[x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 45px 0px 45px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]If you’ve landed in this section of LiftNLive.com, you have a goal – A goal to gain size and you want to know how to build muscle.
If you’re new to this game, then before we begin, let me be the first to welcome you and congratulate you on wanting to become a part of this amazing journey to improve your physique.
The aim here is to equip you with the knowledge you need and understanding on how to build muscle the right way (With all of the bullshit and fat trimmed). This post will hopefully give you a huge head start over most other gym users.
I’ll warn you though, this journey is long and at times difficult. You need to set yourself realistic expectations and be ok with what’s achievable – If you do this, then the rewards you’ll reap on the journey to your new physique will be worth every effort.
Knowing that this journey can be difficult and will require immense patience along with dedication, are you ready to continue? Are you ready to learn how to build muscle?
If you wanted a quick fix or a fad diet/training routine, then this page isn’t for you. I’m not here to sell you a false dream. If you’re ok with that, please read on and it will be my pleasure to show you how to build muscle.
You won’t regret reading this if you’re new because I’m about to show you the most important elements to building muscle. Getting just one of these wrong will be detrimental to your gains!
With this in mind, I will say that this page contains only the tangibles that you can physically change.
The post will be a long one as it is and so doesn’t go into other important mindset factors such as realistic goal setting, expectations or genetics.
Of course, it’s difficult for me to go to length about each element of muscle building on a single page. If you want to make an immediate start I would definitely recommend picking up a highly detailed Muscle Building program – Having read the program from cover to cover, the one I’d most recommend is…..
If you’ve been in the game for a while but have seen little or no results then you may be missing one or more of the 4 key elements or not paying it as much attention as you should be. Ever heard the saying..
You’re Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link?
Well, I want you to look at these elements like a “chain” – A chain can only do it’s job if all of the links are intact. If one is broken, you break the entire chain. We’ve spoken a lot about these 4 mystery elements. I think it’s about time they introduced themselves..[/x_text][x_gap size=”50px”][x_alert type=”success” close=”false” heading=”The 4 key elements needed to build muscle are…”]
> Supplementation[/x_alert][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 45px 0px 45px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]Imagine the 4 elements as a chain..break one of them and the whole chain is broken. The relevance of this analagy is this – If you’re missing one of these key elements (with the exception of Supplements) then you will get ZERO gains. Not a smaller amount of gain, not minimal gains but ZERO gains especially if you’re not genetically gifted.
In case you’re wondering, yes, they have been put in order of importance. However, I don’t really believe that’s the correct way for you to look at each element. The links work together to make the chain.
Let’s take a look at each link and understand why they are each so important. Pay close attention – you’ll learn exactly how to build muscles. Class is in session!
A quick note before we start : If all of the following information sounds confusing, I’d highly recommend grabbing a complete muscle building program to kick-start your muscle building journey – My highest recommendation goes to my coach Eric Helms’ Muscle Building Pyramids ebooks which provide a complete guide on not only nutrition but also workouts with evidence based theory with which you can start to build muscle fast. Click Here to check it out now
The most important of all 4 elements but easily the thing most gym users looking to build lean muscle get wrong is not eating enough calories to grow.
You can train as hard as you like but without fueling your muscles outside of the gym then all of your hard work will be for nothing!
Can you imagine training as hard as you can? – Performing heavy squats until your legs are jelly or grinding out those last two reps on the bench press with the absolute last of your strength…for nothing!?
You might be able to get away with it as a beginner since your body will quickly adapt to the new stimulus of weight training, but it won’t take long before you reach a plateau and your nutrition becomes the most important variable. We might as well make sure we have it down now.
Not something many of us would like to hear or think about but it’s true. Eventually, if you’re not going to eat enough calories to support your goal of building lean muscle, then you might find yourself burning out because of how slow your progress is (if you’re progressing at all!).
Building muscle is slow at the best of times – Don’t make it even more difficult for yourself by getting this part wrong.
I want to preface this section by saying that unfortunately (or fortunately!), there isn’t a ‘one diet fits all’ dietary solution.
How much and of what you need to eat will depend on your individual metabolism, genetics and even your personal preference.
Although, I’ve spoken about “Nutrition” as a whole being one of the most important factors in your quest to build muscle, we can also break down nutrition into smaller sections and put these sections in an order of importance.
Luckily, my coach and buddy Eric Helms has already constructed a simple visual in a “Pyramid” fashion which breaks down and shows you the most important parts of your nutrition for building muscle.
As you can see in the image above, at the very bottom, the foundation of the pyramid is ENERGY BALANCE aka How many CALORIES you’ve consumed Vs How many CALORIES you’ve burned over a period of time.
01 – ENERGY BALANCE aka CALORIES
Calories seem to have been almost forgotten in the fitness industry madness to try and sell you the latest fad diets. If you come across any guru’s trying to sell you the idea that “calories don’t matter” in your journey to build muscle, I’d recommend RUNNING not walking in the other direction. (The same goes for fat loss, but this page is about gaining muscle mass)
So what are calories?
In the most simplistic terms, calories are a unit of energy. Foods contain calories which our bodies in turn use for energy to perform our daily activities such as walking, exercising, fidgeting and heck, the autonomic systems just keeping us alive also burn calories. (our heartbeat, digestion, the functions of all of our internal organs etc)
This is where ENERGY BALANCE comes in.
If you aren’t consuming enough calories to support lean muscle tissue growth (you should be consuming slightly more calories than you are burning off in a day), then anything you do after that is pointless because you haven’t even got your foundation in place.
Incidentally, in my almost 15 years in fitness, this is the number 1 reason I find people are not gaining muscle is because they have fallen at the first, most important hurdle and aren’t consuming enough calories.
How do you know how many calories to consume? I’ve got you hooked up : Visit my Calorie IIFYM Calculator to figure out your estimated daily calories for your goal. (It will also break down the second part of the pyramid for you too and tell you what macronutrients your calories should consist of)
Your ideal muscle building diet is going to be discovered by using a mixture of trial, error and personal preference to see what response you get from your body but also which kind of eating you can adhere to in your everyday life. Remember, we Lift n Live! (Not just lift)
However, we can follow some guidelines and a great place to start is the flexible dieting calorie IIFYM calculator on this website to estimate your basic calorie needs. BMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate and is the minimum amount of calories your body needs in a day to carry out it’s basic functions. You can then use this figure to find out your total caloric daily expenditure.
You should be aiming initially to consume around 100 – 250 calories MORE than your estimated total daily expenditure if your goal is to build muscle.
If you still aren’t experiencing muscle gain (You can use measures like your weight, bodypart measurements and how you look in the mirror to tell whether you are progressing) then gradually increase your daily calorie intake further until you do.
Similarly, if you’re gaining too much fat, cut back slightly on your daily calorie intake, specifically from carbs or fat. Easy eh?
This is by far the hardest thing to do if you’re not used to eating this amount of food when you’re first learning how to build muscles, but it’s the most important element in your muscle gain phase! Stick with it and you’ll be happy with your new rippling muscles!
02 – MACRONUTRIENTS aka Where Your Calories Come From.
So, now that you know how many calories you should be consuming in total, you need to then know how those calories break down.
Macronutrients are what make up your calories and come in the form of Protein (4 calories per gram), Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) and fats (9 calories per gram). Alcohol also contains calories but aren’t quite broken down the same way (7 calories per gram)
You could just focus on consuming your daily target for total calories, however, this is likely to result in less than optimal health and performance.
To support muscle growth, the evidence generally suggests consuming at least around the 0.75-1 gram per lb of lean body mass daily mark.
[x_alert heading=”For Example – 150lb Trainee” type=”info”]
Someone who weighs 150lbs with approximately a 10% bodyfat will have a lean body mass (or LBM) of around 135lbs (We’ve established that 10% of that 150lbs is bodyfat which is 15lbs. We take this number away to leave the athletes lean body mass of 135lbs).
This particular trainee would consume around 135 grams of protein per day for their goal of muscle growth
The good news is that our free Calorie Calculator can help you out with this if you suck at maths as bad as I do![/x_alert]
Carbohydrates and fats can then make up the rest of your calories in quantities depending on your personal preference, performance in your daily activities and your training.
REMEMBER – This page is a vastly simplified overview of all the factors needed to build muscle, especially when it comes to nutrition. Look at this as your “Quick Start” guide for building muscle with a focus on the things that matter. Other pages on this site will contain more in depth considerations about each macronutrient.
03 – MICRONUTRIENTS aka Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, zoonutrients etc.
Micronutrients are responsible for our growth, development and health as well as being required for many physiological functions in our body.
Called “micro”nutrients as these nutrients are required in much smaller quantities (mg and mcg’s rather than grams) than macronutrients.
Your vitamins, minerals, phyto/zoonutrients will come from a balanced, varied, mostly minimally processed/refined whole foods diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables. (Aim for at least 4-5 portions per day of fruits and veg)
The various colours of fruit and veg represent different nutrients and therefore, including a variety is encouraged for optimal health.
If you need a recommendation, a percentage that is often thrown around is to keep your diet at around 80-90% minimally processed/refined, single ingredient foods with 10-20% of your calories coming from whichever foods will keep you on track and adhering to your diet. (mmm, chocolate…)
With this split, I believe you’re most likely to maximise your health, performance, recovery and adherence to your diet.
04 – MEAL FREQUENCY + MEAL TIMING
Moving further up the pyramid to the less important aspects of eating for your goal, we have meal frequency i.e. how many meals you consume per day and meal timing, i.e. eating every 2-3 hours and eating around your workout.
Meal frequency plays second fiddle in importance to making sure you consume your target TOTAL calories and macronutrients.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not important at all.
The evidence tends to show that in order to maximise your MPS (muscle protein synthesis) and therefore, maximise your muscle mass (your GAINZ!), it’s optimal to consume a high protein meal (30-55 grams of protein depending on the source) around every 4 hours and therefore a frequency right around 3-5 meals per day would work best for most people.
That’s not to say you can’t make gains with more or less meals but the evidence seems to suggest 3-5 meals would fit best for the amount of protein needed per meal to maximise MPS.
We touched on meal timing above – Optimally, for muscle growth you’re looking at consuming a high protein meal every 4 hours. Just another reminder that this is secondary in importance to making sure you are consuming your target total calories and macronutrients.
SUPPLEMENTS – Discussed further down as a separate link.
MUSCLE BUILDING WORKOUTS + TRAINING
On to another essential element in your quest to build muscles – Training! I know, I know…Obvious, right?
Simply put, if you don’t subject your muscles to enough stimulus through an effective muscle building workout then they will have no reason to adapt and grow for you.
The body is a very clever machine that adapts to everything we do in order to survive. That is the number 1 goal for our body (This explains why our body would much rather hold on to fat for survival because fat carries more than twice as much energy as muscle tissue! 9 calories vs 4 calories per gram)
In the most simplistic terms possible, using freeweights (barbells/dumbbells), machines and cables are the most effective ways to build muscle and pretty much all effective muscle building routines will have freeweights as a foundation.
When you lift weights in the gym with enough intensity and volume on the muscle group you’re working, your body reacts in the following way :
”Wow! That was tough! I better make these muscles bigger and stronger so that they can handle this workout next time”
Well, that’s what your body would say if it could speak anyway…
Remember, that the body is efficient at surviving. Put stress on your muscles and your body will respond by making them bigger and stronger to survive your next workout.
Because of this, as we get bigger and stronger we should be lifting heavier loads or training with more volume (reps and sets) to ensure that the body is continually progressing. This is called Progressive Overload and is super important in order to avoid a plateau.
So, which Muscle Building Workouts Are Most Effective?
The short answer : It depends.
With the rise of steroid use from the 1950’s onwards, the general public were often fed (and still are today) muscle building information more suited to people training on copious amounts of drugs.
Magazines would often, and still do, interview professional IFBB bodybuilders and recommend their workouts to their readers.
The issue here is that pro bodybuilders (in the IFBB) are hormonally enhanced with performance enhancing drugs that meant their workouts were far from optimal for the natural trainee trying to build lean muscle.
The training volume was way too high for a natural person and the recommended routines didn’t train each muscle group with enough frequency, which is important for somebody training without drugs to maximise results.
As a general rule of thumb, most of the magazine recommended muscle building workouts would have had you working on specific bodyparts 1 to 2 times a week maximum. Sometimes known as the “Bro – Split” (You’ll still commonly see this routine in most gyms as many people still copy the routines of enhanced professional bodybuilders)
Back to maximising the potential of the natural trainee, which is who this site is designed for.
As stated at the top, there is no single most effective muscle building workout and the “best” workout will depend on many factors but here are some evidence based guidelines that you can look for in an effective workout if you’re natural :
[x_alert heading=”Traits of an Effective Muscle Building Workout for a Natural” type=”success”]
Each bodypart is trained with a frequency of 2-3 x per week.
40 – 70 reps total per bodypart, per session.
Generally contain big, compound movements which give you the best bang for your buck in terms of strength and muscle size. i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses and rows.
Example Workout Splits
Push/Pull/Legs/Push/Pull/Legs (can be done 5-6 x per week)
Upper Body/Lower Body/Upper Body/Lower Body etc (can be performed 4-5 x per week)
Full Body Workout (can be performed 3-4 x per week) [/x_alert]
You can go further in depth on muscle building workouts < – by clicking here
Before we move on, let me go back to the analogy of the “chain”
Remember the first link? Nutrition?
You can “smash”, “kill” or *insert stupid, violent adjective that fitness models use to describe completing their workouts here* as many of your workouts as you like but if you don’t feed your body with adequate food, then your body will have no tools with which to repair and grow your muscles.
Do you see how the chain analagy comes into play here?
No muscle gain without training but no muscle gain without nutrition! Break one of these important links and you get NOTHING
The take home lesson here is that you must train to build muscle BUT your nutrition is what permits and allows for muscle growth, which brings us nicely on to our 3rd key element…
Recovery is very much linked in with your nutrition, training and potentially supplementation but there also some other things you can do to help.
If you’ve worked out with enough intensity to build muscles, then you will need to pay attention to your recovery in order for them to not only recover and grow, but also for your performance in the gym to stay high.
[x_blockquote type=”left”]You Should Train With as Much Volume and Intensity That you can Recover From[/x_blockquote]
The quote above is quite an ambiguous statement but as much as I’d like to tell you that this section is an absolute science, it really isn’t and often relies on your unbiased intuition.
Many people worry about “overtraining” but it is damn near impossible for the recreational, or even a professional lifter to actually “overtrain” in the actual sense of the word. You’d need to train hard for hours, every day, for months on end to get close to real overtraining.
However, that’s not to say that you don’t need to pay attention to your short term recovery in between workouts to maximise your muscle growth
Some signs that might show you need to focus more of your attention on recovery are (but not limited to) :
- Constant lethargy/exhaustion
- Hitting a plateau that you haven’t been able to break past for a few weeks/months
- Gym performance suffering or feeling much more difficult than previously
Listed below are some things that you can do to maximise your recovery. Again, the purpose of this post is just to equip you with a general understanding of the muscle building process so I won’t be going too in-depth into each point.
[x_alert heading=”Things you can do for Recovery” type=”success”]
Get 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night Ensure that you hit your daily calorie and macronutrient targets
Ensure you include 4-5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables
Stress Management – Become aware of and eliminate stress factors in your life
Supplementation – Multivitamin, Whey protein, Omega 3 fish oils, creatine etc may facilitate recovery.
Foam Rolling and Mobility – Helps with posture, joint health and correct movement patterns to help prevent injury.
Choose an evidence-based, muscle building programme which is programmed with adequate rest
Take a Deload Week – This is basically a “light” week of training which can be programmed every 4-12 weeks of your training depending on the individuals recovery needs. [/x_alert]
Those are just a few things that may help you with your recovery and keep your train steaming into Gainsville “PEEP PEEP!!”
