I have little doubt that you have been inundated with information on how to eat to improve your physique and/or performance. There are enough nutrition books at your local bookstore to tie-up every single one of your cerebral neurons for months on end. At least for the purposes of this article, I’m going to spare you nutrition intricacies like the latest information on Glut-4 transporter translocation and just give you the generic Cliff’s Notes (or Dr Clay’s Notes) on how to piece together meals and eating plans that will help you achieve your physique and/or performance goals.
It’s pretty well accepted that a protein intake of about 1.5 grams per pound of body weight is sufficient to support muscle protein synthesis. (For the record, you could bump that up to 2 grams per pound or as low as 1 gram per pound of body weight. Personally I just stick with 1.5g/lb.) Although you could certainly opt for eating seven to ten smaller meals, most people find that six meals per day is much more feasible. For sake of simplicity, let’s say that you weight 200 lbs. This would have you eating 300 grams of protein per day. Divided across six meals and you’ve got 50 grams per meal. Easy enough, right?
So, what, exactly, can you eat to give you 50 grams of protein? Funny you should ask. Below is a list of food choices that have approximately 50 grams of muscle-building protein. These should be considered your “staple” protein sources.
50 grams of Protein
Chicken Breast: 6 ounces (170 grams) – baked or broiled / 8 ounces (225 grams) – raw
Lean (95%) Beef: 7 ounces (200 grams) – cooked well / 8 ounces (225 grams) – raw
Fish: 8 ounces (225 grams) – baked or broiled / 10 ounces (280 grams) – raw
Turkey Breast: 6 ounces (170 grams) – roasted / 7 ounces (200 grams) – raw
Egg Whites: 2 cups – raw
Cottage Cheese: 15 ounces (425 grams) – (also contains about 20 grams of carbs)
So, simply plop down one of the above portions (conveniently provided in ounces and grams) on your plate and you’ve satisfied your protein requirements for that meal. Of course, you could also use a powdered protein supplement. Since most types, contain about 20 grams of protein per scoop, 2 ½ scoops will generally provide your dose of 50 grams of protein. Refer to the product label for the exact serving size.
Knowing exactly how many grams of carbohydrates one should consume is a bit more complicated and variable than protein intake. On one hand, consume too many carbs and they will have a lipogenic (fat-forming) effect. On the other hand, eat too little carbs and you will end up weak, flat, pumpless, and with little to no vascularity. Additionally, chronically consuming inadequate carb intake will, if you’re lucky, keep you from growing – quite likely you’ll end up shrinking.
With that being said, let me give you some guidelines for carb intake. I will be the first to admit that these guidelines are not based on some extravagant study done at a top university. Instead, they are based upon my personal experience gained from doing it myself and helping others for over a dozen years.
If gaining muscle mass is your primary goal, shoot for two to two and a half grams per pound of body weight. Thus, our hypothetical 200-pound male would consume about 400 to 500 grams of carbs per day. For purposes of slowly losing body fat while maintaining or slowly gaining muscle mass, one to one and a half grams per pound of bodyweight should hit the nail on the head. Again, that’s 200 to 300 grams for those of you who didn’t major in math. Lastly, if getting super-shredded quickly is at the top of your to-do list, our 200 pound man should shoot for 100 grams of carbs per day – about ½ grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
Another point worth mentioning regarding carb intake is timing. Both in-the-trenches experience and university studies agree that the largest portion of ones’ daily carb intake should be consumed first thing in the morning and post-workout. Essentially, the nutrients consumed in the few hours after your weight-training dictate whether or not (and/or to what extent) one recuperates. However, some research has shown that we tend to metabolize carbohydrates better in the first part of the day as opposed to the latter part. This is fine and dandy if you train in the AM. If you can’t train until the evening, I would still consume your para-workout drink(s) and at least one carb containing meal post-workout. Unless you have a really pansy-ass workout, I assure you that your starving muscles with ‘soak’ those carbs right up. (For the record, I ‘split the difference’ by training about noon or 1 PM, as I am far from a ‘morning person’.)
As with protein above, below I’ve provided you with staple carb sources and portion sizes that yield 50 grams of carbs. Feel free to mix and match these carb sources. For example, you’d probably want to have (for both flavor and physiological reasons) a mixture of rice and beans as opposed to one or the other. (Especially since 12 ounces of beans would make you no fun to be around, if you know what I mean.) Try 4 ¼ (120 grams) of cooked rice and 4 ¾ ounces (135 grams) of cooked beans to satisfy your requirement for 50 grams of carbs.
