Muscle Building: How it’s done

Muscle growth key points

  • Be aware of how many calories your consuming
  • Create a 300-600 calorie surplus through diet (approx 20cals/lb body weight)
  • Eat every 2-4hours
  • Daily protein intake should be at least 2g/kg of body weight (eg 90kg = 180g protein a day)
  • Pre/post workout and breakfast are important opportunities to build muscle so make these meals >700cals
  • Women and men should eat around 400-700 calories in each meal which should  include a complete protein with a decent amount of complex carbohydrate
  • Use a programme that reflects you natural genetic ability
  • Train progressively heavier each week
  • Sleep for at least 8 hours each night, you grow when you are not training so learn to relax outside of the gym
  • Water! being well hydrated means hydrated cells = hydrated muscles = more muscle growth

Proper nutrition + Correct training principles + Adequate rest = Muscle growth

For muscle-building to occur certain physical stresses and dietary requirements needs to be adhered to. Our bodies aren’t really designed to be as muscular as some men are or want to be and to maintain that kind of physique it requires a lot of discipline from the dietary side and plenty of hard work from the physical side on a consistent and regular basis to continue to maintain or build that muscle. The correct blend of nutrients alongside the correct training for your genetic build, coupled with enough R&R, will equate to gains in muscle mass as far as your genetics will allow.

Muscle fuel

First of all, lets start with the diet! Calorie intake for muscular hypertrophy is kind of a reversed fat loss diet. For fat loss, you consume fewer calories than what you expend each day to lose fat. For muscle to grow, however, there needs to be a calorie surplus, more calories than you expend daily. These extra calories are what provides your body with the energy to grow new lean muscle tissue. Make no mistake, if you aren’t consuming enough calories, you won’t grow, plain and simple. Even if you are consuming enough calories you will at some point need to increase them to keep new gains coming. I kid you not when I say building serious muscle naturally can require some serious eating. For me, 4000 calories a day is standard if I’m sitting at around 205lbs in total body weight. On the other hand, more calories doesn’t necessarily mean more muscle, only unnecessary fat gain. With possibly the exception of a typical hard gainer, a true “ectomorph”, anything over around 400-500 calories above what it takes to maintain your weight will likely pose a risk of new unwanted fat gain.

Uh-oh, so what does this mean…calorie counting? what!? seriously?

If you want to be accurate and want to minimise fat gain, whilst maximising muscle gain, I think it’s a necessity unfortunately. As a general rule, for fat gain susceptible “endomorphs”, a modest 300 calorie surplus is all that is needed to provide enough calories to grow on, while an ectomorph may need a 600 calorie surplus (or more) while the mesomorph could gorge on a 600 calorie surplus and will probably still get crazy shredded gains (bastards). So if your currently eating 2600 calories and have been for a couple weeks and you haven’t even gained half a pound, then its safe to say you need more calories. Therefore, increase your calories by roughly 300 (ie, 2 protein shakes and a banana or a handful of nuts and an apple or a peanut butter sandwich) until you can gain around 1-2lb in 2 weeks. Maintain this caloric intake until you no longer gain 1lb every 2 weeks. This is the trial and error method. Another simple way to eat for muscle gains is to simply start by eating 18 calories per lb of body weight and adjust from there depending on whether or not you’re gaining or losing weight each week.

Drip fed protein

When you lift heavy weights you break the muscle down and cause micro trauma, tiny tears in the fibers that when combined with enough sleep, calories and protein equates to new thicker stronger muscle fibers. To save you an essay eat 2g of protein per kg of body weight throughout the whole day, you weigh 90kg = 180g protein. Regular eating patterns should be incorporated to maximise protein synthesis, eating every 3 hours works well for me and that feeding time interval has some good research behind it too, 30-40g of protein for women and men is more than enough per meal.

Carbs = bigger fuller muscles

Since we know carbs draw around 2.5 g of water in with every gram of carbohydrate you eat it becomes very easy to gain weight and create a more muscle-building environment when your carb intake is high. I personally choose to have most of my carbs in the meals after training, around a good chunk for breakfast. Having most of your carbs post workout and for breakfast is a better use of carbs as your muscles will be more sensitive to the effects of insulin meaning you can be sure your muscles will soak the carbs instead of your fat. It should go without saying that carb sources throughout the day in any meals (with the exception of post workout nutrition) should be high in fibre and as unprocessed as possible carbs of a slow release nature. A good rule of thumb when trying to gain muscle is to start at around 1.5g-2g of carbs per lb of bodyweight. For example If weighed 190lb I will go for around 380g of carbs in a day, broken up. Generally, try to get the bulk of your carbs in at breakfast, pre workout, post workout and post post workout.

Pre/Post workout

Pre and post workout are arguably the most crucial times to feed your muscles with nutrients.This really is the make or break time where nutrition really matters. Think of it like this, going to the gym and training without having a post workout shake is like giving a builder the blue-prints to build a house without providing him any raw materials. The tools are there, but without bricks, cements and materials, there is nothing to build with. You can’t build a house out of air just like you can’t build muscle out of air. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF POSTWORKOUT NUTRITION.

Men and women really want between 20-40g of protein with around 60-120g of refined, high glycemic, sugary carbs (glucose/dextrose/maltodextrin) fairly soon after your last set or straight before training. For hard-gainers I would shoot for the higher end regardless of body weight.

Genetic wall

After many years of hard lifting and big eating your bound to hit what I call the genetic wall. Everyone has genetic limitations but if you are aware of your body type and can and eat in a way that reflects your body type then you can to an extent learn to override these limitations to make gains in strength and size with time.

There are 3 basic body types, these 3 body types are referred to as somatotypes and they are Endomorphs, Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs. Each somatotype has its own physiological differences that define their natural body composition…

Endomorphs tend to be stocky with a tendency for fat gain, they usually have tree trunk legs big calves and can build muscle at an easy rate, but again their downfall being their susceptibility to fat gain

Ectomorphs tend to be skinny and sometimes lanky, they usually have a thin skeletal frame, skinny wrist and generally a thin stature, they tend to be lean but skinny and find it hard putting on weight (me!)

Mesomorphs  have the best of both worlds, great genetics, naturally lean and builds muscle easily, very athletic (so jealous)

Although somatotypes are really a truncated explanation for the genetic differences between people. It can be helpful to guide you towards a training and eating regime that fits your frame.

Train like a pro bodybuilder to look like a pro builder… No!

First of all I just want to dispel something, I’d imagine there maybe some guys reading this that would like to get as big and as freakishly muscular as Ronnie Coleman or Jay Cutler? Or some guys just want guns like Arnie? Or maybe you’d like to attain a more aesthetic look like that of Serge Nubret with his pleasingly muscular yet athletic look similar to most bodybuilders in the golden age?

Well, I definitely had the same wishes at one point in my life. I remember reading these magazines in my young teen years and thinking if I train like these guys and take the supplements they recommend maybe I could get like them. If you are one of them guys and your heart is set on growing until your 240lbs+ and 6% body fat you’re probably aiming a little high unless you know you have great genetics. Generally speaking, for an “average” drug-free person, that kind of build and size is not attainable. It’s a pipe dream that you’ll soon realise is limited by your natural ability. If you want arms like Arnie’s or you want to be as wide a Heath, stop dreaming it’s probably not going to happen. 

For most people, with typical jobs, with typical social lives and typical genetics, following the routine of a pro bodybuilder will most likely result in over-training. Take from them their training concepts, philosophies and adapt it to suit your own build and lifestyle by decreasing either the volume or frequency.

Now you’re aware of what’s realistic and you have a good grasp on reality, you’re now ready to achieve a decent amount of muscle in proportion to your frame and you’re ready to get the most out of your body and reach your genetic potential. Building a great physique naturally if tough and requires consistency and hard work, but the results are far more satisfying.

Expectations

You can’t gain much more than a lb of sold muscle a month, and this probably a generous estimation. Muscle building can be a painstakingly slow process especially for those who are highly trained. Realistically I look to build 1lb of lean muscle per month if muscle-building is my goal. Fortunately, if you are relatively new to training or you have had over 6 months off training or have come off from a long dieting stint, it’s actually possible to build muscle at a much faster rate while burning off body fat at the same time.The only exception may be if you are bulking up straight after a cut and you are carb depleted or you are new to training altogether whereby it is possible to get quick noobie gains. Those are the only exceptions when it might be seen as acceptable to gain more than 4lbs a month. But remember, most of this may just be mainly be muscle water weight from an increase in carbohydrate intake. Even after that though, once your glycogen levels fill up you are looking for 0.5-1lbs of lean muscle a month couple with a lb or two of water weight. Sounds pretty disappointing right? It’s not. Over a year of consistent training this can accumulate to impressive gains. Fast forward a year later and you have packed on 15lbs of weight most of which is lean tissue. You can reassure yourself you have earned it these gains. Naturally built muscle with consistency and hard work gives you a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Hold your head up high and be sure that your muscle’s won’t deflate like a balloon and do not require anything other than what you did to build it for it to be maintained.

To summarise again:

Muscle growth key points

  • Be aware of how many calories your consuming
  • Create a 300-600 calorie surplus through diet (approx 20cals/lb body weight)
  • Eat every 2-4hours
  • Daily protein intake should be at least 2g/kg of body weight (eg 90kg = 180g protein a day)
  • Pre/post workout and breakfast are important opportunities to build muscle so make these meals >700cals
  • Women and men should eat around 400-700 calories in each meal which should  include a complete protein with a decent amount of complex carbohydrate
  • Use a programme that reflects you natural genetic ability
  • Train progressively heavier each week
  • Sleep for at least 8 hours each night, you grow when you are not training so learn to relax outside of the gym
  • Water! being well hydrated means hydrated cells = hydrated muscles = more muscle growth

I hope this information helps and isn’t too overwhelming. Hopefully you can apply these tips and start making some gains! 

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