When working with athletes, many of them want to know how to build muscle. There is a fine art to building muscle or muscle hypertrophy and it requires a multi-pronged approach. I see clients from all areas of sport, from running to body building, and muscle building is always a requirement – runners need more muscle to make them go faster and body builders need more muscle to compete.
HOW TO BUILD MUSCLE
There are a few areas that I look at when I work with my muscle hypertrophy clients:
- Training. It’s a bit obvious but something that many of my clients are not getting quite right. There is a fine balance between over training and undertraining. I have seen a few clients who are keen to build muscle and aren’t really getting there because they are only going to the gym twice a week for an hour or so – not enough. Muscle building requires overload and overload takes time so scheduling in more sessions can produce better results. On the other side, there are clients who are going to the gym for 2+ hours a day, 7 days per week. Muscle building requires rest, so the body has time to repair the micro tears that training has produced. No rest might mean results going in the opposite direction. Getting the schedule right may take some trial and error. You should never compare yourself to your friends and training buddies. No person is the same when it comes to the right level of overload, but I can help you work out a schedule and adjust it if required. I also have a wide network of trainers that I refer to that specialise in muscle hypertrophy to help you find your training sweet spot.
- Macros. You will notice that I didn’t go straight to protein. Protein is very important for muscle gain – we need it to build and repair muscle – but so are fats and carbohydrates so I would say that getting the macros right is more preferable than just focussing on protein. When I work with athletes for muscle hypertrophy I look at their daily routine – when do they get up, train, go to work, rest, etc. When the focus is building muscle, macros become very specific as done the timing around food and training. For example, if you do a big workout at the gym, then go straight to work without any food, your muscles won’t have the fuel to recover, repair, get stronger and get bigger (at this point, protein and a little bit of carbohydrate becomes very important). A pre workout snack is also very important to give you the fuel to train as hard as you want to, and this would definitely a carb/fat/protein combo rather than just pure protein. Many clients keep their protein low throughout their day then pack a whole chicken into one meal. However, our bodies can only absorb a limited amount of protein at any one time so they would get better results spreading their protein our throughout the day. I also see client who are packing in 3-4g body weight per kg protein per day (mostly in shakes) – crazy levels. Their guts are going to struggle to process such high amounts, they will only absorb what they can absorb and the rest gets processed through the kidneys, which can lead to renal overload. I try to limit protein to 2g per kg per day for my strength athletes and make sure the protein is spread out evenly throughout the day.
- When it comes to carbs, I recommend lower GI, high protein carbs such as wholegrains, beans, legumes etc – none of the white stuff. If your gut is not working well, you will not perform at your best. There are also a few athletes who do much better on a low carb diet so carb intake may be restricted to fruit and above ground vegetables. It all depends on the athlete.
- Caloric surplus. You need to eat more than what your body requires at a moment in time to develop the body you want. Caloric surplus should be around 0-10% in excess of what you are burning on a daily basis. I use 2 tools to decide basal metabolic rate (bioimpedance body composition analysis and ECAL testing) then I multiply by your activity level to ascertain how many calories you are burning per day. For example, if we calculate that you are burning 2000 calories per day, then we add 10% and give you a calorie intake target of 2200 calories per day. There are various apps on the market to help you with your calculations.
- Individuality. Very important. We are all very individual when it comes to our bodies. When I work with athletes for muscle hypertrophy, I look at all areas of their health that may be roadblocks in the way of their goals. You may have tried what your mates are doing at the gym and not got results. That doesn’t mean that you can’t become as strong and muscular as them, but you may just need a completely different approach.
- Rest days. Sometimes less is more. Overtraining can be very detrimental to your health. If you are getting injured more frequently than usual, or persistently fatigued, feeling low and unmotivated or your immune system is low and you’re constantly getting colds and stomach bugs then you could be overtraining. Training too much can lead to muscle breakdown rather than build up so train sensible and avoid following what others are doing. You do what works for you.
- Sleep. The repair mechanisms in our body kick in when we got to sleep. If you are out partying to all hours or just staying up too late watching TV every night you could be hampering your results.
- Micronutrients. There are a wide array of vitamins and minerals required for muscle synthesis and repair – calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, just about all of the B vitamins etc. Focussing too much on macros and not enough on obtaining kick ass nutrition from an amazing diet can lead to a lack of results. What are the best nutrition foods for building muscle – definitely not junk food! When you are working out at a high level it is very likely that at least some of the micronutrients will require some supplementation to give you the nutrients you need to achieve the results you want.
As you can see from this list, there are many aspects required for muscle hypertrophy. Take the guess work out of your training and nutrition. A pinpointed fitness and nutrition plan can be the factor required to help you reach your goals.