How to Build Muscles With Sports Nutrition

A young ethnic woman drinking a sports drink outdoors

If you want to change your body composition so you have more lean muscle mass, look at your diet. To do so requires a combination of adequate calorie and nutrient intake with a solid muscle strengthening program. Here are the nutritional building blocks to encourage muscle gain


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 gone your energy level will drop and you will run out of fuel to power muscle contractions. For this reason, athletes doing strength training exercises in the hopes of building lean muscle need to have adequate carbohydrates intake to fuel the workout.

Carbohydrate needs vary depending upon the intensity and length of your training sessions. Common recommendations for carbohydrate intake per day is between 2.3 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound per day ( or 5-12 grams of carbohydrates per kg of weight per day). Those doing long, intense training (greater than or equal to 70% of your VO2 max), for more than12 hours per week require 3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound per day (8–10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of weight).  This may seem like a lot but if you don't consume enough carbs, your body will not recovery properly leaving you weaker and more prone to early fatigue, decreasing your overall athletic performance.

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


All athletes need protein after vigorous exercise. Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during hard exercise. 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.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), recommends that the average person requires about 0.4 grams per pound per day. Sports nutritionists recommend that strength athletes consume about 1.2 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 108 to 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 of protein 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 feedings.

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 is an essential nutrient and you require a certain amount of it to remain healthy. The 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.


In addition to the regular eight glasses of water every day, you need to drink to replace fluids that are lost during exercise. To be confident that you are well hydrated before workouts, drink fluids throughout the day and about 1.5 cups to 2.5 cups (or 400 to 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 proportions and amount should be. Sorry, there is no magical formula. This is where your common sense comes to play.

Think about it: by going long and hard on the treadmill, say for over an hour, recovery or post-exercise nutrition needs to concentrate on 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. But carbohydrates stimulate an insulin response. Insulin is the hormone that prepares the muscle cells to absorb the protein.

Consult a registered nutritionist, physician, or other health care provider for personal nutritional counseling. This information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.

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. Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J. 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

  2. Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exerciseJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  3. Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D. et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendationsJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 38 (2018). doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y

Additional Reading
  • Antonio J, Peacock CA, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014 11:19. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-19.
  • Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. Sports Med. 2004;34(5):317-27. Review.
  • Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, 2005, Jacqueline R. Berning, Suzanne Nelson Steen, ISBN 0763737755.
  • Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D.A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.06.369.
  • USDA, DRI Tables. Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Intakes for Individuals.