The Science of Muscle Building Foods :: Everything You Need to Know to Pack on the Beef

Don’t Believe the Hype!

muscle foods A diverse methodology can be read in bodybuilding and muscle magazines about the food that you should eat, if you want to gain a huge amount of muscle. But, that information is generally wrong, as it may not suite your bodies needs, it may not manipulate your hormones in the way they need to be manipulated. And get this, it could be restricting your muscle gain and even making you FAT.

How often have you seen a claim online or in a magazine, that by eating a certain food, you will automatically gain crazy amounts of muscle, and in rapid time to?

Too often, right?

And I would take an educated guess that all that nonsense, has got you lost and confused about nutrition, which is why you are here today. Yes?

I am glad you are here.

Because I am going to dispel some of the myths and enlighten you to the TRUTHS about the food you should be eating, and when you should be eating them, so you CAN gain the muscle mass you deserve to.

Something you need to understand is that most of the ‘great advice’ you may suck in from an article in a bodybuilding magazine, is probably pushing you towards spending a fortune on a ‘magic’ supplement or a protein powder. But you’ve got to read the magazines, right? They are inspiring. Ok yes, but the problem is that with every page of so called advice, there is a page opposite that is trying to sell you a short-cut to a center stage bodybuilding physique.

So Beware of this, ok?

YOUR problem with following the next new trend is that it is not tailored to your bodies requirements, i.e. what your body requires every day to allow maximum muscle growth. It is aimed at the masses. And it will probably do nothing more than burn a large hole in your pocket and grow your glutes into a big-ass, soft cushion! I’m not joking either.

You can either stick with me for the whole article, or choose a section to read by clicking one of the links in the table below. But I urge you to go grab a protein shake, sit back, read and relax. Because this article is very long, as I want to share with you as much as I can, about the science behind the foods you should eat, why you should eat them and when you should eat them!

But, if you want to, you can skip to any part of this page that interests you most. Just click one of the links below.

[stextbox id=”info”]
Table on Contents:


It’s Not Rocket Science, But There Are ‘Rules’!

There are certain things that have been scientifically proven to extend muscle growth over a long period of time. And it doesn’t need to be rocket science either. I’ve been dedicated to building muscle and optimizing my physique for over twenty years, and the one thing that I learned quite early on, is that to achieve the physique of your dreams, there are a few sets of principal rules that you MUST follow.

This is called the ‘Science of Building Muscle’. You cannot refute the results of scientific research.

All these things are fundamental to your success:

  1. The quantity of food split between protein, fats and carbohydrates.
  2. Timing of consumption (depending on your goal set).
  3. Eat a clean diet.
  4. Manipulate your hormones.
  5. Influence your anabolic window.
  6. Eat as many meals per day as your schedule will allow (at least six meals).

There Are Four Segments to Your Daily Nutrition Intake

  1. Pre-workout
  2. During your workout
  3. Post-workout
  4. Rest of the day

Optimize all four stages of your diet schedule and you will get your absolute best results.

Stage One: What do you eat and not eat, before your workout?

I’m going to take a ‘stab’ at your pre-workout meal, ok?

It consists of half a cup of oatmeal, a black coffee and a ten egg-white omelet, if you’re workout falls early morning. Or if you are going to train later, it is half a cup of rice, a chicken breast and maybe some vegetables.

How close am I?

Ok, so up until now I imagine that you’ve been focused on eating carbohydrates right up to an hour before your workout in an effort to make sure you have a huge amount of energy available for when you train. And to make sure you get that maximum ‘pump’, yes?

no carbs The problem with consuming carbohydrates right before your workout is that your body won’t release its maximum amount of growth hormone and serotonin when you need it most – during your workout. Carbohydrates in your system directly before you train, shuts down your bodies neurotransmitters. In other words, you can get all pumped and lactic during your workout, but you will be limiting the amount that your muscles can grow because they lack an optimal amount of the hormones essential for building muscle.

