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Diet Rules of Thumb for Strength, Size and Lean Muscular Gains
by Jason Round; NASM-CPT
Whether looking for the extra size and power to dominate during the next footy season, chiselling a
physique which reflects your hard work in the gym or simply helping boost confidence in your
everyday life, everybody has their own reasons in training for size, strength and muscular gains.
However, whilst many are happy to put in hours of hard training on the gym floor – and too often
over-training to their detriment – most will fail to take such dedication, determination and
consistency to where it matters the most; the kitchen.
Outlined below are vital checkpoints which currently very few, if any, of you will wholeheartedly
strive to adhere to day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. This is
really what it takes. If you want to change your abilities and your physique, you must be ready to
take the dedication into your household and practice these ‘Rules of Thumb’ every single day.
With diet attributed to over 70% of your overall gains, you must be willing to educate yourself so
you can do what you know is right. Far too many walk out of the club doors expecting to grow from
their hard work-outs and expensive supplements alone. Wrong. Left in a catabolic (opposite to
anabolic) state without adequate rest and complete nutrition, muscles will cannibalise themselves
for energy. Not only will you fail to grow, you will become lethargic and more prone to injury.
Only once you can honestly say you are working 100% to achieve the following checkpoints should
you consider increasing the intensity of your training and investing in extra supplements which are
the icing, not the cake (a future article to come). Do this with dedication, consistency and
determination, and my promise is that you will soon begin to truly realise the results you have the
potential to achieve.
Consume 2 – 3g of per KG of bodyweight per day (trial and error for your body-type)
o This should include both lean and naturally fatty proteins (see approved
o Increased protein intake is also related to an increase in calories burnt as protein
takes more energy to synthesize than any other macronutrient.
NOTE: Not all proteins are equal. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are like the bricks in a
wall. But whilst even meats have “bricks” missing, some foods which may contain a few
grams of protein have gaps as wide as barn doors which make them negligible (i.e.
vegetables contain proteins but have extremely incomplete amino acid profiles). This is also
why it is important to vary your protein sources, as some proteins have the bricks that
others are missing and they can complement one another. Beans/legumes are a good
example of a complementary protein, rather than a main source. However before
considering your tin of Heinz as a beans source, just take a look at the sugar content and
consider 10g is, on average, equal to one tablespoon.
Consume 3 – 4g of per KG bodyweight (adjust for body-type, goals and overall activity level)
o Focusing on low GI, complex carbohydrates (see approved macronutrient sources)
ensures sustained energy levels. Their molecular structure means they take longer
to break down (to be converted to glycogen – the body’s immediate energy source)
thus providing a steady trickle of consistent energy. This avoids irregular spikes in
blood insulin (a result of a sudden increase in glycogen often from ‘simple’
carbohydrates e.g. sugars) which promotes energy (fat) storage when not
o Consume most of your carbohydrates at breakfast and during the most active times
of your day (i.e. pre and post workout meals). These are the times when you will
most likely use the energy for both fuel and repair.
NOTE: After a strenuous resistance workout you can consume at least one third of your daily
calories, including ‘simple’ sugar-type carbohydrates in your immediate post-workout shake,
without these being stored as fat tissue.
Natural fats (poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated as well as saturated: see
approved macronutrient sources) are an essential part of any healthy diet. They add
valuable clean calories to help fuel high activity levels and are associated with a
plethora of related health benefits. A controlled intake of naturally occurring
saturated fat (i.e. higher fat red meats) is also associated with increased
testosterone levels in males.
Limit shakes to pre-workout, post-workout, and a meal replacement on non-training days.
Ideally tailor your own blends to become familiar with what you are consuming:
o Pre-workout: Ideally consume 20g from a whey protein supplement (usually one
scoop) within thirty minutes of workout. Ideally with a piece of fruit or as part of a
ready-made pre-workout complex. Mix with water for more rapid protein synthesis.
o Post-workout: Consume within twenty minutes of your last set. Go for 40-50g from
a whey protein supplement with carbohydrates to equal 1g per kg bodyweight. This
can be as part of a post-workout complex, or alternatively keep a stock of dextrose
(bought cheaply by the kilo from BIG W) and blend your own oats to a fine-powder.
