Eating for Muscle Growth

“Just consume more calories than you’re currently eating.” You’ve probably read or heard this before regarding eating for muscle growth or eating to gain weight as this general rule of thought isn’t wrong but it can lead to trouble for someone looking to pack on the pounds. Timing, amount (portion size), and type of food consumed (fat, carbohydrates, protein) all play an important role in reaching your goal of adding the correct amounts and type of weight.


Sure, anyone can eat everything in sight and pack on the pounds, but without a plan in place that is tailored to your specific body type and weight goals you could be left with unwanted and unnecessary gains in body fat only.


A general recommendation for a safe and healthy weight gain is ½ to 1 pound per week. The number of calories per day is based on your current food intake, general physical condition, exercise plan, age, height, and current weight. The following are some general guidelines and recommendations when it comes to eating for weight gain.



Yes, protein is a very important nutrient when it comes to adding weight and muscle through exercise. One needs to be careful and utilize the correct amounts to ensure you’re not eating too much protein. Too much protein (in most cases >40 g at a time can lead to weight gain and will cause a sense of fullness quickly and may last for several hours. This can impact your appetite making it difficult to get in the correct number of meals and calories throughout the day. At 4 calories per gram, it’s not as calorie dense as it’s brother, the fat gram at 9 calories per gram, but it’s role in muscle building and recovery from exercise make it a very important part of the weight gainers diet. Aim for 20-30g protein every 2-3 hours. However, this is highly dependent on the individual. Here is a list of foods that are great sources of protein.

  • 1 large egg = 6 grams
  • 1 cup low-fat milk = 8 grams
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt = 12 grams
  • ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese = 14 grams
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter = 8 grams
  • 1 cup quinoa = 8 grams
  • 3 ounces of lean ground beef = 22 grams
  • 3 ounces skinless, baked chicken = 26 grams
  • 3 ounces grilled salmon = 21 grams



Carbohydrates also play an important role in eating for weight gain as carbohydrates make up a large portion of muscle. Carbohydrates come in a variety of sources such as those from grains, vegetables, dairy, and fruit. The general recommendation when trying to pack on the pounds is to not go overboard on fiber, which can lead to stomach upset and becoming too full. Aim for 50% of your diet to be whole grains and the rest white bread, rice, and pasta. Fruit and vegetables will still have their place but their fiber content and high water content can hurt the appetite making it difficult to consume those extra calories. Aim for 45-75 g every 2-3 hours.


Fat is a great way to get those needed calories into the weekly meal plan. For overall health and muscle strength, we want to focus on the healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, combination of nuts and seeds, avocados and fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and trout. As mentioned above, fat contains twice the number of calories as carbohydrates and protein, making it a great choice when it comes getting those extra calories into the diet. However, too much can lead to being too full and/or stomach upset. Aim for 10-20 g every 2-3 hours. Here are some great choices of healthy fats that you could use to increase those calories.

  • Salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, trout 10 g per 3 oz
  • Oils5 g per teaspoon
  • Avocado                                                       15 g per half Haas Avocado
  • Almonds 14 g per oz (24 almonds)
  • Peanuts 5 g per tablespoon
  • Walnuts 5 g per 2 walnuts
  • Whole milk 8 g per cup
  • Regular cheese 10 g per oz


Overall, when weight gain is the goal, some of us will need to switch up our current mindset from low fat, fat free, and light options and opt for the full fat versions instead. This is all dependent on how much weight gain you are looking to experience. Now this may seem like a lot of number crunching and an overwhelming amount of information to dissect so I suggest reaching out to us at Elite Nutrition & Performance and speaking with myself or Kristen to put an individualized plan in place for you. To get started, sign up for a free No Obligation Consultation!


Sean Vander Veer RD, LD

Elite Nutrition & Performance



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