Often times when we think of eating healthy, we think only of goals for weight loss and tips for cutting back on calories. However, many individuals have goals for weight gain and an increase in muscle mass. When this is the case, proper nutrition is still key. Our priority turns to eating in a calorie surplus instead of calorie deficit. Sure, it sounds like fun to go for second servings and calorie-dense foods. However, to get the physical results we want, we have to be wise in our choices. What are the keys to healthy bulking? Let’s treat eating like training and put thought, time, and energy into fueling your body.
Eat Small, Consistent Meals
Aim for three meals and two to three snacks a day. The best way to prevent your body from losing any important tissue is to eat regular meals that are spaced about three to four hours apart. For increased muscle mass, it’s especially important to space out your protein intake. Our muscles can best utilize only 30 to 35 grams protein at a time for muscle synthesis.
By spacing out our protein intake, we can provide consistent fuel for our muscles. When aiming to gain weight, having a snack before bedtime helps get those calories in, and also provides a final dose of protein and carbohydrates to help your muscles repair and rebuild while you sleep.
Balance Out Your Plate
Our aim for weight gain is to eat foods that pack a lot of calories — and nutrients, of course — into a small space. Foods highest in calories and nutrients are those high in fat. When in the bulking phase, aim to get 15 to 30 percent of your calories from fat, depending on your specific dietary needs. Fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, hummus, coconut, and olives are great sources that are loaded with nutrients and calories.
Eat nuts by the handful or sprinkle them on top of salads and oats, add olive oil to cooked vegetables, spread toast with nut butter, and top entrees with diced avocado. When choosing high-fat animal-based items, aim for organic/grass-fed/pasture-raised options to keep things heart healthy — including organic whole milk, grass-fed butter and grass-fed ground beef.
Starches are vital to fuel your body’s energy storage and fill you up. Aim to get 40 to 60 percent of calories from carbohydrates when weight gain is your goal. But be sure to go for quality complex carbs like potatoes, whole grains, beans, peas, or corn at meals to provide your body with quality fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Then use simple carbs for a quick energy boost before or after a workout (fresh or dried fruit is a great option).
Protein is vital for muscle recovery and it’s important to have a consistent intake for optimal muscle building. Aim to get 25 to 35 percent of your calories from protein. Great examples of quality protein include poultry and lean beef, no-nitrate deli meat, seafood such as canned tuna and shrimp, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and protein powder.
And don’t forget the veggies! Fresh produce not only helps aid the digestive tract, thanks to a healthy dose of fiber, but it also provides the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals your body needs.
Below are some quick meal ideas that are rich in protein, carbohydrates, fats, and veggies,
Quick Meal Ideas
- Chocolate Banana Nut Shake: Combine 1 banana, 2 handfuls spinach or 1 cup zucchini, 1-2 scoop(s) chocolate whey protein, and 2 tablespoon peanut or other nut butter with milk and ice in a blender; blend until smooth.
- Super Green Shake: Combine 2 handfuls of spinach, 1 avocado, 1 banana, 1/2 cup of pineapple, and 1-2 scoop(s) of unflavored or vanilla whey protein with milk and ice in a blender; blend until smooth.
- Vanilla Berry Shake: Combine 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries, 1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt, 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein, and 2 tablespoons dried oats with milk and ice into a blender; blend until smooth.
Quick Lunches and Dinner:
Mexi- Mess Bowl
- 1 cup quick-cook brown rice/quinoa packet
- 6 oz. rotisserie chicken, shredded
- 1 cup frozen veggies of choice ( such as bell pepper, onions, and/or zucchini), thawed
- 1 avocado, diced
- 2 Tbsp. salsa
- Optional toppings: cilantro, lime, hot sauce, and plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup whole wheat or brown rice pasta
- 1-2 Tbsp. pesto
- 6 oz. lean chicken sausage, sliced and sautéed
- 1 cup frozen veggies of choice (such as chopped broccoli), thawed
Know Your Personal Nutritional Needs
Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” plan for healthy weight gain. Every individual’s needs vary based on his or her specific body composition, exercise program, and health goals. To ensure you are eating in a way that will get you to your goals, it’s important to work with a dietitian who can help calculate your personal nutrition needs.