diet when building muscle

When hypertrophy (muscle building) is your main goal, the food and nutrients you consume around the workout is by far the most important aspect in maximizing growth and optimizing recovery.

If you’re looking to immediately accelerate growth and improve body composition, then you’d better sit down and take some notes. This is exactly where you need to start.

To underestimate pre and peri (that means “during”, btw) workout nutrition is to essentially kiss your gains goodbye.

There has been some recent research conducted suggesting that the timing of nutrients may not be of major significance to people looking to optimize muscle-building. That research was conducted on minimally trained individuals and certainly had no consideration for people who are looking to take an already well-trained body and make it even better.

If you’re someone who has never trained, or trained minimally, I can see how nutrient timing wouldn’t make a massive difference. Simply getting in the appropriate macronutrients is more than enough to change your current state.

For someone looking for immediate and long lasting changes, you better make the most of your workout nutrition and avoid falling into that trap. (diet when building muscle ) –

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Anyone who’s been training in the gym for any extended period (6 months+ consistently), will tell you that their energy wavers, that some days they have awesome workouts, other days they feel like they’ve done nothing at all. Some days they’re extremely strong, other days natta. Some days the pump is so great it hurts, other days, zilch.

I’ve been there 1000 times myself.

Let me pose this question:

What if I could tell you what to eat to ensure maximum strength every time you went to the gym?

Or, maybe I could tell you what you should eat to maximize the pump each time so that it feels like your muscles are so full they’re going to split?

Or, what if I could even suggest what to eat to ensure that your focus was spot on and that you had great motivation and drive each workout?

Do you think that would increase your results at all?

Answer: Yes yes and yes!

I’m going to focus my pre and peri-workout nutrition suggestion for ‘hypertrophy’ training ONLY. Notice that these recommendations would change if strength is the goal of that particular workout (I’d suggest checking out Derek Woodske’s blog about how to eat for strength if that is your goal).

Let’s approach this in a sequential way, so that it’s as simple as a 3 step sequence, as well as easy to apply immediately. (diet when building muscle )

diet when building muscle

The first thing you need to know is that what you eat and drink for as much as 72 hours leading into a workout will likely affect the outcome of the workout. Simply ensuring that you eat the “perfect” pre-workout meal will not ensure that your performance is at its peak. Your body needs to be hydrated, nourished and well rested within the previous 24 hours minimum. For someone striving for perfection, 72 hours pre-workout can even affect things.

The suggested water intake for optimum hydration is 400-500mls every waking hour on a daily basis. So no, consuming 2L at once isn’t shown to make up for lost time, although I’ve been known to try with some pretty good results (I tend to start each day with 1.5-2L of water before eating anything at all).

Carbohydrate intake for 24-72 hours prior to training will also greatly affect performance. The simplest way to think of carbohydrate repletion is in terms of your body as a fuel tank. If you never let your tank run on empty, you’ll never need to over feed to refill the tank.

The truth is, that typical muscle-building workouts actually do very little to deplete systemic glycogen. It may deplete glycogen within the working muscle, but the amount of total glycogen used will often be minimal. Most aspiring trainees misunderstand this fact and falsely believe that their need for carbohydrate intake is massive.

(diet when building muscle )

Listen, I don’t care how hard you train, you’re never realistically depleting your muscles completely. You’re just not. Unless you’re a long distance cyclist going for a 6 hour bike ride, thinking you need 1000 grams of carbs a day to grow is just senseless. But that’s another topic.

What you eat for 3 hours pre-workout can and will directly affect your performance by affecting your hormone and neurotransmitter levels.

I don’t claim to be a neurophysiologist (although I do have a good friend who is), but I am a gym rat of 17 years that has read and experimented with just about every workout protocol and nutrition program under the sun. The results haven’t been too bad, I guess. 😉

Regarding optimal performance and hypertrophy, there are two basic protocols that I find particularly effective for maximizing the results of my workouts:

The one I use most often is going no carb pre-workout.

