Building muscle may sound easy — you just go to the gym and lift heavy weights, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If your goal is to burn fat and build muscle, you’re going to have to train hard, be consistent, recover well (sleep is crucial), and make sure that you’re providing your body with adequate fuel in order to perform well and repair your muscles.
To find out exactly what you should be eating to build muscle, POPSUGAR spoke to Brittany Linn, RD, CDN, a clinical nutrition coordinator at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
Nutrition Timing Before a Workout Is Key
Brittany said to pay attention to the timing of your meals and snacks so you can fuel your workouts and recovery the right way. If you’ve been wondering how soon you should eat before a workout, Brittany said, “Typically, I recommend eating one to three hours before exercising to ensure that you’re not still digesting when you hit the gym floor and you will have fuel in your tank for a powerful workout.”
The Best Foods to Eat Before a Workout
If you aren’t sure if a granola bar or veggies will mess up your stomach before a workout, Brittany gave us some suggestions that will provide you with energy to complete your workout. “Beneficial pre-workout snacks are higher-carb, lower-protein foods for energy and endurance,” she said. Some examples of this are fruit with yoghurt and a piece of toast with peanut butter and banana.
What to Eat After a Workout
Fueling up before a workout is important so you don’t feel lethargic, and it’s also important to replenish your body with nutrients once you’ve finished training. “After a workout, especially an intense workout, try to eat within 30 minutes,” she said. Brittany recommends eating something that’s high protein with carbs in order to rebuild and replenish your muscles. A few ideas are chocolate milk or a protein shake.
What Your Macros Should Be
Some people find tracking their macronutrient profile (the amount of calories you get from carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and counting calories to be helpful. If keeping track of these numbers isn’t your thing, Brittany said she always tells her clients that “all foods fit.” What she means by this is “all macronutrients are needed for your body to function at its best, but also ‘fun foods’ are a part of a balanced diet too.” If you’re trying to maintain and increase your muscle mass, Brittany said not to leave any food group out, as they all work together to help your body function optimally — yes, that means eat the carbs!
According to Brittany, you should eat 1.0 to 1.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in order to supply your muscles with amino acids, which build up your muscle tissue. Foods like chicken, fish, eggs, soy, beans, and nuts are all great sources of protein, she said. You should also consume carbs “because they help to fuel your workouts,” and they’re the body’s first source of energy, she explained.
Fats are often associated with being bad, but Brittany explained that consuming healthy fats helps preserve and repair your muscle. They also transport nutrients to your cells and help the amino acids that come from protein go to the muscle tissue. Long story short: it’s all about balance.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
Along with eating carbohydrates and protein, Brittany also recommends “drinking two to three cups of water one to two hours before exercising, and two to three cups right after exercising,” as a general rule of thumb. This may vary based on the style of training you’re doing, your age, height, and weight.
At the end of the day, Brittany said that the timing of meals and snacks is ultimately up to you and will vary based on your metabolism, digestion, and what makes you feel your best.