By Drew Stegman, Fitness Coach
Building muscle takes more than simply lifting weights. Although weightlifting is part of the critical foundation for building muscle, it’s only one part of the equation. Let me explain…
In order to pack on lean mass, your muscles need to be put under some type of resistance. It needs to be stressed to the point of no return. This creates muscle tears and stretches and when your body repairs those muscles, they will grow back bigger and stronger – but only if you workout your muscles intensely enough.
This essentially implies that every time you go to the gym, you need to focus on getting stronger. You need to be constantly increasing the amount of resistance from week to week, by increasing the amount of reps or sets you do. If you’re still bench pressing 135 pounds a year after you began bench pressing, then I can’t see how you could ever gain a substantial amount of muscle. This is known as the method of progressive overload. By constantly breaking down your muscle fibres, they will have no choice to grow back stronger. As we should know, muscle size follows muscle strength.
You need to hit the weights hard and hit them often if you want to gain muscle. You should be lifting an average of about 4-5 times per week for at least 40 minutes per session if your goal is to pack on lean mass. But unlike many things in life, working out too much is not a good thing. If you hit the weights too often, you’ll actually end up getting smaller and weaker rather than bigger and stronger. This is known as overtraining and it is very common in bodybuilders.
Many bodybuilders suffer from what is known as ‘bigorexia’ (opposite of anorexia) and feel that they have to workout more if they want to get bigger. While I suffer from a severe case of bigorexia myself (I’m pretty sure all bodybuilders do to some degree), I’ve realized that by scaling back my workout sessions, I actually see better results than if I were to hit the gym for several hours each day.
The reason for this is simple – when you workout your muscles they then create muscle tears and your body has to go and repair them, with adequate rest, recovery and nutrients. But if you don’t give your body enough time to do so, then you’ll be going back into the gym and breaking them down even more, even though you may have just hit that muscle group a day or two before. As a general guideline, make sure you always wait at least 72 hours before you train the same muscle group again, depending on the volume of the workout you just did.
For example, if you just trained your chest with 24 sets three days ago and you think that it’s ready to be trained again, you might want to reconsider. If you’re working out with that kind of volume, then it could take anywhere from 5-7 days for your chest to make a full recovery.
When it comes to avoiding overtraining, just keep in mind that muscles are not made in the gym, just as six pack abs are made in the kitchen – not in the gym. But like I said, your routine is not going to be the only thing that helps you pack on muscle. There are many other factors to consider as well.
Muscle Building Diet
When it comes to your nutrition, the first thing you need to do is increase your protein intake. Ask any bodybuilder and I guarantee they will tell you that they eat for muscle growth – meaning they consume more calories and protein than the average person, since muscle growth requires both of these things.
Proteins contain amino acids and amino acids are the building blocks of muscles, which is why they are absolutely essential to include in your diet if you want to gain any muscle at all. Calories are important because muscle is metabolically active tissue, so if you’re not giving your muscles enough energy, muscle growth will not occur. I’m not saying you should eat like a madman and get incredibly fat when trying to build muscle, but you definitely need to step up your calorie intake if you want to see any results. You can typically gain muscle without fat as long as you are eating at your maintenance amount of calories each day, or the amount of calories it would take to maintain your body weight.
Increasing your protein intake is not as difficult as you may think. Probably the best way to get your protein would be through eating animal products such as eggs, meat, cheese, milk and fish, but if you’re a vegetarian / vegan bodybuilder then you can simply stick with things like beans, legumes and soya. Regardless of how you get your protein, it’s recommended that you consume one gram of protein per pound of body weight if you want to gain muscle. So a 200 lb bodybuilder would need 200g of protein to pack on muscle.
The other thing I want to talk about is carbs. Many people will tell you that a simple carbohydrate is needed post-workout to help ‘shuttle nutrients into your muscle cells’, but this is simply false. In fact, there is not one valid scientific study which suggests this and the ones that do are extremely flawed and often run by the supplement companies and bodybuilding magazines, who simply want you to buy their latest post-workout supplement.
The truth of the matter is that the entire post-workout simple carb and fast digesting protein idea is a myth and in fact you would be much better off not eating anything for the first couple of hours after your workout. Why? After your workouts your human growth hormone levels are the highest, which is a critical muscle building hormone. But when you consume any type of food, your human growth hormone levels will take a drop (your human growth hormone levels are highest when you’re fasting – think sleep). If you want to reap the most benefit of this hormone, then not eating for the first couple of hours after your workout is the way to go. But anyway, back to the carbohydrate question.
Don’t make any excuses to eat a simple carb at any time of the day. Sure you can eat simple carbs if you’re having your weekly cheat meal, but the remainder of the week you should be eating nothing but whole grains. Things like oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain bread are all fantastic examples.
Now we’re left with another question – fat. Is fat good for you? Bad for you? Which fats are the ‘good’ fats and which ones are the ‘bad’ fats? These are all questions I get asked constantly. First off, fat and cholesterol were never involved in the heart disease epidemic like many people think. Even the argument that saturated fat ‘clogs your arteries and leads to heart disease’ is simply a fallacy and has absolutely no scientific evidence to support the claim. Don’t believe me? Do a quick Google search on ‘The Truth About Saturated Fat & Cholesterol’ and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t already, you need to increase your saturated fat intake if you’re a bodybuilder. Saturated fat increases your testosterone levels, a crucial hormone that is needed to build muscle.
In addition to saturated fat, eating a higher fat diet in general can help you add more muscle, since all lipids increase testosterone levels. You should always make sure at least 30% of your total calories come from fat and a majority of that fat should come from saturated and monounsaturated fat, since these fats have the most positive effect on testosterone levels. Things like nuts, olive oil, butter, eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, thick steaks and fatty fish are all great examples.
The only fat you really need to avoid is trans fats. These fats are chemically altered, extremely bad for your health and some studies even indicate that they lower testosterone levels. Not something you want if you’re trying to improve your physique and health!
In addition to this, you should spread out your calorie consumption into 5-6 small, well-balanced meals each day. This will allow your body to absorb more protein and nutrients, allowing for an anabolic environment and increased muscle growth.
Make sure you’re consuming the right balance of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats in each one of those meals and also make sure you’re getting fruits and vegetables in your diet, since fruits and vegetables are high in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that keep pretty much every single thing in your body working correctly. The fiber in fruits and vegetables will help also help to regulate your metabolism and digestive tract, which can improve your overall health.
Take these tips seriously and you will be on the road to muscle growth in no time. Building muscle is not as difficult as many people make it out to be, it just requires hard work and dedication. As long as you get the basic principles of diet and weightlifting down, you’ll be on the road to success in no time.