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How to Eat to Gain Lean Muscle Mass

How to Eat to Gain Lean Muscle Mass
by J. R. Workman

Gaining lean muscle mass is one of the best ways to improve strength and power output; in this article, we are going to teach you exactly how to do it. Down below you will find two of the most important steps to gaining lean muscle mass. 

"For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one's strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases and preserves it." ― Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Consume a Higher Number of Daily Calories 

Calories are what cause us to gain weight or mass. You cannot gain mass without increasing your caloric intake. How much calories you should eat depends on your weight gaining goals. If you want to gain more mass then consume more calories. 

It is important to know that after consuming a certain amount of calories you will reach your body's limit to how many calories your body can utilize (or use to repair broken down muscles) and hence even if you eat healthy foods and avoid eating too many calories from fat or carbohydrate sources some of it will still be stored in the body as fat. So although it is important to eat more if you want to gain mass, it is also important not to overeat. The ideal amount of calories we should eat more than we are eating right now in order to gain lean muscle mass is around 300-500 calories:

"Bottom line – consume slightly more calories than you burn each day. There you have it, just take your BMR, multiply it by an activity level and add an extra 300 –500 calories and you have your ideal daily calorie range for building muscle while minimizing body fat." (How Many Daily Calories to Build Muscle? by Barry Lumsden)

Everyone's metabolism is different and we all gain weight at varying rates depending on our activity levels, body-types, and other variables. So the consuming 500 more calories each day than you are eating right now rule being the ideal for gaining weight is only a general rule (or rule of thumb); it will actually be different for each person. Some people will find it more useful to increase their daily caloric intake by more than 500 calories to gain weight and some will be able to increase their daily caloric intake by less than 500 calories and still gain a particularly large amount of weightso just experiment and find the caloric surplus that works the best for you. 

Using a mass gainer is an excellent way to get extra calories without having to cook or spend too much time preparing a mealthere is, however, a problem with many mass gainers on the market and that is the high amounts of simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates) contained in them; look for one with less simple sugars which has a considerable amount of high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and fats instead. 

Many bodybuilders use a high-calorie bodybuilding diet during their bulking phases in order to gain mass this is because calories are the most crucial necessity for gaining muscle mass. 

When it comes to how to lose body fat, however, it is the opposite i.e., consuming fewer calories that is the key. 

Now, there are two main types of bulking or increasing your caloric intake there is dirty bulking and then there is clean bulking. 

For a dirty bulk, you focus primarily on consuming as many calories as you can and you eat basically whatever you want (there is no emphasis on eating healthy at all just on consuming as many calories as you possibly canhence the term dirty bulk). Dirty bulking is the fastest way to gain muscle mass since there are no restrictions to your caloric intake; it is the most flexible diet in existence. 

The problem with dirty bulking is that if you bulk up too fast while doing a dirty bulk you will gain a large amount of fat along with the muscle mass you acquire and you will need to follow up with a cut/caloric deficit and some fat burning cardio in order to burn off the fat. 

For a clean bulk, on the other hand, you focus on only consuming enough calories to gain weight (around 500 or so more daily calories) and not on eating as much as you possibly can like in a dirty bulk and you keep your diet clean or healthy (focusing on consuming calories from protein and vegetable sources instead of starch and fat sources) so that while you bulk up you do not gain much fat in the process. 

One benefit of clean bulking is that you look better throughout the duration of it than you do during the duration of a dirty bulk, but the problem is that it takes longer to gain the same amount of muscle mass. 

Depending on what your fitness goals are either strategy works well for building muscle mass. 

When it comes to working out solely for looks/appearance as opposed to health and well-being, there are several problems advanced by mental health professionals. Obsessing over physical beauty can even lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). According to an article published in the Primary Psychiatry journal entitled Suicidality in Body Dysmorphic Disorder having body dysmorphic disorder significantly increases the risk of attempting suicide: 

"Suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and completed suicide appear common in individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Available evidence indicates that approximately 80% of individuals with BDD experience lifetime suicidal ideation and 24% to 28% have attempted suicide." (Suicidality in Body Dysmorphic Disorder by Katharine A. Phillips)

Likewise, according to an article published in the Psychology Research and Behavior Management journal titled Muscle dysmorphia: current insights people who suffer from a related condition known as muscle dysmorphia are more likely to attempt suicide and have other accompanying mental health disorders:

"Regarding psychosocial variables, relative to controls, people with muscle dysmorphia are more likely to experience a concurrent or past psychiatric diagnosis, including eating, mood/anxiety, substance use, or body dysmorphic disorders, and have attempted suicide.1,9,12,29 These individuals are also more likely to have had or observed a traumatic event, such as a sexual assault or domestic violence.10,11 The results regarding body image-related perceptions are understandable, if somewhat tautological: the results suggest people with muscle dysmorphia are less satisfied with their bodies than controls, which is inherent in the condition’s definition.30 They also report being more invested in appearance.30 Finally, people with muscle dysmorphia, compared with other individuals, experience anxiety when unable to train, ruminate over their muscularity, and may have a lowered quality of life.29" 
(Muscle Dysmorphia: Current Insights by David Tod et al)

Anabolic-androgenic steroidscommonly used by people with muscle dysmorphiahave been connected with other psychiatric issues and suicide risks as well:  

"The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs) by professional and recreational athletes is increasing worldwide. The underlying motivations are mainly performance enhancement and body image improvement. AAS abuse and dependence, which are specifically classified and coded by the DSM-5, are not uncommon. AAS-using athletes are frequently present with psychiatric symptoms and disorders, mainly somatoform and eating, but also mood, and schizophrenia-related disorders. Some psychiatric disorders are typical of athletes, like muscle dysmorphia. ...Substance abuse in general is a risk factor for suicide [71, 72]. Alink between AAS use and suicide in athletes was firstly suspected by Brower et al. [63], who reviewed case reports and newspaper articles and found that suicidal ideation and completed suicide were not infrequent among AAS users." (Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Use and Psychopathology in Athletes. a Systematic Review by Daria Piacentino et al)

For these reasons, physical exercise should be done primarily for practical purposes such as health, physical conditioning (strength, speed, power, endurance, flexibility, etc.), self-defense, and/or well-being rather than being done purely for improving bodily appearance. 

Consume More Calories from Protein and Vegetable Sources and Consume Fewer Calories from Fat and Carbohydrate Sources 

Obtain more calories from protein and vegetable sources and consume fewer calories from fat and carbohydrate sources (fibrous carbohydrates such as vegetables and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains should be your primary source of carbohydrates) to gain lean muscles mass. 

Carbohydrates store as glucose which can be translated into fat and later stored as fat by the body. Avoid eating too many carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates) and fats (especially saturated fats and trans fats). 

Your diet should be primarily focused on lean meats such as fish and chicken and other high-quality protein sources such as nuts, lentils, and beans. You should consume many vegetables as well. If you do eat fats make sure they are healthy fats like natural peanut butter, almond butter, or extra virgin olive oil. 

Your body actually needs some fat to burn fat; healthy fats (such as unsaturated fats) are the best way to go. Consuming excess fat is usually not beneficial to your body and the excess fats you consume will generally be stored in your body as fat (unless you are on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet such as the Ketogenic Dietin which case you can consume excess fat and burn weight since the high fat, low carbohydrate dietary intake puts your body into a fat burning state known as Ketosis). 

If you eat carbohydrates focus primarily on eating complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, yams, whole wheat bread, etc. Consuming carbohydrates spikes insulin which helps your body to utilize proteins and repair your muscles faster, so some carbohydrates are necessary to build muscle; complex carbohydrates are the healthiest. We should focus primarily on eating lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fibrous carbohydrates or vegetables:

"Protein - select from lean sources such as chicken breast, turkey breast, egg whites, fish, shellfish, and lean pork. Limit red meat such as veal, bison, lamb and lean beef to once a week. Some vegetarian sources could include nuts, seeds and legumes such as beans, chick peas and lentils.

Fats - all cold water fish, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, macadamia, pecans, flaxseed, avocado, and olive oil.

Complex carbohydrates - could include whole wheat, rye, barley, spelt, millet, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa, sweet potatoes, yams and squash.

Fibrous carbohydrates - choices could include a variety of green vegetables including green beans, asparagus, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, kale, collard greens, arugula, okra, peppers, zucchini, celery, mushrooms and eggplant." (Six Pack Abs And Diet: What The Heck Do You Eat? by Lisa Hostetter)

Consuming more protein than you normally do will help your muscles heal faster and it is ideal for muscle growth. The idea that you have to eat at least 1 to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in order to build muscle is a myth. You can eat less than half of that and still build a lot of muscle. Both strength and endurance athletes only need about half of that amount of protein to maintain a positive nitrogen balance (which is what is necessary to build muscle):

"So the question remains – how much protein do you need to maintain a positive nitrogen balance? It is much less than you have likely heard from the fitness literature, which tends to state that bodybuilders and athletes should get close to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

Eating this much protein would equate to roughly 35% of one’s diet if on an energy restricted diet. If fat were at 20%, this would not leave efficient carbohydrates to maintain optimal muscle glycogen levels. This would lead to hampered physical performance, the opposite of what athletes need!

Using nitrogen balance data it was found that the protein requirements for strength athletes is 1.3 grams protein per kg of weight per day (0.6 g/lb) and for endurance athletes 1.1 grams protein per kg of body weight per day (0.5 g/lb).

The 1 gram per pound of body weight is a more appropriate amount for someone who is on a diet and is trying to lose fat while maintaining muscle, rather than someone who is trying to maintain weight or gain muscle." (How Much Protein Is Too Much? All About Nitrogen Balance by Thomas DeLauer)

It is important to bring up/mention the effects of other dieting methods on health and gaining lean muscle mass. 

Consuming more calories and abiding by a high calorie, high protein, high vegetable, low fat, low carb diet are not the only valid strategies for gaining lean muscle mass.

Even though these are the two primary methods most recommended by this website there are still many other dieting plans out there that work productively for reaching this fitness goal. 

There are numerous varieties of diets out there. The Mediterranean diet, various types of omnivorous diets, vegetarian diets, vegan diets, etc. Many people wonder what the pros and cons of each of these forms of dieting are and how to be healthy and gain lean muscle mass while consuming them.

The Mediterranean dietwhich includes both red and white meat, and fruits and vegetables, as well as large amounts of olive oil and nuts (healthy fats), is considered an incredibly healthy diet and is also beneficial to heart health. If one consumes enough calories and protein from this diet it can be an effective way to gain lean muscle mass. One can eat the same foods contained in the Mediterranean diet and increase the protein content and decrease the fat and carbohydrate content in it to get excellent lean muscle mass building results. According to an article published in the Clinical Interventions in Aging journal entitled Mediterranean diet and prevention of coronary heart disease in the elderly the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to heart health:

"Growing evidence indicates that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to human health. Recent studies reveal that the cardioprotective effects of the Mediterranean diet are effective through various mechanisms." (Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease in the Elderly by Anastasios S Dontas et al)

The Mediterranean diet also decreases the risk of cardiovascular-related health issues:

"Compared with a low-fat diet, Mediterranean diets supplemented with olive oil or nuts have beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors." (Effects of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Randomized Trial by Estruch R et al) 

The Mediterranean diet has also been connected with a decreased risk of diabetes:

"When the two MedDiet groups were pooled and compared with the control group, diabetes incidence was reduced by 52% (27-86). In all study arms, increased adherence to the MedDiet was inversely associated with diabetes incidence. Diabetes risk reduction occurred in the absence of significant changes in body weight or physical activity." (Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with the Mediterranean Diet: Results of the PREDIMED-Reus Nutrition Intervention Randomized Trial by Salas-Salvadó J et al)

Omnivorous diets usually include red meat. Processed red meat has negative associations when it comes to health and should be moderated/limited. According to an article published in the Circulation Heart Failure journal titled Processed and unprocessed red meat consumption and risk of heart failure: prospective study of men processed red meat is associated with an increased risk of heart failure:

"Findings from this prospective study of men with low to moderate red meat consumption indicate that processed red meat consumption, but not unprocessed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of HF." (Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: Prospective Study of Men by Kaluza J et al)

However, consuming moderate portions of red meat does not negatively affect blood pressure or cause any other serious health risks:

"The results from this systematically searched meta-analysis of RCTs support the idea that the consumption of ≥0.5 servings of total red meat/d does not influence blood lipids and lipoproteins or blood pressures." (Total Red Meat Intake of ≥0.5 Servings/D Does Not Negatively Influence Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: A Systemically Searched Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials by O'Connor LE et al)

Even though excessive red meat consumption and unprocessed red meat can lead to an increased risk of mortality, heart diseases, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, consuming at least some red meat is still beneficial to your health:

"Meat is a valuable source of macro- and micronutrients, particularly of proteins, vitamins A, B 1 , B 12 , niacin, iron, and zinc. Not consuming meat carries certain risks. These are especially present if no animal-based foods at all are consumed (vegan diet). Evidence from cohort studies leads to the conclusion that long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat may result in a certain increase in the risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer such as colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. There is evidence that several mechanisms might be involved, such as curing salt, however, their signifi cance is not yet clearly known." (Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies by Evelyne Battaglia Richi et al)

When it comes to meat (a major part of most omnivorous diets) white-meat and poultryin particularare considered excellent foods for your health:

"A variable but moderate energy content, highly digestible proteins (with low levels of collagen) of good nutritional quality, unsaturated lipids (mainly found in the skin and easily removed), B-group vitamins (mainly thiamin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid), and minerals (like iron, zinc, and copper) make poultry meat a valuable food. Epidemiological studies performed across the world, in highly diverse populations with different food preferences and nutritional habits, provide solid information on the association between poultry consumption, within a balanced diet, and good health. Consumption of poultry meat, as part of a vegetable-rich diet, is associated with a risk reduction of developing overweight and obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Also, white meat (and poultry in particular) is considered moderately protective or neutral on cancer risk" (Role of Poultry Meat in a Balanced Diet Aimed at Maintaining Health and Wellbeing: An Italian Consensus Document by Marangoni F et al)

Seafood is a high-quality fat and protein source and is highly recommended as well:

"Studies examining dietary habits have revealed the health benefits of seafood consumption. Seafood contains functional components that are not present in terrestrial organisms. These components include n-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexsaenoic acid, which aid in the prevention of arteriosclerotic and thrombotic disease. In addition, seafood is a superior source of various nutrients, such as protein, amino acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals." (Seafood Consumption and Components for Health by Ryota Hosomi et al)

Vegetarian diets generally possess more unsaturated fat content and fiber than most omnivorous or meat-eating diets tend to contain. Vegan diets have the lowest levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in comparison to omnivorous and vegetarian diets. 

Both vegetarian and vegan diets can be used effectively for gaining lean muscle mass. Simply increase your caloric and protein intake and decrease your fat and carbohydrate intake. 