50g of Carbs
Potatoes (White): 8 ounces (225 grams) – baked / 11 ounces (310 grams) – raw
Sweet Potatoes: 8 ounces (225 grams) – baked / 10 ounces (300 grams) – raw
Pasta: 2.5 ounces (70 grams) – uncooked / 7 ounces (200 grams) – cooked in water
Oatmeal: 3 ounces (81 grams) – uncooked / 18.5 ounces (520 grams) – cooked in water
Bread: Usually about 4 slices
Beans: 12 ounces (340 grams) – cooked
Rice: 2 ¼ ounces (65 grams) – uncooked / 7 ounces (200 grams) – cooked
A ‘serving’ or piece of fruit typically contains between 20 and 25 grams of carbs. Because of the potential lipogenic effect of excess fructose (fruit sugar), I would typically not advise consuming 50 grams worth of carbs from fruit in one sitting. For these reasons, I’m going to list carb servings from fruit in portions containing 20 to 25 grams of carbs.
Again, if you use your noggin’ a little, you’ll realize that you could have a piece of fruit and one of the starchy carb portions above to satisfy a carb requirement of 70 – 75 grams per meal. If you’re paranoid of fructose, keep in mind that fruit is packed with a plethora of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, and good ‘ole fiber. As a buddy of mine says, “Just eat the damn fruit!”
20 to 25 Grams of Carbs from Fruit
Banana: 1 medium
Orange: 1 large
Apple: 1 medium to large
Pear: 1 medium
Kiwi: 2 medium to large
Cantaloupe: ½ medium or 1/3 large
Strawberry: 11 ounces (300 grams)
Exactly how much fat one needs to consume is as debatable as whether or not global warming is real or political propaganda. Consuming too much fat can, oddly enough, make you fat – more so if excess trans and/or saturated fat is consumed, or if high insulin levels are present. Too little fat will wreak havoc on ones’ testosterone levels, unless, of course, you ‘supplement’ with testosterone. Even in a ‘very anabolic’ athlete, adequate dietary fat will facilitate muscle growth in a variety of ways. It is; however, fairly well accepted that as ones’ carbohydrate intake decreases, dietary fat can (and usually should) be increased a bit.
In my opinion, the only thing that’s pretty definitive about fat intake is that it’s beneficial to consume between six and nine grams of fish oil per day. (Opt for a product that has ample – 30% or more – DHA and EPA.) Otherwise, try to simply mix your fat sources such that you’re consuming roughly 1/3 monounsaturated, 1/3 polyunsaturated, and 1/3 saturated.
As for guidelines on how much fat to consume, I feel that about 0.3 to 0.5 grams per pound of lean body weight is a good starting point. So if you weigh 200 pounds, have 20% body fat, then your lean body weight is 160 pounds. Therefore you should consumer roughly 48 to 80 grams of fat per day. If you’re eating more carbs, I’d lean toward the lower end of these guidelines and vice versa. Below I list sample servings of fat that contain 15 grams each. Simply adjust the portions as needed.
15 grams of Fat:
Oil (olive or flax): 1 tablespoon
Olives: 5 ounces (140 grams) of ripe (black) canned / 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of green canned
Nuts: 1 ounce (28 grams)
Eggs: 3 whole eggs (also contains 15 grams of protein)
Avocado: 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) – all varieties except Florida / 5 ¼ ounces (150 grams) – Florida variety
Salmon: 5 ounces (150 grams) – raw (also contains 30 grams of protein) / 4 ounces (120 grams) – cooked (also contains 30 grams of protein)
Fish Oil: 15 capsules – Ideally you wouldn’t consume this much fish oil with one meal, though.
I consider most vegetables to be “Free Foods”. No, that doesn’t mean they don’t cost anything; it means that I consider them free of substantial caloric value. You could, and should, consume some veggies with every meal with the exception of you workout and/or post-workout shakes. Personally, I also don’t like to consume them immediately prior to a workout as they contribute to a feeling of fullness – normally a good thing but not prior to a workout if you ask me. Here is a partial list of veggies that can be considered free.
Lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow squash (not butternut), celery, beets, mushrooms, onions, brussels sprouts, eggplant, radishes, green beans, bell peppers, asparagus
Carrots and tomatoes can be considered free if you don’t eat more than one large per meal. More than that and their carbs can start to add up to a significant amount.
You’ve no doubt noticed that the above nutrition values represent just a small portion of the various types of foods that one could consume. However, don’t over-complicate things by losing sight of the fact that these foods should form the backbone of every eating plan. In fact, you could achieve even the highest level of performance possible without eating anything that’s not on this list – excluding supplements. Most people that have a physique that you would really covet eat these foods day in and day out. The only thing that really varies is the amounts of each. If eating these foods day in and day out sounds boring, now you know why not too many people really have kick-ass bodies.