Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced trainee (man or woman) that wants to build muscle quickly and effectively?
If so, welcome to the diet plan that I simply call The Muscle Building Diet.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through its full details and show you the 12 steps you need to take to design the best diet possible for the goal of lean bulking.
What do I mean by “lean bulking,” you ask? Let me explain…
The Problem With Muscle Building Diets
When most people decide they want to build muscle, they eventually come across the concept of “bulking.”
- Bulking: A period of time when a person adjusts their diet for the purpose of gaining weight, and they fully accept that some of that “weight” will be muscle (which is the whole point of bulking), and some of it will be body fat. This will then be followed by a period of “cutting,” where the person attempts to lose the fat they gained.
Now, part of this is perfectly fine.
Specifically, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, most people WILL indeed need to eat more in order to build muscle. And this, combined with the fact that muscle weighs something, means weight gain is certainly going to be a part of the process.
But where most people screw things up is in the process itself. Specifically, in how much weight they gain, how fast they gain it, and how much of it ends up being fat rather than muscle.
The Big “Bulking” Mistake
You see, the way most people approach bulking is by eating a ton of calories and gaining a bunch of weight really fast.
Advice like “you gotta eat big to get big” or “eat whatever isn’t nailed down” is common. As are guidelines to gain a whopping 1-2lbs per week or an insane 25lbs in 25 days.
And the thinking behind it all is essentially this: the faster you’re gaining weight, the faster you’re gaining muscle.
Which sounds great, except for the fact that it’s not actually true.
In reality, weight gain can happen fast, but muscle growth cannot.
There is a limit to the amount of muscle each person can gain and the speed at which they can gain it. These limits are predetermined by factors like genetics, age and gender, as well as our experience level and the amount of muscle we’re still capable of gaining. These limits are set in stone and cannot be changed (at least, not naturally).
Which is why if you attempt to exceed these limits and gain weight faster, the excess weight being gained will always be body fat, NOT additional muscle.
It’s also why eating more calories and nutrients than your body can actually put toward the muscle building process will never actually lead to more muscle being built. It will only lead to more body fat being gained. (Yes, even if these calories are from “clean” and healthy foods. That makes no difference.)
But yet this is how most people approach bulking. I’ve been there and done it myself. It’s one of dumbest mistakes I’ve made, and I’ve made it more than once. Why? Because I thought it was the best way to do things.
Fortunately, I – along with many of the countless others who went through the same terrible bulking process – eventually realized this whole “get fat” approach to building muscle was dumb as shit and only ever worked well for steroid-using bodybuilders.
And so, a better approach was needed.
The “Lean Bulking” Solution
And that approach was to use a diet that was equal parts designed for building muscle as it was for preventing excess body fat from being gained along the way.
I referred to this as “smart bulking” in an article I wrote back in 2011 (How To Bulk And Cut), and I’ve seen others refer to it as “clean bulking.”
But another popular (and more accurate) term for it is “lean bulking.”
Where or when it originated, I have no clue. But here’s what it means…
- Lean Bulking: A term used to describe a period of time when a person strategically adjusts their diet for the purpose of maximizing lean muscle gains WHILE minimizing body fat gains as much as realistically possible.
Basically, the goal is no longer to just build muscle. The goal is to build muscle without gaining excess body fat.
And THAT is what The Muscle Building Diet is designed to do.
Now let’s take a look at the 12 steps you need to take to do it…
1. Confirm That You’re Lean Enough To Start Bulking
I know you want to start building muscle right this very minute, but here’s the thing: you may need to focus on losing fat first.
Because the fatter you are, the worse your calorie partitioning will be. And the worse your calorie partitioning is, the better your body will be at storing excess calories in the form of fat rather than muscle.
This, of course, is the complete opposite of what we want and a big part of why you never want to start bulking until you are lean enough for calorie partitioning to be in your favor.
If it’s not, and you start while in an already fat state, you’re going to have three big problems:
- Your ratio of muscle to fat gains will suck, and you’ll end up gaining more body fat (and less muscle) than you should be.
- You’re going to look bad the entire time you’re bulking, because going from an “already fat state” to an even fatter state is not going to be a pretty transformation.
