I’ll cut right to the chase, macronutrients and building muscle go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other!
Are you someone that lifts like a maniac, walks out of the gym dripping sweat, and struggles to move the day after a workout because you’re so unbelievably sore but STILL fails to see progress? Then you’ve come to the right place!
What you eat and, more importantly, what you get out of what you eat plays a HUGE role in the progress that you see. No matter how hard you workout and dedicate yourself to the gym, if you aren’t eating right, you won’t see the results that you are looking for, as the saying goes, “You can’t outwork a bad diet”!
Throughout this article, I will be explaining what macronutrients are, what they do for the body and the relationship between macronutrients and building muscle.
What Are Macronutrients?
According to MD Anderson Wellness Dietitian Lindsey Wohlford, macronutrients are “the nutritive components of food that the body needs for energy and to maintain the body’s structure and systems.” Macronutrients are different from micronutrients because the body needs macronutrients in large amounts to stay healthy, hence the prefix “macro”.
Protein: According to Harvard.edu, On a cellular level, protein is an essential building block for the body. It is found in all parts of the body including muscles, bones and tissue.
Protein itself is made up of various amino acids, 20 to be exact, and the body is able to create 12 of these on its own. But the other 8 (isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) must be consumed through food.
This is why you might see various essential amino acid supplements at your local GNC because, to build muscle, the body needs all 20. In fact, although all three macronutrients are vital to muscle growth and recovery, protein seems to have the biggest impact on the body’s ability to build and maintain muscle.
Carbohydrates: According to MedlinePlus.gov, carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules and provide the body with its main source of energy. To be more specific, the sugar molecules are broken down by the body to create glucose. Glucose is then transferred throughout the body and used as energy for the cells. If the glucose is not used immediately, it can be stored in the body for later use.
There are 2 main types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
- Simple carbohydrates mainly consist of sugars and, on a molecular level, are the most basic of the two. Because of their simplicity, they are easier for the body to digest than complex carbohydrates. Most junk foods, like candy and soda, are comprised of simple carbohydrates.
- Complex carbohydrates, also referred to as starches, are made up of multiple simple carbohydrates fused together at a molecular level. The body can’t convert complex carbohydrates into energy so it has to break them down into simple sugars. Vegetables and whole grains are common sources of complex carbohydrates.
Fats: According to Healthuniveristy.ca, fats are made up of three molecules, that when joined together, are called triglycerides. Fats help the body absorb vitamins and minerals, keep our skin and heart healthy and even help food taste better! Just like amino acids, there are some fats that the body can’t create and it must get them from an outside source. These are called essential fats.
There are three types of fats: unsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.
- Unsaturated fats make up the ‘healthy’ fats. These are the main fats you want to consume to sustain a healthy physique. Unsaturated fats mainly come from plant foods like nuts and seeds.
- Saturated fats are semi-healthy fats. They mainly come from animal meats but a diet with too much saturated fat can lead to undesired health conditions.
- Trans fats are the most unhealthy fats and should be avoided at ALL costs. They only come from processed junk foods and can cause horrible health consequences if consumed consistently.
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The Best Source of Food for Each Macronutrient
Each of the three macronutrients have their own unique food sources where you can consume them from.
The best sources of protein include animal meats, beans, lentils, nuts and dairy products. To give you an example, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of grilled chicken equates to about 25-28g of protein, depending on the quality of chicken.
For muscle building purposes, protein is commonly supplemented through protein shakes made from whey or casein protein to make up for a diet low in protein.
The best sources of carbohydrates include vegetables, rice, pasta, whole grains and oats. Like I said earlier, simple carbohydrates are most common in fruits and processed sugars while complex carbohydrates are usually found in vegetables and whole grains like beans, whole wheat bread and potatoes.
The best sources of healthy fats include eggs, fish, lean meats, olive oil and nuts. Fats to avoid include processed foods like cookies and chips.
How To Structure Your Diet To Support Macronutrients and Muscle Growth
Now that you know what foods provide each macronutrient, let’s get into exactly how much of each macronutrient you need to support muscle growth.
On average, you should consume at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight if you want to build muscle. Some experts will suggest more, some even 2g per pound of body weight, but as long as you consume at least 0.8g of protein, anymore is just insurance. So if you weigh 180 pounds, you should be consuming at least 144g of protein per day.
Too much protein can be bad for your health, however, and you should not go overboard with the amount of protein you eat to make sure you save room for the other macronutrients.
The body needs a lot more carbohydrates than proteins or fats to sustain healthy energy levels throughout the day. According to the nutrition facts on food labels, the average human should consume about 275g of carbs per day on a 2,000 calorie diet. But if you want to gain muscle, you should be eating at least 1.7g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight daily.
This means that a 180 pound individual should be eating at least 306g of carbs a day.
Fats should be consumed the least out of all the macronutrients. Since fats contain the most calories per gram, eating too many fats would cause unnecessary weight gain. To build muscle, you are going to want to consume at least 0.5g of fat per pound of body weight a day. Do not exceed more than 1g per pound of body weight to ensure you don’t experience negative health effects.
This means that a 180 pound individual should be consuming at least 90g of fat per pound of body weight and no more than 180g daily.
Overall, to build muscle, you are going to want to consume around 45% of your diet in carbohydrates, 30% of your diet in protein, and 25% of your diet in fats.
Sample Meal Plan
Before I conclude this article, I wanted to give you a sample meal plan so that you have a good idea of what you should be eating in a day to ensure your body has all the resources it needs to build muscle.
- Breakfast – 2 whole eggs, 2 slices of whole grain bread and Greek yogurt (about 32g of protein, 60g of carbs and 15g of fat)
- Lunch – 300 grams of grilled chicken breast, 3/4 cups of jasmine rice, 1 cup of broccoli and a handful of almonds (about 80g of protein, 120g of carbs and 30g of fat)
- Dinner – 300 grams of NY strip steak, 3 sweet potatoes and 2 cups of green beans (about 65g of protein, 110g of carbs, and 50g of fat)
- Snacks – Be generous and try to keep them healthy with a good amount of macronutrients! If you need extra protein, a whey protein shake can be a great snack.
This day of eating would give you a grand total of about 3,000 calories, 177 grams of protein, 290 grams of carbs, and 95g of fat. For a 180 pound individual, this would be a perfect day.
Final Thoughts on Macronutrients and Building Muscle
In conclusion, macronutrients are essential for the body’s ability to function properly and build muscle. Without the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats on a daily basis, the body will have a VERY hard time progressing in the direction that you want it to. The body needs protein to build muscle, carbohydrates for energy and fats for additional energy and healthy body functions.
A daily diet of lean meats, starchy foods and vegetables should give the body all it needs to excel in everyday life AND at the gym. Like I said in the introduction, you can work out like an absolute ANIMAL in the gym but you will NEVER outwork a bad diet. EVER!
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to leave a comment and voice your opinion on macronutrients and building muscle!