How to gain muscle mass

man lifting barbell in gym

Building muscle mass and strength is possible after the age of 35

You might have heard that it becomes harder to put on muscle as you get older. That may be true, but we don’t know at what age that begins and we can’t be sure the degree to which it occurs. These types of things are very individual anyway, so it’s hard to figure out how it might relate to you. If you do the right things, it’s possible to build muscle and be in the best shape of your life after 35.

Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue, strength, and function, is generally associated with aging, but there’s evidence to indicate that lack of activity could be a greater factor in the way this occurs. As a natural physique athlete over 35, and a coach to many lean and muscular people who are 35 and better, I have a vested interest in the ideal way of building muscle in the middle years. With some small adaptations, the best way of building muscle after 35 isn’t really that different from muscle growth in the 20s and early 30s.

Recovery Becomes Paramount

Sleep, damn it. You don’t need to workout 6 days a week to burn body fat or to build muscle. But if you sleep less than 6 hours a night, you’re going to struggle with any of your muscle gaining goals.

The Center for Disease Control in America found in 2016 that nearly 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. What does that mean for you? For one, depriving yourself of sleep increases your risk of hypertension and weight gain, blunts the effectiveness of your immune system, and can turn your mood upside down, making you less fun to be around. And worst of all, it can tank your sex drive.

Your body does the majority of its rebuilding while you sleep. During the deepest parts of sleep, your body releases growth hormones that repair and rebuild your body’s tissues.

Build your muscle in your 30s

Improving sleep doesn’t mean you need to go to bed earlier—unless you’re normally crashing at 1am and waking at 5am, then I’d advise you to turn off your Playstation 4 and go the f*ck to sleep.

Lte night gaming sessions aren’t the only thing affecting your quality of sleep. Here are a few things you can do to improve your sleep overall:

  • Limit caffeine intake after 3 pm;
  • Create a bedtime routine to help your mind wind down;
  • Limit screen time before bed;
  • Make your room darker than Darth Vader’s armor; and,
  • Lower the temperature of your room

But sleep isn’t the only recovery method you need to take seriously. When you combine adequate sleep with good nutrition, you’re giving your body the important time, and building blocks, it needs to make repairs. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, believed that food was medicine. You can’t fuel yourself like you did in your 20s on fast food, microwaved pizza, and can after can of Michelob Ultra. You’re an adult now: eat like an adult.

Make sure you’re eating enough protein to fuel your gains; .82-1g per pound of bodyweight is sufficient for building muscle, no matter your age. And one thing to monitor as you age is the amount of processed foods you’re consuming. Limit those foods and focus on whole sourced food; it doesn’t need to be organic, but make sure it’s not junk.

Oh, there’s one more piece to add to the recovery puzzle. And this piece is a great way to stay active on rest days, but it also helps you manage stress: walking. Add at least one 30-45 minute walk into your day. And leave your distractions at home when you take this walk. Breathe in the air. Look at the world around you. Use this as a meditative time to recover mentally.

Testosterone: The Youth Juice

By the time you hit the age of 30, your T-levels begin to decrease. If you’ve been away from the game for a few years, those levels can be super low which can prevent you from adequately losing body fat and building muscle.

And before you even ask—no, test boosters don’t do a damn thing. Well, except for sending more blood to your nether regions. But they don’t actually increase testosterone in your body.

What does increase T?

  • lifting heavy weight;
  • eating more dietary fat;
  • adequate sleep;
  • reducing stress; and
  • exogenous testosterone

Now, before I go any further, please read this carefully: get your T-levels tested to see where they fall.

But low(er) t-levels doesn’t, in my opinion, mean that you need to contact a youth clinic to get injectable testosterone. Though I will someday use exogenous T myself, I believe that for most men, the first thing you need to do is improve your lifestyle factors. Once you’re lifting weight, decreasing body fat, eating more healthy dietary fats, getting more sleep, and keeping stress in check, you should notice some changes to your overall mood.

That may not necessarily mean your T-levels are higher, though I’d argue if you’re boners are more intense than before it’s a damn good sign. No matter what, you need to know where your T-levels stand throughout your 30s. And the only way to know that is to get tested.

Hit Muscles More Frequently for More Gains

Life gets far busier in our 30s. Some men have either started or are in the process of starting families during this decade. You might even be expanding or changing careers. What’s that spell? R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y

Increased family and work responsibilities typically come with a lose of free time. So why do you think you can still spend 90-minutes in the gym?

You don’t have time to do all the “bro” splits you did in your 20s. They were fun, sure. But three days is all you need to shred body fat and build more muscle in your 30s. To accomplish this, you need to do less body part splits, and more full body workouts.

Full body training hits all your major muscle groups more than once a week. And that extra work leads to more muscle breakdown which, when paired with adequate recovery, translates to more muscle gains.

Now, you still need to hit the big five exercises: squat, bench, deadlift, row, and weighted carries (i.e., carrying heavy ass dumbbells for a predetermined distance). And with smart programming, you can hit all of those exercises in only three days a week. Check out more on Daily Undulating Periodization here. This style of training focuses on improving strength, power, and building muscle in the hypertrophy range of all of those lifts. And when it comes to building muscle, especially in your 30s, strength, power, and hypertrophy are the Holy Trinity of gains.

build muscle in your 30s

Don’t Be a Fulking Idiot, Bulk Smarter

I have a question for you: Would you rather gain 10 pounds of muscle and 15 pounds of fat, or, gain 8 pounds of muscle and 5 pounds of fat?

Now, if you were some 22-year-old numbskull, you’d jump at the 10 pounds of muscle, right? But you’re in your 30s. You have responsibilities. And you don’t have the time to spend losing pounds of unnecessary fat that you gained because you decided to “fulk.” (That’s brospeak for a, “fuck it I’m gonna eat everything in sight,” bulk)

Look: Your metabolism isn’t what it used to be. And I know you think that building muscle means you can masticate on pizza, burgers, wings, and all the ice cream you can shove down your gullet. But you’re wrong—more wrong than your high school gym teacher, Mr. Youngblood.

He may have been wrong about not being able to build muscle in your 30s, but he was somewhat right when he alluded to it going down hill. And what I mean is that if you’ve been inactive for awhile, your metabolism is going to be shite. Fat loss isn’t going to be as “effortless” as some dude online proclaims. You need to bulk more strategically; think long term bulking.

A smaller calorie surplus, 200-300 calories, is all you need to gain lean mass without adding mounds of unwanted fat. Sure, it sounds fun to eat 3,500 calories (and trust me, it was pretty fun—once), but that excess fat you gain ends up making you feel heavy and slow.

Take. Your. Time. Lift heavy, eat in a moderate surplus, keep recovery on point, and live your life. That’s the goal of all of this anyways: living the highest quality of life you can.

Build your muscle in your 30s

Make Your 30s the Best Damned Decade of Your Life

Building muscle isn’t a right reserved for the young. Men in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s can build muscle. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes; your body is breaking down every single day after all, why let it break down further before trying to build it back up?

Lifting weights and increasing your lean body mass will help you increase your metabolism, burn more fat when you’re at rest, regain strength, increase longevity, improve your mood, lift your libido, and make you feel better in your 30s than you did in your 20s.

If you wanna know the full secrets on how to make your 30s the best damned decade of your life, check out my guide: Make Your 30s Better than Your 20sIn it I’ll show you the strategies my clients have followed to lose over 100 combined pounds of fat, and more than 30 inches off their waists. Oh, and they also gained tons of lean body mass that’s helped them look and feel better than ever.

Step #1: Eat the Right Amount of Calories

Fact #1: You can’t build muscle efficiently if you don’t gain weight.

Your body CANNOT synthesize new muscle tissue unless you consume MORE calories than you burn. This means you must eat enough food to gain weight.

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When you do this, your body is forced to do something with the extra energy that you’re not burning. It will either store it as fat, or use it to build muscle. In steps 2 and 3 we’ll cover exactly how to make sure that your body uses it to build muscle.

Fact #2: Your body can only build about 0.5 pounds of new muscle per week.

As badly as you want to pack on 20 pounds of muscle mass in the next month, your body has a natural. Experts agree that you can only build about half a pound of muscle per week (unless you use steroids).

Now, when you’re new to lifting weights, you might be able to build slightly more than this. But as you get bigger and bigger, the rate at which you can gain more muscle gets slower and slower (as you approach your body’s natural limit). Either way, if you gain weight too quickly, you risk putting on fat.

This means you should aim to gain about 0.5 pounds per week.

However, gaining weight at EXACTLY this pace can be challenging, so I recommend aiming to gain about 1-3 pounds per month. Don’t stress the exact number, as long as you’re putting on a little bit of weight you’ll see quality results.

The most efficient way to control your weight gain is to count your calories.

I know this sounds like a pain in the ass, but it’s actually quite easy. Just download a simple calorie counting app on your phone like “MyFitnessPal” and use it to track how many calories you’re eating every day. The app will also help you calculate how many calories you need to eat in order to gain weight.

Step #2: Get Stronger in the Gym

Fact #1: You must get stronger in order to build new muscle.

Look – your body will only build new muscle tissue if you give it a reason to do so.

If you go to the gym every week and lift the same amount of weight for the same amount of reps, then your body has no reason to build new muscle mass… your current muscle is already doing a great job on its own. However, if you lift progressively heavier and heavier weights, then your body will be forced to respond by synthesizing new muscle tissue.

This is because it will NEED additional muscle mass in order to meet these increasing demands! And this is known as the principle of progressive overload.

Fact #2: Some exercises are better than others.

Now, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of different exercises to choose from. So how do you decide which to focus on?

Simple: use the exercises that allow you to lift the most weight.

These exercises recruit the most fibers in your muscle tissue and activate the most motor units in your nervous system. And these 2 factors combine to raise your rates of muscle protein synthesis and induce the most muscle growth.

This means you should focus on getting stronger doing compound exercises.

Compound exercises are exercises that work several large muscle groups at the same time. This allows you to lift the most weight doing these movements.

Effective compound exercises include: squats, lunges, bench press, dips, pull ups, deadlifts, shoulder press, and rows. These exercises should be the focus of your workouts. And you should be trying to get stronger and lift more weight (or do more reps) each time that you do them.

Step #3: Rest, Rest, Rest!

Fact #1: You build muscle when you’re resting, NOT when you’re working out.

When you’re working out, you’re actually in a catabolic state where your body is breaking down muscle tissue. You only enter an anabolic state where your body is building muscle when you rest.

Fact #2: Your body releases anabolic hormones when you sleep.

Anabolic hormones like HGH and testosterone are largely responsible for raising your rates of muscle protein synthesis (and therefore building new muscle tissue). And your body naturally secretes these hormones in greater quantities while you’re sleeping.

This means that you need to take days off… and get sufficient sleep!

If you lift weights every single day, you’ll actually suppress your levels of muscle protein synthesis and prevent yourself from building new muscle. This is why I recommend doing full body workouts just 3 days per week.

Additionally you should aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This will ensure that you aren’t limiting the amount of anabolic hormones your body is naturally releasing. A few tips to improve your quality of sleep include:

  • Don’t look at screens for 1 hour before bed
  • Keep your room cool (use AC or open windows)
  • Fully shut your blinds and curtains to darken the room

These simple tweaks can dramatically improve your ability to fall asleep (and actually stay asleep throughout the entire night).

And that’s a wrap! If you follow these 3 steps, I guarantee that you’ll build new muscle mass at an optimal rate… and avoid gaining fat in the process.

Gaining Muscle Over 50: Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t Have the Mental Attitude of An Old Guy

Gaining Muscle Over 50 - Muscular Man on Lat Pull Down MachineMost people will advise you to take it easy and do things in moderation.

You don’t want to get hurt or throw out your back.

Don’t think like an old guy and don’t believe that you can’t be strong again.

You stop running because you have a bad back or bad knees.

You stop lifting because you feel tired.

It’s a Catch-22 situation.

You must believe that building muscle is possible.

This is a mental game as much as it is a physical one.

If building muscle mass is your goal you must lift weights or do some sort of resistance training.

Don’t Lift Like An Old Guy

Most people who have not lifted for a while do not have good core strength.

A strong core is needed for many of the lifts you need to build muscle.

The core means everything from the hips to mid-back, all the way around your trunk.

This includes the abs, obliques, back extensors, hip flexors and some other small muscles.

A weak back is not the same as an injured back

Gaining Muscle Over 50 - Dark Iron Fitness Weightlifting BeltYou might think you have a “bad back” since it always feels sore.

But it can actually be a weak back that is stressed from poor posture, bad ergonomics, and carelessness.

Lift with confidence as you protect your back with our top-rated Dark Iron Fitness Genuine Leather Weightlifting Belt.

You end up getting weaker and feeling older because you limit what you do just in case you hurt your back.

It’s possible you actually have an injured back, in which case you should get it checked out by a professional.

