Recently I was asked, “I can’t make gains, what am I doing wrong?”

“A lot of things,” I said, almost on instinct. Muscular growth is something that you have to plan for and multiple factors go into it.

Your time at the table is one, and arguably the most important, factor in achieving gains. The body is a machine that requires fuel. The kind and quantity of fuel determines performance.

Most people that aren’t gaining muscle simply aren’t eating enough. Caloric intake matters, not only for weight loss goals, but also for building muscle. Just as a calorie deficit is needed to lose weight, a calorie surplus is required to build mass.

That doesn’t mean that you should run out to McDonalds and gorge yourself on Big Macs and fries. What you eat and when you eat it are just as important as total calories consumed.

First, timed meals are essential for hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). Eating too much in one sitting is not going to aid your goals. Your body can only use a certain amount of nutrition at any given time.

Excess consumption turns into waste or goes to fat storage, neither of which will help build muscle. No matter what obese gym rats that are “bulking” may tell you, fat does not turn into muscle.

Small meals throughout the day will allow your body to utilize caloric surplus in a manner conducive for hypertrophy. A good rule of thumb is to eat six meals, relatively equal in size and spaced evenly apart.

An important consideration of meal timing revolves around your workout. A good workout requires a lot of energy, so you need to fuel up one to four hours before exercising. That will give the body time to break down food and utilize it for energy production.

After hitting the weights, it is important to follow up with more food. Both protein and carbohydrates are necessary to consume shortly after exercising.

Speaking of protein and carbohydrates, it is important to make careful consideration of not only how much you eat, but also what you eat. A high-performance machine requires appropriate fuel. High quality input, high quality output.

Complex carbohydrates burn slow and provide sustainable energy. They’ll keep you going through an intense workout, and are necessary to rebuild energy stores once you put the weights down.

Protein is necessary for muscle recovery and growth, but the type of protein is important. Whole food protein is more easily utilized by the body than powder, and lean protein is better than red meats that are loaded with saturated fat.

That’s really it. The great big secret to overcoming stagnant muscle response, as it pertains to nutrition, is healthy food eaten in several meals for a caloric surplus.

However, that is sometimes easier said than done. A big complaint is a lack of time for that many meals every day. I have found, though, that a little planning can easily overcome the problem.

Meal prepping on a day when you have a decent block of time available eliminates the hassle of preparing each meal as it comes up. For me, Sunday afternoon/evening is the perfect time to prep.

Another complaint is that eating right hasn’t been working. People who say that are typically relying upon their judgement that they are eating correctly. Almost always, keeping a food journal will expose weaknesses in diet.

It requires effort and planning, but proper nutrition will help you get those desired gains. Eat up and build those muscles.  

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Chris DeLeon
Chris DeLeon is a certified personal trainer and military veteran. He is in his second year at CMU, working towards a bachelor of science degree in exercise science before going towards a doctorate in physical therapy . Chris began writing seven years ago, penning four published novels under the name Lee Daniel, but only recently brought his love of the written word to journalism. He joined the Criterion staff in the fall of 2016 and accepted the position of News Editor for the fall of 2017.

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