Mix 50:50 for a high GI/low GI carbohydrate whammy which will take care of you
over the next hour or two until your full post-workout meal. Mix with water.
o Meal replacement shake: Add one as an extra meal on non-training days, two for
the really hard-gainer. To make your own (cheaply) go for 30-40g protein from whey
supplement, 50-70g carbohydrates from blended oats, 1 tablespoon of 100% natural
peanut butter and mix with milk. The added fat, milk and fibre will slow protein
synthesis along with low-GI carbohydrates to sustain you for a good 3-5 hours. If
blending, feel free to add a banana, even cinnamon, vanilla and sweetener to taste.
o Drink at least 2-3+ litres of water a day, not including liquid from shakes and
beverages. As well as the plethora of natural health benefits, it is important to
remember that higher-protein diets can cause the diffusion of water out of cells in
the body; if water intake is not increased this can lead to issues such as headaches,
dizziness and kidney-related issues in its excretion of excess protein.
o As a tip, carry a 1 litre drinks bottle to track your intake easily throughout the day.
Take big gulps, rather than sip. As well as obviously resulting in greater water intake,
it also triggers your body to hydrate itself more efficiently and completely.
o Avoid the myth that when ‘bulking’ you can eat almost everything and anything. Yes,
you must consume excess calories in order to gain size, especially for the ‘hardgaining’ ectomorph (naturally skinny), but avoid ‘empty’ calories as much as possible
i.e. processed/fast foods which will be much more inclined to be stored as fat and
are insufficient in aiding muscular repair due to their inferior nutrient quality.
o As a rule of thumb, you should be able to identify every ingredient in each of your
meals and understand why you are eating them.
o Build the habit of clean eating from the beginning. It is much a much easier path to
take in the long run as it soon becomes natural and routine, part of your lifestyle.
o Look at the packet: not only does this help identify exactly what you are eating, you
will also become educated about food choices by studying both nutritional
information and ingredients. Make comparisons and choices by nutritional profile,
ingredients, even weight and cost!
NOTE: The ingredient which forms the largest percentage is listed first in the ingredients. Consider
this when a pack of “whole-wheat” crackers lists just ‘wheat flour’ (refined) first, then
vegetable oil, then ‘whole-wheat flour’ third.
The issue of “Cheat meals”:
o In my experience, the “cheat meal”, “cheat day” and even “cheat weekend” is
extremely counterproductive for an effective, goal orientated eating mind-set. It
encourages the concept that you are actually “on a diet”, and this “cheat” is a relief
from such “pains”. Wrong. Make one thing clear in this entire article: this is not a
diet, and nor should it be treated as such. “Diet” assumes the temporary. To gain
and maintain your results, you must approach this as the beginnings of a rethinking
of your relationship with food and as part of a lifestyle change to achieve your goals.
o Inversely, this also means that a so called “cheat” meal should not be considered a
“cheat”. If you eat perfectly tailored to your goals for clean bodybuilding 95% of the
time, the extra 5% can consist of a meal out now and then with friends, popcorn at
the cinema, an ice-cream on a hot day, even an excessive night out on the town
finishing with a kebab. Just remember the next morning to gulp your water, shovel
your oats, and crack your eggs.
“But won’t my body get used to my eating habits?” I hear you say. Yes, this can often
be the case. But the “cheat meal” is not the answer – it one given both through illeducation and ultimately laziness. Much more effective to “shock” your body would
be to take a zero carb day on a non-training day (still include vegetables but no
fruit), then take the next day as a high carb day by almost doubling the amount of
carbohydrates you usually consume. This technique can be used as frequently as
once a week.
