Optimal Nutrition for Muscle Building: This is Important!

How Important is nutrition for building muscle? In a word, very!

This page continues from part 3 here, Rest and Recovery is Essential for Optimal Muscle Growth.

Paying Attention to Your Nutrition is Even More Important for Gaining Muscle than Losing Fat.

You cannot gain muscle unless you’re in a calorie surplus.

This means eating more than your maintenance calories (the amount of energy your body requires to sustain your weight and your level of activity. Eating your maintenance calories or TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) every day, would see you neither gain or lose weight. Gaining muscle obviously means you’ve got to gain weight, so you need to eat MORE than your TDEE.

Here’s why being REALLY ACCURATE with nutrition is MORE important when building muscle than when losing fat:

Going over your maintenance by more and more calories does not mean you build more muscle! This isn’t fat loss where you can go past your target and make progress even faster! You cannot rush building muscle!

For muscle gain, going about 10% – 15% over your maintenance calories is enough. This means, if your maintenance is 2,800 calories per day, you will eat 3,080 – 3,220 calories per day. That’s all you need.

nutrition blunders

A cake that had to be avoided due to unquantifiable calories!


Unfortunately, we always gain some fat in our muscle building phases. The body just always likes to store some fat. It’s a survival mechanism. Fat can be more readily accessed for energy in an emergency. During a muscle building phase, some people store much more fat than necessary because they take the completely wrong approach to nutrition!

You can keep your fat gains to the minimum by only going 10 – 15% over your maintenance calories. Adding more calories on top does not speed up the muscle gain process. It only speeds up fat gain, and then you will have to cut sooner, and for longer.

Going all out on your bulks leads to more time spent cutting, and less time spent building muscle. Over the long term (think 10 years) you’ll gain much more muscle if you just control your bulks because you’ll spend so much more time in muscle building phases.

Don’t relax your approach to nutrition just because you’re bulking. You need to be more on top of it. When you’re losing fat, you don’t have to track everything because you sometimes know you’ll still be in a deficit and making progress anyway.

calorie tracking peanut butter

Make sure you track things like peanut butter properly using digital scales. Calories add up quicker than you think!

When trying to build muscle, eating the extra cookies and a few more slices of pizza because it “doesn’t matter, I’m bulking” will affect your results. You’ll gain fat faster as opposed to a fat loss phase where you just lose fat slower.

I’ve written an article here about the drawbacks of “dreamer” bulking.

There’s only so much muscle we can naturally build in a given time

The body really struggles to build muscle. It’s a slow process. We probably only need something like a 100 calorie surplus. This is just too small to work with as you could easily take yourself out of the surplus if you walked around a bit more, or your tracking was slightly off.

You need to start thinking of your calorie surpluses in terms of a running total and a long term average.

Remember that every 3,500 calories or so that you add on top of your 10% surplus is another pound of fat that you’ve gained. I am not talking about eating 3,500 calories on top of your surplus in one day. I am talking about it as an aggregate figure. It may take you 6 months to do this, it may take you a week.

If your goal calories with 10% surplus is 3,200 calories, but you go over this amount by 100 calories per day, that’s an extra 700 calories you ate that day. That means it will take you 35 days to gain an extra pound of fat on top of what you already gained anyway.

Most people don’t only go 100 calories above the small surplus they need.

They relax and let go of their control over their nutrition when bulking.

Burger night at the bar? Yeah sure. Pizza bigger than my arm-span? I’m down. Pass the ice-cream!

Amazing burger

An unbelievable burger. I deliberately overestimated the calories and ate less the rest of the day to compensate. It’s not optimal to do this often.

We all have a tendency to really enjoy ourselves around food when we’re no longer trying to get lean.

You can probably think of your own examples. It’s pretty easy to see how someone could easily eat 1,000 calories more than their target calories in just one day. Do this a few times a week and you’re already on your way to gaining an extra pound of fat per week on top of what you’d have gained anyway!

This is why it’s so important to stay on top of your intake when you’re bulking and not get too lax about it!

In addition, dietary fat is more likely to be stored as body fat vs. carbohydrates when in a calorie surplus. All those foods you start slamming down? Yep, they’re high in fat!

Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source, both for working out and for building muscle. Make sure your surplus is heavily in favour of carbs to give yourself the best chance of building muscle and having great workouts – not storing fat!

Cornish pasty

Probably not the best choice of food. Unknown calories. High fats, high carbs, low protein. I was on holiday and back to cutting afterwards!

Want to know the biggest muscle building “hack”?

Find out in the next part: The Sprinkle of Magic for Building Muscle

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