From experience, this is the most effective strategy for maximizing mental focus, energy and drive. What that means to me is that it gives me BALLS! I go into the gym ready to attack the weights. Grabbing the weights with an assertiveness and aggression that simply just doesn’t come when I overdo carbohydrates pre-workout.
Carbohydrates pre-workout

diet when building muscle

Carbs can make you feel tired and lazy, not always mind you, but we have all had a case of the sleepies going in to train at one time or another; it’s often a result of a serotonin spike from carbohydrate ingestion. Another notable benefit of the no carb pre-workout is it allows for the natural GH spike initiated with intense exercise. Carb ingestion has been shown to negate this. (diet when building muscle )

  • 8oz of lean meat (usually chicken or turkey breast)
  • 1-2 cups of green veggies
  • 40 grams of fat from coconut oil, butter, or MCT oil (any combination depending on what body-part I’m training. I avoid butter before legs cause it makes my breathing a bit laborious).
  • 1 cup of black coffee


Another feasible option for pre-workout is the “slow carb” protocol. If you tend to stay on the leaner side and have a hard time building muscle, slow carbs pre-workout can be a great idea. I avoid simple carbs for the reasons stated above. Slow carbs like brown rice, veggies, beans, whole grain oats, sweet potatoes etc. can provide just enough insulin activity to negate any muscle breakdown while increasing cell swelling and hyperemia. Cell swelling and hyperemia are well known to be highly correlated with muscle growth, optimizing them is vital to your success. 

  • 8oz of lean meat
  • 2 cups of sweet potato mash with cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil

A great little tip, or “trick”, I use to optimize the best of both of these two worlds’, is to stick with the non-carb pre-workout, then after about 20-30 minutes of HARD exercise (special emphasis on ‘hard’), I add in some simple carbohydrates in the form of “Vitargo” with 30 grams of BCAA’s. This will still allow for the GH release, the neural drive to start the workout, plus finish the workout with the cell swelling and hyperemia. This works really well for me 80% of the time. (diet when building muscle )

There are still many days when I wait until after the training session has finished to consume any carbs. Examples being on days when I know training intensity is down, or perhaps when fat-burning is the primary goal. In these specific scenarios, carbs can wait until after training.

On the days when I choose to hold off on intra-workout carbs, I still take in BCAA’s, plus actually often add a little extra (up to 40 grams total… keeping in mind my offseason weight is 300lbs!).

diet when building muscle

Another one of my favorite pre and peri-workout supplement tricks is to add a balanced electrolyte supplement to my pre-workout or peri-workout drink. This adds massive amounts of value for literally pennies, increasing hydration, cellular uptake, muscle contractibility, negating cramping and possibly even decreasing the chances of injury.

We are programmed to focus more on the negative than the positive. This allowed us to avoid danger and humans to prosper. In modern times our stresses are generally less about safety, so where does that leave us? Joining us today is Ben’s favorite author, Dr. Rick Hanson to discuss how we can train our neurochemistry to go against what nature intended. Dr. Hanson is the author of Buddha’s Brain and Resilient to name a couple. Today he teaches us how focusing on positivity and gratitude can help us overcome our negativity bias, reduce cortisol and change our brain neurochemistry to live a positive stress-free life in modern times. 

(diet when building muscle )

Dr. Tom O’Bryan, leading expert on autoimmunity joins us today to discuss the factors contributing to autoimmunity.  Ben and Tom discuss the dietary, environmental, and biological factors that lead to autoimmunity.  Topics covered include how to transition your diet versus going cold turkey, the effect your micro biome has on your genetic expressions, your CNS’s effect on your overall health and how grains and gluten affect your gut.

Danny Vega aka Keto Counter Culture joins us today to continue our deep dive into the Ketogenic Diet.  Danny has been keto for over 2 years and has recently incorporated a carnivore keto diet.  He and Ben discuss the use of exogenous ketones to increase focus and performance, the effectiveness of a ketogenic diet for everyone including pro athletes, how to minimize the keto flu, and his and Ben’s recent foray into building muscle on keto.  Go check out Danny on The Ketogenic Athlete Podcast and @ketocounterculture!

(diet when building muscle )

Today we have on Baylor Professor and Advisor to the ISSN, Dr. Darryn Willoughby. Dr. Willoughby is a competitive bodybuilder and researcher. He is currently researching the effects of exercise and nutrition on physical, biochemical, and molecular mechanisms. Ben and Dr. Willoughby discuss muscle protein synthesis, the scientific thought process and whether there is a need for supplementation. Dr. Willoughby shares his protein and supplement regimen as well as what he is excited about in the world of exercise science research in this science deep dive episode.