- The fatter you are at the end of your bulking phase, the longer you’re going to have to spend (or really, waste) during your cutting phase losing all of the unnecessary fat you just gained.
For all of these reasons, anyone looking to do this the smart way (i.e. gain muscle without gaining fat) should always make sure they are lean enough before starting to bulk.
The question is… what exactly is “lean enough” in this context? Here’s what I recommend…
Ideal Body Fat Starting Points:
- Men: 12% body fat or less.
- Women: 22% body fat or less.
If you are within these ideal body fat ranges, you’re good to go. Move on to step 2 below.
If, however, you are above these body fat ranges, here’s what I recommend instead…
You should focus on losing fat until you reach this ideal level of leanness. At that point, you can begin bulking by switching over to using the diet I’m about to describe. Also note that as a beginner with some fat to lose, you’ll actually be able to build muscle while losing that fat. To best take advantage of this, keep your caloric deficit moderate (10-20% below your maintenance level), get sufficient amounts of protein (more about that in a minute), and train using an intelligently designed beginner workout focused on progression. Here’s mine: The Beginner Workout Routine
- Intermediate And Advanced
You should also focus on losing fat until you reach this ideal level of leanness. At that point, you can begin bulking by switching over to using the diet I’m about to describe. As for building muscle while losing this fat… it’s much less likely to happen compared to beginners. At least, not at anything resembling a significant degree. For this reason, your main secondary goal during this time is less about building muscle and more about (at least) maintaining the muscle and strength you currently have so that the weight you’re losing is body fat, not lean tissue. Details here: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
(Also check out How To Lose Fat and What Is The Best Way To Lose Weight Fast? for more on the subject of fat loss.)
2. Estimate Your Maintenance Calories
Now we’re ready to start putting together The Muscle Building Diet.
As with ANY diet for ANY goal, it always starts with how many calories you’re eating a day. In order to figure that out, we first need to determine your calorie maintenance level.
Your calorie maintenance level is the number of calories you need to eat per day in order to maintain your current weight.
Example person with a maintenance level of 2500 calories.
Why is this number important, you ask?
Because when you eat less than this maintenance amount, you end up in a state known as caloric deficit. When this deficit exists, weight loss – ideally in the form of body fat – happens.
Example person in a 500 calorie deficit.
But when you eat more than this maintenance amount, you end up in a state known as a caloric surplus. When this surplus exists, weight gain – ideally in the form of muscle – happens.
Example person in a 500 calorie surplus.
This second scenario – eating some degree above maintenance so that a surplus exists – is the one we’re looking for here. To make it happen, we first need to figure out what “maintenance” actually is.
How To Estimate Your Maintenance Level
There are many different methods for doing this, many of which involve complex math equations (or fancy calculators that will do those equations for you), but the quickest and easiest method of all is this:
For example, a 150lb person would do 150 x 14 and 150 x 16 and get an estimated daily maintenance level of somewhere between 2100 – 2400 calories.
Those who are female or less active both in terms of their job/overall lifestyle and how much exercise they do should usually stick more toward the lower half of their estimate. Those who are male or more active should usually stick more toward the upper half of their estimate. If you’re unsure, just pick a number somewhere in the middle.
What If My Maintenance Estimate Isn’t Perfectly Accurate?
Don’t worry too much about whether your maintenance level estimate is 100% accurate right now. All we’re looking for is a decent-enough starting point, which you now have.
The key step that will make everything as accurate as possible will be coming up in a bit.
Now let’s create a surplus…
3. Create A Small Caloric Surplus
The most important part of any muscle building diet is supplying your body with the extra energy it requires to synthesize new muscle tissue (as well as to support the overall training performance and recovery needed during this time).
There are two different ways this energy can be provided:
- Internal Sources
In certain cases, the extra energy we need can be supplied from within our own body. Specifically, stored body fat can be burned as fuel to support the muscle building process. As nice as this magical scenario sounds (and it is pretty damn magical), the reality is that only a small group of people are going to be able to make it happen to any truly substantial degree. Ignoring the obvious (e.g. steroid users), it’s mostly fat beginners (i.e. the same fat beginners I mentioned earlier that are capable of building muscle while losing fat) and people returning to weight training after a long time off who are now capable of regaining lost muscle.
