How To Set Up Your Diet For Muscle Gain: The Complete Guide

How important is nutrition for muscle building? well let’s start the article with a quote of legendary trainer and Bodybuilding Guru Vince Gironda:

“Bodybuilding is at least 80% nutrition”  Vince Gironda

Put it any way you want, without a proper nutrition plan you will never be able to achieve your physique goals. Because rarely do bodybuilding enthusiasts fail to train hard enough ( although they fail often to train smart). In fact, sometimes the most hardcore trainers fail to achieve their goals simply because of their nutrition plan . Take it from me folks, without a proper nutrition plan you will never be able to achieve your physique goals especially if you are not genetically gifted. So, for us average people we need to put a lot of effort into our diet plans to achieve results.

Setting a Successful Nutrition Plan

Now, how to set a successful nutrition plan?

Well, it is not easy but not as complicated as some fitness trainers led you to believe. it still, however, require some sort of calculation and math, so I hope you went to school that day.

Calculating Your BMR

The first step no matter what is your goal will be calculating your basal metabolic rate or BMR. What is BMR? it is simply the energy used by your body in a 24 hour period if you perform no activity just to maintain life, that would account for over 70% of your total calorie expenditure.

While there is a lot of various formula to calculate the BMR, I found the modified Harris-Benedict formula to be the most accurate one since you will be using your lean bodyweight instead of your overall weight. I mean the BMR of someone who weighs 200 lbs and has 10% body fat would be way different than another person who weighs the same 200 lbs yet he carries 20% body fat.

Now, let’ move to the calculations. Here is the formula:

For Men:

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x lean weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age)

For Women:

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x lean weight in kg) + (1.7 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)

Note: Your Lean weight in Kg= bodyweight in kg-fat weight in Kg

Fat weight= (Bodyfat percentage*Bodyweight)/100

and if you don’t have a clue about your current bodyfat level you can check this photos for a quick visual guide:

-For men:

-For woman:

Let’ take as an example a man who is 20 years old, 6 ft, weighs 180 lbs and has 10% body fat. His BMR would be around 1854 Kcal.

Note: the same men with 20% body fat will have a BMR of 1740 Kcal. That is a difference of over 100 Kcal per day, which is a huge difference.

Calculating Your Maintenance Calories

After you established your BMR now let’s move to the second step which is multiplying activity factor. This is when most people fail to estimate their energy output. but I ‘ll help you with a quick guideline to identify your activity level:

-Sedentary: you do nothing all day (sleeping and watching tv)

-Very light activity: Having a non-physical job and not performing any physical activity during the day.

-Light activity: having a non-physical job but performing some sort of light exercise(above average walking but not really intense).

-Moderately active: having a non-physical activity, performing some sort of physical activity and having a daily workout. This is where most of you are.

-High activity: either training with a physical job ( labor) or training twice a day

Now after you established your activity level let’s do the math and calculate your daily maintenance calories:

-Sedentary: BMR ×1

-Very light activity: BMR×1.2

-Light activity: BMR×1.3

-Moderate activity: BMR×1.5

-High activity: BMR×1.8

So, Let’s assume our example, who has a BMR of 1854 Kcal, has a desk job and train intensely 4 to 5 times at the gym.

His maintenance calories will be around 2780 Kcal.

There is a final part to consider also when calculating your maintenance calories. This part is often neglected by most people and it is called The Thermic effect of food. Your body expends energy when trying to digest your food, so it makes sense to calculate that within your maintenance level to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Thermic effect of food will account for about 10% of your total calorie intake, the higher your protein and fiber intake, the higher the percentage will be since those are hard to digest molecules compared to carbs and fats.

For our example those would be 3059 Kcal, so his total maintenance calories would be around Kcal.

Now after you had estimated you maintenance calories you will set your calorie target depending on your goal:

Category 1: People who don’t gain fat easily or “Hardgainers” with very fast metabolism:

This would be the case for Hardgainers and people who have a very fast metabolism. Since they don’t seem to gain weight no matter how much they eat, and it is harder for them to put on body fat, they could use an extreme bulking approach with success. It is actually a must for them if they are serious about putting on muscle mass because their metabolisms are very fast and they will burn through all the food they eat very fast. In this case, a moderate and more conservative approach might not provide the best results for them. So they need to take it up a notch to see results.

