More often than not guys (or girls) who want to transform their body and put on massive amounts of muscle and/or get ripped eventually realize that they must put in 100% effort at the gym every single training session.
No matter what the training goal is, intensity is absolutely necessary to be successful. But there’s one thing that many people tend to glaze over: Nutrition.
Sure, people throw around terms like “Eat Big Get Big,” but in my experience nutrition is not given the attention it deserves.
I became a healthy eater prior to my lifting career, so when I started lifting I thought I was all set. I chose relatively healthy foods and didn’t drink, but over the years I learned that simply “eating more” to add muscle or “eating less” to get ripped were simply too broad of terms to live by.
Sure, there are a very few number of people who have unreal genetics and can get by with “eyeballing” portions now and then.
But when it comes down to it, if you’re serious about gaining quality mass, you have to know what you’re putting into your body and how much of it you are consuming.
The Importance of Nutrition
Simply put, in order to gain muscle sustainably long-term, tracking your macros is imperative. You see, in order to add muscle, your body needs more calories than it burns on a daily basis. If you don’t know exactly how much you’re currently eating, it’s going to be very hard to know exactly how much more you need to eat.
For instance, let’s just use calories as an example and not worry about the rest of the macros--just to understand the concept.
Related: Calculate Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) Daily Calorie
Let’s take a guy named Alex, for instance. Alex and I are sitting down having coffee. He’s currently maintaining his weight, but not tracking what he eats. Alex explains that his goal is to gain more lean muscle but he doesn’t think he needs to count his macros:
So I ask, “How would you do it?”
Alex: “Well that’s easy, just eat more!”
Me: “Ok awesome. How much is ‘more?’”
Alex: “200-300 calories!”
Me: “Nice! So go ahead and eat 200-300 more calories every day…”
This is where most people look at me with a confused look. It’s one thing to say 200 calories, and another to know what that looks like in terms of actual food. If you don’t know how much you’re currently eating, then you surely don’t know how much more you need to eat.
If you’re trying to lose fat and get ripped, you may understand you have to eat less than you burn, but you still have to put a number value on it. You must have a specific number to reach every day. So, how do you start?
Tracking your Macros
Tracking your macros really isn’t as hard as many people make it out to be. It can seem overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it and establish a routine, it just becomes part of your regular schedule, and even makes life a little easier!
I’m someone who likes tangible information that I can take real action on right away, so here are some step by step tips on how to get started!
Here’s how to get your nutrition on track
1. Installing an app is the easiest way to do it. I suggest Myfitnesspal or something similar. You just need one that will tell you your calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to start.
2. Weigh yourself first thing in the morning and write it down.
3. Spend the next week recording everything you eat, every single day. Don’t change what you eat either! The point of the first 1-2 weeks is to establish a baseline and learn how your body is reacting to how you’re currently eating. If you change what you do from the start, you won’t know what exactly caused the changes your body may have experienced as a result.
4. Weigh yourself once a week for two weeks at the same time of day.
- After the second week, if you’re maintaining your current weight, it’s safe to say you’re at a good starting point. From there, I’d suggest getting a coach or doing more research on how to best adjust your macros to start gaining muscle.
- If you’re goal is to gain weight and you’re not, odds are you need to increase calories. A good starting point is 200 calories. At that point I’d again suggest getting a coach or doing more research on how to best adjust your macros (based on age, body type, activity level, etc.) to start gaining muscle because as I said earlier, “simply eating more” won’t cut it.
- If your goal is to lose weight and you’re not, you probably need to decrease calories. Again, start with lowering your current calories by 200 for at least 1 week. Weigh yourself again and if you don’t see a difference after 2 weeks, lower by another 200.
Pro Tip: Get a food scale too. This will make your records so much more accurate and is necessary for you to truly understand how much food you’re putting in your body.
Strategies for Easy Tracking
When you first start, you’ll be tracking what you ate at the end of each day, but once you establish your baseline and know how much you need to eat, start planning out your meals ahead of time. Start the night before. Just map out what you’re going to eat the next day and make sure it’s all ready to go.
Overtime, start prepping two days out, then three days, four days, all the way until you’re able to prep a full week’s worth of food at once. When you start doing this a few things will happen:
- You cheat less often because you’ve already prepared the food and it (should be) ready to go wherever you are.
- You save time cooking every day.
- You don’t have to “decide” what to eat and how to be healthy because you’ve already made that decision the night before! This in turn takes the pressure off your willpower to stay on track and instead creates habits.
I buy and prep all of my food for the week on Sundays and as a result don’t have to cook at all during the week. Sure, sometimes I want a fresh cut of steak or chicken so I decide to cook here and there during the week, but it’s a choice based on my preferences. In general, I have more time now that I count my macros, and staying on track is much easier.
Related: How To Build A Fat Loss Meal Plan - A Step-by-Step Guide
You will gain some fat when you put on muscle--so don’t worry. There’s no way around it. Ideally fat is minimized as much as possible, which is where playing with carbohydrates and not increasing calories too fast comes into play.
If you’re trying to put on muscle, you should shoot to gain about 0.5-1 lb per week total or 1 lb of lean muscle per month on average. If you’re gaining more than 1 lb per week you’re eating too much and probably gaining more fat than necessary. This is not including guys who start lifting for the first time. First time lifters will temporarily gain weight at a much higher rate.
It is incredibly helpful to invest in a body fat scale or have your body fat composition done by a professional once a month. Monitoring your macros, weight, and physical appearance are all parts of the puzzle, but knowing your body fat is the key to it all. Knowing your body fat will tell you over time if the weight you’re gaining/losing is fat or muscle, which is critical to long-term success.
Pro Tip: It’s important to remember that gaining or losing 1lb per week is an average. If you don’t see a change in just a week, don’t freak out. Everyone’s body is different and things take time. If you don’t see any change after 2-3 weeks, then it’s time to tweak your numbers.
If you’re serious about changing your physique, building muscle and getting ripped, nutrition is key. We’ve all heard the notion that “no amount of training can outwork bad nutrition” but it goes even further than that.
You not only need to make healthy food choices, but you also (possibly more importantly) need to know exactly how much of those foods you need to eat each day to reach your goals.
Once you arm yourself with the knowledge of what you’re putting in your body, it’s no longer a matter of “if” you reach your goals, but a matter of “when.”
hey Im new to the game of lifting properly and the info you give is invaluable to me thank you. just from your and other authors articles on this site got me to quit drinking be more active a whole 360 in my life and i feel incredible thanks
Matthew - that's great to hear! Keep up the great work, and let us know if we can help along the way!
Nice general articale. Good points that are common sense. Would love to see some actual information. Give it some meat! Thanks
I do know the most important thing for me is eating breakfast 30 minutes after a workout. It is so important to refuel your muscles after you tear them down working out. In fact, never skip breakfast whether you lift weights on that day or not. You cannot control your weight by skipping meals especially breakfast.