What does muscle consist of? Mostly water (75-80%), protein (15-20%) and a small amount of sugar (glycogen – 1%), lipids (1%) and mineral salts (1%). Part of the water content is bound to glycogen (four grams of water is bound to each gram of glycogen) but still, the most important component is protein. Without adequate protein intake there can be no muscle. Also, without adequate carbohydrate intake then hydration will be poor, and there will not be sufficient gylcogen for the working muscles.
I will cover protein and carbohydrate requirements for body building in one of my next posts, but for now, in general:
5g or more carbs / body weight kg and 1.5-2g protein / body weight kg. In other words, a bodybuilder, who weighs 80kg needs 400g (1600 kCal) carbs and 120-160g protein (480-640 kCal), with a small amount of `good fat´.
Even with the best training plan, if these basic requirements are not met then the body won’t be able to build muscle because there is simply not enough building material for growth.
Protein sources: meats (preferably lean meats like chicken breast, turkey breast, lean cuts of beef, lean pork), fish, eggs, dairy (cheese, yoghurt, cottage cheese, ricotta, etc.)
Carbohydrate sources: rice (preferably brown or black rice), sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats, beans, wholemeal bread and pasta, quinoa, buckwheat
Fat sources: olives and olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, flax seed oil, oily seeds (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, etc.), oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackarel, etc.)
It can be beneficial if you eat at least 5-6 smaller meals a day. Smaller meals make it is easier to consume the required amount, they are easier to digest, and they prevent insulin spikes during the day which helps us to build muscle and lose weight. This tweak in your diet (more frequent but smaller portions instead of 1-3 big meals) can work wonders, especially for novice exercisers.
How do I know how much to consume? The best option is to keep track of your meals by using a kitchen scale and a calorie table (or even an application like MyFitnessPal which you can download to your smartphone). After measuring your food intake for 1-2 weeks it will become a habit and you will learn the calorie content (or even macronutrient ratio) of your favourite meals. Without keeping track of your intake, you will not know why you aren’t improving or which supplements to use in order to reach your full potential.
There is one basic rule: everyone is different, everyone is an individual, and everyone has to find their own meal plan according to their goals, taste, and religious, ethical and health preferences. The most important is to monitor yourself, check the changes in your body, and try to find the amount of food that allows you to maintain your current weight. When you know this amount, then your first step towards weight gain is to increase this amount by 500 Kcal/week and see what happens. If you start gaining weight you are on the right path. If not, then increase your intake by a further 500 kCal/week…and so on. With a little experimentation you can find your perfect individual meal plan. For weight loss, it is the opposite process. After finding out the maintenance calorie amount, start decreasing your intake by 500 kCal/week (you should mostly reduce your carb intake) and try to find your ideal amount. There is no simple, universal equation for this as it depends on a lot of different variables like your rate of digestion, the quality of your food, your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day), your daily physical activity, and of course your training regime (frequency, intensity, duration, etc.)