If you’re hitting your training sessions consistently, then you’re very likely trying to add muscle to your frame for better strength, definition, and performance. Many athletes come to discover just how difficult it can be to build muscle – if you don’t have the right strategy. Let’s talk more about how to build muscles and what your training and diet might look like.
How to Build Muscles: 3 Pro Tips
1. Develop a Muscle Gain Workout Plan
If you want muscle growth – also known as hypertrophy — you have to train like you mean it. First up? Compound exercises. These are exercises that work more than one muscle or muscle group simultaneously.
Pull-ups and push-ups are also fair game, since they work a number of muscles in your upper body, including your core.
To get a little more specific, note that hypertrophy often implies increased reps, even though that means the intensity — read: the load — decreases. The reason for this is fairly simple. What do you think will help you build more muscle: one front squat at your one-rep max, or a set of 10 reps at 60% of your max? If you went with the latter option, congratulations! You understand the (very) basic premise of hypertrophy training.
Another training tip? Now, we’re not trying to diss cardio, but here’s the thing. If you want to know how to build muscles, then understand that this means adding mass (weight) to your frame. More on this in a minute.
But in terms of cardio, since traditional cardio is more of a calorie-burn — and you’re trying to put weight on — if you want to build muscle, don’t spend too much time on the treadmill.
Now, let’s talk more about adding weight to your frame, and what this means for your diet.
2. Your Build Muscle Diet
Are you eating a cobb salad with a glass of sparkling water for dinner? If you want to build muscle, stop that right now!
We hate to sound like a broken record, but if you want to grow muscle, that means gaining weight — because muscle not only has weight, but it’s also heavy! Note: Because gaining muscle often means losing fat, the number on the scale might go down. But rest assured that to add muscle, you need to fuel yourself more.
We’re not going to tell you exactly how to eat, because every person is unique. What works for one athlete might not work for the next, and that’s okay. Here are a few general rules of thumb.
Incorporate All Three Macronutrients Into Your Diet
Forget building muscle. Your body needs all three macros simply to function. But we point this out to highlight that if you want to get stronger, any diets on the more extreme end — like high-fat, low-fat, or low-carb — might hamper your growth.
Now, more specifically…
Bump Your Carbs
Because you want to add mass, you’ll probably need to add calories. That’s the simplest way to gain weight. Are you tracking your carbohydrates? Because you very well might not be consuming enough. Carbs are going to be integral in fueling your growth and energy, and this is often the first macro that nutrition coaches will increase when their clients want to get stronger.
Typically, nutrition coaches will increase protein after carbs. But for now, focus on getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Lastly, there’s fat. This is usually the last resort, since your muscles are fueled by carbs first and protein second.
Long story short: Eat more carbs.
Prioritize Whole, Nutrient-Dense Foods
Depending on your training level, you might find that it’s actually difficult to eat enough. This is when a lot of athletes resort to “dirty” foods, like processed junk food and snacks.
We’ll never tell you to avoid these foods entirely, because you’re human, and… balance! However, here’s a gentle reminder to make whole foods your priority. Before you grab that Pop-Tart because you know you need calories, make sure you’ve chowed down on foods like sweet potato, greens, and responsibly sourced meat.
And then go eat the Pop-Tart.
3. Rest and Recover Wisely
It’s understandable for an athlete trying to build muscle to think that they need to train more, more, more. And yes, your training frequency/intensity might very likely increase. However, this is important: Muscle growth doesn’t happen during training. It happens in between training, when you’re resting and recovering.
This means that you need to give your body time to recharge. You might already know that when you do resistance training, you create micro-tears in your muscles. And those micro-tears are ultimately what make muscles bigger. Well, you need to give those tears time to heal, or else your muscles will never grow.
This doesn’t mean you have to sit on your bum and binge-watch your favorite Netflix show (although you certainly can). In fact, much research suggests that active recovery is more effective than passive recovery. So, you can go for a walk, do yoga, or spend some time on the rower.
But do not pick up the weights. I’m serious. Put them down right now. Overdoing it with strength training won’t just slow your progress. It can actually make you very sick and weak.
TL;DR? If you want to build muscle, increase your reps, increase your calories, and be strategic with your rest days. And importantly, remember that consistency is key. This isn’t going to happen overnight. Look for progress across not days, but weeks and months. You’ll be buff like Arnold Schwarzenegger before you know it.
Learn more about how to build muscles.
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