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Setting Up Your Diet For Optimal Results
Setting Up Diet for Career Goals or Physique Goals While Maximizing Results
As always, the most optimal route will typically be the most efficient. If we can set up a diet that nets a 20% better return, we are talking 10lbs of muscle gained a year vs 8lbs, which exponentially increases as our training age grows.
The results can actually be more dramatic if we do everything right—which is why I opt for the optimal approach vs the easier suboptimal route.
Who is this for? I’d say everyone, but some people don’t want to make the small sacrifices like eating more meals or tediously weighing out food. This is perfectly fine—just know you are leaving some gains on the table.
With that, I will also be laying out a diet model that can be efficient for those who simply want to prioritize work and still maintain the benefits of lifting weights and muscle growth.
Structuring Diet For Optimal Muscle Growth
How we do this is based on some research and evidence-based data.
We have to look at the effects of nutrient timing and our performance potential for muscle growth.
All diet models work—this does not mean all diet models were created equally. For more muscle growth, a diet with moderate to high carbs, moderate fat, and high protein will serve to be superior.
Carbs—as you know from this post—trigger our body to use insulin. Insulin is highly anabolic and contributes greatly to muscle growth. We need the carbs as muscles operate on glucose as fuel. For optimal performance, we must provide the muscle with the fuel it needs.
Protein is an obvious factor—we need to be getting around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, and we want this split up between 4 meals at the minimum to maximize anabolism and muscle growth.
Each meal should contain around 30-60g of protein per meal, depending on your size and weight. A 200lbs person will want to shoot for 4 meals, 50g of protein per meal, or of course we can eat 6 meals like the traditional “bodybuilding diet” and get 30-40g per meal.
It is okay if you are eating more protein than 1g per pound of bodyweight—1.2-1.5g per pound is fine, there are no negative health effects associated with this like the common myth that “protein is bad for kidneys.”
A simple method to remember is 30-60g of protein, spread 3-4 hours apart.
For the most optimal growth, I say we even add to this—though I understand some of you are busy and this isn’t your main goal in life. I will provide you with the complete tool kit nonetheless.
We want to take advantage of the pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout window—this is known as the peri-workout window. The timing here is important as you will be seeing the most muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis in the time (in layman’s terms, we’re breaking the muscle down during the workout, so it’s important we are adding the fuel to keep this from happening) — I explain this much, much better here: LINK.
During this window we want to do 3 things:
Provide the muscle and body with fuel
Keep the body anabolic (building muscle) vs catabolic (losing muscle)
Replenish the body after our workout and start the recovery process
We can accomplish this by keeping the majority of our carbs around this window. 15% of our daily carbs 1-2 hours before training, 10% of our daily carbs during training (in the form of a carb powder or even gatorade, sugar is fine, your body will use it all). Then, post-workout we want to have 35% of our daily carbs within 1-2 hours of training for peak anabolism and muscle growth.
That leaves us at 60% of our carbs around this window, so what about the other 40%?
Breakfast is a great time for these carbs. Simply put, when we wake up, our body releases the stress hormone cortisol to wake us up. This cortisol spike is important for waking us up, but cortisol is catabolic—it breaks down muscle. We want some carbs and protein to combat this effect. Eating 10-15% of your carbs around this time will serve to be extremely beneficial (and provide fuel for the day).
You can then spread your carbs throughout your meals of the day however you see fit.
I personally do 15% of my carbs spread between my 2nd and 3rd meal of the day (pre-workout meal is meal 4 and post-workout meal 5—I do not count intra as a meal)
The other 10-15% of carbs can be spread out however you see fit during the day—personally, I have these carbs with Greek Yogurt before bed.
Which brings us to another important point: protein before bed—specifically slow-digesting protein before bed. Casein protein—a slow-digesting protein found in yogurts, cottage cheese, and other dairy products—is great for periods where you won’t be eating. Sleep is typically the longest period.
By consuming 30-40g of casein before bed, you will keep your body in an anabolic state while you sleep. We can take this a step further by adding some fats to this meal. Mixing something like almond butter or peanut butter with this meal can slow the digestion process even more and keep the flow of amino acids going well into our sleep.