But the majority of bad back problems is due more to a weak core rather than an actual injury.

Sit Ups Don’t Help Your Core Enough

Instead, work your core with stabilization exercises, compound movements, and exercises that involve twisting and bending.

Core stabilizers: Overhead pressing, push-ups and carrying exercises like farmers walks.

Compound movements: Squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings.

Twisting and bending moves: Burpees, T push-ups and sledgehammer swings are excellent core builders.

Gaining Muscle Over 50: Don’t Waste Your Time in the Gym

Gaining Muscle Over 50 - Older Man on TreadmillWalking on the treadmill for half an hour or more is a waste of valuable gym time.

Walking should be done on your rest days.

You can walk or jog around the block, hike a trail, but not on your training days.

Stay Motivated with an Action Plan

Schedule your muscle building workouts each week as you would schedule a business meeting or a doctor’s appointment.

Start with your 3 weight training workouts, spaced 2 days apart.

(e.g. Mon-Wed-Fri or Tue-Thu-Sat)

Gradually include light physical activity into your rest days for active recovery, working up to full cardio sessions as you get fitter.

If you are in shape enough to include these from the start, please do!

Keep a log of your workouts, so you can see your progression and make sure you increase your weights as often as you can.

Lifting progressively heavier weights is essential for muscle building.

Related: 5 Ways Building Muscle Differs in Men Over 50

Final Thoughts on Gaining Muscle Over 50

Gaining Muscle Over 50 - Man working with TrainerBefore starting an exercise program talk to your doctor first.

If you are new to working out or are restarting after a long stretch, then a trainer can customize a program for you.

Make sure the trainer has experience training those who are over 50 to lessen the risk of doing too much too soon.

You need to train hard enough to stimulate progress, but not so hard that it has a negative impact on the quality of your other workouts.

With some smart training adjustments and a good attitude, you can really make a difference in how you look and feel.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

You’ve probably heard someone argue that achieving muscle growth and fat loss in the same day is physically impossible because of thermodynamics. The argument goes as follows.

  1. To build muscle, you must store energy. To lose fat, you must burn energy.
  2. When you are in energy surplus, your body stores energy. When you are in a deficit, your body loses energy.
  3. Therefore, you must be in energy surplus to gain muscle and in a deficit to lose fat.

The first two points, the premises, are true. They refer to the first law of thermodynamics (‘movement of energy’), also called the law of the conversion of energy. This law means energy cannot just disappear. It has to go somewhere. Building new fat or muscle cells requires energy and breaking them down releases energy. However, point three, the conclusion, is false.

Why? Because muscle and fat tissue are different functional compartments in the body. As a result, your body directs calories towards muscle and fat mass independently. Researchers call this calorie partitioning and the resulting change in fat and muscle mass are expressed as a P-ratio.

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The body does need other substrates to build muscle mass of course. You need building blocks to build a house. Let’s look at what exactly the body needs. Heymsfield et al. (1982) were kind enough to cut up some dead people for us, so I’ve aggregated their results from the healthy control group in the following image. This is the composition of human muscle tissue.

Muscle tissue composition

So what do we need to build muscle mass?

  1. Lots of water (H2O). You can drink plenty of that during a cut, so no problems there.
  2. Several kinds of protein. Again you can eat enough protein on a cut, so no problems here either. For the DNA and RNA we also need nitrogen and phosphate, but those can be derived from dietary protein.
  3. Glycogen and triglycerides. This basically just comes down to energy, because glucose and fat are non-essential nutrients that can be created by the body itself. We need a lot more energy too, because the protein synthesis for the muscle building process is an energy costly process itself.

In short, we need protein, water and energy. Where do we get the energy? Easy. Your body has plenty of that. Let’s take myself in average photoshoot condition at about 87 kg, 6% body fat. People think of this conditioning as ‘having almost no fat’, but the truth is, there’s still plenty of fat even then: 5.2 kg to be exact. If we convert that to metabolizable energy based on the density figures I gave in my article about energy balance myths, the body still has over 49000 calories right there for the taking. That’s plenty to build pounds and pounds of muscle without even taking into account you’re still consuming energy in your diet as well.

Thus, as long as your body has sufficient stimulus to build muscle mass, which it has if your training program is optimized, it has both the means and the will to build muscle mass while simultaneously losing fat. There you go, muscle growth during a cut.

