How to Build Muscle Without Counting Calories or Macros

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Let’s crank the lever on the time machine all the way back to 1986. I was a poor college student attending New Mexico Tech. I had no car. No cash. No control over the food I ate, but I was still making gains.

My romance with the iron was just starting back then. I would train 5 to 6 days per week. When I wasn’t training, my nose was stuck in a bodybuilding magazine, idolizing Tom Platz or Arnold.

The muscle magazines and books taught me about the importance of protein and proper calorie intake, but having no control over my meals made things tricky. I learned a few things back then about how to build crazy amounts of muscle mass without counting calories or protein, and I want to share them with you in this article.

The question is:

How do you make gains when you have no control over the food that is served to you?

The following five tips work, and will help you make gains. There is much paranoia about “getting fat” while building muscle. Have no fear, my advice won’t get you fat unless you are shoveling a lot of crap into your mouth.

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Tip #1 – Eat a Lot of Protein

You need to be eating protein with every meal…and I mean EVERY meal. No excuses. This includes snacks. If you’re hungry in between major meals, reach for a form of protein first.

Proper protein intake is the cornerstone of any effective muscle building meal plan. It’s easy to undereat protein when you aren’t counting grams and have no control over your meals. Remember this tip:

During each major meal, eat at least a palm-sized portion of protein.

This portion size should equal the thickness and width of your palm. Make sure to eat your protein before filling up on anything else. This will ensure that you’re not skimping on this vital muscle repairing and building macronutrient.

Remember, this serving size is a recommended minimum. If you can, eat more protein. Just try to keep your meals balanced, and consume plenty of veggies and quality carb sources.

Tip #2 – Eat More Frequently

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No, I am not preaching frequent feeding in the conventional sense; conventional meaning you MUST eat every 2-3 hours or you won’t build muscle mass.

When you aren’t trying to eat 3 ( or even 4) solid meals per day, it’s easy to let your food intake slip. The demands of school or work can leave us reaching for small, junk-filled snacks instead of quality, nutrient-packed meals rich in protein.

If you don’t make yourself eat at least 3 major meals each day you are opening the door to a dietary (and gains) meltdown. First, you are making it easier to undereat calories or to undereat the right foods. Second, you are increasing the likelihood that you will eat crap foods and empty calories via these snacks and drinks. These foods typically contain very little protein.

Hit the school/military cafeteria for breakfast, or have your loved one (girlfriend, mother, whatever) make you some eggs and at least a bagel or cereal for breakfast. Don’t skip lunch, and make it home for dinner or eat a solid nightly meal.

It doesn’t matter what you eat…spaghetti, burgers. mom’s mystery casserole or the random slop served at school. Just eat and get your calories in.

Note: If you have a fast metabolism and/or have a hard time gaining weight, try to eat 4 solid meals each day.

Tip #3 – Eat to Satiety During Each Major Meal

What the heck is satiety? It means you should eat until you’re full. NOT eat until you’re stuffed, but until your full.

I am not trying to encourage you to slob out. Be reasonable and listen to your body. Stop eating when your body is telling you enough.

If you are hungry, eat. If your body wants more fuel, give it fuel. It’s really that simple. Undereating is a fast track down the wrong road. Overeating is a fast track to Fatsville.  Listening to your body and eating only to satiety is a surefire way to keep you gaining muscle without packing on unwanted fat.

Satiety is a lost art. You might be tempted to fear the thought of eating without being able to count macros or protein. Just keep in mind that if your body is telling you to eat, and you are eating mostly clean foods, it will be hard to pack on unwanted pounds.

Bodybuilder performing Dumbbell Rows

By adding a few scoops of protein to each new shaker of water, you can easily push up your protein intake. This is a rock solid plan for those of you who want mass, mass and more mass.

Tip #4 – Have a Protein Shake in Between Major Meals

Consider this your backup plan. Your 3-4 main meals will help you to eat at least 90 to 120 grams of protein, but that’s not enough.

In between meals I want you to sip on whey protein. Get a 24 ounce shaker, fill it with water, and add 1-2 scoops of your favorite protein powder.

You’re going to be drinking water throughout the day anyway, so why not use this hydration extravaganza to boost your daily protein intake. By adding a few scoops of protein to each new shaker of water, you can easily push your protein intake to somewhere around 200 grams per day. This will be a rock solid intake level for those of you who want mass, mass and more mass.

For bonus gains, throw down a scoop of whey or casein in water before bed.

Tip #5 – Use the 80/20 Rule for Clean/Dirty Foods

This is the linchpin that keeps your muscle building diet from becoming a fat building diet.

Make sure that at least 80 percent of your food intake comes from (mostly) clean foods, meaning proteins, quality carb sources such as oatmeal, rice and potatoes, and healthy fats. 20% of your calories can come from junk, but make sure to monitor this closely. It’s easy to overdo ice cream or tortilla chips.

If you gain fat easily, try to restrict junk food intake to about 10% of your overall food.

Chocolate Chip CookiesThe terms clean and dirty can get messy when you aren’t prepping meals for yourself. For sanity’s sake, consider “dirty foods” to be:

  • Chips and dips
  • Cookies and snack cakes
  • Drinks with calories, other than milk
  • Foods rich in white flour and sugar
  • Fried foods and pizza
  • Beer and alcohol

By restricting the amount of bad food choices that are allowed to enter your mouth, you are preventing a lot of empty calories from messing up your diet and health.

Final Words

By listening to your body, eating to satiety, eating mostly clean foods and taking in plenty of protein, you can make quality, consistent muscle gains without getting fat. Let me know how this system worked for you by leaving your story below in the comments section.

Editor’s note: Need more help setting up a meal plan? Head over to the Tiger Fitness forum and post up your question.

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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.