What we recommend that you should do instead, is to consume your last carbohydrate meal about three hours prior to your workout and then about thirty minutes to an hour pre-workout, consume a high protein meal. By the time you start your workout, those carbohydrates will have left your stomach and be shuttled off to the cells that need them most and your system will be at an all time protein high. You will have more than enough energy, I can guarantee it. At this time the correct neurotransmitters will be sending the right messages to and from your brain regarding hormone releases.

You should also avoid fats directly before your workout (three hours). The reason for this is that if you consume fats before and directly after your workout, you risk gaining fat, not muscle. This is very important, as you can probably guess if you’re intent is to shed a few pounds of the flabby stuff and gain a couple of pounds of lean muscle mass.

Because you will be putting your body at a glycemic replenishing state thirty minutes into your workout, your insulin levels will go from low to high. And because insulin is in charge of ‘storing’, it will store fat if you have it in your digestive system.

That’s something you don’t want, right? Just guessing.

So don’t forget, no carbohydrates or fats after the three hours mark before your workout, just proteins. A good source is pasteurized egg whites or a protein shake.

Stage Two: Thirty minutes into your workout, your body’s chemistry has changed enough that you need manipulate it, taking advantage of the beginning of your highest anabolic period of the day. Lactic acid is released (the pump and burn you feel in your muscles), in fact this is the only hormone you would be conscious of. In proportion, growth hormone is also released, so is serotonin (your ‘happy hormone’).

Cortisol is also released because you are putting your body under a massive amount of stress, by ‘hurting’ the muscle fibers, breaking them down during exercise. Lactic acid and particularly cortisol, are the ‘bad’ elements. The lactic acid you can disperse by continually moving around, keeping your blood flowing quickly. This removes the toxins from the immediate region or muscles you are working.

But cortisol is a stress hormone that gets ‘confused’ in the body. Your adrenal glands release this hormone when your body is under duress, as a protection mechanism. It’s aim is to protect your cell structure from whatever trauma your body is feeling.

But, you don’t want too much of this stuff floating around your body because it breaks down muscle tissue and can make you fat! You can get around this by using a cortisol blocker.

While there are cortisol blockers (supplements) out there that can prevent this release, by far the best way of combating this action, is by taking in high glycemic carbohydrates during exercise.

Remember: Don’t take in carbohydrates prior to exercise,  because you risk stopping the release of growth hormone.Yes, you can stop or slow down the cortisol effect, but the positives of GH outweigh the negatives of cortisol.

Stage 3: You must ensure your recovery phase is perfect to get the most out of that hard and heavy workout you just did.

Consume your fast absorbing whey protein or recovery drink as soon as your workout is over. Before you leave the gym is best. Then you should eat within the next two hours again.

This ‘post workout’ meal should contain your highest concentration of carbohydrates of the day and your protein should also be high again (50+ grams of carbs and 50+ grams of protein, for a 170 pound (lean weight) bodybuilder ).

Depending on my body fat percentage and my current goal-set, I often relax a bit on my carbohydrates here and maybe have some ‘cheat-meal’ foods, because I know my body can handle it, without gaining fat. However, we don’t recommend this if you are a fifteen plus body fat percentage. Your metabolism probably won’t be high enough to cope with this relaxation of your carbohydrates.

Stage 4: The rest of the day is about controlling your hormone levels. You want to focus on growth and recovery throughout the day, eating at regular intervals (every two to three hours), so that your body is continually being fed the right nutrients.

Keep things simple. Far too many people confuse the hell out of themselves by making their food schedules too difficult to keep track of, and keep up with. Providing you keep your body in an anabolic state throughout the day, feeding it amino acids at regular times, your half way there.

What Are the Best Food Sources For Building Muscle Mass?

Stick to completely natural and clean foods, staying clear of processed food of any type.

Protein sources:

  • Chicken
  • Steak
  • Egg whites
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Tilapia
  • Turkey
  • Lean beef (ground beef is easier to digest)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt

Complex carbohydrate sources:

  • Yams (sweet potatoes)
  • Rice (brown and white)
  • Oatmeal
  • Rye bread
  • Basmati rice (if you struggle to eat brown rice)
  • Kidney beans


  • Steak
  • Olive or hemp oil
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado
  • Egg yolks (not too many)


fresh chicken Your main focus should always be eating the correct amount of protein (1.5g per pound of lean body weight), spread out among six or seven meals. This is vital if your muscles are to repair and grow after your weights workout.

As a new enthusiastic bodybuilder, you may find you are not able to eat all that protein in a day from your food!

Don’t Panic! This is why God invented protein shakes!

Seriously though, two of those meals could be just a protein drink so that you don’t have to worry about eating another chicken breast, can of tuna or slab of beef. A quality protein shake is going to provide you with forty grams of protein, or even more.

How Many Types of Proteins Should You Eat?

Your basic proteins are listed above and you should eat at least four or five of those per day. And for any one meal, you should try and eat more than one protein source to improve the absorption of amino acids into your system.

For example:

  1. Mix half a chicken breast with a can of tuna
  2. Have some egg whites with your steak (just eat the egg whites before or after your steak)
  3. Add cottage cheese to your chicken breast meal

It’s quite simple when you break it down and once you get into the habit of eating these sources of protein on a regular basis, your muscle growth (and your fat loss) with be exponential.

How Much Protein Should You Consume in the ‘Anabolic Period’ to Support the Recovery Process?

Earlier in the article, we touched on how much protein you need immediately after your training session, but now we are talking about your ‘anabolic period’. This is your body’s recovery time, and if you don’t support your bodies needs now, you are wasting your time in the gym.

We mean between three and four hours after your resistance training workout. It is when your body is most insulin sensitive and when your body can suck in a huge amount of  the essential nutrients, especially the amino acids it requires for you to pack on pounds of muscle.

My lean body-weight is around 225 pounds, and I can put away anything up to two hundred grams of protein during my anabolic period, between three feeds! This by the way, is when I consume most of my carbohydrates of the day, but we’ll get to that a little later.

How do you work out how much protein you should eat in your anabolic time?

Great question. And it goes like this.

Let’s say you weigh 170 pounds and your body fat is ten percent. That gives you a lean body weight of one hundred and fifty three pounds.

153lb x .3 (**anabolic number) = 51 grams x 2 (BCAA requirements) = 102 grams of protein.

(**Find out why your anabolic number is so important and all of your nutrient requirements in greater detail – here.)

Split this 102 grams of protein between two meals.

  1. Immediately after your workout
  2. Your post workout ‘solid food’ meal


Carbohydrates are so misunderstood in my opinion. Most trainers and pro bodybuilders would have you believe that you need carbohydrates in every meal. I don’t believe in this theory. While including carbohydrates in every meal may suit those guys who either have six percent body-fat or are at the top of their game (professional bodybuilder), it does not work for the average newbie, or intermediate weight training enthusiast and bodybuilder. This is an opinion I share with Pro Bodybuilder Ben Pakulski.

I discovered the power of a low carbohydrate, high fat, high protein diet about six years ago when I needed to drop over forty pounds of body fat. I wasn’t working out at the time because I was recovering from a car crash. I discovered the ‘Atkins diet’. Now I know what you are thinking, that the Atkins diet is not very healthy for you, but hear me out!

I made some positive, and healthy alterations to Dr. Atkins theory and discovered that a high fat diet really does burn lots (and I mean, LOTS) of body- fat! I didn’t know it at the time, but basically what I had discovered myself, was the Paleo Diet (a way of eating that replicates our ancestors). I will go into more detail in the next section.

For somebody who has over twelve percent body-fat, you are probably not going to need a lot of carbohydrates to fuel your lifestyle and your weights workouts anyway. Your body fat will do this job very well.

So what we recommend (for someone who wants to gain muscle while losing fat) is to restrict carbohydrates until after your workout, presuming that is around midday. Leaving carbohydrates until during your workout (remember, 30 minutes in?) and post workout, for up to four hours.