- External Sources
In most other cases (i.e. beginner, intermediate and advanced trainees who are “lean enough” to be bulking), anyone looking to build a meaningful amount of muscle will need to supply this extra energy externally via their diet in the form of a caloric surplus. This is, above all else, the most important component of a bulking diet. It simply doesn’t work without it.
The question is, how much of a surplus do you need?
How Big Should The Surplus Be?
Well, let’s think about it…
- If your surplus is too small or simply not there at all, you’re going to end up building less muscle than you could be, building it slower than you could be, or (as is often the case) just not building any muscle, period.
- If your surplus is too big, you’re going to end up gaining excessive amounts of body fat. As I explained earlier, there is a limit to the rate of muscle growth and a limit to the amount of calories your body can use for that purpose. Consuming any more than this amount doesn’t lead to faster results… it just leads to more fat being gained.
And so our objective here is obvious: our surplus can’t be too big or too small… it needs to be just right.
There’s just one tiny problem with that…
There Is No Universally Perfect Surplus
Yes, we get it. The ideal caloric surplus needs to be small enough to keep fat gains to a realistic minimum, but yet big enough to still maximize a person’s achievable rate of muscle growth.
The problem is, this amount is going to vary from one person to the next based on factors like:
Women need a smaller surplus than men because their potential rate of growth is slower.
Older people need a smaller surplus than younger people because their potential rate of growth is slower.
People with worse genetics need a smaller surplus than those with better genetics because their potential rate of growth is slower (AND their calorie partitioning is worse).
- Experience Level
Intermediates will build muscle slower than beginners, and the advanced will build muscle slower than intermediates. And the slower you’re able to build muscle, the smaller of a surplus you’ll need (and vice versa).
NEAT, aka non-exercise activity thermogenesis, represents all of the calories your body burns during all forms of movement besides exercise. This includes normal daily activity like brushing your teeth, walking around a store and doing whatever you happen to do for a living, as well as subconscious/spontaneous movement you aren’t even aware of (like fidgeting, adjusting posture, etc.). And an interesting thing about NEAT is that it goes up in a surplus (all part of your body’s desire to maintain homeostasis), thus causing a person to unknowingly wipe out some part of the surplus they are attempting to create. Even more interesting? NEAT can vary by hundreds or even thousands of calories (source) from one person to the next.
Which is all to say that there are quite a few factors at play that make it impossible to say that one specific surplus amount will be best for everyone.
So, here’s the solution to that.
The Ideal Caloric Surplus Starting Point
Here’s the starting point I recommend based on what tends to be best for most people:
- MEN: a daily surplus of about 200 calories above your maintenance level.
- WOMEN: a daily surplus of about 100 calories above your maintenance level.
So, for example, if your estimated maintenance level was 2000 calories, a man would eat 2200 calories per day, and a woman would eat 2100 calories per day.
That is the simplest way to do it.
Having said that, there are other ways to create this surplus. The most popular of these ways involves calorie cycling – aka eating more calories on workout days and fewer calories on rest days – and I am indeed a fan of this approach. No, it’s definitely not a requirement, and its benefits are fairly minor. But it is something I do myself and recommend to others.
For the full details on this topic and exactly how I recommend doing it, check out the chapter I wrote about it in Superior Muscle Growth (it starts on page 139).
But wait, what’s that you say?
What exactly do I mean by “starting point” in the context of this recommendation?
It means that the ultimate way of knowing if your caloric surplus is truly the ideal size it should be is if it’s making your ideal rate of weight gain occur.
And that brings us to step 4.
4. Determine Your Ideal Rate Of Weight Gain
As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself with a heading, the key to ensuring that your surplus and overall calorie intake is what it ideally should be is to ensure that your rate of weight gain is what it ideally should be for maximizing muscle gains and minimizing fat gains.
Put simply, if you’re gaining weight too quickly, you’re guaranteed to be gaining excessive amounts of body fat.
