DO NOT SKIP MEALS
To successfully gain lean muscle mass, consistently eat 3-6 well-portioned meals and snacks with quality nutritional content throughout the day.
Time the input of extra calories around physical activity, you are fuelling your training sessions and supplying the muscles with enough energy to recover and grow.
CONSUME THE RIGHT AMOUNTS OF PROTEIN
This macronutrient is the building block of strength. It’s used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and other molecules (i.e., super important). Most protein consumption studies suggest 1.6-2.2 grams per kg (0.7 – 1 gram per pound) of lean muscle mass as sufficient for ‘building’ intake. So focus on your daily protein requirements, not just your post-protein shake after every session. Remember to spread your protein intake throughout the day to maximise protein synthesis; every four hours is a good benchmark.
GET YOUR REQUIRED CARBOHYDRATES
Simple carbs are critical to the recovery and muscle-growth process. Post-training, your body lacks glucose (useable energy) and glycogen (stored energy), which is the ideal time to consume high-glycaemic carbs (GI index <70%+) such as fresh fruit, bread and cereals. In addition, carbs are protein-sparing, forcing the body to source glycogen for energy instead of breaking down precious muscle tissue.
DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
Water is the most critical substance for health, growth and development. Water helps transport nutrients to your cells, forming protein and glycogen structures. Without proper water consumption and electrolyte balance, muscle development will be impaired. Increase your water intake to prevent cramping, build strength and accelerate muscle response. Aim to consume 50ml of water per kilo of bodyweight on a typical non-training day (I.e., 65kg female = 0.05 x 65 = 3.25L water per day). Strive to increase your daily water target by 0.75-1L on your training days.
Getting less than 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night decreases protein synthesis, leading to muscle loss and the inability to repair muscle fibres. Proper sleep boosts testosterone levels, improves our ability to gain muscle, reduces cortisol levels, increases muscle growth, reduces muscle breakdown, reduces inflammation and reduces the risk of injury while accelerating muscle repair. Sleep is also essential for optimising fat-loss hormones, including human growth hormone and leptin.
Lifting heavy weights with low reps typically promotes lean muscle mass more than lifting light weights with high reps, though this is gender dependent. Keep a controlled and deliberate tempo while lifting to create more significant metabolic stress, leading to superior composition changes. Lifting close to failure with any weight, light or heavy, can build lean muscle mass.
However, the technique is far more important than weight and shouldn’t be sacrificed to reach a particular rep count. Be safe, be patient and lift correctly.
COMPOUND YOUR MOVES
Get more bang for your buck with compound moves as they allow you to lift heavier weights, utilise more muscles and burn more calories. Working for several muscle groups simultaneously is the most efficient way to stimulate lean muscle mass growth in multiple areas of the body. In addition, training with compound moves works the body more functionally, improving coordination and mobility, all while gaining mass.
While a bit of cardio is helpful, too much can compromise your ability to build muscle.
For one, the number of calories required to replenish the expenditure across heavy strength training and extended cardio sessions is high. You also risk your body having too much damage to repair between training sessions, thus increasing the likelihood of injury.
For optimal lean muscle mass results, scale back your cardio training to two or three 45-minute (or less) sessions a week.
TRACK AND PERIODISE YOUR WORKOUTS
Tracking your weight progression over time is much more complicated without recording your workouts. Keeping note of your lifting weight is not only practical for your development, but it can act as an important source of motivation.
Structuring workouts into specific mini-cycles focusing on strength, power, and hypertrophy can increase body size and strength. In addition, periodised training doesn’t just extract the most out of one session but ensures that each workout contributes to a larger strategy.
Attitude-behaviour consistency is critical because it impacts many elements of our health, including the ability to build lean muscle mass. Don’t fall into the trap of skipping meals only to binge eat later. Instead, play the long game and fuel up with quality, nutritionally dense foods consistently throughout the day. Likewise, don’t overload on gruelling training sessions hoping to expedite the process, only to burn out a few weeks later. Instead, plan consistent, achievable sessions with attainable short-term and long-term goals; you’ll get there.
Whether you’re an athlete building muscle to improve performance, a bodybuilder seeking that trophy-winning physique, or an everyday desk jockey wanting to lose weight, lean muscle mass is incredibly important to your overall health and well-being.
Building lean muscle mass is an investment in your body, both in the short term and in the long term. There’s no doubt that the aesthetic look of lean muscle mass is great when we’re younger. But the real value is in the myriad health benefits it provides as we age.
You’ve got what you need; now it’s time to do the work.
I’m right there with you.