How To Build Muscle
The PEERtrainer Guide To Becoming Stronger...
...While Dramatically Increasing Your Health!
...And Avoiding The "Weird" Aspects Of Gym and Muscle CultureFebruary 14th, 2012
By Brian Rigby, CISSN, Clinical Nutrition Writer
Jim LaValle, R.Ph., CCN, DHM. and Jason Boehm MS, CNS, MMC
(This is PEERtrainer's NEW guide to muscle building for normal people, and with a real health focus. We built this so people would have a "go to" strategy for building muscle the right way, in a way that can dramatically boost health, especially as one ages. This is new so PLEASE leave comments and questions!)
You might have a friend who maintains a slavish devotion to building muscle. He cycles intermittent fasting with carb-loading (or whatever his favorite muscle-blog diet de jour might be), spends half his paycheck on every powder and capsule that claims performance benefits, religiously follows muscle gurus, and visits the gym about as often as you sign onto Facebook.
You are not that guy--but you do want to look good, stay lean, and perform at your best. Juggling a hectic job with numerous other demands means spending hours at the gym or following an ever-changing muscle-building diet just isn't going to happen. At the same time, you're still determined to build muscle because you know it has many benefits and, well, muscle just makes you look and feel better.
Thankfully, you don't actually need to spend hours in the gym to achieve desirable results. The truth is, building muscle is more about what you do with the other 23 hours a day than how much time you spend in the gym. People simply do not address the key components to building muscle mass, you can achieve pretty amazing results if you understand how to fuel your metabolism and build your metabolic reserve. Training intensely creates a tremendous metabolic demand that you have to account for. Understanding your metabolic code for maximizing performance allows you to take action on where your specific needs may be.
That's where this article comes in. As you'll learn, building muscle does take some time and effort, but it doesn't have to be overly complicated and it doesn't need to take over every waking hour of your life. If you are going to take the time to train 3-5 days a week, then take the next half hour to read this: it may well be the difference between frustrating plateaus and actually getting results.
Quick Article Summary: Top Tips For Muscle Building
1. Work your body as completely as possible. You want to vary the exercise and resistance as much as possible, to engage all parts of your body.
2. Focus on CONTROL when you lift. This is the single most neglected part of muscle building. Most people lift in an out of control manner, paying no attention to control. You want smooth, in control form.
3. Connect your mind and your body. This might sound a bit odd, but you always want to be as present and aware as possible.
4. Nutrition is extremely important, and you want to consume a ton of plant-based micronutrients in addition to traditional protein and fat.
5. Get help and keep an open mind. Be a learner.
6. Cut down on sugar as much as possible. Sugar is your enemy. Sleep is your friend.
7. Controlling inflammation is a key to muscle repair and growth. Herbs and spices are excellent to help modulate inflammation.
8. Don't be afraid of fat. Healthy fat is found in avocado, fish oil, coconut, nuts, seeds and olive oil. These fats help boost testosterone, control inflammation, and are critical for micronutrient absorption. (Higher micronutrient intake is strongly correlated with better overall health.)
Why Focus on Muscle?
This question may seem obvious--just about every guy wants muscle, right? It may be because it makes him feel good or it may be because he likes the way he looks, but certainly most men would prefer to have at least some muscle. Aesthetics certainly validate building and maintaining muscle, but in reality muscle does much more than you might initially consider.
First of all, when you start to lose muscle and lay down fat around the belly, it's the first sign that your metabolism is off-track and your health is taking the slow (or fast) spiral to chronic disease. Storing fat and losing muscle is one of the biggest signs of aging, and worse yet, belly fat (also known as "visceral fat") is metabolically active, sucking out your ability to maintain testosterone and build muscle while increasing your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
While this is ominous sounding, muscle actually makes you a better fat burner and more resistant to metabolic problems. The more muscle you have, the better your body balances blood glucose; the better you balance glucose, the better you will perform and the healthier your will be.
Why Strength-Training Is So Effective at Burning Calories
Most people know that lifting weights will burn calories, but they may be quick to point out that they could easily burn more calories by jumping on the treadmill for the same amount of time. What they don't realize is that after you finish with the weights, you continue burning more calories for the next six hours and possibly even longer (some studies suggest it can last up to 18 hours)!
