Great question. Just like losing fat, gaining muscle requires a solid nutritional strategy.
I'll try to do a longer post on this at some point in the future. But for now, it's pretty easy to lay out a basic strategy. There really is no secret. You eat all the same foods that are good for losing fat, but you eat more of them. Just as losing fat requires some sort of caloric deficit, gaining muscle requires a certain caloric surplus. But you need a quality surplus. Junk in equals junk out.
The simplest way I can describe the perfect plan is to eat what a caveman would have had access to. Eat it…
- If it walked, flew, ran or swam in the very recent past.
- If it is green and came recently from the ground.
- If it is in any of a wide spectrum of beautiful colors and came from the ground.
- If it came from a tree and tastes nutty or fruity.
If none of the above applies, it might be better left untouched. Of course we're not cavemen, so there are some acceptable exceptions to these rules, but they form the backbone of my philosophy.
The exceptions are going to be very much dependant on the individual. Some people will be able to handle whole grains in their diet without any trouble. Others can afford some raw, pastured dairy in their diet. It all depends what your body is adapted to (or against). I've seen cases where fat loss or muscle gain shot through the roof simply by eliminating something in the diet that was aggravating the system. The worst offenders are generally grains, dairy, nuts and protein powders.
Another great maxim you can use to judge the quality of your food is…
If your great grandmother would not recognize it as food, it isn't!
The other thing I use freely if trying to gain muscle – looking for a caloric surplus – is "smart" fats. Things like olive oil, coconut oil and even pastured butter are healthy and give you those extra calories you need in order to train hard and grow.
There's a lot of speculation about just how much protein you need. A google search will turn up a plethora of tables and charts giving exact numbers of grams of protein required to build muscle. They can range from 0.7 all the way up to 2.25 grams of protein daily per pound of bodyweight. But that all seems a bit crazy for physical culturists who are looking for functional hypertrophy and healthy living. My recommendation is to consume some quality animal protein every time you eat. If you are vegetarian, I sorry I can't help you because I'm philosophically opposed to it…
Eating a bit of protein with every meal should get you what you need to grow. You might have to experiement with more or less quantity depending on your progress. And of course, animals raised organically and fed the diet they were made for are by far the best choice. In fact, if you are going to go organic in only one area of your diet, do the meat…
This could go on for the length of a book (and there have been many books written on the subject), but this should get you off to a good start.