Muscle gain starter pack: Friendly fats and carbs for building body mass
In the next in our series on how to gain muscle and body mass while staying healthy, we talk more big food groups
Last week I spoke to you about the healthiest way to get the protein you need to build muscle at a steady pace. Yes, gaining muscle and body mass means eating more, but that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of ways to make good choices.
Today we'll move on to the fats and carbohydrates. While last week was a bit of an essay, I'll go easy this time and focus on giving you the building blocks to get started. Contrary to what you might feel at the beginning, eating the right food to build up is not brain surgery. It's just common sense.
First - don't fad out
There are some crazy suggestions out there for things to eat to build up body mass, including “eat absolutely everything you want all the time” and “drink 4 litres of whole milk every day”. Now I know there are people who will put up with any amount of misery to get to the size they want in as little time as possible, including force-feeding themselves dairy products, but if you're one of those people, I suspect you wouldn't have read this far in the first place.
So, to the people who like to enjoy life - the world is full of lovely fats and carbs, and a whole lot of them will help you grow the right way.
Focus on fat
One thing the GOMAD diet (the crazy milk one) does get right - fat is actually more important than carbohydrate. While you definitely need carbohydrate in your diet, a lot of that is to get you the energy you need to have a great work out. For building up muscle mass, you want a diet high in healthy fats.
By healthy fats I mean unsaturated fats with proven links to good health. Nuts, olive oil and avocados are essential for helping you build mass the right way while keeping you healthy. The fats in these foods have links to healthy hearts and lower incidences of cancer, so you will feel the benefit both now in your workout and years down the line.
Eat the right carbs
Lots of processed carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta and chips, are fairly low on other forms of nutrition and cause a rapid release of energy that could mess with your insulin levels in the long run. That affects how your body manages energy levels and whether you're experiencing the right kind of weight gain (and in very extreme cases can lead to type 2 diabetes).
On the other hand whole grain carbohydrates like porridge oats, wholemeal rice and quinoa are balanced foods that contain more than just empty carbs and release energy slowly. They’ll give you the energy you need to keep working out while also keeping you healthy. They’ll provide essential vitamins and minerals and have proven health benefits that, like those healthy fats, are related to heart health and possibly cancer prevention.
Sweet potatoes are also great as starchy carbohydrates that provide lots of other vitamins and minerals.
Increase things slowly
There are two reasons for this. One, if you've been tiny all your life, trying to force yourself to eat loads all at once is just going to make you feel ill. Two, everyone's body is different.
My advice - record your eating habits for three days. Work out where you can easily increase levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate - snacks between meals, bigger portions. Increase things a bit for a week and see how you go. If you're not gaining weight at all, step up a notch and monitor things for another week, and so on. If you're interested in how much bulk you get from different foods, download a calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal - but don't treat it like a bible. Calories aren't everything.
Remember that if you're a woman, you probably won't need to increase how much food you eat compared to most men - this includes transitioning or transitioned women who are taking hormones. That's because testosterone plays a key role in building muscle, women don't produce as much, and so you will gain muscle at a much slower rate.
Right, for now I think that covers it for the major food groups (except to say - yes, you still have to eat your greens). In the next post I'll start digging down into the actual exercises to focus on to both build muscles and keep everything working the way it's supposed to.
More entries from this series -