After you finish a hard set, you're probably breathing pretty hard, and this is the key to why lifting weights is actually a great calorie burning workout. After you finish an exercise, you enter a phase called "Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption", or EPOC for short. Basically, this a long way of saying that after you need to catch your breath, but it has some pretty amazing qualities. For starters, you burn significantly more calories after the workout has finished than when you were actually doing it.
Why? Well, for every liter of oxygen your body consumes, it burns around 5 calories. While you were lifting weights, you probably didn't start breathing too hard. In fact, you might even have been holding your breath (though you really shouldn't)! You're burning calories, but when your body attempts to recover, you're consuming a whole lot more oxygen than you were when you were exercising, and your body is burning calories this whole time.
Better yet, even though you probably don't notice it your body actually increases its oxygen consumption for hours after you finish a high-intensity exercise, which is why your heart beat might be faster four hours after you finish exercising than it normally is. This increased oxygen consumption adds up to a whole lot of calories burned, after you finish exercising!
Muscle Protects Your Body and Mind
Muscle also makes routine tasks less cumbersome and reduces injuries. Our day-to-day life often involves lifting and moving heavy objects, and when your body is equipped to carry these burdens then it is much less prone to injury. It's hard to imagine (a young) Arnold Schwarzenegger throwing out his back taking the trash out, yet this is a common injury precisely because so many people don't build the muscle to support the daily or weekly tasks they need to perform!
Muscle also provides your golden ticket if you want to improve your sex life, boost immunity, and reduce your risk for dementia. In fact, studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that building and maintaining muscle improves your:
Blood sugar levels
Strength Training Has the Hormonal Advantage
Strength training has another big advantage over both endurance training and cross training. In a recently published clinical trial, athletes who strength trained over 12 weeks reported the greatest free testosterone to cortisol ratio while endurance athletes experienced plummeting testosterone and cross trainers bound up their free testosterone. Increased free testosterone is key to building more muscle, maintaining anabolism (growth), and it also helps with sex drive.
One enemy of anabolism in muscle tissue is inflammation and the immune response that happens after your exercise. When you train hard, your body responds by releasing inflammatory compounds--your job is to manage and remove those inflammatory signals that switch off your ability to make gains from training. Everything from reflex time to stamina and strength and recovery time is controlled by inflammation, so reducing inflammation is important.
If you want to maintain and build lean muscle, remember:
Control Inflammation → Control Repair Processes → Gain Lean Muscle
On to the Main Event!
The rest of this article is divided into four areas to build and maintain lean muscle:
Since this is for beginners, it provides a practical, easy-to-implement guide to build and maintain muscle. Whether you want to bulk up your scrawny figure or turn flab into fit, these strategies were designed for the average guy to get muscle without sacrificing half their life doing it.
Section I: Foods For Building Muscle
You may have heard the adage, "building muscle requires less time in the gym and more in the kitchen." This more true than you may realize. Diet affects the building and maintaining of muscle more than most people give it credit for.
How To Build Muscle at Breakfast!
When you wake up in the morning, your body has just gone through a 7 to 9 hour fast. It's running low on liver glycogen to supply the brain with energy, and chances are it's been breaking down your muscle in order to supplement the dwindling supplies. If you ignore breakfast, your body continues to break down your muscle just to supply its most important organ with energy!
Skipping breakfast, or equally bad devouring a muffin with your dark roast coffee as you frantically drive to work, makes muscle building a disaster.
Keep it simple. If you have the time, fix a vegetable omelet or eat some lean protein source. Leftovers work well too if they have lean protein and slow-digesting carbs. You can also make some hard-boiled eggs the night before and eat them with some sliced turkey and some berries or an apple.
Are even these options out of your time range? One of the best solutions is making a protein smoothie for a perfect breakfast. Throw a few scoops of protein powder in the blender (about 30 grams) with some coconut milk, a cup of berries (fresh or frozen), flax or chia seeds, and maybe a little almond butter. The whole thing takes 5 minutes but keeps you full and satisfied for hours, making you less likely to make a bad choice when your co-worker brings in the donuts mid-morning.
Protein and Protein Powders For Building Muscle
Adequate protein needs to be taken in every day, multiple times per day. Use the formula .75 to 1 gram per pound bodyweight if you want to gain muscle, especially if you are training intensely. It is also essential that you eat enough food each day, because if you don't supply your body with adequate energy it will turn to your muscle to supply the remainder.
Many athletes actually don't even hit these numbers--it can be a challenge unless you track the food you eat and when you eat it. It's important to get protein throughout the day and not just at one time because your body will build more muscle faster if it has a constant stream of amino acids to supply it. This means eating more frequently (NOT snacking--potato chips don't count as a protein source), and choosing high-protein snacks like protein shakes or tuna sandwiches.
A pervasive myth surrounding protein powders is that they offer no advantage over eating regular food. While that sounds sensible, it's actually quite incorrect and unrealistic: most people can't spend their entire day cooking and preparing food, so it's nice to have something convenient. An even more compelling reason is that scientific studies validate that protein powders, especially whey proteins, offer some definite advantages over many whole protein sources.
One huge advantage whey proteins have is that they are an extremely easy to digest and absorb protein, and unlike many other proteins and protein powders, they are soluble in water. This not only makes them easier to mix, but it also means they leave your stomach faster and can enter your bloodstream where the amino acids can supply muscles faster. In fact, whey protein is the most quickly absorbed protein, even faster than most food sources. This makes it an ideal source of protein for certain situations, though not every situation.
When your body is in need of protein, such as when it is in a catabolic state of breakdown like first thing in the morning or post-exercise, a fast-absorbed protein like whey will be completely used and boost anabolic muscle growth significantly. When your body is in balance, and you're trying to maintain muscle growth, it actually responds to slightly slower proteins, like meats or whey protein mixed with some more slowly digested foods like fiber or fats.
So, remember to eat your whole foods like meats and beans for protein, but also keep in mind that there is a huge nutritional advantage to protein powders during certain times!
Vegetables Are A Key to Muscle Growth
An important focus needs to be on getting whole foods beyond proteins, especially vitamin and mineral-rich vegetables. Too many athletes take the protein train too far and start consuming copious amounts of meat or gallons of protein shakes and wind up depriving their body of the essential vitamins and minerals vegetables and fruits have to offer.
Furthermore, vegetables contain numerous phytochemicals which do everything from improve insulin resistance to reduce inflammation, significantly improving your training experience.
In addition to vegetables, other carbohydrate sources are also important, but some types are less beneficial than others or downright harmful. For example, a significant number of people have found that they are sensitive to gluten, so this is something to be aware of. Try avoiding gluten and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel and recover from exercise.
Beyond gluten, high-glycemic foods may harm your goals by promoting spikes in insulin which promote belly fat to 'grow' instead of your muscles.
Focus on lower-glycemic foods, especially during times you are not exercising. Foods which have a low glycemic index (or more importantly, a low glycemic load) will not spike your insulin levels which may lead to excess fat gain instead of muscle gain. Ideally, you want your body and blood sugar to remain as stable as possible through the day, getting carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in regular intervals so that it remains anabolic, pro-muscle, and anti-fat.
A final reason to consume copious amounts of vegetables, fruits, and other low-glycemic carbs is fiber. Fiber aids digestive health (which boosts recovery) by supporting your gut bacteria. Gut bacteria actually digest the fiber you feed them and provide energy to your large intestine. Fiber also binds cholesterol, helping to lower your total cholesterol and improve your blood lipid profile!
How Fat Helps You Build Muscle
Fats are important as well--if you don't consume enough fat, your fat-soluble hormones like testosterone can wind up low and you may find you don't recover from exercise as fast as you would like.
Fats are also valuable for increasing your intake of the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E, both of which help your body recover from exercise-induced damage. Great fat choices include nuts and seeds, coconut, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fishes like salmon (which doubles as a protein).
Fatty fishes like salmon also provide another crucial fatty nutrient: omega-3s. You have probably heard about omega-3s, but you may not have heard of their benefits for exercise. Omega-3s also reduce blood viscosity (it makes your blood 'thinner'), which allows more nutrients and fuel to flow to your muscles during exercise!
