Many fitness goers find gaining muscle the most challenging aspect of fitness. There are dozens of variables when optimizing your pursuit of increasing muscle mass but overcoming the following will help you break through a potential training plateau and make significant progress towards your muscle gaining goal.
#1 You’re not eating enough!
To gain muscle mass you must consume more calories than you are burning. New muscle tissue is made of your calorie surplus. To determine your own magic number, first calculate your BMR—Basal Metabolic Rate—this is the amount of calories your body burns each day to maintain itself. Try this formula:
- BMR = 66 + (13.8 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)
Then add the calories you believe you expend on exercise each day and, on top of that, add an additional 250-500 calories. This is your daily surplus so you will know that you are taking on enough calories to support new muscle growth.
That doesn’t mean you should order pizza or eat an entire container of ice cream. Plan your meals and learn how many calories you need for a small surplus. Otherwise, you might add excess fat.
#2 You don’t eat enough protein!
people, particularly women, don’t consume enough protein given their daily activity. The RDA —Recommended Daily Allowance—for protein is 0.8 gram/kilogram of body weight, but this is a minimum for the average sedentary adult. Protein intake should be 20% of your daily calories, which is likely more than enough to maintain muscle mass. Here’s how to calculate the minimum amount of protein you should be eating:
- Step 1: Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms.
- Step 2: Multiply your weight in kilograms X 0.8 to get the amount (in grams) of protein you should be eating to maintain muscle mass.
If you exercise several days a week for 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous intensity, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends to incorporate more protein into your diet. Their recommendation for an active person is to eat 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on the days that you exercise. Use the same steps above to calculate the amount of protein (in grams) you’d need on the days when you exercise.
- For endurance activities, 1.2 to 1.4 gram/kilogram is recommended.
- For weight lifting activities or to add muscle mass, consume between 1.4 to 2 grams/kilogram.
The more you stress your body, the better your nutrition needs to be. Each source of protein—dairy, beef, poultry, seeds, fish, eggs, etc.— contains different amino acid profiles, so consume a variety of protein. Eating a full spectrum of aminos can be highly beneficial to your muscle-building goals. Eating enough and still feeling fatigued? See B12, It’s Kind of a Big Deal.
#3 You don’t train intensely enough!
This constant drive for “progression” is the magic behind the muscle building process.
Many people, especially women, go too light in the gym. If you think curling those 5-pound dumbbells will tone your arms, think again. Lift with the intent of progression, don’t just go through the motions. Go hard and heavy enough to challenge your body beyond its normal capacity—This is when change takes place.
While “working out” is great for overall heath, it doesn’t guarantee that you will build muscle mass or gain weight. Just because you break a sweat doesn’t mean you are making progress towards your goals.
Also, working hard does not mean you are working smart. “Smart” work includes the use of the best tools in the gym and using them correctly. You need to focus on progressive overload, or getting stronger than you are now. Doing intense 15 pound dumbbell curls for 20 minutes might leave you in a pool of sweat, but it does little to build muscle.
Stop working out and start training properly—maximize every set. Never Give Up. Head into the gym with the goal to beat each previous workout’s effort by at least one rep. If you were able to hit 220 pounds for 6 reps on the bench press, push for 7 or 8 reps next go around.
#4 You’re not resting enough!
Your workout routine may not allow for adequate rest. Rest is just as important as training. Weight training actually creates millions of tears in the muscle tissue—you’re actually damaging your muscle. Your muscles get “pumped up” because of the swelling caused and increased blood flow to the area. The actual muscle building (repair and growth of new muscle tissue) takes place out of the gym, when you’re resting and sleeping.
There are 2 ways you may not be getting enough rest. First, you are training too many days without taking any days off. Although you may not feel it, you body needs days of COMPLETE rest to recover from hard training sessions. It’s not just the muscles that need to recover, it’s your whole neurological system, tendons, joints, even your brain need rest.
If you do not allow enough recovery time, your muscles will not grow. It’s that simple. If your muscle group is still sore from the previous workout, don’t train it. For most muscle groups, one training session per week is adequate. Some smaller muscle groups like calves and abs may be trained twice, but still need at least 2 days of rest between sessions.
Also, sleeping is you body’s time to recharge. Aim to get around 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
#5 Your post workout nutrition sucks!
Your post workout shake/meal is arguably the most important meal of the day. When you finish your workout, your muscles are desperate for nutrients that have been lost during training. Your protein levels are down, creatine levels are down, and glycogen is depleted. Most people think that a simple whey protein shake is all that’s needed after your workout. This is not true. While a protein shake is better than nothing, it still falls well short of a good post workout shake. Eat a well rounded meal within one hour of completing your workout—protein, complex carbs and fats.
#6 You’re not drinking enough water!
Water is nature’s miracle nutrient—it’s benefits go beyond increasing muscle mass. Many lifters underestimate the importance of being properly hydrated well before they begin their workout. Keeping yourself hydrated should be a top priority throughout the entire day. Dehydration is a serious problem, and in extreme cases can lead to death. Drinking an adequate amount of water is easy, just take a bottle wherever you go and keep sipping out of it throughout the day (more on why its important to stay hydrated).