What to Eat to Gain Muscle Mass?

What to Eat to Gain Muscle Mass?

Gaining muscle mass is one of the main objectives of a person starting a weight training programme.

Muscle mass refers to the musculoskeletal tissue, and its gain specifically, to the increase in the cross-sectional area of a muscular stomach area, a factor that determines its size.

Brachial bicep

Figure I. Graphic representation of the physiological cross-sectional area of a brachial bicep.

Along with training, do you know how you should eat to gain muscle mass?

Read on and we’ll tell you all the secrets you’ll need!

How is muscle mass increased

Muscle mass is a dynamic tissue, like most components of the body’s systems.

As such, muscle mass is subscribed to a protein turnover which people know as catabolism and anabolism, and which should not be conceived as a static process but as a continuous release of predominance of one state or another.

Protein turnover muscle gain

Figure II. Protein turnover evolution curve (MPS/MPB) over a model day.

The gain in muscle mass is conditioned by the fact that protein synthesis (blue area of the graph) is greater than protein degradation (green area of the graph) specifically in the myofibrillary tissue.

If we manage to make this happen, for days, weeks and months, we will end up gaining muscle mass.

Training, for example, due to the high metabolic demands will favour the transition to catabolic state; which once completed, during rest and nutrient intake, will achieve a “rebound” of greater anabolic area, favouring the addition of sarcomeres in parallel to the muscle fibres, i.e. making the muscles larger.

Physiological mechanisms

Figure III. Physiological mechanisms of muscle mass gain at macroscopic (A) and microscopic level (B and C).

What foods should I eat to gain muscle mass

Mainly those high in protein, such as

  • All types of meat.
  • All types of fish.
  • Lactose.
  • Eggs.
  • Legumes.
  • Protein preparations.

As far as food selection is concerned, this is not a relevant factor, i.e. contrary to what has always been believed:

There is no such thing as clean food or dirty food.

Just as there is no such thing as good food for gaining muscle mass and bad food, food and food preparations should only be perceived as a set of nutrients.

If you are able to supply a sufficient and not excessive amount of Kilocalories, and a sufficient amount of proteins with the minimum (weighted) requirements of essential amino acids, you will gain muscle mass.

Eat rice and chicken or ice cream and protein shakes for muscle mass gaining.

It is always preferable to base the diet on whole foods, due to greater satiety, additional bioactives from the food matrix, greater nutritional density, lower caloric density, etc.


Caloric underestimation what to eat for muscle gaining

Figure IV. Graphic representation of a very classic case of caloric underestimation.

How should I train to gain muscle mass?

There are many ways of training to gain muscle mass, and all of them are valid: based on free weight or with machines and pulleys, at high or low repetitions, with high or low load, full-body or Weider…

We only need to understand the principles that determine muscle mass gain and they are nothing more than that:

  • Apply an appropriate intensity to each series of training (reach close to the peripheral muscle failure of the “target” muscle).
  • Use a volume of training that allows us to progress and recover properly.
  • Increase the training load (volume, intensity and/or quality) until it exceeds our capacity, rest, and start again.
  • Taking care of ourselves and preventing injuries or over-training (no overreaching).
You can use a pre-established routine to gain muscle, special for volume stages, designed and published by our collaborator David Díaz Gil.

Can I gain muscle mass in a short time?

Yes and no.

The muscle mass ratio is limited, and although untrained, novice subjects may gain significant amounts of muscle mass in short periods of time; in non-novice subjects the gain is more limited.

Many people maximise their calorie intake, and even increase the training load beyond tolerable volumes.

There are only two things you can do: Get fat and injure yourself or give up because of fatigue.

Muscle mass gain has a rate, and is optimised with a gain of 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week.

Example: Weight at 80kg, and gain of between 200 and 400 grams per week of average body weight.

Tests that subjected the sample to large energy intakes (500kcal above the Basal Metabolic Rate) resulted in subjects gaining a little more muscle mass at the cost of gaining more than three times the fat of their counterpart.

Changes in body weight

Figure V. Changes in body weight (BW), fat mass (FM) and lean mass (LBM) in the group that consumed (+500kcal (VCG) versus that which consumed a free (lower) amount of calories.

Macronutrient distribution

The classic nutrient distribution for gaining muscle mass has been:

50% CARBS / 25% Proteins / 25% Fats.

This obviously doesn’t make sense, as it is unwise to relate protein intake to the daily calorie balance and shows a lack of knowledge about basic nutritional requirements.

The current distribution of macronutrients is:

  • Consume between 1.6-2.2g protein per kg body weight (or 2-2.5g per kg lean weight). At least one meal with 0.5g per kg.
  • Complete energy requirements to gain 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week with carbohydrates and fats.


  • Try to keep fats above 0.7g/kg of body weight (unsupported data).
  • Try to keep carbohydrate consumption as high as possible to perform well in your workouts.
Maintain these conditions throughout the muscle gain stage and within a few months, if you have trained properly, your body composition will have significantly improved.

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Currently, the article “Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review” by Iraki, Fitschen, Espinar and Helms (2019) is the reference for recommendations for gaining muscle mass in subjects interested in fitness.

We summarise the most relevant aspects in this publication:

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What to eat for muscle mass gaining

As you have already seen, setting up a “menu” to gain muscle mass does not make sense.

Without knowing the particular case and being able to perform daily energy expenditure tests and/or trial-and-error,we cannot know how much a person should eat.

Similarly, establish a pattern of food without taking into account preferences, aversions, intolerances, allergies, etc.

It doesn’t make sense, but current preparers don’t set much food other than sticks to cover the nutritional requirements with the free configuration of the diet by the athlete.

Nevertheless, you can have a look at our article on diet in volume training to see a diet model and get ideas on which to work with in order to develop your own diet, optimal for you and adaptable to your evolution.

Bibliography references

  1. Damas, F., Libardi, C. A., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2018). The development of skeletal muscle hypertrophy through resistance training: the role of muscle damage and muscle protein synthesis. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(3), 485–500. h
  2. Garthe, I., Raastad, T., Refsnes, P. E., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2013). Effect of nutritional intervention on body composition and performance in elite athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 13(3), 295–303.
  3. Haun, C. T., Vann, C. G., Roberts, B. M., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Roberts, M. D. (2019). A critical evaluation of the biological construct skeletal muscle hypertrophy: Size matters but so does the measurement. Frontiers in Physiology, 10(MAR), 247.
  4. Iraki, J., Fitschen, P., Espinar, S., & Helms, E. (2019). Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review. Sports, 7(7), 154.
  5. Ohta, K., Tanaka, Y., Kawate, I., & Tsuji, T. (2014). Human muscular mobility ellipsoid: End-point acceleration manipulability measure in fast motion of human upper arm. Journal of Biomechanical Science and Engineering, 9(3), 1–12.

Related Entries

  • We recommend that you visit this link where you will find the Nutrition Guide for Fitness Competitors.
  • Can you gain Muscle Mass on a Ketogenic diet? We tell you here.
  • Take note of this recipe: Pancakes to Gain Muscle Mass.
Review What to eat to gain muscle mass

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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