The alarm clock goes off at five in the morning, and you gear up to hit the gym. You’ve kept this routine for weeks now, maybe even months… but with little results. No matter how hard you train, you just can’t seem to gain any muscle. A health journey with no progress can be discouraging, sometimes enough to quit. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it’s never going to happen because you “don’t have the right genetics” or “the right body type”.
Sure, genetics and body type play a role in putting on muscle, but it isn’t the end of the story. You don’t have to be Thor, an Amazon, or a super soldier to reach your goals. Three things have to be in alignment for gaining muscle: training, nutrition, and sleep.
Muscle Building and Training
Gaining muscle is called hypertrophy: the increase and growth of muscle cells. Through this process, your muscles get stronger and bigger. However, hypertrophy requires a strategy. You won’t see much progress if you show up every day to the gym and do the same workout every day. You also won’t see results if you try to fit it every exercise under the sun into a two-hour session with no real system. In order to optimize hypertrophy, you have to follow a “progressive overload” program. A progressive overload program is structured to provide continual challenges to your muscles, improving in strength and size over time. How exactly does training improve hypertrophy though?
During training, you actually break down your muscles. The process of working out creates tears in muscle fibers which the body must heal afterwards. That is how gains occur – during the recovery period. See, your body is smart. It doesn’t just want to repair your muscles so it can handle the same kind of stress as before. It wants to heal to handle that same stress better. Therefore, when your body heals your muscles, it works to make them stronger than before. That causes muscle size to increase overtime as well: the more muscle cells you have the more strain you can take. This is why carefully documented progression is key. You want to make sure your muscles are putting up with more tension and strain in order to grow.
The best kind of progressive overload training is strength training. Of course, you can use other forms of training to increase hypertrophy like cardio, sports-based training, or something called hypertrophy training. You might think, “well, wouldn’t hypertrophy training be the best to build muscle then?” Not exactly. Hypertrophy training is a form of resistance training where lighter weights are used at higher repetitions for an exercise. For example, using a 5lbs dumbbell for a bicep curl and doing that for 20 repetitions. Then you would do that again, about 3 times total. Though this, as well as the other forms of training, do build muscle they’re not the most efficient. Research shows that if you want to optimize hypertrophy as much as possible, strength training is the way to go. Unlike hypertrophy training, strength training focuses on using heavier weights at fewer repetitions. An example of this would be using a 15lbs dumbbell to do 10 repetitions of bicep curls. Research shows that strength training is the most optimal training for hypertrophy, but as long as your training includes steady progression, you’ll still be able to put on muscle!
The most important part of any fitness program is making sure it is safe and efficient. A fitness coach can help you create a progressive training program, show you how to properly do the exercises, and keep you motivated on your way to your goals!
Muscle Building and Nutrition
As mentioned, the gains don’t happen at the gym. They happen after – during recovery. This is where nutrition plays a critical role. Your body need the proper nourishment to heal your muscles after training and make the stronger than before. There are two things to keep in mind when following nutrition for muscle hypertrophy: calorie intake and macronutrient balance.
When your goal is to gain muscle, you’ll have to put yourself in a calorie surplus. This means consuming more calories than you burn every day. A calorie surplus will make you gain weight, but unfortunately, not all of it is muscle mass. Some weight gain does come from fat gain. However, maintaining a calorie surplus known as “lean bulking” optimizes muscle gain while limiting fat gain. It’s called a lean bulk because the goal is to put on as much lean muscle as possible while avoiding excessive fat again. The results will be about a 1:1 ratio, so 1 pound of fat gain per pound of muscle gain.
Lean bulking comes to about 10% more calories than you burn every day. For example, if someone burns a total of 2,000 calories a day, they’ll want to consume about 2,100 calories a day to lean bulk. A great way to find out how many calories you need to consume based on your goal is to use a nutrition calculator. You can find one here: nutrition calculator. This will take into account your current health stats and activity levels and give you an overview of total calories needed and a macronutrient target (carbs, protein, and fats).
It’s possible you’ll end up needing to eat a little more calories than 10% over what you burn, especially as you continue to gain weight. A good way to start lean bulking is to stick to the 10% calorie surplus for a few weeks. Weigh yourself every day, and at the end of each week, calculate your average. Calculating the average over a few weeks is important because your weight will likely fluctuate quite a bit when starting a lean bulk, especially if you’ve been eating to lose weight or maintain weight before. This happens because of increased water retention and glycogen being stored in your muscles (more on that later).
If you’re someone who’s just starting to train for muscle hypertrophy, you should gain about a pound a week. If after a couple weeks you haven’t gained any weight, increase your calorie intake by another 100 calories until you start seeing the scale move! This structure would put you at about 4lbs a month of weight gain. Depending on whether you’re a man or woman, and how long you’ve been strength training, these numbers may differ. However, if you’re gaining weight too fast, say 2-3 pounds a week, you’ll want to either increase your exercising or decrease your calorie intake. Eating 10% more of the calories you need every day will likely leave you feeling quite satisfied, so you can bring this down to 5% while still optimizing muscle gain and minimizing fat gain. The trick is to make sure you’re eating enough to slowly and steadily gain muscle weight.
It’s important to note that those who have just started strength training may experience “newbie gains”. This means your body is highly responsive to muscle gain, so you put on muscle weight faster. This is about the first six months to a year of strength training. You’ll notice you can train harder, progress faster, and increase weight faster too. However, after the six-month mark, those gains will start to taper out as you get closer to your body’s genetic capacity for muscle gain. The genetic capacity for muscle gains means how much muscle you can really put on before you reach the limit. It varies from person to person, but a good average is 20-30 lbs. for men and about half of that for women. The closer you get to those limits, the harder it becomes to put on muscle. Sticking to the 10% calorie surplus will work whether you’re a novice or experienced strength athlete and prevents excessive fat gain for both groups.
When lean bulking the most important macronutrient, you’ll need to increase is protein. Why? Your muscles are made of about 20% protein. Protein, and the amino acids it’s composed of, are the building blocks for muscles. After you train hard in the gym, your muscles are in need of recovery, and protein is the source your body uses to heal.
So how much protein do you need? Studies show that those who partake in strength training benefit most from consuming 0.8 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 130lbs woman should eat 104 -130g of protein every day. It sounds like a lot, but remember your body is working hard to repair those muscles so they grow stronger and bigger. It needs that protein. Plus, your body uses protein for other things like creating hormones. Having a little extra in your reserves means you’ll have enough protein for your muscles as well as every other protein-based body process. After the 1g per lbs. of body weight range, the body doesn’t really use the protein. There’s no need to go over that benchmark.
It’s important to spread out protein intake throughout the day, ideally 20-30g with each meal. However, research shows that consuming a protein and carb drink before and/or after working out increases protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the process of your body creating some proteins to heal our muscles. Consuming carbs and protein before/after exercise also slows down muscle breakdown, which is the loss of proteins post training. Therefore, after a good training session in the gym, it’s not a bad idea to drink a protein shake and maybe eat a banana!
Carbs have a bit of a bad rep when it comes to the fitness world. However, the truth is your body needs some carbs. This is especially true if you’re someone who does strength training. After protein, carbs are the second most important macronutrient when it comes to helping recovery. You’ll want to start between 1-2g of carbs per lbs. of bodyweight. There are two reasons why carbs are essential in optimal strength training: storing glycogen and increasing insulin.
Consuming enough carbs allows your body to store a form of energy called glycogen which comes from the sugar (glucose) found in carbohydrates. Glycogen is stored in many parts of your body, including your muscles. This muscle glycogen is the main source of energy when training. For example, if you go to do a squat, your glutes, hamstring, quads, and calves are pulling energy from glycogen stores to complete the movement. If you don’t have glycogen in your muscles, training becomes difficult, and you can’t train as much as you could otherwise. Since the quality of your training plays a key role in muscle growth, it’s important to have enough energy to train well without risking overtraining or injury. Also, glycogen helps in muscle recovery. By now you probably realize that proper training and recovery = muscle hypertrophy.
Carbs also increase insulin levels. Insulin has important anti-catabolic properties. Essentially, it decreases the rate of muscle breakdown. This makes it easier for your muscles to recover and therefore gain strength and size. As you continue to gain weight, you’ll want to increase your carbs to increase total calorie intake. After you hit the 1g per lb. of bodyweight in protein there’s no need to continue adding more, and you’ll want to keep your fat intake between 20-30% of your daily calories. Just make sure your carbs are coming from healthy wholesome sources like wholegrains!
Fats are an important part of a well-rounded diet. By no means should you avoid eating fats in your nutrition plan, whether you’re training to gain weight or lose it. Fats help your body function properly and are an essential part of daily processes like absorbing vitamins and minerals. When it comes to eating fats for weight gain, you’ll want to eat between 20-30% of your calories from fat. This works out to be around 0.2g – 0.3g of fat per lb. of bodyweight. Hitting this macronutrient target will allow your body enough fat to work well while not gaining too much fat during your lean bulk. Of course, it’s also important where you get your fats from. Stick to healthy sources of fats as much as possible, like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish. These provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are the healthiest fats. Keep your saturated fat to as minimal as possible while still eating enough food, especially protein, to achieve your muscle gain goals. Finally, try to stay away from unhealthy fats such as trans fats as these are highly processed and toxic to your health.
