Will You Build Muscle if You Exercise but Don’t Diet?

Build Muscle Foods
28 May

Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Michael Brockbank

In reality, it’s not overly difficult to build muscle, even if you don’t follow the best of diets. However, the food you eat will play a role in how quickly and efficiently the experience becomes. I am living proof that you don’t need a strict diet to define muscle mass.

But keep in mind everyone has a different physiology. The way one person may get six-pack abs may not work the same for you.

How Food Controls How You Build Muscle

To over-simplify it, proteins and carbs are used during weight training to build density and strength. It’s all about giving yourself what you need to induce synthesis while having the energy to maintain activity.

The more you train your body to lift heavier objects or perform repeated tasks, the more dense muscles become.

Case in point, my arms and shoulders are looking nice simply from playing the Xbox Kinect while wearing weighted gloves. It’s the repeated action while adding greater weight resistance to enhance the body.

For example, food like wild salmon has about 2g of leucine per serving. This is part of the “branched-chained amino acids” which promote muscle development in the human body. It’s also why leucine is included in a variety of weight training supplements. Of course, using leucine in whey poweder is far more productive as it stimulates protein accretion and hypertrophy to build muscle quickly. [note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10418071[/note] [note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447149/[/note]

Does that mean you have to stick to a diet of protein supplements? No.

Amino acids are available in a slew of foods. Supplements just give you a powerful boost to build muscle mass in less time.

Why do you gain muscle but not lose fat?

Unfortunately, a lot of different things are happening if you start weight training but you’re not apparently losing fat. I know a lot of obese people who can easily deadlift an incredible amount of weight.

Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

  • Muscle Weighs More than Fat per Volume
    It’s common for the scale to still have you at a specific weight even after you start weight training. In reality, you could be replacing the volume of fat with the same weight in muscle. The scale will say one thing, but your clothes and pictures should say another.
  • Know the Quality of Food
    Overloading yourself on carbs, proteins and sugars may benefit muscle development. However, you still need to use up everything you consume. Otherwise, the excess can still collect onto your frame as fat. Enter those big guys I was telling you about earlier.
  • Genetics Plays a Role in Losing Fat
    I’m not talking about that DNA-Diet matching garbage on the Internet. Genetics does play a part in metabolism and body construction. Take my daughter, for example. She’ll never be a 120-pound model because she is built like a tank – like her mom’s entire family. She was developing muscle mas since the age of three. Some believe you can eat certain foods and turn off these genes. [note]https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/11-food-compounds-turn-fat-genes/[/note]

I’m not exactly the healthiest person on the planet in terms of dieting. I still eat a lot of the same foods I did at 290 pounds. The difference today is that I eat far less of them while including healthier alternatives.

So yes, I keep my cardio activity going even if I eat a slice of pizza and cheesecake for lunch.

What happens when you don’t enough while working out?

Personally, I go into hypoglycemic shock when pushing too hard without eating enough. This is when your blood-sugar levels drop too low to sustain yourself. This is common when you push beyond the limits of what food provides. To correct the problem, I try to have something like orange juice or snack that gives me a boost in carbs and sugars. [note]http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html[/note]

I found a good balance in my eating habits to avoid issues like this today.

If you don’t want to go on a strict diet, you just need to make sure you’re eating appropriately before working out. For instance, a package of donuts may give a short boost of energy, but it doesn’t do much to help build muscle.

For me, I have a Maxpro whey power shake, an egg and a slice of cheese to power through my 30+ minutes of cardio in the mornings. If I add more into the routine, I make sure I have enough fuel to support it.

There’s only so much your body can do when burning fat. The human body cannot store certain nutritional elements it needs to build muscle, so you need to eat the right foods.

This doesn’t mean you need to jump into the Paleo diet or what ever mainstream fad is going on right now. However, it does mean you need to add a bit of nutrition to your dietary routine.

I use tools like MyFitnessPal to find the best combination of foods for my day, including snacks like ice cream and cookies.

What kind of foods do I eat when trying to build muscle?

My diet consists of a variety of foods. I don’t really stick to any kind of routine as you would see in meal plans and such. Essentially, I eat what I have in the house.

However, I do make sure my shopping consists of foods that deliver some kind of nutritional value.


Breakfast will set the tone for how the rest of your day will unfold. There’s a reason why experts say it’s the most important meal of the day.

