AS Amir Khan attempts to move up in weight and dethrone WBC middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez, you too at some point in your career may find yourself needing to move up a division, as a result of struggling to make weight and out-growing your weight category. The following article will help you understand the principles of muscle growth whilst minimising body fat gain.


Muscle growth basically requires your body to make more protein (the process called muscle protein synthesis) than it is breaking down (muscle protein breakdown), to allow muscle mass to gradually increase through a positive net muscle protein balance.

Resistance training plus protein intake raises protein synthesis, so both are essential for a boxer to gain muscle mass.

To maximise muscle growth, it is important to eat protein five times per day with a period of three-four hours between feeds, with an additional serving before sleep.

Aim to consume roughly 2g of protein for every kg of bodyweight per day (see table).


The common misconception is that to gain muscle you have to eat as much protein as physically possible. In reality your body can only process and make use of a certain amount of protein at a time. Recent research has shown that in a single serving of whey protein, the protein synthesis is maximised at 0.3g per kg and any more has very little effect. However, research is still required to see if a real meal (inc. carbohydrate, protein, fibre and fat) has the same upper limit for protein intake, but this is likely to be slightly higher. The following table shows how much protein you should be aiming for during each meal/snack based on this research.

Boxer Weight 50kg 60kg 70kg 80kg
Protein per serving (g) 15-20 18-24 21-28 24-32

Consuming too much protein will reduce the amount of carbohydrate you can eat, which may lead to a reduced training intensity and ultimately reduce muscle gain.

From recent research it also appears that it is not only the quantity of protein that is important but also the amount of the essential amino acids, and one in particular, leucine. Leucine seems to acts as a ‘trigger’ to kickstart muscle protein synthesis. The higher the rate and amount at which leucine enters the bloodstream, the greater the muscle protein synthesis. Due to being rapidly absorbed and having a high leucine content, whey protein is a perfect protein source for before and after training.


While carbohydrate intake does not directly affect protein synthesis it is required to increase glycogen stores which in turn help improve training intensity and help an anabolic state within the muscles by increasing insulin levels and hormones associated with insulin.

To gain lean muscle and fuel your intense training sessions it is important to focus the majority of your carbohydrate intake around slow-release, low-GI carbohydrates. These include:

  • Wholegrain/basmati/wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potato
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Wholemeal pasta

However, around training (one hour before-to-30 minutes after), especially if training more than once per day, it is important to include fast-acting, high-Gi carbohydrates to further fuel training and increase the anabolic state, allowing muscles to grow and repair. These include:

  • Dried Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Sports drinks
  • Natural jelly beans
  • Low-fibre cereals

e.g. cornflakes, rice crispies


When trying to gain muscle do not avoid fats. Ensure each meal has a good source of fats e.g. oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, extra virgin olive oil. Fats are required for a large number of metabolic functions and can even help support testosterone production; aiding the anabolic state muscles require to grow.

EPA especially, found in the greatest concentration in oily fish, has now been shown through research to aid protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown when compared to a placebo. Saturated fats have also been shown to aid free testosterone levels, so keep the fat on your steak, cook using grass-fed butter and coconut oil and drizzle olive oil over meals.


Try to aim for the following intakes each day as a baseline intake when gaining weight. These intakes are only a reference intake and depend on training intensity/ frequency and other factors. Use these as a baseline, and tweak these as required.

Boxer Weight 50kg 60kg 70kg 80kg
Energy (kcal) 1940-2140 2328-2568 2716-2996 3104-3424
Protein (2g per kg) 100 120 140 160
Carbs (5-6g per kg) 250-300 300-360 350-420 400-480
Fat (1.2g per kg) 60 72 84 96


While smashing protein, carbohydrates and calories down your throat in a bid to gain muscle mass, it is easy to forget about fruits and vegetables, which provide you with a good proportion of your required vitamin and mineral intake. As fruit and vegetables tend to have a low calorie density (i.e. a large amount of food, but contain low calories) these may be hard to eat on top f your mountain of food and may actually be detrimental to your weight gain, as these may reduce the amount of calories you may be able to eat.

Try to eat as many varieties as possible, however a great way to get these vital ingredients into your diet is to prepare fresh smoothies. It’s a lot easier and quicker to drink these fruits and vegetables than to sit there chewing them when you are already full.

The same goes for calories. Try adding greek yoghurt, whey protein or nuts to your smoothies to increase protein and calorie content if you are struggling to eat all of your calories.

For a smoothie recipe go to, krgmze9kl6.onrocket.siteactive.


Many supplements claim to support muscle growth, however, the only supplement to receive a lot of supporting research is creatine. Also fish oils and vitamin D would be recommended for an athlete’s diet whilst aiming to gain muscle.

For further information about how these supplements can add to your diet and dosage please see the supplements review in the Boxing News Active Total Fight Training Manual.

Avoid any supplements that are marketed as “testosterone boosters”. Most of these not only contain ingredients or compounds that are listed on the WADA Prohibited Substance List, but also do not work, therefore both risking your career and wasting your money.


  1. Eat five times per day, every three hours
  2. Try to never miss a meal
  3. Eat as soon as possible after training
  4. Drink smoothies and juices to increase calorie, vitamin and mineral intake
  5. Stick to low-GI carbohydrates away from training
  6. Add oils and nuts/seeds to meals where possible to increase fat and calorie intake
  7. Include protein, fats and carbohydrates in each meal
  8. Aim to eat 300-500 kcal more than you are expending
  9. Prepare meals for the day so that you are not caught out
  10. Train hard, eat harder

Tom Whitehead is a nutritionist for Soulmatefood. To find out more about what Soulmatefood’s Sportskitchen can do for you, go to

*For training information and workouts from some of the biggest names in combat sport don’t miss the Fighting Fit: Train like the Stars special*