If you’re training daily and nearing your goals, but seem to be making less and less progress as time goes by - read on, we might be able to help. Here’s a review of some of the best foods for bulking to help you avoid that pesky plateau.
It’s exciting seeing massive improvements when you first start training, knowing you’re getting closer to where you want to be. However, after a few months of hard work, the rate at which we see improvement seems to come to a grinding halt. This is because there comes a point where our bodies reach plateau. Does this sound familiar? If this is the case, it can be very frustrating. But don’t worry, you’re not alone - it happens to the best of us.
It makes you wonder how bodybuilders do it. Is it just good genes that help them grow to monstrous sizes? We’re putting in just as much effort as them. In fact, some of us are lifting heavier weights and spending many more hours than usual at the gym. So what’s missing?
The answer most likely lies in our diet (which, believe it or not, plays a major role in building muscle).
The relationship between diet and exercise
What you eat and how you train are intrinsically linked to the results you’ll see from the time you spend exercising. If your diet is isn’t optimised then you won’t achieve the best results.
So, if you’re serious about training and fitness, you need to get serious about clean eating and a healthy, balanced diet too. If you intend to build muscle and gain weight, you should not only focus on eating the right foods, but also the right quantities of these foods. It’s not uncommon, for example, to find people eating too little, which can hinder even our best efforts in the gym.
The best foods to build muscle
At DNAFit we promote a food first approach. This means that we should focus on clean eating and the nutritional content of foods, before turning to supplements.
What nutrients should you consume daily?
As you probably already know, the key to bulking lies in consuming protein. Protein assists with muscle synthesis, repair and recovery, and is essential for building muscle. While there are alternative sources, animal products have the highest protein content. However, many animal products also have a high saturated fat content - so choose carefully!
According to the International Society for Sports Nutrition, to gain muscle, you need considerably more protein than the average person. Instead of the recommended daily intake of 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight, strength-training athletes need closer to 2g per kg of body weight. To succeed in building muscle and losing weight simultaneously, stick to around 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily.
But, building muscle it isn’t only about protein...
You will still need to maintain a balanced diet, with a sufficient intake of both fats and carbohydrates. This not only assists you with energy in the gym, but during your recovery period too.
To improve the nutrient quality of your diet, try some simple swaps such as:
- Skinless chicken breasts or salmon instead of pork or lamb chops
- Whole wheat bread instead of white or brown bread
- Nuts, seeds and dried fruit instead of crisps and sweets
Below, you’ll find a list of foods that are geared towards muscle gain and, when eating more of them, should help you reach your goals.
Foods that will help you build muscle
- Lean beef
- Skinless chicken breast
- White turkey
- Low-fat yoghurt
- Nuts and seeds
- A caloric surplus is essential for weight and muscle gain
- Focus on increasing your protein intake to around 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight
- Continue to maintain a healthy, balanced diet
- Eat foods such as lean meat, avocado, nuts and seed oils
Bulking on a vegan diet
For those on a vegan diet, you'll need to get your protein from other sources. But, this is still possible to achieve. Don’t be dissuaded by people telling you that it’s impossible to build muscle on plant-based protein alone.
You’ll need to experiment with what works for your body which may take some time. However, if you’re eating correctly and listening to your body, you’ll eventually achieve the results that you want to obtain.
Plant-based protein-rich foods
- Beans and legumes
- Ezekiel bread
- Nuts and seeds
- Edamame beans
- Hemp protein
The role of your genetics when building muscle
Now that you know which foods will make your muscles bigger, let’s look at the third factor involved in bulking: your genes.
Both your metabolism and frame size are largely dependent on genes. You probably already have quite a good idea as to whether you have a naturally athletic build or not. The best way to get a quick, visual indication of your genetic makeup (if you haven’t done a DNA test), is to look at your parents and grandparents. How do they respond to training?
If your parents are both very short and thin, chances are that you’ll be short and thin too. This would make it more difficult for you to develop that six pack, than it would be for someone whose parents are tall and muscular. This is why it’s important to follow personal fitness advice rather than generalised advice, as each of us responds differently to different exercises. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your body to other people. Just because a celebrity promotes a fitness product, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone in exactly the same way.
Your genes are also responsible for your predisposition to injuries. Those of us with a higher injury risk need to take extra precautions when training. For example, some people can train every day, while others require a day or two of rest between gym sessions. This will have an effect on the speed at which you can achieve your fitness goals.
Taking a DNA test, can help you identify which exercises will deliver the best results for your body. By understanding your genes, you can tailor your training programme accordingly. Genetically, our power vs. endurance response sits somewhere on a scale from a high power response, to a mix of the two all the way through to a high endurance response.
If your endurance response score was high, for example, you’d see faster results from low weight, high repetition exercises. This doesn’t mean that you can’t partake in power-based training if that’s what you enjoy. It simply means that you’ll reach your fitness goal faster with more of a focus on endurance training.
Upping your daily calorie intake with healthy foods is a great place to start if you want to curb a plateau. The best way to achieve your fitness goals is to combine nature and nurture in the form of genetically matched training and nutrition. When you work with your genes, instead of against them, you’ll have a better chance of achieving long-term success.