Finally, omega-3s significantly reduce inflammation. In our cells, omega-3s associate with the cell membranes in a ratio with another essential fat, omega-6s. Unfortunately, if your diet is high in omega-6s, then the omega-3s get blocked out of the cell membranes where they can exert their beneficial effects. Most people consume excess omega-6s (which are found most notably in vegetable oils, so anything processed is almost guaranteed to be high in them!) and not nearly enough omega-3s. Ideally, you should be consuming near equal amounts of both of them.
When you consume excess omega-6s, your body is more prone to systemic inflammation because the omega-6s produce hormone-like compounds which cause a strong inflammatory response. When omega-3s replace the omega-6s, the compounds formed are much less inflammatory and can actually contribute to resolving and protecting your body!
A Simple Protein Carb Fat Ratio To Build Muscle
Ultimately, it's all about getting the right whole foods at the right times in the right ratios. A simple ratio of carbs to protein to fat to remember is 50-25-25, meaning 50% carbohydrate, 25% protein, 25% fat. These numbers can be tweaked around some, but in general most strength-training regimens will be best supported by getting a 50-25-25 split of calories.
In the end, no one diet fits all people. You need to work on food selection, think about how you feel when eating certain foods, and start to understand what makes your personal metabolism function efficiently. When you understand what makes you feel good, then you'll experience better results at the gym.
With all that being said, regardless of your diet you should limit refined sugar intake or preferably get it out of your diet completely. Refined sugar offers only calories and no beneficial nutrients, so it does not support optimal health or muscle growth. This means all those energy drinks that are loaded with sugar have to go to!
By consuming the right combination of protein, good fats, fiber, and healthy carbs, you will get (and stay) lean, muscular, and healthy. When you look at your diet through the day, it should contain all of the following:
8 oz. of high-quality animal protein--wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and organic omega-3 eggs are optimal choices. If you are a vegetarian, legumes are key as are even more copious amounts of high-protein veggies like greens, broccoli, and mushrooms. Plenty of green, red, yellow, orange, and blue fruits and vegetables High-fiber starchy carbs--sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice, and legumes are great choices. Good fats like avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, and fish oil.
Section Summary: Foods For Building Muscle
Never skip breakfast. A protein shake provides fast, filling fuel if you're short on time.
Protein helps build muscle, but getting enough calories is just as important.
Make sure you drink plenty of water (a good rule of thumb is half your weight in ounces). Muscle is mostly water, and without enough water it can't function well.
If you have the budget, work with a sports nutritionist or fitness-focused nutritionist to custom design a meal plan that builds muscle.
Supplements For Building Muscle: The Good, the Bad, and the Worthless
Stop by your local health food store and you'll find a bewildering array of muscle-building powders and capsules, most of them making dubious and exaggerated claims.
The truth is that no supplement can stand in for the right diet, and that even the most effective supplements hinge on a healthy diet to work. Supplements are made to supplement what you are already doing effectively--if your diet doesn't support muscle growth and good training, then supplements won't either! For this reason, make sure you follow the tips from the section above before going out and purchasing supplements which won't help until you've dialed your diet in!
With that being said, there are definitely a handful supplements which will provide a significant boost to your goal of gaining muscle, and in fact are some of the most useful supplements to anybody seeking to improve their health!
These supplements include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
If you want to step up supplementation a notch with more muscle-focused nutrients, stick with the science-supported basics. There are only a handful of (legal) supplements which have been proven to be effective time and again, but of these only three have wide-ranging impact for those seeking to improve their body and performance: Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). We'll focus on these supplements first.
How Creatine Helps You Build Muscle:
Creatine, a tri-peptide your body creates from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, might be the most talked-about supplement in the fitness world. Debates rage about its efficacy and long-term safety (don't worry--it's safe), but studies repeatedly show that creatine can increase your gains in muscle strength, size, and tone when used in conjunction with strength training than strength training by itself.
Creatine is our body's first go-to energy source, particularly for short bursts of high-intensity exercise like lifting weights. Our muscles only have limited quantities of energy and creatine serves to rapidly resupply our muscles with more energy. When supplementing with creatine, our muscles become saturated with it and we have longer-lasting power with which to perform our exercise.
The short-term consequence is you life more weight in one session, which makes you feel more powerful. The long-term consequence of this increase in training is you gain strength faster than you would if you were limited to a lower rate of training!
From an aesthetic point-of-view, creatine also helps you look your best. In our muscles, creatine must associate with water in order to be stored, which makes your muscles look larger and feel harder. It will also cause you to gain 2 to 5 pounds over the first week, but not to worry--it's all water weight and will not contribute to fat in the slightest!
Contrary to the scare-tactics and rumors often brought up when talking about creatine, there is actually no risk associated with it--no risk of kidney or liver damage, no increased risk of injury, really no risk at all. Beyond gaining weight, there are no side effects to creatine either. In fact, some studies have shown that supplementing with creatine actually reduces the number of exercise-induced injuries!
Despite being risk-free, if you have pre-existing kidney or liver problems, it is always recommended that you go see a doctor before starting any supplement regime, just to be certain that it will not affect your condition in a negative way.
How Beta-Alanine Improves Muscle Endurance:
Beta-alanine is another powerful compound which associates with our muscles, but in a much different way. While creatine gives you more short-term power, beta-alanine helps you lift the same amount of weight for longer without getting pumped out.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid which we don't incorporate into protein (it doesn't directly cause muscle growth in the same way whey protein might). Rather, it combines with another amino acid (histidine) and forms the di-peptide carnosine (NOT to be confused with carnitine, another exercise-related compound). Carnosine does many things for our body, but for exercise its most potent role is as a intramuscular buffer.
If you have ever lifted weights, you know the feeling: you're almost done with your set when your muscles start burning and you just barely manage to get the weight back to the rack before you can't stand the burn anymore. That burn is caused by increasing concentrations of hydrogen ions in your muscles (not, contrary to popular opinion, due to lactic acid, though it does play a small role in the build-up of hydrogen ions).
Carnosine helps prevent that sensation by buffering the build-up, meaning you don't feel the burn for a significantly longer time. Not only does this make working out feel 'easier', it also means you can lift the same amount of weight more times. Similar to creatine, this increase in training volume will directly translate into more muscle gains.
Carnosine's benefits don't stop there--carnosine also increases the formation of nitric oxide, famed amongst body builders for increasing muscle growth, and is also an intramuscular antioxidant which will help your body recover from exercise faster.
Perhaps most interestingly, carnosine helps reduce the formation of compounds known as "advanced glycation end-products", or AGEs. AGEs form when sugars bond irreversibly to free proteins and are a leading theory on one of the reasons we age. In fact, carnosine is designated the status of "geroprotector", meaning "old age protector".
In the formation of carnosine, the only limiting factor is beta-alanine--our body has plenty of histidine. For this reason, it's best to supplement directly with beta-alanine and to avoid carnosine supplements, which our body will break down into beta-alanine and the more or less useless histidine. In other words, you pay the same amount for half the product.
Beta-alanine has one side effect, and it's an odd one: paraesthesia. It sounds strange, but it's fairly common and benign. You probably know the feeling you get when your leg falls asleep and tingles some--that's paraesthesia. It feels much the same when taking beta-alanine, except you won't lose control of your leg or arm the way you do when it's asleep.
You can usually avoid paraesthesia sensation by never supplementing with more than 5 mg of beta-alanine per pound of body weight in one dose. This means that if you weight 150 lbs, you should only have up to 750 mg in one dose. Thankfully, you don't need that much for it to be effective--two doses of 5 mg/lb body weight per day will be plenty to saturate your muscles with carnosine. And in case you're wondering, there is no danger associated with consuming more, but it also won't help you much more than the amount you're already taking.
One possible nutrient interaction associated with beta-alanine supplementation is competition with taurine (another amino acid) and subsequent taurine deficiency. There have been no major studies which demonstrate this to be a problem for humans, and if you eat meat then you are most likely getting plenty of taurine to counteract the taurine-depleting effects of beta-alanine. If you don't eat meat, however, you might want to consider also supplementing with taurine to prevent any depletion from occurring(though NOT at the same time of day as beta-alanine; take them at different times so they don't compete with each other!).
