I’ve been there…

 

Not big enough to hang with more muscular athletes…

 

Not strong enough to confidently hold my own on defense or drive to the basket without getting bullied (I play basketball, if you couldn’t tell)…

 

Not physically built enough to feel confident in the way I looked. Sure athletic performance was priority number one, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to put on some muscle just for the sake of putting on muscle…

 

I didn’t know what to do…

 

How much food to eat, what foods to eat, how to recover properly…

 

And it showed, since I stood 6’ 5’’ tall but only weighed 179lbs…

 

Me during my freshman year of college, after losing 21.5lbs in a month…

 

After a while, I had enough of the frustration and constant inability to play to the best of my ability due to the lack of strength on the court. So, I did some research for myself…

 

Slowly but surely, I began to put the pieces together and figure out how to build the muscle and strength that I sought after…

 

So, over the course of the next several months I put on quite a bit of quality mass (we also want to make sure you’re putting on lean muscle, not fat mass)…

 

My performance on the court improved drastically…

 

My strength, speed, endurance, etc. saw considerable improvement…

 

My confidence skyrocketed on and off the court…

 

And I want YOU to experience that same physical and mental transformation…

 

That’s why I began to coach athletes, run the Next Level Nutrition for Athletes program, and also put together this free guide for you…

 

So, without any further adieu, let’s get into the fun stuff…

 

My transformation over the course of an offseason, after learning how to use nutrition properly.

 

GAINING MUSCLE AS A TEAM SPORT ATHLETE

 

As much as you may want to put on mass quickly and get “jacked,” you must understand that your primary goal as an athlete is performance on the field or on the court. It is not to step on stage at a bodybuilding show (if it is, this is the wrong book). Your approach must reflect that.

 

A very common mistake I see among athletes that finally figure out the principles of muscle gain (more on this in just a second), they go wild and start gaining crazy amounts of weight. Even if this weight is primarily lean mass, it’s still weight. This extra load that you are now carrying around will undoubtedly impact how you move around on the court/field.

 

For that reason, I typically recommend that you gain weight at a slow and steady pace to:

 

  1. Avoid unwanted fat gain and maximize the ratio of muscle:fat gained during a gaining phase.
  2. Avoid any negative impacts on your performance as an athlete.

 

As I just mentioned, you can accomplish this by going slow and steady…

 

The rate of weight gain is largely dependent on your individual situation and context; however, I can provide you with general guidelines that I’ve found to work well with the athlete’s I’ve coached.

 

Typically, a rate of weight gain of 0.25-0.5lbs per week seems to work very well. Where you fall in this range will be dependent on a couple of things, like:

 

  1. What sport you play…
  2. What position you play…
  3. What part of the year you are in relative to your competitive season…
  4. Your training age… 
  5. Your personal preferences…

 

For example, an offensive lineman in football will likely be able to get away with putting on weight at a quicker rate than a point guard in basketball. For the point guard, significant weight gain too quickly will likely result in feeling sluggish on the court and lacking the ability to accelerate and/or change direction appropriately.

 

In regards to the time of the year, typically the offseason phase of the periodization cycle (more on this in the Athlete’s Guide to Nutritional Periodization, one of my free ebooks) is when you will want to focus on any body composition changes like muscle gain or fat loss…

 

When looking at training age, newer athletes will likely be able to put on muscle mass at a faster rate. More advanced athletes that have been weight training for some time now will likely need to be on the lower end of that spectrum in order to maximize the muscle:fat ratio…

 

And as for preferences, it’s pretty self-explanatory. If you’d rather remain a bit leaner and are okay with gaining more slowly, then do that. If you’d rather gain a bit more quickly at the expense of some leanness, then that’s cool too.

 

The biggest thing for you to remember is to appropriately examine each of the 4 criteria so you can ensure that this muscle growth endeavor will help your performance, not hurt it…

 

[If you want me to teach you exactly how to navigate these nuances in your own plan, click HERE]

 

One last thing on the topic of rate of weight gain:

 

WEIGH YOURSELF DAILY, NOT WEEKLY.

 

Weighing in daily allows you to take weekly averages. Comparing these weekly averages allows us to account for fluctuations throughout the week and get the most accurate picture possible of how you are progressing…

 

For example, if you weigh in every Monday, you could run into this issue:

 

One Monday, you have an upward fluctuation (2lbs) in weight…

 

The next Monday, you have a downward fluctuation (-2lbs) in weight…

 

If you’re only looking at those to snapshots in time, you would assume that you lost 4lbs over the course of the week (not good!)…

 

In response to this catastrophe, you’ll likely overcompensate by increasing calories drastically…

 

But, what if I told you that you actually gaining 0.35lbs that week??

