Written by: Garrett Hubbell
Building muscle is a topic that is always being studied and information is always evolving. While some supplements are effective (although not needed for the most part), the basics drivers of building muscle comes down to two things: tear muscle fibers in the gym, re-fuel them with adequate food outside of the gym.
Training - The best way to build muscle is to demand more from the muscle than you did the last time you worked it out, either in weight or reps. For example: If I did 3 sets of 10 reps last week, with the same weight that I did 4 sets of 12 this week, I am demanding more output from that muscle. Consequently, the muscle will attempt to adapt to an increased demand for the next workload. After the 2-5 day recovery period, that muscle will be stronger and ready for the next workout. Generally after working out a particular muscle, it will become sore. This soreness is the recovery period that takes place while the muscle fibers rebuild. Working out sore muscles is not often a good idea, as it can cause excess fatigue and injury if not supervised by an experienced trainer or coach. Once this soreness subsides, your muscles have recovered and are ready for a workout again. This is why most muscle building programs have at least two to three days of rest between workouts that train the same muscles; e.g. Chest + Shoulders on Monday, Back + Arms on Tuesday, Rest Day on Wednesday, Legs + Abs on Thursday, Chest + Shoulders on Friday, Back + Arms on Saturday, Rest Day on Sunday, Legs + Abs on Monday.
Building muscle is a slow process but you will see results within the first month if you are consistent and work hard in the gym. On our website, theotherbodyshop.com, we have youtube links with videos to show how to structure workouts if you want to explore those resources. Otherwise, a common muscle building split goes as follows:
Consider the first couple sets as warm up sets that get your muscles ready for the final set, and give everything you have to push the last set to near failure, with a spotter when using free weights, of course. Keep track of your weights on each exercise and add a little bit more each week as long as you're recovering in between workouts. If you would like a customized plan to follow, we offer free 30 day workout plans. If you would like a trainer to help keep you accountable and make sure you are performing the exercises correctly, stop by the front desk or give us a call and we can get you set up with a personal trainer.
Diet - If I eat in a calorie deficit, I am going to have a difficult time recovering from last week's workout and my muscles won't be repaired because they didn’t receive enough nutrients. If I eat in a calorie surplus, I will provide my body the nutrients it needs to recover and adapt to the new workload that I am asking my muscles to perform at but I may add excess body fat.
This is why powerlifters usually aren’t sub 10% body fat, they need to be in a calorie surplus so that their muscles can increase the workload required for them to get stronger.
To make sure that you are eating in a slight surplus to build muscle, but not over eating and adding unwanted fat, take inventory of your current calorie consumption for a week. If you have visible abdominals and aren’t trying to lose fat, you should up your calorie intake by 200-300/day and make sure you consume about .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day and drink plenty of water (around a gallon/day).
A good rule of thumb is that maintenance calorie intake should be about 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight and fat calories at 25% of the total calories. Protein = 4 calories/gram, Carbohydrates = 4 calories/gram, and Fats = 9 calories/gram. So, a 180 lb male would consume about 180 grams of protein (4 x 180 = 720 calories), 180 grams of carbohydrates (4 x 180 = 720 calories), and 25% from fats (1440/3 = 480 calories /9 = 53.33) or 53 grams of fats.
From this rule, we can conclude that in order to gain muscle mass, you should increase carbohydrates to greater than 1 gram per pound of body weight and vice versa when cutting down.
If you are carrying visible and unwanted fat, you probably want to focus on building muscle slower by being in a slight caloric deficit. In this scenario, you should decrease your calorie intake by 200-300/day. Calories coming from carbohydrates and fats should be decreased to meet your desired caloric intake, while keeping protein intake consistent at .8 to 1 gram per pound of body weight. Also monitor the quality of foods you are consuming and increase work output with a consistent weight training program, and add at least 45 minutes of cardio two to three times per week.
Supplements can be used but they certainly aren't the driver for growth. Like the old saying goes, nothing works unless you do. So I won’t go into great detail with supplements as they are the least important factor to building muscle. If you're interested in additional supplementation to aid in muscle growth, studies have shown that supplementing with 6 grams of essential amino acids (EAA’s), 5 grams of creatine monohydrate, and about 35 grams of carbohydrates either intra or immediately post workout can increase muscle protein synthesis up to 3.5x. This would be a safe practice, as well as whey protein, if you aren't able to meet your protein requirements from a whole food diet.