Not too long ago, an article in one of the local bodybuilding newspapers (you know, those cheap magazines put out by lowlifes who sell overpriced, crappy supplements and then write about how well they work) discussed the dietary strategies of a local bodybuilder. Normally, I glance right over this stuff and turn to the pictures of the fitness models. As I was about to flip the page, the number 1,200 – smack dab in the middle of the article – caught my eye and made me linger a bit longer. Now get this, 1,200 was the number of grams of protein that our local "hero" was eating per day! "I feel myself get smaller if I eat less protein," he claimed.

Realizing that only a true genius could come up with this, I had to read the rest of the article. I laughed so hard as I discovered that the guy weighed only about 240 pounds and wasn't even that lean. My dream is to meet this guy so that we can run some tests and assess his kidney function. Then we'd know (at least, in his case) if high-protein diets can harm the kidneys.

If you think that our genius hero speaks the gospel, hold off before you raise any golden idols, because I'm about to take you to the Promised Land. You don't need that much protein to build muscle, my son. Become a believer of the true, Get-Big Bible and you'll be on your way to getting Samson-sized in a hurry.

Energy Needs

If you want to get bigger (and that means lean muscle, not just weight), then you have to eat more calories than you expend. Gee, what a revelation, right? You'd think that was common knowledge, but one of the most common mistakes people make when trying to gain weight is consuming an inconsistent number of calories. They claim to eat "all of the time," but their fast metabolism somehow keeps them from gaining any weight.

Checking through many of their food intake records, one can see that they eat 4,500 calories one day and 1,500 the next. When you average it out over a week, it's obvious that they're just consuming enough calories to maintain their current weight.

There are many ways to calculate how many calories you need each day. A simple method is to multiply your weight in pounds by 16. So a 200-pound guy would need:

16 x 200 = 3,200 calories per day

If he's trying to gain weight, add an additional 20% to the above calculation:

3,200 calories x 0.20 = 640 more calories per day

Adding 3,200 and 640 tells you how many calories (3,840) this guy should eat per day to gain weight. (Of course, your activity level determines whether these numbers need to be adjusted up or down.) You should strive to gain half a pound to one pound each week – more than that, and you're putting on too much fat weight.

Protein Needs for Guys Not on Drugs

Notice that this section specifies "guys not on drugs." People make the mistake of following a diet that Mr. Famous Bodybuilder uses under the false assumption that it'll work for them, as well. A guy who isn't taking steroids, growth hormone, or whatever other growth-promoting agent that's hot this week has very different protein needs than the same guy taking all of these agents. They are totally different situations and must be addressed separately.

Research studies on male subjects who lifted weights and didn't take any drugs clearly showed that men need more than the RDA of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.8 g/kg).(1,2) In one study using novice bodybuilders, 1.35 g/kg (or 0.61 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight) was just as good as 2.62 g/kg.(1) In another study, it was found that strength-trained men need more protein than their sedentary counterparts.(2) These particular researchers recommended 1.76 g/kg per day (0.8 g/pound per day) for strength-trained men.

Still, using our 200-pound guy for an example, strict use of the research means that he should take in 160 grams of protein per day. Some guys may decide that they want to take more protein because they don't want to bother with the math and will use one gram of protein per pound. I don't see a problem with this, other than the fact that it's not necessary.

Some people will assert that an excess of this magnitude will damage the kidneys of healthy humans, but there isn't much evidence to support this. In fact, research on obese people indicates that protein intake can alter kidney size but doesn't adversely affect kidney function.(3) This study, however, only investigated intakes up to 108 grams per day. It would be nice to see research done on renal function at protein intakes closer to what people are actually eating.

Macronutrient Ratios

After calculating protein needs, your next step toward the perfect Get-Big plan is to figure out your fat and carbohydrate needs. The 200-pound bodybuilder is expected to eat 3,840 calories per day. Each gram of protein has four calories per gram, so:

160 grams protein x 4 calories per gram = 640 calories from protein each day

If this hypothetical bodybuilder decided to take in 200 grams of protein, that would equal 800 calories per day. The total calories per day (3,840) minus the protein calories (640) gives us the amount of calories left for fat and carbohydrates (3,200).

While somewhat debatable, most researchers also favor a diet containing less than 30% of the calories from fat, with an emphasis on monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish.(4-8) Research is pretty clear, though, that the long-term consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with improved health and lower risks for a variety of diseases.(4-8) These facts are important because they help us to set up a diet that's not only functional in our quest to get big, but also one that will reduce our risk for disease years from now.

So, if we choose to set dietary fat at 25% of calories with the understanding that we'll also choose foods higher in certain healthy fatty acids, this yields:

3,840 x 0.25 = 960 calories from fat

Because one gram of fat has nine calories, the 200-pound bodybuilder will eat 107 grams of fat each day.

Now, determine carbohydrate intake by subtracting the protein calories (640) and the fat calories (960) from the total amount (3,840), and you have 2,240 calories left over for carbohydrates. Since carbohydrates have four calories per gram, divide 2,240 by 4 to get 560 grams of carbohydrates each day.

Reviewing these numbers, we have 3,840 calories per day – 160 grams of which are protein, 107 grams of which are fat, and 560 grams of which are carbohydrates.

Meal Frequency and Timing

The next issues to cover are how often and when to eat. In general, bodybuilders know that more frequent, smaller meals are superior to less frequent, larger meals. Most of the scientific research on meal timing focuses on overweight groups and/or weight loss. One study using boxers found that while on a "1,200 calories per day" weight loss diet, six meals worked much better than two meals for preserving muscle mass.(9)

While the effects of meal frequency on total weight loss can be debated, one thing is clear – small, frequent meals preserve muscle better.(10-12) While these studies focused on weight loss and not weight gain, I think that they're still useful to add to our body of knowledge. It's a safe bet that smaller, more frequent meals are a better option than fewer, larger meals for putting on muscle while minimizing fat gain. Based on this wisdom, our 200-pound bodybuilder will eat six meals per day.

As far as when to eat in relation to working out, research on rats shows that eating a meal immediately after exercise is better than waiting several hours, if you want to create muscle-bound rodents.(13) Research in humans has shown that essential amino acids stimulate protein synthesis (14) and glucose prevents muscle protein breakdown (15) after lifting weights. We also know that protein and carbohydrates taken together stimulate more of the anabolic hormone insulin when taken before and after weight training.(16) Insulin is important because it can decrease muscle protein breakdown after lifting weights.(17)

Putting all of this together, we have a lot of support for an insulin-stimulating drink immediately after exercise. A recent review indicates that this post-exercise drink should be taken immediately after exercise and again one-and-a-half to two hours later.(18) While the research isn't very clear on this, the same review article estimates that a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein should be used in formulating this post-workout drink. Other investigators have recommended even higher ratios, up to 4:1. Since our model bodybuilder is trying to gain weight while training his ass off, he'll need some extra carbs, so 4:1 is a good choice.

The Get-Big Meal Plan

Let's put everything together now in a sample Get-Big meal plan. Samson wannabes should take in 3,840 calories a day, of which 160 grams are protein, 107 grams are fat, and 560 grams are carbohydrates – every day. On days that he works out, he'll have 27 grams of protein for each meal. His two post-workout shakes will consist of 27 grams of protein, 108 grams of carbohydrates, and nothing else. Whey protein and any of these carbohydrates is the first choice: glucose, dextrose, glucose polymers, fructose, or maltodextrin. Otherwise, grape juice will work. If he takes creatine, then he adds it to these shakes.

The remaining four meals on this workout day will each have 27 grams of protein, 86 grams of carbohydrates, and 26 grams of fat. Emphasize consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and lean meats. Sources for healthy fats include olive oil, flaxseed oil, and flaxseed meal. Here's an example of a single day's meal plan:

Get-Big Meal Plan for Workout Days

Meal 1

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (prepare with water only or the above mentioned milk and add cinnamon or other spices)
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil (mix in with the oatmeal)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (mix in with the oatmeal or eaten separately)
  • 1/2 cup mixed frozen berries (mix in with the oatmeal or eaten separately)

Meal 2

  • 3 ounces chicken breast (cooked weight)
  • 2 cups salad with dark, leafy green vegetables, onions, peppers, etc.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar, to taste
  • 1/8 cup shredded cheese, added to salad
  • 1 apple
  • 1 banana
  • 1 orange

Meal 3

  • 3 ounces tuna or lean meat (cooked weight)
  • 1 sweet potato (baked)
  • 2 cups stir-fry vegetables (broccoli, peppers, onions, etc.), using olive oil to cook them
  • 1 ounce almonds or peanuts (may be added to stir-fry)
  • 1 cup blueberries or strawberries
  • 1 cup orange juice with pulp

Meal 4 – Immediately post-workout

Meal 5 – 90 minutes post-workout

Meal 6

  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 ounces mixed nuts
  • 1 cup berries or other fruit
  • Mix above ingredients together

On days that you don't work out, divide your daily numbers by six and try to take in the same amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat for each meal. So the 200-pound bodybuilder eating 3,840 calories (160 grams of protein, 107 grams of fat, and 560 grams of carbohydrates) each day would divide these numbers by six to yield 27 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, and 93 grams of carbs for each meal.

