I’m having a problem trying to consume enough calories every day in order to build muscle. I know that you need to eat every 2-3 hours during the day for the best results but I am a very busy person. I usually eat only once a day and it’s usually at dinner time because of my hectic schedule. I am trying to eat the right foods and more of them because I have not been able to pack on any new muscle mass even though I have been training hard with weights for over a year now. Are there any tips that can help me plan my meals better and eat more? I know in order to build muscle and lose fat, I will have to eat more and increase my protein consumption. Should I use a protein supplement like shakes and bars, or stick mainly with real food?
The first thing you need to do is figure out your BMR (basal metabolic rate). This will tell you how many calories your body burns every day just to maintain itself. Each person’s BMR is completely different and it depends on different factors like your age, weight, height and gender in order to come to the most accurate number. There is a long formula you can find online to figure out this number but the absolute easiest way to find it is by using ShapeFit’s FitTracker program which is an online fitness tracking system which will provide the exact number of calories you need every day. You can setup a basic free account and enter in all of your statistics. The best thing about FitTracker is that it figures out your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) which takes your BMR and adds the important “activity factor” to the equation in order to find out how many calories your body needs per day when you account for your activity level (working out, doing manual labor, etc).
The difference between your BMR and TDEE is very important since your BMR is only the amount of calories your body burns just to run its bodily functions (imagine laying in bed all day doing nothing). Well, most people get out of bed and are active during the day (working out at the gym, working at a labor intensive job), so the TDEE factors this in by adding an activity level multiplier which ranges from “light activity” to “intense activity”. Knowing this number is crucial when your goal is to find out the specific number of calories you need to eat per day in order to lose, maintain and gain weight. Once you have this baseline number, you will be able to prepare an optimized daily meal plan to provide your muscles with the highest level of nutrition. Your goal should be to create a surplus of 500 calories per day in order to gain 1 pound per week. This means you will need to eat the right foods at the right times during the day to put your body into a muscle building environment where it can easily grow and get stronger.
Let’s discuss the topic of meal planning. You are 100% correct that you need to eat several times during the day to optimize your energy levels in order to prime your body to pack on new muscle mass. This means you should be eating a nutrient dense meal or protein packed snack every 2.5 to 3 hours. Since you are extremely busy during the day, your meal preparation is absolutely critical in order to make sure you get the right nutrients into your body. Your main goal should be to always opt for a nutrient dense whole food meal versus supplements but unfortunately sometimes this is simply not feasible. Even the most prepared individuals will run into issues with their schedules conflicting with meals. Maybe they run out of meals or just don’t have access to eat a whole food meal (in a business meeting, etc). When this happens, the key is to have a backup plan which includes nutritional supplements (protein bars, shakes) which come in extremely handy during the day. However, try your best to avoid being lazy and depending too much on nutritional supplements to get you through the day.
When planning your meals, preparing your food ahead of time is extremely important. If you spend a few hours on Sunday to cook all of your meals for the entire week, then you will have instant access to muscle building nutrition all week long without even thinking about it. Tupperware and other food storage devices like a cooler are lifesavers when it comes to taking the guesswork out of staying on track with your healthy nutrition plan. A great tip is to broil a bunch of chicken breasts and bake some sweet potatoes on the weekend and then store them in the fridge in individual Tupperware containers. You can add some fibrous carbohydrates like broccoli, green beans or mushrooms to each meal to add additional fiber and bulk. Along with baking sweet potatoes, you can use a rice cooker and make a large pot of brown rice for the week. Healthy starchy carbs like brown rice and sweet potatoes provide a great source of high quality nutrition to give you energy to power through hardcore muscle building workouts.
If you have issues with eating enough calories during the day, the key is to add more healthy fat to your diet. A gram of fat has 9 calories versus only 4 calories for a gram of protein and carbs, so it’s very easy to pump up your calories with a little extra healthy fat in your diet. Your choice of healthy fats is crucial since it doesn’t mean you can go wild throwing down double cheeseburgers and chocolate brownies. You want to focus your consumption of fat around nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts), avocados, olive oil, canola oil, fish (salmon), all natural peanut butter and almond butter. A great tip is to take a big bag of almonds or walnuts and put them in your desk at work. Snack on a big handful of them during the day in order to get 400-500 additional calories in your diet. If you like making a protein shake during the day, add 2-3 tablespoons of all natural peanut butter to your recipe for a high calorie muscle building power shake.
If your goal is to pack on a significant amount of lean muscle mass, you are going to need to eat a lot of calories during the day to make this happen. Without sufficient calories, you simply will not be able to prime your body and saturate your muscles with the nutrients it needs in order to recover from hard workouts, repair muscle fibers and get stronger. Remember that your nutrition plan and the types of food you put into your mouth accounts for at least 75% of your overall results, so make sure to place a high level of importance on your diet and try to properly prepare your meals each week to optimize your body for muscle growth.