How to Build Muscles With Sports Nutrition

A young ethnic woman drinking a sports drink outdoors

PeopleImages.com / DigitalVision / Getty Images

If you want to change your body composition and develop more lean muscle mass, take a close look at your diet. It's important that you're getting enough calories and adequate nutrients to both fuel and recover from your muscle strengthening workouts. Learn about the sports nutrition you need to encourage muscle gain and meet your goals.

Carbohydrate 

Carbohydrate is the predominant energy source used during a strength training workout. Stored as glycogen in the muscles, it is the fuel used to supply energy for short, intense bursts of power. The harder and longer you work out, the more glycogen your muscles require. Once these stores of glycogen are depleted, your energy level will drop and you will run out of fuel to power muscle contractions. For this reason, athletes who perform strength training exercises with the hopes of building lean muscle need to have adequate carbohydrate intake to power their workouts.

Carbohydrate needs vary depending upon the intensity and length of your training sessions. A common recommendation for daily carbohydrate intake is between 1.4 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound per day (or 3-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight per day).

Those doing long, intense training (greater than or equal to 70% of your VO2 max), for more than 12 hours per week require 3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound per day (8–10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight). This may seem like a lot but if you don't consume enough carbs, your body will not recover properly, leaving you weaker and more prone to early fatigue and decreasing your overall athletic performance.

Personal carbohydrate requirements vary based upon the intensity and length of workouts as well as your body size.

Protein 

All athletes need protein after vigorous exercise. Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during a hard workout. Because protein is the basic building material for muscle tissue, if you strength train, or want to increase muscle size, you need to consume more protein than sedentary individuals or non-athletes.

For the average person, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight per day. Sports nutritionists recommend that strength-training athletes consume about 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For an athlete weighing 90 kg (200 pounds), that is a total of 126–180 grams of protein a day.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your body can only absorb so much protein at one time—no more than 30 grams to be exact. So instead of trying to pound your daily protein intake into one meal, it is best to spread it out across five or six meals and snacks.

You can get adequate protein by eating a healthy diet that includes low-fat dairy, eggs, lean meats such as fish and chicken, and a variety of fruits, nuts, and legumes. Some athletes find that a protein drink or bar is another convenient way to increase daily protein intake.

Fat 

Fat is an essential nutrient and you require a certain amount of it to remain healthy. The 2020–2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 20%–35% of your total daily calories come from healthy fats, such as olive oil, lean meats and fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Water

In addition to the regular eight glasses of water every day, you need to drink to replace fluids you lose during exercise. To be confident that you are well-hydrated before workouts, drink fluids throughout the day and about 1.5–2.5 cups (or 400–600 ml) of water or sports drinks 20-30 minutes before exercise.

High-intensity exercise in hot conditions requires 1.5–2 cups (12–16 fluid ounces) of a 6–8% carbohydrate solution (6–8 grams of carbs for about every 4 fluid ounces of water) every 15-20 minutes. Activities greater than 70 minutes will require more carbohydrates. If carbohydrates are unable to maintain performance, protein may also be needed.

After exercise, replace any further fluid losses with 3 cups of water for every pound lost during exercise. During and after exercising, don't rely on your thirst signal to determine your fluid intake.

Eating After Exercise

To some extent, your post-exercise meal depends on your goals and the type of exercise you are doing. There is nothing in the scientific literature that says what your exact proportions and amounts should be. In other words, there is no magic formula. But with a little common sense, you can figure out the right amount for your body.

Think about it: By going long and hard on the treadmill, say for over an hour, recovery or post-exercise nutrition needs to prioritize replenishing the muscles’ energy reserves. In this case, your recovery nutrition would contain a large amount of carbohydrates, but you don’t want to ignore the protein. Chocolate milk has gained some popularity as a post-workout snack because it is a great mixture of carbohydrates and protein in one package.

On the other hand, going long and strong in the weight room is a recipe for a protein-rich post-exercise meal since those glycogen energy stores are not being taxed and the calorie burn is less. The goal is to eat for muscle repair.

Eating protein helps build and repair muscles. Carbohydrates stimulate an insulin response—and insulin is the hormone that prepares the muscle cells to absorb the protein.

A Word From Verywell

Combined with a consistent strength training program, getting the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in your diet can help you build muscle. Be sure to stay hydrated before and after your workouts to replenish fluids lost during exercise.

Remember, the exact amount of macronutrients within the recommended ranges can vary based on a number of factors. Consult a registered nutritionist, physician, or other health care provider for personalized nutrition advice to determine the right amounts of calories and nutrients you need to stay on track with your fitness goals.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The United States Anti-Doping Agency. Carbohydrates: The Master Fuel. 2021.

  2. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Nutrient timingJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 33 (2017). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4

  3. Pendick D. Harvard Health Publishing. How much protein do you need every day?. Updated June 25, 2019.

  4. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exerciseJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14(20). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  5. Lonnie M, Hooker E, Brunstrom JM, et al. Protein for life: Review of optimal protein intake, sustainable dietary sources and the effect on appetite in ageing adultsNutrients. 2018;10(3). doi:10.3390/nu10030360

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  7. Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Roberts MD, et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: Research & recommendationsJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15:38. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y

  8. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Nutrient timingJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4

  9. Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: A post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sportsMed Sport Sci. 2012;59:127-134. doi:10.1159/000341954

  10. Figueiredo VC, Cameron-Smith D. Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise?J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):42. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-42

Additional Reading