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How To Build Muscles with Proper Nutrition

What you eat before and after your workout can help you build muscle faster


Updated May 17, 2014

Protein drink with can and measuring cup on counter
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In order to build lean muscle mass it's necessary to combine an adequate calorie intake with a solid muscle strengthening program. While large number of calories are needed to fuel both the workouts and tissue repair and muscle building, it's important to eat the right combination of calories to encourage muscle gain.

Carbohydratefor Muscle Building

Carbohydrate is the predominant energy source during a strength training workout. Stored as glycogen in the muscles, it is the fuel used to supply energy for short, intense bursts of power. The harder and longer you work out, the more glycogen your muscles require. Once these stores of glycogen are gone your energy level will drop and you will run out of fuel to power muscle contractions. For this reason, athletes doing strength training exercise in the hopes of building lean muscle need to have an adequate carbohydrates intake.

Your carbohydrate needs will vary depending upon the intensity and length of your training sessions. For those doing moderate workouts of less than an hour, you may only require 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body per day. Those doing long, intense training two hours or more, may require 3-4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight each day.

Sports nutrition experts recommend up to 400-600 grams of carbohydrate per day for the average male performing regular intense exercise and strength training workouts in order to keep the muscle glycogen stores high. Personal carbohydrate requirements vary based upon the intensity and length of workouts as well as you body size.

Protein for Muscle Building

All athletes need protein after vigorous exercise. Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during hard exercise. Because protein is the basic building material for muscle tissue, if you strength train, or want to increase muscle size, you need to consume more protein than sedentary individuals or non-athletes. However, most strength athletes may overestimate their protein needs.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), recommends that the average person requires about 0.4 grams per pound per day. Sports nutritionists recommend that strength athletes consume about 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, not to exceed 1 gr/pound/day. That's about 90 to 115 grams of protein/day for the 140-pound athlete and 128 to 164 grams for those weighing 200 pounds.

You can get adequate protein by eating a healthy diet that includes low-fat dairy, eggs, lean meats such as fish and chicken, and a variety of fruits, nuts, and legumes, but some athletes find that a protein drink, or bar is another convenient way to increase daily protein intake.


After you've met your carbohydrate and protein needs there is room for fat. Fat is an essential nutrient, however, you require a small amount of it to remain healthy. Less than 30% of your total daily calories should come from unsaturated fat, such as olive oil, lean meats and fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.


In addition to the regular eight glasses of water every day, you need to drink to replace fluids that are lost during exercise. To be confident that you are well hydrated before workouts, drink 2 cups of fluid 2 hours before exercise. During your workout, drink 4 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. After exercise, replace any further fluid losses with 16 ounces of water. If you want to be precise, you can weigh yourself before and after workouts. For each pound lost during exercise, you should be drink 16 ounces of fluid.

Eating After Exercise

Consuming some carbohydrate along with protein after your workout helps fuel muscle growth and replenish glycogen stores for your next workout. Research shows this carbohydrate-protein cobination within thirty minutes of exercise nearly doubles the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen. The optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio for this effect is 4:1 (four grams of carbohydrate for every one gram of protein). Eating more protein than that, however, has a negative impact because it slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment.

Consult a registered nutritionist, physician or other health care provider for personal nutritional counseling. This information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.


USDA, DRI Tables. Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Intakes for Individuals[http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=2&tax_subject=256&topic_id=1342http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=2&tax_subject=256&topic_id=1342] last accessed Jan, 2011.

Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. Sports Med. 2004;34(5):317-27. Review.

Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, 2005, Jacqueline R. Berning, Suzanne Nelson Steen, ISBN 0763737755.

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