The old fitness adage, “abs are made in the kitchen”, doesn’t only apply to your midsection. Nutrition and training are equal partners in the quest for size that so many people entering the gym are looking to embark on. The ever so popular, “dirty bulk”, that many novice bodybuilders employ, which involves basically hitting their self-determined calorie requirements by any means necessary, is not the ideal choice for making clean gains. High dosages of beer, ice cream and a veritable pantheon of Little Debbie snack cakes are often implemented to hit these high calorie ceilings. While these diets can help you gain muscle due to the sheer caloric intake, there will be several pounds of fat accompanying newly earned muscle, and instead of looking jacked, it can leave you looking, well, just plain fat!
Navigating mass gains while staying clean and avoiding a spare tire can be tiresome, since diet discretion will have to be employed to avoid body fat buildup. There are certain foods that you should stay away from, but there are also some foods that you can indulge in. Some foods will become your staple items that you can keep going back to and will make the process of packing on some mass a bit easier. Developing a mental inventory of these foods and their relevant values and macros is an easy way to make sure you’re hitting your nutritional requirements so you can pack on some mass while staying lean. Here is a list we’ve developed to get you started on the road to growth (not ranked in any particular order):
Chicken breast is one of the most popular staple foods of bodybuilders everywhere. High in protein, low in fat and not a carbohydrate in sight, it’s hard to go wrong with this protein packed food. Chicken breasts are also one of the most versatile foods out there, so you won’t get bored with it quickly. Go “Asian style” with soy sauce and mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine), or go Mediterranean with olive oil, garlic and veggies. The options with chicken breast are nearly unlimited. At the grocery store (especially Costco and Sam’s Club), they often have large bulk bags of frozen chicken breasts, which are great for staying economical while getting big.
Tilapia is the true chicken of the sea. Cheap, high in protein, plentiful in omega 3 fatty acids, and low in everything else, tilapia is almost as common of a staple food as other white meats for bodybuilders. Omega 3 fatty acids help your organs function at their tip-top condition, and also help you have healthier skin, nails and joints. Tilapia is widely available at most grocery stores and is also pretty versatile in cooking options. You can try different flavors like Cajun spicy or sweet and spicy. Tilapia takes on flavor almost as readily as chicken, so be liberal with the seasonings you cook it with.
The potato to our “meat and potatoes” happens to be a sweet potato. Why? Several reasons. First, sweet potatoes are lower in just about everything versus their white-fleshed counterparts, despite their sweet flavor. Lower in carbs, lower in calories and surprisingly higher in potassium, they are a perfect choice. Sweet potatoes are pretty one-dimensional in regards to flavor, but they can be prepared several different ways and their nutritional value stays intact in the cupboards of most serious bodybuilders.
When trying to gain muscle, you’re going to need a lot of calories on a daily basis. However, if you’re eating a bunch of junk, you’ll bring a whole lot of fat with you on the road to “Muscletown”. Peanut butter is a great additive to meals to quickly add several hundred calories, or simply enjoy it as a snack. High in protein and healthy fat, peanut butter can easily be added to protein shakes or added onto the side of a meal.
Drinking your calories is a lot easier than eating them. When you’ve got a ton of calories to take in to grow without the appetite to match it, milk can be a lifesaver. Be it 2%, skim, whole, almond or soy, milk is a great way to pack calories into your diet on short notice without being too unhealthy. There are a few popular bodybuilding diets that call for a gallon of milk a day. These GOMAD diets (Gallon Of Milk A Day) are pretty extreme, and not completely necessary, but they do display the role of milk in the bodybuilding community.
Behind whey protein, egg protein is the highest quality since it’s packed with amino acids and is a complete protein. Apart from being a part of any traditional, nutritious and delicious breakfast, eggs are low in calories and high in protein. There has been some speculation to the yolks in recent years, but bad cholesterol rumors have been disproved and found baseless, so eat those yolks and enjoy them since that’s where a good deal of the protein is located. Eat up for breakfast or whenever you want a quick protein fix!
Although protein intake is one of the most important dietary aspects of bodybuilding, you’ll also need to eat carbohydrates. Pre-workout and post-workout carbohydrate intake helps build muscle. Also, for prime muscle building, 40% of your diet should be composed of carbohydrates. Bread can be your secret weapon in this regard. Try to stick to whole grain or Ezekiel bread for high quality sources of bread.
As for the second dairy item on the list, cheese is another great way to pack in some more calories into your meal without shooting up the carbohydrate content. Add it to pasta or eggs for a caloric boost and also get a boost of flavor along with it. One of the best things about cheese is the variety. Want a bit of spice? Go for Pepper Jack cheese, which is delicious! How about something with more bite? Sharp cheddar it is, my friend.
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
Often lumped in with regular cheese, cottage cheese is actually a different beast altogether. Usually with cottage cheese, people either love it or hate it. However, low-fat cottage cheese is super high in protein and low in everything else, which makes it a great snack, so it’s worth a second shot if you’ve shied away from it in the past. Cottage cheese can be a great side dish, or you can simply have a few scoops right out of the container when you’ve gone too long in between meals.
Yes, white rice! You might be asking about the ever so popular brown rice and we will discuss that in a moment. A staple of Asian cuisine, very cheap in bulk and easy to make, white rice is an easy way to up your carbohydrate intake while staying lean. White rice also takes on flavor very well, so you can play around with sauces and different flavors without any clashing.
Now, let’s discuss brown rice which is a very popular bodybuilding staple food. In reality, white rice actually has the upper hand when it comes to which one is healthier for you! Here is why. Technically speaking, brown rice does have more nutrients, but they are not available to the body. There is something called “phytic acid” and brown rice has a lot of it when compared to white rice. The reason for this is because of the bran contained in brown rice. Phytic acid locks up the other minerals in the rice so our bodies can’t absorb them. Arsenic levels are also significantly higher in brown rice than in white rice.
Wrapping It Up
These are just some of the many foods bodybuilders keep around in their kitchen to round out and complete their mass building diets. Remember, in a mass building diet, you need to be taking in more calories than you burn. This is called a caloric excess, and without it, your muscle gains will be slim to none. Get your body the calories it needs to grow, but maintain a proper macronutrient ratio to avoid having a spare tire form around your sculpted six-pack midsection. These foods and many others can be re-arranged and tweaked to create a meal plan that’s sure to pack quality muscle mass onto your physique when combined with high intensity weight training!