Welcome to part two of the guide to putting on lean muscle mass AND improving overall well being !! I’m looking forward to continuing to share the knowledge that i’ve learned over the past few years. Learning from my mistakes so that you guys don’t have to make the same ones that I made.
First off, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read part one of this series. I was overwhelmed by the feedback that I received. I appreciate each & every one of you a TON. As always, thanks for reading.
In this article I want to dive into the diet side of things. Nutrition can be very confusing & complex. I wanna make as simple as possible for you to understand & give you tangible advice that you can apply right away.
There’s a lot of bro science & misinformation involving nutrition that’s being distributed across gyms (and social media) all over the world. Lots of low quality information being shared back & forth. The blind leading the blind if you will.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes w/ regards to my nutrition in the past. If you read part one you know what i’m talking about. I’m glad that I made those mistakes though because I can help more people now. Very thankful for all of the mentors that I have in my life currently. Learning the proper way to do things. The results that I have been able to achieve over the past 11 months back this up.
I honestly feel like a completely different person than I did the past few years. I went from having no sex drive (low Test levels), being weak, very minimal muscle mass & low confidence to doing a complete 180. My sex drive is great, strength has gone up exponentially, packed on 20lbs of muscle mass & confidence is rising every day. This stuff WORKS.
As I discussed in part one, one major mistake that I made early in my fitness journey was all of the cutting that I did. I was constantly on prep. In a caloric deficit. Separated by a few months of “bulking” here & there. Nothing substantial enough to put on any size though.
My body got beat into the ground. I felt like SHIT all the time. When I finally got my blood work done my total testosterone levels were 232. Which is alarmingly low. A lot of my other markers were jacked up too. I was extremely over-trained & undernourished.
My strength had been on a downward trend for a few years & I wasn’t building any mass. Plus I felt miserable as I mentioned. I was spinning my wheels.
When I moved to Indianapolis last year I decided that it was time to focus on a true bulk. Focusing on physical growth & improving overall health. I wanted to pack on muscle mass AND feel better in the process.
So I began focusing on all areas of health. Nutrition, training & recovery.
Let’s chat about nutrition.
There are so many fad diets out there in today’s world. Keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, low fat etc etc. I don’t want you to get too caught up in this whirlwind of information. There are most certainly benefits to some of these niche diets. For now, don’t worry about that though. Rather, I want you focusing on total caloric intake, macros & quality of food.
When i’m giving general nutrition advice at a family gathering or something I often give this quick spiel, “If you can stick to quality animal protein, lots of veggies, starchy carbs & quality fats you’re doing GREAT !!”.
Of course there’s more that goes into it the deeper you dig. You’ve got macro breakdowns, meal timing, what’s a “quality fat” etc etc.
Let’s start by discussing total caloric intake.
Is total caloric intake the only thing that matters?
First things first, you’re likely NOT eating enough calories currently. If you wanna grow you gotta EAT !!
Yes, total caloric intake is extremely important both when bulking & leaning out. But it goes much deeper than just total caloric intake though.
A lot of people think only in terms of total caloric intake when bulking or cutting. This is a HUGE mistake. Thinking a calorie = a calorie. This just isn’t true. Although a Mcdonalds cheeseburger AND a grass fed steak along w/ a sweet potato are pretty similar macro wise, they certainly aren’t they same when it comes to micro nutrients. Nor does your body process them the same.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required by your body. Micronutrients are essential to the production of enzymes, hormones, proteins & other products manufactured in the body. Long story short, they’re important to overall health & the way your body operates on a cellular level.
Your body is gonna operate much more efficiently when you’re feeding it high quality fuel. This seems kinda like a no brainer. Right? As a result of focusing on micronutrient intake along with macro nutrients, you’re not only gonna GROW MORE, but you’re gonna start to feel a whole lot better mentally & physically along the way as well. I certainly do..
When I first got to Indy I was focusing mainly on macros. Eating whatever I wanted. Mcdonalds, cliff bars, low quality protein shakes etc etc. Yes, my macros were great & I was growing, but I felt like SHIT. My energy sucked. Stomach hurt. Gassy. Bloated. Testosterone levels were still low. The list goes on.
