Having a weekly meal prep routine can help you prioritize key nutrients and meet your goals.
How the Body Builds Muscle
Skeletal muscles are composed of tiny fibers that are made up of myofibrils and sarcomeres. When you lift weights, you tear down these fibers. Afterward, your body repairs the damaged fibers by fusing together the torn fibers to form new myofibrils.
This process makes the muscle fibers stronger and larger, creating muscle hypertrophy, or an increase in growth and size of muscle cells and fibers. When the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the muscle protein breakdown, you have muscle growth.
How much muscle you build is affected by genetics, age, hormones, and muscle tension (load of stress your muscles can take), but for everyone, muscle growth is directly affected by protein intake.
How Long Does It Take the Body to Build Muscle?
It may take a few weeks of dialing in nutrition, prioritizing sleep, and increasing training volume to see muscle growth.
A few tips to expedite your results:
- Add volume over time. Increase how much weight you’re lifting, how many sets or reps you’re completing, train to failure, or include shorter periods of rest.
- Increase protein intake. To build muscle mass, consume between 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, depending on your age, weight, gender, and starting body composition.
- Sleep. Get adequate sleep every night to allow for repair and recovery of muscle tissues.
Caloric Intake Needed to Build Muscle
Your body will need to be in a caloric surplus or at least break even to build muscle.
To get a rough estimate of how many calories your body burns in a day, determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is an estimate of how many calories you burn in a day, taking into consideration your level of activity. There are many free TDEE calculators online. When you have this number, you can set your caloric intake accordingly.
Types of Foods that Fuel Muscle Gain
Protein is truly the fuel for growing muscles. When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids that repair tears in muscle fibers and grow new muscle fibers.
Here are a few high-protein foods that help fuel muscle gain:
- Chicken breast
- Lean beef
- Dairy (greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk)
- Fish (salmon, tilapia, tuna)
- Nuts and seeds
- Protein powders (casein, whey, pea, soy)
Muscle Gaining Meal Prep Tips
Make a detailed grocery list before heading to the store. If it’s available, have your groceries delivered or set up an order pickup if the grocery aisles are too alluring.
Choose a dedicated shop day. If shopping and meal prepping in one day is too much, dedicate one day to shopping and the next day to meal prep.
Pre-wash and pre-cut all produce. When you get home, prep all the produce so it’s ready to go for the week.
Opt for frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen foods are just as nutritious and already prepped and ready to go.
Buy in bulk. Proteins like meat and seafood are great to buy in bulk since they can be frozen and are usually less expensive when bought in large quantities.
Effective Food Storage
Some common food storage containers for meal prep are glass, steel, or plastic. Consider your needs before choosing the best food storage containers.
Here are a few things to look for in food storage:
- Microwave safe
- Freezer friendly
- Airtight seal
Choose Recipes You Love
You’ll likely stick to your weekly meal plan if you enjoy what you’re eating. Try these ideas when creating your weekly plan:
- Add variety to your meals
- Choose a theme for the week (i.e., Mexican, Italian, Indian)
- Include healthy treats
- Prep bulk protein that can be added to meals throughout the week
- Use time-saving appliances like instant pots, crock pots, air fryers, etc.
- Incorporate protein shakes or protein bars for busy mornings or on-the-go meals
- Batch cook recipes that you love
- Record your meal plan in a planner, on your fridge, or somewhere that’s easy to see
How Muscle Gain Is Affected by Meal Timing and Training
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) must trump muscle protein breakdown (MPB) in order for muscle growth to occur, but research is inconclusive on whether or not nutrient intake before or after resistance training is best for maximizing the anabolic response. The key is to get enough protein throughout the day.
What to eat on rest days.
On recovery days, you’re refueling your body and giving muscles the rest they need to grow. Avoid restricting calories on rest days. To support growing muscles, aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein every two to four hours. Be sure to also include a variety of complex carbs to restore glycogen stores.
What to eat before morning training.
Eat a light meal of carbs and protein about 30 to 60 minutes before training to provide your body with glucose to be used for energy. The same carb/protein combo also makes a great post-workout recovery meal. Dairy, for example, makes an ideal snack before or after working out, since it has slow- and fast-digesting protein.
What to eat before evening training.
The same pre- or post-training meals may work great for evening training too, though you may not need to eat as much since it’s later in the day. Avoid big meals or high fat/high fiber foods before training. Rely on complex carbs and protein to fuel evening workouts. Smoothies or protein shakes make a great option for after your workout.