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Muscle building diet

In partnership with Bayley Houston

Expert spills the top tips for building muscle through food

Gray-haired man with a beard wearing a black collared shirt and cooking red meat in his kitchen
Gray-haired man with a beard wearing a black collared shirt and cooking red meat in his kitchen

You’ve been hitting the gym regularly, but you can’t seem to achieve your muscle-building goals and you can’t figure out where you’re going wrong. The roadblock could be a simple one: your diet. According to the International Sports Science Association, doing strength training without proper nutrition – and especially without enough protein – can lead to loss of muscle tissue.

Consider nib your health partner when it comes to looking after your body and mind – and when it comes to building your muscle, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. We engaged the expert, Bayley Houston, dietitian and Allied Health Coach at Honeysuckle Health, to give us his top tips for an effective muscle-building diet.

Foods and drinks that help muscle building

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that protein is your friend when you’re trying to build muscle. “Muscle is mostly made of protein, so foods like meat, tofu, dairy and eggs will help provide the extra protein muscles need to repair after a workout,” says Bayley.

The International Sports Science Association recommends that athletes and other highly active people consume 1.2 to 1.6g of protein per kg of your body mass daily. So if you weigh 70kg, you should aim to eat between 84 and 112g of protein each day. This is double the amount recommended for sedentary people.

While protein is important, Bayley advises against focusing solely on protein-rich foods. Don’t forget about the benefit of fruits and vegies, for example.

A balanced diet that also includes fruits, vegetables and wholegrains will keep the rest of your body healthy while enabling your muscles to grow

Consuming enough kilojoules to promote muscle gain is another important consideration. “As the muscles grow, the body requires more energy and nutrients to maintain body mass and normal bodily functions,” he says. “You need to eat larger amounts of food to maintain and further increase body mass or your body will begin to metabolise muscle to turn it into energy.”

As for fluids, water and building muscle go hand in hand. “Regularly consuming water throughout the day will replenish the fluid you lose through sweat during workouts,” says Bayley. “This will protect you against dehydration and assist with optimal blood flow to your muscles.”

And, coffee can also help you get the most out of your workout. “Caffeine has been found to increase performance when consumed before a workout, but its benefits can decrease with regular consumption,” says Bayley. “Try to avoid consuming coffee when you’re not working out and only have it on days when you feel like you need an extra kick.”

A male couple in their late 30s cooking a high protein dinner together in their kitchen.

Foods and drinks you should avoid when muscle building

While Bayley doesn’t believe any food is an absolute no-no when it comes to muscle building, he suggests limiting or avoiding foods that are high in energy and low in nutritional value such as cakes and chocolate.

“Your body is under a lot of stress as it repairs and builds muscle,” he explains. “You should maximise the value you’re getting from the food you’re consuming by eating a variety of foods from the five core food groups.”

He also recommends limiting drinks that contain a lot of sugar, including soft drinks and sports drinks. “They provide a lot of energy but little nutritional value – also known as ‘empty calories’,” he says. “These drinks provide a quick burst of energy, but they won’t assist much in muscle growth.”

Related: Kombucha, coconut water and green juice: How healthy are trending drinks?

What about alcohol and building muscle? You might be wondering if you can still enjoy an alcoholic drink on the weekend without thwarting your efforts. “Our current understanding of alcohol’s effect on muscle mass is that drinking in moderation has little to no effect on muscle growth,” says Bayley. “But there is some evidence that heavy drinking after resistance training may reduce muscle recovery and prolonged heavy alcohol consumption results in the gain of fat mass. As we all know, a night of heavy drinking results in dehydration, a hangover and poor sleep, which can affect your workout performance and long-term progress.”

Supplements for muscle building

Should you get on the muscle-building supplement bandwagon or are they a waste of money? According to Bayley, it depends on your situation and goals. “Most scientifically supported active ingredients in supplements are available in whole foods,” he says. “That being said, supplements can help you get the most out of your workouts if you struggle to meet your nutritional needs through your diet.”

If you do choose to use supplements, stick to types of supplements for muscle building that are backed by science. “Protein powder can help you get enough protein if you’re not getting enough in your diet, but you won’t experience any further benefits if you’re already meeting your requirements,” says Bayley. “Consuming too much protein can also lead to kidney damage and chronic kidney disease. While this is rare, it’s something to keep in mind.”

Creatine and caffeine may also be beneficial. “They’ve both been shown to increase the number of repetitions in resistance training which can result in increased muscle growth,” says Bayley.

If you have any doubts or questions about your muscle-building diet, your best bet is to schedule an appointment with an accredited practising dietitian to optimise your nutrition and maximise your muscle gains.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

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Dietitian Bayley Houston wearing a Hawaiian shirt and smiling at the camera

In partnership with

Bayley Houston

Bayley Houston is an accredited practising dietitian at Honeysuckle Health, where his
roles include nutrition counselling around the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and prevention and treatment of diabetes. He’s passionate about combatting stigma and misinformation around nutrition, and supporting and educating people to help them take control of their own health. Bayley’s perfect day would be snowboarding in the morning, eating tacos for lunch, followed by playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends.