Setting Up A Diet For Muscle Growth

Setting Up A Diet For Muscle Growth

Fancy food formulas can only take you so far in finding the right nutrient balance

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · Jan 15th, 2018

Nutrition Beginner
7 Mins


    The key to setting up a diet for muscle growth is very simple: one that is a surplus of calories.

    While nearly everyone is aware of this fact, the art is knowing the correct balance of calories, protein, fats, and carbs – and of course the optional supplements.

    Everyone’s bodies are different, and so calculating the appropriate nutrient intake is essential to achieve maximum effect from your muscle growth diet.

    Of course, there are countless fancy equations online to work out BMR, activity levels and what not.

    But, if wanting to save time and just get a figure to start with, bodyweight in lbs multiplied by 15 is a good rough guide to being your maintenance.

    So, what would you need to gain muscle? As a starting point, we’d suggest anywhere between 18-24cal per lb of bodyweight:
    • 18 if erring on the side of caution if prone to fat gain or somewhat sedentary
    • 22-24 for those that are able to stay lean year round or are extremely active
    The key thing to remember is that, like all formulas, it’s just a guide. We test it, see how the client responds and then adjust up/down depending on rate of weight gain.

    For instance, we have a 180lb male of average genetics, trains 4x per week but works a standard 9-5 desk job. For this individual, we’d suggest the lower end of the scale: 180 x 18 = 3240 (calories)

    If we had a 180lb male that’s very lean and extremely active, we’d shoot for the higher end: 180 x 22 = 3960 (calories)

    Ultimately, the key here with setting the caloric values is that we want enough so that every day needs are met, plus a little on top to assist in recovery and growth outside of the gym. Too little, and recovery will be compromised. Too many, and we’ll start to accrue excessive amounts of body fat.


    Once calories are set, we move onto protein intake. We set this up in pretty much the same way we would a fat loss diet:

    0.8-1g/lb for both males and females.

    If we used the same 180lb male from earlier, his protein intake could look like this: 180 x 1.2 = 216

    It’s important noting that we have four ‘stages’ of protein status in the body:

    1. Deficiency: Not enough amino acids for even the basic functions. Causing a reduction in muscle protein synthesis and possible muscle loss.
    2. Accommodation: Nitrogen balance is achieved, and all basic needs are met in the body.
    3. Adaptation: Basic needs are met, including enough for optimal enzyme function, muscle protein synthesis etc.
    4. Excess: Large increases in amino acid oxidation/excretion. Muscle protein synthesis is not stimulated any further than in adaptation.

    The goal here is to land in ‘Adaptation’.

    If we were to aim for the government guidelines of protein intakes, we’d likely end up in ‘deficiency’. If we were to aim for the 2-3g/lb that bodybuilders years ago were suggesting, we’d be in ‘excess’.

    Somewhere in the middle is the sweet-spot.

    Dietary Fat:

    Next up would be dietary fat intake. Again, this has a range.

    We’d suggest somewhere between 20-30% of total caloric intake being allotted to fat. In terms of where abouts on that scale you sit, it’s really down to your preference.
    • How satiated are you?
    • Do you prefer eating carbs over fats, or vice versa?
    • How is mental clarity, wellbeing and libido?
    • Hair, skin and nails?
    Let’s use a middle-of-the-road approach to this using our example client above:
    3240 (calories) x 0.25 (percent) = 810 calories allotted to fat


    The final piece to the puzzle is ensuring that we have enough carbohydrate to fuel our workouts, assist in recovery and help to provide enough calories in general.

    Luckily, as we’ve already worked out our total calories, as well how much of those are given to protein and fats, we can just give the remainder straight to carbohydrate.

    Summarising all steps here using our ‘average’ 180lb male:
    • Calories: 180 x 18 = 3240
    • Protein: 180 x 1.2 = 216 grams of protein / 864 calories
    • Fat: 3240 (calories) x 0.25 (percent) = 810 calories / 90g of fat
    • Carbohydrate: 3240 (total) minus 864 (protein) minus 810 (fat) = 1566 / 391 grams of carbs
    So, when all is said and done, this particular client’s nutrition set up for muscle growth would be:
    • Calories = 3240
    • Protein = 216g
    • Fat = 90g
    • Carbohydrates = 391g

    Carbohydrate Timing:

    Once that is all taken care of, the big picture is consistent structure. If we wanted to maximise training performance, we could also look at nutrient timing and place carbs around the workout to facilitate this.

    An example carb timing set up could look like this:
    • Breakfast = 15% total carbohydrate
    • Pre-workout = 25% total carbohydrate
    • Post-workout = 25% total carbohydrate
    • Remaining 35% spread evenly through other meals


    The last thing we’ll briefly cover are the core supplements that we find crucial to getting the most out of muscle building phases.

    Whey Protein

    First is the humble Whey Protein. Is this essential? Perhaps not. But, for those that don’t want to eat animal protein 5-6x per day, breaking it up with powdered supplemental proteins can be a good way to go. Especially considering that not only is whey a complete protein, but it’s also very high in leucine and digests well for most people.

    Considering a single scoop of whey could provide anywhere between 20-30g of protein, it’s also very convenient too.

    Creatine Monohydrate

    Secondly, we’d recommend Creatine Monohydrate. Easily the most researched sports supplement ever, creatine helps to provide the substrate needed to replenish energy stores that are utilised in short, sharp movements such as weight training. Potentially this allows us to get an extra rep or two at a given load on an exercise. Over time, this can equate to more muscle mass. 5g per day, taken continuously, does the trick here.


    It is often misconstrued that when building muscle, you must eat everything and anything to bulk up. But, as you can see, this is certainly not the case. Understanding your body and its capacity and knowledge of nutrition are the key factors that will facilitate getting the most out of your muscle building diet. Calculating exactly what calories, protein, fats, and carbs your body needs according to your weight and lifestyle can make a great difference to your muscle building transformation. If you implement the above practices and remain consistent with them, you’re in the perfect position to start building quality, lean muscle!
    Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

    Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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