How To Plan Your Muscle Building Diet

This article shows you how to easily plan your diet and work out how much protein, carbs and fats you need based on your bodyweight.

Diet is the single most important part of muscle building. Yes, there are many other important factors to consider but none of them are as important at the correct diet and nutrition plan. Your training may be perfect, but without the correct fuel to feed your muscles to grow you will have little progress.

Most people that are new to weight training and bulking up get very confused when confronted with all the information that’s available in magazines, at the gym and online. In this article I am really going to simplify things for you. A good nutrition and diet plan for muscle building is not rocket science and it definitely does not have to be complicated.

Editor update: You can now calculate how many calories you need using our BMR Calculator!

3 Main Components That Make Up Your Diet:

Ok, so I’ll get started by showing you the 3 main components of a good muscle building diet and what role they play in helping you bulk up.

  1. Protein
    Ah protein, what would we do without it? We wouldn’t grow that’s for sure! Apart from water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body. Protein is responsible for building, repairing and maintaining muscle tissue. Protein is also the body’s second resource for energy after carbohydrates. Put simply, without protein we would wither away to skin and bone. When it comes to muscle building, your body requires an increased about of protein to repair the muscle your break down at the gym. (more info on protein supplements)
  2. Carbohydrates
      Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbs are found in foods like sugar and fruit and will give you a quick burst of energy by raising blood sugar levels. Complex carbs are found in whole grains like brown bread, rice and potatoes. Complex carbs are important because they provide the long lasting fuel you need to train hard. If you don’t eat enough complex carbs in your muscle building diet your body will turn to its next source of energy, protein (which you don’t want!).
  3. Fats
      Fats are also a vital part of your diet, but must be consumed in the correct amounts. The most important fact you need to know about fats is there are two types. First, there are “good fats”. These fats are found in foods like olive oil, fish and nuts. Second, there are “bad fats”. These fats are saturated fats and trans fats. These fats are mainly from foods like meat, eggs and vegetable oil. You should aim to cut down bad fats in your diet and focus on eating the right amount of good fats.

So now you know the 3 main components that your muscle building diet will comprise of, now we need to look at how much you need to get on a daily basis for optimum muscle growth. A couple of points that need to be noted before we continue.

First, the best way to calculate the amount of protein, carbs and fat you need in your diet is to use your body weight. For the purpose of this article I am going to use a 200 pound man. Second, these figures are only a guide and intended to be used if muscle building is your goal. Like I say in all my articles, you will get the best results from experimenting with what works for you and your body type.

The basic amounts of protein, fat and carbs.

Like many aspects of training to build muscle, these figures are arguable. Some may agree, other may disagree, but these figures are good for a guide and have worked for me. So here is a basic guide on what you should be aiming for on a daily basis:

  • Protein: 1 – 1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight
  • Carbs: 2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight
  • Fats: 0.25 grams per pound of bodyweight

So let’s take my example of a 200 pound man looking to build muscle. Using the figures above, he would have to eat 200-300 grams of protein, 500 grams of carbohydrates and 50 grams of fat per day.

So what does this mean in calories?

Here are the conversions of grams to calories for protein, carbs and fats.

  • Protein – 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
  • Fat – 9 calories per gram

So back to my 200 pound man, he would have a daily intake of 3650 calories. This figure is just about spot on for a man of this size looking to bulk up.

When you should be eating.

When you eat is as important as what you eat. It’s important to get out of the “3 meals per day” mentality. Preferably you would eat 5-8 meals per day at 2 to 3 hour intervals. I know this is not possible for most people because of work, school etc but you should try to eat as many small meals as possible. If bodybuilding king Ronnie Coleman can work a full time job and eat a good muscle building diet then so can you!

Ideally, every one of your small meals should contain the right amount of protein, carbs and fat. It’s easy to work out how much you need from each meal. Just work out the totals and divide it by the number of meals you eat per day. So let’s say my 200 pound man has time in the day for 6 meals. Each meal would need to contain about 33-50 grams of protein, 80-85 grams of carbs and 8 grams of fat.

You should try to eat 1 meal about 1 hour prior to training (energy for your workout) and 1 meal after training (nutrients for muscle repair).

