Building Muscle : The key to Staying Lean (Part II – Eating for Muscle Mass)


In my last blog, we talked about strength training and building muscle while incorporating short intense cardio exercise for building healthy lean muscle tissue. In this blog, I am going to talk what we need to feed the body for muscle repair and growth.

Many newcomers to strength training think they are actually building muscle when training in the gym. Although you are pumping the muscle full of blood which temporally makes the muscle appear larger, actually what you are doing is tearing the muscle fibers down. Growth, repair, and stronger harder muscle tissue only happen when two conditions are met:
• Feeding the body the required nutrients
• Rest
Obviously, these two conditions can only be met outside of the gym .Let’s talk about nutrients first.

Eating for muscle is not difficult or expensive but it does take some planning. To begin with, you need all three of the macronutrients in the proper ratios and at the right time of the day beginning with protein.

Protein is the most crucial macronutrient required for repair, growth and maintenance of muscle tissue. The very word itself implies its importance (The term “protein” comes from the Greek work “proteios” meaning “primary” or “primary importance”). All proteins are comprised of 20 amino acids with 8 of them being essential because they cannot be produced by the body and must come from food.
The best sources of protein are from animal sources such as red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. Plant foods can also be good sources of protein but one or more of the 8 essential amino acids are available in such low levels in some plant foods and thus must be combined with other plant sources for an adequate supply of essential amino acids.

On your training days, it is imperative to consume healthy, chemical free protein within a one-hour time window after your strength training session is finished. Throughout the day, consume a protein rich meal every three to four hours 4 to 5 times a day.
Many trainers and health experts say that on your non-training days since you are not torching as many calories with exercise, you should decrease your protein and overall caloric intake but I believe this is a mistake. Individual muscles take an average of 48 hours to recover from resistance training. It is crucial that on your rest days, you take in just as much protein and muscle building calories to support the muscle recovery process and growth-the reason being that on your rest days, your body is in the most advantageous position to recover and benefit from the previous day’s training ( provided it is fed the proper nutrients).

Strive to consume one gram per pound of bodyweight of protein each day (For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you would want to consume at least 160 grams of protein per day). If you happen to go over that number, don’t sweat it-If you are training hard, a little extra protein will do you no harm at all while not consuming enough will prevent you from making maximum gains in strength, muscle size and tone.

Instead of the traditional three meals a day, try eating more often but less at each meal (5-6 meals per day with some protein at every meal). Since the body can only utilize 30-35 grams of protein every three hours, you need not eat large protein meals (The important thing is to hit that goal of getting at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day).

Healthy muscle building protein meals include:
• Chemical and antibiotic free red meat from grass fed cattle
• Organic whole eggs
• Organic dairy from grass fed cattle

About eggs- don’t be fooled into thinking you should discard the yolks when eating eggs. Eat the whole egg. The protein is divided between the yolk and the white but the The yolks in eggs contain all the valuable vitamins and minerals such as A/D/E as well as cholesterol that naturally increases your testosterone levels necessary for muscle and strength building. Let’s also debunk a myth: eggs will not raise your blood cholesterol. If you want to keep your blood cholesterol in check, then stay away from chemical laden, processed foods and smoking.

If you’re a vegan and meat is not your bag, no problem- there are plenty of good proteins from plant sources such as beans, lentils, all kinds of legumes, and flourless bread made of lentils, millet and sprouts ( Try Ezekiel bread which can be found in most health food stores) .
Contrary to popular belief, plant proteins are not “incomplete” proteins. All plant foods are “complete” proteins. But some plant proteins have one or more of the essential amino acids in such low levels that they must be combined with other plant sources. Beans, Lentils and Legumes, and grains will provide an excellent combination of all the amino acids that a vegan bodybuilder needs.

There are mixed reviews on the benefits of soy so I’ll throw in my own opinion based on my years of nutrition for training. I do not advocate or advise consuming soy proteins for muscle building. In my opinion, soy is worthless as a muscle building food and what nutrients it does deliver are vastly overrated when it comes to building muscle. Eat soy sparingly or stay away from it completely. You don’t need it.

Carbohydrates and fats provide energy and each is vitally important to strength training and muscle building.

Fats – Healthy fats such as omega 3 oils support heart health and help maintain healthy joints. Nuts, olive oil, flax and chia seeds are all excellent sources.
Carbohydrates- Carbohydrates are “protein sparing” – they fill the muscles with glycogen (energy storage in the form of glucose) which gives the muscles a nice full look and help with muscle contraction during exercise. Contrary to popular culture these days, carbs are not bad for you, and they are needed! Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient. The trick is to eat the right types of carbs taking them in at the right time of day. One trick in building muscle and losing fat is to keep your carb levels low throughout the day (around 50 grams) and then at night before bed, eat some healthy medium- to- high glycemic carbs such as bananas, dates, or other types of fruit which will fill your muscle mass with glycogen and will give you the energy needed for your training sessions.

Good sources of carbs include:
• Fruits and grains
• Vegetables ( juice your vegetables such as carrots, beets, kale and parsley)
• Millet, sprouts and legumes

I want to say a word about water intake. Some disagree but since we define an essential nutrient as a nutrient that provides a specific biological function to the body, and with an absence of that nutrient causing illness or death, we can define water as an essential nutrient. Water is a critical part of your daily nutrient intake. Try consuming at least 1 gallon of natural spring or purified water every day. Water is needed for proper hydration and is the basic solvent of the body helping to flush toxins out of the system. Needless to say if you are training hard, you are losing water through sweating and you need to replace these fluids. Drink water before, during, and after your training sessions.

• Avoid all kinds of processed sugary foods. They will have a detrimental effect on your strength training and muscle building and will only serve to rob your body of valuable nutrients.
• Stay away from protein powders and protein bars. I do not recommend protein supplements. More often than not, protein supplements such as protein drinks, shakes, and bars are loaded with sugar and empty calories. One popular protein bar on the market that calls itself a “meal replacement” contains over 400 calories, is loaded with isolates and contains 32 grams of sugar! This is a high price to pay to get a convenient 30 grams of protein that this bar offers. Stay away from them. The only exception that I advocate as a protein supplement are BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) which can help with the recovery process. BCAAs are available in powder or tablet form at your local health food store.

Many who undertake a muscle building regimen underestimate the importance of rest. They mistakenly believe that they are “building” muscle in the gym. Actually during resistance training, the opposite occurs- you are tearing down muscle fibers or causing micro tears in the muscle tissue. Don’t worry- this is exactly what you want to occur during resistance training. The body will respond to this stimuli from your training by taking those torn down muscle fibers and repairing them by growing bigger, stronger, and harder. But the only way the body can meet this condition in which the muscle fibers heal and grow bigger and stronger is during sleep. Everyone’s sleep needs are different. The trick is to find out how much sleep you need and then stick to your routine. If you need 8-10 hours of sleep every night, then make whatever adjustments you need to get those 8-10 hours of rest. A good rule of thumb to determine if you get enough sleep is if you wake up refreshed and energetic without an alarm clock. If you require any type of external stimuli to wake you up in the morning, then you are sleep deprived which means your body’s internal housekeeping is not done yet- and this includes repairing torn down muscle tissue. Needless to say, you will not make the progress you are after in the gym if you do not get enough rest ( For more detail on proper rest, see my blog from February 4 , 2015 “Lose those Extra Pounds by Sleeping More”).

Put these two factors together- nutrition and rest into your strength training routine. You will be amazed at your progress in building healthy muscle mass and the ability to recuperate after each training session!


Andrews, Ryan. All about Muscle Growth. n.d n.d n.d. 4 July 2015.
Matthews, Michael. How Much Protein You Should Eat to Build Muscle. n.d n.d n.d. 04 07 2015.
Mehdi. 20 Super Foods You Need to Build Muscle & Lose Fat. 14 August 2014. 04 July 2015.

James Torro
James A. Torro is a former certified fitness instructor and is currently a nutrition major. He earned his MBA from the University of Scranton and lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and two children.