muscle growth. So after the gym, if you’re consuming a whey protein isolate (only protein) plus water, try having a banana with it!
Strategy #2: Quality
You are what you eat!
Some people find it hard to eat more food. As a solution, try liquid snacks such as smoothies, liquid meal supplements, yogurt, or calorically-dense foods such as sports bars. Powerbar Protein Plus Bars or Clif High Protein Bars are great examples.
Seek qualified advice before taking any supplements. There are an overwhelming amount of supplements on the market that promise to increase muscle mass and strength. Most of these products are not based on scientific evidence. Companies are able to make claims and put ingredients into their products without declaring them on the label, because the supplement industry is poorly regulated.
There are other considerations to make before purchasing any supplement, for example, the correct dosage, the need to take the supplement with or without food, whether it has been tested by a third party to make sure the ingredients are ACTUALLY in the product, etc. Seek advice to make sure your money is not wasted.
Strategy #3: Timing of Meals & Snacks
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Ben Franklin
Consuming large meals and leaving large gaps between meals is counter intuitive to gaining muscle. What you want to do is consume small to medium sized meals and snacks every 2-3 hours. This way your body will become more efficient at metabolizing protein and carbohydrates. This will also decrease your risk of having an upset stomach. If an athlete augments this type of diet with strength training, then they will gain muscle and not fat.
TAKE HOME MESSAGES:
1. Quantity: Consume 250-500 extra calories over and above your usual intake. Be consistent! Eating well for one day will not give you results! Keep your portion of protein to 15-25g.
2. Quality: Try to choose the very best food sources. Seek advice from your Registered Dietitian to help you choose supplements.
3. Timing: Eat every 2-3 hours; have 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks every day.