Episode 109 – Optimizing Nutrition & Lifestyle to Gain Muscle Mass

Key Topics Covered

High Protein Foods

Calorie Intake 

  • Muscle building is an energy-intensive process. To optimise this process, we need additional calories.
  • Aim for a small calorie surplus.
  • For most people, this will likely be 5-20% above maintenance calories (prior to accounting for changes in energy expenditure).
  • Ideally, enough calories to gain consistently, while keeping a good ratio of muscle vs fat gain (aim for at least 2 parts muscle to 1 part fat).
  • If weight is not changing after a long period of time, add more calories. If fat increases too quickly, decrease calories. 
  • The ideal rate of gain is largely based on your ability to gain muscle and/or desire to stay lean. Therefore, this is a large range and there is no one set answer.
  • In practice, you may want to start with a modest amount of weight gain (0.5-1kg/month). After 3-6 months, compare pre and post DEXA scans to assess the ratio of fat to muscle and use this to inform the next building phase.


  • The general recommendation is to consume 1.6-2.2 g/kg/day.
  • This is based on research on those who were about 10-15% body fat.
  • If you have a higher body fat percentage, you may want to aim for about 1.4-2g/kg/day.
  • 1.6g/kg/day optimised muscle gain in most cases.
  • Due to variations between individuals, the upper range was set to 2.2g/kg/day.
  • Going above this range will not slow down muscle gain. However, it does take away from the opportunity to consume more carbs and fats which would provide other benefits.

Carbohydrate & Fat Breakdown  

  • A solid range is 0.5-1.5g/kg for dietary fat – although arguments could be made for the lower end of the range.  
  • Above 0.5g/kg and you aren’t really getting further significant benefits for stuff like hormones. But it cuts into the amount of carbs/protein you can have. 
  • Since calories are made up of protein, fats, and carbs, by definition, if you know your calorie, protein, and fat target/range, you know your carb target. 
  • Theoretically, since it is difficult for carbs/protein to convert to body fat, there is an argument for keeping fat relatively low, particularly for larger calorie surpluses.  
  • However, research hasn’t identified much difference in practice, which is why a wide range makes more sense. 


  • Research has shown huge benefits for getting >8 hours of sleep. 
  • Some research on college athletes has found that even getting 9-10 hours of sleep can be even more beneficial for athletes specifically.
    • An argument against that however is the claim that even without other life variables, 9-10 hours is unrealistic because most people naturally wake up after less sleep than that.  
    • A counterclaim to that is that as we age, we naturally wake up a bit quicker. But is that because we “need” less sleep to optimise recovery,  or is it just that we “get” less sleep? 
  • Some benefits are clear such as improved recovery, body composition, and injury risk.  
  • Other benefits are not as easy to measure e.g. good sleep improves motivation + also makes it easier to train super hard. 
  • Overall, getting adequate amounts of good quality sleep is a big win for muscle building.
Resistance training


  • As dietitians, it is out of our scope to get too deep into this topic, but there are some clear non-controversial statements. 
    • Lifting weights with progressive overload. 
    • Resting 2-3 minutes between sets. 
    • Taking sets to within at least 3 reps of failure, for most of your working sets. 
    • Not overtraining or undertraining. 
    • Hitting each muscle group 2+ times per week. 
    • Having a solid program. Not switching exercises super frequently and having to re-learn new movements etc in a bid to “shock” the muscles. 


  • Cardio doesn’t really do much for improving body composition directly
  • It’s not necessary to add this in to burn body fat or anything like that.  
  • It will influence the CICO (Calories In Calories Out) portion though e.g. you will need to eat slightly more to account for it. 
  • Cardio could have a bunch of health benefits though. For example, doing it 2x per week is probably a good idea for health purposes, but it won’t matter for body composition and/or strength. 
  • To mitigate the interference effect on muscle building, a good rule of thumb is to ensure your lifting volume is at least 2x more than your cardio in terms of time.
    • E.g. if lifting 6 hours per week, keep cardio to less than 3 hours per week. 
    • Separating cardio from lifting sessions where possible is a good idea too. At a minimum, not putting it BEFORE the session if it is hard cardio.  
Magnesium supplements



  • This helps improve ATP regeneration, allowing for more reps to be performed.
  • It can also increase lean mass.
  • A meta-analysis also showed improvements in strength. The placebo increased 1RM by 12% vs 20% in those supplementing with creatine.

Protein Powder

  • If included on top of a diet with sufficient protein intake, it will not provide additional benefits.
  • However, it is an efficient source of protein to aid in achieving your desired total intake and distribution.
  • Ultimately, it is not necessary but can be a good option.


  • There is a lot of research showing it improves performance.
  • It does this by reducing the perception of effort.
  • It can also increase strength and power output- increasing 1RM by about 1-2%.
  • However, caffeine can have a negative impact on sleep, so aim to limit the amount consumed later in the day.
  • For performance benefits, aim for 3-6mg/kg, 30-60 minutes prior to training.

Vitamin D

  • There is research to suggest that deficiency can impair aspects such as recovery and muscle building.
  • It is also involved in immune function and could therefore influence the amount of time away from training due to sickness.
  • Ultimately, if you have a deficiency, it would be a good idea to rectify this.
  • You may also want to consider taking a supplement during times when you aren’t getting sufficient amounts of sun exposure.


  • This is more relevant for those with a low omega-3 intake.
  • If this is you, it may help with joint pain.
  • There is also a bit of research in terms of body composition and is leaning very slightly in favour of gaining more muscle when taking more omega-3s.
  • This is based on the average individual, and therefore those with lower intakes may benefit more.

Relevant Links / Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned