Gaining muscle mass is the most common goal in any weight room and the main goal you have in mind when you start training.
In our anabolic guide to gain muscle mass, you will discover the elements that must act synergistically (together) to achieve your goals of pure muscle gain.
If you are an advanced bodybuilding practitioner some of these rules can be modified but if you are a beginner this should be your new muscle bible.
Gaining quality muscle is a difficult task that requires perseverance and dedication … Therefore, to get a little muscle mass you will have to do your best to reach that goal and half measures will not be worth.
Fundamentals of gaining muscle mass
To gain muscle mass you must be constant in training, training three to five days a week, doing BRIEF, INTENSIVE AND HEAVY workouts.
You must rest and sleep properly, at least 8 hours a day, and if your life allows you to sleep 10 hours then even better.
Don’t forget the cardiovascular work, it will allow you to get muscle mass in a cleaner and fat-free way and also help eliminate toxins that are generated in the muscle tissue as a result of training with weights. However, it shouldn’t be your priority.
And last but not least, the most important thing to achieve muscle mass, you know that, don’t you? Nutrition.
You need to nourish your body with quality nutrients (complex and fibrous hydrates, animal proteins from low-fat sources and healthy fats such as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids).
Remember that it is essential to use diets to gain muscle mass combined with some routine muscle volume weights.
Positive protein balance
Obtaining a positive protein balance is the first key point to gain optimal muscle mass.
Proteins are the “bricks” of body building. You won’t be able to build a house without adequate materials, and you won’t be able to build muscle without proteins.
The amino acids that make up proteins are the molecules that the body uses to repair and build muscle after exercise.
Proteins are rich in nitrogen, so a high protein intake ensures a positive nitrogen balance. If your body maintains more nitrogen than it eliminates, you are in an anabolic state and you will be on the right track to gain muscle mass.
To have enough amino acids, consume between 1.8 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight distributed in five to six meals per day.
For example, a bodybuilder weighing 90 kilos requires a minimum of 180 grams of protein per day, or 30 grams in each of their six meals.
Really exceeding the amount of 2 grams per kilo is somewhat excessive for people who are not dedicated to bodybuilding in a way more than as a hobby.
The intestinal tract is unable to absorb more than 40-50 grams of protein at one time, so divide your daily intake into several meals.
If you eat too much protein in one sitting, some will not be absorbed and will be excreted as a waste product by the faeces (or worse, metabolized into reserve fat).
Foods rich in protein include meat, fish, egg white, milk and whey. The easiest way to calculate protein intake is to read the label on the packaging.
As a rough rule of thumb, consider that lean meat, chicken, turkey and fish contain between 20 and 25 grams of protein per 100 grams of weight. A large egg white contains 6 grams of protein, and milk 3 to 4 grams per 100 ml.
Consuming sufficient protein at regular intervals throughout the day ensures an adequate supply of amino acids and provides a positive nitrogen balance. This creates an anabolic state, which activates protein synthesis for muscle building and leads to faster recovery.
It should be very clear to you that your body needs a continuous supply of protein to be in an anabolic state or muscle growth.
For this reason, it is not enough to take 100 grams of proteins in a single dose and forget about the rest. Make sure that each of your 5-6 daily meals contains 30 to 50 grams of quality proteins.
Number of calories in positive
Another key to gaining muscle mass is keeping calories positive. Let’s see exactly what this means and how to calculate the calories we need.
To gain muscle, you must be in a state of positive caloric balance.
The way your body uses the proteins you eat is directly related to calories. When your calorie intake remains slightly higher than your daily energy requirements, proteins are used to build muscle.
If your calorie intake is consistently low, your body will burn fat and protein for energy. That’s good for losing body fat, but it’s not the right way to get muscle mass.
A good way to maintain an adequate calorie level is to calculate your daily maintenance calorie requirements and then add an extra 10 percent to the resulting value.
For example, if you weigh 75 kilos with a height of 180 cm, the daily maintenance intake will be, approximately and taking into account an average physical activity, about 2,500 calories.
An additional 10 percent (250-300 calories) raises your total daily calories to 2,750. Add the extra 250 calories by consuming about 60 grams more carbohydrates.
Calorie Calculator for Maintenance
If you’re not a calculator, we’ll make it even easier. With this calculator you will be able to immediately obtain the approximate value of the caloric consumption that you need for muscular maintenance. Once this information is known, you will be able to modify the number of calories according to your objective.
We have used the “Harris-Benedict formula” because it takes into account many parameters such as height, weight and type of physical activity.
What if I don’t gain weight?
Monitor your progress using a log. If your weight doesn’t increase after a week or two, you don’t get enough calories to grow. Increase your calorie intake by another 5-10% each week until your weight starts to rise in the right direction.
The 5 percent gradual increase in calories is to ensure that your weight gain comes from adding new muscle and not from storing body fat.
You can find more relevant information on this topic in our article “Calorie Calculation for Maintenance”.
Facilitating carbohydrate synthesis
Another fundamental point to gain muscle mass is to facilitate the synthesis of carbohydrates.
If proteins are the building blocks of the body, carbohydrates are the cement.
These complex carbohydrate molecules stimulate the release of insulin, the potent anabolic hormone that carries amino acids into muscle cells, where they are used to repair muscle fibers after intense training.
Once the daily protein requirements are met, the carbohydrates generate weight gain.
After exercise, the body’s carbohydrate storage deposits (muscle glycogen) decrease. When you ingest many carbohydrates, these energy stores fill up and stimulate the body to retain proteins in order to build new muscle.
If you skimp on this immediate principle, the deposits are quickly emptied, forcing the body to consume proteins as fuel instead of using them to repair muscle tissue.
After weight training, it is very important that the food you eat contains carbohydrates that can “support” the proteins. Even if you are in definition or want to lose weight.
That’s why let me tell you that the 100% whey isolate super protein you’re taking after training is far from optimal for you.
The required quantity
To add mass to your body, you will need to consume between 3 and 4 grams of complex carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. A bodybuilder who weighs 90 kilos requires approximately 300 grams a day, or 50 grams at each of the six meals.
After training, we recommend that you eat one gram of carbohydrates per kilo of body weight as well as half a gram of protein per kilo of body weight. After training it is time to take carbohydrates with a high glycemic index.
Quality sources of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, rice, pasta, sweet potato, oatmeal, wholemeal bread and vegetables.
Of course none of these foods in their “fried version,” you know what I mean. You can read more about it in our article “The Best Sources of Carbohydrates”.
To provide the body with the optimal anabolic environment to gain muscle mass more or less cleanly, a nutrient division that gives good results is 50% carbohydrate, 40% protein and 10% fat during the day.
People with a lot of difficulty to gain weight, such as extremely thin people or what we know as ectomorphs, can modify these proportions to 60% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 10% fat if they do not get good results.
Biotype and muscle growth
We have different body types, just as we have different personalities. And gaining muscle mass is different for each type.
Your body is as unique as your fingerprint. The key to creating your own training program lies in understanding body types and developing a regimen that fits your unique shape, rather than trying to change it.
If you personalize exercise and diet to your specific biotype, you’ll get a more effective transformation.
The three basic biotypes are: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.
- Ectomorph: It is thin, with a delicate structure and it is laborious to gain weight.
- Mesomorphic: It is muscular, with a hard rectangular structure, and gains or loses weight easily.
- Endomorphic: It is chubby in appearance, with a soft, round structure, which may have difficulty losing weight.
Most people don’t fit exactly into any of these categories. Although usually one of the three predominates, most of us are a combination of biotypes.
Since each organism is unique, the predominant body type and design will help you develop an ideal exercise and diet plan to achieve your goals.
Each biotype requires a different prescription for muscle development. The regimen for an ectomorph differs from that of an endomorph because they are two opposite extremes in the spectrum of body types.
If you want to know the secrets to optimize your muscle mass gain according to your soma type you can review our article on somatic types: ectomorphs, endoforms and mesomorphs.
Increases the amount of testosterone
Testosterone is what makes men men. This male hormone causes sexual desire and builds muscle mass; it can make a difference in bed and gym. Testosterone is produced in the testicles; an adult male produces about 7 milligrams each day, or about 50 milligrams a week.
The normal testosterone level in men is 500 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl), although it can range from 300 to 1,000 ng/dl, depending on age.
Men between the ages of 15 and 30 have the highest peaks in their levels of this hormone, which means that this is the optimal age for the anabolic effect of testosterone. This does not mean that people over the age of 30 are at a significant disadvantage.
In most people, lowering the testosterone level is a slow process; sufficient production remains for decades. Testosterone has a potent anabolic action to develop muscle and reduce body fat, given that:
- It increases lean muscle mass and bone density and decreases body fat.
- Ensures a positive nitrogen balance by stimulating protein synthesis and improving protein utilization.
- Facilitates carbohydrate energy storage and promotes fat intake.
- Stimulates the production of red blood cells, which expands blood volume and improves oxygenation of the entire body.
How to have testosterone at optimal levels?
There are several ways to naturally increase testosterone.
- Hormone production is stimulated with short periods of intense exercise and at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Basic exercises such as squatting and dead weight stimulate the production of anabolic hormones, but keep in mind that too much exercise can lead to overtraining and the opposite effect on our testosterone.
- Levels are optimized when protein intake is high (at least two grams per kilo of body weight per day) and body fat is below 15 percent but not much higher.
