How to Gain Lean Muscle Mass --- What
to Eat and What Not to Eat
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Get Lean Diet for Men

June 26, 2010, last updated July 21, 2012
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist

You want to gain muscle. Of course. But while exercise and strength
training is essential, what you eat is also an important weapon in the
battle to gain lean muscle mass and burn fat. Simply cutting calories
and increasing your time in the gym may not be enough to achieve the
kind of toned, strong and sculpted muscles you’re looking for.

Powerful Protein

What type of protein helps you gain muscle mass? Your first
consideration when building lean muscle mass and getting rid of fat
should be protein. This is because the body uses protein to help build
and repair tissues, including muscle. Protein is made from amino acids
which help the muscle tissue heal faster after it is damaged in a
workout, grow larger and stay strong. Protein is also harder for your
body to digest than fats or carbohydrates. You will use more energy
when you eat protein, which is going to help you burn calories and
therefore fat.

How much protein should you eat to gain muscle? There is no hard
evidence for how much protein is most effective for building lean
muscle mass. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends
protein consumption should be 1.2 to 1.4 g per kg of body weight per
day for endurance athletes, whereas people on strength training and
resistance programs may need as much as 1.6 to 1.7 g per kg of body
weight. The US Recommended Daily Allowance for an average diet is 0.8
g/kg a day.

Which Foods Help You Gain Muscle Mass Fastest?

Excellent protein-rich foods for building lean muscle include eggs, beef,
fish, beans, cheese and milk.


Eggs are one of the most powerful sources of protein. Approximately
12.5 percent of the egg is made up of the nutrient. One extra large egg
contains 7g of protein and if just the egg white is consumed it can be
almost fat-free.  

Whey protein

Whey protein is a naturally complete protein, containing all the essential
amino acids the body needs to improve muscle formation. It is also
easily digested by the body and contains antioxidants for a healthier
immune system.

Lean beef

A 3oz portion of lean beef has 29g of protein, making it a great food
for building muscle mass. Beef also contains a variety of B vitamins,
creatine and iron which all assist in energy production and muscle


Lean turkey breast is a great ally in the fight for lean muscle, so don’t
just keep it for Thanksgiving. One cup, or one serving, of turkey
contains around 41g of protein and the meat is low in saturated fat.
Turkey also contains selenium, a trace mineral that has been shown to
improve antioxidant defense and immune function.


Boost your protein intake with a serving of white fish for your evening
meal. Half a fillet of halibut or salmon contains 42g of protein. Tuna is a
good source of protein and eaten in a salad can boost nutrient levels
while maintaining a low intake of fat. Natural tuna or tuna canned in
water is the best choice.


Bananas can be a bodybuilder’s best friend, containing potassium
which helps minimize muscle breakdown and prevent muscle cramps.
Bananas also supply slow-release energy through complex
carbohydrates and an added burst of energy from sugar.

Sunflower seeds

A quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds provides a relatively high
proportion of protein, around 6g. Try sunflower seeds as a snack; pack
a zip pouch with seeds for nutrition at work or on the move.


A 2010 study published in the June edition of Medicine and Science in
Sport and Exercise found that women who drank two large glasses of
milk a day after a weight-lifting routine gained more muscle and lost
more fat than those who drank sugary energy drinks. Milk’s high
protein content combined with calcium and vitamin D may promote
increased muscle gain. The combination of carbohydrates and protein
in chocolate milk could be even more powerful. A 2010 study published
in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise found male
runners experienced enhanced muscle protein synthesis after drinking
16 ounces of fat free chocolate milk following training than when
drinking carbohydrate-only sports drinks.

Carbohydrates: friend or foe?

If the carbohydrates in chocolate milk can help increase lean muscle
mass, will consuming even more carbohydrates make our workout even
more effective? Carbohydrates are essential for everyday life as well as
exercise. They provide glycogen to the muscles for energy. On a low
carbohydrate diet the body will turn to fat for fuel, burning excess
calories for energy, so you will lose weight. However, the body will also
deplete its protein stores when it can’t get enough energy from
carbohydrates. This will have a detrimental effect on lean muscle mass.
The trick is to maintain carbohydrate intake through complex carbs
such as whole grains, brown rice, vegetables and fruits, while enjoying
a diet with a high level of protein.

Eat Immediately After Your Workout  

To gain lean muscle mass it’s useful to consider when you eat as well as
what you eat. The sooner you can eat a high protein snack or meal
after your workout, the quicker your muscles will recover. Muscles are
damaged during resistance training and exercise. Protein consumed
right after exercise will prevent further breakdown of muscle by
providing a boost of amino acids for building and repair. Get a quick,
intense protein hit with a whey protein shake or a turkey sandwich.

Eat Small Meals at Regular Intervals

As well as the all-important post-workout snack, consider how you are
spreading your protein consumption throughout the day. Eating five or
six meals a day (eating approximately every three hours) will increase
the body’s ability to use protein for building muscle rather than as
regular energy. That doesn’t mean you should have a three-course
dinner every three hours. More effective is a small meal or snack that’s
high in protein. It’s also important not to skip meals. Consider dividing
the protein you eat throughout the day; don’t just save it for your
evening meal. One 2009 study from the University of Texas Medical
Branch at Galveston found that only about the first 30 grams (one
ounce) of protein consumed in a meal actually produces muscle, the
rest could end up as glucose or fat. The researchers fed 34 volunteers
four or 12 ounce portions of lean beef and analyzed their protein
synthesis. They found four ounces of beef produced exactly the same
increase in protein synthesis as 12 ounces. Researchers suggest
shifting protein consumption to breakfast and lunch, so it is evenly
spread throughout the day, in order to avoid waste and keep within a
calorie controlled diet.

Do Hormones Play a Part?

Do hormones play a part in how much muscle you can gain? Big time. A
2009 study from the Texas A&M University in College Station, reported
at the American Physiological Society Meeting, New Orleans, found
women who took part in resistance training and also took the oral
contraceptive pill gained less lean muscle than women who did not take
the pill. The study looked at 73 women aged 18 to 31. Lean muscle
mass grew by 3.5 percent among the women who did not take oral
contraceptives, compared to 2.1 percent among the women who did.
Researchers believed it was possible that hormonal activity had an
impact on lean muscle gain, although more studies are needed.

For men, the same rule applies in reverse. Testosterone helps to build
muscle. So, make sure that you are not eating
foods that boost
estrogen levels, such as soy foods. It may help you to gain muscle if
you eat
foods that increase testosterone levels such as those high in

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