Eating for Gaining Muscle Size

In this article, Lee Labrada covers how to eat in order to gain muscle size!


In competitive bodybuilding these days, there is no doubt that “bigger is better.” Just witness the recent Mr. Olympia competition in Las Vegas. Jay Cutler was the winner, bristling with almost 275 pounds of hard striated muscle. In today’s competitive arena, muscle size is king. Mass has become the new currency of bodybuilding. The more you have, the more attention you get.

Added muscle mass can give your physique the masculine, powerful look that turns heads, earning the respect of men and the desire of women. Let’s face it, brawn looks good.

Because of my stature, I had to work extra hard at chiseling my physique with hard ripped muscle to compete against the other Olympians of my day. At 190 lbs., I was arguably the best under-200 pound bodybuilder ever, but when faced with opponents like Lee Haney and Dorian Yates tipping the scales at 260-plus pounds, I had to be at my absolute best with quality muscle. Not to be outdone, I always held my own, placing in the top four of the seven Mr.Olympias I competed in, a feat matched only by the aforementioned men and the now-Governor-of-California-no-name-needed.


No matter how hard you train, in order to put on solid mass, you must feed your body correctly and get enough rest so that your body can compensate for your workouts by growing more muscle. You could do like some bodybuilders and just pig out on whatever suits your fancy. Yes, you’ll put on some size, but you’ll also get FAT.

So what is the correct manner in which to feed your body for maximum fat-free muscular weight gain? My mass nutrition diet high in protein, high in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat. This is otherwise known as the 50/30/20 (50% carbs/30% protein/20% fat) diet. The key element here is to keep the protein intake high, keep the fat intake low, and manipulate the amount of complex carbohydrates in order to supply sufficient calories for energy expenditure.


I build all my trainee’s diets from the ground up starting with protein intake. Yes, I realize that consuming excess protein without sufficient energy calories from carbohydrates is counterproductive, but I am not espousing eating huge amounts of protein to the exclusion of all else. What I am saying, however, is that it is very, very important to construct a diet by meeting dietary protein intake needs first, before addressing energy issues. Common bodybuilding wisdom dictates 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For weight gain, I would stay in the middle of this range. For a hypothetical two hundred pound body builder, this would amount to a total daily dietary protein intake of 1. 25x 200 = 250 grams (If this much protein makes you squeamish, this article is not for you.)

Protein contains four calories per gram. This means our two hundred pound body builder would consume approximately 250 x 4 =1000 calories from protein daily. Select high protein foods such as chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, or a high quality meal replacement powder (MRP) such as Lean Body®.


Next, calculate your dietary carbohydrate needs. Most of a bodybuilder’s energy calories will come from complex carbs. If protein is 1000 calories (based on 250g) and 30% of the diet, then carbs are 1667 calories at 50% of the total calories. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include rice, potatoes, pasta, oatmeal, cream of wheat, yams, beans, and vegetables. For snacks and desserts, eat fruit. Bodybuilders love bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, and more. Sure, the fruit sugars are more simple, but you also have the fruit fiber to slow down the absorption.

Carbohydrate calories should not come from processed foods that are high in sugars. This is one of the biggest mistakes that bodybuilders make. Fruits should be eaten in place of cake, pie, ice cream, and other sugar laden foods. Consumption of these refined simple sugars, the consequent over-stimulation of insulin, and the bloating that accompanies this physiological condition may be the real reason that many people believe they are “carb sensitive” when in fact they are not. Their bodies simply don’t handle simple carbs well, so they indict all carbs and rule them out as undesirable. Big mistake. Complex carbs are the body’s preferential source of energy, and their adequate intake is necessary to ensure that protein is properly digested and spared to provide muscle-nourishing nitrogen. You NEED them in order to put on muscle mass! Adequate protein and carbohydrate intake will insure that your body’s metabolism remains efficient, and will keep you in an anabolic state.


The last macro nutrient to address is fat. I know that planning fat intake may sound a little funny, but I teach all my trainees to become “fat conscious,” that is, to become aware of the fat content of foods in order to avoid bad fats. Bad fats include fats containing large amounts of partially-saturated, saturated, and trans-fatty acids such as those typically found in processed foods and fried foods. Since most foods, including unrefined foods, generally contain a certain amount of naturally occurring fat, you usually don’t have to go out of your way to insure an adequate intake of fat calories.

Getting Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) from fats is another story. Not all fats contain essential fatty acids. You need essential fatty acids for muscle growth. Two to four tablespoons of flax seed oil or preferably fish oil per day are recommended to ensure an adequate intake of EFA’s. Other good fats include olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. If you are an ectomorph and have trouble keeping weight on, nuts of all kinds are great. They’re loaded with calories and are high in EFA’s and minerals. Stay away from fried foods. They’re just bad for your body and will impede your muscle growth.


Now to bring it all together. You must combine all three macronutrients in roughly the same proportions at each meal. It is not the same to eat all of your protein in the first three meals, say, and your carbs and fats in the last three. Oh yeah, I guess that means I want you to eat six meals per day, too, right? Yep. That’s what it takes. I can hear the groaning and moaning now, but there is a reason for this. Eating frequently ensures that your muscles are constantly bathed in nutrients such as amino acids, which are essential to their growth. Eating frequently also stimulates your metabolic rate due to the thermic effect of food; every time you eat, your body to expends calories as it breaks down the food. Protein is the most energy-intensive nutrient to digest, followed by carbs, then fats (which require literally no energy to break down and hence get converted to bodyfat unless they are immediately used for energy.)

Back in 1992, when I was preparing for the Mr.Olympia competition, I had very positive results in terms of lean muscle gains when I bumped the number of daily meals from five to six. Over a period of three months, I gained an additional ten pounds of lean muscle tissue. I was very surprised to achieve these results, especially since I was a veteran with over 15 years of training under my belt. Those kinds of gains may come more easily to a rank beginner, but not to an advanced man. It’s the old law of diminishing returns.  And it just goes to show you that you can get ripped and grow bigger at the same time!

Try my mass program and see if it works for you. It requires you to train hard, eat a lot of meals and a lot of food, but it will be well worth it in terms of the gains you will make.

Copyright © 2011, Lee Labrada, Inc. All rights reserved.

Labrada Nutrition Online Specials

One Response for Eating for Gaining Muscle Size

  1. March 5, 2011 2:46 pm

    Excellent article! I always get the question, how much is to much protein. I think you hit it right on when you say 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. This seems to be the standard/average I have researched. Also, if you can’t get it naturally through natural sources such as chicken, or turkey, etc. whey protein seems to be the leading supplemental favorite. Keep up the great posts!