- The intake of healthy fats is also important to maintain optimal hormone production.
These measures – regular exercise, adequate sleep, a diet rich in protein, low body fat, etc. – will not exaggeratedly increase the level of testosterone above the normal ranges.
Increases are small. However, these may be all you need to make a difference.
Water for muscle growth
To gain muscle, water is another very important factor. Not drinking enough water can negatively affect your gains in muscle mass.
Muscle is made up of 70 percent water, so maintaining body hydration ensures maximum muscle cell volume and helps muscle growth. When the body dehydrates, the water leaves the muscle cells, which determines an anti-anabolic state of muscle waste.
Remember this well: A well hydrated muscle is an anabolic muscle.
Starting by hydrating the body should be the first task of the morning. Remember that eight hours of sleep is equivalent to a third of the day, during which no fluids are consumed.
Drink at least half a liter of water when you get up. Caffeinated drinks, like coffee and tea, have a diuretic effect – they remove water from the body – so if you like caffeinated drinks – and that’s not a bad thing – be sure to re-establish your water balance by drinking enough water.
Under normal environmental conditions, the training organism needs approximately three to four litres of water spaced throughout the day. In warmer climates, the daily water requirement increases to replace fluids lost through sweating.
The excess causes minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium to dilute rapidly in the bloodstream, causing fatigue, cramps and loss of mental agility.
Keeping the body hydrated during exercise is essential. Water is all that is needed to restore body fluids, as long as the training session lasts about an hour or an hour and a half.
Sports drinks that contain added electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are more beneficial for athletes who exercise for longer periods without eating.
Therefore, if you are in the gym for a reasonable amount of time, there is no real advantage to consuming these drinks during the training session.
How much water do I drink?
To ensure proper hydration you can use this general rule: Anyone should try to drink 8 glasses of water each day, which is about 2 liters.
You can also estimate the amount of water needed by taking our weight in kg and multiplying it by 0.036.
Example: 84 Kg weight => 84 x 0,036 = 3,024 litres of water.
Obviously, if we are athletes or exercise frequently, we will also need to replace the water we lose during training.
It is advisable to drink even when you are not thirsty. When the sensation of thirst arrives, it is already a sign that we are dehydrating. This happens when we lose about 2% of our body weight in water and there is an immediate decrease in our performance.
On the other hand, drinking too much water is very dangerous for your health, with 2-3 liters a day you are sure to achieve your goals without jeopardizing your health.
Gain mass with less aerobic
Let’s look at the true importance of cardiovascular exercise for our goal of gaining muscle mass. How much should I do? Should I give it up altogether?
Exercise is a kind of paradox. It is an aggression to the organism that triggers a response to stress, inducing a temporary catabolism.
During this anti-anabolic state, body tissues break down. While short episodes of hard training stimulate new muscle growth, too long and too intense exercise leads to an increase in stress hormones, cortisol, glucagon and catecholamines.
These catabolic hormones target the consumption of glycogen and amino acids and cause the degradation of muscle tissue.
If you want to live in an anabolic and muscle growth state, your training sessions should be intense and short. After an hour of high-intensity training, you will have lost power and will be entering a state of catabolism.
Just do what you need to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, do some cardiovascular exercise and then get out of the gym and start the growth process.
How much should we do?
Aerobic exercise is excellent for improving overall health and promoting fat loss. But if your goal is muscle mass growth, don’t overdo it with cardiovascular exercise. You won’t gain weight if you’re burning more calories than you take in.
However, for all but the most extreme ectomorph types, the inclusion of some cardio may be beneficial.
It can help with appetite (by increasing it), maintain some fitness, tend to improve recovery and may help alleviate some of the fat gain during our bulking season.
Perhaps most importantly, it keeps the metabolic fat burning pathways active and that, when it comes to resuming a restrictive diet, seems to help fat loss occur faster and you don’t get to summer fat again like a barrel.
On the other hand, too much cardiovascular exercise hinders the reconstruction phase. If you’re used to playing basketball for an hour every day, you’d need to change your habits a little if you really want to develop.
This doesn’t mean you stop exercising completely.
As we’ve said, some cardio can be beneficial; ideally do it on days when you don’t train with weights or 20-30 min of boring and outdated (low-moderate intensity) standard cardio, done 2-4 times a week after the weight routine.
This way you ensure you get the benefits of aerobic exercise without compromising your muscle mass gain goals.
Recovery to gain muscle mass
Muscle recovery is a fundamental point to gain muscle mass. You need time to recover and for muscle repair. You just have to keep an adequate rest if you want to grow up.
During exercise, muscle proteins are broken down, and to restore protein balance, muscle protein synthesis is increased for at least 36 hours.
In addition, to repair the disruption of muscle fibers induced by an intense weight session, exhausted muscle requires three to five days of complete rest.
