Getting ripped is about the hard work you get done in the gym. Nutrition and lifestyle habits will support or detract from top-quality training.
By nailing nutrition you can accelerate recovery and take advantage of every last little bit of precious training time. This way, you’ll be benefiting from the most important factor when it comes to putting on muscle and maintaining single-digit body fat: Insulin sensitivity.
#1: Use insulin to your advantage to build muscle/lose fat.
One of the most important factors for building muscle is the sensitivity of the lean tissues in the body to the hormone insulin.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone and it will drive nutrients into muscle cells, whereas in an insulin resistant state you are much more likely to store the food you eat as fat.
If you’ve been bulking in an effort to put on muscle, or if you spend a lot of your non-gym time sitting down, it’s a good bet that you have some degree of insulin resistance.
Crappy diets that contain a lot of refined foods, or even just a consistent high-carb intake will also reduce insulin sensitivity. Results will be slow, and you won’t change your body as dramatically or as quickly as someone who is lean and insulin sensitive.
Therefore, a lot of these tips will be geared at setting you up with a hormonal environment that is ready to work for you. You will get far superior muscle development once you put in the hard work.
#2: Pick a protein goal and hit it every single day.
Shoot for upwards of 1.6 g/kg of bodyweight of protein a day. Up to 2.4 g/kg a day may be beneficial for putting on muscle.
You might be surprised this recommendation isn’t higher, but research consistently shows that 1.3 to 2.4 g/kg will produce maximal adaptations in trainees who are consuming enough calories. Studies show trained athletes actually have lower protein needs than novices in order to repair damaged tissue and build muscle.
In general, it’s worth it not to overshoot protein intake too much for two reasons: First, excessive protein is often poorly digested if your gut isn’t working like clockwork, and this can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation—neither of which will help you get ripped.
Second, having a moderate protein intake is useful because there’s some evidence that if you strategically increase the amount of protein you eat by 50 or 60 percent to coincide with high-volume training phases, you can experience greater muscle development.
For example, if you regularly eat 1.5 g/kg protein a day, you could fairly easily increase it by 60 percent to 2.4 g/kg a day and expect to see maximal muscular growth from intense training. But, if you’re already at 2 g/kg, you have little room to increase protein much without serious force feeding.
#3: Always eat the highest quality, most digestible proteins.
All protein sources are not created equally. Foods differ in regards to their digestibility and nutrient content, which is why the two most important questions you should ask before putting a food in your mouth are:
1) Is this food nutrient rich?
2) Can my body digest this food easily?
Animal proteins tend to be well digested if you chew them properly and have a healthy gut—neither of which are a given in this high-stress modern world. Therefore, it’s most important to make sure you’re not eating a protein source for which you’ve become intolerant of.
Next, you want protein that has all the essential amino acids and as many non-essential aminos and other nutrients as possible. Again, animal proteins top the list. Your five best protein sources are eggs, salmon, whey protein, beef, and chicken, Bison, halibut, turkey, Greek yogurt, and organic liver (beef or chicken) round out the top ten spots.
There’s no need to be shy about eating vegetarian proteins like legumes, seeds, or nuts—these foods make great condiments to salad and veggie dishes. It’s just that if you avoid animal proteins, you’ll be hard pressed to get optimal levels of the amino acid leucine, which is the most important stimulator of protein synthesis.
#4: Distribute a high-protein intake evenly at meals.
Eating protein triggers muscle protein synthesis and suppresses protein breakdown for several hours so that you end up with more lean tissue.
For example, a new study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that when participants ate 30 grams of protein at each meal, protein synthesis levels were 25 percent higher than that of people who skewed their consumption by loading up on protein at dinner. Spiking protein synthesis throughout the day gives your body more opportunity to add muscle.
#5: Eat. A. Lot.
Your muscles need to be trained frequently and with a high volume if you expect them to grow. Dieting is not going to help this process.
High-quality calories are king when it comes to muscle building. High-quality means the most nutrient-dense whole (not processed) foods on the planet. Research suggests that for maximal muscle growth to occur in conjunction with intense, frequent training, you should eat between 44 to 50 calories per kg of body weight daily. For a 150-pound person, that’s 3,000 to 3,450 calories a day.
#6: Use nutrition to support the immune system.
Nutrition will make the most difference if you’re nearing your body’s physical limit from training. If all you need to do is work harder, the benefit of nutrition is negligible.
One trick is to bump up calories once a week as high as 150 percent. Adequate calories are essential for recovery, and eating enough tells the body that resources are abundant, making it more responsive to pack on muscle. It’s the opposite effect of “starvation mode” in which calories are restricted and your body ratchets down your metabolic rate.
#7: Increase your intake of healthy fats.
Skimping on fat is a major pitfall when training to get shredded. First, abundant fat is necessary for the body to manufacture hormones and everyone knows that testosterone, growth hormone, and so on are necessary for athletic performance and recovery.
Second, many healthy fat sources support immune function and provide fat-soluble vitamins that the body needs for peak health.
Try butter (it supplies butyric acid, which feeds beneficial but bacteria), coconut oil (it provides a quick fuel source and is anti-inflammatory), and fish (omega-3 fats that are anti-inflammatory).
Finally, fat provides extra calories and makes meals delicious, which is useful when your appetite is reduced from a high protein intake.
#8: Fight DOMS muscle soreness with blueberries & dark-colored fruit.
A high training frequency may well be the number one most important factor when packing on muscle, which means that it’s a big problem if you’re suffering from intense muscle soreness and can’t train.
Thank god then for blueberries and tart cherries because both of these fruits have been found to accelerate recovery and reduce DOMS. These dark-colored fruits have potent nutrients that improve the elimination of waste products produced during training.
Other nutrient powerhouses include raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and plums—all of which may be medicine for sick muscles, though they haven’t been specifically tested in exercise studies.
#9: Eat vegetables at every meal.
There are two downsides of a diet rich in protein:
* People rarely eat enough vegetables, which leads to high levels of oxidative stress.
* Fiber is severely lacking, which leads to poor gut function.
For example, a 2013 study from Tufts University found that subjects who ate more protein had more inflammation, most likely because their diets lacked fiber and antioxidant nutrients that help to eradicate oxidative stress.
Eating nutrient-rich vegetables at every meal is the perfect solution because veggies are packed with fiber and nutrition, including everything from phytonutrients to magnesium and calcium.
Lower carb sources include the leafy greens such as kale and collards, or cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Higher carb sources are tubers such as sweet potatoes, squash, and regular potatoes.
#10: Eat more carbs on training days, less on off days.
Remember that the first thing we talked about was how you need to be insulin sensitive order to get ripped?
The reason is that doing so prepares the body to take advantage of the higher calories and carbs so that you put on muscle instead of fat. This is where the magic happens.
Here are some muscle-building benefits to eating carbs:
* They reduce cortisol during training and help you achieve a balanced cortisol curve. An improved cortisol curve enhances sleep, allowing for faster recovery.
* They support thyroid function, which is involved in the regulation of body composition.
* You will be able to generate greater force during exhausting training. Eating a higher carb diet will reduce fatigue and your workouts will “feel” easier.
We can’t tell you exactly how many carbs to eat, but chances are, you’ll be upwards of 250 to 300 grams-a-day on training days when building muscle. A recent review of carb intake for strength sports, including bodybuilding, recommends between 4 to 7 g/kg of carbs a day, depending on phase of training.
Whatever you decide to do, favor whole food carbs like starchy vegetables, fruit, boiled grains, and legumes rather than processed junk carbs. If you take carbs during training, try a carb-to-protein ratio between 2:1 and 1:1.