Everybody wants to build muscle mass, but not everybody knows where to start, much less stick to it. Believe it or not, as many as 80% of people who start a workout program will quit within the first year.
A lot of that comes down to a lack of understanding and not seeing results as quickly as anticipated. Fortunately, we can fix that. Let’s talk about how to bulk up and gain muscle as efficiently as possible and with minimal sacrifices!
How to Gain Muscle
Like it or not, building muscle is a fairly precise science. We’re fortunate enough to live in a world where the formula for muscle growth is available to us.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of myths circulating around the industry that only seems to get more ridiculous over time. For a few examples, regardless of what you hear from “bro lifters,” you can build muscle on a vegan diet, with calisthenics, or even HIIT workouts.
Building muscle simply comes from overloading your muscle groups and providing your body with what it needs to repair itself.
Also, remember to be patient! The only way to build muscle is with consistency, so find a program that you enjoy and stick to it.
At most, you should expect to put on one pound of muscle every month. This may not sound like a lot at first, but it truly is.
Think about it this way; imagine a 16-oz steak. Now imagine slapping that onto your physique every month. After a couple of years, you could be huge, but only if you follow these steps and commit to your training!
Challenges of Bulking Up
While it sounds pretty straightforward in theory, it’s not always that way in practice. Let’s go over some of the biggest challenges people face when trying to gain muscle.
Maintaining a Calorie Surplus
To gain muscle, you need to maintain a surplus of calories week after week. This is challenging for some people, especially if they have any major dietary restrictions. However, you cannot bulk up without a surplus of calories in your diet!
You can get an idea of your maintenance calories by using a TDEE calculator. From there, you can add 500, start from there, and adjust accordingly.
The Right Amount of a Calorie Surplus
There’s another side to that coin! Another major challenge of bulking up is bulking up too much.
No matter what, you will gain some extra body fat while bulking, but that’s not a problem. If you do it right, it should be proportionate to your lean body mass. Essentially, you can continue to grow while maintaining your body fat percentage and limit your fat gain roughly to that.
Generally, we recommend a 500-calorie daily surplus, which is 3500 calories each week. Hitting that spot-on is nearly impossible, but coming as close to it as you can, will prevent you from building too much body fat while still maximizing your muscle growth.
Getting Enough Protein
However, that calorie surplus will go straight to body fat if you are not getting enough protein in your diet. Typically, we recommend 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would want to eat 120 grams of protein daily!
This is a major challenge for some, especially on a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, once you get used to it, it’s fairly straightforward.
Also, protein helps keep you full throughout the day, and your body uses the most energy to break it down compared to other macronutrients. So yes, while it is 4 calories per gram of protein, you are burning at least one of those calories just to digest it! A high-protein diet is the way to go to help you feel full and avoid junk food throughout the day!
Overloading Your Muscles
Every week, you should do as much volume as the last, but it needs to count. Whether you’re doing 7 sets of 2 reps with 90% of your one-rep max (1RM) or 3 sets of 10 reps with 70% of your 1RM on each exercise, keep your volume high.
You should aim to do 4-6 exercises per muscle group every training day, and you should walk out of the gym feeling like you couldn’t do another exercise if you wanted to! To achieve this, you have to continue challenging yourself each week with higher weights, higher reps, or different exercises.
Everybody’s genetics are different. Some people have an easy time building muscle, and others struggle to do so. This could be due to a lack of growth hormones, lower testosterone levels, a faster metabolism, or a wide variety of other issues.
Training to Build Muscle
If you take away anything from this section, let it be this: you can build a great physique with only compound movements.
We’re not suggesting you avoid isolation movements at all. However, you should think of these as the icing on the protein cake.
Compound movements are movements that use muscle groups rather than targeting individual muscles. Think pull-ups, squats, bench presses, and more.
Conversely, isolation movements that target individual muscles include bicep curls, tricep extensions, and chest flyes. By all means, enjoy these exercises and use them in your training, but compound movements are by far the most important.
Moreover, compound movements help put our bodies in an anabolic (muscle-building) state. If you’re low on time at the gym, compound movements are all you should be doing. However, once you’ve completed them, feel free to target some of your weaknesses!
Either way, the goal of your training is to overload your muscles progressively over time. No two training sessions should be the same, and you should always walk into the gym with a plan!
Another major myth in the industry is that only one rep range can build muscle. This is utter nonsense.
