Working out is vital for optimal muscle growth. A lean muscle building diet is an essential part of any complete fit plan. But many trainees mistakenly depend on exercise alone, and completely disregard the most important piece of the puzzle: Nutrition!
The truth is, your nutrition can make or break your progress, and you need to be mindful of it. To that end, we’ll go over the best way to set up a lean muscle building diet.
Your Lean Muscle Building Diet
A good lean muscle-building diet covers the following criteria:
1) You eat lots of veggies of every color, focusing on leafy greens such as:
- Collard Greens
Click to see more leafy greens that are packed with all the good things your body needs. (1)
2) You eat plenty of lean meats and poultry:
- White chicken meat, and than primarily means chicken breasts (with no skin)
- Lean steak cuts (sirloin and round steak)
- Lean Beef
- Pork and Veal (with the fat cut off)
4) Here are some fatty fish that add healthy variety:
5) Keep your alcohol in check. As a whole, this is important because alcohol dehydrates your body, and having too much can impair muscle growth and decrease your productivity. And we all know the many other detrimental effects of excess alcohol.
6) You don’t avoid fats like the plague! Yes, contrary to popular beliefs, natural oils and fats are great for your body – this includes olive oil, fatty fish, avocado, olives, and more.
These oils are healthy, but high in fat, so add them modestly to your diet.
7) Nuts are super healthy and a great part of your regular diet. Almonds and walnuts are the top two nuts. But both are high in calories, so you should keep them moderate. Chia and sunflower seeds are also fantastic for variety.
Buy your almonds salt-free and not smoked. Just regular almonds are the healthiest, and you don’t sacrifice too much in taste.
Buy walnut halves at the grocery, as they are pretty prevalent at the grocery store and work well in a snack ziploc. They are a great mid-meal snack.
Here is a great grocery list for healthy eating when you go to your local grocery store.
Downloadable Healthy Grocery List
The Critical (And Overlooked) Importance of Good Hydration
According to research, as little as two percent dehydration can severely impact athletic performance and cognitive function. Of course, this should come as no surprise, given the human body is about 60 percent water. (2)
Yet, few people make sure to stay hydrated every day. But why is that?
Well, because it’s tedious. And until you get used to drinking more water, you feel like you have to pee every five minutes.
But, if you slowly increase your water intake and stick with it, you will find yourself used to it in no time. What’s more, you’ll feel better, stay healthy, perform better, and possibly even build more muscle due to that.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim for 10-12 glasses of water each day. And even slightly more if you’re active and workout frequently.
Nutrient Timing – How Much Does It Matter?
As a whole, nutrient timing plays a small role, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.
Our daily calorie intake and macronutrient distribution are what matters most. But, being at least somewhat mindful of our nutrient timing can be incredibly beneficial.
The most important aspect of nutrient timing is our pre- and post-training nutrition. Adequate fuel before training is vital for good performance, and it also helps kickstart the recovery process early. Post-training nutrition is also crucial because it helps prevent muscle protein breakdown and instead boosts protein synthesis rates. (3)
So, make sure to have a balanced meal in the hours leading up to your workouts, and have a protein shake after training to fuel your muscles.
What Goal Should You Focus On First?
Many people struggle to decide what goal to focus on first, mostly because there is a lot of contradicting information.
The straightforward answer is this: Losing body fat should be your top priority.
The reason is, we can build a lot of lean muscle and build our strength and fit level. But, if you have a layer of fat covering your body, then your muscle tissue will remain mostly invisible. And that is a real waste of a lot of hard work!
So get lean, and the most effective long-term way to do this is get control of your calorie intake, and also know your BMR. Your BMR is your basal metabolic rate, and means how many calories you burn in a given day.
So if you know and track your calorie consumption, and you know your BMR, you can keep track of your calorie surplus and deficit on most days. And most days is the key, as we all have cheat days. But if on most days you have a calorie deficit 500-750 calories, you will get lean over time.
If you get leaner (below 18 percent body fat for men), your muscles will show a lot more. The most exciting bit is, you will appear more muscular thanks to the definition.
Here is an authoritative list of healthy food from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (4)
Click to return to more body wellness.
1. Enloe, A. (2018). The 13 Healthiest Leafy Green Vegetables. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/leafy-green-vegetables#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2.
2. Dehydration and its effects on performance. Human Kinetics. (n.d.). https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/dehydration-and-its-effects-on-performance.
3. Riba, A., Nanni, N. D., Mittal, N., Arhné, E., Schmidt, A., & Zavolan, M. (2019). Protein synthesis rates and ribosome occupancies reveal determinants of translation elongation rates. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/30/15023.
4. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf.