Is your nutrition building muscle?

Whether training like an athlete or looking to get and stay healthy, your muscles need better nutrition to build, repair and maintain optimal health. But what is better nutrition for building muscle and is yours better for your muscles today? Everyone benefits from strength training whether for performance, bone protection, mental health, better body composition, appearance or all of these and more.

This article reviews the key muscle building nutrition factors to consider as you evaluate your current nutrition and your muscles needs.

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Who is our better muscle building nutrition expert?

Albert Matheny MS RD CSCS ProMix Nutrition SOHO Strength lab
Meet Tarzan! Jk this is BNP expert
Albert Matheny MS RD CSCS
ProMix Nutrition

We turned to Albert Matheny MS RD CSCS USAw (lvl1) dietitian, co-founder of Soho Strength Lab and founder of ProMix Nutrition whose background as a college athlete (university of Florida track athlete (4:15 mile, 14:50 5k)), Team USA Olympic development triathlete and with a master’s in human performance. He also shares his personal better nutrition plan.

Is your body prepared to build muscle?

Per Matheny, three key intake factors are protein, carbs and overall calories. But other factors impact whether these nutrients can do their work. Digestion, sleep, stress, and hydration all need to be better for your clients’ protein and calories to yield better outcomes.

You can’t get ANY better health result without better digestion. Your better first step is to evaluate your current digestion to see if your body is sneding you any signals (bloating, gas, reflux etc.) that will prevent your nutrition from building muscle.

How should you assess your nutrition?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you chronically tired?
  • Do you notice your body adding fat mass instead of lean body mass?
  • How much protein do you eat each day? 
  • Are you taking in all your protein at one or two eating occasions or is it spread throughout the day? 
  • Do you eat carbs?
  • What kind of carbs do you eat?
  • How often do you consume carbs? 
  • Post workout, what do you eat and drink? 
  • Are you sleeping <5 hours most nights?
  • Are you drinking alcohol most nights (5 nights/week)?

Can everyone build muscle?

Assuming your training program is appropriately challenging and performed correctly nearly everyone will add lean muscle within a few weeks. If you are not then we need to look at deficiencies. If you are but also adding fat or not losing weight, look at areas of excess calories, poor timing of meals, excess stress/lack of sleep.

Beyond the basics, what are some of the biggest mistakes for muscle building nutrition?

Matheny shares what he sees as the most common issues. “Clients will struggle to get results if they aren’t properly timing eating to help the body have the fuel it needs for their workout or to support quick, optimal recovery. Before their workout sufficient carbs and during the workout maintaining hydration are crucial.” Keep reading to learn more about additional nutrients that may help as well.

Albert Matheny lifting woman as a ballet lift

“You don’t get stronger in the gym get stronger in the recovery” 

Measurements of adequate recovery include: 

  • Progression over time, are your results in line with their efforts (aesthetics & numbers)?
  • Soreness isn’t better. Are you in pain or is there some soreness? Moderate tightness may occur but they shouldn’t have pain 
  • Are you moving in different ways daily? You do not want to stress the same muscles. Avoid repetition.
  • How hard are you training? The higher the weights and closeness to your max, the more recovery the body needs.
  • Do you move daily? You should be able to and build in some type of movement each day like long walks, and swimming as blood flow and oxygen to the muscles fuels recovery. 
  • Creatine may provide strength at high energy. However, while it may be beneficial, it can make your client load or retain water so it is not a great option for aesthetically-minded clients (more round vs shredded toned look). More recent research indicates there is no need for a “loading phase” for a week. A typical dose is 5g/day. Not for long term use (>5 years). Here’s information on creatine for women.
  • BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) results are mixed. Possible placebo effect. the positive is it could help a client drink more water. But for those who don’t want to eat in the morning before training, it offers some nutrients. And for helping replenish nutrients on multiple training days.
  • Collagen may work per some of my clients who say “my joints feel better” with collagen. My main concern is the source of the collagen. Is it vetted for heavy metals, pesticide residues etc.? 
  • Glutamine doesn’t interest many. However, I appreciate the digestive health benefits and thinks there can be value for muscle repair during recovery. 

What about caffeine and intra workout fuel?

  • Caffeine – proven ergogenic aid to help train better and harder. On the flip side, if it keeps a client “high” (caffeinated) it can impair their recovery. Personal genetics, amount at one time and frequency should be reviewed and optimized.
  • Intra workout fuel – this is diet, degree and duration of training, and individual health dependent. For those workouts <60 min it is very unlikely they need intra workout nutrition.

What foods/ingredients should you skip for better muscle building nutrition?

There is nothing special outside the same good health guidelines. This would include doing any sort of extreme diet, whether very low calorie or particularly low or high in certain macronutrients. Make sure you are getting adequate calories, protein and water from good sources that you enjoy! This one is personal! Want help finding out what is better for you? Check out BNP Health memberships for your personalized plan.