For guys with a thin build.

If you’ve got a naturally thin build and fast metabolism I would advise you to add more carbohydrates to your diet for extra calories. I am naturally a true ectomorph with a thin build and rocketing metabolism. While this has its good points (like burning fat), it means I have to eat more calories in build muscle. If you have this body type you should literally eat as much carbs as you can.

Easy, isn’t it!

So that’s basically it. That is how you plan your muscle building diet, the simple way. There are also other aspects of diet and nutrition that I didn’t touch on in this article (like supplements), but the aim was to keep it simple. If you’ve got any other questions about diet and nutrition head over to our forum, there’s always someone there to help you out.

About The Author
M&S writers is a collection of all the other writers that have published content on Muscle and Strength.

103 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Sat, 12/12/2009 - 17:39
Michael Hart


Thanks for the tips. I am going to get started on this right away. My main question is will this diet normally have you gain a lot of fat in the process of putting on muscle? How long would you normally stay in this cycle before cutting the fat?


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Posted Mon, 01/04/2010 - 04:38

What foods rich of carbohydartes must I take aside from rice that could easily enhance my built for I'am also thin and I have fast metabolism?

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Posted Fri, 02/05/2010 - 11:25
joan schaeffer

I am 81 years old, but in excellent health. I weigh 132 and just started with a personal trainer at a gym. Sean, the trainer, says I need to lose 10 pounds of fat and add 5 pounds of muscle. I plan to accomplish this within 6 months, working out with weights, etc, 3 times per week, plus another two days at mixed exercise activities.

How many grams of protein should I consume to reach these goals?

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Posted Wed, 04/10/2013 - 13:19

This is a good question for your personal trainer. If the trainer cannot help you answer that question then you should think about finding another trainer. Good luck!

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Posted Thu, 08/08/2013 - 14:56

your 81 get in a casket

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 02/05/2010 - 12:32

Dexter...I recommend quinoa. It is an incredible food, easy to cook, and goes great with just about anything.

Joan...does your trainer have you on a certain daily calorie intake or plan?

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Posted Sat, 07/17/2010 - 23:45

Answer as not clear. Amount of protein is not mentioned. Is he not required 150gms of protein in 6 meals a day?
Can he lose fat without losing muscle? How? pl. clarify.

Steven's picture
Posted Sun, 07/18/2010 - 09:26

Protein consumption is covered in this article.

Most individuals can lose fat while losing minimal muscle if they train properly, working hard and pushing for progression.

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Posted Thu, 03/07/2013 - 11:00
palwinder singh

My body weight is 85 kilos, height 5:9, age 24 . I have been working out for 3 years now but could not get into proper shape. I just want to be in great condition and shape without losing weight. I also would be very happy if i could lose my abdominal fat. Please anyone suggest me right amount of calories , protien and carbohydrates.

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Posted Mon, 05/10/2010 - 15:14

i've been wanting to build muscle and get in shape for a while. i want to start a work out schedule but i also want to eat right. im 5'10" and weigh 160 pounds. i would like to get up to about 170 or 175. i am thin so im looking to gain the wait in muscle with little to build off of. what would be a good way for me to reach my goal?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/11/2010 - 08:58

Hi Seth. Muscle gain is primarily about 2 keys...eating more then the amount of calories it takes to maintain weight, and using progressive resistance. Here is an article on nutrition:

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Posted Sun, 06/13/2010 - 07:33

Thanks for the article. I am 41 and have been doing crossfit style training 4x wk for 2 years. I'm 41/180lbs with a thin build and fair metabolism. What are realistic muscle gains at my age and do you think that consuming 200 grams of quality protein vs the approx 100 I have been getting will make a big differece? I started eating myoplex bars 2x day - is there a better choice?

Steven's picture
Posted Sun, 06/13/2010 - 17:47

Men in their 40's (and 50's) can gain and maintain an impressive amount of natural muscle mass. Check out our interview with Errol Hannigan to see what a man in his late 50's was capable of accomplishing:

200 grams of daily protein is definitely a good idea for building muscle. You may want to invest in a good whey protein. protein drinks are great first thing in the morning, and post-workout.

