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The Build Muscle, Stay Lean Meal Plan


Bulking up: It's a scary thought for many guys at the gym because it seems like there's always a string attached. Everyone wants to add lean mass, but - and it's a big but - a lot of us don't like the idea of gaining bodyfat, even as little as a couple of pounds, which is the norm with most mass-gaining meal plans. Seriously, what's the point of gaining 20 or 30 pounds if a good portion of that is fat? If you can't see the muscle you've added, is it even worth having? In this case, we say no, which is why we provide you with the tools you need to add muscle while maintaining, not increasing, your current level of bodyfat.

The Question: How do I bulk up without adding unwanted pounds of fat?
The Answer: By being careful, precise and paying close attention to food timing.

Smart Growth

Building muscle requires an increase in calories; that is, to gain weight you must eat more calories than you burn each day. But if you go overboard and eat too much, you'll kick-start the fat-storing process. So the key is to eat just enough to facilitate the muscle-gaining process but not so much that you'll add fat along with it.
One way to do this is by controlling portion sizes at mealtime. For most meals (not including postworkout), aim to get 40-60 grams of protein and 40-80 grams of carbs, depending on your size; bigger guys weighing more than, say, 225 pounds will shoot for the higher end. The meal plan on the following pages gives a guide to particular food portions that will get you to these gram targets. Dietary fat should be as low as possible, except for healthy fats (from nuts, olive oil, fatty fish), which can amount to 5-10 grams per meal.

Timing is Key
Meal timing is the other key to staying lean while bulking up. When you eat not only supports mass gains but also plays a pivotal role in controlling bodyfat levels. If you're trying to gain only quality mass, increase the size of your meals at breakfast and after training. These are the two times of day when muscles crave more calories and nutrients - at breakfast because you're nutritionally depleted after a night's sleep, and post-workout because the stressed muscles are in dire need of replenishment to jump-start the recovery process. Providing the body with what it can put to use during these windows facilitates optimum growth and keeps bodyfat levels down.
In short, smart growth - muscle sans bodyfat - is contingent on manipulating calorie intake. Yes, you have to eat more to gain mass, but when you eat more can determine whether you'll gain fat or muscle. If you stick to a large breakfast and a substantial post-training meal and evenly divide your other meals into smaller portions, you can boost your total caloric intake, ensuring that those extra calories go to the muscles when they need them.

How to Eat on Non-Training Days
Muscles require rest days to grow, but you shouldn't scarf down the quantity of carbohydrates you do on training days since the demand for carbs can fall considerably when you're inactive. This is where people often get into trouble - they continue to maintain a high-carb intake on days they don't hit the iron and aren't burning through a lot of carbohydrates. The end result? A rise in unwanted bodyfat, especially around the lower back and midsection.
The basics of our lean-mass meal plan sum up what you've just learned. As far as portion size goes, the diet delivers a roughly equal amount of protein and carbs for most meals. You'll eat six times per day to supply your body with critical nutrients, especially aminos, for driving muscle growth, and meal timing focuses around workouts and time of day. On training days, you get to eat more carbs overall (almost 2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight) and your post-workout meal is loaded with them - the meal plan on page 3 includes 177 grams of carbs after training. Try this at another time of day and it could lead to fat gain; here it will spur muscle growth.
You'll get most of your carbohydrates early in the day (up to nearly 100 grams at breakfast), while your later meals are mostly protein. This gives your body the amino acids it requires and negates the carbs it doesn't necessarily need at this time of day. Since insulin sensitivity tends to be lower later in the day, avoiding carbs helps to prevent fat gain. Protein intake stays the same on both days (almost 2 grams per pound of bodyweight, roughly 330 grams in our sample meal plan), so the drop in carbs also means a much-needed drop in calories. On workout days you need about 18-20 calories per pound of bodyweight, but on rest days you require only about 12-14 calories per pound. Swapping these days will spur muscle growth without seeing your midsection grow as well.

The Science of Timing
Three cups of rice, pasta or even a couple of bagels at a single sitting? Sounds like it'd make you fat, right? Not if you consume it along with lean protein immediately following a training session. Carbs remain the mismanaged nutrient. While they have the ability to be stored as bodyfat, they're crucial to the muscle-building process. When you eat a lot of carbohydrates after training, it sets off a cascade of hormonal changes that favor the rebuilding of muscle mass. This includes a rise in insulin, which not only forces protein into muscles for growth but also stabilizes testosterone levels, which often fall as a result of too few carbs after training. On the flip side, if you eat too many carbs and just sit around being fairly inactive, some of those carbs might end up as bodyfat. That's why you should eat fewer carbs on days you don't train. While you need them to grow on days you work out, your need for them goes down considerably on days when you don't hit the iron.