Below is a graphical illustration of two different people training for muscle growth. As you can see, I’m the modern day Van Gogh – I know, you’re too kind..
In the top picture, Bob isn’t recovering adequately for whatever reason. He’s perhaps not doing one or more things in the list above. It’s probably a slight exaggeration to show that his muscle size would regress (unless he’s seriously under eating) but you get the point. He’s digging himself a hole that his recovery can’t get him out of in order to progress.
However, in the following picture, Bob has finally got his shit together, is recovering well in between workouts and now his muscle growth is on a slow but steady upward trend.
How much recuperation do you need?
Again, the answer depends (You’re sick of that answer by now, I’m sure) on many individual factors such as age, genetics, body types/structures, external environment etc – again, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to that question unfortunately.
Some will argue that this 4th element isn’t ‘Key’ and that most gym users focus too much on this aspect rather than the more important things such as a solid training plan, nutrition and consistency.
I 100% agree – Don’t read this if you think that you’re going to find the bridge between gaps in your nutrition and/or training in a magic supplement. You aren’t.
However, it could also be argued that for certain people, supplements will have a direct correlation to whether they achieve their nutrition goals. How important is nutrition? You know the answer to that.
At the very basic level (95% of supplements are garbage), they might be the difference maker for an individual dependent on their scenario.
If Bob can’t eat enough protein through solid food then his ability to build muscle will be hampered. Adding a protein shake to supplement (important word – Means ‘in addition to’, not ‘instead of’) his diet and to hit his protein target will mean that Bob will gain muscle.
Judy doesn’t enjoy eating oily fish – She supplements with Omega 3 fish oils.
Altu lives in London. The weather is mostly shitty with a lack of sunshine. He supplements with Vitamin D3
Get the picture? This section doesn’t need to be over-complicated. You take what you need for optimal health and performance.
Let’s be real here – Most supplements are not worth the fancy labels they’re wrapped up in and most people spend far too much time and money on supplements when the solution is usually much more straight forward – Nutrition, training and consistency!
Use muscle building supplements that have evidence behind them and NOT the one’s that make outlandish claims. The truth is that there are only a handful of supplements that work and are backed extensively by science. Here’s a list below :
[x_alert heading=”Recommended Muscle Building Supplements” type=”success”]
Whey protein concentrate/isolate
Omega 3 Fish Oils
Caffeine (the main, cheap ingredient in pre-workouts)
Do not waste your money on fancy, exotic sounding supplements from extortionate brands. Remember that supplements are only an essential part of the chain for certain individuals in certain circumstances. Focus consistently on the top 3 links for fast muscle gain!
Let’s wrap it up
[x_alert heading=”How to Build Muscles – Follow the 4 Principles” type=”success”]
Eat enough calories consisting of the correct foods/macronutrients. You will not grow without a good muscle building diet!
Choose an effective muscle building workout AND make sure you are using the principle of progressive overload with every workout to give the body a reason to build muscle!
Take steps to recuperate for your next workout or you will not progress.
>>Key Element Number 4 – Supplements
Optional. If your nutrition is effected by your lack of appetite/convenience then it is ok to supplement your diet with protein, vitamins. Supplements will maximise your results but can’t replace a good diet! Choose only proven supplements
Now that you understand the things that matter and the basic principles to build muscle, you’re better equipped than most new starters to this muscle building journey (and also probably know more about how to build muscles than many who have been working out for years!)
Look at these 4 key elements as a template to building muscle. I’ve given you a basic template but now YOU need to find the finer details that will give the optimal results for your body in your individual lifestyle.
This site was built to further your knowledge about muscle building and fat loss but ultimately it will all boil down to actually doing and experiencing it for yourself.
Thanks for reading, I hope that your journey is a rewarding one and that people will soon come to you for advice on how to build muscles!
Go forth, young grasshopper![/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_author title=”About the Author” author_id=””][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section]