If you’re gaining weight too slowly or not at all, you’re either not gaining muscle as fast as you could be, or you’re not gaining any whatsoever.
Which means, you can think of your rate of weight gain as a map that helps you determine what your calorie intake should be. Meaning…
- If you’re gaining weight too quickly, you know to eat a little less.
- If you’re gaining weight too slowly, you know to eat a little more.
- If you’re not gaining any weight at all, you again know to eat a little more.
Basically, your goal with your calorie intake is to make your ideal rate of weight gain consistently occur. If it does, you’re good. Keep eating that amount. If it doesn’t, you simply need to adjust accordingly until it does.
All you need to know now is what this ideal rate of weight gain actually is.
The Ideal Rate Of Weight Gain
For those who are bulking the smart way, where the goal is build muscle without gaining excess body fat, this is what I recommend…
- MEN: aim to gain between 1-2lbs per month.
- WOMEN: aim to gain between 0.5-1lb per month.
On average, this tends to be the sweet spot for most people.
But wait, what’s that you’re thinking now?
This Seems Too Slow!
Yeah, it probably does. But it’s not. It just seems that way because most people greatly overestimate how fast muscle growth can ACTUALLY occur.
After all, you’ve probably seen a few thousand ads, articles, headlines, products, supplements, programs, and fitness gurus claiming that you can “Gain 20 lbs of Muscle In Just 6 Weeks!” or some such bullshit.
But that’s just what it is… bullshit.
In reality, muscle growth is an extremely slow process. How slow, you ask?
The average man would be lucky to gain 0.5-2lbs of muscle PER MONTH, and the average woman would be lucky to gain 0.25-1lb of muscle PER MONTH.
Also note that only those who are beginners, younger, and/or have great genetics are actually going to reach the high end of these ranges. Everyone else will be in the middle or at the bottom.
Additional details here: How Fast Can You Gain Muscle?
So why is my recommended rate of weight gain so seemingly slow? Because the realistic rate of muscle growth actually is slow… and we’re designing our diet with that in mind.
Speaking of which…
5. Monitor Changes And Adjust If Needed
So remember what I said a minute ago about using your rate of weight gain as a map to help guide your calorie intake/surplus size?
Cool, because this 5th step is ALL about doing that.
Again, if you’re not eating enough calories to support muscle growth, it’s not going to happen. And if you’re eating more calories than your body can actually put towards the muscle building process, you’re just going to end up getting fat.
This, combined with the facts that A) your maintenance level was just an estimate, and B) your surplus was just a starting point… is why the key step to ensuring that your calorie intake is exactly what it should be is by monitoring what happens in the real world and adjusting when/if needed.
And I call this key step… The Key Step.
The Key Step
Here’s what you need to do.
- Add on your surplus to the maintenance level you estimated earlier, and start eating this amount each day.
- Weigh yourself every day – first thing in the morning before eating or drinking – and take the average at the end of the week. (Additional details here: When Is The Best Time To Weigh Yourself)
- Pay attention to the weekly averages (not the meaningless daily weight fluctuations) for the next 2-4 weeks.
- At that point, ask yourself the following question: am I gaining weight at the ideal rate?
- If the answer is yes, you’re all good. Keep eating this amount of calories and continue monitoring progress this way. If the answer is no, then adjust that calorie intake up or down in small increments (e.g. 100-300 calories at a time), wait another 2-4 weeks and see what happens then. Are you gaining weight at the ideal rate now? If so, you’re good. If not, adjust again and repeat this process until you are.
All of the maintenance level estimates, BMR/TDEE calculators and surplus-size recommendations in the world are lovely and wonderful, BUT THIS IS THE KEY STEP to guaranteeing that you’re eating the right amount of calories.
6. Eat An Ideal Amount Of Protein
With calories all set, the next part of your diet that needs to be set up are your macronutrients.
Aka, your “macros.”
Aka, protein, fat and carbs.
Of the three, protein is definitely the most important, so that’s always the one to start with.
In addition to being crucial for the overall health and function of the human body and playing a ton of important roles in fat loss (everything from preserving muscle in a deficit to controlling hunger), a sufficient protein intake is also a requirement for muscle to be built.
