Theoretically, the optimal diet for building muscle is straightforward and can pretty much be summarized as follows:
Eat tons of protein. And also everything else.
That said, there are a few more nuances than that and a lot of people nevertheless still manage to get confused. Here we will look at some of the biggest mistakes people tend to make when eating for muscle mass and at some of the things you can do to bulk more effectively.
Thinking ‘Dirty’ Bulks Are the Only Option
A dirty bulk means adding mass indiscriminately only to shave away the fat later on. This ‘bulking and cutting’ strategy is very effective for professional bodybuilders but it is not the only option and it can also go badly wrong if you aren’t careful.
For most people who want to build muscle for their personal satisfaction, a ‘clean’ bulk makes a lot more sense. You can add lean muscle this way by eating more lean protein and drinking shakes with fewer calories. At the same time, you should avoid too much junk food and the whole ‘IIFYM’ (If It Fits In Your Macros) approach that convinces people they should be eating tons of donuts to bulk up. Eat healthy, just eat more.
Not Supplying Fuel
That said, you also don’t want to go carb-free when bulking. As much as carb-free diets are being touted right now, it’s important to realize that sticking to a completely carb free diet will only result in low energy, low testosterone and impaired anabolism.
In short: without carbs you’ll be low on fuel to get through workouts and recover from them. If you really don’t like carbs then stick to a slow carb diet, not a no carb diet.
Not Backing it Up With the Right Training
While diet is arguably the most important factor in gaining muscle mass, it’s also only one piece of the puzzle. With the right diet you’ll have given your body the fuel and the building blocks to build muscle but now you’ll need to trigger that growth with training.
Arguably the best way to do this is by focusing on generating pump in your workouts. While overloading with weight is crucial for strength gains, it’s high volume training that really encourages maximal hypertrophy.
Not Getting Micronutrients
Focusing on macros at the expense of your micros is a mistake. Micronutrients means minerals and vitamins along with fatty acids, amino acids and all the other little building blocks of your diet and body. These are crucial if you want to avoid being forced to take time off your training due to illness and if you want to strengthen your muscle contractions and ligaments, provide your brain with energy and give your body the tools to create more testosterone.
Not Eating Enough
This is the single biggest mistake in bulking diets: not eating enough.
If you want to get to Arnie-size, then you need to eat like Arnie in his prime. That means eating multiple meals a day and stuffing down chicken even when you feel completely full. Remember that your training is just the ‘trigger’ – it’s the food that your body really needs for adding mass.