Yes, the hypertrophic range is between 6-12 reps, and most bro lifters like to stick to 8-10 in most of their workouts. Still, you can build muscle at any rep range, and we highly recommend you switch them up as much as possible.
Rotate your exercises periodically, but stick to some of the ones you crush. Remember to always use perfect form, but squeezing out a few extra reps at the end of a set with controlled but improper form is also helpful for muscle overload.
We aren’t going to recommend specific exercises here. You can build muscle with any strength training. Just remember to use compound movements first, push yourself until failure as often as possible, and don’t just aim for high volume without pushing yourself the whole way.
A lot of people neglect cardio altogether when trying to build muscle, which is simply a mistake. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) or even walking can really help improve your training while minimizing fat. Also, you’ll get to eat more after burning those extra calories!
More importantly, you don’t want your heart to fail before your muscles. This can severely limit your training in the gym.
Recovery is essential for a proper workout, so give yourself plenty of time before hitting a specific muscle group again. You may experience delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) as you begin your training. It will hurt, but it will go away after the first week!
After that, aim to target each muscle group once a week, giving it its own day, and then one full-body workout each week for the best results. For example, your workout split could look like this:
- Chest/Triceps on Monday
- Back/Biceps on Tuesday
- Rest Wednesday
- Legs/Core on Thursday
- Shoulders/Calves on Friday
- Full Body on Saturday
- Rest Sunday
Again, this is only an example. Choose the routine you like, and give yourself more time to rest if you need it. The goal is to push yourself as hard as possible in the gym, so don’t waste a training session.
Eating to Build Muscle
Muscle isn’t built in the gym. Again, muscle is built by your body using proteins to repair your broken muscles, but only if you’re eating enough calories and your body has a reason to adapt.
Evolutionarily speaking, your body is fine staying exactly the way it is if that’s enough to survive. Give it a reason to adapt by overloading it, or it won’t do so. From there, you need to follow up with the right nutrition.
Protein, carbs, and fat. These are the three macronutrients your body needs to survive and grow, and you need to get enough of each of them.
Protein and carbs both have 4 calories for every gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. If you want to limit your calories, avoid using too much fat in your diet, but do not eliminate it! Your body needs quality fats to function, strengthen your joints, and protect your brain.
Instead, focus on getting your fats from high-quality sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, or eggs.
Carbohydrates are your energy source to help fuel your workouts and spare your protein. Yes, your body will use protein as an energy source if there aren’t enough carbohydrates present, so eat enough carbs!
Brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole-grain bread, and oats are all excellent sources of carbohydrates! Try to avoid sugars and simple carbs like white rice, white bread, and white potatoes.
Lastly, your body needs protein to grow. Legumes, nuts, grains, dairy, eggs, fish, and meat are all excellent sources of protein. Don’t worry about “complete proteins” but rather that your body receives the majority of its protein from whole foods!
We can’t stress this enough; micronutrients are every bit as important as macronutrients, no matter what the biggest guy at the gym says.
Abusing the “if it fits your macros” diet as an excuse to eat junk will not help you reach your goals. Make sure you are eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, regardless of your diet.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all excellent sources of fiber, micronutrients, and even protein! Adding as many of these into your diet as possible will help ensure that you get the nutrition your body needs to build muscle.
Don’t stick to the classic chicken, rice, and broccoli for every meal. The more color you find on your plate (we are not talking about Skittles), the more nutritional value you can assume it has.
Sleeping to Build Muscle
You literally build muscle in your sleep. This is when your body makes the necessary repairs, so always prioritize a full night of sleep if you want to make those gains!
Always aim for a full seven to eight hours of restful sleep. Try to turn off screens before you go to bed for the best results!
Supplements to Build Muscle
Like isolation movements, supplements are simply the icing on the cake for most of us. However, if you’re a “hard gainer”, they can make a world of difference in your routine.
Whey protein, creatine, amino acids, and pre-workouts are the most popular supplements on the market. If you’re just starting out, we’d recommend using some protein powder to help you achieve your protein goals every day. However, the others simply aren’t necessary, as you can drink a coffee before your workout if you want.
If you do struggle to put on muscle, it could be because of genetic limitations. In this case, some supplements can help. For example, you can check out reputable SARMs for sale if you want to help put your body into an anabolic state.
Either way, remember to keep your training as intense as possible, and don’t forget to eat a surplus of quality calories!
Bulk Up Today
Now that you know how to bulk up and gain muscle, put these tips to use right away for the best results! Building muscle takes time, so the sooner you get started, the sooner you will see results.
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