So, how much protein should you eat per day to maximize its benefits? Here’s what I recommend…
Eat between 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of your current body weight each day.
(Those who are significantly overweight should use their goal body weight rather than their current body weight when doing this calculation.)
So, if you currently weigh 150lbs, you could aim for an even 150g of protein per day (which is the old “1g per pound” recommendation that has been around for decades), or aim for some degree higher or lower depending on your own personal needs and preferences. As long as you’re somewhere within this range, you’ll be fine. Details here: How Much Protein Do I Need A Day?
As for where to get this protein from, common high-quality sources include chicken, turkey, eggs, beef, fish, dairy and whey protein powder. Pick your favorites.
Also note that 1g of protein contains 4 calories. This isn’t important now, but it will come in handy shortly.
7. Eat An Ideal Amount Of Fat
The next macronutrient that needs to be set up is fat.
Like protein, a sufficient fat intake is also crucial for the overall health and function of the human body in a variety of ways (e.g. the absorption of fat soluble vitamins). Most notable to us, though, is the role fat plays in optimal hormone production. This includes testosterone, which of course plays a significant role in the muscle building process.
So, how much fat should you eat per day to maximize its benefits?
Get between 20-30% of your total daily calorie intake from fat.
Here’s an example of what that means…
- Let’s say some example person figured out they need to eat 2000 calories per day to gain weight at their ideal rate.
- Let’s also say they decide to go with an even 25% of their total calories from fat.
- First, they’d take 25% of 2000 and get 500.
- Then, since there are 9 calories per gram of fat, they’d simply divide 500 by 9 and get 56g of fat per day.
You’d simply repeat this using your own relevant numbers, and let your personal needs and preferences dictate exactly where within this 20-30% range you decide to be.
As for where to get this fat from, common high-quality sources include various nuts, seeds and nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil/avocados, and fatty fish (e.g. salmon). Pick your favorites.
8. Eat An Ideal Amount Of Carbs
The third and final macronutrient we need to set up is carbs.
Unlike protein and fat, both of which are considered essential in that they provide us with nutrients that our bodies require but cannot produce on their own (essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, respectively), carbs don’t provide us with anything fitting this description.
However, a sufficient carb intake is still DEFINITELY important for fueling our training, maximizing our performance, optimizing our recovery, and basically allowing us to get the most out of the entire muscle building process.
So, how many grams of carbs should you eat per day to get these benefits? Here’s what I recommend…
Whatever calories are remaining after protein and fat have been factored in.
Here’s an example of what that means…
- Let’s pretend we have an example person who weighs 175lbs and has figured out that they need to eat 2500 calories per day to gain weight at their ideal rate. (Again, these are just example numbers.)
- Then let’s say they go with an even 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Since they weigh 175lbs, that means they’ll eat about 175 grams of protein per day. Since 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, that means their protein intake will account for 700 calories each day (175 x 4 = 700).
- Next let’s say they decide to get an even 25% of their total calorie intake from fat. Since this example person will be eating 2500 calories per day, they’d figure out that 25% of 2500 is 625 calories (2500 x 0.25 = 625). Then, since 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, they’d figure out that they’d need to eat about 69 grams of fat per day (625 ÷ 9 = 69).
- At this point they have 700 calories worth of protein and 625 calories worth of fat, which means a total of 1325 of their daily calorie intake is accounted for (700 + 625 = 1325). But, since they need to be eating 2500 calories per day, they’d see they still have 1175 calories that are not yet accounted for (2500 – 1325 = 1175). So…
- All of those leftover 1175 calories will come from carbs. Since 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories, this person would need to eat about 294 grams of carbs per day (1175 ÷ 4 = 294).
You’d simply repeat these steps using your own relevant numbers.
As for where to get your carbs from, common high-quality sources include potatoes, white rice/brown rice, oats, beans, fruits and vegetables. Pick your favorites.
9. Optimize Your Pre And Post Workout Meals
Your pre and post workout meals – aka the meals you eat before and after your workout – can play important roles in both your performance during the workout and the recovery process that comes after.
Are we talking super, crazy, ultra, mega important? So important that they can make or break your results?
