Having strong muscles is beneficial for your health not only at a younger age but, more importantly, when you are getting older. When you are young, it gives you strength and confidence and also boosts your self-esteem, but when you are old, it prevents you from falling because physical activity makes your bones denser and stronger. The best way to have strong muscles is to follow the right combination of training and a diet that would promote healthy weight gaining. Today we will share 3 important facts that will help you to grow muscles in the most comfortable and healthful way.
The more protein the better?
Usually, when we decide to gain muscle weight, we intuitively think that we need to eat more protein because muscles are built from it. And if the latter is true, eating more is actually not the case for building big and strong muscles. Research shows that consuming 0.8 g of protein per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight is more than enough. That’s only 48 g of protein if you weigh 60 kg. Some exceptions include pregnant or lactating women, who need to increase their protein intake to 1.1 g/kg, and elite athletes whose protein intake can reach 1.2 to 1.8 g/kg. The best sources of high-quality protein are milk (~10 g of protein/250 mL glass), tuna (~26 g of protein/100 g), tofu (~8 g of protein/100 g), meat (~20 g of protein/100 g), and eggs (~6 g of protein/1 whole egg) as they contain all the essential amino acids. Although most vegetables are considered incomplete in some of the essential amino acids, combining them with other plant sources that contain lacking amino acids will provide you with all the amino acids you need. Just make sure that you eat both beans and rice during the day and include a variety of protein sources in your diet and you are safe!
The importance of carbohydrates
To gain and maintain good muscle mass, it is very important to eat enough carbohydrates. Why? Because when you are engaged in intense physical activity and cut down on carbs, you are at an increased risk to lose muscle mass. Your body knows how to synthesize glucose (your energy pal!) from amino acids, so when there is not enough liver glycogen in your body and carbs in your diet, your body starts to use proteins from your muscles leading to muscle loss. That being said, ensuring that 45-65% of your total caloric intake consists of carbohydrates is crucial. That is equivalent to not less than 400 g of carbohydrates a day for a 3000-kcal diet. The best sources are unrefined grains such as bulgur or buckwheat, vegetables such as broccoli or carrots, fruits such as bananas and apples, and legumes such as black-eyed peas or kidney beans. Try to make them a primary source of carbohydrates in your diet.
The more energy the better!
The main principle in gaining weight is to consume more energy than you burn. With vigorous physical activity, there is a greater need than ever to eat a sufficient amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It is recommended to eat 750-800 kcal a day higher than your body expends to gain 0.5 kg a week.
You expend energy when you are physically active, but to support your body’s basal metabolism and to process foods consumed you also need energy. That’s why there is a requirement on how much energy you need to consume a day, and it is about 3000 kcal a day for adult males and 2400 kcal a day for adult females. This means that to gain weight you need to ensure eating not less than 3750 kcal/day if you are a male, and 3150 kcal/day if you are a female. As we discussed above, 45-65% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates (ideally not less than half of them should be unrefined), 10-35% from proteins, and around 30% from fats (not more than 1/3 should account for saturated ones).
Although it might be tempting to start consuming energy-dense foods like potato chips or double bacon cheeseburgers to gain weight, these foods lack the essential nutrients needed for energy metabolism and good health. Therefore, nutrient-dense foods should be of high priority. We know that eating such a huge number of calories a day and gaining muscle weight are not easy, especially considering the fact that foods that you need to eat should be healthy. So, we prepared these tips to help you have a great start:
- Do not skip breakfast. A breakfast consisting of oats, fruits, and nuts can give you more than 500 kcal at once. Omelets or cottage cheese consumed together with whole-grain muffins would work great as well.
- Eat more snacks throughout the day. A handful of nuts and 1 large banana after a couple of hours from breakfast, Greek yogurt with some seeds and fruits after lunch, and, for example, a portion of brussel sprouts after dinner would be a good choice. Enjoying your favorite carbohydrates at night is also a good idea! Overall, snacks can easily account for more than 600 kcal a day and, more importantly, they will provide you with lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Do not forget about the water. Any intensive physical activity is accompanied by water loss, so make sure that you drink enough water to promote the recovery of your muscles and their good growth.
- Weight training is key. Training with free weights such as dumbbells or barbells, paying attention to leg muscles workouts, and gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift can help you increase muscle mass, maintain it for long years, and decrease the risks of many diseases.
- Have good-quality sleep. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology states that 7-9 hours of sleep regularly are crucial to keeping moving during the day and having good physical and mental health.
Reviewed by Annie Tsang, RD
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National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2022, September 8). Physical inactivity. Retrieved December 25, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/physical-activity.htm#:~:text=Physical%20activity%3A,anxiety%20and%20improves%20sleep%20quality.
Solan, M. (2022, February 1). Building better muscles. Retrieved December 25, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/building-better-muscle#:~:text=However%2C%20if%20you%20want%20to,body’s%20ability%20to%20create%20muscle.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (n.d.). Make your whole day matter. Retrieved December 25, 2022, from https://csepguidelines.ca/.
Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. R., Hammond, G., & Piche, L. A. (2016). Understanding Nutrition (2nd Canadian Edition). Lenore Taylor-Atkins.