Eventually I decided I needed to clean it up a bit. I started cutting out the processed food & subbing in REAL food. Instead of mcdonalds or chick fil a I started eating beef or chicken accompanied by something like sweet potato or rice for carbs.
This was a gradual process over the last 11 months. Making small changes which eventually lead me to where i’m at now. My diet is more dialed in than it ever has been.
Which leads me to the importance of variety in your food selection.
How do I Improve my Micronutrient Intake?
Most people, especially in the fitness world, eat basically the same food every single meal. Chicken, rice & green beans. Or something of the sort. Meal after meal.
There are a few issues with this. Of course you’re gonna be lacking in the micro nutrient category. Every single food has a different amino acid & micro nutrient breakdown. So when you’re eating the exact same foods every meal you aren’t giving your body the opportunity to process an array of different nutrients. Leading to deficiencies. Which stunts growth & overall well being.
Incorporating variety into your diet is a quick way to begin introducing an array of micro nutrients into your body. We want variety in all of our foods. Protein, veggies, carbs & fats. Constantly switching it up.
This is not only going to optimally fuel your body, but it will also help you avoid developing food intolerances. When you eat the same foods day after day your body begins to develop intolerances to them.
To my understanding a food intolerance is basically when your body begins recognizing food as an unknown harmful substance. So it goes on the defense to protect you from the intruder. Leading to inflammation, bloating & a string of unwanted symptoms.
To avoid this we just need to be more mindful of variety. This is something that i’m working on really hard right now. I’m a very picky eater so it hasn’t been easy. But i’m starting to get the hang of it.
Protein wise i’ve been focusing on eating 4-5 different protein sources per day. Including turkey, chicken breasts, chicken thigh, beef, bison & fish.
Each of these animal proteins has a different amino acid breakdown as I previously mentioned. Here’s the benefit to that; lets say chicken is low in a certain amino acid that bison is very high in, and bison is low in something that chicken is high in. Eating both in a day instead of eating just one ensures that you aren’t lacking in any specific area. When you start eating multiple different sources each day you really begin to reap the rewards.
When it comes to veggies i’ve been trying to get 4-5 different types per day as well. Including broccoli, green beans, spinach, kale, cauliflower, carrots etc etc. Each one is filled with different vitamins & minerals.
I encourage variety in all of your food. Including your fats & carbs as well.
Some of my favorite quality fats are grass fed fatty meats, raw nuts, kerrygold butter, coconut oil & olive oil. Carb wise I love sweet potatoes, different types of rice (basmati, jasmine, brown basmati etc), quinoa, gluten free oats & occasional fruit.
Keeping this variety will not only help you GROW more, but it’s also gonna keep you healthier short term & long term. Plus you’re gonna feel better in everyday life !!
How many Calories should I be eating?
Total caloric intake is extremely important. Unfortunately it can be pretty difficult to pinpoint exactly where you need to be calorically.
There are calculators you can use online to find your approximate BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), which is essentially the number of calories you’re burning every day just to stay alive, but they’re not 100% accurate. There are a lot of factors that play into total caloric expenditure everyday. Making it difficult to get an exact number.
Here’s a link to one that you can use to get a general idea. (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/weight-loss-calculator)
Again, this is not gonna be exactly on. Depending on your % of lean muscle mass, intensity of training etc etc. This calculator will at least give you an approximate idea of the range you need to be to start gaining weight or losing weight.
The most important thing is experimentation. Start somewhere & adjust as you go depending on the results. Make sure you track everything !!
Referencing back to the last section .. A calorie is not necessarily created equal. So if you’re eating 4500 calories of low quality food versus eating 3500 calories of the highest quality food, they will not have the same effect on your growth. Quality matters.
For most of the year I was around 3,500 calories per day. Comprised of all real food. I maintained this caloric intake through the first half of my current bodybuilding prep. I was able to continue to eat so much food because I was continuing to pack on muscle (making me more metabolic) and increasing calories burned through training. Being a little over a month out we’re now starting to make some adjustments. Bringing total calories down a little & continuing to ramp up training. This will continue to change as I approach the show.
