Earlier this week, we introduced you to four basic tools you need for a bigger, stronger body: The tape measure (calories), the hammer (protein), screwdriver (carbs) and the lubricant (water). With those in hand, you’re well on your way to an amazing edifice.
But there’s more — the four additional tools we hand you here will give you the complete nutritional arsenal, whether your goal is a firm foundation for growth or the finishing touches to transform your project from good to great.
It’s the smallest items in your toolbox that will help hold you together. A daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement can help ensure your nutritional bases are covered and can help your body not only stave off illness (think about it: if you’re sick in bed, you can’t be in the gym building muscle) and recover from intense training sessions.
If you want to take it up a level, you can also add a daily antioxidant cocktail of 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E and 90 mcg of selenium, which may help reduce the biowaste that is produced from muscle stress as well as lessen delayed onset muscle soreness and speed up recovery, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. While some short-term tissue damage is an essential part of building muscle, excessive amounts can slow the process.
You should also consider extra vitamin D. It plays an essential role in building muscle, binding to specific receptors in muscle cells, enhancing muscle contraction and protein synthesis. To make sure that you’re getting enough of this vitamin, take 1,000 IU per day as cholecalciferol or vitamin D3.
Much like a wrench, fat has a specific purpose — and it’s not just (as some think) to mess up the gears and derail your physical progress. When you exercise for long periods of time, your body depends on fat to fuel it when its glycogen stores have been depleted. And while very intense exercise depends on carbohydrates, low to moderate exercise such as weight training relies more on fat for fuel. That’s why it is important to get some fat in your diet.
Having said that, for the most part your fat needs — which should be 10 to 20 percent of your total daily calorie intake — will be taken care of by the protein-centric foods you eat, such as the fat found in beef, chicken or turkey.
But that doesn’t mean you should necessarily steer clear of any other sources of fat, as certain types can be extremely beneficial. For example, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and walnuts can help repair your muscles overnight. Consider taking fish oil in the evening before catching your Z’s.
Science has revolutionized sports nutrition, making it easier for you to feed your body what it needs to gain muscle. A few choice products that you may choose to stack in your shelves include protein shakes, protein bars, glutamine, creatine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
Because it can be difficult to get all your protein from food, especially when you’re time-crunched, protein shakes and bars can be a difference-maker in your diet. Look for products that contain a blend of whey and casein, which will provide a steady, sustained delivery of protein to the muscles (as whey protein digests quickly, while casein breaks down more slowly).
Creatine, meanwhile, can increase your short-burst power (perfect for weight training), and glutamine assists in recovery and may also benefit your immune system. Finally, by supplying your body with BCAAs — leucine, valine and isoleucine — you help prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue. (See “Your Basic Supplement Tool Kit” for a daily stack that includes all these ingredients.)
Now that you have all the nutritional tools you need, it’s time to put them together so they work for you. You know what you need to eat, now you just have to figure out when. The general consensus is that, whether you hope to gain or lose size, you should eat frequently, approximately five to eight times a day.
If your goal is to gain mass, that should soak your body with all the nutrients and enable you to consume all the calories you’ll need to achieve your goal. Want to lose a few pounds? This meal frequency will help keep your metabolism humming, as long as each meal is small, like a snack. This will keep you from starving between meals and feeling deprived — often reasons why we overeat.
When planning your meal times, schedule a small preworkout meal about one-and-a-half to two hours before your training session. It should be moderate in complex carbs and protein but low in fat, which will provide you with the energy and mental focus to get through an intense workout. For instance, if you’re looking to gain mass, eat a sandwich or oatmeal with a side of scrambled egg whites. If you’re trying to lose fat, just snack on a piece of fruit and low-fat cheese.
No matter which goal you’re pursuing, within 30 minutes after your workout, you’ll want to get some vital nutrients into your body. Have a meal-replacement shake and a piece of fruit, a bagel topped with sliced turkey, a baked potato topped with low-fat or cottage cheese and salsa, or oatmeal mixed with protein powder and topped with some fresh fruit. Shoot for about 300 to 400 calories here, perhaps a bit more if you’re trying to put on weight. You’ll replenish glycogen levels, help prevent overtraining and set your muscles on the road to recovery and growth.
Ultimately, if you want to succeed at building a foundation of muscle, you have to be consistent with both your training and your nutrition. On the latter front, that means adopting an eating plan you can live with. Taking all of the above into consideration, remember that being too strict will likely lead to either a massive cheating binge after a period of deprivation, or cause you to just give up altogether and head to the couch for that aforementioned afternoon of mindless gridiron viewing. Keep your project on task, but leave room for a little spontaneity too. After all, we are guys — when’s the last time we ever followed the instruction manual exactly?
With that, take these tools and start building. We’ll see you when the whistle blows.