The muscle hypertrophy caused by exercise is the result of restoring muscle protein balance and repairing muscle damage. Rest days are the key component of any muscle development program.
Learn to rest
When your body rests, it is developing muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores. Without sufficient rest, the body remains in a catabolic state of negative protein and energy balance.
If you deprive your body of the rest required for anabolism, your muscles will not gain volume or strength. If you want more development, you have to allow this recharge.
Another key requirement for anabolism is sleep. Do you know why babies sleep most of the time? Because they are growing.
You need at least eight hours of sleep every night if you want to optimize the levels of the body’s two most potent anabolic hormones: testosterone and growth hormone.
The best way to ensure an adequate and restful night’s sleep is to develop a regular sleep schedule.
Go to bed every night at the same time, preferably eight hours before you have to get up the next morning. With a regular sleep routine, the body will become accustomed to the restorative sleep scheme.
If you can’t ensure at least seven or eight hours of nighttime sleep, try to take a 30-60 minute nap at noon or early evening. A daily nap is a good way to prevent chronic sleep deprivation.
You must let the muscles rest and recover after training. Although it depends on many factors associated with each person, you should allow at least 3-5 days of rest for each muscle, depending on the intensity of the training.
For example, if you have trained your chest on a Monday, you could theoretically retrain it on Thursday. However, if you do the typical Weider routine with a lot of series and repetitions, if you retrain the muscle on Thursday you will surely overtrain it and cut the cycle of recovery and growth.
If you are going to train a muscle twice a week, you should do it intensely, but with a low number of series, preferably no more than 10-12 for large muscles and 7-9 for small ones.
Think about this… what do you think is best?
Train your chest once every 7 days with a large number of sets and repetitions? Or twice a week intensively with a moderate number of series and repetitions?
I’ll tell you, the second. With the second option there are two phases of destruction and recovery in 7 days.
You will be forcing your muscles twice a week to grow. And not only that, by not doing too many series for that muscle in a training you will not be exceeding its capacity for recovery and growth.
Diet to gain muscle mass
Eat at regular intervals every two or three hours. Each feeding should contain protein. The proper amount is 1.5 to 2 grams per kilo of body weight divided by all meals.
The diet explained below as an example is quite advanced and very effective. Perhaps not everyone can follow it but it is a clear example of what a good diet must have to gain muscle mass.
- Food 1:
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 cup oatmeal with fruit
- Food 2:
- Protein shake
- 1 cup nuts
- Food 3:
- Steak 200 grams
- 1 large sweet potato
- 1 cup broccoli
- Lunch 4 (pre-training):
- Whole tuna or turkey sandwich
- 1 cup of rice
- 1 carrot
- Food 4 (post-training):
- 30-40 grams of whey protein.
- 60-80 grams of maltodextrin,dextrose
- 5 grams of creatine
- Food 5:
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 large baked potato
- 1 salad
- Food 6:
- Protein shake
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Muscle building supplements
Nutritional supplements can be extremely helpful in your search for muscle mass.
In our busy society today, many people spend at least eight hours each day at work or away from home. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to provide the muscles with a regular dose of quality nutrients in the right amounts.
Generally, it is not possible to spend several hours in the kitchen each day preparing five or six meals to develop muscles.
Still, if you want them to grow after all your hard work in the gym, you just have to meet your fuel demands. And this is where quality nutritional supplements come in handy.
Taking nutritional supplements after endurance exercise provides a hormonal environment that encourages muscle anabolism.
Some supplements provide extra nutrients to increase the quality of your dietary intake, while others try to directly stimulate muscle growth.
Meal Replacement Supplements
Food replacement formulas are a good substitute for solid foods.
Instead of using the fat-laden resource of fast food products, a high-protein, low-fat meal replacement drink is healthier and often a cheaper alternative.
Proteins are the key anabolic ingredient, but it is not easy to consume 2 – 3 grams of protein per kilo of body weight every day through solid foods, which need to be cooked.
However, we do have help available in the form of quality supplements, such as protein serums.
Low-carbohydrate protein supplements are available in powder, bottles or cans to drink, and tasty bars. With all these high-quality protein sources on the market today, it’s easy to keep your protein reservoir full.
Don’t know what protein to buy? In our guide to buying your proteins we tell you which are the best protein supplements and how to buy them comfortably.
When sports supplements are scientifically compared, creatine stands out as the clear winner, in terms of increased muscle volume and strength.
This highly anabolic-grade muscle fuel replenishes energy stores, improves muscle cell volume, triggers protein synthesis and stimulates the release of growth hormone.
When creatine is consumed together with whey proteins, immediately after a training session, muscle gains are superior to those obtained with supplements alone.
In other words, creatine and whey proteins work as an anabolic team when used together after training.