 

If you would have weighed in daily and took the averages, you would have seen that and know to simply stick with the plan…

 

Got it?

 

Good.

 

Now, let’s get into setting up your initial prescription!

CALORIE/MACRO PRESCRIPTION

 

When it comes to calories, the focus in this phase is making sure you are in a moderate

calorie surplus . When you are in a calorie surplus, you are eating more calories than

you are burning on a daily basis. In the vast majority of cases, this is a requirement for

muscle growth to occur. The surplus in calories is going to fuel optimal performance in

the gym and provide your body with the raw materials necessary for growth. The

exception to the rule would be if you are a complete beginner to training (as an athlete,

it is very unlikely that is the case).

 

So, how much of a calorie surplus should you be in?

 

It really depends on the individual and how quickly you wish to put on weight. Like we

discussed, as an athlete you don’t want to put on weight too quickly.

 

The first step to determining what this amount is for you†is determining what your

maintenance calories are. It is a very similar process to what we used during the

in-season phase. Simply take your bodyweight and multiply it by 16 .

 

This estimate, while a good starting point, in real life application it will likely be a bit too

low due to the amount of training and activity that occurs for most athletes in the offseason. However, I’d prefer you start low and work your way up in a systematic

fashion rather than launch yourself sky high into an aggressive surplus.

 

How you’ll accomplish this is through keeping track of your weight over the course of

this process of ramping up calories. Keep increasing calories by 100-200 calories

each week until you hit that tipping point where your weight begins to increase.

 

Ideally, I would like to see the rate of increase at 1% of your body weight pounds per month, or 0.25% of your bodyweight per week. Like we just covered, that is aggressive enough to see noticeable changes, but slow enough to not see any of the negative consequences of putting weight on too quickly. Once you hit that tipping point, you will likely be set at that calorie amount for several weeks unless your level of activity and calorie expenditure drastically changes.

 

Here is an example of how that process would look in application:

 

PROTEIN: During a muscle building phase, I recommend that you

keep protein at 1g per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 200lb individual would

eat 200g of protein.

 

This amount of protein is enough to support optimal rates of muscle protein synthesis,

while also leaving more than enough room for adequate carbohydrate intake to fuel

performance.

 

Technically, the optimal range is 0.8-1.2g per pound of BW, so you could go down as

low as 0.8g/lb if you want to leave room for even more carbohydrates in your daily

calorie allowance.

 

However, I would encourage you to stay at the 1g/lb mark. The reasoning behind this is twofold. 

 

First of all, during a strength-focused phase, you’ll be consuming plenty of carbs. Most of the time, these carb sources will have a residual amount of protein in them (4g here, 5g there…) that will inflate your daily protein total. Yes, the protein from carbohydrate sources still counts towards your daily protein goal; however, residual protein from carb sources are typically not the highest quality proteins. This means that they do not have a complete amino acid profile like meat and other animal products do.

 

By keeping the goal at 1g/lb, you give yourself enough room to get include

more animal products like meat and dairy (if tolerated) which have a more complete

amino acid profile and are more effective in promoting muscle protein synthesis.

 

The second reason behind keeping protein at 1g/lb is that in most cases, as an athlete

you will still be performing skill workouts while in a muscle building phase. Depending

on the sport, these skill-work sessions will be largely cardio-base. This is not necessarily

advantageous for maximum muscle growth. By keep protein a bit higher, we can

attempt to offset this situation and optimize muscle growth even with cardio-based

skill-work sessions present in your training schedule.

 

FAT: When it comes to muscle growth, fat is often overshadowed by both protein and carbs (more on these in a second). However, fat is also very crucial when it comes to maximizing your gains! One of the main ways that it does this is by helping to maintain proper hormonal health. Some of the fat that we eat (specifically cholesterol) is one of the main building blocks for our steroid hormones. The most notable of these when considering muscle gain is testosterone!

 

If you’re not getting enough fat into your diet, you won’t be maximizing hormonal health and your muscle growth will likely suffer. Fat is also very important for managing inflammation and supporting optimal nervous system health.

 

With all that being said, as an athlete trying to build muscle you don’t want to go crazy with the fat. This is because it’s not as optimal of a fuel source for your muscles when comparing it to carbs. Fat takes more time to break down and utilize, and during high intensity activity you do not have that luxury!

 

To balance the benefits and the drawbacks, I recommend that you have your fat intake set at 25-30% of your daily calorie intake. This will be plenty to support overall health, while leaving more than enough room for adequate protein and carbohydrates in your diet.

 

You can go below 25%, but I would not recommend going below 20% since it seems that going lower than that will negatively impact testosterone levels.

 

CARBOHYDRATES: Much like in-season, during a strength-focused phase in your

offseason carbs are your best friend. Carbs are your body’s primary fuel for performance.

