Building muscle mass is not as easy as you’d think. It’s much easier (in the physical sense) to lose fat than it is to build muscle. Fat can be lost at a pace of 2 lbs/week in most cases, but adding muscle at that pace is extremely difficult if not impossible for all but the first-time beginners of an exercise program. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to build muscle in the most efficient and fasted way possible. The following article will outline everything you need to do to reach your body’s true muscle building potential.
Probably the most important aspect of muscle growth, proper nutrition provides you with all the building blocks necessary to manufacture muscle tissue. Let’s first tackle calorie intakes. While not impossible, it is very difficult to build muscle fast and lose fat. Because of this, it’s much better to focus on one at a time.
While a pound of muscle tissue is only around 500 calories (think 1lb of chicken breast or lean beef), more calories are required to synthesize muscle tissue, as additional energy is required during protein synthesis. The exact number is up for debate, but a calorie surplus of 500 over maintenance would be ideal to gain .5-1lb of muscle per week (the lower number is more likely). For most people, this is a calorie intake of about 16-18 times their body weight. If your body fat percentage is very high, use the lower number or use your lean body mass instead of total body weight.
Next up is protein intake. Being that muscle tissue is predominantly protein, it makes sense to prioritize our protein intake. You might think that more protein is required during a muscle growth phase as compared to losing fat, but in actuality, you don’t need as much. Additional protein is required to spare muscle tissue when in a hypocaloric environment. However, when in a caloric surplus, protein is spared due to the extra calories. Set your protein intake to around 1 gram per pound of lean body mass, or about .8 times your body weight.
Carbohydrates are going to be your main fuel source to power through your strength training workouts. You cannot be afraid to eat them if you want to quickly build muscle. Set your carb intake to at least 1 gram per pound of body weight. If you are very carb sensitive you can implement nutrient timing or try carb cycling.
Fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, eggs, fish oil, and the natural fats found in meats and other whole foods. Keep your diet at least 80% whole foods to prevent unwanted fat gain.
That takes us to providing the necessary stimulus to create muscle growth. You can eat healthy all you want, but unless your strength training is done correctly, your muscle growth will either be non-existent or will happen at a snail’s pace. The key to building muscle fast? Compound exercises.
What are compound exercises? They are exercises that recruit maximal muscle fibers. These exercises use more than just one joint to perform them. Examples include the bench press, squat, deadlift, rows, good mornings, pullups, and variations of those exercises. While isolation exercises like curls and tricep kickback might be fun and give you a good burn, there is no better way to quickly and efficiently build muscle than by using compound exercises.
While training methodology varies greatly from individual to individual, I like to use a combination of strength and hypertrophy training by using some days to train for strength and others to train for speed (using a lower weight and focusing on bar speed). To do this you need to train with a variety of rep and set ranges. Strength training is usually done in the 3-5 rep range, and hypertrophy training happens in the 8-12 rep range. Anything more than 12 reps in a set, while not worthless, is unnecessary to build quality muscle.
Train hard. Push the intensity in the gym (or at home). Stimulate your muscles, but don’t annihilate them. Then get out of the gym and work on recovery.
I don’t talk a lot about supplements on this site, as I know that the majority of people can achieve the physiques they want without ever touching a single supplement. But that doesn’t mean supplements don’t have their place, especially when trying to achieve fast muscle growth. So what are the best supplements for muscle growth? I’m going to show you the 3 “core” supplements you’ll need to aid you in your goals.
- Multi-Vitamin/Mineral – Ideally you would get all your nutrients from your whole foods diet, but sometimes we are lacking in important nutrients that will speed up protein synthesis. I use and recommend Orange Triad.
- Essential Fatty Acids – These cannot be manufactured by your body and so need to be ingested through your diet. Omega-3 eggs, grass-fed beef, fish, flax seed, and chia seeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but if you also supplement like I do, then hands down the best source of EFA’s is Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil. Just take a teaspoon a day and you’ll be good. It’s lemon flavored and not as bad as it sounds (tastes good, actually). Sometimes I take it by itself, but other times I’ll add it to my fruit smoothie. This is probably the single greatest supplement you can take for overall health.
- Protein Powder – I no longer use protein powder, but if there were ever a time to use it, it would be during a growth phase. Stick with whey, as it has the highest bio-availability. Also pay close attention to the ingredients to make sure they aren’t adding a bunch of fillers and artificial sweeteners.
Are there more supplements you can take? Sure, but there will be a point of diminishing returns. Your diet, exercise, and recovery will play the biggest roles in muscle growth, but the 3 supplements listed above, along with others such as creatine can help you inch out any other muscle building potential.
Recovery is probably the most overlooked aspect of fitness. Diet and exercise get all the attention, but without proper recovery planning, people tend to get burned out, demotivated, or even injured. When motivation levels are high at the beginning of a fitness program we get a little overexcited about getting results. We get overly restrictive with our diets and cut calories too low, or we do too much exercise too fast without allowing for a proper adjustment period.
If you want to build muscle fast you have to allow yourself enough time for recovery. It’s a delicate balance because while you want to build muscle as fast as possible, you also don’t want to train a muscle before it’s had time to recover. Hitting a muscle before it’s had a chance to fully recover leads to stagnated muscle growth and decreased levels of strength. Or worse, it can lead to injury.
If you’re eating enough calories and you’re eating your required macronutrients outlined earlier in the article, you’ve got the nutrition aspect of recovery covered. For exercise, leave yourself at least 48 hours between intense training sessions before working out the same muscles. With a good training program you can hit the same muscles 1-2 times a week without any issues. Beginners could even do 3 full body workouts a week.
Whatever the case, if you see you’re not progressing in the gym or you’re feeling run down, throw an extra day or two of recovery in there. Focus on the quality of your workouts instead of the quantity of them. You don’t have to work out every single day to get great results. Be smart and listen to your body. More work is not always better. It’s about finding that spot on the results curve that allows you to be happy, healthy, and consistently making progress.