Not even close.
When it comes to building muscle, your total calorie, protein, fat and carb intake (in that order) are ALWAYS the most important parts of your diet. By far. Every other part of your diet is of secondary and/or minor importance in comparison.
Having said that, getting these meals right will still be beneficial to your results.
So, do that. Here’s what I recommend…
Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours before your workout, and again 1-2 hours after your workout.
Simple as that.
Wait… Is It Really That Simple?
Yup. People like to over-complicate the crap out of pre and post workout nutrition, but the reality is that it’s quite simple.
For a complete breakdown of why, and the answers to every other question you may have about these meals, check out: What To Eat Before And After A Workout: The Ultimate Guide
I cover every single thing there is to know in that guide.
10. Make Everything P.E.C.S.
At this point, you know…
- The problems with the typical approach to bulking.
- Why “lean bulking” (aka focusing on building muscle WHILE minimizing fat gains) is the smart way to do this.
- What your ideal rate of weight gain is and why it’s so important.
- How many calories you need to eat to make that rate of weight gain happen.
- Why the key step is monitoring your progress and adjusting as needed.
- How many grams of protein, fat and carbs to eat per day.
- The super simple basics of getting your pre and post workout meals right.
Which means, The Muscle Building Diet is almost complete.
The Many Remaining Questions
However, there are still a bunch of questions you might have about how to put all of the above together.
- Should you eat big meals or small meals?
- Should you eat frequently or infrequently?
- Should you eat every 2-3 hours or every 4-5 hours?
- Should your diet be more strict or more flexible?
- Should you eat “clean” 100% of the time or do some form of “IIFYM” (If It Fits Your Macros) where you maybe eat “clean” 90% of the time and “dirty” 10% of the time?
- Should you eat 3 meals a day or 6 meals? Or maybe 4? Or 5?
- Should you do some form of intermittent fasting or eat regularly throughout the day?
- Should you eat early or late?
- Should you eat breakfast or skip it?
- Should you stop eating at a certain specific time at night?
- Should you eat more carbs earlier or later?
- Should you combine certain foods and nutrients in a single meal and avoid combining others?
And on and on and on.
The One Simple Answer
Here’s the thing about this stuff.
With all else (i.e. the stuff we’ve already covered) being equal, the factors on this list will either barely have any impact on your results, or literally have no impact at all.
And in most cases, it’s the latter.
Why is this, you ask?
So does that mean this stuff doesn’t matter?
What Truly Matters
You see, while this stuff isn’t going to directly affect your ability to build muscle or minimize fat gains during that process, it can indirectly affect those results by affecting your ability to consistently adhere to the parts of your diet that matter most.
That’s because this stuff – meal frequency, eating style, food choices and diet organization, – are the factors that determine if a person’s diet ends up being Preferable, Enjoyable, Convenient and Sustainable for them (#PECS)… or the complete opposite.
Because regardless of how effective any diet is, it will ALWAYS fail to work if you are unable to consistently put it into action and sustain it long-term.
And the most overlooked reason for this lack of adherence is the fact that the diet you are trying to consistently put into action and sustain just isn’t ideal for you.
Not in terms of its effectiveness, but strictly in terms of suiting YOUR personal needs, preferences and lifestyle.
How To Get It All Right
So, what are you supposed to do about this? I’m so glad I pretended that you asked…
So… when you’re trying to decide how many meals to eat a day, or how early/late to eat, or how strict or flexible your diet should be, or any other similar question about the way you go about eating over the course of the day, the only real factor worth taking into consideration is simply your own personal preferences and doing whatever the hell is most P.E.C.S. for you.
Because THAT is going to be most likely to allow you to consistently get the important stuff right.
Simple as that.
11. Take Some Proven Supplements (Optional)
Since most supplements are dietary supplements, The Muscle Building Diet wouldn’t be complete without some recommendations.
Unfortunately, though, I hate writing about supplements.
So instead, I’m just going to copy and paste something I’ve previously written on this topic so I don’t have to go through the pain of forcing myself to write about something that bores me to death.
Take it away, me…
Let me make this part as clear as possible.
