I spend a TON of time talking about losing weight and how to take up less space.
But there is way more to your nutrition than that.
In fact, there is actually a good chance you’ve lost all the weight you’re gonna lose or as lean/thin as you want to get, and it’s time to start taking up space.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to adjust your nutrition for hypertrophy. What exactly does this mean?? This means today I’m teaching you how to GROW and BUILD strength/muscle.
There are a number of benefits to actually adding weight and building muscle.
The most important benefit is that it’s a break from dieting. You should actually only spend 1:4 of your time in a deficit...which equates to a quarter of the year. In some cases, half of the year is appropriate, but it’s broken up with periods of refeeds, diet breaks, and maintenance/gaining phases. From my experience working with over 100 people, this is very uncommon. I find that many people spent most of their year in a deficit, chronically dieting for months on end with very little results. When you’re building muscle, you’re doing less and eating more, which does wonders for hormone health, metabolic health, inflammation, joint health, stress, and overall health. This will actually make you MORE successful in future diets from a physical and mental/mindset standpoint.
The second benefit is that you need muscle to see body comp changes and have the “lean” and “toned” you’re striving to get. I absolutely hate the phrase...but those who are “skinny fat” are the perfect candidates for adding muscle because they’re as thin as their going to get...but they don’t have an ideal body comp because the ratio of muscle to fat is significantly reduced. They have significantly more body fat than they do muscle. Constantly cutting weight with no muscle will never get you to your results. Having muscle is what lets you have structured arms, abs, legs, shoulders, back, etc. Having muscle doesn’t equal “bulky” either. In order to look “bulky”, you need YEARS of hard and heavy training, genetics, and tons and tons of food.
The third benefit is that muscle is healthy and the process behind building muscle (eating food, eating carbs, prioritizing protein, reducing stress, lifting [heavy] weights) is incredibly good for your body. Increased muscle mass protects your bones and joints. It increases your daily expenditure... yes, if you have more muscle you burn more energy during a given day.
The final benefit is that having muscle and lifting heavy does wonders for your mindset and self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s amazing how much power someone gains from adding weights into their daily routine. It also gives you another marker of progress. I recently spent close to a year maintaining/gaining and probably gained 5-6lbs in doing so. In that time, I achieved a 200lb clean, above bodyweight snatch and bench press, 2x bodyweight deadlift, and PR’d my front and back squat. I mean losing weight is great, but so is that. Having something to feel proud of, especially as a female, is strong and powerful and does wonders for your confidence.
If you’ve dieted forever or have done cut after cut after cut and STILL don’t have the results you’re striving for, then it’s likely you’re in need of a gaining phase.
Now in the past, you’ve probably heard of the common go-to method of building weight, the “Dirty Bulk”, where it was just eating a bunch of junk or going some 500-1000 calories in a surplus. In recent years, we’ve actually developed significantly more refined techniques to building muscle so that you’re adding mostly lean muscle and minimizing fat gain (one of the side effects that does happen in gaining phases).
Step 1. EAT MORE FOOD
This is what it will boil down to first and foremost. You need to be eating enough food. A lot of times people will say, “Oh, but I am eating a ton...in fact, all I feel like I am doing is eating.” When you actually get down to it and track what they are physically eating...and in reality, they’re really not eating that much.
There are two ways to find out how many calories you should aim to eat.
The first way is to take your bodyweight and multiply by 16-20. For me (150lbs), this would put me eating between 2400 (16x), 2700 (18x), and 3000 (20x) calories/day.
The next way is to set your calories 3-10% above maintenance. This step is if you already know your maintenance calories.
Which end of the range should you go towards? This depends on your training experience and goal. The more experienced and advanced of a lifter you are, the smaller the surplus, around that 16-18x your bodyweight or 3-5% above maintenance. The newer you are to lifting, the higher you can take that surplus. The more experienced of a lifter the more fine-tuned your neurologic systems are towards building muscle, so a smaller surplus is required. A large surplus likely would lead to significantly more fat gains.
One concern you may have is if that jump to your surplus caloric intake is >500 calories. Say, for example, you’ve either just come out of a deficit or you’re fairly new to calories/macros and under-eating your maintenance and have 800 calories to add. In this case, reverse diet up to your surplus intake to minimize fat gain and any GI distress from the quick addition.
Step 2. MACROS
Now to set your macros: protein, fats, and carbs. If you are going into a gaining phase, it’s important to be tracking each macro. Some adjustments need to be made in comparison to deficit and maintenance phases when it comes to a gaining phase.
First is protein.
Generally, you want to set your protein intake to 1.0-1.3x your bodyweight (in grams of protein). The minimum protein intake would be on the 1.0-1.1g/lb BW side. However, you likely want to consider increasing your protein intake up to 1.2-1.3g/lb BW for a couple of reasons. First, you’re going into a surplus of calories. MOST of this surplus is going to be coming from carbohydrates, which you may find difficult. From an adherence standpoint, making a small bump in protein will help you reach that surplus effortlessly. Secondly, as you add food (mainly carbohydrates), you’re going to be adding food that has trace amounts of protein. Think oats, quinoa, rice, beans/legumes, etc. This source of protein is less bioavailable and not as digestible for its main purpose, building muscle. If you don’t make a slight increase in protein, you’re actually going to inadvertently decrease the amount of bioavailable protein in your diet, which is why making that increase to 1.2-1.3g/lb BW is encouraged. You can bump it up further to 1.5g, even 2.0g/lb BW, but then you’re taking calories away from carbs and fats and likely setting a protein goal that is tougher to reach.