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Posted Sat, 07/17/2010 - 23:56

I am 67; 5'5"; 63kgs. Weight training for 4 years. Taking 1800 kcals a day.100gms of protein ( Whey protein, chicken breast, fish, milk).
But I Could not reduce ab skin fold beyond 1".
How can I reduce fat which may be about 18%. My belly is 3" out from flat. I want flat abs. I require a clear answer.

Steven's picture
Posted Sun, 07/18/2010 - 09:28


I need some more information before I can comment. How long have you been eating 1800 calories, and how much weight have you lost during this time?

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Posted Sun, 08/15/2010 - 08:56

Hey Steve,

I seem to be having problems putting on weight; my BMR is somewhere around 3100, and my workouts usually last about an hour, and occur 3-5 times/week. Regardless of how I try to eat, I always seem to end up with too much protein, too much healthy fats, and not enough carbs. On top of this, I have a lot of trouble reaching my calorie goal, too (I'm shooting for 3,500 to try and gain). And in theory, if my workouts burn about 500 calories each, I would have to add this many more every day, making my goal even harder to reach (unless this is counted in bmr formula?). I want to try to make clean gains, but it's seeming more and more difficult, especially with the discomfort of feeling "overfull" all the time. What can I do?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 08/16/2010 - 14:25

Hi Josh,

To help you reach your calorie goal, I strongly suggest adding foods like whole milk, a weight gainer, almonds, natural peanut butter and dark chocolate. These foods are very calorie dense and won't fill you up as much as most whole foods.

I would shoot for 3500 per day and watch the scale. If you don't gain weight in a week or two, then bump up the calories a bit. Don't worry so much about carbs and fats right now. Try to eat what you can, but focus more on your calories and getting in your protein. Whole milk will really help.

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Posted Mon, 08/16/2010 - 22:46

Thanks Steve,

I ordered some IsoMass from the M&S store, and will pick up some whole milk the next time I'm out grocery shopping. Thanks for the advice, and though I don't particularly like to do so, I guess I'm gonna have to start counting calories to make sure I get that 3500 at least!

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 08/17/2010 - 12:43

Best of luck Josh. If you dislike counting calories, try eating 3 meals per day and adding in snacks and/or weight gainers in between meals and before bed. Add to this 6-8 (or more) glasses of whole milk per day and you should reach your calorie goal.

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Posted Mon, 08/23/2010 - 21:24

Hello Steve,
My name is Denis I am 5'8 145 pounds and I am very interested in muscle building I have been lifting 25 pound weight around 50 times each arm 2 times a day i also run a mile and do 100 crunches each day. Also I play around 2-3 hours of basketball. I have no idea what to eat and I am about go back to school. I am thin and have fast motabolism. I am buying musce milk very soon to help me gain weight I really need advice from you,
Thank You.

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 08/24/2010 - 14:24

Hi Denis,

I would recommend starting at around 3500 calories per day, including 30 to 40 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours. Eat your 3 main meals of the day - breakfast, lunch and dinner - and make sure they include some healthy carbs and proteins. Carbs include oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa. Protein can come from chicken, beef, fish, cheese, etc.

In between meals I recommend a large glass of whole milk with casein protein powder, some fruit, and perhaps a handful of almonds. I also recommend a small snack before bed, which could be something relatively healthy like dark chocolate and natural peanut butter. If you have a hard time eating enough calories, try adding a glass of whole milk to each meal.

If you can't gain weight at around 3500 calories per day, you will have to slowly try and eat more each day. Ultimately you would like to gain around 2 pounds per month during your first year of intense training.

For training, using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight. this will help maximize muscle gains.

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Posted Wed, 08/25/2010 - 14:31

Hi Damien,

Should you base your weight on your lean muscle mass and not total weight? This way you not including your body fat.

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 08/26/2010 - 09:31

Hi Chris,

If you are around a normal/average weight, you can use total weight. If you are under or overweight you may need to make some adjustments based on your goals.

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Posted Thu, 08/26/2010 - 07:56

I am a 55 year old woman. I have been running slowing about 1.5 miles 3 to 4 times per week. Also, stationary bike for 1/2 to hour a few times a week. I have been eatting more -probably 1800 calories a day. I am 138 lbs. 5'8". I would like to build muscle but loose fat in upper thighs. I drink 1 to 2 whey protein shakes a day, veggie burgers and Ezekeil bread with no white flour, veggies and yogurt. I only feel full for a short time.

