In this article we are going to cover the best diet for building lean muscle.
There are certain things you should do and certain things you should not do.
Certain foods you should eat and certain foods you should not eat.
Don’t worry because in this article I am going to take all of the guesswork out of this for you.
I will tell you how much you should be eating, what to eat, in what quantities, etc.
You ready for it?
Alright, alright, let’s get into what you need to know about your diet for building lean muscle.
Diet For Building Lean Muscle
Before we go into anything nutrition related, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention this first.
When it comes to building lean muscle, yes, your diet plays a huge role. There is no one denying that.
Yet, what you have to remember is, building lean muscle doesn’t come from food alone.
You can’t just eat more food and magically build lean muscle.
TRUST me, I wish that was the case. I would have the most lean muscle in the entire world!!
Building muscle comes directly from following a properly and intelligently designed strength training program.
What is that you ask?
Well, let’s talk about what it is not first.
Beach body, p90x, YouTube video workouts, or just going into the gym and doing random machines.
All of those are modalities of exercising, which is great!
Something is better than nothing!
Yet if you are truly looking to optimize your muscle building journey (which, if you are reading this article, I am almost positive you are), you need to be following a real training program.
What is a real training program?
Well, here is what I will say.
I could literally talks for consecutive days straight about how to design a program.
In fact, I did an entire, super in depth article HERE if you want to check that out. That goes over a ton of basics when it comes to following a real training program.
Second, it must have something called progressive overload.
Again, I wrote an entire article on exactly what progressive overload is HERE if you want to check that out.
Yet essentially progressive overload is the number one scientific principle you need to adhere to and have in your training to cause muscle growth.
If you are not having this, good luck building any amounts of significant lean muscle mass.
I don’t care how great your diet for building lean muscle is, the only way to build lean muscle is by your body adapting to a stimulus.
That stimulus is the training program we have been talking about. You give your body that stimulus, it responds and adapts by growing stronger, more defined muscle.
If you do not have that, you are going up sh*ts creek without a paddle my friend.
I wanted to make this very clear before diving into the nutrition aspect because without it you won’t see any change.
Once more feel free to check out some of the resources above that I have laid out, or you can check out any and all of my training programs HERE .
Diet For Building Lean Muscle Mass : Two Scenarios
Things can be a bit different depending on your training age, not your actual age.
Again, your training age refers to how many months or years you have been following an intelligently and properly designed training program.
Not beach body, or p90x, or YouTube video workouts. Nothing against those one more time, but that is not a proper training program.
Therefore if you never have or just very recently started following a properly designed program, this section is going to be for you.
If you are beginner, I got some good news for you. You my friend, are going to build muscle regardless of your nutrition.
Because right now the stress you are going to put on your body is so new that it is going to have to respond no matter what.
It hasn’t seen this before, so you will have to adapt and grow stronger more defined muscles.
You are lucky my friend, yet it doesn’t last forever, and we will touch on that soon.
A “beginner” stage typically lasts the first 6-12 months, 18 months MAX.
Now, with that being said, does that mean you should just eat whatever you want and there aren’t any ways to optimize your diet for building lean muscle mass that much more?
Of course not.
If you are beginner, you have basically one of three options.
Have Body Fat To Lose
If you are a beginner and you have some body fat to lose, yet you want to build some lean muscle mass, I would first check out THIS video .
Beyond that, I would go into a small calorie deficit and look to lose some body fat because again, you will be building muscle regardless ( I am still jealous of you ).
Let me be very clear here. If you have a significant amount of body fat to lose, or you maybe are “skinny fat” and have a beer belly, then I would recommend going into a slight calorie deficit.
If you aren’t one of those two scenarios, keep reading as I will cover you later on in this article.
But for now, if you are one of those two scenarios, here is how I would go about tackling this.
Set Your Calories
I would first start by setting your calories in your calorie deficit. This can be done by heading HERE To my totally free calorie calculator and inputting your information.
I would aim to hit the calorie mark that is anywhere between .5-1lb per week on average.
So let’s say the calculator gives you 1800 calories to lose .5lb per week and 1650 calories to lose 1lb per week, eat somewhere in between that range.
I personally would lean more towards the .5lb per week side because as you add in proper strength training, your body is going to start burning more calories, and you can maximize your muscle building.
You want to be in what is called a calorie deficit because you have body fat to lose. Since you are a beginner, you will be able to build muscle regardless, especially if you do what we talk about in this next section below!
Set Your Protein
I would then set your protein goal for the day.
I would take your goal body weight ( in lbs ) and multiply it between .8-1.
So let’s say your goal body weight is 150lbs. I would work to get 120-150 g of protein per day your diet.
If you need some extra help hitting protein, I gotchu with this video HERE .
And that is it! Focus on your overall calories, focus on hitting your protein, and let the magic happen.
We will talk about specific foods and such a bit later on in this article.
If you are more of the “skinny fat” person, where maybe you don’t have a ton of fat to lose, but you don’t look the way you want to, this section is for you.
Now let me be very clear again. Skinny fat is where you do not have a big beer belly, but maybe your stomach isn’t necessarily defined. Your muscles in your body aren’t necessarily defined or look “lean”, but you certainly don’t have weight to lose.
By the way, having a little excess stomach fat doesn’t mean you “have weight to lose”. It means you need to build muscle.
If this is you, here is the route I would go.
Set Your Calories
I would start by setting your calories. Use my totally free calorie calculator HERE and eat right around your maintenance calories.
You can give yourself a range, if your number comes out to say 2000 calories, maybe look to eat between 1800-2200 calories for your maintenance range.
You want to be right around maintenance calories because your body will be able to do something “body recomp”.
This is essentially building muscle and losing fat at the same time, giving you that leaner more defined look.
The reason you don’t want to go into a calorie deficit to lose body fat is you don’t have that much fat to lose, you more so need to build muscle.
This maintenance calorie range will allow you to do just that by optimizing lean muscle mass while burning fat over time.
The reason you will burn fat is as you accrue more lean muscle mass and you follow a training program, your calorie expenditure will increase leading to a bit more fat loss.
You could potentially go into a very slight calorie deficit, but if you do make sure it isn’t anything too aggressive. Maybe 1-250 calories under your maintenance calories.
Set Your Protein
For your protein goal you are going to want to follow the exact same guidelines as listed above.
Take your goal body weight ( in lbs ) and multiply between .8-1.
I would try to lean more towards the side of 1 if possible.
This will help you once again optimize lean muscle mass building, as protein is essential for recovering and repairing lean muscle tissue.
I also have an entire video on how to fix skinny fat HERE if you want to check it out.
If You Are Skinny
If you are just straight up skinny ( me when I was in 10th grade and started this journey! ) then I would recommend you going into a slight calorie surplus.
This means you are eating more calories than what your body burns on a daily / weekly basis, which is going to be the most optimal diet for building lean muscle.
Especially at a moment in time where your body fat percentage is quite low, you can afford to intake a bit extra calories and pack on the lean muscle!
Set Your Calories
To get into your calorie surplus, once again, you can use my free calorie calculator HERE.
It will give you an option that says “Calories needed to build lean muscle”.
That is how many calories you should be eating, or roughly 300 ish calories above your maintenance calories.
This is again because you are looking to optimize weight and lean muscle gain, without getting too much excess body fat packed on.
Set Your Protein
For someone who is on the skinnier end, you want to set your protein goal a tad bit higher.
This is because usually you have less body mass to begin with, so your numbers will be a bit higher.
Typically I recommend taking your current body weight ( in lbs ) and multiplying between 1-1.2
If you currently weigh 150lbs, try to get around 150-180g of protein.
Now, truthfully speaking, 180g of protein is a lot, so if you “only” hit your bodyweight in protein that is ok! Yet if you can do that with no issue, it certainly will not harm you.
Intermediate To Advanced
The more beginner you are, the more simple it is because again, you are going to build muscle mass regardless seeing that it is new to your body.
Essentially as you saw above, the two biggest things you are focusing on are calories and protein.
If you hit your calories and you hit your protein, then you are two thumbs up good to go and will kill it.
The more intermediate to advanced you get, the more things become just a bit more fine tuned.
I am going to be giving recommendations in this section for if you are relatively a lower body fat %.
That would be roughly between 8-12% for males and 18-20% for females.
If you are an intermediate to advanced lifter and do not have a lower body fat percentage, I would encourage you to watch this video HERE on how to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
Also remembering, training age is not how old you are or how long you have been working out. Training age is how long you have been following a real training program.
You could be 46 years old yet done orange theory, beach body, and p90x for the last 20 years.
That is great, but that means you fall into the beginner category, which is a good thing because you can lose fat and build muscle at the same time!
Now, let’s dive into the changes when it comes to someone who is already a lower body fat % and want to have the best diet for building lean muscle.
Macros For Building Muscle
The part where this changes in when it comes to someone more advanced, you have to take amore advanced approach.
Set Your Calories
First things first you are going to have to set your calories to be in a calorie surplus.
If you need the calorie calculator, HERE it is again.
I recommend being in a 300 calorie surplus, this is again 300 calories above your maintenance calories. If your maintenance calories are 2000, you would eat 2300 calories.
This is because when it comes to building muscle past the beginner stage, you need to give your body enough fuel to get the muscle building process done.
After it is a “new” stimulus for the first 6-12 months, your body says “alright, enough of this, we have gotten used to it”.
