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How to Build Muscle: Part 1

If your current goal is to build muscle (even while simultaneously trimming fat), then this guide was created for you. The information below will provide tips and basic information on how gaining weight is best done with a nutrient-dense whole foods plan. For as we all would love to gorge down pizza and other calorically dense-junk foods to gain weight, it’s crucial to remember your overall health and wellness. A caloric surplus in empty calories (calories that provide little to no benefit to your wellbeing) will only lead to an increase in inflammation and other health issues.

“If not pizza, then what?”

Here’s how to build muscle – the healthy way:

Part 1: Remember these 3 MUSTS

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#1 Increase protein

Protein serves as the building block for your immune system, hormones, and growth/repair of tissues (like your muscles!). The protein you consume gets broken down into amino acids, and vice versa – those amino acids are built into a vast variety of proteins within your cells. Of the 20 amino acids found within protein, 8 of them are not made by your body. This means that you need to get them from.. you guessed it.. food!

Luckily, the body does not discriminate against where protein comes from. Whether it comes from animals or plants, protein gets recycled in the same way. However, the availability of those 8 amino acids vary within any plant-based diet. In this case, eating a variety of leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds will help your body gather all essential amino acids needed to complete the puzzle.

8 Essential Amino Acids:

  • Tryptophan
  • Threonine
  • Valine
  • Isoleucine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Methionine
  • Lysine
  • Leucine

Animal protein sourced from dairy, meat, fish, and eggs contain complete proteins = this means that they contain all 8 essential amino acids.

Complete proteins are also available within certain grains, nuts, and seeds:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Soy, in general
  • Hemp
  • Ezekiel bread (contains a mixture of these)
  • Blue-green algae / spirulina

Plant-based eaters can mix and match complementary proteins. Complementary proteins are whole foods that contain higher amounts of some amino acids over others. This is easily achievable if you aim to eat a variety of foods each day. A few examples of complementary proteins:

  • Tofu + quinoa
  • Black beans + brown rice
  • Kale salad + chickpeas + sunflower seeds

The amount of protein needed in your diet is relative. It all depends on your specific body since everyone is different. Check out the graph below for a general suggestion of daily protein intake.

(Source: Precision Nutrition)

#2 Increase overall calories

You’ve definitely heard it before: you must eat more than you burn to build muscle. It’s important to take into consideration your daily movement and exercise when trying to determine how much to consume.

If you’re driven by quantitative goals and love tracking in apps like, MyFitnessPal, it’s helpful to know that the general recommendation for building mass is to increase your daily calories by 15% (ISSN, 2004).

If you don’t love tracking calories, it’s extremely useful to practice the following:

  • Eat more frequently throughout the day
  • Eat quickly
  • Eat until 110% full
  • Replace non-starchy/volume vegetables (life leafy greens) with starchy vegetables. Example: switch a low-calorie cucumber out for a higher-calorie sweet potato.
  • Avoid increasing your caloric intake with added sugar.

Refined sugar is highly inflammatory and can lead to an excess in unwanted body fat. Healthy carbohydrates, along with protein, are especially important after intense strength training sessions because they help to replenish glycogen. Glycogen replenishment helps your muscle recovery better and faster – getting you back in the gym sooner. Check out the guide below that can help in choosing healthy carbohydrates.

(Precision Nutrition)

#3 Strength train

Using muscular force against resistance pushes muscles to adapt and grow. That’s where JCFit classes and personal training come in to play! If you have questions about what type of strength training to do, be sure to ask one of our JCFit coaches or contact us at: info@crossfitjerseycity.com

This guide is broken into 3 parts, so stay tuned for more!

Written by: Kelly Fiallos, PN1

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