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How to Bulk Up With Clean Foods

By August McLaughlin

There's no specific formula for clean eating, but "clean" generally refers to whole, natural foods, such as vegetables, fish and whole grains. If you hope to bulk up by adding lean tissue to your body, clean foods provide a nutritious means of doing so. Because healthfully gaining bulk can be challenging and doesn't necessarily improve athletic performance, Nancy Clark, a registered sports dietitian, recommends setting reasonable goals and seeking professional support when necessary.

Macronutrient Needs

Muscle tissue consists of amino acids, which derive from protein sources -- but that doesn't mean you should load your plates with meat and cheese. When building muscle mass, your protein needs increase to about 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, says Clark, or roughly 100 to 115 grams of protein if you weigh 150 pounds. Contrary to popular belief, low-carb diets do not facilitate muscle building, says Clark, and bulking up requires an increase in carbohydrates -- the main fuel for your muscles and body. Aim for 2.3 to 3.6 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Your diet should also consist of about 20 to 35 percent fat, or up to 93 grams within a 2,800-calorie diet; fat helps fuel low- to moderate intensity training.

A Word About Calories

Calories fuel your muscles, and the more you exercise and bulk up, the more calories your body needs. While Clark and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend aiming for balanced meals and snacks based on nutritious foods as your best strategy, having a basic understanding of your caloric needs may help. Smaller athletes training lightly may need fewer than 1,600 daily calories to maintain their weight, while larger and heavily training endurance athletes may need more than 5,000. Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician and nutrition specialist, recommends adding 250 to 500 calories to your diet daily as a useful strategy for increasing mass. Two slices of whole-grain toast topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter served with one large scrambled egg provides about 325 calories. One ounce of almonds -- about 24 nuts -- served with a banana provides about 275 calories.

Smart Shopping

Many clean foods can be found by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, where refrigeration is needed for freshness. For protein, hit the dairy and meat sections, choosing sources low in inflammatory saturated fats, such as white-meat chicken, fish and yogurt. In the produce section, fill your cart with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. For fat, choose nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish, such as salmon. In the pantry or bulk-bin section, purchase legumes, such as beans and lentils. As rich sources of protein and complex carbohydrates, they promote positive blood sugar and energy control between meals and workouts. In the bakery or cereal section, select whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and popcorn. Avoid the salty snack, soft drink and sweets aisles, as these foods are full of calories, but low in nutrients.

Additional Tips

If you find it difficult to eat enough, incorporate nutritious, calorie-dense clean foods, such as nuts, seeds and avocados, into your meals and snacks. Sip smoothies or protein shakes made with natural ingredients, such as milk, yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit, between meals, and avoid water during meals to keep from filling up on the zero-calorie drink. When you indulge in dessert, consider using whole-food ingredients. Make a fruit pie on a whole-grain crust, for example, or top frozen Greek yogurt with fresh berries and nuts.

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