Second is fats.
Your fat prescription needs to be at a minimum of 0.3g/lb BW, or 20% of calories. This is the bare minimum to ensure your hormones are functioning and regulated properly. I would recommend bumping that fat prescription up to a more effective 0.4g/lb BW or 25% of total calories up to a maximum amount of 0.5g/lb BW or 30% total calories. This is again to help from an adherence standpoint with reaching a surplus. It’s also pretty difficult to add both protein AND carbs and keep fats at 20% of calories. Why not go more? You don’t want to bump up much more than 30% or 0.5g/lb BW. Fats do have a minimum threshold. Fats optimize hormones but doesn’t “supercharge” them when eaten in excess. Eating 40% fats won’t supercharge your testosterone or estrogen levels, making you superhuman. Fats don’t contribute to muscle growth nor do they support anaerobic training. When eaten in excess, they tend to just result in fat gain, which is what we’re trying to avoid. The goal is to stay lean while you gain, which is achieved by minimizing the amount of fats and maximizing carb intake.
Lastly, onto carbs.
This is the easiest...you simply decide what’s left using the equation below.
Total calories (from step 1) = 4*gP + 4*gC + 9*gF
This is likely going to lead to a high carb prescription. This is what we want!! This is 1. Going to fuel your extra workouts and extra volume and intensity training to build muscle and 2. Is going to build lean muscle tissue while minimizing fat gain. Taking carbohydrates and storing as fat is more difficult compared to say fats being consumed (in a surplus) being stored as fats—because it doesn’t require a complete change of structure, etc. Because it’s more difficult and costly energy-wise, they are much more likely to be used as fuel, which is why this is the main macro being increased in a gaining phase.
Step 3. MEAL TIMING AND FREQUENCY
Meal timing and frequency are a bit more important here because gaining lean muscle tissue is a costly process that is happening 24/7. You want to eat frequent, evenly spaced meals. I’d recommend bumping meal frequency to 4-5 meals/day.
For timing, it’s crucial to have a pre-workout and post-workout meal 1-2 hours before and after, respectively. I would definitely implement either an intra- or post-workout shake of whey + highly branched cyclic dextrin to sip on during or after your workout.
Then evenly space your meals throughout the day. I wouldn’t recommend fasting or eating meals more than 4-5 hours apart because the longer you go without food, the more catabolic effects we see...i.e. muscle breakdown. We want to be constantly supplying your body the fuel it needs to grow.
Step 4. HOW TO EAT TONS OF FOOD
Eating in a surplus isn’t easy...it’s eating more food than maybe you’re comfortable with. For me, this isn’t something I struggle with because I love food and I love performing like a boss at the gym. For others, this is a huge mental and physical challenge.
The easiest way to eat more food is to reduce your whole foods to 75%. In maintenance and in a deficit, you generally want to follow an 80/20 or 90/10 approach of whole foods to processed foods. If you stick to this in a surplus, you’re going to be eating a ton of broccoli and this is going to be miserable and also probably lead to a ton of GI issues from the added fiber. Instead, bring down the whole foods and bump up the processed foods. This is your time to eat foods like pasta, rice, potatoes, steaks, essentially nutrient dense foods. Choosing nutrient dense foods is going to make it easier to hit macros/calories, while also preserving gut health because these are often easy to digest foods.
Eating for a deficit and a gaining phase is completely different. Don’t try to build muscle on salads.
Step 5. LIFT HEAVY.
Non-negotiable, gotta up the volume and intensity at the gym and gotta be lifting...heavy. This doesn’t mean crush yourself at the gym...you need to be smart and methodical in your training program. Doing a bunch of CrossFit metcons and cardio is just going to create inflammation and won’t create the necessary stimulus for building muscle. Limit cardio to only LISS (low intensity) as to not increase your daily expenditure (which would require you to eat MORE) and increase inflammation (makes building muscle tough).
Need some training help? Boom Boom Performance is my #1 recommended group for extensive training programs.
Step 6. BIOFEEDBACK & LIFESTYLE
As with losing weight, stress needs to be managed. Sleep 7-9 hours/night. Take 1-2 rest days/week. Recovery is crucial as to not promote muscle breakdown. All of the basics need to be prioritized to keep biofeedback (energy, sleep, stress, etc.) high. The second biofeedback tanks, the less likely you are to building muscle.
There you have it, 6 steps on nutrition for hypertrophy. This, 100%, is something you can do on your own. That being said, however, if the process of adding weight is mentally challenging and is something you’re unsure that you’ll be able to stick to, as with everything, hire a coach who will keep you accountable and will keep you on the right track the entire time.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.