Flexible Meal Plans for Building Muscle Mass: Calorie-Specific Plans

Flexible Meal Plans for Muscle Gains and Mass
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What if I told you that you can eat your favorite foods and still gain muscle without getting fat? Well, that’s half-true with flexible eating.

Below I’m going to give you several calorie-specific flexible meal plans for building muscle.

The cool thing is each meal plan will have what many consider a ‘cheat meal.’ Here are the contents:

What Do You Mean By ‘Flexible Meal Plan?’

Flexible dieting is based on being consistent within a certain range of macros (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) as opposed to eating ‘clean’ or staying super strict all the time.

As you may know, the old school bodybuilding meals were extremely bland, consisting of meals like chicken and brown rice, or fish and broccoli. Let’s be honest, that gets old, fast.

Granted, flexible eating doesn’t give you a license to eat whatever you want all the time. You have to think in terms of what foods are going to fuel your workouts.

In other words, hitting your macros with junk food, which would actually be difficult to do anyway, is probably going to result in crappy workouts. And that will result in a crappy physique, not a muscular one.

That being said, there is a balance that needs to be understood. And in my flexible meal plans below, I show you exactly how to achieve that balance in your eating.

Flexible eating is also known as IFFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). This type of diet is based on getting the appropriate amount of macronutrients, which we’ll go over below.

You can learn more about this style of eating from Brierley Horton, MS, RD in her article ‘Flexible Dieting: Should You Try It?’ on NASM.org.

Macros for Building Muscle

Before we dive into your calorie-specific flexible muscle building meal plans we need to talk about macros.

If you look up the best ratio for macros to build muscle on the internet, you’ll get many different answers. A solid starting point is 40/40/20:

  • Protein: 40%
  • Carbohydrates: 40%
  • Fats: 20%

You can make adjustments from there based on where you are, and where you want to be with your physique goals.

Now the question is ‘How many calories do I need to build muscle?’

Shannon Clark suggests starting by multiplying your body weight times 15-17 in her article ‘Constructing a Smart Mass-Gaining Diet: Tips and Tricks’ on bodybuilding.com. This gives you a good range of calories per day to maintain.

So a bodybuilder weighing about 180 lbs will need between 2,700 – 3,060 calories per day. Knowing that you can gradually add more calories each day to gain size.

*You don’t have to be super anal and count every calorie but it is important to know the range of calories and macronutrients you should be consuming that cater to your goals.

Flexible Meal Plans for Building Muscle

Here are some important notes to consider about these meal plans:

  • These flexible meal plans are intended to be used as a guide to help you create your own
  • Each meal plan below will have what most consider to be a ‘cheat meal’ to show you how flexible eating works
  • Despite those ‘cheat meals’ you’ll see that the macros are fairly close to the 40/40/20 ratio.

Now let’s dig in…literally!

*The calories and macronutrient amounts listed below are approximates and come from WebMD.com Food Calculator except where noted.

3,000 Calorie Flexible Meal Plan with Pizza and Beer

About this meal: This is at our favorite pizza place in Tampa, Sally O’Neal’s!

  • Calories: 3074
  • Protein: 252
  • Carbs: 266
  • Fat: 87

What? A bodybuilding meal plan with beer and pizza? How is this possible?

This first flexible muscle building plan is based on a 3,000 calorie day of eating. And yes, it includes that long-awaiting evening of beer and pizza.

So how do we make this fit our macros? You’ll notice that the other meals you eat throughout the day are strategic in the fact that they contain fewer carbs (the pizza will make up for this).

So this makes it possible to fit beer and pizza into your meal plan while still hitting your macros.

Meal 1

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
3 whole eggs21618015
2 turkey sausages90824
Oatmeal1435321
Totals449313420

Meal 2

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 scoops whey protein2404664
1 tbsp of peanut buter94438
1/2 cup of frozen blueberries421110
8 oz almond milk40123
Totals416522215

Meal 3

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
8 oz chicken breast2845408
1 sweet potato902210
1 serving of broccoli15130
Totals38957248

Meal 4

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 servings of Greek yogurt (nonfat)20036140
1 serving of almonds1526614
Totals38957248

Meal 5

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
3 slices of cheese pizza10895113836
2 beers (ales)3424240
Totals14315516236

**If you’re looking for muscle building recipes, check out Anabolic Cooking.

The Muscle Chef provides you with over 200 recipes, including protein-packed desserts.

3,500 Calorie Flexible Meal Plan with Ice Cream

About this meal: Can’t go wrong with either of these!

  • Calories: 3536
  • Protein: 292
  • Carbs: 297
  • Fat: 157

You probably never expected to see ice cream as part of a bodybuilding meal plan, right?

Similar to the meal plan above, this is a 3500 calorie flexible meal plan that gives you the pleasure of having a midday bowl of ice cream.

To hit the 3,500 calories per day mark, you’ll be eating 6 meals. Even though you’re eating ice cream you’ll still need to bump the calories up in your other meals.

Meal 1

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
3 whole eggs21618015
3 oz of ham19623011
Banana1051270
Totals517422726

Meal 2

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
8 oz ground turkey2405604
1 serving quinoa1114202
1/2 cup chickpeas1005172
1 serving cauliflower13130
Totals46466408

Meal 3

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
8 oz sirloin steak45646046
1 serving of rice1734371
1 serving of lima beans15010280
2 servings of spinach14220
Totals793626747

Meal 4

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
3 servings of vanilla ice cream – soft serve573125733
1 serving of walnuts1938318
Totals766206051

Meal 5

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 scoops whey protein2404664
2 tbsp of peanut buter1888616
1/2 cup of frozen blueberries421110
8 oz almond milk40123
Totals510562523

Meal 6

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 servings of Greek yogurt – nonfat20036140
2 servings of oatmeal28610642
Totals48646782

4,000 Calorie Flexible Meal with Chinese Buffet

About this meal: This is actually Vietnamese food, not Chinese (I am just using this image as a reference). And it’s from our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Tampa, Pho Quyen.

  • Calories: 4160
  • Protein: 214
  • Carbs: 297
  • Fat: 190

At over 4,000 total calories for the day, this flexible meal plan includes one of the unhealthiest meals, ever! Chinese food

There’s one thing you’ll notice right away, and it’s that you’re not quite hitting the 40/40/20 macro rule here. You can, of course, adjust your other meals accordingly to come closer to that if you choose.

Another thing is the Chinese meal below is actually quite moderate. If you were to go to a Chinese buffet, you may easily eat double what is listed in Meal 5 below.

So just be aware of that. And if that is the case, you may want to only eat twice that day (moderate breakfast followed by the Chinese buffet for a late lunch or dinner).

Lastly, Chinese food (and we are talking about Americanized Chinese food) typically contains high amounts of sodium. So it’s recommended that you drink plenty of water throughout the day and after that meal.

Having a cup of hot tea after your Chinese meal may help with digestion as well.

Meal 1

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
4 whole eggs2161805
2 pieces of toast with butter28763014
oatmeal1435321
Totals646296220

Meal 2

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 scoops whey protein2404664
1 tbsp of peanut buter94438
1/2 cup of frozen blueberries421110
8 oz almond milk40123
Totals416522215

Meal 3

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
6 oz lean ground beef30034016
1 serving of quinoa1114202
2 servings of broccoli30260
Totals441402618

Meal 4

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
1 Greek yogurt30015723
1 apple950250
Totals395153223

Meal 5

*The calories and macronutrients listed below are approximated and come from the Nutritionix.com Food Database.

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
1 order General’s Tso Chicken15786912888
1 cup fried rice2385454
2 fried egg rolls446144822
Totals226278221114

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4,500 Calorie Flexible Meal with Pancakes (with Butter and Syrup)

About this meal: This was our first breakfast as a married couple in Las Vegas at Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant.

  • Calories: 4487
  • Protein: 259
  • Carbs: 387
  • Fat: 238

You’re starting out the day right with a massive breakfast that includes some buttermilk pancakes with syrup. And who can eat pancakes without eggs and sausage?

Close to 1,000 calories, this is a power breakfast and would actually work great for a post-workout meal on leg day.

This meal is heavy on the carbs and fats. So you’ll be making up for the protein and balancing out your carbs and fats with your remaining meals.

Of course, since this is a high-calorie flexible meal plan, your other meals will be hefty. And this plan caters to those looking to pack on muscle mass or training for strength gains.

Meal 1

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
4 pancakes36086012
2 tbsp butter2040024
4 tbsp syrup1880480
2 whole eggs14412010
2 sausage links100408
Totals9962410852

Meal 2

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 scoops of whey protein2404664
8 oz almond milk40123
1/2 cup blueberries421110
2 tbsp peanut butter1888616
1 banana1051270
Totals615575223

Meal 3

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
10 oz steak57057057
2 servings of rice3468743
1 serving red beans1006190
1 cup of cauliflower26260
Totals1042739960

Meal 4

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
8 oz ground turkey2405604
6 oz pasta2248422
1/2 cup pasta sauce1102183
garlic toast with cheese23851319
Totals812697328

Meal 5

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 cups of Greek yogurt600301446
1 avocado32241729
4 slices of mango1002240
Totals1022365575

5,000 Calorie Flexible Meal with Hot Dogs and Tator Tots (and Beer)

About this meal: This was just me grilling at home while enjoying some local craft beer!

  • Calories: 5023
  • Protein: 347
  • Carbs: 400
  • Fat: 258

With this flexible meal plan, think mass monster meets powerlifter.

This is going to be for those days when you’re at the game or grilling in your back yard and just want some good ole hot dogs to munch on. Oh, and we’re throwing in a couple of beers with this meal too!

You’ll notice that this meal plan actually has only 5 meals. When you’re eating this many calories you may actually find it easier to eat larger meals for every meal.

When you want one of these relaxed eating days and still want to maintain your macros, this is the meal plan for you. And 5,000 calories is indeed catered to mass and strength gains.

Meal 1

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
3 whole eggs21618015
8 oz sirloin45666066
2 servings of grits3126682
Shredded cheese111719
Totals1095976992

Meal 2

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2405604
2 servings Greek yogurt600301466
2 scoops of whey protein2404664
8 oz almond milk40123
Totals504674211

Meal 3

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
9 oz salmon46869018
2 servings of rice3468743
1 avocado32241729
2 servings of spinach14220
Totals1150839350

Meal 4

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
4 hot dogs11244411664
24 tater tots34044218
2 beers (ale)3424240
Totals18065218282

Meal 5

FoodCaloriesProteinCarbsFat
2 scoops of whey protein2404664
2 tbsp of peanut butter1888616
8 oz almond milk40123
Totals468531423

Risks of Flexible Dieting

It’s important that we talk about the drawbacks and risks of flexible eating. Sure, you may hit your macros. But it goes further than that when it comes to your health.

When you eat foods like pizza, greasy burgers, fried food, etc. you may indeed run the risk of having health issues.

Whereas fried foods are known to be linked to a greater risk in heart disease and other illnesses, cooking with healthier oils such as olive oil may reduce these risks, per Kathleen Doheny’s article ‘Fried Food and No Heart Disease?’ on WebMD.com.

How to Get Your Micronutrients and Reduce Inflammation

One of the challenges with flexible eating is making sure you getting adequate amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Foods like pizza and cheeseburgers aren’t exactly nutrient-dense.

Another issue is that many of these cheat meals can cause inflammation, especially the ones high in sugar. The article ‘How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body?’ on webmd.com goes more into depth on the relationship between sugar and inflammation.

The good news is that there are some feasible ways to attain your micronutrients and reduce inflammation.

Here are some resources to ensure you get your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and reduce inflammation:

Anabolic Cooking: Over 200 muscle-building recipes with macro-friendly meals

Unlock Your Hip Flexors: Exercises and stretches that will help reduce inflammation and promote healthy joints

Animal Pak: Potent old school bodybuilding vitamin and performance formula

TestoFuel: The best way to maximize your muscle gains when eating big is to make sure your testosterone levels are optimized. TestoFuel helps you do that.

Make Your Diet Work for You

Now you have several flexible bodybuilding meal plans that you can try! I suggest starting out by calculating how many calories you need per day to maintain muscle (your bodyweight x 15-17).

If your goal is to gain muscle, choose the calorie-specific meal plan above that is the closest to your needs. From there you can add (or reduce) calories to that plan to cater to your goals.

Example: if your maintenance intake is 3200 calories, choose the 3000 calorie plan and add those extra calories to one or more of your meals.

Remember, don’t go crazy with your cheat meals, meaning don’t eat pizza or ice cream 3x a day! These flexible muscle-building meal plans work best with the mindset of moderation.

On that same note, these meals aren’t intended to be eaten every day. If you have these ‘not-so-healthy’ foods every day, you may not have the energy and strength you need in the gym. And there can also be potential health risks to eating certain types of foods.

Again, the key here is balance.

If this post helps you, please feel free to share it!

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,

Jason

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