Due to the lack of animal products consumed by partakers of the vegan diet, they have a higher risk of contracting certain nutritional deficiencies. For members of vegan diets it is recommended to find a way to obtain these nutrients (through foods containing these nutrients or from supplements): 

"A vegetarian diet is associated with many health benefits because of its higher content of fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemicals and a fat content that is more unsaturated. Compared with other vegetarian diets, vegan diets tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more dietary fiber. Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease. However, eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Micronutrients of special concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids. Unless vegans regularly consume foods that are fortified with these nutrients, appropriate supplements should be consumed. In some cases, iron and zinc status of vegans may also be of concern because of the limited bioavailability of these minerals." (Health Effects of Vegan Diets by Winston J Craig)

Vegetarian and vegan diets lower the risk of death caused by ischemic heart disease (IHD) and consumers of vegetarian and vegan diets have a lower mean Body Mass Index (BMI) and a lower total cholesterol level than omnivores do:

"Eighty-six cross-sectional and 10 cohort prospective studies were included. The overall analysis among cross-sectional studies reported significant reduced levels of body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and glucose levels in vegetarians and vegans versus omnivores. With regard to prospective cohort studies, the analysis showed a significant reduced risk of incidence and/or mortality from ischemic heart disease (RR 0.75; 95% CI, 0.68 to 0.82) and incidence of total cancer (RR 0.92; 95% CI 0.87 to 0.98) but not of total cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, all-cause mortality and mortality from cancer. No significant association was evidenced when specific types of cancer were analyzed." (Vegetarian, Vegan Diets and Multiple Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies by Dinu M et al)

The Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diets, vegan diets, and many omnivorous diets can all have positive benefits for your health and are all capable of aiding in increasing muscle mass if used properly. 

Use the dieting plan that works best for you, aligns the most with your preferences, and is the most helpful for achieving your fitness goals. 

If you want to know how to build muscle through diet, in its simplest and most fundamental terms it can be reduced to just two things consuming more calories and consuming more protein and vegetables. This is how to gain muscle. This is the nutritional key to muscular development. These are my weight gaining tips. A proper dieting plan alone is not the best way to increase muscle mass but should always be combined with a comprehensive bodybuilding program for optimal results. 

Read my articles on health:

Read my articles on conditioning:


Lumsden, Barry. “How Many Calories Per Day to Gain Muscle Mass? - Full Details.” Relentless Gains, 20 Mar. 2017,

Phillips, Katharine A. Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2007,

Tod, David, et al. Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016,

Piacentino, Daria, et al. Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2015,

Hostetter, Lisa. “Six Pack Abs And Diet: What The Heck Do You Eat?” Muscle & Strength, 4 Dec. 2012, 

DeLaur, Thomas. “How Much Protein Is TOO Much? All About Nitrogen Balance.” Thomas DeLauer | Executive Body and Business Coach, 25 Jan. 2018,

Dontas, Anastasios S, et al. Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2007,

Estruch, R, et al. “Effects of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: a Randomized Trial.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 July 2006,

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Kaluza, J, et al. “Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: Prospective Study of Men.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2014,

O'Connor LE1, Kim JE1, Campbell WW2. “Total Red Meat Intake of ≥0.5 Servings/d Does Not Negatively Influence Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: a Systemically Searched Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.”,

Evelyne Battaglia Richi, Beatrice Baumer, Beatrice Conrad, Roger Darioli, Alexandra Schmid, and Ulrich Keller. “Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies.” Econtent.hogrefe,

Marangoni F1, Corsello G2, Cricelli C3, Ferrara N4,5, Ghiselli A6, Lucchin L7, Poli A8. “Role of Poultry Meat in a Balanced Diet Aimed at Maintaining Health and Wellbeing: an Italian Consensus Document.”,

Ryota Hosomi,1 Munehiro Yoshida,2 and Kenji Fukunaga2. “Seafood Consumption and Components for Health.”,

Winston J Craig. “Health Effects of Vegan Diets.” Academic.oup,

Dinu M1,2, Abbate R1, Gensini GF1,3, Casini A1,2, Sofi F1,2,3. Vegetarian, Vegan Diets and Multiple Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.