This article is a subset of our muscle building diet guide.
Not all food is created equal. If you are looking to build muscle or create healthier habits in general, you need to learn the difference between high quality and low-quality foods.
Our favorite strategy to incorporate high-quality foods is the 80/20 diet plan. This plan allows for both more and less nutritious meals, vegans can implement this as well!
This healthy eating approach helps you achieve these goals by prioritizing a variety of high-quality nutritious foods. This, in turn, can lead to muscle gain, weight loss, and better overall health.
The 80/20 is a simple yet effective diet strategy that allows for flexible dieting while keeping your nutrition goals in check.
What is the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 meal plan is a flexible lifestyle change that can be followed year-round. It works by prioritizing high-quality foods while allowing room for less nutritious options. We use this strategy to build muscle and burn fat efficiently and worry-free.
The 80/20 diet is based on the following fundamental ideas:
- At least 80% of your meals are balanced and nutritious
- 20% or less of your meals can be less nutritious
This allows flexibility for inevitable hiccups while still building discipline and good habits.
By aiming for healthy whole food 80% of the time, we can rest assured that we are consuming sufficient amounts of protein while avoiding vitamin deficiencies.
Cheat days are okay! If you eat two cheat meals in a row, then aim for eight nutritious meals next.
The 80/20 rule aims for 80% healthy meals and allows up to 20% less nutritious meals.
How to classify meals in the 80% or 20%
Food choices can vary drastically in nutritional value despite being the same calorie amount.
A 200 calorie ice cream is very different than a 200 calorie bowl of oatmeal. Yes, brownies are okay to eat every so often but we must acknowledge the fact that lower calories do not mean healthier.
In this diet, every meal is chalked up as more or less nutritious. This is important because misclassification can lead to eating more unhealthy meals than anticipated.
Portion control is not overly important for our healthy meals. In most cases, there is no problem with you enjoying a large portion of lean proteins, veggies, and complex carbs as it will provide your body with the fuel it needs.
This diet rule assumes you can accurately distinguish a "more nutritious" meal from a "less nutritious" meal. With that being said, how do we know what falls into the 80% and what falls into the 20%?
What meals are classified in the 80% category?
A clean balanced meal consisting of lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains is what we are aiming for.
"More nutritious" meals usually contain:
- At least 1 serving of a high-quality protein source
- At least one serving of veggies?
- At least one serving of whole grains?
If at least two of these traits apply to your meal, then classify the meal as a "more nutritious" choice. Use your best judgment here.
For a list of high-quality protein sources, read about our favorite muscle-building foods.
Rest assured that your body is breaking down these meals for all of the healthy vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and macronutrients. Everything you ate has a purpose and is being used to power your body.
PersonalStack's protein stack contains high quality protein, 1-2 servings of veggies, and tons of other muscle building amino acids served in daily packs. If you need a daily supplement that classifies as an 80% food, take our quiz today.
Think of food as the fuel that powers a car. Your body is breaking down the food you eat 24 hours a day and using it for fuel. Try to consistently choose the cleanest and highest quality fuel available so the body can perform better and last longer over time.
What meals are classified in the 20% category?
A healthy diet is one that can be maintained over long periods of time. Strict diets always fall apart which is why it's important to allow room for less nutritious options.
Less nutritious meals have the following traits:
- Consists of mostly refined carbs or sugar?
- Contains primarily foods high in saturated fat
- Contains mostly fried foods
If any of these two of these traits apply to your meal, then classify the meal as a "less nutritious" choice. Use your best judgment here.
If you answer yes to any of these, the meal is probably less nutritious. This means that pizza, pasta, donuts, most fast food, fried foods, and alcohol fit into the 20%.
Certain food groups are less nutritious because they do not benefit us; some can actually be detrimental to our long term health.
They are often high in unhealthy fats that are bad for your heart, low in protein which is key for building muscle, and will likely boost our insulin causing our bodies to keep fat.
We do not have to avoid these foods altogether but it’s important to eat unhealthy foods in moderation. By eating healthier foods more often than unhealthy foods, our overall diet for the week will be healthier and we will see better results.
Benefits of the 80/20 rule
Benefits of the 80/20 rule include:
- Flexible cheat meals, you can still eat your favorite foods!
- Increased energy and better mood
- Increased muscle gain
- Stronger bones and teeth
- Natural weight loss
The 80/20 is the most flexible diet plan
Many are able to lose weight without tracking calories. Healthy foods by nature are often less calorie-dense and will therefore lead to weight loss when eaten most of time.
Unlike other low-carb diets like keto that are both restrictive and hard to follow, this way of eating allows for ANY type of food in moderation.
Even strict schedule diets like intermittent fasting are hard to follow because you're only allowed to eat in a certain time frame.
The 80/20 helps build muscle mass
When paired with resistance training, the 80/20 diet helps build muscle mass. In case you didn’t know, muscle gain is optimized when your diet:
- High in protein
- Is rich in muscle-building vitamins and minerals
- Includes all nine essential amino acids
Using the 80/20 diet rule successfully allows for sufficient vitamin and mineral intake while keeping your macronutrient ratios in check.
The 80/20 eating plan is a component we use in our muscle building diet strategy. Read the full guide for more information.
As a bonus, this diet flexible in nature and is a lot easier to follow than keeping individual track of your protein, carbs, and fat intake individually.
Making the change
It’s important to enjoy life and not stress about every unhealthy food we eat. Healthy foods are not always available to us and we all have less nutritious foods that we enjoy.
Consider the 80/20 diet if you're looking to improve your overall health. The 80/20 diet can help build muscle if paired with resistance training.
It can also help lose weight naturally if you are switching over from unhealthy eating habits.
Everyone should be maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to live a longer and more prosperous life. We only get one body so let's do the most we can to take care of it.
Consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist for medical advice if you're interested in implementing this diet plan.