When it comes to health, fitness, and getting in shape, things don’t always behave as you’d expect them to. One such classic example involves the person who has desperately been trying to cut body fat and improve their physique. They do all the workouts, eat healthy, but still, cannot lose the muffin top, soft thighs, or make any dramatic strength increases. More often than not, the reason they cannot lose that body fat is because they simply aren’t eating enough. Can’t burn body fat because you’re not eating enough? Yup, you read that correctly.
The greatest workouts in the world are no match for the person who simply isn’t giving their body the fuel it needs to grow. Whether you’re already in shape or you’re trying to burn off 20 pounds of body fat, one of your primary goals should be to accumulate lean muscle mass. This accumulation of lean muscle will do wonders for your metabolism, improve your aesthetic appeal, and help make you healthier. Unfortunately for all of your light eaters out there, your body doesn’t build new tissue (lean muscle mass) out of thin air. It needs fuel, which it derives from you making proper food choices. When people starve themselves, or simply take in fewer calories than they’re burning, they are said to be in a caloric deficiency.
Building muscle is not going to happen when you’re in a caloric deficiency. Period.
What you need is a proper diet that gives you the calories and protein (building blocks of muscle tissue) your body is craving. By making sure you’re well fed, you will continue to slowly and steadily replace pounds of body fat with pounds of muscle. And before you get worried about turning into an NFL offensive lineman, please refer back to this picture of Dave Thomas, owner of Performance 360 gym, and one of our fitness buddies here in San Diego.
So if you feel you’ve been working out hard for a while now, and still aren’t seeing the definition, tightness, or “lean-ness” that you’re expecting, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your diet. More often than not, you simply aren’t eating enough calories to build the muscle you crave, and jump-start your internal fat burning machine, i.e. your metabolism.
Whether it’s a fear of getting fat, turning into a female version of the Incredible Hulk, or simply a lack of knowledge, a LOT of people who should be making progress AREN’T because they simply don’t get enough daily calories.
I’m not going to lie, getting enough calories and/or protein every day isn’t easy. It’s currently my biggest struggle when it comes to fitness. I’ve always been something of a hard-gainer – that is, I maintain a very low body fat percentage due to my fast metabolism, but need to REALLY eat to pack on muscle. If I’m not making a conscious effort to get the calories needed, I can forget about doing much more than spinning my wheels.
For this reason, I’m putting together this little guide to help you add additional healthy (key word healthy) calories into your diet to help promote muscle gain, speed up metabolism, and ultimately help you burn body fat faster.
Five Easy Muscle Building Recipes
Three Bean Chili
Great to make ahead and have as an extra “meal” to make sure your feeding those hungry muscles.
- 2 cans black beans
- 2 cans pinto beans
- 2 cans kidney beans
- 1 can of corn
- 28 oz diced tomato
- 16 oz. stock of your choice
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 package soft tofu.
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1.5 tablespoons, ancho chile powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Saute celery, onion, and carrots in olive oil until softened and beginning to lightly brown. Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes. Stir in all seasonings and saute until fragrant. Add beans, corn, and tomato. Stir well. Add stock and simmer partially covered until chile has reduced and flavors have intensified. Add chopped soft tofu and stir until dissolved for an added caloric bonus and extra serving of protein. Salt and pepper to taste just before serving.
Stats: 400 calories per 1.5 cup serving, 30 grams of protein.
Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
A quick snack on the go that packs in a healthy dose of protein and much-needed, yet healthy, calories.
- Two slices of whole wheat bread
- 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 banana
Stats: 500 calories per sandwich, 15 grams of protein.
Chickpea Burger with Tahini
Healthy, tasty, and nutrient-dense burgers that taste just as good reheated as they do fresh.
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg
- Whole wheat pita
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/8 cup tahini
- Healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Roughly chopped parsley
In a food processor combine first 5 ingredients. Blend well and shape mixture into four patties. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a pan, sear burgers until nicely browned and crispy, about 5-6 minutes per side. Warm whole wheat pita in oven on 300 for 2 minutes. Wrap burgers in pita, perhaps with some sprouts or lettuce, add sauce, and serve.
Sauce: Mix Greek yogurt, tahini, chopped parsley, and lemon juice.
Stats: 400 calories per burger, 16 grams of protein.
Make a regular whey protein shake into something more substantial with this power shake.
- 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 scoop whey protein
- 12 ounces low-fat milk
- Unsweetened cocoa powder to taste
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- Half a banana
Finely blend oats until nearing a powder consistency. Add other ingredients, ice if desired, and blend until smooth.
Stats: 755 total calories per shake, 48 grams of protein
Tofu Stir Fry
- 1 pound firm tofu, cubed
- 2 cups of broccoli florets
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 onion
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 can water chestnuts
- 1/8 cup sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons Chinese 5 spice powder (optional, but tasty addition)
- 1/8 cup soy sauce, plus 3 tablespoons.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa, day old and slightly dried out works best.
Marinate cubed tofu in soy sauce/ginger marinade at least 20 minutes. Lightly steam broccoli, set aside. Saute carrot, garlic, onion in a little olive or coconut oil. Add broccoli and water chestnuts and continue to stir fry over medium-high heat, keeping the pan “moist” with a little sauce soy as needed. Meanwhile, broil tofu in oven for 5 minutes per side. Keep a close eye so it doesn’t burn. Add broiled tofu to pan or wok, and continue to stir fry. Add any remaining soy sauce and spices. Turn heat to high, and continuously stir and toss your ingredients for another 2 minutes. Serve and enjoy.
Stats: 390 calories per 1.5 cup serving, 29 grams of protein.
Other Tips to Easily Increase your Caloric/Protein Intake
- Switch to steel-cut oats; they’re higher in calories AND reheat well so making a lot ahead is no problem.
- Add ground flax-seed to things like oatmeal and yogurts for a dose of healthy fats and extra calories.
- Tofu assimilates with almost anything – stir it into sauces and soups to increase protein and calories in a snap.
- Avocado is another food high in healthy fats which instantly make a regular egg sandwich tastier AND more nutrient-dense.
- Carry a half a cup of walnuts in your bag each day. Pack in almost 400 calories and vital protein with this quick and easy boost.
- Choose quinoa over rice. Quinoa is much higher in complete proteins and will add over 200 calories per cup to any meal.
Please notice there are no recommendations here for stuffing yourself with unhealthy, fried, or overly fatty processed/fast foods. Of course, adding calories isn’t hard. A trip to Burger King could take care of an entire day’s worth of caloric requirements. But you want to get lean, ripped, and fit, right? Adding “healthy” calories is much more of a challenge, but with this guide, you should now know how to supply yourself with the extra calories needed to turn yourself into a lean, fat burning, machine.