For fats, we will keep this simple—spread your daily amount how you see fit; however, you will want to keep them away from your peri-workout window. I keep all fats in my first 3 meals, and my last meal of the day.
Fats need to be kept high enough to promote hormone and other general health. .3g/pound of bodyweight is typically enough to maintain this health.
This diet? It works whether trying to lose fat or gain muscle—you will simply increase or lower carbs in your meals (depending on your goal).
This isn’t because carbs are bad for fat loss, this is because we always keep protein around 1-1.5g per pound of bodyweight, and we want to eat enough fat for hormone health. This leaves carbs as the easiest variable to manipulate.
You can simply take whatever calories you need to maintain a caloric surplus or deficit: figure out what amount of calories you need for 1g protein per pound and .3g of fat per pound, and divy the carbs up based on the percentage recommendations above.
Is this the only diet that will work? Absolutely not. The general principles are here, but if you prefer some more fats vs carbs, adjust accordingly. If you want to eat 4 meals vs 6, adjust accordingly. This is simply what is most optimal based on the science.
What if Muscle Growth Isn’t Your Main Goal?
This is for the busy professional that doesn’t want to spend time worrying about eating all the time, and wants to limit potential brain fog and increase focus during the day. If this doesn’t bother you, feel free to stick to the above plan.
The goal here is to promote muscle gain and/or maintain muscle if trying to lose fat, while accommodating to your career/business.
This process is fairly simple.
We still want protein upon waking up, but instead of carbs, we will focus on protein and fats. This could be eggs, meat, whatever it is you want, just keep the carbs away for mental clarity and focus.
Around lunch time, we want to have something with protein and have some vegetables—again, limiting the carbs and maintaining that mental focus.
Afternoon, after work is when most people workout—for this, an hour or 2 before working out we want to have our carbs. For this, I’d suggest 30% before, 20% during, 40% after, then the remaining 10% before bed to promote sleep.
Again, the goal is to simply spread out our protein intake and reach our caloric and protein daily goal at the end of the day.
Same general rule for fat, keep it above .3g per pound of bodyweight for general health.
If you want to skip breakfast, by all means go for it, but just know this period is pretty important for muscle growth. However, it won’t kill your gains to skip, just limit your gains.
“I Train In The Morning”
This is fine, if this is you, go for it. I will add a few pointers here for your success.
First, hydrate immediately after waking up. We should be doing this anyway, but since you are training first thing in the morning, it’s even more important.
I suggest getting a quick shake and carbs like a banana before you workout, but you can train fasted. However, for muscle growth, I would never train without some Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s) in my system to offset the breakdown of muscle.
This again is another smart time to utilize a carb powder for fuel during your workout since you are starting in a fasted state.
After your workout, it’s going to be crucial to replenish glycogen (carb stores) for recovery. Even if they can affect cognition, you simply need these carbs to optimize growth.
You’re again going to want the bulk of your daily carbs at this time—shoot for 50-100g of carbs and 40-60g of protein.
After this, spread your nutrients out in a way that makes sense—we have already taken care of our immediate needs of the workout anabolic window, so we can simply divide things up in a way that works best for us.
Putting It All Together
This process is much simpler if you can remember these general principles:
Eat a minimum of 4 meals a day with your daily protein needs split between the meals. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours.
Keep the bulk of your carbs around your workout window.
Eat 30-40g of slow-digesting protein before bed.
Bulk and Cut is simply dependant on your total calories—diet stays the same, just manipulate your daily carbs in accordance with your goal.
If you are focused on work, don’t eat carbs during the day and wait until your workout to eat carbs.
If you workout in the morning—HYDRATE!
EAA’s with a carbohydrate powder enhances muscle growth and recovery.
The anabolic window IS REAL, use it to your advantage
If you can follow these general principles, you will have optimized your muscle growth and your results will be substantially better.
The more optimal approach we take for our goal, the more efficient we will get there.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.