Follow These 3 Rules To Build Muscle
#1 Consuming Enough Protein Per Day, Not Per Meal
The best way to build muscle is by having a higher muscle protein synthesis versus muscle protein breakdown. Put simply, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the building of muscle and muscle protein breakdown (MPB) is the breakdown of muscle. Throughout the day MPB accumulates. If this continues on a daily basis you will decrease your body’s muscle mass and slow down your metabolism.
To prevent this from happening you must consume enough protein to increase MPS. The current research suggests that .5 to .72 grams per pound is more than enough to build muscle (1). To figure out yourself, just take each number and multiply it by your weight.
Male: Weight: 175 pounds
Protein Intake: 87 to 126 grams per day.
Female: Weight: 130 pounds
Protein Intake: 65 to 94 grams per day.
The easiest way to make sure you are getting the right amount of protein without an app or food scale is by using your hand to track protein intake. I learned this trick from my nutrition certification, Precision Nutrition and I have found it to work quite well. (insert photo here) On average a person's palm will be around 20-30 grams of protein. For instance, I tell my male clients to consume two palm servings of protein per meal. For females I recommend one palm serving per meal. If we take the two examples from above they would break down into the following recommendations:
Male: Weight 175 pounds
Protein Intake: 4 to 6 palm servings
Female: Weight 130 pounds
Protein Intake: 3 to 5 palm servings
This can be broken down into 1-4 meals per day with 1-3 palm servings at each. Consuming protein at each meal will help reduce your hunger, but it won’t do much for increasing muscle mass. For the majority of people it won’t matter when you consume it. So there is no need to rush home for your post workout meal or shake. The most important factor is going to be your overall protein consumption each day. (2)
1. Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 July 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
2. Schoenfeld, Brad, et al. “The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-Analysis.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 10, no. 1, 3 Dec. 2013, p. 53., doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-53.
#2 Train Each Body Part At Least 2x Per Week
In our current environment our daily activities don’t elicit enough stress to challenge our muscles. We are no longer hunting and gathering food nor are our jobs physically demanding. We sit behind a desk and work on a computer all day. This sedentary lifestyle combined with a lack of resistance training will cause our muscles to wither away and atrophy. This decrease in muscle mass will reduce our metabolism and put us at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, the amount of muscle on one’s body and the strength of those muscles share an inverse relationship with all cause mortality (1, 2). Put simply, as muscle mass and strength increases, so will our lifespan. Therefore, it is imperative that we get out of our chair and increase our muscle mass.
As a trainer I constantly get the question, “How many times do I need to lift per week?” When I first started training I would reply, "At least four times per week". But lately I have changed my answer based off new research. I now recommend my clients to lift at least two times per week. Recently I came across a review where the authors analyzed ten studies that directly compared different weekly resistance training frequencies. Each study had a duration of at least four weeks and volume was equated for. The workout volume refers to how many sets times reps times load you lifted per exercise. Here is an example:
Exercise: Leg Press
(Sets X Reps X Load= Volume)
This means that the one day a week training split performed as many sets and reps per muscle group as the two and three day a week split. After the review of the ten studies the authors concluded the following: “the current body of evidence indicates that frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week.” (3) Based off this review I now recommend people to train each muscle group at least two times per week. If you only have two days a week to train then both of those days should be total body based. These total body workouts should include compound movements like squats, deadlifts, rows and push ups. I recommend compound movements like the ones listed because these exercises are going to work multiple muscle groups. For example, the deadlift will target your glutes, quads, hamstrings, obliques and back. Therefore, if you deadlift twice a week you will be able to maximize muscle growth in these areas. Nevertheless, if you enjoy going to the gym multiple times per week then training different body parts each day could work too, just make sure you train each body part twice.
1. Srikanthan, Preethi, and Arun S. Karlamangla. “Muscle Mass Index As a Predictor of Longevity in Older Adults.” The American Journal of Medicine, vol. 127, no. 6, 2014, pp. 547–553., doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.007.
2. Metter, E. J., et al. “Skeletal Muscle Strength as a Predictor of All-Cause Mortality in Healthy Men.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, vol. 57, no. 10, Jan. 2002, doi:10.1093/gerona/57.10.b359.
3. Schoenfeld, Brad J., et al. “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Medicine, vol. 46, no. 11, 2016, pp. 1689–1697., doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8.
#3 Sleep & Recover
Before you start any training program your sleep and recovery should be your #1 priority. They are the two most important factors when it comes to muscle growth. Yet the majority of people sleep too little and don’t recover enough. In order for a muscle to grow it requires three things: stress, recovery, and adaptation. The best way to stress a muscle is through resistance training. When you lift weights or perform bodyweight exercises you are causing stress to the working muscles. If there is enough stress present, the muscle will become damaged and need repairing. This damage causes inflammation in the muscle which stimulates the recovery process (1). But this process doesn’t happen right away. The time it takes to repair the inflamed area will be influenced by the difficulty of your workout, daily protein intake, and sleep. Generally speaking, as the difficulty of your workout increases, so will your need for protein and sleep. Check out the video below (1:42 mark) for a visual representation of this:
I can’t stress this enough, but sleep is the most important factor in the recovery process. Muscles repair themselves during sleep due to the release of testosterone, melatonin and human growth hormone (HGH). These three hormones play a crucial role in recovery and are dependent on the amount of sleep you get. I recommend sleeping at least 7.5 -9 hours per night to optimize your hormone production. A recent study found sleep restricted individuals (5 hours per night for one week) experienced a 10-15 % reduction in testosterone. (2) Another study found a decrease in HGH during sleep restriction (3). This decrease in hormone production makes it much harder for muscles to recover and grow. Thus, if you aren’t sleeping more than seven hours per night then you will need more days off between workouts.
When you don’t give the muscle enough time to recover it becomes too inflamed, limiting muscle growth. For muscle growth to occur there must be a happy medium between stress and recovery. There must be enough stress for the muscle to be damaged and enough recovery time for the body to repair that muscle. If you don’t have the patience or discipline to let the body recover then you will never achieve the muscle growth you want.
Muscle Growth Checklist
- Consume .5 to .72 grams of protein per body weight i.e 3-6 palm servings for most people
- Train each body part 2x per week
- Sleep 7.5 - 9 hours per night, especially on the days you train
1. Philippou A, Maridaki M, Theos A, Koutsilieris M. Cytokines in muscle damage. Adv Clin Chem. 2012;58:49-87. Review. PubMed PMID: 22950343.
2. Leproult, Rachel, and Eve Van Cauter. “Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy MenFREE.” JAMA 305.21 (2011): 2173–2174. PMC. Web. 28 Dec. 2017.
3. Vgontzas AN, Mastorakos G, Bixler EO, Kales A, Gold PW, Chrousos GP. Sleep deprivation effects on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and growth axes: potential clinical implications. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1999 Aug;51(2):205-15. PubMed PMID: 10468992.