Are there any supplements you need to take in order to build muscle? Absolutely not.
Are there any supplements that – in and of themselves – build muscle? Absolutely not.
Are there any supplements that are going to improve your muscle building results significantly? Absolutely not.
Are there any supplements that are both safe and proven to help at least a little in your quest to build muscle and/or with your overall health in general? Yup.
Here are the few I recommend…
- Whey Protein Powder
Protein powder is nothing more than a convenient source of protein (details here: How Many Protein Shakes A Day? and When To Drink Protein Shakes), and whey is just a high quality form of it (details here: Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate vs Hydrolyzed). My preferred choice is Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Whey.
Creatine is the most proven “muscle building” supplement there is (it really just enhances strength/performance a little bit, which of course plays a key role in the muscle building process). I personally use Optimum Nutrition’s Creatine. Everything else you need to know about creatine is covered in my ultimate guide: How To Take Creatine.
- Fish Oil
More of a “health” supplement than anything else, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil provide a variety of benefits, some of which may help improve calorie partitioning. I use Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega.
- Vitamin D
Here’s another “health” supplement playing a few indirect roles in the muscle building process (i.e. there’s a connection between low vitamin d levels and low testosterone levels). I personally take NOW Foods Vitamin D3.
- Individual Vitamins Or Minerals
This means any individual vitamins or minerals you may be lacking in your diet and are unable to fix via your diet, which should always be option #1. For me, as someone who hates dairy and has issues digesting it, I take a calcium supplement. For additional micronutrient peace of mind, I also take a basic multivitamin.
Specifically for its usage as a pre-workout stimulant.
Never used it myself, so I don’t have a recommendation for it. But, there is some research showing it can provide some benefits.
12. Combine This Diet With An Effective Muscle Building Workout
Yeah, I know. This technically has nothing to do with your diet. Even still, there’s no way I can leave this part out.
Consider it a bonus.
Simply put, the workout you use and how effective it is at stimulating muscle growth is absolutely crucial to your ability to both A) build muscle (duh), and B) avoid gaining excess body fat.
Because again, you’re in a caloric surplus supplying your body with extra calories. Those calories can either go towards muscle growth or fat storage.
And so there are two possible scenarios…
- The more effective your workout is (and/or the better you are at putting it into action), the stronger the muscle building stimulus will be and the more likely your body will be to use those extra calories for building muscle.
- The less effective your workout is (and/or the worse you are at putting it into action), the more likely your body will be to store those extra calories in the form of body fat.
How do you make #1 happen and avoid #2?
By using an intelligent workout program specifically designed for maximizing muscle growth.
My Recommended Workouts
- The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine
This is the program I most often recommend to beginners.
- The Muscle Building Workout Routine
For those who are past the beginner stage, this is one of a handful of programs that I recommend.
- The 5-Day Workout Routine
Here’s another option for mid/late intermediates and advanced trainees.
- Superior Muscle Growth
The workouts listed above are completely free and quite popular. If, however, you’re looking for additional workouts, my book – Superior Muscle Growth – contains ALL of my muscle building routines (11 different workouts, 40+ different versions… from 2 day splits to 5 day splits, from push/pull/legs to upper/lower, etc. etc. etc.). Feel free to check it out.
There you have… that’s what I call The Muscle Building Diet.
If you’re smart enough to be “lean bulking” instead of just “bulking,” and you want to ensure that you maximize muscle gains while minimizing body fat gains… the 12 steps outlined above will be the best way to make it happen.
Need Help With Your Diet And Workout?
Don’t waste another minute of your time searching for what to do. I’ve already done the research for you and created step-by-step plans that work. Select your goal below…
- I Want To Build Muscle
If you want to build lean muscle without gaining excess body fat, spending all of your time in the gym, using a diet or workout that isn’t customized to you, or doing myth-based nonsense that only works for people with amazing genetics, check out: Superior Muscle Growth
- I Want To Lose Fat
If you want to lose body fat without losing muscle, feeling hungry all the time, using stupid restrictive diets, doing 100 hours of cardio, or struggling with plateaus, metabolic slowdown, and everything else that sucks about getting lean, check out: Superior Fat Loss