By Steven Stiefel
Having more muscle mass generally makes you stronger, and being stronger generally increases your muscle mass. Yet, despite their symbiotic relationship, these two goals have different training and nutrition protocols depending on which one you’re trying to emphasize. MMI’s “Built for Strength” nutrition plan implements diet strategies that are specifically designed to help you increase strength — and they vary somewhat from similar strategies you want to follow when your primary goal is to build muscle mass. You’ll be targeting a higher protein, moderate carbs and moderate dietary fats plan, with a few more calories than you consume each day to promote bodyweight maintenance.
Below are the six key commandments that you want to include in your “Built for Strength” nutrition plan — and please keep in mind that it diverges from many standard bodybuilding plans (we’ll explain how later). They’re listed in order of importance, from critical to moderate, in terms of how crucial each commandment is in terms of gaining strength.
Strength Commandment #1: Consume More Protein Each Day
To increase strength, you need to make sure you’re providing your body with all the raw materials it needs to rebuild muscle tissue and recover for your next workout. While you require at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily when you’re training to increase muscle tissue, you need even more protein when you’re following a strength-training program. Why? Simple: Strength training places a heightened demand on your muscle tissue versus muscle building.
When you’re training for strength, you should consume at least 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. This means a 180-pound bodybuilder should consume a minimum of 270 grams of protein each day. MMI’s strategically formulated “Daily Meal Plan” is heavy on whey, soy and casein supplementation. That’s because recent research has shown additional benefits in combining these three types of protein.
Consume at least 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight daily, spread fairly evenly throughout the day. If you want to replace some supplemental protein with whole-food forms, then emphasize foods such as meat, dairy and eggs, which are good sources of complete protein and have healthy and saturated fats with fewer carbs.
Strength Commandment #2: Mix and Match Your Protein Sources
In addition to getting in the requisite amount of protein each day, you also need to emphasize a range of proteins to make sure you receive a full complement of amino acids. Different proteins digest at different rates. When you consume fast- and slow-digesting proteins at the same meal, you allow some of them to hit your system quicker, while others provide a sustained release so that you have a constant influx of strength-promoting protein over the long haul.
Recent research demonstrates this is also true with supplemental forms of protein. Taking in a mix of whey, soy (both fast digesting) and casein (slow digesting) encourages better results than any of these alone. Competitive bodybuilders are also discovering the advantages of combining slow- and fast-digesting forms of protein at most meals.
“I include at least five different protein sources daily,” says IFBB pro Lee Banks. “Varying your protein sources makes sure that you get a balanced range of amino acids, as each protein source is composed of different aminos.”
Combine at least two protein sources at most whole-food and shake meals. Whether you’re trying to balance aminos or provide your body with slow- and fast-digesting forms of protein, multiple sources throughout the day and at individual meals have shown to be more effective than relying on fewer protein sources.
Strength Commandment #3: Consume Plenty of Healthy Fats
An aspect of both muscle-building and strength-training nutrition programs that’s often overlooked is the consumption of adequate fats, particularly healthy fats. While the typical American consumes plenty of dietary fats, most of us drastically undervalue healthy fats — especially omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are critical for supporting growth (both muscle and strength) and they provide protection for your joints, which is crucial when you’re training with heavy weights and low-rep sets to increase strength. Good sources of these fats include avocados, olive oil, fatty fish (such as salmon and bluefin tuna), and nuts and seeds. You can also supplement with fish oil or flaxseed oil, and include omega-3-fortified foods such as eggs.
Consume at least 10% of your daily calories in the form of healthy fats each day. Going above this is fine, but make sure to emphasize omega-3s over other healthy fats.
Strength Commandment #4: Recognize the Importance of Saturated Fats
While most Americans consume far too many saturated fats, bodybuilders need to consume a reasonable amount of them. That’s because saturated fats are crucial for helping with recovery and growth, but most importantly they provide the raw materials for crucial hormones such as testosterone, which is essential for increasing strength.
The good news is that you don’t have to put much effort into consuming saturated fats — they occur naturally in meat, dairy and whole eggs. When you consume your requisite amount of protein from these sources, you’re getting the secondary benefit of a good amount of saturated fats. In the “Daily Meal Plan” you’re provided with a count of total dietary fats and saturated fats. While the total for saturated fats may seem a little skimpy, you can rest assured that you’ll likely be consuming all you need. If you’re not, then you can include somewhat fattier cuts of meat, more egg yolks and dairy (low-fat cheeses and low-fat milk are good choices).
Consume up to 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats each day and a total of at least 20% of your daily calories from total dietary fats while you’re on a strength-building program. Getting in 30% or more of total calories per day from dietary fats (as the sample plan advocates) is perhaps ideal, depending on your caloric needs and response to these fats.
Strength Commandment #5: Control Your Calorie Intake
You want to be anabolic — not obese — to maximize your strength potential. This requires that you only consume slightly more calories than you need for bodyweight maintenance each day. Many strength and power trainers make the mistake of consuming a vast excess of calories to make sure they have plenty of “fuel” to support their training program. But these excess calories end up being stored as bodyfat, which may even undercut your ability to maximize strength gains (and compromise strength-building hormones).
A good rule of thumb is that you require roughly 22 calories per pound of bodyweight throughout the day on training days. On non-training days, you can take in about ¾ this amount (16–17 calories per pound of bodyweight). You should cut back on fast-digesting carbs on days off, reducing the amount of calories in your workout shakes and substituting a protein snack instead. You can also select leaner cuts of meat.
Target about 22–23 calories per pound of bodyweight each training day, or about 4,000 calories for a 180-pound bodybuilder on training days. Cut back to about 3,000 calories on rest days.
Strength Commandment #6: Watch Your Carb Intake More Closely
We’ve put carbs last on the list of factors you should focus on for strength training. Simply put: They essentially take care of themselves when you’re following the strategies on this list. So long as you’ve consumed at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and at least 20% of your calories from fats (healthy and saturated, combined), the balance of daily intake should come mostly — and will come, almost naturally — from slow-digesting carbs. These include fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, and fiber-rich grains. Specific foods known for their slow-digesting carbs include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice and whole-grain products.
Many strength-trainers overemphasize carb intake, believing they need large quantities to maximize strength gains. In reality, though, once you’ve consumed enough total calories to support growth and you’re taking in a moderate amount of carbs, all extra carb calories are likely to be stored as bodyfat rather than providing additional strength benefits. Keeping a very close eye on fast-digesting carbs including simple sugars and candies should be obvious; however, fast-digesting carbs are called for only in your post-workout meal.
Get in the rest of your calories from carbs, emphasizing slow-digesting forms. This works out to a little more than 1.8 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight.
Daily Meal Plan For Strength
Here’s a daily meal plan based on the needs of 180-pound athlete who’s trying to increase strength by 25% on a 12-week program (22–23 calories per pound of bodyweight). The program is just one example of how you can build your daily plan. Feel free to substitute foods from day to day, replacing vegetables with other vegetables, swapping out fruits and changing up grains and meat sources.
This plan gives you an example of what a 180-pounder should consume on workout days. As we mentioned before, cut total calorie consumption by about 25% on non-workout days.
*Steven Stiefel is a health, nutrition, and exercise writer who lives in Los Angeles. He has worked for numerous national magazines, and is the author of Weights on the Ball Workbook and Fit in 15.