Diet to Gain Muscle Mass

Is your goal to gain muscle mass? In that case you will have to adapt the diet. If you do not take into account some keys, all the effort of the training will fall on deaf ears.
Diet to Gain Muscle Mass
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 13 July, 2023

To gain muscle mass, it’s essential to plan a proper diet and perform constant physical exercise. The tissue must be subjected to a certain workload, thus initiating the processes of super-compensation and hypertrophy.

However, if a series of dietary goals is not met, it won’t be possible to experience a growth of the muscle section, no matter how well planned the training is. Likewise, toxic habits, such as the consumption of alcohol or other drugs, should be avoided.

Proteins to gain muscle mass

The key nutrients when it comes to building muscle mass are protein. These have a marked structural function. Without them, hypertrophy isn’t experienced, as they’re in charge of building the new tissue and giving it elasticity and consistency.

For a sedentary person, a daily protein intake of at least 0.8 grams of the nutrient per kilo of weight is recommended. However, when it comes to an athlete and the goal is to gain mass, the needs increase above 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of weight. This is evidenced by a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Proteins are essential to ensure proper recovery. Otherwise, an increase in the risk of muscle injury may be created, due to the fact that the tissue isn’t well restructured after the exercise. For this reason, it is important to ensure that the daily requirements of the nutrient are covered.

Half of the proteins in the diet must be of high biological value, that is, of animal origin. These have all the essential amino acids and score well for digestibility. In this way, it’s ensured that all the components necessary for the genesis of new muscle gain are ingested.

Even so, it’s best to complete the requirements with nutrients from the plant kingdom. Legumes, as well as nuts and seeds, stand out for their concentration in protein, which is why they help to improve the contribution of these elements. With its presence in the diet, it becomes easier to reach the previously suggested doses.

To gain muscle mass you have to plan a hypercaloric diet

To gain muscle mass you have to use healthy foods
Those who want to see increased muscle mass should eat a lot, that is a fact. However, food must be chosen correctly.

It’s physically impossible for tissue to be built without excess calories in the diet. Otherwise, it would be violating one of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, which are considered unbreakable. Therefore, it’s always necessary to establish a hyper-energetic environment to favor the creation of new lean mass.

With this objective in mind, it’s advisable to increase the amount of lipids in the diet. Their caloric density is very high. In addition, they are beneficial nutrients for the body as long as they aren’t subjected to aggressive thermal processes or industrial manipulations. Some of them, like omega 3s, promote inflammatory control, according to research published in International Immunology.

However, it isn’t appropriate to exceed this point either. Otherwise, the accumulation of fatty tissue could be favored, something that we don’t want either. With an excess of 300 or 400 calories over a normal calorie environment, it’s usually sufficient. This ensures the construction of new muscle mass without causing an increase in lipid deposits.

On the other hand, it’s essential to ensure that the fatty acids consumed are not of the trans type. These elements have been shown to be capable of promoting the development of complex pathologies such as diabetes, some types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. They’re found mainly in industrial products or those subjected to high temperatures.

The best thing is always for the increase in calories to come from the inclusion in the diet of quality foods such as oats, extra virgin olive oil, dairy products, nuts, or seeds. All of them contain quality nutrients. In addition, they provide antioxidants, elements necessary to promote a good recovery and to prevent muscle injuries.

Supplements to gain muscle mass

One option to take into account is to include supplements in the diet to gain muscle mass. There are compounds that can directly or indirectly exert an influence on the hypertrophy mechanisms, thus causing a more effective growth of the tissue in the medium term. They are also very safe for health, as they don’t have side or adverse effects.

Among the most used supplements for this purpose is creatine. There is evidence that indicates that this substance increases the maximum strength of the athlete, which translates into more intensive workouts throughout the week. Higher weight lifted causes superior adaptations, further stimulating hypertrophic metabolic routines.

Creatine is one of the most common supplements in the elite athlete’s diet. Sometimes it is combined with another substance that is also capable of exerting an effect on mass gains, HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate). This is a metabolite of leucine capable of stimulating endogenous protein synthesis and the body’s anabolic processes.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, the interaction between both substances causes a synergy. This achieves a significant increase in performance, as well as an improvement in terms of body composition. At least the intake must be extended for 4 weeks to begin to notice positive effects.

Finally, special mention must be made of ecdysterone. This compound, present in vegetables such as spinach, seems to exert an effect on the anabolic pathways of metabolism, favoring the gains of lean mass. There still isn’t much evidence in this regard, but published studies show quite interesting positive results without adverse effects.

What to avoid to gain muscle mass?

When the objective is to gain muscle mass, special care must be taken with the inclusion of toxic substances in the diet. An example of them are alcoholic beverages, whose consumption is dangerously normalized at the population level. This element is not only harmful to health, but also has a catabolic effect, apart from altering hormonal levels.

Similarly, the use of other drugs can alter the production of testosterone or growth hormone, two of the most important compounds in terms of hypertrophy. It’s necessary to avoid such toxins and ensure a good night’s rest. Bad health habits impair the body’s function and also the adaptation to exercise.

Preventing essential micronutrient deficiencies is critical. Some of them act as cofactors in hormonal synthesis, as is the case with zinc. This mineral is involved in the production of testosterone at the testicular level. If the levels are not adequate, the serum levels of the hormone could be affected, which conditions the adaptations to exercise.

To prevent situations of this type, it is recommended to include foods with high nutritional density in the diet. Among them are red meat and nuts. Even animal organs can be eaten with some frequency, although from an organoleptic point of view they aren’t to everyone’s liking.

A case that is also quite worrying is that of anemia. This can be caused by defects in the supply of iron or vitamin B12. In both cases, a situation of tiredness and fatigue is experienced that can jeopardize compliance with exercise routines, responsible for generating adaptation processes.

To ensure a correct contribution of both elements, it’s advisable for red meat to have a regular presence in the diet. In the case of vegan athletes, the best option is supplementation, since the requirements of these nutrients increase when intense physical activity is carried out. It’s crucial to ensure that needs are met.

Beware of simple sugars

It has been proposed that the consumption of carbohydrates helps improve anaerobic-type performance, therefore allowing greater efficiency in weight lifting. Despite this, an excessive intake of simple sugars could end up causing problems in the medium term in terms of muscle mass gains.

This is because a condition known as insulin resistance develops. Cells become less and less sensitive to the hormone, which determines the use of nutrients for energy production and for the creation of new tissue. It must be taken into account that the main anabolic routes depend on insulin. Defects in its use or production can affect the muscle.

For this reason, simple sugars must be consumed mainly before and after physical activity. But it is essential that they are ingested in moderate amounts. Thus they can have an ergogenic and recuperative effect, but in no case will they cause a negative alteration in the body.

In the rest of the meals of the day it is recommended that you include carbohydrates, but it will be better to prioritize those of the complex type. Oats, tubers, legumes, and whole grains are always the best option. However, you shouldn’t eat too much flour and its derivatives, such as pasta or bakery products.

Diet to gain muscle mass

Once the theoretical principles on which the diet is based to gain muscle mass have been explained, we’re going to explain the practical part. We’re going to show you how to correctly prepare a menu to achieve success in terms of improving body composition.


When the objective is to generate tissue, it isn’t advisable to establish intermittent fasting protocols. Hypertrophy could be experienced with the application of one of them if a series of requirements are met, but this only complicates the process. No benefits will be experienced from its implementation in these contexts.

It is best to guarantee a breakfast that ensures a high supply of quality nutrients. Complex carbohydrates, proteins of high biological value and fats must be present. Of course, the amounts will depend on each person. The requirements of men and women aren’t similar. Similarly, there are differences in terms of body weight and exercise performed.

Good breakfast options to gain muscle mass are the following:

  • Porridge oat seeds
  • Toast with sliced tomato and Serrano ham
  • Oatmeal pancakes and peanut butter
  • Scrambled eggs with avocado and turkey


As the approach of a hypercaloric diet is necessary, it’s advisable to eat several times a day. This ensures a continuous energy supply, which stimulates the anabolic mTor pathways of metabolism. These are the ones that are related to the creation of new tissue.