Similarly, your body is capable of storing fat while burning muscle. The conservation of energy law only means that you must gain energy in energy surplus and lose energy in a deficit. It says nothing about how these calories are partitioned or about how your body composition changes.

In conclusion, thermodynamics do not rule out the possibility of getting more muscular while leaning out at the same time.

Outside the textbook

Theory is nice and all, but what happens in real life? Do people actually manage to build muscle while losing fat?

Overweight (26% body fat) police officers starting a weight training program lost 9.3 pounds of fat and gained 8.8 pounds of lean body mass in 12 weeks.

But they were fat, so how is that relevant for us? Ironically, it’s usually the self-proclaimed science-based skeptics that say you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Yet people in dozens if not hundreds of studies lose fat and build muscle at the same time when they start training, even sometimes when they only do endurance training (see here and here and here, for example). Young, old, healthy, unhealthy, male, female, obese, lean, they all achieve body recomposition. Even on mediocre training programs with crappy diets with suboptimal protein intakes. Even elderly men and women over 60 years old generally gain around 4 pounds of lean body mass with the same amount of fat loss in 12 to 16 weeks (see here and here, for example).

But all these people were barely trained, so again how is that relevant for us?

Here’s an example of one of my clients that had over 20 years of training experience and was already benching 235 lb (107 kg) for 5 reps before the coaching. He performed a DXA scan every ~3 weeks during my coaching. In 2 months and 18 days, he lost 6.7 lb (3.1 kg) of fat while gaining almost exactly the same amount of muscle. His weight during the last scan was within 8 grams of his weight when we started. So this is an example of virtually perfect body recomposition. You can find the anonymized DXA scan overview here and his progress photos below.

Nick 2 months 17 days body composition change

Still not convinced? In trained individuals it’s not as common as in beginners to see body recomposition obviously, but it’s still very much possible if you’re on a good program. Many of my clients with access to reliable body fat measurement techniques, such as DXA (think ‘x-ray’) scans, have gained muscle while losing fat. Of course you’d be wise to be skeptical of what I say about my client results, so let’s look at some scientific research.

How To Build Muscle: The 4 Requirements

In the most basic sense, I can sum up over 10 years of muscle building research and experience in just 4 simple steps. You just need…

  1. A workout focused on progressive overload.
  2. A diet containing enough calories to support growth.
  3. A few additional components of your diet and workout to be set up properly.
  4. Enough consistency to allow it all to work.

Sounds pretty simple, right? That’s because it is. There’s a million little details that go into making these requirements take place, but they are all honestly just minor details.

Unfortunately for most people (including myself early on), it’s that focus on the little stuff that prevents us from taking care of the important stuff required for muscle growth to occur. So, let’s stop that now.

Below is everything you need to know about how to build muscle as quickly and effectively as possible. Enjoy…

Progressive Overload: The Key To Your Workout’s Success

If you spend any time searching for workout routines, you’ll notice that there are literally thousands of different ones out there comprised of different exercises, schedules, sets, reps and methods that all claim to be more effective than all of the others.

The truth is, most workouts that aren’t completely idiotic will work to some degree to build muscle as long as you make sure one simple concept is being applied. It’s the one workout factor that matters more than ALL of the others, and it’s the one workout factor that truly dictates your success.

It’s a little something known as progressive overload, and it’s an absolute muscle building requirement.

What Is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload basically refers to the fact that our bodies will NOT build muscle unless we give them a significant reason to. Meaning, if you don’t make some form of progress during your workouts and gradually increase the demands being placed on your body, then your body will have no reason to build muscle. So it won’t.

If you keep lifting the same weights on the same exercises for the same number of reps the same way you previously have, your body will stay exactly the same. You must gradually increase the training stimulus in order for positive results to occur.

If you just keep doing what your body is already capable of doing, it basically thinks: “Alright, I see we already have the muscle mass needed to meet these demands, so no additional muscle will be needed.”

But if you INCREASE those demands by lifting just slightly heavier weight, or lifting the same weight for additional reps, or just doing something that increases the demands being placed on your body, then your body will basically think: “Wow, in order for me to perform under these conditions, I’m going to need to build more muscle.”

That means you could be using the best muscle building workout and exercises in the world and doing everything else perfectly, but if progressive overload isn’t taking place, you will NOT build muscle.

Simply put, progressive overload is what signals the muscle building progress to occur. Without it, it won’t. Every other aspect of your workout is secondary in comparison.

