Eating for Muscle Gain: Tips, Tricks, and a Meal Plan

a woman lifts a broccoli in the shape of a dumbbell

Looking to build muscle and meet your fitness goals? Prioritize the 80/20 rule. This rule states that to achieve optimal results, you need to put 80% of your focus on nutrition and 20% on what you do at the gym. Many people tend to spend hours in the gym without paying attention to their diet. The reality, however, is that your diet plays a huge role in how much muscle you gain and the weight you lose.

When trying to build muscle, there are a few diet rules you should follow. Read on to learn more about fitness foods that will help you get in shape faster, how to fuel your workouts, and more!

Training for Muscle Growth

Before analyzing your diet, take a minute to focus on your training in the gym. When building muscle, strength training should be a top priority. The three main elements of strength training include muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Muscle Tension

Applying stress to your body that is greater than what it has previously adapted to is a great way to grow your muscles. The best way to do this is to lift heavier weights each time you go to the gym. Increasing the weight you lift will provide your muscles with additional tension, causing changes to the chemistry in your muscles and allowing them to grow.

Remember: When you increase the weight, your reps will likely decrease until your body is ready to maximize the new weight. You’re not doing anything wrong! Your body has to catch up.

Muscle Damage

When you lift weights, you experience micro-tears in your muscles. This muscle damage causes a release of inflammatory molecules that work to repair the damage that has been done. During this process, your body will restore your muscles, causing them to grow bigger and stronger. The best way to achieve healthy muscle damage is to switch up your workouts to keep your body on its toes (so to speak).

Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is often described as getting a “pump” in the gym. Metabolic stress causes swelling around the muscle, depriving your blood vessels of oxygen. This increases your metabolism, which causes your muscles to grow over time. You can achieve metabolic stress by fatiguing your muscles. You’ll feel this fatigue when you perform at higher intensities with fewer reps and longer rest periods.

A man lays on the ground doing push-ups

Eating for Muscle Growth

Once you have a solid training routine down, it’s time to move on to your diet. The first thing to consider when eating for muscle growth is your macronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients humans need in large amounts to provide us with energy. The three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Eating a combination of these will give both women and men the appropriate fuel for muscle-building workouts and recovery.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the three main macronutrients and how they impact your body and your workouts:


Protein is arguably the most important macronutrient to consider when trying to build muscle at the gym. Protein helps to repair and rebuild your body’s tissues and allows metabolic reactions to take place. When you are regularly damaging your muscles at the gym, it is essential to consume protein to help rebuild them. Protein can also help to keep your immune system strong and fight against dehydration, which is vital if you work out daily.

Nancy Waldeck, chef and dietitian at the Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness Center, says, “It is important for individuals to consume protein every day. Daily protein intake plays a role in keeping your cells in good shape and should be part of your daily health maintenance plan.”

The average adult should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, someone who weighs 165 pounds (74 kilograms) should consume 60 grams of protein each day. If you are trying to build muscle, however, you should increase your protein intake to 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

A good way to increase your protein intake is to ensure that you add a source of protein to each meal of the day. You can also supplement with products such as protein shakes and protein bars, although these should not be your main sources of protein.

Some of the best sources of protein include eggs, nuts and seeds, chicken breast, cheese, greek yogurt, salmon, and turkey breast. Adding these sources of protein to your meals can help you to stay fuller for longer and give your muscles the fuel to recover.


If you aren’t feeling energized for your workouts, then a lack of carbohydrates could be to blame. Carbohydrates are your main energy source during a workout due to the glucose they produce. Your body uses this glucose as an energy source. Without carbs, you will likely not be able to perform at the same intensity as you would with them.

Carbohydrates should make up 45%-65% of your daily caloric intake. When choosing carbs, it is important to pick sources that are minimally processed. Processed carbs are easily digestible and will give you a quick burst of energy that won’t last. Unprocessed or minimally-processed carbs take longer to digest, so your energy will last longer and you won’t experience a crash.

Some great sources of slow-digesting carbs include sweet potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, quinoa, oats, fruit, vegetables, and black beans. Adding a healthy carb to each meal can help to keep your energy supply up all day and fuel your intense workouts.


Many vitamins in your body are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats. Adding healthy fats to your diet is the best way to make sure you get these essential nutrients.

When choosing fats, it is important to search for unsaturated fats. Saturated fats, or trans fats, stay solid and can cause fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Try to avoid these foods when building muscle or if you want to maintain a healthy diet in general. These fats can lead to clogged arteries and other health issues. Unsaturated fats, however, tend to remain liquid, which won’t clog your arteries and instead provide you with numerous health benefits.

Some of the best unsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, flax seeds, fatty fish, and eggs. Ideally, fats should make up about 35% of your daily caloric intake. Add fats to your diet by having a handful of nuts as a snack or adding some avocado to your breakfast.

A woman chest presses two dumbbells on a gym bench

Figure Out Your Calorie Intake

Once you understand the basics of macronutrients, it’s time to apply them to your diet. Keep in mind your specific fitness goals and caloric needs. To gain muscle, it is important to eat more calories than your body burns. Generally speaking, you should eat about 20 calories per pound of body weight to gain muscle. So, someone who weighs 160 pounds would need to eat about 3,200 calories to gain muscle mass.

If you are just starting with increasing your calories, then you may notice an increase in body fat at first. Don’t panic: This is natural. After a few weeks this should even out and you should start seeing muscle replacing some of the fat. If you continue to gain fat and not muscle, though, you may want to consider either upping your exercise or decreasing your calories. Muscle gain is not one-size-fits-all, so you will have to go through some trial and error before finding the perfect strategy for you.