 

In a muscle building phase, fueling performance is paramount because it allows you to

perform more reps at heavier weights during your training sessions. This means more

volume, and more volume typically means more muscle growth (within reason, of

course).

 

Also, taking in adequate carbohydrates allows you to recover and bounce back more

effectively from one training session to another by blunting the cortisol response to

training.

 

To determine the amount in your daily intake, simply take the calories you get from both

protein and fat and subtract it from your total daily calorie goal. Then divide that number

by 4, since carbs have four calories per gram.

 

For example, if your calorie goal is 4000cals per day, your protein goal is 200g, and your fat goal is 110g, the calculation would look like this:

 

200g P x 4 = 800 calories from protein

 

110g F x 9 = 990 calories from fat

 

4000 – (800+990) = 2210 calories leftover for carbs

 

2210 / 4 = 552.5g of carbs per day

 

Round this to 555g of carbs per day

 

Feel free to direct message me if you have any questions about the specific calculations, or click HERE to have me build your plan for you!

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS

 

Your body is an adaptation machine…

 

Whatever you throw at it, it will adapt accordingly. This is how our species has managed to survive for so long…

 

So, how does your body adapt to being in a calorie surplus?

 

Well, a couple of things happen…

 

One of these adaptations that occurs is muscle gain. This is the desired adaptation that we are trying to achieve through the stimulus of the calorie surplus…

 

Your body is smart though…

 

When it comes to muscle gain, your body doesn’t really want to go crazy with it. That’s because muscle is an “expensive” tissue. It costs a lot of calories to maintain…

 

Back in the good old caveman days, this is not necessarily advantageous and can actually be dangerous. In a situation where food is scarce, the last thing your body wants to do is burn crazy amounts of calories on the daily. It would much rather be stingy with calories and save as much energy as possible…

 

Unfortunately, your body doesn’t quite understand that there’s a market around the corner and that there is actually no imminent danger of starvation…

 

What does this have to do with your muscle gain?

 

Well, as you increase amounts of lean tissue (muscle), your metabolism actually increases and your burn more total calories on a daily basis.

 

So, what was once a surplus for you may now be your maintenance calories or even a deficit…

 

This is one of the reasons why we see plateaus in muscle gain…

 

So, what do you do?

 

If you’ve been stuck and the same weight for more than 2 weeks and your appearance in the mirror has not changed either, then increase calories by 5%…

 

This increase will likely come through carbs, fats, or both (for team sport athletes, carbs are typically most optimal but this is largely up to personal preference).

 

Then, continue to monitor your progress over the next 2 weeks and see if anything changes. If you see the needle move again, then stick with that new prescription…

 

If you are still stuck, then increase by another 5% of total calories…

 

Wash, rinse, and repeat until you begin to see progress again…

 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS TO MAKE BEFORE ADJUSTING

 

Have you been hitting your macros?

 

If you haven’t been hitting your number within 5g on a daily basis, then do not adjust. Before adjusting, focus on hitting your current numbers.

 

Think of this like a GPS. If you try to get directions to a destination without a set starting point, the GPS won’t work. If you try to make an adjustment to your plan without having a consistent baseline to start from, it won’t work!

 

Trust me on this, I’ve seen it time and time again in my experience as a coach. You can try adjusting, but unless you have that consistency first, it ain’t going to work…

 

Have you been seeing strength gains in your training?

 

Remember, your number one goal is improving athletic performance. If you’ve been seeing those improvements, then the plan is working regardless of whether or not you’ve seen an increase in scale weight!

 

While increasing calories likely wouldn’t hurt, I’d advise patience here especially if you’re not working with a coach.

 

Have you been sleeping/recovering optimally?

 

I don’t care what your macro prescription is; if you’re not sleeping and recovering enough, then you are NOT maximizing your results.

 

Lack of recovery encompasses over training, not getting enough sleep, under eating, too much lifestyle/emotional stress, etc.

 

Often times, simply shifting your focus to sleep and recovery rather than the “go hard or go home” mentality that so many athletes have will serve you much better when it comes to building muscle.

 

When it comes to sleep, I recommend a minimum of 7 hours per night, but honestly it should be closer to 8-9 hours per night if you’re really serious about maximizing lean muscle gain…

 

I’ll likely put together another guide entirely on sleep since it is such an extensive topic, but feel free to reach out personally if there’s any way that I can help you out!

 

FOOD QUALITY

 

This is a severely overlooked topic when it comes to nutrition for muscle growth…

 

People love to focus only on calories in vs calories out, and by down so they are missing a great opportunity for advancement. Let’s see why…

 

Well, a major component of being able to build maximum muscle is the ability to accumulate volume (lifting heavier weights, doing more reps, etc)…

 

In order to do this, you need to be consistent in the gym for a considerable amount of time…

 

If you’re constantly dealing with nagging injuries and illnesses, it becomes difficult to create that consistency and as a result, your progress comes to a screeching halt and you might even regress

 

What does food quality have to do with this?

 

Well, if you’re constantly stuffing yourself with s****y foods in order to hit your calories, you’re going to be allowing inflammation to run rampant. This is a big no-no when it comes to recovery….

 

Also, these types of foods tend to lack micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which your body needs to recover to the best of its ability and to support basic metabolic processes. If you’re getting most of your calories from low quality sources, you’re missing out on these vital nutrients…

 

Instead, focus on getting 80-90% of your foods from whole, unprocessed sources. Sure, there’s room for flexibility and it’s important that you include your favorite treats as well. It just needs to be in moderation (moderation is HUGE). There’s nothing wrong with having a piece of cake, but if you’re downing half a cake each day because “it fits,” it’s no wonder your feel like crap all the time (and it shows in your lack of results).

 

A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to getting in plenty of vitamins and minerals throughout the day is to aim to have 1-2 “fist sized” servings of veggies/fruit with each meal. This is a great and easy way to cover your bases with your needed micronutrients.

 

One exception to this rule would be your pre and post workout/game meals. During these meals, you’ll want to minimize fiber intake so your body is able to utilize those nutrients very quickly.

 

When choosing your fruits and veggies, try to get a wide variety of different colors. This is because specific colors tend to signal the presents of specific micronutrients. For example, if spinach is the only veggie you ever eat, you’re likely missing out on nutrients from produce of other colors!

 

PERIODIZING YOUR APPROACH

 

As this guide comes to a close, we must discuss this topic. If you’ve read The Athlete’s Guide to Nutritional Periodization, you’re already familiar with this concept (if you haven’t read it yet, get on that!!!).

 

The concept is nutritional periodization…

 

As much as I would love for the gainz to be eternal, that just can’t be the case…

 

Eventually, your body will adapt so much that we simply cannot continue to compensate by ramping up calories. Insulin sensitivity will be impaired and your body will not even be able to properly utilize the additional carbs that you are pumping in…

 

So, what’s the solution?

 

Simply move to a different phase!

 

Typically, after a muscle building phase, we want to move into a brief maintenance phase. This way we allow your body to get used to this new state as its “new normal.”

 

This maintenance phase typically lasts for 3-4 weeks. To determine your new maintenance, I would recommend using a formula like the Harris-Benedict equation. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll be able to find a calculator to use for this.

 

After this phase, the next phase really depends on where you are in your year…

 

As a team sport athlete, you’re likely running this gaining phase during your offseason. Because of this, you likely won’t have time for a full-blown fat loss phase, nor is it necessary…

 

If you feel good and your biofeedback is on point, then I would be good with you sitting at maintenance or in a slight surplus going back into your preseason and then in-season phase. Then just focus on insulin sensitivity and recovery in the postseason phase…

 

If you feel sluggish, a little too heavy, and/or you have hard numbers from a blood glucose monitor that shows insulin resistance then I would recommend going into a quick “mini cut” for 3-6 weeks (dependent on your timeline). This brief, aggressive decrease in calories will help to restore insulin sensitivity and improve biofeedback. If you need help with this, just click here to get on a call with me so I can personally help you!

 

The biggest thing for you to remember is to take a bird’s eye view of your progress and your game plan going forward. It’s easy to get caught up in what the next week will look like, when you should be looking at the next year. As a coach, I take this responsibility off of my athlete’s shoulders and do the planning for them. If you’re doing this on your own, you simply need to be that much more diligent…

 

I really hope this guide was helpful for you and you now have a solid understanding of how to go about building muscle as a team sport athlete!

 

Be sure to stay on the lookout for other free guides that I’ll be putting out in the future, and if you know another athlete who would benefit from this, it would mean the world to me if you shared it with them!

 

Lastly, be sure to reach out on Instagram (@tclarknutrition), Facebook, or via email (tclarknutrition@gmail.com) if you have any questions or would like to learn more about the coaching program!

 

Good luck on your muscle building journey, and keep me updated on your awesome progress!

 

BULLETPROOF YOUR RESULTS

 

To learn more about the Elite Nutrition Coaching program where I build your Individualized Nutrition Prescription for you and guide you through the process of creating phenomenal results, click HERE.

 

If you’re reading this article, you are hungry to improve….

 

You also might be somewhat stuck and confused about what to do…

 

By far, this is the best way to bulletproof your progress, and I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to join.  Click HERE to apply for a free call!

 

Talk to you soon :)

 

Your coach,

 

Tommy Clark

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