My question is am I eatting to many calories per day and what can I do to build my inner thighs and thin my legs....ridding genetic cellulite UGH? My abdomen is flat...semi pear to hour glass shape. Weak upper body. I noticed when my pet was sick and I carried her 50lbs. my metabolism got faster. Any suggestions. I am all ears. Thank you. Sincerely, Ava

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 08/26/2010 - 09:39

Hi Ava,

Well, we have a couple of things to consider. Losing fat around your thighs requires dropping overall daily calories. Building muscle requires eating a hair more than normal. Adding muscle will make your thighs look more defined. So at this point you can either try a 2 month bodybuilder-style cutting diet to lose that excess pack, while maintaining muscle. Or you can simply focus on adding muscle for a while.

I would probably suggest first taking a look at the structure of your 1800 calories per day, and seeing if they are set up properly to help you add muscle. You may be undereating protein.

Here are a couple articles that might help. Let me know how many grams of protein you are currently eating. For a woman I recommend 20 to 30 grams every 2.5 to 3 hours.

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Posted Fri, 09/17/2010 - 09:22

Hi steve,
I was wondering around looking for a good guide and managed to ocme across to yours. Im 18 years old about 5.9ft and weigh a little over 8 stone. No matter what i try i cant seem to put on weight at all, i have been going to the gym now for the last 2 weeks. I was just wondering if maybe you could give me some pointers because at the moment i am sick and tired of looking like what i am.

Thanks alot.

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 09/20/2010 - 09:37

Hi Dan,

There are two things you need to do. First, find a basic program that doesn't overwork your body. You want to focus on basic, heavy movements like squats and bench press, and using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight. Here are a couple of programs I recommend:

Second, you need to learn to out-eat your metabolism. Your body requires protein when building muscle, so aim for 30-40 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours. To get in plenty of daily calories, add in 1-2 weight gain shakes, plenty of whole milk, beef, cheese, eggs, almonds, natural peanut butter, and other foods that are good for you, but also are higher calorie.

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Posted Sun, 09/26/2010 - 22:07

Hi steve

I'm 39 and want to build muscle but dont want to put on any more weight(I am 175). What kind of diet and or supplements do you recomend? I am in the Army, a lot of supplements or on the band list. Any help would be very helpful.

Tim Lewis

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 09/27/2010 - 11:00

Hi Tim,

Here is an article that will help you add muscle without adding too much fat:

For supplements, I recommend keeping it simple. Use a protein powder, a quality multivitamin and fish oil for general and joint health. If you need an energy boost while training, add in a pre-workout supplement and/or creatine.

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Posted Mon, 11/08/2010 - 09:40

hello , iam 16 , 5'10 and weight 64kg do a 2.5mile run everyday and eat quite alot but want to cut down and build alot more muscle than what i have already

i drink about 2 - 3 l of water per day
pasta and chopped tomoto for lunch
a normal dinner
and since i work nightshift i have 4 salad rolls and a sugary sweetie at night

i have a six pack and toned arms but what to increase the size and get more toned, anyone got any advice


Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 11/09/2010 - 08:55

Hi Ally,

To hit your goals you will need to make sure your diet is in check. Here are some articles that can help:

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Posted Wed, 11/10/2010 - 16:41

I've been lifting dedicated for about 6 months and have really gone up in strength. I take whey protein 2 times a day, creatine 2 times and jack3d before workout. I have really been toning up but putting on weight is a problem. i eat a lot and often as i can but still no real gains in weight or size. I'm 56, great shape, 5'9" and 150. I saw where you recommend whole milk, i have been drinking skim for years, that might help? Appreciate any comments or advice.

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 11/12/2010 - 12:46

Hi Gary,

Foods like whole milk, weight gainers, almonds and natural peanut butter can add calories without making you as full. they are good additions to a diet. Here are some articles I strongly recommend:

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Posted Fri, 12/31/2010 - 09:52
Gary M

I'm having what i feel is a problem getting the peak on my bicep. any suggestions? i get the pump and where my arms wont hardly bend but i dont feel i'm working the peak. Thanks, gary

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 12:55

Hi Gary,

A biceps peak (or shape) is genetically determined. You can change that look. You can only add muscle, which will expand your natural shape.

