Setting Up a Diet for Muscle Growth

Setting Up a Diet for Muscle Growth

So, previously I’ve written a whole four part diet series on setting up a diet for fat loss (if you haven’t read it, click here for the first piece), but we haven’t covered muscle growth yet.

In all honestly, the principle behind setting up the two diets are relatively similar. The big difference being that one is a deficit of calories (fat loss) and one is a surplus of calories (muscle growth).

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 I tend to say bodyweight in lbs multiplied by 15 is a good rough guide to being your maintenance.

So what would we need to gain muscle? As a starting point, I tend to go anywhere between 18-24cal per lb of bodyweight.

I’d shoot for 18 if erring on the side of caution with someone that is perhaps prone to fat gain or somewhat sedentary. For those that seem to be able to stay lean year round or are extremely active, I’d go more around the 22-24 mark.

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.

Let’s say we have a 180lb male of average genetics, trains 4x per week but works a standard 9-5 desk job. We’d use 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 & 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 females.

1-1.2g/lb  for males.

If we took that 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:

Deficiency: Not enough amino acids for even the basic functions. Causing a reduction in muscle protein synthesis and possible muscle loss.

Accommodation: Nitrogen balance is achieved and all basic needs are met in the body.

Adaptation: Basic needs are met, including enough for optimal enzyme function, muscle protein synthesis etc.

Excess: Large increases in amino acid oxidation/excretion. Muscle protein synthesis is not stimulated any further than in adaptation.

Hopefully as you can see, the goal 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 more likely going to be conducive, and that’s where the 0.8-1.2g/lb range I mentioned above has come from.

Dietary Fat:

Next up would be dietary fat intake.

Again, this has a range.

I’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, well-being and libido?
  • Hair, skin and nails?

For me, I get on with a decent amount of fat in my diet and just ‘feel’ better on it. So for that reason I tend to set my own diet up at 30%.

Other clients though get by absolutely fine on much less, and instead have higher carbohydrate intakes.

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.

Let’s summarise all steps here so that you can apply these exact formulas to yourself when next going through a gaining phase. Again, we’ll assume an ‘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 clients 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 just getting all of that in over a 24-hour period – consistently.

However, 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 I’ll briefly cover are the core supplements that I find crucial to getting the most out of muscle building phases.

First up is the humble Whey Protein. Is this needed? 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.

Secondly would be 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.

The third and final core supplement of muscle growth would be Essential Amino Acids. EAAs have been shown to kickstart and then sustain muscle protein synthesis – which is critical for recovery and growth in the gym. My recommendation here is 20g to be consumed during your workout.

If you implement the above practices and remain consistent with them, you’re in the perfect position to start building quality, lean muscle!

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Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.