How To Make Progressive Overload Happen

With progressive overload being the true #1 goal of every muscle building workout, you probably want to know how to make it happen. Well, there’s many ways to do it, but the simplest and most common method goes like this:

  1. For each exercise in your workout, you’ll be lifting a certain amount of weight for a specific number of sets and reps, right?
  2. Now, let’s pretend that for some exercise, you’re going to be lifting 100lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps. Let’s also say you were able to do this successfully. Good job.
  3. Next time you do this exercise, increase the weight to 105lbs and try to do the same 3 sets of 10 reps.
  4. Let’s say you attempt this new heavier weight (105lbs) and do one set of 10 reps, one set of 9 reps, and one set of 8 reps. Good… that’s progressive overload.
  5. Your new goal next time is to get additional reps in those last 2 sets. So, let’s say you try and get one set of 10, 9 and 9 next time. Good, more progression.
  6. Next time, you may get 10, 10, 9. And the time after that… 10, 10, 10 just like you set out to do.
  7. Guess what needs to happen next time? You must increase the weight to 110lbs and repeat this process all over again.

This is the most common example of progressive overload, and it’s not only the biggest requirement of your muscle building workout, it’s the biggest requirement of building muscle, period.

Caloric Surplus: The Key To Your Diet’s Success

Once you’ve created progressive overload, your body begins the muscle building progress. The very first thing it does is look around and make sure it has all of the supplies it will need to actually build new muscle.

If it does, muscle will get built successfully. But if those required supplies aren’t available, the process ends before it even gets started. To prevent this from happening, you need to use your diet to provide your body with all of the supplies it needs.

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Now, there are quite a few supplies that your body uses during the overall muscle building process, but NONE of them are more important than a caloric surplus.

What Is A Caloric Surplus?

A caloric surplus is simply what happens when you eat more calories than your body needs.

You see, everything we do burns calories, and everything we eat contains calories. If we consume exactly as many calories as we burn, everything will just be maintained. However, if we eat more or less than that amount, very different things will happen…

  • If we consume LESS calories than this amount, a caloric deficit is created. This causes your body to burn stored body fat for energy instead, and this is how you lose fat.
  • If you consume MORE calories than this amount, a caloric surplus is created. This means your body ended up with left over calories that it never needed to burn, and it will look to store them on your body in some form (fat or muscle).

Now, for the average person, these extra calories get stored on the body as fat (this is how people get fat, by the way). But for people like us who are working out correctly and using progressive overload to signal the muscle building process to occur, those left over calories will instead be used to build new muscle mass.

If that “signal” didn’t exist, we’d just get fat. However, it’s that signal that causes those left over calories to get used as muscle building supplies instead of just becoming body fat. Once again, this is why progressive overload is the key to your workout.

How To Create A Caloric Surplus

The goal is to eat more calories than are needed to maintain your current weight, but not exceed the amount needed to support muscle growth (you’ll just end up getting fat if that happens).

So, here’s the best and simplest way to figure it all out…

  1. First, multiply your current body weight (in pounds) by both 14 and 18. Somewhere in that range will be your daily calorie maintenance level, which is the amount of calories you need to eat per day to maintain your current weight.
  2. Men, people who are more active, or people who have a hard time gaining weight should use a number in the middle-upper end of their range. Women, people who are less active, or people who gain weight easily should use a number in the lower-middle end of their range.
  3. Now, take your estimated daily calorie maintenance level that you just figured out and add 250-500 calories to it. This is the ideal daily caloric surplus. Any less would slow down the muscle building process to nonexistent levels, and any more would lead to excess fat gain.
  4. Start eating this amount of calories each day and weigh yourself at least once per week first thing in the morning before eating or drinking.
  5. If you’re gaining weight at a rate of 0.5-1lb per week, then your caloric surplus is perfect! If you’re gaining less than that or nothing at all, add another 250 calories and see what happens then. If you’re gaining more than that, subtract 250 calories and see what happens then.
  6. When you find the amount of calories that allows you to gain weight at that ideal rate (0.5-1lb per week), then you’re perfect. Keep eating that amount each day to build muscle as effectively as possible.

This is how you supply your body with the calories it requires for the muscle building process to take place. You can easily get caught up in what type of diet is the best, and which foods are better than others, and how many grams of carbs you should eat… but above all else, a caloric surplus is the KEY to your muscle building diet.

