Besides fat loss, I receive the most questions from new clients about how they can build muscle. Though the answers are deceptively simple, they are much harder to put into practice. Therefore, as you read through this article, I want you to come up with a solid plan on how you want to implement these muscle building tips. You’re already here – clearly you want to add some sexy muscles to your frame – take it seriously and make it happen! All kidding aside, the best ways to build muscle are time-tested and fairly straightforward. But it is consistency which will make all the difference here – and patience.
1. Eat Protein
There is nothing else on this list that will make much of a difference if you do not follow this step. I’m not kidding. You can lift weights all day, every day – but you will never see proper results if you are not consuming enough protein. But how much protein do you need? This is an age-old question in the bodybuilding world, and many have tried to answer it. While science seems to point to 0.63 grams per pound of body weight, in practice, people will always consume less protein than I recommend.
So, if you think you may have a hard time getting enough protein, shoot for 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, per day, and you will likely hit your goal. Or – if you are a little bit more optimistic – aim for 0.75 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. The type of protein is really important here, and the Paleo diet does an excellent job of cherry-picking the best protein for you. Complete proteins are far better for you than incomplete ones (this is why we won’t be making beans the majority of our calories) and if you stick to a Paleo diet template, you will be well on your way to consuming the right muscle-building proteins!
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(Related: How Much Protein Do You Need?)
2. High-Intensity Interval Training
This is an easy one, as you won’t have to invest much time into long, grueling workouts. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) allows you to build muscle in a very short time. In fact, if you are not doing this, you may be losing muscle mass – even if you’re strength training. That is because long bouts of cardio at low intensity have been shown to decrease your muscles’ ability to absorb glucose (by immobilizing the glucose transporter). How do you perform HIIT workouts? It’s pretty simple, just go for all-out bursts of exercise, followed by short periods of complete rest. Think of it like sprinting.
But remember – muscle grows while you rest, so do not perform HIIT workouts more than 3-4 times per week – max. One other important scientific reason why HIIT is ideal is that it triggers an increase in the concentration of myofibrillar nuclei. This is crucial, because muscle growth depends on the increase of nuclei concentration. A simple HIIT workout to follow might be unlimited (until you can’t do anymore) push-ups, followed by a rest period of 1 minute. Then, do air squats until failure, followed by pull-ups until failure. If you want to keep things ultra simple, simply perform these 2 rounds repeatedly! Working out doesn’t have to be complicated!
3. Lower Your Stress Levels
One of the biggest issues with both fat loss and muscle growth is the impetus of a chronically high stress level. There is even a biomarker of overtraining known as the free testosterone/cortisol ratio. We could all use less stress – but it can be difficult to actually make this happen. Eliminating activities that may not be beneficial, decluttering your home, organizing your business files, or even leaving that high-stress job may all help with this. The bottom line is – you can’t grow muscle if your body is constantly stressed. What works best for muscle growth is short, acute periods of stress (i.e. lifting weights) followed by long periods of rest – sort of like our caveman ancestors!
4. Intermittent Fast
If you’re already highly stressed, work on step three before you even think about trying this step. But for those that are well-rested, live low-stress lifestyles and have a healthy metabolism, intermittent fasting can be an option to try. For those who may never have heard of this eating choice, you simply have a certain window when all of your calories are consumed. This means from seven in the morning to seven at night, you might not eat anything. Or you can eat breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. This would effectively have you fasting for 16-18 hours per day. One of the benefits of intermittent fasting is cellular autophagy. Think of this simply as your cells “taking out the trash”.
5. Lift Large
Another way to maximize muscle growth is to simply lift heavy! I don’t mean that you want to lift to the point of utilizing poor form – but to the point where you are challenged and stressed by the weight. A good rule of thumb (though you should always use a spotter for this approach) is to make sure your last repetition of your last set is severely challenging. This is not a step for complete beginners, but can be properly utilized by those who have some background in strength training, and also have a spotter.
This step is certainly not a necessity, but it may help those who are stuck in a rut. Shorter, heavier sets, like 5 repetitions instead of 8, will help “shock” your muscles into continuing to grow stronger. Another way to implement this is to simply have one day per week of heavy lifting, followed by a few, less intense days. Remember – not too much stress and plenty of rest is what will help you achieve your goal here!
6. Sleep More!
This step is overlooked by so many, perhaps because it can be quite difficult for those who live high-stress lifestyles to easily “unwind” at the end of the night. But sleep has been shown many times over, scientifically, to aid in muscle growth. In fact, scientists have shown that initiation of sleep results in a major peak of growth hormone secretion. In fact, not getting enough sleep can help activate many scientific mechanisms that will lead to weight gain!
One other thing that most clients overlook is sleep quality. I have written many different articles about this topic, and yet I still struggle to see much of a difference in most clients. The digital world of blue light (which disrupts melatonin production, setting you up for a hormonal imbalance) can be very toxic. But people must fight against this if they are looking to optimize their health or build muscle. Sleep is a vital physiologic and neuronal function, with inadequate sleep recently being found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
7. Eat Protein
Yes, eating protein is so important for muscle gain that I’ve listed it twice! Study after study has driven home the critical nature of proper protein ingestion for building muscle. Scientists have also found that a vegetarian diet is associated with lower muscle mass than an omnivorous diet — with the same protein intake. This is another reason why a Paleo diet is ideal – it provides higher-quality, more bioavailable protein than any other diet. Dig in!
Though it will take time, patience and discipline to see these changes, you will see real results if you eat a protein-rich Paleo diet, get lots of high quality sleep, and lift heavy weights. There is no magic pill, no magic trick or anything else, that will allow you to make incredible gains.
I know it can be more difficult to eat right and have patience and discipline – but it is the right way to go. Your brain and body will thank you for it. So go home, eat some grass-fed beef, keep your stress down, lift heavy and get high quality sleep. Before you know it, you’ll be leaner, more muscular and healthier!
(Your Next Workout: How to Work Out Less and Still Gain Muscle)