How do I figure out my macros?
Unfortunately there isn’t a cut & dry answer here. This is dependent on a number of different factors. Including genetics, lifestyle, past dieting habits, training regiment etc etc.
In order to minimize confusion I would recommend for most people a balanced macro intake. Something like 40/30/30. So 40% of your intake is from carbs, 30% from fats & 30% from protein. Switch it up. Run 40% carbs for a while. Then drop carbs & increase protein. Constantly changing up your food sources & intake.
IF you’re substantially overweight and/or living a very inactive lifestyle then your carbs probably need to be lower. You’re likely insulin resistant & your body is gonna struggle to properly utilize those carbs. In this case I would recommend that you keep a majority of your carbs to mostly pre and post workout. Increasing your fats/protein to replace these calories.
Balance is the key though here.
Let me say it again. Balance is key.
We want to develop discipline in our eating habits, but we still want to maintain some sort of balance. We’re all human. We all have cravings for junk food. I believe that it’s important to allow ourselves to fall to temptation occasionally. Just make sure you’re earning it.
Cheat meals are OKAY !! They’re not gonna necessarily make you fat or wreck all of your progress. We just need to incorporate them sparingly & keep them in moderation. Instead of eating an ENTIRE pizza try just having a few pieces.
There are a number of reasons to limit cheat meals, but a great motivator is just how much better you feel. When you go from eating high quality nutrients for a few weeks to eating a day of garbage, you realize how terrible you feel when you eat junk food. Energy sucks. You just wanna nap. Your stomach hurts. I don’t know how people live like this.
How Often should I change my Diet?
According to Doctor Eric Serrano, whom is a very high level doctor w/ a ton of expertise in nutrition, for optimal growth & weight loss we should be switching up our diet every three weeks or so. Switching up our macros & the types of food that we’re taking in.
He has a great quote, “the best diet is the diet you aren’t currently on.”
You can learn more about this & other nutrition information in this video by Dr Serrano (https://youtu.be/9m7idVeW6fk).
Serrano is the real deal. Take the time to check out those videos. I have known Eric for about eight years now. He’s a great guy with a ridiculous amount of knowledge.
This is pretty advanced though to be honest. Most people aren’t going to be willing to make changes every 3 weeks. In that case, just change it up when you begin to plateau.
Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy article. I hope this helps you on your journey to building the body of your dreams & feeling good while doing it !!
I’m now 4 weeks out from my upcoming bodybuilding show. In full cutting mode. Currently sitting around 185lbs still (continuing to gain muscle) and 10% body fat. The plan is to drop 1% body fat every week the final 4 weeks leading me into the show. Stage weight should be around 180lbs. I’ll be detailing out what my diet looks like as I peak into the show in future articles.
If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition, getting shredded (the right way), gaining muscle and living a healthier lifestyle while progressing towards your lifting goals I recently released my first book Jay’s Complete Nutrition Guide. This book is much more than just a guide to getting shredded the right way. It’s basically everything I’ve learned about nutrition, packing on muscle, being healthy & feeling good and much more packed into one book.
The book will include:
- Multiple diet plans for getting shredded along w/ a guide to adjusting this for yourself
- Hypertrophy training plan written by Zach Homol and myself
- Lots of intro nutrition science .. my goal is to not make it too complicated, but really help explain things like:
- what really is food?
- what is a carb/fat/protein? Why are each of these important
- What are micronutrients? Why are they important?
- Nutrient dense food vs energy dense food. How to still eat junk food and progress towards your goals
- Going very in depth on mistakes I’ve made in the past and how to avoid these
- What I’ve done to gain 20lbs of lean muscle over the past year
- Lessons I’ve learned coaching hundreds of clients
- & much more !!
The book can be purchased HERE
As always, if you hve any questions at all feel free to email me or shoot me a message on Instagram. (@Jay_Azeltine).
Until next time,