Written by: Nikolaj Bach, BCs. Scient. Med.

This guide is a "how to" for you who want to start being more serious and structured around your diet and training, and become bigger and stronger.

However, you may not feel that you have the necessary knowledge to put together an effective exercise program or structure your diet, and can not afford personal training or dietary guidance.

That is why I have made this guide, based on the basic principles of how to exercise and eat to optimize muscle building. The training program in this is admittedly not individualized, but I would venture to say that it is far better than what 95% of trainers in the Danish centers do when they themselves try to plan their training and nutrition.

Fortunately, it is all the basic principles of diet and exercise that are by far the most important, and which are more or less universal. Paradoxically, most people's focus is just a whole different place.

Many exercisers are more concerned with whether they use one or another kind of colorful pre-workout, than having a good basic diet with an optimized protein and calorie intake. Or is more preoccupied with training like Instagram’s fitness models who are on more juice than the Caprisonne factory, rather than focusing on getting strong in multi-joint exercises.

And in doing so, they stretch legs for their own progress.

What is important for muscle building?

I do not blame them. After all, undocumented broscience and misinformation are constantly being pumped into the gym, so how do you distinguish right from wrong?

And that, as I said, is where this evidence-based guide comes into the picture. Since it is written with a practically oriented angle, I will try to avoid overly technical reviews of scientific studies, but I have made sure to link to my previous articles under the individual points if you are interested in reading the training background for the recommendations.

Later in the article, we will look at what a training program for muscle building could look like, but first it will be about what criteria a training diet must meet to support maximum muscle building - after which I give an example of a diet plan that meets these principles.

Quote elementMany exercisers are more concerned with whether they use one or another kind of colorful pre-workout, than having a good basic diet

Diet plan and exercise program for muscle building

5 principles of nutrition for muscle building


Eat enough protein - up to 2.2 g per. kg.

When we do strength training, microscopic tears occur in our muscle fibers. Muscle tissue consists of protein, and therefore we must have added protein from the diet to recover optimally - partly to rebuild damaged muscle proteins, but also to build new muscle mass, so our muscles grow bigger and stronger, in response to exercise.

Therefore, strength training leads to an increased protein requirement. But how much protein should you consume exactly?

If we look at the probably best evidence in the field - a meta-analysis of 49 studies - then most will be well covered by a daily intake of 1.6 g of protein per. kg body weight. For some people, it may be beneficial to consume up to 2.2 g per day. kg, but after this it is unlikely that you build more muscle mass by eating more protein (1).

So if you want to be on the completely safe side, then you can consume about 2.2 g of protein per day. kg - especially if you have some training experience, or a relatively low body weight (especially women). Not that it has a negative effect on muscle building if one ingests more, it just is not necessary.

For a man of 80 kg, this will correspond to a daily protein requirement of approximately 176 g (80 kg * 2.2 g / kg).

Eat quality protein from meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products

It also does not matter what proteins we eat. Some protein sources are of a higher nutritional quality than others.

When we need to build muscle mass, it is important that dietary proteins provide enough building blocks in the form of the essential amino acids - the body can not form them itself. Therefore, protein quality is judged on the basis of how high and complete the content of essential amino acids found in the food is, and how well these are digested and absorbed.

Here, the animal protein sources are distinguished by generally being of a higher protein quality than the vegetable protein sources. Therefore, it is a good idea to let the majority of your protein intake come from meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy products if you want to optimize muscle building in connection with exercise (2).

If you choose to use protein powder - which you do not necessarily have to, but it can be a convenient solution to consume enough protein - then it makes the best sense to use whey protein, which has the highest protein quality in relation to muscle building and at the same time it is cheapest protein powder (3). In addition, whey protein is produced from a residual product, and is thus a far more environmentally friendly source of protein than meat, if one goes for sustainability (4).

3. Distribute the protein intake optimally - consume 20-40 g of protein in your main meals and after exercise, and a minimum of 40 g before bedtime

If you already eat enough protein of a good quality, then you are already on target along the way, cf. point 1.

But if you want to optimize your muscle building, then it is probably a good idea to distribute the protein intake fairly evenly over your main meals. . Thus, a somewhat near maximum increase in muscle protein synthesis is seen at about 20 g of quality protein, where 40 g results in a further 10-20% increase (5,6,7).

Therefore, it makes good sense to dose your protein intake, such as eating between 20-40 g of protein in your main meals.

After training, muscle protein synthesis is particularly sensitive to protein, so for maximum muscle growth it is probably a good idea to consume protein in the period after training (7,8,9) - but the most important thing is that you consume enough protein (10, 11).

Good sleep is essential to get good exercise results. And to optimize your recovery during sleep, you should consume a larger dose of protein before bedtime to compensate for the long period of sleep without nutrition. Therefore, one probably needs a minimum of 40 g of quality protein before bedtime, to ensure a low muscle protein breakdown, and high muscle building through the night hours (12).

4. Eat enough calories to increase body weight by ½-1 kg per. month.

If you want to optimize your conditions to gain bigger muscle, then it is necessary to be in a calorie surplus. You only increase your body weight if you consume more calories than you burn, and of course you can not gain a large amount of muscle weight without increasing your weight.

But becoming muscular requires patience and hard work, and one cannot force-feed the muscles to grow faster. Many people think that you have to gain ½ kg a week when you "bulge", but then you just end up gaining a lot of unnecessary fat mass, which must be peeled off later.

A more long-term solution is to increase body weight by about 1 kg per month for beginners, and about ½ kg for trained. Then you better make sure that not too much pork is smoked in the process.

But how many calories do you have to eat to achieve a weight gain of this magnitude? According to this calorie calculator, a man of 80 kg and 180 cm should consume approximately 3100 kcal to increase his body weight controlled, with 4 days of training per. week. However, one should be aware that calorie calculators only provide an estimate that can be quite inaccurate (13).

Therefore, I recommend that in practice you eat structured, and with a good idea of ​​the amounts - and if you do not increase the weight, you can gradually eat more until the body weight moves at a desired pace. For some, it may actually require quite a bit of extra food, as many tend to simultaneously train harder and increase energy expenditure when they start eating more (14).

So where do the extra calories come from? As long as the protein intake, as previously mentioned, is sufficient, the ratio between fat and carbohydrate does not actually have a significant effect on your training results - as long as you do not have a very low carbohydrate intake, where performance can be compromised (15).

Eat fruits and / or vegetables for your main meals

Eating fruits and vegetables may not have a direct effect on your muscle growth. But fewer sick days and a well-functioning body means more and better training, and it does not hurt to prioritize your health, even though the primary goal is to become beautiful and muscular.

Therefore, I recommend that you make it a habit to eat fruits and vegetables in your main meals - and preferably 600 g or more a day.

In addition, if you are not the big fan of vegetables, then it is far better to compensate by eating more fruit than not to at all. The health value of fruit and vegetables is very similar, at least measured by mortality (16).

Quote elementBut becoming muscular requires patience and hard work, and you can not force-feed the muscles to grow faster.

Diet plan and exercise program for muscle building

Diet plan for muscle building

So let's get to the point and see what a daily diet for muscle building can look like in practice. The diet plan is based on a man of 75-80 kg, who follows the training program later in the article.