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Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 06:15

i would like to see a calculator converting pounds to kilos

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Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 16:50

im 30 years of age,been training 4 a few years on and off,im 14 stone and 6ft but i want to put bout an extra stone on,wha would b th best food 2 eat cause im finding it hard.i train weights bout 3 times a week.

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:49

Hi Gary,

Check out this article for some great food choices:

As far as a specific eating structure, this article can help:

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Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 20:49
Gary M lets talk what products to take. with so many on the market its so confusion. i've been taking whey protein, creatine and powerful tabs...jack3d before workouts..GNC wanted me to take this stack but at $200 plus a month for all of it, not happening. dont mind taking some but got to be realistic. your recommendation for what to take? thanks, gary.

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:50

Hi Gary,

Here is an article that can help you prioritize your supplement purchases:

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Posted Thu, 01/06/2011 - 00:59

Hello! I've tried my hand at getting muscles many times in the past, and I'm always missing one element of the "puzzle". This time it's food... but I think it's been that all but once.

On a very small budget, how in the world am I supposed to get 3000 calories per DAY? That's so much compared to what I eat now. I also know to drink a lot of water which I already do, and to avoid alcohol, which I already do (unless it's a *very* special occasion).

To reach the goal, I have to be open to a lot of things, but I think weight gainer is a waste of money and I hate peas. Beans are ok and I love soy (when I can find it). The last time I tried this, I tried to "rice up". I got one pound shy of the goal when I noticed my abs were gone and I felt fat (at 149 and I'm 5'8). I'm also always pressed for time. My goal is to gain some muscle by April 24 and more by time my friend gets married in October. I need to look good when a drink "accidentally" ruins my shirt ;)

Please help me out. Thanks guys!

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:46

Hi Alex,

Check out this article for some great ideas:

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Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 03:30
Dallas Martin

ok im 17, 5'7, 135 pounds, i would like to be about 165-170. using this diet plan, about how many times a week should i hit the gym, and for how long?? i wanna go as much as possible but i dont wanna over work myself and get negative results, so any suggestions?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:24

Hi Dallas,

Right now I would stick to 3-4 training sessions per week. You will make great gains at that frequency and really won't need more training. generally your training sessions should run a max of 60 to 75 minutes, depending on the workout.

You want to focus on two things to maximize results:

1) Pushing yourself in the gym. Using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight.

2) Eating to maximize muscle. Here are two articles that can help:

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Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 15:13
Dallas Martin

okay now i have another question. when i hit the gym, should i be using weights, or my body(push ups, pull ups, ect.)

Steven's picture
Posted Wed, 01/26/2011 - 14:15

Hi Dallas,

If your goal is muscle building you want to focus primarily on free weights.

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Posted Sat, 01/22/2011 - 11:34

I eat very healthy on a regular basis but I want to start getting more cut in the arms chest and abs. Im 5'10 170 and 25. Should I not run in order to gain muscle? I usually run around 5 miles a week usually just for cardio not because I am trying to lose weight but it seems as I keep on running I stay the same no matter how hard I work out. Any suggestions?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 01/24/2011 - 14:03

Hi Marcos,

Running generally won't hinder muscle growth unless you are undereating. You want to focus on two things to maximize results:

1) Pushing yourself in the gym. Using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight.

2) Eating to maximize muscle retention while cutting fat. Here are two articles that can help:

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Posted Sun, 02/20/2011 - 20:40

Hi Damien,

For the g/lb of fat intake per day, is this value for total fat, or saturated fat? For your 200 lb man working out, 50 g of total fat per day seems pretty low when comparing to the 65 g of fat of recommended intake for a sedentary person on a 2,000 Calorie diet.

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Posted Thu, 03/03/2011 - 23:23
luis Gonzalez

wow this ir really good info thank you... i have a couple of question though... what time do you recomend a person to have their first meal? at 6am? like many experts say someone should wake up and have breakfast? and is it good to do cardio before or after breakfast? THANKS