The Remaining Workout Components

Now that we’ve covered the most important factors, it’s time to cover the rest. As you learned before, as long as you’re making progressive overload happen in your workouts, you’ll get positive results.

However, implementing the remaining workout components in the ways that are proven to work best will definitely improve those results. Here’s how…

Best Muscle Building Frequency

All research shows that beginners should train each muscle group 3 times per week, and anyone past the beginner’s stage (intermediates/advanced) should train each muscle group about twice per week.

Depending on your experience level, these are the recommendations that have been proven to work best for most people. My article about Workout Frequency explains all of this in great detail.

Best Muscle Building Schedules

For beginners, virtually EVERY recommendation is the same… the 3 day full body split is the schedule that works best. More about that here: Full Body Workout

For people who are past the beginners stage, there are many options that can work for building muscle. More often than not, I recommend either the 3 or 4 day upper/lower split.

I explain the full details of this split along with a few other schedules I like in my article about my favorite Workout Plans and Weight Training Splits.

Best Muscle Building Intensity & Volume

As far as intensity goes, you’ll typically want to do between 5-12 reps per set when your goal is to build muscle. With volume, the goal is to do just enough total sets, reps and exercises for each muscle group to provide the proper muscle building signal, but NOT too much that it cuts into recovery and prevents this process from taking place.

In most cases, 8-15 total sets for each bigger muscle group PER WEEK is ideal (chest, back, quads, hamstrings), and 0-8 total sets PER WEEK for smaller muscle groups that get significant indirect volume when the bigger muscle groups are trained (like biceps, triceps and shoulders) is ideal.

My main article about Weightlifting Workout Routines covers both of these topics in much more detail. Check it out if you have any questions.

Best Muscle Building Exercises

In general, the best muscle building exercises are the ones you’ll be able to progress at most often. And, in most cases, this means big free weight and body weight compound exercises like…

  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Overhead Press
  • Pull Ups/Chin Ups
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts

The many variations of these compound exercises (like incline and decline bench press, Romanian deadlifts, lunges and leg presses, lat pull-downs and seated cable rows, etc.) are also highly effective. After that, a secondary focus on isolation exercises (like dumbbell flyes, bicep curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, leg curls, etc.) can often be useful in most muscle building workout routines.

My article about the different types of weight lifting exercises contains plenty of additional details.

The Remaining Diet Components

A caloric surplus is definitely the most important part of your muscle building diet. However, after that, there are still some other diet factors that play a role in improving the results you get. So, let’s take a quick look at each of them now and set them up accordingly…

Protein

After calories, protein is definitely the next most important part of a muscle building diet. Common recommendations for the ideal daily protein intake typically fall between 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

In general though, an even 1 gram of protein per pound is a perfect starting point for most people trying to build muscle. I cover this in more detail in my article about How Much Protein Per Day.

Common ideal sources include chicken, turkey, fish, meat, eggs/egg whites and protein supplements.

Fat

Recommendations for the ideal daily fat intake typically fall between being 20-30% of your total calorie intake, with an even 25% usually being just right. Another common recommendation is 0.4-0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight, which usually ends up being pretty close to the first method. Either will work just fine.

Common ideal sources include fish, fish oil supplements, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

Carbs

The last of the macronutrients is carbs, and recommendations for the ideal daily carb intake are pretty simple. Carbs should make up the remaining calories left over to reach your total calorie intake after protein and fat have been factored in. My article about How Many Carbs Per Day explains this in detail.

Common ideal sources include fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beans and most whole grains.

Post Workout Meal

While eating the right total amount of calories (and getting those calories from ideal amounts and sources of protein, fat and carbs) is definitely the most important part of a muscle building diet, eating a proper post workout meal (the meal after your workout) is definitely the next most beneficial factor.

In general, this means eating a significant amount of both protein and carbs, usually from fast and easily digestible sources. As long as you’re doing that, you’re doing it right. If you want more specifics, my Post Workout Meal article has them.

Muscle Building Supplements

95% of the supplements on the market are useless over-hyped garbage that do nothing but waste your money. And the 5% that are useful will NOT make up for failing to properly do everything else I’ve described in this article.

Having said that, there are a few supplements that I personally use and recommend because they’ve proven to be safe and effective for building muscle. They are:

  • Protein Powder
  • Creatine
  • Fish Oil Supplements
  • Multivitamins

Each link above will take you to the articles I’ve already written about each. They’ll explain everything you need to know about them.

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