The Build Muscle, Stay Lean Meal Plans
These are examples of the types of meal plans you should follow when you want to build muscle without gaining fat.

Training Day Menu

Meal 1: 8 a.m.

- 10 egg whites
- 1¼ cups oatmeal (dry measure) or 11⁄2 raisin bagels
- 8 oz. orange juice or 1 cup mixed fruit
Meal Totals: 669 calories, 58 g protein, 93 g carbs, 7 g fat

Meal 2: 11 a.m.

- 8 oz. chicken breast
- 1 small to medium potato*
Meal Totals: 409 calories, 56 g protein, 37 g carbs, 3 g fat

Meal 3: 1 p.m.

- Whey protein shake (2 scoops)
- 6-8 rice cakes*
Meal Totals: 450 calories, 48 g protein, 58 g carbs, 2 g fat

Meal 4 (postworkout): 3 p.m.

- 8 oz. turkey breast
- 2-3 cups cooked pasta or white rice*
- 1 whole-grain roll**
Meal Totals: 1,096 calories, 78 g protein, 177 g carbs, 4 g fat

Meal 5: 6 p.m.

- 8 oz. ground beef (95% lean)
- 1 slice low-fat cheese
- 2 slices whole-grain bread
- 1 piece fruit**
Meal Totals: 593 calories, 59 g protein, 57 g carbs, 13 g fa

Meal 6: 9 p.m.

- Whey protein shake (2 scoops)
Meal Totals: 170 calories, 40 g protein, 2 g carbs, 0 g fat
Daily Totals: 3,387 calories, 339 g protein, 424 g carbs, 29 g fat
* If you have a hard time staying lean, eat the smaller portion of carbs at this meal.
** Optional. If you start the plan and find you're adding bodyfat, drop this menu item.


The Build Muscle, Stay Lean Meal Plans
These are examples of the types of meal plans you should follow when you want to build muscle without gaining fat.
Non-Training Day Menu

Meal 1: 8 a.m.

- 10 egg whites
- 2 slices whole-grain toast w/ low-sugar jam
Meal Totals: 344 calories, 46 g protein, 35 g carbs, 2 g fat

Meal 2: 11 a.m.

- 8 oz. chicken breast
- 1 small to medium potato
Meal Totals: 409 calories, 56 g protein, 37 g carbs, 3 g fat

Meal 3: 1 p.m.

- Whey protein shake (2 scoops)
Meal Totals: 170 calories, 40 g protein, 2 g carbs, 0 g fat

Meal 4: 3 p.m.

- 8 oz. turkey breast
- 1 cup brown rice
- 2 cups mixed vegetables
Meal Totals: 734 calories, 75 g protein, 70 g carbs, 4 g fat

Meal 5: 6 p.m.

- 8 oz. ground beef (95% lean)
- 1 slice low-fat cheese
- 2 slices whole-grain bread
Meal Totals: 483 calories, 59 g protein, 27 g carbs, 13 g fat

Meal 6: 9 p.m.

- 8 oz. chicken breast
- Medium green salad w/ fat-free dressing
Meal Totals: 302 calories, 55 g protein, 10 g carbs, 3 g fat
Daily Totals: 2,442 calories, 331 g protein, 181 g carbs, 25 g fat

A Muscle Plan For Every Man
Lawyers have a word for accused criminals who represent themselves in court: convicts. Similarly, trainers like me have a word for guys who write their own workouts. Several words, actually: "weak," "injured," "skinny," "fat," and, worst of all, "skinny-fat."
Why? Because it's human nature for us to make it easy on ourselves. We pick exercises we like. We design workouts that play to our strengths and ignore our weaknesses.
And yet the most successful programs I've used are ones I created for myself. My secret? I follow the same process I use to write workouts for my clients, starting with the five considerations on the following pages. Guide yourself with them, and you'll create a custom routine that can have you looking stronger and more buff in no time. (You want to keep looking great, right? Then check out The Big Book of Exercises for hundreds of exercises and tips to stay buff.)

1. Which exercises should I include?
The best workouts are built on basic compound exercises: squats, deadlifts, bench and shoulder presses, chinups, rows. As your own trainer, your job is to fit these exercises into a balanced program. Below are the exercise categories I draw from to do just that, along with the number of times I use a category in a week. But to make it easy, my Ultimate Strength Workout shows you exactly how to put it all together. Add in a great warmup and some core work, and you'll have a template you can use to build the body you want.

SQUAT (1 or 2 times a week)
Includes barbell back and front squats and all the dumbbell variations.

