Gaining muscle without gaining excess fat can be challenging, but it’s achievable with the right nutrition strategy. Beginners can experience significant improvements in muscle growth and fat loss simultaneously as their bodies adapt to new exercise stressors. Unfortunately, accomplishing both of these goals at once becomes increasingly difficult as conditioning levels advance. This is why elite-level athletes and bodybuilders dedicate specific periods of time to one goal: either gain muscle, or lose fat.
“Eat big to get big” is a common phrase used to describe eating for muscular hypertrophy (growth). While this may be true for those who have trouble putting on weight, most people can benefit from being more strategic about timing and nutrient consumption to reduce unwanted fat gain.
Every nutrition program should have sufficient quantities of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates. To put on quality muscle, it’s important to increase consumption of all three. While protein should be high at all meals to ensure your muscles have enough raw material to construct new muscle cells throughout the day, carbohydrates and fat can be alternated throughout the day to prevent excess storage.
Daily Fat/Carb Cycling is an eating approach that uses alternate high-carbohydrate/high-fat meals to maximize quality food intake while minimizing fat storage. More food, more muscle, less body fat! By alternating carbohydrate and fat intake with each meal, you prevent excessive amounts of either macronutrient being stored. Also, your body becomes more efficient at storing and utilizing energy from carbohydrates when higher carbohydrate meals are spaced further apart.
An average man can only store a few hundred grams of carbohydrates at a time in his muscles and liver. By increasing the time between carbohydrate-rich meals, you are giving your body time to process the carbohydrates and use them for energy — reducing the amount that is converted to body fat.
- Eat six meals per day.
- Meals one, three and five will contain a protein source, 1-2 servings of carbohydrates and minimal fat.
- Meals two, four and six will contain a protein source, moderate amounts of healthy fats and minimal carbohydrates.
High-Protein / High-Carb / Low-Fat Meals:
This is what a typical meal structure will look like for most athletes and physique competitors. While good carbohydrates such as rice, oats and sweet potatoes are great sources of fuel, eating them at consecutive meals can lead to excess carbohydrates being stored as fat. That is why you will only consume three carbohydrate-rich meals per day. Here are some examples of nutrient-dense, high-carb/low-fat meals:
- Egg whites, oatmeal, banana
- Lean chicken breast, brown rice, broccoli
- Lean (90%) steak, sweet potato, asparagus
- Mixed protein shake, fruit
High-Protein / High-Fat / Low-Carbohydrate Meals:
Here are some examples of meals with good fat and minimal carbs. You will be consuming enough calories from healthy fats to ensure muscle growth without overdosing on carbohydrates. Following the high-fat/low carb meals listed below, your body will be more likely to burn body fat for energy. Eating a moderate to high level of fat with three meals per day will encourage your body to use fat for energy, protecting your hard earned muscles and keeping your waistline in check.
- Whole eggs, turkey bacon
- Chicken breast, iceberg lettuce, full-fat salad dressing
- Salmon, avocado, spinach with tomatoes
- Mixed protein shake, almonds
Everybody is different, and every BODY reacts differently to specific nutrition approaches. To ensure you are on the right track, monitor your weight and body fat percentage every two weeks. If you are experiencing steady weight gain without significantly increasing body fat percentage, you are on the track to more lean muscle!
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance.