If you’re looking to add muscle mass to your frame, you already know the way to do it is by hitting the weights. That being said, although you can feel your muscles grow by pumping the iron, you should keep in mind that the gym isn’t the only place where you should make changes in order to stimulate your muscles to grow bigger. Nutrition takes a very important place in the mass-building equation.
Eating for muscles is as important as lifting for muscles. The breakfast you take each morning, the meal-preps you pack and the way you fuel your body post-workouts, have a huge impact on building those muscles. And as in gym, there are a few nutrition rules you must follow.
- Calories: friend & foe
After each workout, you need to rebuild the muscle tissue that’s been broken down. In order to do so, you need energy, in other words, calories. Even though your number 1 priority is to build muscle, when we’re talking about calories, there are actually 2 goals you should keep in mind: maximizing muscle gains, minimizing fat gains. This means that the surplus you use should be big enough to build as much muscle as possible, but at the same time, small enough to avoid gaining unnecessary fat. If you supply your body with too much calories, the extra ones will be stored as fat instead of muscle.
In general, every day you should aim for 300-400 more calories than your body burns through exercise (multiply your bodyweight by 17).
Protein is also a building block for muscles, as well as for bones, cartilage, skin, hair, and blood. Still, as it is with calories, if you have too much protein, it may contribute to increased body fat levels. A sedentary person needs to eat about 0.8g of protein per kg of body mass each day. Athletes, and people who want to build muscle, need about double this (1.2 – 1.7g of protein/kg of body mass).
Protein-rich foods include meat, cheese, milk, fish, and eggs. For vegetarians, protein can be found in soy products such as tofu as well as in combinations of foods, such as rice or corn with beans.
- Pre- and post-training meals
The benefits of post-workout nutrition are multiple, but for the sake of our subject, let’s discuss about the impact it has on muscle.
- Prevents muscle breakdown – a tough strength training workout will create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. If adequate nutrients are not supplied before and/or after the workout, these muscle tears can lead to further muscle breakdown, which means your muscle is broken down to form protein that your body uses as energy to repair itself.
- Faster muscle recovery – a properly timed post-workout meal with the right nutrients can help decrease soreness in your muscles. If you are able to recover faster, that means you can train harder and more frequently, which will lead to better and faster results.
Regarding the proper timing of a post-workout meal, evidence suggests that eating immediately after a workout generates superior results. The 30-60 minute period after a workout is the “window of opportunity” that can help you maximize the training effect.
Keeping well hydrated is important for physical performance and is a vital component for muscle growth. Your performance quickly drops when your body is dehydrated just 1%, not to mention that if you feel thirsty, you’ve already waited too long!
If you keep training when dehydrated, your strength and muscle size will decrease. In order to maintain 100% of your strength you MUST stay fully hydrated. Muscles get thirsty!
Given that such a small amount of water loss can compromise strength and growth, staying hydrated can help you keep your strength and gain muscle over the long haul.
Just as with nutrition, there are also some guidelines you should follow when you’re in the gym that can help you pack on the pounds.
- Spend time under tension
Time under tension (TUT ) is a known term in the strength, conditioning and bodybuilding fields. It refers to how long the muscle is under strain during a set. A typical set of 10 repetitions for an average lifter will take anywhere from 15-25 seconds depending on lifting speed. The duration of stimulus and tension are key factors in determining your muscle growth.
Slowing down the eccentric portion of the lift causes more muscle damage and encourages more muscle growth. Also, avoid spending too much time during the easiest portion of an exercise, for instance, at the top of a bench press. The easiest part of a lift puts the least amount of stress on your muscles.
- Low reps work best
When it comes to stacking on size, how many times do you think you need to lift those weights in a given set? If you've tried a set of 15 or more reps before, you know it can be a bit difficult. You'll find your muscles fatigue quickly, and the 40 pounds you’re working with, will start to feel more like 100 by the end of the final rep.
Training within the 8 to 12 rep range is the best way to add muscles, but if you want to lift more in those reps, you need to get stronger as well. Training with reps in the 3 to 6 range is the best method to develop muscle strength. This range best produces changes in both the muscle fibers and the nervous system that promotes strength gains.
- Nail your rest periods
Rest too long and your workouts lose intensity. Rest too little and you burn out too quickly. So, what is the optimal time between sets for muscle growth?
Testosterone and growth hormones are produced in greater levels when you rest for short to moderate periods of time. The time can vary depending on how many sets you're doing and how heavy is the weight you’re working with, but 60 to 90 seconds between sets is a good guideline.
- Don’t overtrain
Especially when dieting, your body is very susceptible to overtraining because it doesn't have the extra calories and nutrients to recover from excessive workouts.
Your body only needs a certain amount of exercise to stimulate growth, and after that, results will start to diminish. If you listen to your body, it will tell you it has had enough, by either constant fatigue or even mild sickness.
- Don’t miss workouts
There should be no reason that you miss a workout when it comes to the growth stage. The harder you work, the better the results!
- Limit machine use
Barbells and dumbbells, with squats, deadlifts, rows, bench etc., should be the bread and butter of all of your workouts. These exercises recruit the most muscle fiber use which leads to maximum growth and improvement.
Think about using machines or cables only after you’ve exhausted maximum energy with the free weights.
Gains will differ from one individual to another, depending on the body size and experience in the gym for each. Also, doing the right thing in the gym and outside, will definitely add positive effects. To stay on track and get the best results, you need to avoid making some serious mistakes, such as: training overload, experiencing caloric deficiency, adopting the harder-is-better mentality, lacking patience and planning poor recovery times, just to name a few.
Do the right thing and your body will do the packing for you!