Eat Often

To keep your energy up and your metabolism working, you should eat a few small meals in addition to the three main meals of the day. High-protein snacks such as nuts, protein bars, and minimally-processed deli meat can keep you fuller for longer and help to power you through the day.

Eating frequently can also help you to avoid snacking or binging. If you stay full throughout the day, then you are less likely to overeat or binge at the end of the night.

Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks

Many people wonder what they are supposed to eat before and after exercising. It is important to properly fuel both your workouts and recovery efforts.

As mentioned before, carbohydrates give you energy for your workout. 30-60 minutes before you exercise, eat a quick snack or meal containing healthy carbs to give you some energy for your workout. Grab something like a piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or a handful of nuts to give you a quick boost of energy.

Additionally, avoid exercise for at least two hours after eating a big meal. It is essential to give your stomach time to digest the food you consume. You can get away with a small snack before a workout as it will take less time to digest than an entire meal.

After a workout, you should prioritize a high-protein snack or meal. After you exercise, there is a short period called an “anabolic window.” During this window, it’s vital to consume protein so your muscles can recover and grow stronger. Grab a snack such as a protein shake, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, or a banana and peanut butter to help your muscles repair themselves.

Stay Hydrated

Make sure you are focusing on your water intake throughout the day. At the minimum, you should drink 17-20 ounces of water two to three hours before your workout, eight ounces 20-30 minutes before, 7-10 ounces during, and eight ounces no more than 30 minutes after exercise. However, you should also keep up with drinking water throughout the day to stay properly hydrated.

A great way to meet your water goals is to buy a gallon bottle to carry with you throughout the day. You can also set reminders on your phone to drink water at certain times. Also, having a full glass of water with each meal as well as when you wake up and go to sleep is a great way to keep up with your water intake.

Various foods scattered on a table with two dumbbells

7-Day Meal Plan

If you are searching for a high-protein diet for muscle gain, then you’ll love the following resources. This is a loose guide and does not have to be precisely followed. Feel free to swap out foods if you don’t enjoy something we have on the calendar. Be sure to prioritize protein, carbs, and fats with each meal.

You’ll find everything included in grams or ounces to make it easier to measure if you are using a food scale.


160g protein, 308g carbohydrates, 74g fat


  • 4 eggs

  • 80g oats

  • 1 orange


  • 3oz of tuna mixed with 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

  • 8″ whole wheat wrap

  • 1 bell pepper


  • 25g brazil nuts


  • 6oz grilled salmon

  • 142g steamed broccoli

  • 1 large sweet potato


242g protein, 183g carbohydrates, 85g fat


  • 3 scrambled eggs

  • 3 pieces of bacon

  • 1 slice of toast

  • 1 apple

A man curls a dumbbell on a gym bench


  • Buffalo chicken salad

  • 1 ounce of almonds


  • Protein shake

  • 1 banana

  • 32g peanut butter


  • 5oz chicken breast with pesto

  • 4oz whole wheat pasta with pesto

  • 150g grilled asparagus


170g protein, 167g carbohydrates, 94g fat


  • Omelet with 4 eggs, mushroom, feta cheese, and bell pepper

  • 2 slices of whole wheat toast


  • Protein shake

  • 4oz turkey in a lettuce wrap

  • 1 small apple


  • 490g non-fat Greek yogurt

  • 1oz blueberries


  • Turkey burger on a whole-grain bun

  • 142g steamed broccoli


240g protein, 138g carbohydrates, 80g fat


  • 3 scrambled eggs

  • 70g smoked salmon

  • Cherry tomatoes


  • 4oz chicken breast

  • 200g cooked white rice

  • 71g broccoli


  • 2oz almonds


  • 5oz shredded chicken

  • 1oz shredded cheddar cheese

  • Whole wheat tortilla

  • 128g steamed carrots

A shirtless man eats a container of rice and beans


141g protein, 249g carbohydrates, 91g fat


  • 80g cooked oatmeal

  • 32g peanut butter

  • 74g cup blueberries

  • 1oz chia seeds


  • 3oz shredded chicken

  • 1/2 avocado

  • 1/2 sliced tomato

  • Whole-wheat bread


  • 50g beef jerky


  • 6oz lean ground beef

  • Large sweet potato

  • 150g asparagus


135g protein, 237g carbohydrates, 101g fat


  • Whole-wheat bagel

  • 6oz cream cheese

  • 1oz smoked salmon


  • 3oz ham

  • 2 slices whole-grain bread

  • Lettuce

  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese

  • 1 small apple


  • 1 large apple

  • 30g peanut butter


  • 400g lentil pasta

  • 4oz baked chicken breast

  • 112g tomato sauce

  • 1 chopped zucchini

  • 3oz parmesan cheese


230g protein, 151g carbohydrates, 81g fat


  • 4 eggs

  • 1 avocado

  • 1 slice whole-wheat toast


  • 32g peanut butter

  • 20g jelly

  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread


  • 200g Greek yogurt

  • 1 medium banana

  • Protein shake


  • 200g cooked brown rice

  • 4oz grilled steak

  • 90g black beans

  • 1 avocado

  • 64g salsa

Different foods fill the outline of a flexing human arm written on a table

Eat These Fitness Foods to Help You Get in Shape Faster

It is important to prioritize all of the mentioned fitness foods to help you get in shape faster. Building muscle can be intimidating at first, but with the right diet and exercise program, you will be on your way to meeting your fitness goals in no time.

Now that you know more about protein, fats, and carbs, you can use this knowledge to your advantage to fuel your body before and after workouts and throughout the day. Building muscle starts in the kitchen, and by following a solid meal plan, you are sure to start seeing gains.

Was this article helpful?