Before we start, remember – diets are a vey individual thing – so these are just general suggestions as a jumping off point. You’re going to need to track what you eat and adjust your food intake based on week-to-week results.
So, if gaining lean muscle is your primary goal, two things must occur:
1. You need to train for hypertrophy (muscle gains). It’s important to follow a well designed, periodized resistance training program if you’re looking to gain size. Don’t just go to the gym to exercise – go there to train with a plan. (there’s a difference)
2. Secondly, you’ll need to consume more calories than you expend. This is called a calorie surplus. For many lifters this sounds easy, but you’d be surprised at the sheer number of guys who think they’re eating enough, but simply aren’t. At the end of the day, too few calories will stop your growth just as surely as too many will kill your fat loss. Diet is key.
It’s important to note that the types of calories consumed (macronutrient split) also will influence the type of weight gained, and as a general rule of thumb, in order to optimize muscle mass gain while also minimizing how much fat you put on, your calorie surplus should come predominately from protein (amino acids) & carbohydrates, with minimal increases in fat consumption. Protein is key.
Now when we’re talking about weight gain and calorie surplus – we’re not talking about parking yourself at the buffet every night. You want your gains in weight to be a little more modest and to range anywhere from 0.25 – 1.5lbs a week. And it must be said that the percentage of actual lean muscle tissue from that weight is not only highly variable on diet, but also dependent on genetics. That’s a fancy way of saying that your friend eating 500 more calories a day might not put an ounce of fat him or her, but you doing that could wind up with the opposite. This is where you’ll have to adjust your total calorie intake until you’re growing at a rate that works for you and your pant size.
As a generic suggestion, the macronutrient ratios when aiming to build lean mass should be 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat – and this ratio should be used at a 15% calorie surplus. This is 15% more calories than the calories you burn existing (BMR) and those you burn through exercise. This means if you maintain your weight on 2,500 calories you should bump up your calories to 2850 (356g carbs, 213g protein, 63g fat). These macro nutrient levels will allow enough protein to optimize muscle growth, as well as deliver sufficient carbohydrates and fat to allow for optimal energy for high-intensity resistance training.
As for foods to consume, as a general rule, try to mostly eat foods that are nutrient dense – like meat (chicken and beef), oats, potatoes, milk, cheese, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives, beans, fatty fish, and eggs. There are endless possibilities when bulking – use an app to track what you’re eating and plan your diet ahead of time!