Muscle Building and Sleep
You may have noticed the word “recovery” come up a lot when talking about hypertrophy. That’s because, as mentioned, the gains come after the training when your body is working to repair itself. This is why getting enough rest, particularly quality sleep, is so important! If you don’t rest well, your training isn’t efficient, your nutrition can fall out of whack, and you won’t see much progress.
When you sleep, your body produces muscle-building hormones like Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This is a key component in muscle recovery because it allows your body to use the amino acids in protein to help muscles heal. The bloodstream has the most HGH available during the first few hours of deep sleep. This is when your body starts a lot of its recovery processes including healing organs, tissues, bones, regenerating cells, and releasing HGH. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, the production of HGH is impaired and therefore muscle recovery is suboptimal.
Athletes or those who are regularly active need from 7-9 hours of sleep. The more stress you put on your body the more sleep you need. For example, those who do a lot of strength training would do best closer to the 9 hours mark as their bodies require more time to recover from the strain of training.
Sleep deprivation also affects your glycogen levels. Without proper sleep, your body isn’t able to properly restore the glycogen stores throughout your body, which means that muscle recovery is impaired as well as your ability to perform well in the next training session.
Lastly, sleep deprivation can actually cause muscle loss and fat gain. Muscle loss happens because your body isn’t able to properly recover from the stresses of training or daily activities. This means that the wear and tear of those activities doesn’t get healed, and the muscle breakdown continues. This is extremely important when you’re in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than you burn) because now your body isn’t optimally nourished or rested. It can cause fat gain because of changes in your body when you don’t sleep well. For example, when you don’t get enough rest the neurotransmitter ghrelin shoots up. Ghrelin is in charge of letting your body know when you’re hungry and need to consume more calories. On the other hand, leptin decreases. Leptin is the neurotransmitter in charge of letting you know you’re full. The combination of these two changes makes it much more likely that you overeat (more than your ideal calorie surplus) leading to unwanted fat gain.
Of course, there’s also the fact that you just won’t want to train when you’re sleep deprived. Motivation, energy, focus, balance, coordination, accuracy, and decision-making skills are all impaired because of sleep deprivation. This makes it more likely that you’ll skip your training session and increase the risk of injury if you do train.
In conclusion, training, nutrition, and sleep are important parts of any muscle gaining program. You’ll want to make sure you’re training smart, eating right, and resting properly to maximize the gains and perform at your best!
How FK Can Help You
No matter how hard you train, if you’re not fueling and resting your body properly, you won’t make much progress. It might seem overwhelming to get your nutrition down when trying to gain muscle. Figuring out calories, macronutrients, and building a meal plan out of it can leave you confused and frustrated. Thankfully – building meal plans is kind of our thing! At Fran’s Kitchen, we believe that powerful nutrition is the key to optimal performance and fitness goal success! We specialize in creating delicious, nutrient-packed meal plans that can help you today!
There are two options for joining the FK family. First, for those living in the Phoenix, AZ area, we offer delivery meal plans. These plans are created and delivered to customers based on an agreed upon schedule. The FK Delivery Meal Plans options are:
– Autoimmune Protocol: for those with autoimmune disorders and body inflammation.
– Keto: for those interested in the keto lifestyle.
– Detox: for gut healing, metabolism boosting, and toxin removing.
– Paleo: a whole-food nutrient rich plan.
If you don’t live around the area, no worries! We can still offer you a structured, nutritious, efficient nutrition program for your goals! Our FK Online Meal Plans might just be the nutrition game changer you need. These meal plans are customizable, meaning we take your information regarding your current health and activity levels, and your goals, and we tweak our meal plans to fit your unique goals! The three options we offer for these customized meal plans are:
Whichever path you choose, rest assured that you’re fueling your body with everything it needs to maximize recovery. These meal plans are not delivered to your fridge – they’re delivered to your inbox! Once you sign up for the FK Online Meal Plans and send us your info, we’ll send your complete meal prep program. This program included an overview of the foods you’ll have every day, their nutrition content, preparation, cooking, and storage instructions, and even a grocery list! FK Online Meal Plans can help transform your nutrition and get closer to those fitness goals every day. Sign up today!
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NOTE: Fran’s Kitchen offers two different meal plan services. Our Delivery Meal Plans are delivered to customers on an agreed upon schedule. Our ONLINE MEAL PLANS are NOT delivered. These online meal plans are sent to customers via email to be cooked, followed, and enjoyed from the comfort of their own kitchens! Please be mindful of these differences when registering for Fran’s Kitchen services. Thank you!
Tags: #meal prep #nutirtion #musclegain #lean bulk #gains