Food Quantity Protein [g] Carbohydrate [g] Fat [g] Energy [kcal]
Meal (8:00 - 9:59)
Tomato, cherry 250 g 1.75 14.25 0.75 70.75
Baked Beans In Tomato 150 g 7.65 31.2 0.75 162.15
Whole egg 1 pc, 3 pieces. 19.8 1.8 18.6 253.8
Juice orange Rynkeby 250 g 1.25 27.75 0 116
Hours: 8:00 - 9:59 30.45 (19.9%) 75 (49.8%) 20.1 (29.9%) 602.7
Meal (12:00 - 13:59)
Rye Bread, Kerne 90 g 6.3 27 6.3 189.9
Apple 1pc, 1 piece. 0.5 20.0 0.5 86.5
Avocado 100 g 1.9 14.2 13.1 182.3
Orange 1pc, 1 piece. 1.0 12.0 0.7 58.3
Cutting cheese 20% 60 g 18 0.6 6.6 133.8
Hours: 12:00 - 13:59 27.7 (16.6%) 73.8 (44.9%) 27.2 (37.4%) 650.8
Meal (14:00 - 15:59)
Bodylab Creatine 3 g 3 0 0 12
Bodylab Whey 100 40 g 32 2.06 1.94 153.7
Banana 1 pc, 1 piece. 2.0 31.0 0.5 136.5
Time: 14:00 - 15:59 37 (49%) 33.06 (43.7%) 2.44 (6%) 302.2
Meal (18:00 - 19:59)
Tomato peeled, canned 250 g 2.5 8.25 1 52
Onions 1pc, 0.5 pcs. 0.5 3 0.1 14.9
Carrot 100 g 0.7 8.8 0.4 41.6
Bodylab Omega 3 3 pieces. 0 0 3 27
Pepper, red 100 g 0.9 4.6 0.3 24.7
Vegetable mix, Romanesco 250 g 5 7.5 0 50
Olive oil 5 g 0 0 5 45
Beef, minced 8-12% 100 g 21.0 0.0 10.0 174
Pasta 80 g 8.8 51.2 0.8 247.2
Hours: 6:00 pm - 7:59 pm 39.4 (23.1%) 83.35 (49.1%) 20.6 (26.6%) 676.4
Meal (22:00 - 23:59)
Arla, Cheasy skyr 200 g 22 9.4 0.4 129.2
Bodylab Whey 100 25 g 20 1.29 1.21 96.05
Chocolate dark 20 g 1.14 12.64 5.82 107.5
Whipping cream 50 g 1.05 1.6 19.05 182.05
Walnut 25 g 3.58 4.22 16.08 175.92
Bodylab Vitamin D. 1 piece. 0.0 0.0 0.0 0
Grape 100 g 0.6 17.7 0.6 78.6
Hours: 10pm - 11:59 pm 48.37 (25%) 46.85 (23.9%) 43.16 (50.3%) 769.32
Daily total 182.92 312.06 113.5 3001.42
Energy distribution 24.3% 41.6% 33.9%

The above diet meets the 5 criteria:

  • Contains ~ 2.2 g protein per kg body weight
  • The majority of protein intake comes from quality protein from meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy products
  • The protein intake is distributed with 20-40 g protein per. meal, and at least 40 g of protein before bedtime.
  • Enough calories are consumed to support a controlled weight gain (otherwise the amounts of food increase, by ~ 200 kcal at a time)
  • Fruit and / or vegetables are included in all main meals

It is important for me to emphasize that the above is an example of a daily diet, and that one should not consume the exact same foods every single day, but remember to eat varied within the overall structure and guidelines.

Thus, breakfast in the form of eggs and baked beans (to show that you can also make a diet plan without the universal oatmeal for breakfast ...) could also consist of a calorie-dense shake, skyr with cream and fruit, scrambled eggs with rye bread, or oatmeal.

In the dinner, the cheese could be replaced with mackerel in tomato (on such a day, the dietary supplement of fish oil would be superfluous), and the dinner (pasta with meat sauce) could just as well consist of meat or fish with rice / potatoes and vegetables. It is not written in stone.

Also note that the above structure can easily be followed without you having to weigh all your food - as long as you have a good idea of ​​the quantities.

In the diet plan I have included some good basic supplements in the form of creatine, whey protein, fish oil and vitamin D. 

Quote elementMany exercisers are more concerned with whether they use one or another kind of colorful pre-workout, than having a good basic diet

Diet plan and exercise program for muscle building

Exercise program for muscle building

Now it's time to look at the training program itself, and what important principles a good training program, among other things, should adhere to.

1. Volume - Make at least 10 sets per. muscle group

Volume, ie the total amount of work, is probably the most important single factor when it comes to creating muscle building. Thus, there is an almost linear relationship between the number of sets and the resulting muscle growth up to a minimum of 10 sets (17,18).

This does not mean that you can not manage with less, but if you want optimal muscle growth, then you should generally have at least 10 work sets per. larger muscle group (chest, back, elbow flexors and extensors, back chain, and forelegs).

At the same time, you should make sure to distribute your volume sensibly over different movements / movement chains - such that your training includes both vertical and horizontal press variants, and does not have much larger volume for the upper body than the lower body, which is a classic beginner mistake.

2. Frequency - train each muscle group 2 times or more a week

A parameter that is also quite important is the frequency - that is, how often you train each muscle group. Thus, it seems that one achieves the best muscle growth by hitting a muscle group 2 times or more per. week (19). If you train with a lower frequency, you simply stimulate muscle protein synthesis (which is only significantly elevated within a few days after training) too infrequently, and thus you do not achieve a maximum growth response over your training plan.

When you train more frequently, you also get the opportunity to practice lifting more frequently, and building a good technical basic form is the alpha omega for effective strength development and that you can stick to the training in the long run.

3. Progression - The principle of progressive overload

When muscles grow in response to strength training, it is because they adapt to the external stress that one inflicts on them. Consequently, this means that the load that is applied to the muscles must continue to be challenging in order for any adjustment to take place in the form of muscle growth. Therefore, over time, the total mechanical load will have to be increased, cf. the principle of progressive overload (20).

The principle of progressive overload is beautifully illustrated by the myth of Milo and the calf. Every day, Milo carried a newborn bull calf up a mountain for him to drink. For each week, the calf got a little bigger and so did Milo - until one day he was carrying around an adult bull calf, which he had become strong enough to lift with the help of the gradual weight gain.

In other words; if you want to become a big and strong bull, then your programming should include considerations on how the training will gradually become more demanding. Typically, this is done in the form of a progressive increase in weight, but can also be achieved by increasing the number of sets, training closer to exhaustion, or training with shorter breaks.

4. The need to become strong

Although you may be primarily training for muscle growth, it is crucial that you become stronger over time.

Not only because getting stronger allows you to progressively increase weight, and train with a larger volume, cf. the previous point. But also because a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.

In other words, it is that you become stronger, which is also a good indicator that you have gained bigger muscles. If you throw 10 kg on one of your basic lifts, and have at the same time eaten to favor muscle building, then there is a very good chance that you have also become more muscular in the process.

Conversely, if you find that your strength does not increase, month after month, then you are probably doing something wrong in your training or nutrition.

And purely anecdotally, there are very few clean people who have become big and muscular, without at the same time being as fucking strong as they look. Becoming strong within a classic bodybuilding rep range (5+ repetitions) in large multi-joint exercises is just a surefire way to become muscular.

5. Focus on multi-joint exercises

And that brings us to the last point. Namely that the focus in a good training program should be on multi-joint exercises.

We want to get the most out of our efforts. As mentioned in point 1, a number of sets are needed to stimulate optimal muscle growth in a muscle group. Therefore, it makes the best sense to choose exercises that involve as much muscle mass as possible.

Where a peck deck machine thus "insulates" the chest to a greater extent, multi-joint exercises such as bench press or dips train both the chest, shoulders and triceps, and result in a much greater overall growth. Similarly, squats or leg presses train a much greater muscle mass in the lower body than leg extensions.

This does not mean that the small isolation exercises do not have their place in an exercise program - eg for local muscular exhaustion - but the focus should predominantly be on becoming strong in the multi-joint exercises.

Quote elementWe want to get the most out of our efforts. Therefore, it makes the best sense to involve as much muscle mass as possible

Diet plan and exercise program for muscle building

Exercise program for muscle growth

Let us then see how the above principles can be applied in practice, in the training program below.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
A) Bench pressure
5 x 5-7
3-4 min break
A) Squat
5 x 5-7
3-4 min break
A) Incline Bench Press
4 x 6-8
2-3 min break
A) Hex Bar Deadlift
5 x 5-7
3-4 min break
B) Chin Up, Neutral Grip
5 x 5-7
2-3 min break
4 x 6-8
2-3 min break
B) DB One Arm Row
4 x 6-8
2-3 min break
B) Front Squat
4 x 6-8
2-3 min break
C1) Seated Row
4 x 8-10
Superset with C2
C) DB Split Squat, front foot raised on step bench
4 x 6-8
2 min break
C1) Dip
4 x 6-8
Superset with C2
C) 45 Degree Back Raise, w / hold in top
4 x 6-8
2 min break
C2) DB Seated Shoulder Press
4 x 8-10
2 min break
D) Lying Leg Curl
Myo reps
C2) Neutral Grip Pulldown
4 x 6-8
2-3 min break
D) Leg Press
3 x 12-15
1.5-2 min break
D) Cable Pushdown
4 x 8-10 + 6-8 (drop set)
2 min break
E) Cable crunch
3 x 12-15
1.5-2 min break
D) Incline Curl
4 x 8-10 + 6-8 (drop set)
2 min break
E) Calf Raise
3 x 12-15
1.5-2 min break

The training program is a so-called "upper / lower" 2-split, with 4 training days a week, where you alternately train upper body and lower body. The problem with other split programs (especially where you divide the body into a 3- or 4-split) is that they often come to underdose the training to the lower body, but here there is a nice balance between upper and lower body.

The program meets the 5 criteria:

  • At least 10 sets per. muscle group
  • The whole body is trained through 2 times per. week
  • The program contains an embedded progression
  • There is a focus on lifting heavier and getting stronger
  • There is a focus on multi-joint exercises

I just want to make some in-depth comments about my program.

Progression in weight

Ideally, you start the first training week with a weight, where on the last set you have 1-2 nice repetitions in reserve, so you do not run completely to failure. The progression works in such a way that if you get all your reps within the upper end of the range, you increase the weight by 2.5 kg (possibly 5 kg in the larger exercises).

For example, if you have to do 5 sets x 5-7 repetitions in bench press and get 7 repetitions in all 5 sets, then you increase the weight next time.

If you get 3 sets with 7 repetitions in the subsequent session, and 2 sets with 6 repetitions, then you will be on the same weight the next session, and only increase the weight when you have received 7 repetitions on all sets. Thus, there is an embedded progression in the program that takes into account the day form.

Progression in volume

You run the program for 8 weeks. Then take a 1 week deload, with 2 sets in each exercise, but without reducing the weight.

Then you drive another 8 weeks, but where the number of sets per. exercise is increased and the number of reps is lowered so that one can lift heavier in the next cycle. Set x reps change as follows:

5 x 5-7 → 6 x 4-6
4 x 6-8 → 5 x 5-7
4 x 8-10 → 5 x 6-8
3 x 12-15 → 4 x 8-10

After this, you have run the program for a total of 17 weeks, and it will be obvious to move on to another training program, or start over with other exercises.

Lifting pace

You lift as powerfully as possible on the lifting phase, and lower the weight in a controlled manner, where you keep the tension on the muscle throughout the lowering phase. In practice, it will typically be about a 2-3 second lowering phase, depending on the exercise and how good control you have over the movement. If, for example, you have difficulty keeping the buckle in the squat, sit down more slowly to focus on controlling the movement.


The program is aimed at those of you who have basic experience with strength training in advance, and who have created a solid technical foundation in the major free weight exercises. It is a prerequisite for being able to train hard.

As I said, the program is not individualized, but I insist that it is better than what 95% of the members of the gyms do when they themselves try to approach their training.

However, some individual adjustments may be relevant to YOUR challenges. For example, if you have not yet learned to back squat correctly, then you should first get a handle on your squat technique (this in itself could easily fill an entire article), or replace with variants that you can perform with good technique - it could be safety bar squats, or front squats.

Thus, the choice of exercise is not written in stone either. For example, I generally include hex bar deadlift over conventional deadlift, for clients who do not train powerlifting, but if you would rather be strong in conventional deadlift, then the whole program does not fall to the ground that you choose this instead.

There is not so much work to stomach and put in the program as it is not muscles with a tremendous growth potential and should not be the focus when one wants to be massive overall but if you death and torment want bulging abs and huge calf muscles can you well add a little extra set to them. As long as it does not take focus from the important thing in the program - the multi-joint exercises.

Get in the trenches!

Then you have both the tools to structure your diet to nourish muscle building, and an exercise program with a focus on muscle growth. Then there is only one thing to do from here, namely to get started putting it into practice, and translate it into results.

Exercise hard, eat well, and sleep sweetly! Good training from here.


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