Of all the questions I’ve received in my time working in the health and fitness industry, one consistent question I’ve always been asked is how do I grow muscle? Better yet, how do I maximise my muscle growth so I can ensure I can grow as much muscle as possible without the use of any illegal ergogenic aids and without gaining too much fat. The reality is, that there are no shortcuts to growing muscle and even more so it is not easy. It takes consistency and a well-planned approach done repetitively over and over again to achieve muscle growth, of which is a slow steady process.
For me there are 3 primary considerations for muscle growth, which include but are not limited to:
- Progressive overload
You have to eat to grow!
When looking at an individual’s diet that is trying to gain muscle, there are two primary factors to consider that have a direct effect on muscle growth. Firstly we must consume enough high-quality protein to ensure total body nitrogen balance is maintained, of which is referred to as a positive nitrogen balance, and secondly, sufficient calories must also be consumed in the right quantity.
Throughout the day we are in a constant state of muscle breakdown and repair, which will conclude with either a net muscle gain, muscle maintenance or worst case scenario, net muscle loss at the end of the day. By consuming adequate protein with a complete amino acid profile on a daily basis, we can ensure that the nitrogen balance of the body, of which shows good correlation to muscle growth/retention, remains positive and in essence muscle tissue is maintained. Should we go into negative nitrogen balance then the opposite occurs and the risk of net muscle loss is increased.
Now it is also important to realise that you can be in a negative nitrogen balance, due to inadequate protein intake, but still not lose muscle if the calories you are consuming are sufficient.
- For a male who is eating at a caloric surplus and trying to gain muscle, aim for 1.8-2.5g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.
- If you are eating in a caloric surplus, are female and you’re trying to gain muscle, aim for 1.6-2.0g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.
- If you are eating in a caloric deficit, are male and you’re trying to maintain muscle, aim for 2.2-2.7g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.
- If you are eating in a caloric deficit, are female and you’re trying to maintain muscle, aim for 1.8-2.2g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.
With these guidelines, you can be assured that you are placing your body in a positive nitrogen balance and muscle repair or building will be optimised. Over consuming above these amounts is likely to not achieve anything positive for muscle growth, however, it may provide benefit in reducing hunger so this needs to be considered also.
Protein consumption should never go so high that it negatively impacts your carbohydrate intake. So be mindful of protein overconsumption as it will yield no greater muscle growth benefits.
The name of the game for progressive overload is essentially to get stronger one way or another. All too often I see people in the gym just training for the ‘pump’ or aimlessly doing set after set after set, using intensity techniques like drop sets, super sets, giant sets and whatever else you can think of, but NONE of these individuals appear to have any purpose or direction.
Training is about creating a stimulus to achieved the desired outcome, of which in this case is muscle growth.
Now muscle growth is two-fold:
- You can grow actual mechanical muscle tissue (myofibrillar)
- You can enhance the size of the muscles contents (sarcoplasmic)
Number one is actual muscle tissue growth, whereas number two is essentially an increase in muscle size due to enhanced fluid and carbohydrate retention. Now while sarcoplasmic hypertrophy may make us look bigger, it doesn’t last long and it is not a direct representation of muscle growth. Whereas sarcoplasmic muscle tissue hypertrophy is a direct result of tissue growth and not just tissue swelling.
In order for us to grow larger muscle fibres we need to put them under stress and we can do that by forcing them to either be stronger in a lift by increasing the weight for a strength gain or secondly we can make them withstand greater levels of weight volume by increasing the amount of sets, reps and total weight lifted in a session.
One way or another we must force the muscle to adapt to grow and we do this by progressively overloading it with weight, which can also be referred to as intensity, or volume.
So instead of just going for a pump, which has its place, log your workouts and try and be stronger every week. Simply doing this will result in a higher likelihood of achieving muscle tissue growth.
All too often I hear of customers and clients again continually talking about how tired they are, how little they sleep or how poorly they sleep. Then instead of fixing the root cause of the problem, they band-aid the issue and use stimulants to perk them back up again.
Stimulants should be a performance enhancer, not a performance stimulator. What I mean by that is you shouldn’t be reliant on a stimulant to give you artificial energy that is missing due to poor lifestyle factors but instead they should be used to enhance an already efficiently working system.
So why are you tired?
Sleep quality can never be underestimated. When we sleep we recover, we synthesise hormones, repair damaged tissue, reduce inflammation and we revitalise our system so it can handle the day-to-day stressors we put it under.
If we don’t sleep long enough or even more so, well enough, we are missing out on a vital part of our day that is critical for not just health and wellbeing but also performance, recovery and your ability to grow!
Unfortunately, there is no definitive number for how many hours you should sleep in a day but there certainly is some correlation with how well you sleep and how good you will feel. Allowing your body to get into a positive sleeping environment that encourages dreaming, which is also known as rapid eye movement sleep (REM), is the time where we recover the most as it is our deepest most restorative sleep.
If this is you and you find you can't get into REM then click here and check out my guide to improving sleep so you can begin to reap the benefits of high-quality sleep.
Growing muscle is not an overly complicated concept but it absolutely is a slow, arduous and tough thing to achieve. However if you focus on the 3 things listed in this paper than you really can't go wrong.
- Eat enough food with a balanced macronutrient diet
- Overload your muscle in the gym consistently
- Improve your sleep quality to ensure recovery is optimised
Stop over complicating your training with intensity techniques and micromanaging your diet with nutrient timing and focus on the basics first before you try to control every minor detail. Eat more, train hard and sleep well.
It's that simple!