Many people feel physically and mentally better after having a protein-packed breakfast as opposed to a sugary cereal. I am one of them. I’ve noticed a significant difference in productivity if I have eggs and cheese or just a bowl of Cream of Wheat.

You don’t have to deny yourself a donut here and there. Just make sure you offset it with something your body will want to use.

I try to keep my calorie count under 300 for breakfast. But that also depends on how much physical activity I get first thing in the morning. If I have an intense workout, I’ll eat a bit more just to keep from passing out.


Usually, I like to have Progresso Soups for lunch. In fact, eating soups for lunch and dinner is how I lost the first 20 pounds in just over a month.

And I am a fan of Progresso products.

The things you need to stay away from are meal deals from places like Taco Bell during your lunch hour. In the end, you wind up eating nearly three times the calories you’ll need in one sitting.

On the other hand, you can burn through the crap Taco Bell gives you by committing to a grueling workout a bit later. That is, unless you work yourself into vomiting…which is bad.

There are plenty of lighter foods that help build muscle mass without feeling like you’re on a diet. Personally, anything dripping with peanut butter, spinach or meat of any kind is my cup of tea.

If I am feeling a bit more peckish than usual, I’ll include a serving of Pringles with my meal. In total, my lunches range between 300 and 400 calories depending on my activity throughout the day.


Dinner is where I have some of the biggest issues. I tend to lean towards pastas and more rich foods in the evening, which tend to provide far more carbohydrates than I’ll use. And if the body doesn’t use them, they’re stored as fat. [note]http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/happens-unburned-carbohydrates-2461.html[/note]

With that being said, I usually try to at least keep the calories down to 300 to 400. But that doesn’t matter much if most of those calories are consisting of carbs than proteins.

Actually, changing my evening eating habits are part of a personal study I am doing for the next month. But for now, too much glycogen at night, the by-product of carbohydrates and sugars, can keep the belly a bit more rounded even if I work out every day.


Here is where a lot of people have issues, especially when trying to build muscle. Snacking. It’s easy to open a Snickers bar and call it good. But are there snacks you can eat to promote muscle development?

Absolutely. And the truth is, even a Snickers bar is beneficial to a degree. Just make sure you don’t eat an entire bag of miniature candy bars and you’ll be fine.

My snacks for the day can easily reach 800 to 1000 calories. Again, this depends on what I am doing and if I need the boost or not. For example, I’ll have a 140 calorie fruit bar in mid-morning if I start to get a headache from a lack of food after working out.

Listen to your body, and not your taste buds. And pick foods that can help you keep a balance of proteins and carbs to build muscle mass.

For instance, a salad consisting of half lettuce and half spinach topped with chopped onions and a serving of shredded cheese is an exceptional snack in terms of health value. And I like the taste of it.

Be Mindful

The human body needs carbs to help build muscle. It’s the glycogen that is created which promotes strength as well as stamina. But it’s not necessarily these things that cause weight gain. Actually, there are many foods that can still promote fat even if they are “low-carb.” [note]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/weight-loss-and-carbohydrates[/note] It’s all about finding balance.

If you want to get yourself ripped but don’t like dieting, realize you’ll still need to adjust your eating habits for the best experience.

Adding Cardio to the Weight Training

In reality, any physical activity is going to add to muscle definition. My legs have never looked this good, and that’s without weight machines. It’s mostly from playing the Kinect and dancing around like an idiot.

If you really want to burn through the fat as you build muscle, add more activity that increases your heart rate. The more you move, the more you burn.

I did a recent study on myself and found I burn far more calories lifting lighter weights with more repetitions than trying to lift heavier weights in general. Thus, I am burning through more fat as seen in my arms, shoulders and pecs.

Regardless of your methods, cardio does more than just help burn fat. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, hence the name, as well as improve how the brain operates. [note]http://time.com/4752846/exercise-brain-health/[/note]

Again, you don’t need to follow a strict dietary regimen. But you do need to make sure you eat enough to prevent hypoglycemia – a condition anyone can get even if they’re not diabetic.

Food Plays a Major Role to Build Muscle

While you don’t have to maintain a strict “weight-lifting diet,” certain foods will impact your muscle development as you work out. Like the saying goes, “You are what you eat.”

Choose what you want to be made of.
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