If we were to ask people what they needed to do in order to gain some muscle mass, everybody would reply without hesitation: hit the gym. And that’s true, to a certain extent. Hitting the gym is indeed fundamental to induce muscle gains, but it is far from being the only factor in this equation.
Training, diet and supplementation all go hand in hand as part of the muscle building process. Disregard any one of them and you won’t be getting the kind of results that you’re after.
We know it can be hard for a beginner to sort out all the necessary steps to building muscle fast. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of the most important training and diet tips to add muscle mass. Focus on these powerful rules and be amazed with the results.
Training gives your body the necessary stimulus to build muscle mass. Weight training induces micro-traumas to the muscle fibres. This would be a very bad thing if your body didn’t have the ability to recover. But it has, and every time it does the body comes back stronger and fitter.
This is called the Super-compensation principle, which is a natural adaptation process your body goes through in order to be able give a better answer next time it is subjected to a similar stimulus.
But for this process to occur you must follow some weight training guidelines. Let’s take a look at what we consider to be some of the most important steps:
Number of workouts/sets/repetitions: The general recommendation is that you work out 3 times per week if you are on a full-body routine or 4 to 6 times per week if you are on a split-routine.
You should do 3 to 5 different exercises per muscle group. Aim for 3 to 5 sets per exercise.
The number of repetitions affects which muscle fibre types you will develop. Studies show that the optimal repetition range to induce muscle hypertrophy (an increase in the size of muscle fibres) is 8 to 12.
Intensity/rest between sets: Ensure you keep your workouts short and intense. There’s no need to exercise for 2 hours. That will only increase your cortisol levels (Cortisol is a catabolic hormone – one that destroys muscle mass).
Instead of long rest periods, you should aim to rest between 60 and 90 seconds in-between sets. One hour should be enough to complete your workout. Remember, it’s all about intensity and taking your body beyond its comfort zone.
Best exercises: Do you get tired just from seeing other people lifting those heavy barbells? Well, truth is you should not run away from the more demanding exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, dips and back rows. These are the best muscle building exercises.
Compound movements such as the ones mentioned above involve several muscle groups at once and therefore will induce a bigger hormonal response. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do bicep curls or tricep kickbacks. You can, just be sure you focus on big movements instead of isolation ones.
Resting time: This may come as a surprise to you but you don’t grow in the gym. You grow outside the gym, more specifically when you’re sleeping. It is during sleep that your muscle fibres will recover from the exercise-induced micro-traumas. That’s the reason you should get a sufficient amount of rest.
The general recommendation is that you sleep 7 to 9 hours. Avoid drinking any liquids prior to going to bed in order to avoid paying a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night and disturbing your sleep.
A solid nutrition plan is essential to support muscle growth. If you don’t provide your body with enough Calories, it doesn’t matter how hard you hit the gym, your muscles simply won’t grow.
Calories: In order to grow, you need to consume more calories than those you burn daily. Seems obvious, but not everyone pays attention to it. Try to eat 20 to 22 calories per pound of body weight, per day.
If your efforts are not working, add some more food to your diet plan. It is very common for beginners to think they are eating a lot when in fact they are not.
Proteins: Proteins are the building blocks of muscles. In order to grow, you must consume an adequate amount of protein on a daily basis. Scientific studies suggest you should eat around 1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
So, if you weigh 70kg you should be eating around 105 grams of protein per day. You can choose from several good protein sources such as milk, fish, meat and eggs. Try to eat every 3 hours and ensure you always include a good source of protein in every meal.
Carbohydrates: If you want to grow, you’ll also have to eat a good amount of carbohydrates. They are the body’s main energy source and also play a role in manipulating the anabolic hormone insulin.
Your body can store up to around 500 grams of glycogen (400g being muscle glycogen and 100g liver glycogen). 55% to 60% of your diet should be derived from carbs. Give preference to low glycemic index carbs such as legumes, vegetables, whole foods and sweet potatoes.
It is extremely important to eat fast absorbing carbohydrates immediately after your workout. Having a load of high glycemic index carbohydrates after your workout along with your protein shake will not only help to quickly replenish glycogen levels, but it will also lower cortisol and boost protein synthesis.
Fats: Fat is an essential part on any muscle building diet plan. Fat is not only necessary to produce testosterone, but it also helps with the transportation of liposoluble vitamins.
Fats should make up 25% to 30% of your diet. You should always aim to regularly consume good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as the ones found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, fatty fish, eggs, peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter.
Avoid trans-fats, found mostly in processed foods and snacks (cookies, cakes, etc.) as they causes inflammation, and hold no benefits for your body.
Supplements come as the cherry on top of the cake. If you’ve already established a proper diet plan, then you can start thinking about getting some supplements to boost your muscle growth to a higher level.
Supplements are designed to fill in the gaps in your nutrition plan. Let’s face it, it’s not an easy task to take more than 120g of protein per day, or to eat 3000 calories every day – especially if you’re not used to eating a lot.
That’s where sports supplements come in. A protein shake can easily give you 20 to 30 grams of protein. If you take a protein shake 2 times a day (for instance, before and after your workout) that’s 40 to 60 grams of protein you can get with very little effort.
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are also very helpful when increasing muscle protein synthesis and avoiding muscle catabolism. Glutamine plays an essential role in muscle recovery. One single serving of a high quality gainer can feed your body with 15% to 20% of your daily required calories – which can really come in handy.
Supplements can help you achieve your goals in less time. But remember they should never be a substitute for food. Instead they are very useful as a complement for your diet.