This keeps your metabolism high, and your system in a fat burning mode for as long as possible. Your body gets all its energy from your fat store. If you are not comfortable with missing carbohydrates for this long after you wake up in the morning, just have them in your second meal of the day (about three hours prior to training). Don’t include carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal.

Remember from earlier? You want your body to release the maximum amount of growth hormone possible during your workout. Eating carbohydrates will limit your GH levels. Adding them at the thirty minute mark ensure the release of GH and then blocks the release of cortisol (stress hormone).

Don’t worry about having enough energy, you’ll have plenty from your ‘minus three hour meal’ to fuel any heavy resistance workout.

So, How Much Carbohydrates Should You Eat After Your Workout?

Referring to your ‘anabolic window’, this (up to) three or four hour period after your intense workout, is the perfect time to fuel your body. Your body has a massively increased ability to engage nutrients during this period.

Utilize this time well and you will GROW. FACT.

Taking advantage of this time is key to your muscle growth. Not only can your body ingest around a hundred grams of protein, it can use (and use, very well..) a huge amount of carbohydrates in this window, as we’ve already said. Lets say you’re that ‘170 pound bodybuilder’, your post workout meal should contain 50 (or more) grams of carbohydrates, made up rice or sweet potatoes.

And within another two hour period, you could also consume this exact same meal or the equivalent carbohydrates (and protein) quantities.

In real ‘rice’ weight terms, this is about 220 grams of rice or sweet potato (per meal).


avocado Here are a couple of rules I follow and may help you, pertaining to fats in your diet.

  1. Fat is a better energy source (than carbohydrates) if you have 15% body-fat or more.
  2. Don’t eat fats before, during or directly after your workout.
  3. Eat fat to burn fat – GOOD FATS only.

Don’t include fats in your pre-workout meal (this should be high quality, fast absorbing protein and maybe some vegetables), because your body takes longer to digest them (fat) than the other components of your diet. Also, don’t consume them during or directly after your workout because your bodies cortisol levels are higher at this time and that sends ‘stress’ signals around your body, telling each cell to store as much of that stuff as it possibly can in a mass panic that you’ve ‘over-stressed’ your body (by lifting weights).

If you have fifteen percent body-fat (or more), then fats are will be a great energy source for you, replacing almost all carbohydrates. If you really want to shed the fat, then eliminate all carbohydrates all together.

After the obvious weight training, muscle break down and recovery, bodybuilding is almost all about hormones. Proteins directly affect your bodies ability to release hormones, and so do fats.

It’s All About Hormones, Well Almost!

This is where so many people fail in bodybuilding, and other areas of cardio and fitness. They become fat, because they don’t understand about hormones and timing of their release. Once you learn to manipulate the release of hormones in your body, you are able to build muscle and burn fat at will, becoming very lean and muscular.

Growth hormone is by far the most important hormone you need to influence. You must ensure that your body is releasing the maximum amount of growth hormone it can during your workouts, to ensure maximum muscle gains. The higher lactic acid build up, means more growth hormone is being released, which means more muscle growth for you.

You know when lactic acid is high, because the muscle you are training is burning like hell when you’ve done your sets.

To optimize your growth hormone levels high during training, you must have (in your system) high levels of amino acids (which is why your pre-workout meal is a quality protein shake or forty grams of protein, in the form of egg whites). You can also do this with no carbohydrates in your system!

That is not to say you shouldn’t eat carbohydrates before you train (unless you train first thing in the morning), but in order to get optimal growth hormone in your system for your workout, don’t eat them for up to three hours before (remember from earlier?).

The two other important hormones which you need to understand are serotonin and insulin. We will discuss the latter in the next section, but first lets go over serotonin.

What is Serotonin and What Does it Do?

serotonin Most people know that low serotonin levels can make you very unhappy, and high levels can make you feel amazing. But what you may not know is that ninety percent of your serotonin is produced in your gut (digestive tract). This is why people who eat ‘crappy’ diets never feel very happy. It’s logical, right?