Protein puff bar muscle building nutrition
Better protein on-the-go

Are there differences for men and women in strength training?

Very little differences for the average person. Overall, men will add muscle faster and more overall because of higher levels of anabolic hormones.

What is the role of supplements in strength training?

Support the macronutrient needs of the person training. Help them identify convenient nutrition solutions to hit their macronutrient goals. Additionally, provide “better for you” choices they enjoy instead of less nutrient dense options.

What supplements do you recommend? Why?

As far as supplements protein is by far the most common supplement I recommend for two reasons.

  1. Most people looking to add lean muscle need to increase protein, especially at the beginning of training. It is often the thing they struggle to add to their diet or to add better quality sources.
    • Protein supplements, like a quick shake after a workout or a protein bar, is a very easy way to consistently get the added protein in you need and have it at the optimal time to maximize the benefit of your workouts and speed recovery.
    • This prevents clients feeling starving an hour or so after their workout which can trigger fast/easy choices to satisfy their hunger. 9 times out of 10 these choices are cheap low protein convenience snacks.
  2. Protein is hard to find as a whole food form that can easily be brought with you and consumed.
    • Fruits for carbohydrates or nuts for fats are both easy snacks, but there are very limited, convenient choices for protein that don’t have to be refrigerated or require utensils or a table to eat.
    • If it is not grab-and-go many clients will skip it and then have poor recovery from exercise and end up overeating at dinner.

I created ProMix Nutrition supplements to help address these issues. As dietitian and exercise physiologist, I formulate all of the products based on my nutrition background and years of working with clients both as a dietitian and a trainer. I source every ingredient and blend and we have proteins that fit every type of dietary need or preference. All ProMix products are gluten-free, soy-free and non-GMO; I feel confident recommending the products to my clients because both I know and they know exactly what is in them. 

ProMix Protein Powder for muscle building nutrition
ProMix Protein Powder

Definitely. Each diet definitely has different specific considerations to follow within the constraints of the diet, but it is certainly possible. Just like with training, when you first start I recommend working with a trainer. The same goes for a new diet, always consult a dietitian to make sure you are following the diet in a safe way that also fits with your health and fitness goals.

What is your better muscle building nutrition plan?

For myself, I have been an athlete for many years and tried all sorts of different training and nutrition strategies. Literally every type of training and diet! I tried them so that I could form an opinion on it and speak to clients about it beyond just reading about it. Nutrition and training needs change throughout life, what I needed 10 years ago is different from what I need today.

For about the last year what has been successful for me is as follows, with a few notes:

  • I am not “intermittent fasting” this is just the time frame that I consider normal, healthy and what works for me.
  • For times when I want to lose body fat I eat an early dinner and I do not eat as soon in the morning
  • This is an average day. Things change but this is fairly consistent.

Albert’s Personal Better Muscle Building Nutrition Plan

5:30AM Wake-up, coffee, black
6AM-10AM Training clients or office work

10-11AM  Breakfast sometime in this time range of high protein, moderate fat and moderate starch. Including some fruit (berries) at this time.
2 English muffins, butter and some beef (fatty not lean; sizable portion), water, coffee [My cholesterol is great, I think there’s a lot of misinformation about what affects cholesterol but of course work with your practitioner for what’s better for you.]

3-4PM Lunch is high protein, moderate fat and moderate starch
Eat very similar to what I had for breakfast. I love good food but I also see food as fuel; burgers with bread; if I am able to be out I love a piece of fish with rice or bread or potatoes. Here I avoid more fiber because of my workout later.

5PM Large serving of fruit (2 big fists – 1 cups berries) and some dark chocolate 15 minutes before workout. 

5:15-6:30 strength training with some conditioning and warm-up/cool down … water or maybe matcha in water bottle

6:30  post workout: 20grams of protein in food or supplement form – whey protein concentrate or isolate (easy on the stomach) – in water or milk or non-dairy; limited carbs but some for energy and absorption of the protein 

6:30-7:30PM teaching class or training clients

7:30-8:30PM dinner of high protein, lower starch, vegetables, moderate fat and fruit (berries). I try not to have steak at dinner most nights and turn to  oysters, clams or mussels [iron, magnesium] seafood. Most of us miss out on foods rich in zinc and nutrients (micronutrients) which help us recover better. I love a stir fry of broccoli, mushrooms, broccoli rabe or a baked squash. My veggies are non-starchy. I get my fat from the sauce with whatever fish or veggies; maybe bread or if I want sweet (sharing a little ice cream – but it will often make me feel bad) I choose more berries to give me a little sweet (love frozen berries).

10-11pm Bed