On this post, I will provide you some flexible guidelines and outline the most important things to ensure you get your diet right.
I believe without a shadow of a doubt that the most important thing for a successful strength training diet plan is that you can stick with it.
The point of the diet is therefore to consist of the foods you want! It should become the way you eat and be a part of your lifestyle. Because of this, I will not give you a diet plan telling what you should eat, but rather I will help you get the knowledge to create your own.
Before I start I would like to point out that my recommendation for your diet plan is that is should consist of a good amount of healthy whole foods: meats, vegetables, grains, fruits, berries, and nuts.
By a good amount, I mean that on average the majority of your calories should come from these kinds of foods. This is my recommendation to you, but that does not mean you can’t gain a lot of strength and muscle if you chose not follow this.
There are more and more crazy but interesting examples out there on the internet of really strong guys with low body fat that are eating a lot of fast food and ice cream.
The Strength Training Diet Plan
In general terms a diet for optimized strength and muscle gain is simple. You pretty much just have to eat a lot of everything: protein, carbs, and fat.
But before you start stuffing your face I want you to understand that if you are also interested in gaining the least amount of fat it becomes more complicated. Then you basically have to balance eating just a bit more than your daily energy expenditure.
For the sake of this post, I will assume that your goal is to gain the maximum amount of strength and muscle with the least amount of fat. In order to get this result you need to familiarize yourself with these things:
- General calorie content of the foods you are eating
- The macronutrient content of the foods you are eating
- The quantities of the food you are eating
- What macronutrient distribution you feel best with
- Your average daily energy expenditure (basal metabolic rate + energy used in daily activities)
- Determining your daily calorie intake
- A calorie tracking app for your phone (I like MyFitnessPal)
I will cover daily energy expenditure, calorie intake and macronutrients below.
This might sound like a lot and will probably even scare some people a little bit. But look at it this way, you should care and know about the things you are putting inside your body and at least put some effort most of the time into eating the right amount of food.
Also, your body is constantly renewing and rebuilding itself and it can only become as good as the food you put into it. If nothing else, you need to care about this if you want to gain maximum strength and muscle while at the same time gaining little or not fat.
Daily Energy Expenditure – How Many Calories Are You Burning?
If you want the most precise estimate of how many calories you are burning every day, you would first have to find out your BMR which is how many calories your body needs to function. Think about it as the baseline or the amount of energy your body needs if you were inactive the whole day. For a better explanation see Wikipedia.
Then you would need to keep track of your activities daily and add whatever amount of calories that equaled to, to your BMR.
A Simple Calculation
To be honest I think this way is too much trouble compared to what you get out of it. There are a couple of different other ways to estimate your daily energy expenditure much easier and they are usually quite precise. The one I have found most exact and useful is just this simple calculation:
Your weight in pounds x 15 = daily energy expenditure in kcal,
your weight in kg x 33 = daily energy expenditure in kcal.
This calculation assumes you have about 60 minutes of physical activity, which I think is fair to say for most people.
Obviously, if you completely disagree that you are not physically active about 60 minutes each day, you might want to lower it a bit, perhaps subtract 100 calories. However, I would then recommend that you consider trying to be more active, you could, for example, take the stairs or walk or use a bicycle as transportation when it is convenient.
Surplus Calories And Determining Daily Calorie Intake
For optimal strength and muscle growth, you need a calorie surplus. What that means is you need to be eating more calories than your daily energy expenditure.
But it is important to understand that your body can only use a certain amount of extra calories to build muscle and that it is actually a relatively small number. Everything more than this amount will be stored in your body as fat.
Keeping that in mind you should be aiming for a daily average calorie surplus in the range of 150 – 250 calories. You need to find out for yourself how your body responds to the calorie surplus, but you could start out at 250 calories.
Adjust Calories Based On Feedback And/Or Expectations
If you suspect or discover that you gain fat easily while being on the higher end of the calorie surplus, then could go ahead and lower it. Also, if you are determined to keep fat gain to a minimum and accept that it may reduce strength and muscle gain by just a small bit, then you can also stick to the lower end. If you are “hungry” for strength and muscle or find that your actual fat gain is very small or nothing while in the higher end you just keep going.
