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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.


3 Nutrition Mistakes When Trying to Add Lean Muscle

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

By , YMCA Registered Dietitian


Whether you’re a body-builder or just trying to tone up for the summer season, adding lean muscle is a must. Because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, increasing muscle mass is generally a recommended goal for most people. 

While strength-training exercises like this 9-move Kettlebell Routine are essential in building strong muscles, nutrition can be a key factor as well. Check out the three most common nutrition-related mistakes people make when it comes to building lean muscle mass!

1. Not getting enough protein

Muscles are literally made of protein, and when you don’t get enough, you can’t make more muscle.

Making sure to get good quality sources of lean protein throughout the day is critical if you want to add to your muscle stores. Chicken, turkey, fish and non-animal sources of protein like beans, nuts and seeds are your best options.

The specific amount you want depends on height, age, gender and activity level, but this calculator gives some general guidance on helping you predict your protein needs. Keep in mind that your body can’t absorb more than 20-30 grams of protein at one time, so there’s no need to overdo it with expensive protein shakes and supplements.  

2. Restricting calories too much

As a general rule of thumb, restricting calories to 500 less than what you normally intake will result in a 1-2 pound weight loss per week. However, if you’re adding lots of cardiovascular exercise that's burning calories and restricting what you're eating too much, then your body is going to look to your muscles for energy.

When your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs from food, then it has to look to its own energy stores to keep going. Ideally, your body would burn through your excess fat, and we’d all rejoice! Realistically, our body also burns through our lean muscle mass, which thrills no one.

Try tracking your intake for several days and see how your calories measure up.

3. Not getting the right type of carbohydrates

Carbs are the body’s preferred source of fuel, and in order to perform at your peak, your diet should consist of about 40-50% carbs.

The key is choosing the right type of carbohydrates to gas you up. You want to pick complex carbohydrates, because they take longer for your body to break down and often include more vital nutrients and fiber. Examples of complex carbs include beans, peas, whole grains and vegetables. Compared to simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, cookies, cakes, juices and sodas, they provide your body with better nutrition and will help you build better muscles.

What's driving you?

Ultimately, you have to think of your body like a car and consider food to be your gas. If you don’t put enough or the right type of gas in your car, then it’s not going to go very far. The same rule applies to your body. Fueling with the right foods can improve your performance and help you achieve your fitness goals faster.

For more healthy living tips, learn how mindful eating helps weight loss and try 5 minutes on this killer machine. The Y also offers one-on-one nutrition counseling. We're here to help you grow stronger in spirit, mind and body. 

YMCA of Middle Tennessee

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Nashville, TN 37203
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