The Food Rules for Building Muscle

Follow these five rules for eating properly to build muscle.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are most athletes. Gaining muscle is not easy and it doesn't happen overnight. In fact, at some of the top schools in college football, the goal is for athletes to gain only one to two pounds of muscle per week.

"A slower gain ensures that it's more likely to be a muscle gain and not fat or water weight," says Katy Meassick, director of sports nutrition for Florida State University's football team.

The trick is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to grow, but not so much that you start packing on fat, which will weigh you down and hamper your performance on the field. Meassick and Jamie Meeks, her counterpart at Louisiana State University, say their athletes observe the following five rules to add the right kind of weight.

Eat More Food

Simply put: if you want to gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn. "To stay in a muscle-building phase," says Meassick, "you need to be taking in enough calories throughout the day so you're not in a deficit."

This means eating 500 calories over your body's burn rate (calculate yours at on your off-days, and up to 1,000 additional calories on days when you work out, practice or compete. This can be harder than it sounds—it's a lot of eating—so Meassick and Meeks recommend adding nutrient- and calorie-dense foods to your diet.

Eat More Frequently

Although you need to up your calorie intake, don't try to pack it all in at once. "A lot of athletes wrongly think they need to eat more food at the meals they're already eating," says Meassick. She explains that when you eat more than what you need for energy or muscle growth in one sitting, your body stores the excess calories as fat. If you're on a three-meals-a-day schedule, switch to six smaller meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner and three snacks—at two- to three-hour intervals.

RELATED: What You Need to Eat to Build Muscle

Time Your Meals

Meeks recommends eating a meal one hour before or a snack 30 minutes before activity, so you will have enough fuel for a quality workout with sufficient time to digest it. Afterward, consume 15 to 30 grams of protein and 50 to 100 grams of carbs. Good options include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat chocolate milk or a protein shake.

Add More of the Right Foods

"You can't eat at your local greasy burger joint and expect to build muscle," asserts Meeks. You need lean protein sources like chicken, whole grains like oatmeal and healthy fats like avocado.

Keep a Food Journal

Write down everything you eat and drink each day. Also, record the number of hours you sleep, train, study and play your sport, with notes on how you felt during each. "You can tell if your diet is effective based on correlations with how you felt," says Meassick. "Keeping a record can help you identify patterns, and point out things that might be holding you back.

4 Smart Ways to Add Bulk

Boost the nutritional value of standard meals with these healthy additions.


IF YOU EAT: Wheaties with 2% milk (1 cup)

ADD: Granola (1/2 cup)
Granola sprinkled atop breakfast cereal doubles the calories and protein.

Nutrition Before After
Calories 230 529
Fat 6g 21g
Carbs 34g 66g
Protein 10g 19g


IF YOU EAT: Ham and turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread

ADD: Avocado (1/2)
Avocado ups the healthy fats, keeping you full longer. 

Nutrition Before After
Calories 260 385
Fat 3g 26g
Carbs 33g 46g
Protein 12g 15g


IF YOU EAT: Grilled New York strip steak (8 oz.)

ADD: Extra virgin olive oil (1 tbsp.)
Drizzling olive oil improves texture and boosts Omega-3s. 

Nutrition Before After
Calories 392 511
Fat 11g 25g
Carbs 0g 0g
Protein 67g 67g


IF YOU EAT: Apple (1)
ADD: Peanut Butter (2 tbsp.)
This delicious combo gives an apple the protein it lacks. 

Nutrition Before After
Calories 72 252
Fat 0g 16g
Carbs 19g 26g
Protein 0g 14g

Muscle-Building SmoothieLSU's Powerful Fruit Smoothie Recipe

Muscle Milk Collegiate Powder (20 grams)
Whey protein provides the amino acids your muscles need to rebuild. "Collegiate" means it adheres to NCAA supplement rules.

Tart Cherry Juice (8 oz.)
A liquid base high in antioxidants to reduce inflammation.

Strawberries, Bananas and Blueberries (1/2 cup each)
Replenish lost vitamins and minerals and provide fiber to aid digestion

Muscle Milk Collegiate Ready-to-Drink (1 bottle)
A protein-packed drink formulated to improve recovery. Add ice as needed.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock