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4 Worst Eating Mistakes When Your Goal Is To Build Muscle

These food errors can totally crush your gains.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Building muscle takes more than just hitting the gym and forgetting about fitness in between.
You probably know that achieving weight loss or muscle-building goals requires a proper approach to nutrition. However, I constantly see clients and others I speak with making the same detrimental errors that crush their gains. That's why I've rounded up the four worst eating mistakes for building muscle so you can avoid them at all costs.

Burning fat and building muscle are different. Optimizing for muscle growth requires a slightly different approach and mentality than trying to burn fat. In both cases, you want to focus on nutrient-dense foods low in saturated fat and added sugars. However, muscles require fuel, building blocks, and the right internal environment to maximize growth.

In this article, I'll walk you through the worst eating mistakes for building muscle and the best ways to avoid them. Keep reading to learn more, and next, don't miss The Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises for Seniors.

You're skipping carbohydrates.


"Cutting carbs" is a common refrain when it comes to diet lingo. While cutting carbs can be a component of some weight loss strategies, when it comes to building muscle, I don't recommend it.

Building muscle requires you to overload it with resistance, such as during weight training. The muscle contraction against heavy load results in damage which, when repaired, results in a bigger muscle. That being said, your muscles need fuel to produce the force required to move the weight.

Carbohydrates are hands-down the best fuel for this task. In fact, carbohydrates are more important for fueling heavy lifting than they are during cardio, because your body can more easily burn fat for fuel when operating at lower intensities.

With that in mind, it's tough to give a specific daily carbohydrate recommendation. However, somewhere between three to five grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight, per day, is a good ballpark number for typical individuals. Consult a registered dietitian for a personalized nutrition plan.

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You're dehydrated when working out.

fitness woman drinking water on a run, concept of everyday habits for a flatter stomach that are easy

Dehydration has a highly detrimental effect on performance and recovery. You might be surprised that the daily water recommendations are three liters per day for men and 2.2 liters per day for women, according to research. That being said, you probably want to go on the higher side if you are doing long or intense workouts with high volume. If you don't consciously drink water throughout the day, you probably aren't meeting this requirement.

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You're over-emphasizing protein.

man making protein shake, eating mistakes for building muscle concept

This might seem counterintuitive, but I often find my clients—especially male clients who have done their own research on bodybuilding—convinced they need to consume an astronomical amount of protein to gain muscle. While it's true that average individuals usually under-consume protein relative to fat and carbohydrates, your body still has a maximum amount of protein it can process into muscle tissue within a given day.

Recent protein recommendations are 1.6 g/kg/day and up to 2.2 g/kg/day to maximize muscle growth, or roughly 0.7-1.0 grams per pound of body weight per day. While you aren't necessarily hurting yourself by consuming more protein, it isn't required for muscle growth past that point. If your protein intake consistently puts you way above a surplus of 300 to 500 calories per day, you may begin gaining excess body fat.

You're not eating around training sessions.

fitness couple eating salads at the gym

With the rise of intermittent fasting, many people attempt to train in a fasted state and then continue to fast long after completing their training session. While it is okay to train fasted or to wait a while after training before you eat, I don't recommend doing both.

Your body needs fuel not only for your workout but for repair as well. You don't need to eat immediately before and after a workout, but you should eat a meal containing carbohydrates and protein within two hours before or after training. This ensures that nutrients will be available in your bloodstream when your body begins recovering.

Tyler Read
Tyler Read is a personal trainer and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 15 years. Read more about Tyler
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