Their diet is messing up their bodies serotonin, which is why, as well as being over weight, they will almost always be suffering from depression and probably, mood swings.

Is the importance of eating a clean, healthy and nutritious diet becoming more clear?

I hope so, because your muscle grow will be exponential if you eat clean. You will feel better to.

IMPORTANT: Is Your Insulin Building Muscle or Making You Fat?

I know we have just covered carbohydrates in great detail, but there is something else relating to carbohydrates that is very important. And that is the hormone, insulin.

One of the most ignored elements in muscle building is your bodies ability to use sugar. Eating the right type of carbohydrates, at the right times will decide if you are building lean muscle mass or getting fat. But this is hugely ignored by most guys. They just add carbohydrates to ever meal, usually as much as they can eat, under the hallucination that those carbohydrates are building huge amounts of muscle.

But this is simply not true. If your body is not using carbohydrates properly, not only does it prevent you from building muscle, but it also storing fat, and doing it very quickly too! Carbohydrates are converted into glucose in your body, which signals your pancreas to release insulin to get the glucose into the cells.

Too much insulin can be your worst NIGHTMARE.

Have you ever eaten a large meal or devoured a few chocolate bars, only to crash (get really, really tired) an hour later? This is called Hypoglycemia, where your body is over-reacting to the sugar spike that is signaling the release of insulin. And if your body is in a state of insulin-resistance, which means the cells are blocking the influx of glucose (carbohydrates), glucose is converted into fat instead.

Nasty, right?

How can you fix this problem?


  1. Eat a protein and fat rich breakfast. NO carbohydrates. This will set your body up for using sugars the rest of the day, providing you with an immediate stability in your energy levels throughout the day.
  2. Exercise regularly. Forget taking days off from the gym. Yes, you need your rest from resistance training, but you should at least do a short, high intensity cardio session.
  3. Lower your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Or just eat carbohydrates during your anabolic window (remember, 3 to 4 hours post workout).
  4. Make sure you are supplementing your diet with – fish oils, cinnamon extract, chromium polynicotinate and alpha lipoic acid.

The Bottom Line : Follow These 10 Rules of Bodybuilding Foods

I know this has been a lot to take in, but honestly, when you follow these proven ideas, building muscle is simple. But only if you stick to it, and remember to embrace time, because getting huge is not done over night.

To conclude this article, here is a list of ten rules which you absolutely should follow if you are serious about building muscle:

  1. Keep your body in a constant anabolic state.
  2. Keep your cortisol levels low at the correct times.
  3. Get your growth hormone levels high during training.
  4. Eat plenty of good fats.
  5. Slam your body with nutrients in the ‘anabolic period’ after you train.
  6. Don’t eat carbohydrates for breakfast (if you have 15% or more body-fat), to burn more fat.
  7. Keep your protein high all day.
  8. Eat small meals regularly.
  9. Don’t eat fats directly before or after your workout (stick to proteins and carbohydrates).
  10. If you can’t eat it, then ‘drink it’. Powders and tablets are a great replacement when you can’t get the nutrients from your food.

Remember to keep things simple.

Keep your body fuelled with amino acids and if you are unsure of what to eat, choose a healthy fat before a carbohydrate, because your body can use a fat more efficiently than a carbohydrate. Forget the junk foods, because that processed crap is hurting your progress by creating stress hormones. And you should stay clean of stress hormones! So, avoid stressful situations too.

Good luck. Please, if you have any questions or want to share your own experiences with a muscle building diet, just leave a message below.

About Andy James

Andy's background was in engineering, qualifying as a surveyor at aged twenty. He also had a very early interest in interest in weight training, fitness and nutrition, and started lifting weights at just 16. Now having over thirty five years experience in bodybuilding, resistance training and cardiovascular health, Andy shares his vast knowledge with you on this site hoping that you can take away a minimum of one small idea and put it to use in your own fitness regime and make a huge difference to to it. You can follow him on Twitter, catch up with him on Facebook and also on Google +1. Feel free to leave Andy a comment or question and look up his Facebook page.

Speak Your Mind