To do so, it’s necessary to prepare snacks that can provide a good number of calories, but which, in turn, contain high-quality protein. The best options are nuts. Rice or corn cakes can also be considered, especially if they’re spread with cheese or peanut butter.

In the case of exercising before or after this intake, the presence of fruit helps. Thus, antioxidants and simple carbohydrates are provided to increase energy, which ensures greater sports performance and more efficient subsequent adaptations.


To gain muscle mass, it is good to consume meat
Depending on the culture, lunch can become the main dish of the day. It is important to include a good source of animal protein at this time.

The midday meal is usually the main meal. At this time you have to combine a good portion of vegetables with foods that concentrate low glycemic carbohydrates and proteins of high biological value. As for vegetables, it’s advisable to guarantee the greatest variety. With a certain predominance of those of the red color, crucifers should also appear frequently.

When it comes to carbohydrate intake, tubers and legumes are the best options, followed by rice and pseudo-cereals. As we have mentioned previously, it is better to reduce the presence of pasta and bread, since the impact of these products on blood glucose is high.

Finally, you need to satisfy the protein and fat requirements. You have to alternate the intake of meat and fish at this time of day, and it’s always a good idea to prioritize the presence of the latter. This also brings a supply of quality fats, which can be complemented with the use of raw extra virgin olive oil and fruits such as avocado.

To finish the meal, it’s advisable to finish off with a good dessert. It’s necessary to avoid the dairy sweets that are so common in many families. These are occasional consumer products. It’s best to introduce a plain or Greek yogurt at this time. Thus, it is possible to increase protein intake while introducing probiotics in the diet, essential for good digestive health.

Examples of meals include the following:

  • Beef stew with potato and carrot
  • Grilled salmon with sweet potato and broccoli
  • Chicken and vegetable fajitas
  • Baked chicken with quinoa and peppers
  • Grilled lamb chops with rice and mushrooms

Afternoon snacks

Once again, it is essential to continue with the energy and protein intake in the middle of the afternoon. You can consider the intake of toast with some protein food, such as ham, turkey, cheese or peanut butter. Even an oatmeal porridge could be helpful at this point if your breakfast didn’t have enough calories.

If you’re going to train in the afternoon, or if a double session is planned, it’s advisable to ensure a quality nutritional intake at this time of day. In this way, it’s possible to ingest the necessary energy to perform optimally, something that will have a decisive influence on subsequent muscle gains.


The last meal of the day must be made up of proteins of high biological value, vegetables and quality carbohydrates. It may look similar to a midday meal. However, a lower total volume is recommended to avoid the appearance of digestive discomfort at night which will affect sleep quality. Yogurt for dessert is once again a favorite.

Valid dinner options are as follows:

  • Grilled hake with cauliflower and cooked potato
  • Baked sea bass with quinoa and peppers
  • Grilled turkey with sautéed vegetables and rice
  • French omelet stuffed with tuna with quinoa and salad

After dinner

There is a nutritional strategy that has been shown to bring benefits when it comes to building muscle. It involves the inclusion of a casein supplement prior to sleep. This protein of dairy origin has a slow digestion. Consuming it before going to bed stimulates endogenous protein synthesis during the night, which improves muscle gains.

It is an increasingly used supplementation protocol among elite athletes. It also causes a more effective recovery from the work session, which translates into performance benefits.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the inclusion of protein shakes throughout the day is possible. Above all, they should be consumed if the daily protein requirements are not reached through the diet. They’re a handy option to provide the highest quality nutrients. However, they are not an essential condition for muscle gain, rather an aid.

Optimize your diet to gain muscle mass

Planning a diet to gain muscle mass requires a certain methodology. It is necessary to ensure the consumption of proteins of high biological value, included within the context of a hypercaloric diet. Likewise, you need to avoid nutrient deficiencies that can negatively condition the intensity of physical work.

On the other hand, it’s important to optimize training sessions to generate adaptations at a muscular level. If a minimum intensity isn’t achieved, then tissue creation won’t be stimulated. It’s important that diet and training go hand in hand to achieve the best results, and this may also include supplements to increase performance.

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