1. How key is protein to my muscle-building efforts?
You can’t construct a building without adequate raw materials, and it’s pretty much the same in building muscle. Amino acids, the small components of protein, are commonly referred to as “building blocks” because they’re used to build and add new muscle tissue.
Lower-fat sources of protein include poultry (skinless white meat), fish, flank steak, top sirloin steak, protein powders and low-fat dairy products such as cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and milk.
To get your fill, aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and upward of 1 1∕2 g, spread over six to eight meals each day. This can maximize absorption while minimizing bloating. A 200-pound bodybuilder, for example, would need 200-300 g a day.
2. What is the most important thing to know about carb intake?
Two words: glycogen and insulin. Glycogen provides the body’s storage tanks for carbohydrates located in your muscles. When you eat plenty of carbs, these energy tanks fill up and encourage the body to hold onto protein and build new muscle. When you skimp on carbs, the tanks empty quickly, causing protein to be burned for fuel and, thus, that protein is not available for the muscle-building process.
Carbohydrates also increase the natural release of a hormone called insulin, touted as the body’s most potent anabolic or tissue-building hormone. Insulin is quite versatile, driving both amino acids and glucose, the most basic unit of carbohydrate foods, into muscles to facilitate repair and recovery. For building your physique, you need to make carbohydrates a major ingredient in your nutrition plan. Shoot for a minimum of 2 g per pound of bodyweight and up to 3 g for hardgainers. (A 200-pounder would need 400-600 g daily.
3. How do I know whether I should go up to three grams of carbs per day?
Your bathroom scale is directly tied to your carbohydrate intake. How? If the scale is moving up one-half to one pound a week, you’re eating sufficient carbs. If the numbers aren’t budging, you aren’t eating enough to support your training and growth.
For example, if you’re eating 2 g per pound daily, and that doesn’t cause a weekly uptick on the scale, boost your carb intake by one-half gram. That is, if you were eating 2 g per pound of bodyweight, go to 2 1∕2 and see if that does the trick. If not, go up another half-gram to 3 g.
4. Are all carbs the same?
No. Most of your carbs should come from slow-digesting sources such as whole grains (whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta), sweet potatoes and fruit. This will allow you to pack on muscle without adding fat.
5. As a hardgainer, do I need to worry about what type of carbs I’m eating?
If you are a true hardgainer, you don’t need to worry much about rule #4. Your focus should be on foods that are dense in carbs. Dense mass-building carbohydrates include mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, raisins, honey, pancakes, bagels, Fig Newton cookies, Cream of Wheat cereal and ripe bananas. These types of foods let you meet your daily carbohydrate quota without getting so full (as with high-fiber vegetables) that you fail to eat enough.
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