“Little and often”:
o Eating regularly throughout the day has been proven to increase metabolism by
having your body constantly processing nutrients. Not only does this provide a
constant trickle of nutrients to repairing muscles and refilling glycogen (energy)
stores, but your body will also become more efficient in utilising the nutrients,
sending them where they are most needed rather than storing them.
o Aim to consume nutrients at least every three hours. However, remember that all
meals should not be the same. Particularly breakfast (literally, ‘breaking the fast’
after a long sleep) and your post-workout meal should be significantly larger in
order to fuel the day and repair, respectively. Meals in between should be smaller,
even just a 100g cooked chicken breast and a handful of vegetables.
NOTE: Everything you swallow throughout the day counts towards your daily calorie and
macronutrient numbers. In such case, protein shakes also count as single meals.
Vitamin & mineral supplements & fish oils:
o Should you take a vitamin and mineral supplement? The short answer, an absolute
yes. Essentially, vitamins are the keys which are necessary to unlock the full benefits
of the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) that you consume. Even the
non-training individual should take a high quality, comprehensive multivitamin and
multi-mineral supplement. And the fact is that the cheap ‘one a day’ multivitamin
just doesn’t cut it for 99.9% of the population at the recommended dose. Even to
simply increase the dose you would likely still be left with an imbalance of vitamins
and minerals in the supplement which prevents them from effective absorption. This
causes the infamous florescent yellow pee, not an ‘overdose’ in vitamins themselves
as such supplement naysayers will most often eschew. Consider that a “run of the
mill” multivitamin usually provides 60mg of vitamin C, still considered the RDA
(recommended daily allowance). Now consider that studies have now shown
vitamin C to show health benefits at 1000mg+. That’s a hell of a lot of “one a day’s”.
o Fish oils? Once again, a resounding yes, especially for those involved in resistance
training where the maintenance of synovial fluid in joints (supplemented by fish oils)
is vitally important for both efficient movement and also repair. Once again, the
often recommended 1,000mg will simply not provide the health benefits so
popularly related. Go for 5,000-6,000mg (easiest to remember is one 1,000mg softgel with each whole-food meal) for full benefits. Seem high? Well consider that
those with joint issues and the onset of arthritis are recommended 8000-10000mg+.
When it comes down to brass tacks, I do have a recommendation for a complete
multivitamin, multi-mineral, joint and digestive complex I have found extremely
effective. Remember, this is not just for those taking part in strenuous resistance
training but for anyone with an extremely active lifestyle. I have previously
recommended the supplement to a close friend, and professional body-boarder,
who immediately noticed prolonged maintenance of higher energy levels and
reduced feelings of lethargy. The supplement name is “Orange Triad” and can be
bought at an average price of $50 on eBay. Normally that is one month’s supply,
however the supplement is so potent I have taken to reducing the dose from the
recommended 6 tablets to a more reserved four, with continued benefits.
o After everything is said and done, the maxim prevails that “fail to prepare, prepare
to fail”. It is impossible to maintain the above eating and consumption habits in
conjunction with a lifestyle of family, friends, hobbies, work and study commitments
unless you take the time to get up a little earlier, go to bed a little later, or even just
miss an hour of television in order to prepare for the next day. Cook in bulk, pre-mix
powders, even crack your eggs and pour your oats ready for the next morning if you
know you are going to be in a hurry.
o Tupperware: believe it or not, but this is probably the ultimate foundation of
effective, consistent eating. You should find yourself eating from Tupperware more
than any piece of crockery, not only for storage, but for transportation; yes you will
be eating on the move, taking food to friend’s houses, to work, eating on trains and
buses. I have even eaten a pork chop whilst swimming in the sea, although I would
not recommend it as habit.
o Plan ahead. If you think you may be out for more than two or three hours, take your
meal replacement shake or your next meal in a bag. Also make sure you have
enough meals for the working day. I may finish work at the gym at 9.30pm and have
eaten my previous meal at 7.00 pm, but if my train is at 9.45pm and by the time I
arrive home it is a quarter to eleven I am already behind in my eating. The simple
solution: take and extra Tupperware of food for the commute.
One comment I now consider an insult comes often from people unfamiliar with my eating
habits, but still feel it imperative to interject. It follows: “well I couldn’t do that, I actually like
to enjoy my food”. My answer is this: do you think I could eat five or six whole meals a day,
every day for the past seven years and counting if I did not enjoy food? So a few tips to keep
it that way:
o If you aren’t competent already, learn to cook. Learn to grill a chicken breast
properly without it going dry. Learn how to season and to use fresh herbs and
spices. Learn how to make tasty salads and dressings with olive oil, vinegar and fresh
ingredients such as chilli, ginger and garlic. Experiment.
o Instead of the infamous “cheat meal”, get together with friends, have a few beers
and cook up a storm from fresh ingredients, even indulge in a home-made desert.
Love cooking in order to love eating. You will be doing a hell of a lot of both.
Now if, in conjunction with sufficient cooking practice and experimentation and a developed
knowledge of herbs and spices, you still find yourself unable to make a tasty, nutritious meal out of
the following ingredients, you should consider investing in a simple cook-book, or at least
researching online, in order to develop you culinary skills.
Approved Lean Protein Sources
Chicken (white meat i.e. breast)
Turkey (white meat)
Tuna Fish (can)
Fish (flounder, tuna (fatty or not), salmon, shark, etc.)
Shellfish (all types)
Lean beef (including lean cuts of steak)
Cottage Cheese (0 or 1% fat)
Approved Higher-Fat Protein Sources
Chicken (dark meat i.e. boned)
Turkey (dark meat)
Eggs (half whites, half whole eggs)
Steak and other meats (not exceptionally high fat cuts)
Cottage Cheese (Whole Milk)
Fat Sources (an amount equal to 10 to 15 grams of fat if instead of high-fat protein/addition).
(Natural) Peanut Butter
Heavy Whipping Cream
Hemp Seed Oil
Starchy Veggies (corn, peas, etc.)
Whole meal breads, pitas, etc.
EXAMPLE MEAL PLAN BASED ON 80KG MALE
2 x slices tin pineapple
100g oats with water, cinnamon, sweetener (55g carbs, 13g fat)
1 cup whites, 2 whole eggs (36g protein, 10g fat)
Orange Triad multivitamin & 2 x fish oil soft-gels (2g fat)
1 x piece small fruit
100g chicken breast, cooked weight (30g protein, 3g fat)
2.00pm (PRE- WORKOUT MEAL – Pitta wrap)
1 x small piece fruit
100g chicken breast, cooked weight/tin tuna (30g protein, 3g fat)
1/2 avocado (10g fat)
Whole-meal pitta bread (45g carbs)
Vitamin C 1000mg & 2 x fish oil soft-gels (2g fat)
PWO SHAKE (20g protein, 2g fat) <TRAIN 5.00 – 6.00pm>
POW SHAKE (40g protein, 80g carbs, 4g fat)
Totals (both shakes):
8.00pm (DINNER – Pasta with mince)
Lean beef mince mix (with kidney beans and lots of veggies)
(40g protein, 10g carbs, 10g fat)
Wholewheat spaghetti/pasta (70g carbs, 3g fat)
Orange Triad multivitamin & 2 x fish oil soft-gels (2g fat)
10:00pm (whilst this meal can also be a slow releasing protein supplement i.e. micellar
casein/milk protein, it is always best to build a habit of consuming whole foods.
250g cottage cheese (28g protein, 10b carbs, 6g fat)
1 tbsp peanut butter (10g fat)
Cinnamon, vanilla extract & sweetener to taste
Fats: 80-85g Carbs: 280g-300g. Including (and dependent on) cooking
methods and subsidiary ingredients this will equate to an average 3000Kcal daily consumption.