Aiming to add mass without getting a gut? Focus on these eight foods.
Maggie Young 1 / 9
When it comes to revealing ripped muscles, diet is key. You can put up heavy weight all day, but optimal gains won’t happen without a focused nutrition plan. For starters, you need to take in more calories than you're burning each day, which puts most guys in the 2,000- to 2,500-calorie range. But those cals can't just come from anywhere. Juan Carlos Santana, M.Ed.,C.S.C.S., C.P.T.S., founder of The Institute of Human Performance, says to get those calories from protein such as lean chicken and beef (35%), healthy fats such as olive oil (30%), and clean carbs such as sprouted grains, sweet potatoes, or broccoli (35%). “Once you build the foundation of clean eating for good fitness and health, you may want to take it to another level that you can’t reach with just food,” says Santana. “To do this, you can add clean supplements to this diet."
Milk offers a dynamic and low-calorie combination of natural protein and carbs that makes it the ideal fuel for post-workout muscle gains. “It contains whey and casein, both having the ideal array and combination of amino acids that most closely resemble muscle tissue protein and enhance muscle protein synthesis,” says Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., F.I.S.S.N., founder of High Performance Nutrition, LLC.
If you want to bulk up, don’t throw the egg yolks down the drain. Kleiner says the yolk is one of the few foods that contain an abundance of the B vitamin choline. Choline is half of the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body—acetylcholine—which works every time we think or move. By leaving the yolk in, you boost your choline by 50%, which will bring your nervous system and neuromuscular function to peak levels.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a free pass for pizza and doughnuts. When you're looking to bulk up and look cut, you need to keep your carbs in the form of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, and a small amount can come from dairy. “Focus your starches around exercise and eat your produce and vegetables throughout the day,” says Kleiner. When you combine carbs and protein throughout the day, you create a constant anabolic environment in your body.
If you want to train to your highest threshold, make a note to include beets on your grocery list. Beets have the ability to generate nitric oxide, which enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. This essentially makes it easier for your muscles to utilize the raw materials for growth. The results are stronger if you use concentrated beet supplements, but the general immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects of the actual food keep your muscles in prime condition.
Gut health ranks at the top when it comes to training for optimal muscle gains. “Gut upset is going to sideline you really fast, and if you’re sidelined and can’t train, you're not going to get to your goals,” says Kleiner. A combination of prebiotics and probiotics actually create a PH environment in the gut that enhances the absorption of minerals, so you are utilizing the food you eat for it’s highest muscle-building potential. To get your prebiotics, throw some ground flaxseed in a protein shake or on top of a salad. Probiotics can be consumed as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, sour cream, and kimchi.
Fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, shellfish, and black cod contain a powerful combination of protein, healthy fats, vitamin D, and marine oils. The antioxidants in the marine oils are essential for a healthy nervous system, which is the foundation for optimal neuromuscular function. This lays the groundwork for bulking in the cleanest way possible.
It comes back to the basics of body upkeep when bulking. Adequate water intake can make or break your progress. “When it comes to muscle building, it’s important to stay well hydrated so your muscle cells are volumized and muscle protein synthesis can move forward at a fast pace,” says Kleiner. “This is impeded when cells are dehydrated.”
“What we mean by clean is that they are naturally occurring and they have been shown to cause absolutely no harm to any body function or organ, period,” says Santana. These include beta-alanine, whey protein, creatine, and fish oils.