If you are familiar with the ideas of either “bulking” and “cutting” this way of having a relatively small calorie surplus is often referred to as “lean bulking”.
Bulking and cutting are popular names for the two opposing conditions of either being in a calorie surplus to build muscle or in a calorie deficit to burn fat. Both can be detrimental if taken to the extreme either by eating too much resulting in large fat gain or eating too little resulting in strength and muscle loss.
This cool graphic illustrates how calories are determined:
Putting It All Together
Putting everything together I have explained here you can then determine what your daily calorie intake should be. Simply take your weight and either multiply it by 15 for pounds or 33 for kg and then add 150-250 extra calories.
As an example let us say your weight is 75 kg.
75 kg x 33 = 2475
Then add the calorie surplus of 200.
Your daily average calorie intake should then be:
2475 + 200 = 2675 calories (kcal)
You don’t actually have to place the calorie surplus the same on every single day. An excellent and I believe also a popular way of going about it is to put more calories on the days you lift. If you are lifting 3 days a week it could look like this:
Non-training days (4) + 100 calories = 400
Training days (3) + 333 calories = 1000
Total surplus calories: 400 + 1000 = 1400 (which is 200 x 7)
Macronutrients (Macros), Calories and Tracking
When the daily calorie intake is established it is time to translate it into the macronutrient distribution.
Macronutrients are as the name reveals the largest groups of nutrients in your diet and are what provides energy for your body to function. There are only three categories of macros: protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Macros are consumed in large quantities as opposed to micronutrients which your body only needs in small quantities in order to function.
To make sure you get the right amount of food you have to start tracking macros until you get a good enough understanding to estimate it in your head. Tracking macronutrients in conjunction with calories is a relatively easy and very powerful tool to for you to keep track of your daily intake and make sure you are getting the right amount.
Only tracking macros and calories are of course a simplification, but it is still a great and powerful estimate and most importantly it works.
So let’s assume your daily calorie intake has been established to be 2675 calories (see above). Of those calories the macronutrients should be distributed in the following range:
- Protein: 20 – 25 % 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories which mean with 2675 calories as a daily intake you should be getting 535 – 668,75 calories from protein or 133,8 – 167,2 grams.
- Carbohydrate (carb) 40 – 65 % 1 gram of carb equals 4 calories and with the established calorie intake you should be getting 1070 – 1738,8 calories from carbs or 267,5 – 434,7 grams.
- Fat 20 – 30 % 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories. You should be getting 535 – 802,5 calories from fat or 59,4 – 89,2 grams.
Obviously, your total percentage has to be no more or less than 100 %
If this process confused you read my other post on how to determine macros the easy way.
You can also sign up to receive my white paper that goes in-depth on this topic and also covers other things. It comes with a calorie and macro calculator that calculates everything for you. Sign up here.
The macro ranges are not set in stone and you can deviate some. But you should know that you can get problems and less than optimal results if you go too low in either of the categories and if you go too high in one category it leaves you with fewer calories for the other categories.
Personally, I like to be in the lower end in terms of protein and in the higher end in terms of fat and carbs. This is just my preference and it should not dictate how you set up your diet, but I would recommend that you try out some different numbers in the ranges I have given you so you can find out what macro distribution fits you the best.
Is That Really Enough Protein?
Perhaps you have heard or read that you should be eating a lot of protein in order to get muscle.
It is, of course, true that you need to eat protein, but you also need to eat plenty of carbs and fat. I think that protein intake is often overstated.
Most research has shown that there is no extra benefit for muscle growth when eating more than 1.8 grams per kg of bodyweight. If your weight is 75 kg that equals to 135 grams.
Because I know this topic has been debated intensely and probably still is, I have made a specific post on how much protein per day you need.
Implementing The Strength Training Diet Plan
Now that you got all the right numbers for optimal strength and muscle gain to guide you it is time for the funny part. The eating part. You need to discover and learn how to foods you want to eat can align with getting the right amount of macros.
But don’t obsess about getting it completely right or right all the time.
If you are eating at home I recommend you weighing your food at least in the beginning, but don’t worry if you can’t weigh your food you can always just guess and get a good estimate. In addition, your guesses will improve over time making it more and more accurate.