If you have started reading this article, you are most likely somebody who regularly or at least occasionally goes to the gym. Most of your visits there are probably not just about your goal but your motivation too. This article firstly focuses on your possible goal: muscle building.
Is there a formula for success?
How often have you heard “more is better” when it comes to building muscle? Lots of training, lots of food, ideally chicken and rice, and tons of supplements. So in practice that means you should preferably work out twice a day, keep to a precise regimen of pre-, intra- and post-workout supplements and have a big meal every two hours so the catabolic devil doesn’t come to visit?
The fact is there is no ONE key to success in muscle building. It is not enough to trust the old locker room pumping wisdoms or to copy the training and nutrition plan of an athlete who is in the condition you desire.
Everyone’s body works differently and even if you use Phil Heath’s plans exactly, factors like your individual body type, age, metabolism, regeneration capacity, hormones and especially your genes will stand in your way as you work towards becoming Mr. Olympia. Ladies, the same applies to you, but what complicates things is that your naturally lower testosterone level and higher oestrogen significantly complicate and slow down the process of building muscle.
To determine your personal key to success it is essential to understand how muscle building works and which role training and nutrition play.
How can you get the training effects you want?
“Man is a creature of habit” the old saying goes. And this includes our cardiovascular system and our muscles. If your new apartment is on the 4th floor and you now suddenly have to climb the stairs every day you will probably be rather out of breath the first time you reach the top. At some point you will climb the stairs with ease because your body has adapted to the new strain. The same applies to weight training. Weights that you could hardly lift or couldn’t lift at all at first will feel lighter and lighter over time. The muscles get used to the strain, a process we make use of in muscle building. Let’s think of training as the stumbling block that can cause a long chain reaction!
To achieve the training effect you must overcome the so-called threshold. Your target muscles must therefore be used differently from what they are used to. For this you can lift heavier weights than what you are used to, regular weights for longer than normal, or lift them quicker than normal. The crux is that you give your muscles a new impulse that compels them to adapt. For people who are out of shape the threshold is generally significantly lower than for trained athletes. So a threshold with an intensity of 40-60% of the maximum power can be enough for out of shape people, while trained people must work with 70-90% of their maximum strength to stimulate an increase.
How does adaptation work?
Training stimuli can result in mechanical stress on the muscles and also affect the muscles by stressing the metabolism by depleting energy reserves. With appropriate training stimuli (beyond the threshold), the body releases hormones which promote muscle adaptation, for example by increasing the thickness of our muscle cells, also known as muscle growth.
After exhausting and hurting the muscles in training you need regeneration not just to restore the old performance level, but also to reach a higher level through this adaptation. This general process is called supercompensation.
As you now know, regeneration is essential for muscle building but abstaining from training for too long is just as destructive as excessive training without regeneration phases. Remember: “Use it or lose it”! If you allow your muscles to rest for too long, you will lose the temporarily increased performance level and instead return to your original training capacity. In other words, you shouldn’t wait too long before your next workout. In general, smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps and calves regenerate faster than thigh or back muscles, for example. For men, one training session per muscle group and week may be enough, while for women we recommend training more frequently, two to three sessions per week.
What role does nutrition play?
On principal it is very simple: if you would like to build muscle, increase what is available. For this, your body must consume more energy than it needs and thus create a surplus. Your body ostensibly draws energy from the macronutrients carbohydrates and fat. Protein, on the other hand, is the most important component in your body and is thus essential for building muscles.
As a rule of thumb, 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight is sufficient for both men and women to build muscle. Your body firstly does not care where the protein comes from. Whether it comes from sources like meat, fish, egg and dairy products or plant sources like pulses or soy. Ideally, however, you should choose a balance of protein sources and not just cover your protein needs with tofu or beans.
If you find it difficult to cover your protein needs with regular food, high quality whey protein is a big help.
There is no across the board number of how high your calorie surplus should be for successful muscle building. First determine your maintenance requirement (the calorie balance to neither gain nor lose weight) and from there gradually increase your calories. To avoid an undesirable quick increase in body fat, you should start slowly and begin with a range of +100Kcal to +500Kcal above your maintenance requirement. Here, women should use the lower end of the range, men can try a little higher straight away.
We have now successfully disproved the “more is better” myth. The muscles do not grow during the workout but during the regeneration phase that follows, especially whilst sleeping. A training workload of four to five sessions per week is plenty for an advanced athlete to build muscles. A beginner can see great success with just three training sessions per week.
If your goal is to build muscle, eat and train accordingly, you can be sure that the number on the scales will increase! Women often have more trouble with this than men.
Your body fat proportion will inevitably increase because the necessary energy surplus unfortunately doesn’t all go to the muscles but is also partly stored in the fat cells for hard times. A well-planned diet with a moderate surplus can contain the increase in body fat. Nutritional supplements are more important in the fat reduction phase, but also have their purposes when building muscles.
Have fun and good luck with building muscle!