Now, it is going to need some extra from you to keep responding. Remember calories simply come down to energy or fuel.
You need extra energy to build, repair, and grow lean muscle tissue. Your body has to take care of everything first.
Organs, brain function, digestion, hormonal processes, etc, all of this comes BEFORE building lean muscle mass.
Then, once you have that covered, your body says “ok, all of that is done and there is some left over? Fine, we will build some lean muscle mass”.
Hence why you need to be above your maintenance calories. This is taking care of off your internal functions first, then giving your body some leftovers to play with.
It is similar to doing a budget and paying your bills. You have to make sure the bills are paid first, then you can go buy some clothes or a watch.
Same concept here. You need to be in a calorie surplus to optimize lean muscle mass building.
For the sake of this article, let’s say your daily calorie goal is 2300 calories for the day.
Set Your Macros
Next up you are going to want to set your macros.
Macros are short for macronutrients. Macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fats.
In the previous beginner stage, all you had to track was protein, why?
Because again, the more advanced you get the more dialed in this has to be.
As you go into a calorie surplus some fat gain is going to happen. It is just the reality of it, especially the more advanced you are. You might be able to get away with it more as a beginner but over time it is going to catch up to you.
Therefore we need to focus in a bit more on all of our macros.
Typically speaking in a diet for building lean muscle you want to have moderate to high protein, high carb, and moderate to low fat.
This is because when you are in a calorie surplus, what is the easiest thing to convert to and store as body fat?
You guessed it, fat. Fat is already fat! So it is easier to convert and store as fat.
So to minimize fat gain and optimize lean muscle mass gain, your macros need to be set up a certain way.
Let’s cover what that would look like for you.
First is going to be protein.
For your protein, you want to multiply your current body weight ( in lbs ) by .8-1.
So if you weigh 150, try you intake 120-150g of protein.
You also are going to need to calculate the total calories from protein in your diet.
For every 1g of protein there are 4 calories. Therefore let’s say you are doing 150g of protein per day.
150 x 4 = 600 total daily calories from protein.
Remember that as we will reference it again.
Second is going to be dietary fat.
For your fat, you are going to take your current body weight in lbs x .3-.4
Again, if you weigh 150lbs, 150 x .4 = 60g of fat per day.
For every 1g of fat there are 9 calories.
60g of fat x 9 calories = 540 total daily calories from fat.
Thus far from protein and fat combined we have 1140 calories.
Our total daily calorie intake was 2300. Remember that.
Last but not least is carbs.
Since we already figured out protein and fat, the only macro nutrient that is left over is carbs.
So, we will use our daily remaining calories to put towards carbs.
Remember that we had 1140 calories taken up already. Our daily calorie intake was 2300.
Therefore, 2300-1140 = 1160 calories to dedicate towards carbs.
For every 1g of carb, there are 4 calories.
So, 1160 / 4 = 290.
Therefore, 290g of carbs per day.
And there you have it!
You would eat
2300 calories per day
150g of protein
60g of fat
290g of carbs
In order to maximize building lean muscle mass while minimizing fat gain.
Now, what about exact foods?
Diet For Building Muscle, Foods To Eat
Well here is the thing, jack.
There are no “muscle building foods” believe it or not. I know I know, shocking right?
The most important thing that matters is hitting those overall macro goals that we just laid out, whether beginner or advanced.
You can eat what you want within those macro and calorie goals and as long as it fits, you are good to go!
I will say though you want to be following the 80/20 rule when it comes to nutrition.
You should absolutely not just “dirty bulk”, which, if you don’t know what dirty bulking is, it is essentially just eating anything and everything you want to gain weight.
That is what people used to do back in the day ( me included, because I knew no better ).
Trust me, you don’t want to go that route. You will end up putting on wayyy more body fat than you’d like.
You will get 4 weeks into your muscle building phase and realized you built so much fat that you will have to cut down again, which defeats the purpose in the first place.
As well as your digestion matters a ton. When I was just eating whatever I want, I was gaining muscle ( and too much fat ) but my digestion was wrecked. I felt terrible, lethargic, always using the bathroom.
It isn’t fun, I promise.
Therefore make sure 80% of your foods are coming from nutrient dense whole foods, while 20% can come from treats and things you enjoy.
Provided it fits within your macro goals for that day.
Here are some examples below of protein, carb, and fat sources.
Diet For Building Lean Muscle : A Wrap
Hopefully this article gave yo everything you need to know about the best diet for building lean muscle.
Whether you are a beginner or advanced, there are certain strategies you can follow to optimize the things you are doing.
Remember though, without a proper training program, all of this would be for nothing.
If you want your training program done for you where you know you will see results, check out my programs HERE .
Other than that, hope you enjoyed, and look to chat soon.