This episode is brought to you by Thrive Market. We have been LOVING Thrive’s new meat selection. Eat like Ben and order the Premium Cuts Beef Box and don’t forget to use code Muscle Expert for 25% off and a month of free shipping!


6:30– How the scientific thought process evolves. How Dr. Willoughby forges the path for new discoveries in science.

9:45– Exploring exercise research methods. Should we study the average population or the optimized?

12:30– Limitations in research. Tech, time, and money. Just because a study comes up with a finding we cannot take that as gospel until it is further backed up.

21:45– What influences muscle protein synthesis?

25:30– What else, besides protein, influences our bodies ability to build muscle?

31:45– How to optimize protein synthesis. What influences mTOR?

36:00– How Dr. Willoughby tests protein synthesis in a lab. Is protein synthesis gradient or binary?

44:30– The influence of your current protein synthesis state on your future state.

50:30– How different types of training influences protein synthesis.

56:00– How androgens and testosterone influence muscle protein synthesis.

59:00– How to upgrade your androgen receptors.

66:30 What how much test is too much? Is there a point that the negative outweighs the positive? Ben and Dr. Willoughby discuss HRT limitations.

70:30– “Make the most of what you’ve got don’t just take more”. What the guys think about drug based bodybuilding culture.

74:00– Do the work. It’s not testosterone by osmosis, you have to put in hard, focused work for growth.

75:45– Supplementation- Why you need to supplement to support weaknesses not just a blanket protocol.

78:00– How much protein do you need to ingest for optimal growth? Dr. Willoughby’s personal supplement protocol.

Connect with Dr. Willoughby



Dr. Dominic D’Agostino is one of the world’s leading researchers on the ketogenic diet. Dr. D’Agostino is a researcher and assistant professor at the University of South Florida’s College of medicine and consistently works with the military and NASA to develop ways for soldiers and astronauts to stay energized and sharp while on mission. Ben and Dominic go deep on how to best adapt to fat for fuel, how to supplement fats and ketones for optimal performance both physically and mentally as well as discuss who the ketogenic diet is for and optimal nutrition for keto. (diet when building muscle )

Joining us today is Dr. Anthony Jay, scientist, author, and expert on a wealth of topics including xenoestrogens, epigenetics, and mesenchymal stem cells.  Ben and Dr. Jay dive deep on how to remove artificial estrogens from your environment and diet and the effects of xenoestrogens. We also discuss how you can impact your genetics through diet, exercise and environment as well as the implications of your epigenetics on future generations.  Lastly we discuss Dr. Jay’s latest research at the Mayo Clinic on fat derived mesenchymal stem cells and his thoughts on the future of stem cell medicine.

Stan Efferding, the World’s Strongest Bodybuilder, is the master of many areas of health and fitness, he is a retired powerlifter and body builder and creator of the Vertical Diet.  His clients include Brian Shaw, Ben Smith, Hafthor Bjornsson and many more.  Ben and Stan go deep on the vertical diet, why Stan believes that you need to look beyond your macros, protein sources and the sustainability of the vertical diet.

Don Saladino, owner of Drive 495 Club in NYC and the go to personal trainer for super heroes joins us today to talk about his recent Muscle & Fitness cover, what it takes to build a super hero physique and how to become a great coach.  Ben and Don discuss flexibility in coaching, all the skills a trainer needs to learn post certification and running successful training businesses.

We got to meet up with one of the leading stem cell doctors while at Paleo FX last month.  Dr. Kristin Comella of the US Stem Cell clinic sat down with us to give us a rapid fire discussion on one of the newest, most misunderstood practices in modern medicine.  Dr. Comella dispels the myths and gives us some great insight on the recovery, anti-aging and healing potentials of stem cell procedures.

Mike Desanti wears many hats, he is a health coach, gratitude and consciousness specialist and even an author of children’s books. Mike and Ben have a great discussion on elevating your consciousness, the rituals Mike has used for his rights of passage, how he lives a life of gratitude and understanding, and much more. Make sure to listen to the end to hear about Mike’s men’s retreat and how he has used his platform as an author of children’s books to teach impactful life lessons to their parents as well.

Diet when building muscle