The practice of muscle-building is an umbrella under which two general rules lay: Eat better and train smarter. As nice as it would be for it to be that simple, it just isn’t. There are countless other factors to take into consideration, one of which being your sex.
I feel like men were born with muscles. I feel like my boyfriend can do a single sit-up and walk in the house immediately after with a six-pack. I feel like he could put away a gallon of ice cream in one sitting and lose weight. Meanwhile, my abs are comfortably resting below a layer of insulation and the pizza I demolished last week. WHY.
While this is most definitely a gross exaggeration, muscle-building is without a doubt different for men. Why? How? What might a male athlete’s diet and training look like? Let’s explore.
Men Are Different. Period.
Before we go any further, I think it’s necessary to point out one specific fact: The male body is equipped to build more muscle than the female body, plain and simple. This is not sexist; it’s science. In fact, some studies have shown that on average, men have as much as 61% more muscle than women (1).
Why? Testosterone! Men have lots of it. Women have less of it. It’s a hormone that helps, among other things, burn fat and build muscle. This is why some men take more testosterone. This is why some women take more testosterone.
Don’t do that, BTW, unless prescribed by your doctor.
Men’s Muscle Building Tips
A Man’s Diet for Building Muscle
While it’s awesome (and actually smart) to put away a bowl of Breyers Cookies and Cream every now and then, there are certain things you need to consume if you expect to put on more muscle. Every athlete hopefully knows how important the involvement of protein is in the repair and growth of your muscles. The general rule is that you should be consuming one gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. This number can fluctuate slightly based on your goals — whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, maintain weight, etc. It can be a tough number to hit, but you can slowly work your way up to it, if that’s the case. I have yet to hit 139 grams of protein in a single day.
You need to be consuming more protein than your body is expending for protein synthesis to successfully happen. It’s especially important to get protein in after your training; otherwise, your body could take it from your muscles, where it’s most needed. Research has suggested that when you first begin weight training, your body’s needs for protein are actually 100% greater than what is currently recommended (2). Fish, dairy, meat and eggs are all excellent sources.
It’s a sad truth that our culture has taught us some horribly incorrect things about what foods are good and bad for us. For example, we’ve overwhelmingly been led to believe that carbs and fats are enemies, when in reality, they’ve got magic powers.
Take a look at your lifestyle. You’re doing a great deal of weightlifting to add lots of healthy muscle to your frame. Weightlifting and strength training are very glycolytic, meaning they burn tons of carbs. But the media tells us that carbs make you fat, so you eliminated them from your diet.
Complex carbs are one of the biggest — in fact, some will argue the biggest —building blocks of muscle growth. An athlete without carbs looks more like a a tire that somebody let the air out of. After training, you muscles are depleted of their glycogen supply and your blood sugar has been significantly reduced. When you follow up with carbs, you’re replenishing this supply, and the carbs are sent directly to your muscles to repair and revitalize them. It’s like Popeye before and after his spinach.
So, your plate should always include some delicious carby goodness, like rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal or quinoa. These healthy carbs not only help keep your energy up, but they also encourage muscle recovery. Carbs will put you back in that happy, anabolic, muscle-building state.
How many grams of carbs do you need? Everyone will tell you something different. Some say it’s one to three grams per pound of body weight; others will say it’s four to six. A lot of it depends on your goals and what you want to do with your body weight and composition, similar to protein. Many people calculate this number by adding their proteins and fats and subtracting this number from their total daily caloric intake. You can find special calculators online that will help you determine all of this. For a delicious recipe full of healthy proteins, fats, and carbs, try this burrito bowl!
One final note on carbs: The harder you train, the more you’ll need. Taking a rest day? Ease up on the rice a bit. Your muscles aren’t starving that day.
Once you take the time to do the math and figure out how many grams of proteins and carbs your body needs to build muscle, you might make a startling discovery: You have been severely UNDEReating. In fact, it might take some time to reach the point where you hit your carbs and proteins. You’ll have a full belly, but you’re not getting “fat.” Speaking of which…
Something else to keep in mind that is largely sex-based? Men more commonly store body fat around their stomach/torso, something believed to be hormone-driven. It’s also said to be easier to shrink than the fat that women often collect on their bottoms and thighs.
What Will Your Training Look Like?
The answer to this can vary so much based on the individual, but there are a couple things that will apply to many men.
First, remember that your diet and training are both integral to your success. These two things go hand in hand, as science has shown that it’s a combination of diet and resistance exercise that not only prevents the decline of muscle mass and power, but also improves body composition and muscle strength — as compared to the effect of an improved diet alone (3).
Second, if you’re just beginning your fitness journey and don’t have much muscle mass, virtually any type of weightlifting or strength training will initiate muscle growth. It’s an exciting time because your body can go through a lot of cool changes!
For the more seasoned male athlete, you might find yourself at an advantage if you focus on larger muscle groups, like the chest, back, and legs. Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are ideal for attacking multiple muscles at once and speeding up the process of adding some healthy weight to your frame.
If your goal is muscle gain combined with fat loss, remember this: running 800 miles on the treadmill is a major snooze-fest and won’t even deliver the results you want. Again, you need to change your body composition, meaning the ratios of muscle and fat. Weightlifting is the key, because it will, all at once, turn you into a fat-burning, muscle-growing machine.
- “Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements, and native immunity.” William D. Lassek, Steven G.C. Gaulin. May 22, 2009.
- “Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders.” P. W. Lemon, M. A. Tarnopolsky, J. D. MacDougall, S. A. Atkinson. August 1, 1992.
- “Influence of exercise training on physiological and performance changes with weight loss in men.” Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Clark KL, Gordon SE, Puhl SM, Koziris LP, McBride JM, Triplett-McBride NT, Putukian M, Newton RU, Häkkinen K, Bush JA, Sebastianelli WJ. 1999.