Get-Big Meal Plan for Non-Workout Days

Meal 1

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal (prepare with water only or skim milk from above and add cinnamon or other spice)
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil (mix in with the oatmeal)
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Meal 2

  • 3 ounces chicken breast (cooked weight)
  • 2 cups salad with dark, leafy green vegetables, onions, peppers, etc.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar, to taste
  • 1/8 cup shredded cheese in salad
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ or Grape Nuts, added to salad
  • 1 apple
  • 1 banana
  • 1 orange

Meal 3

  • 3 ounces tuna (cooked weight)
  • 1 sweet potato (baked)
  • 2 cups stir-fry vegetables (broccoli, peppers, onions, etc.), using olive oil to cook them
  • 1 ounce almonds or peanuts (may be added to stir-fry)
  • 1 cup blueberries or strawberries
  • 2 cups orange juice with pulp

Meal 4 – Quick-fix shake

  • 1 scoop Metabolic Drive® Protein
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 4-8 ounces grape juice
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 4 prunes (seedless or pitted)
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil
  • Add water and ice, and blend to desired consistency

Meal 5 – Quick-fix shake

  • 1 scoop Metabolic Drive® Protein
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
  • 1-2 bananas
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (in natural juices)
  • 1 tablespoon instant vanilla pudding mix
  • Add water and ice, and blend to desired consistency

Meal 6

  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 ounces mixed nuts
  • 1 cup berries
  • 1 sliced banana
  • Mix above ingredients together

Feel free to experiment and incorporate some variety in this Get-Big meal plan. Notice that an emphasis is placed on foods that are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fatty acids. This program works well for putting on size and will keep you healthy in the future.

You Gotta' Have Faith

Most guys plan their workouts with incredible details. When you ask them about their meal plan, you get a blank stare. Why waste all of that hard work in the gym with a half-assed diet? Take some time and plan out what you need to eat and when you'll eat it. This way, you'll be sure to have what you want at the right time.

Have faith, the Get-Big strategy is easy to follow. Don't make the mistake that our superprotein-compensated genius/hero made. You'll be a believer once you incorporate science into your eating plan. You probably noticed that supplements were only mentioned in passing with this plan. Future articles will help you individualize this approach and how to supplement for maximum benefit.

References

  1. Lemon, P.W., et al., Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol, 1992. 73(2): p. 767-775.
  2. Tarnopolsky, M.A., et al., Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes. J Appl Physiol, 1992. 73(5): p. 1986-1995.
  3. Skov, A.R., et al., Changes in renal function during weight loss induced by high vs low- protein low-fat diets in overweight subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 1999. 23(11): p. 1170-1177.
  4. Eastwood, M.A., Interaction of dietary antioxidants in vivo: how fruit and vegetables prevent disease? Qjm, 1999. 92(9): p. 527-530.
  5. Linos, A., et al., Dietary factors in relation to rheumatoid arthritis: a role for olive oil and cooked vegetables? Am J Clin Nutr, 1999. 70(6): p. 1077-1082.
  6. Joshipura, K.J., et al., Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of ischemic stroke. Jama, 1999. 282(13): p. 1233-1239.
  7. Nestle, M., Animal v. plant foods in human diets and health: is the historical record unequivocal? Proc Nutr Soc, 1999. 58(2): p. 211-218.
  8. Brouwer, I.A., et al., Dietary folate from vegetables and citrus fruit decreases plasma homocysteine concentrations in humans in a dietary controlled trial. J Nutr, 1999. 129(6): p. 1135-1139.
  9. Iwao, S., K. Mori, and Y. Sato, Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 1996. 6(5): p. 265-272.
  10. Garrow, J.S., et al., The effect of meal frequency and protein concentration on the composition of the weight lost by obese subjects. Br J Nutr, 1981. 45(1): p. 5-15.
  11. Verboeket-van de Venne, W.P. and K.R. Westerterp, Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrient utilization in man: consequences for energy metabolism. Eur J Clin Nutr, 1991. 45(3): p. 161-169.
  12. Bellisle, F., R. McDevitt, and A.M. Prentice, Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr, 1997. 77 Suppl 1: p. S57-S70.
  13. Suzuki, M., et al., Effect of meal timing after resistance exercise on hindlimb muscle mass and fat accumulation in trained rats. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo), 1999. 45(4): p. 401-409.
  14. Tipton, K.D., et al., Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. Am J Physiol, 1999. 276(4 Pt 1): p. E628-E634.
  15. Roy, B.D., et al., Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training. J Appl Physiol, 1997. 82(6): p. 1882-1888.
  16. Chandler, R.M., et al., Dietary supplements affect the anabolic hormones after weight-training exercise. J Appl Physiol, 1994. 76(2): p. 839-845.
  17. Biolo, G., et al., Insulin action on muscle protein kinetics and amino acid transport during recovery after resistance exercise. Diabetes, 1999. 48(5): p. 949-957.
  18. Ivy, J.L., Role of carbohydrate in physical activity. Clin Sports Med, 1999. 18(3): p. 469-484, v.