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In the last section of this article, we went over the changes you will need to make to your workout in order to gain some lean muscle mass. This is only half the equation however.

Even if you are stimulating your muscles with a progressive overload and giving them enough time to recover, you aren't going to build any more muscles unless you are giving your body the building blocks it requires to add this additional tissue.

This is where your diet comes in. By making sure it's in check, you will ensure that your hard work in the gym doesn't go to waste.

The two macronutrients that are most important for gaining lean muscle mass are protein and carbohydrates. Proteins contain amino acids, which are essentially what your body will build this tissue out of.

On the other hand, your body is going to need energy in order to take these amino acids and form a muscle cell, and for this it will to turn carbohydrates (along with a small amount of fats).

So the basic changes that you will make to your diet in your effort to achieve this goal are to increase the amount of protein and carbohydrates you are taking in.

Protein Needs

But how much? I'm sure you've heard of the guys who are eating 3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day, telling you that all this extra protein they are eating is going to turn to pounds of newfound muscles. Unfortunately, they are mistaken and are only putting a lot of unnecessary stress on their kidneys.

The body only needs so much protein and any extra it receives on top of these needs is broken down, with part of it being excreted in the urine and the other part being treated just like a carbohydrate or fat.

And in many cases, gram for gram, protein is more expensive than carbohydrates so you are essentially only making your grocery bill grow rather than your body.

Many people are also under the notion that protein will never turn into fat. They feel that they can eat as much protein as their heart desires and they will either use it all up or get rid of the rest.

Once again this is a sad misbelief. Protein will get turned to bodyfat whenever you are eating more than your body needs to build and repair itself or consume for energy.

One truth to this belief though is that protein does require the body to expend more calories digesting it than both carbohydrates or fat do, so overeating 100 grams of protein as opposed to 100 grams of fat will mean you might store less as fat, however the difference is not all that significant.

A good recommendation for your protein needs will be to ensure you are getting 1.0-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. These recommendations are slightly higher than that for the general strength training individual since you are not only looking to increase your strength but also add this additional mass.

Part of adding mass is increasing your calories as I stated earlier, so the extra protein you are taking in will also help contribute to these calories while helping you to still maintain a balance diet.

You will want most of your protein to be coming from lean sources.

  • Turkey | 189 calories | 61% protein | 0% carbs | 35% fats
  • Chicken Breasts | 165 calories | 75% protein | 0% carbs | 19% fats
  • Fish & Salmon | 182 calories | 56% protein | 0% carbs | 40% fats

It is essential to provide your body with a continuous supply of protein throughout the day so be sure to take in some form of protein with every meal.

The other important time for you to be getting protein is immediately after your workout. This is when your body has the greatest anabolic window and will shuttle that protein off to the muscles for repair the quickest.

Make sure you don't short change yourself during this time by running off to take a shower first. Instead consume a post-workout meal during this time.

Carbohydrate Needs

The next macronutrient to take into consideration is carbohydrates. Since you are going to be eating a diet relatively high in calories, this is where the bulk of it will come from.

Now you may be tempted to just go and eat everything and anything in sight in your effort to get your calories up, however this will promote the addition of a great deal of bodyfat onto your frame along with some muscle.

By taking care to ensure your carbohydrates are coming from good sources, you will increase your chances of gaining lean muscle mass with limited amounts of fat.

Often, people who are gaining muscle mass do have a hard time taking in enough calories (especially males who already weigh 180 + pounds) so you may want to limit the amount of fibrous carbohydrates you are taking in.

  • Broccoli | 28 calories | 43% protein | 72% carbs | 11% fats
  • Cauliflower | 23 calories | 32% protein | 71% carbs | 18% fats
  • Celery | 18 calories | 18% protein | 89% carbs | 8% fats
  • Mushrooms | 27 calories | 32% protein | 76% carbs | 16% fats

You don't need to cut them all out, as they provide you with many of the essential nutrients you need, however just decrease the amount you are eating as they provide so much bulk that it will make it hard for you to consume more calorie dense foods. Good options of carbohydrates for you will be whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.

Limit the amount of foods you consume that are processed as these are normally high in sugar carbohydrates and have many preservatives added to them. Again, one of the most important times for you to consume a great deal of carbohydrates is going to be during that post-workout period.

Your muscles are crying for energy at this point and by giving them the fuel they need you will help speed the recovery process a great deal and will ensure they are well stocked with glycogen making you ready for your next workout sooner.

In order to figure out how many carbohydrates you are going to need to consume, you will need to determine how many calories to take in. The best way to do this is to track your diet over a period of 3 or 4 days while you are maintaining your weight, analyze it to see how many calories you are eating and then add 200-300 calories at a time (for a period of 5-7 days) until you start seeing a weight gain.

It's best not to add 1000 calories all at once since this will likely shock your system since you haven't given it a chance to adjust and will leave you feeling quite sick and bloated.

Once you have this calorie value, subtract about 20-35% of it for protein (which should be roughly the percentage you are eating based on the grams per bodyweight recommendation above). Then subtract another 15-20% of this new number for fat, which will give you the total carbohydrate calories you need to eat. Divide this number by 4 (how many calories are in a gram of carbohydrates) to get how many grams to eat per day.

Fat Needs

Finally, your fat intake will likely go up slightly due to your increased calorie needs however not as much as your protein and carbohydrate intake should. Those of you who are on very high diets, 4000 calories upwards, will see their fat increase more as their calories get higher simply because 4000 calories worth carbohydrate and protein is a great deal of food to stomach.

Fat is a much more concentrated source of energy, at 9 calories per gram compared to 4 for protein and carbohydrates so consuming slightly more fat will help to make this gaining weight period a little more tolerable for you. Still keep in mind that you want you're fat to be coming from healthy sources.

  • Peanut Butter | 589 calories | 16% protein | 15% carbs | 76% fats
  • Olive Oil | 884 calories | 0% protein | 0% carbs | 102% fats
  • Avocadoes | 177 calories | 5% protein | 16% carbs | 88% fats

Keeping well hydrated will also help you feeling your best and will help supply your body with the water it needs to flush out your system of any excess byproducts and toxins that have worked up throughout the day.

Meal Frequency

The final thing I'd like to mention is that it's going to be increasingly important that you eat at least 5-6 times a day. By doing so you will be able to keep your body in a constant anabolic state, which is necessary for gaining muscle mass?

Also, your body can only process so much food at one time so by eating more smaller meals, you will help your body use all the fuel you are giving it and not just store it away as body fat.

This may become a nuisance for you if you have a busy job or are a student, but getting into the habit of cooking up a batch of prepared meals on the weekend will go a long way to making your life during the week a lot easier.

And, doing this will also help decrease the risk that you turn to fast or convenience foods and stick to your diet plan.


So if you are trying to gain some lean muscle mass, make sure you are training correctly to achieve this goal, and then evaluate your diet and see where you need to make changes. Make sure you are getting in enough protein to supply your body with the correct building blocks to build this new tissue, and then taking in enough carbohydrates to provide the body with energy for this process to occur.

Some people will find that it's quite hard to gain lean muscle mass simply because they have a hard time eating enough food, and will need to turn to increasing their sources of healthy fats to accommodate their decreasing appetite but with determination and planning you should be able to see success and notice great changes in your body shape.

Part 1 | Part 2

About the Author

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark is a freelance health and fitness writer located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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