DEADLIFT (1 or 2 times a week)
Includes traditional barbell deadlifts (arms outside legs), sumo-style (wide stance, arms inside legs) and straight-leg lifts, and more variations than most of us could do in a lifetime.

SINGLE LEG (2 or 3 times a week)
Includes lunges; stepups; single-leg squats; and deadlifts with body weight, a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.

HORIZONTAL PULL (2 or 3 times a week)
"Horizontal" refers to the direction of movement if you were standing up. So if you're doing a seated cable row or a bent-over dumbbell row, it's still considered a horizontal pull. This category also includes face pulls and inverted rows.

HORIZONTAL PUSH (2 times a week)
Examples of these exercises include the classic pushup; the bench press with barbell or dumbbells; dips; and all their variations.

VERTICAL PULL (1 or 2 times a week)
Includes chinups, pullups, and lat pulldowns.

VERTICAL PUSH (0 or 1 time a week)
Includes all the variations of the shoulder press.

2. What should I do first?
The first exercise in each workout should be the one that requires the most effort. If your goal is overall strength, begin one workout with a squat and another with a deadlift, and separate them as much as possible. So if you do squats on Monday, do deadlifts on Friday. On Wednesday, you could start with an upper-body exercise. If your main goal is upper-body size, do the reverse and start your Monday and Friday workouts with upper-body exercises. (And if your goal is to focus on your arms, you can't beat these 25 Ways to Build Your Biceps.)

3. How many sets/reps? Most of us do well with a mix of heavy (for strength), medium (for muscle size), and light (for muscular endurance) weights. This calls for a combination of low-rep (3 to 6), moderate-rep (7 to 10), and high-rep (11 to 15) sets.
Your set count should be inversely related to your number of reps per set. If you're doing high reps (15, say), 1 to 2 sets might be enough. For 10 to 12 reps, do 2 or 3 sets. For 8 reps, 3 or 4 sets would work well. And if you're doing 3 or 4 reps per set, you probably want to do 5 or 6 sets.
The key is to manage the total volume of each workout. On this month's workout poster, you'll see that each sample workout includes 14 total sets of strength exercises. Add in core training and perhaps another exercise to shore up a weakness, and you could end up with 20 total sets.
That's not a magic number; you may see better results with more or less volume. But it's a good benchmark for most men, most of the time. (Knock out belly fat with this intense Belly-Torching Blast Workout.)

4. How will I make progress?
This, of course, depends on your main goal.

Strength
You measure progress by the number of plates on the bar, so you want to increase the weight on your main exercises each week. Let's say you're doing 5 sets of 3 reps of the front squat. In the first week, you use 135 pounds for your fourth and fifth sets. The second week, you might go up to 155 pounds for the final sets.
You can continue like this for a few weeks, but eventually you'll hit a point when your strength gains are smaller than the weights you can add to the bar. To use heavier weights, you have to reduce your number of repetitions. So instead of 5 sets of 3, you might do 3 sets of 3 and 2 sets of 2. Or you could do 6 sets of 2, using progressively heavier weights in each set, with the goal of using the heaviest weight possible in your final set each week. You can apply this strategy to any exercise, with any configuration of sets and reps.

SIZE
Muscles grow bigger when you make them stronger, which is easy enough to understand even if it's sometimes hard to pull off. They grow because you make them do more work. You can accomplish that by adding a rep or two to each set or by adding a set to each exercise.
Let's say you're doing the barbell incline bench press. You start with 4 sets of 6. For the first few weeks, you should see steady increases in strength simply by adding more weight to the bar. When you feel your strength reaching a plateau, try to squeeze out an extra repetition or two—that is, do 7 or 8 reps—with the same weight on your final 2 sets. Or you could add a fifth set. That gives you more total work, which should lead to bigger muscles.

5. How can I keep my program fresh?
Your workouts will turn boring—maybe even counterproductive—if you don't revise them every 4 to 6 weeks. You have two ways to keep them challenging.
1. Change exercises within each category—switch from chinups to pullups, for example.
2. Change order. If you've been doing 3 sets of 10 reps of the final exercise in a workout, try doing it first, using heavier weights for 5 sets of 3 reps.
Whichever strategy you choose, I highly recommend that you give yourself a weeklong break between programs. You don't need to take the week off; just use that week to do less—fewer sets, lighter weights. You'll likely find that this "rest" helps boost future gains. And it's especially important if you're feeling beaten up and run-down.
Last point: The only way to figure out what works best for you is to haul your butt into the weight room, push yourself, and see what happens. Until then, the best-written plans are just pieces of paper in your gym bag. Anybody can slap together a bunch of exercises and call it a workout. Many people do, and they have the mediocore results to prove it. But we have a way to create the perfect workout for YOU.