In this case, we will multiply the maintenance calories by 130%.

For our example, this would be 3059*130%= 3970 Kcal.

If you never calculated your calorie intake, you would be very surprised at how much food you need to reach that calorie intake.

Also, most of those calories should come from healthy nutritious sources like The Best Muscle Building Foods for maximum results. And while it is fine to indulge yourself a little, it is never a good idea to get the majority of your calories from processed foods. They might not get you fat if you have a very fast metabolism, but they won’t accelerate the muscle building process and they will increase inflammation and cortisol levels dramatically. Cortisol especially is the number one culprit for muscle gain, so be aware of that.

Now, The best macronutrients split would be:

50% Carbohydrates

30% Protein

20% Fat


How To Eat Enough Calories

Since you probably will need to ingest a lot of food to get your calorie target, which can be very hard at times I know. I am currently trying to add some lean muscle mass and am staying till midnight every day to get all my meals and calories in, and I know it sucks. But there is a  simple trick I like to use, which is to include a few homemade high-calorie shakes. Since they are easier to ingest and they won’t fill you up a lot, shakes are perfect for this scenario.

Here is a quick recipe for a delicious and nutritious high-calorie shake:

2 cups of full-fat milk

1 banana

½ cup of Greek yogurt ( or regular yogurt)

½ cup of egg withes

70 grams of instant oats

1 scoop of whey protein (preferably vanilla flavored)

2 tbsp of peanut butter.

Blend for 30 seconds and enjoy.

This little delicious beverage would give you around 1100 Kcal,75 grams of protein, 112 grams of carbs and 32 grams of healthy fats.

2 of those would cover over 50% of your calorie needs, and it is better than most conventional mass gainers in the market, except it is healthier and much cheaper.

Note: If you don’t tolerate milk that well you can substitute it for Almond milk. Many fitness trainers suggest that but personally, I am a big fan of full-fat milk during bulking. Always worked fine for me and it is very rich with CLA.

Also, I like to remind you that it is fine to have little “junk food” here and there. But at least 80% of your total calorie intake must come for healthy unprocessed foods for the best results.

Category 2: People attempting to gain Lean mass without any bodyfat:


I think the majority of intermediate to advanced lifters will fall here. Gaining dry lean muscle mass without the accumulation of unnecessary body fat is one of the toughest goals to accomplish in your bodybuilding journey. And while some fat gain is inevitable, we would try to minimize that to a ratio of 2:1 or at least 1:1 between muscle and fat. So if you gain 1 lb of muscle you should not gain more than 1 lb of fat with or you will end up looking chubby.

Now how to accomplish that?

Gaining Muscle Without Getting Fat

To gain lean mass, we need to be a little bit more conservative about the calorie surplus. It should be a small surplus that would encourage growth without the accumulation of body fat. Since our bodies have a natural limit of how much new muscle tissue they can synthesize in a given time period, forcing them to do so bu ingesting a lot of calories would do nothing but get you fatter faster, So the smaller the better here.

A 15% calorie surplus would be a good place to start, so to establish your calorie intake multiply maintenance calories*115%.

For our previous example who has a maintenance baseline of 3059 Kcal, this will come to around 3500 Kcal.

The best macronutrient split would be:

40% protein

35% Carbohydrates

25% fat.

Note: To maintain a good level of leanness while adding muscle, I like to use a simple carb cycling approach where I increase my Carb intake on days where I have large muscle groups and lower it on days where I work on smaller muscle groups.

Also, I think it is a better idea to decrease your calories and Carbs by 20% on rest days where you don’t train as hard.

Here you have it a complete free customized guide to calculate your own calorie intake.

Also, while I know this is a nutrition post. I like to remind you that when training for mass, I always suggest a Push/Pull/Legs split, because it is the best split to make serious gains for natural lifters. Go check the article where I explain the reasons why this split is optimal for muscle and strength development.

Now, Time to make Gainz.



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