Let’s get straight to it.
Fact # 1: “you don’t need a ridiculous surplus of calories to gain muscle mass.”
“Bulking” has long been used as a justification for getting fat, but it doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be that way. Only a small calorie surplus is needed to really boost muscle growth. In fact (shock horror) muscle growth can actually still happen in a calorie deficit, it’s obviously just not as efficient.
Fact # 2: increasing your carbohydrate intake through the roof is a second-rate way of increasing overall calorie consumption.
Most high carbohydrate foods are not very nutrient dense, and nor do they provide long lasting fuel for both physical activity and muscle growth.
So how should your diet change coming into Winter if you’re looking to increase your rate of gainz?
This article assumes you have a basic idea of what macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) are.
Your protein intake should be fairly similar all year round, regardless of whether you’re trying to gain muscle fast, or lose fat. The biggest changes in your diet whilst “bulking” should come from an increase of fat and carbohydrate intake. For most average bodied, steroid free blokes, an even ratio of protein to carbohydrate intake is ample. So for a 90kg male consuming 200g of protein, that’s 200g of carbohydrate. Ectomorphs may need anywhere up to two times the amount of carbohydrate to protein, however that is a maximum. You do not need to be consuming bucket loads of basmati to grow muscle.
Now some of you will be thinking that’s nowhere near enough calories. A bit of year 7 maths and you’ll realise that 400g of carbohydrate plus 200g of protein is only 2400 calories; barely more than the government recommendation, and not near enough for a serious lifter like yourself. So where are the rest of your calories going to come from? Well fat of course.
There are several good reasons the rest of your calories should come from fat. Firstly, gram for gram, fat (9 kcal/g) provides far more calories than carbohydrates (4 kcal/g). If you’ve ever tried consuming a high calorie diet that’s predominately carbs, you’ll know full well that it’s a lot of food! Conversely, foods such as nuts, oils, meats and dairy are calorie dense. That means you can consume less food for more fat and thus calories.
Secondly, fat dense wholefoods also tend to be very nutrient dense. Nuts and seeds are packed full of essential fatty acids, along with fibre, minerals and vitamin E; deep sea fish such as salmon are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 alongside key fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D; egg yolks are packed full of highly bioavailable protein alongside B-complex vitamins; and the list goes on. All of these aforementioned nutrients are key to your overall wellbeing, as well as fighting off colds and maintaining your energy and growth during winter.
Thirdly, fatty acids deliver a slower release of energy to the body. This is key to maintaining anabolism whilst keeping blood sugar levels steady. If you’re a hard gainer whose body chews through food like a knife through butter, then this analogy should make some sense to you…
Your metabolism is like a fire that chews up food and turns it into energy. Carbohydrates are like leaves. You throw them in the fire and they burn rapidly providing a stack of instant energy, but soon enough, that energy source is gone (either used immediately, or stored as glycogen/body fat). Fat consumption is like throwing logs into the fire. It takes a long time for the body to start utilising the energy from it, but once it does, it lasts a very long time and it burns at a steady pace. Fat will provide your body with long lasting fuel and keep your body in the absorptive state, where consumed nutrients are utilised to fuel energy expenditure, growth and recovery.
The message to take home?
1. Protein intake should stay relatively similar all year round.
2. If you’re looking to increase your rate of muscle growth and recovery, increase carbohydrate intake as necessary but not beyond 4g/kg body weight; except in extreme cases where a hectic training schedule might require slightly more, e.g. during the football season (high level).
3. Incrementally increase fat intake to increase total calorie consumption. Obviously the addition of more calories will result in a faster increase in muscle growth and recovery; however it hits a certain threshold where further calories will barely effect muscle growth and just result in the gain of unwanted body fat.
4. The more fat you put on during winter will mean more to lose when those warmer months come calling.