BCAAs Prevent Fatigue and Build Muscle
The branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are fascinating. Some studies suggest that out of all the amino acids our body uses to grow muscle (20 total, 9 essential), leucine is the one which most directly stimulates that muscle growth. This has lead to enormous interest in supplementing with copious amounts of BCAAs to stimulate more gains in muscle. However, it should be noted that whey protein is also very high in branched chain amino acids and stimulates equal or superior amounts of muscle growth, so supplementing with BCAAs to stimulate excess muscle growth is not the recommended use for them.
A more interesting reason to supplement with BCAAs is that they play a crucial role in the development of fatigue during exercise. When we start out exercising, our blood contains lots of BCAAs which then compete with tryptophan in our brain. When we start running out of fuel (i.e., glycogen and glucose), our body starts turning these BCAAs into more glucose through the process gluconeogenesis, and tryptophan becomes the dominant amino acid in our blood. When tryptophan becomes dominant, more enters our brain and gets converted into serotonin, making us feel more and more tired.
BCAA supplementation can possibly prevent this by ensuring that even when fuel supplies start running low, your blood stays high in BCAAs and tryptophan doesn't become dominant. This makes BCAAs a potentially important supplement to use during and immediately before exercise, but less useful at the end.
You can also supplement straight with protein during exercise and experience the same result, but it's recommended to only use whey protein which is soluble and will not slow down gastric emptying (some proteins make your stomach empty slower, which will slow down delivery of water and nutrients to your body). If you don't consume whey, then BCAAs are a great option to add to your workout drink.
How Magnesium and Minerals Help You Build Muscle
If you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, then supplementing with them to bring them back up to normal levels is recommended. However, it is recommended you see a nutritionist in order to appropriately diagnose these deficiencies as some vitamins and minerals have overdose-related toxicities.
Magnesium and Other Minerals
For athletes, magnesium is a fairly common deficiency, especially for vegan and vegetarians athletes (who should also be very aware of iron and zinc). When you exercise, your body needs approximately 10-20% more magnesium than a sedentary person would need.
Magnesium in a dose of 5 mg for every pound of body weight helped to boost testosterone in both exercising and non-exercising men. This really drives home the importance of magnesium, but the problem is most people do not get enough in their diet. So if your goal is improved performance stamina and muscular gains, consider magnesium supplementation.
Fish Oil and Omega-3s For Muscle Growth and Repair
Fish oil is also an important supplement to consider. 4 g of fish oil given for 6 weeks significantly improved lean body mass (muscle) and improved resting metabolic rate in healthy exercising subjects ages 18-55. Fish oil will also reduce inflammation and is difficult to get in sufficient amounts from the modern diet without also risking mercury toxicity. A high-quality fish oil supplement provides all the benefits without any associated risk of heavy metal toxicity.
How Probiotics Help The Muscle Building Process
Probiotics are incredibly important for the person that is training regularly. Probiotics help improve immunity and are known to help reduce cold and flu risks. But the really ground breaking news is that probiotics reduce the level of endotoxemia that occurs with exercise.
What is endotoxemia? When you exercise intensely, blood is shunted away from the intestines and bacteria die off and release endotoxins. Endotoxins attach to muscle and cause inflammatory compounds to be released which leads to muscle damage and excessive soreness.
Probiotics also help with digestion. Gastric complaints are common with athletes and of course everyone has heard of "runner's diarrhea". With a high-quality probiotics, digestion and immune-related problems like endotoxemia are resolved!
Adaptogenic Herbs Take The Edge Off Strength Training
When you train hard, your adrenal glands push out cortisol. The longer and harder you train, the more your brain thinks you are fighting a white tiger and the more it responds by pushing out cortisol. Over time, this can make you feel like your midday energy is dropping, your mind doesn't think as clearly, your mood gets edgy and it can even disturb your sleep patterns. Most people reach to energy drinks and massive caffeine intake to overcome this--BIG MISTAKE! Excessive caffeine just makes you pump out more cortisol.
Cortisol is a huge topic in performance right now because when cortisol runs out of control, you break down muscle, increase inflammation, and lower testosterone.
Adaptogenic herbs can have a big impact on you getting your vitality back. Adaptogens are so named because they help your body 'adapt'--that is, if your cortisol is too high, it lowers it; if your cortisol is too low, it raises it. Rhodiola is one adaptogenic herb that has been used by Russian athletes for years--it protects the heart and has anti-stress effects. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea help your body to recover from the stress of the workout and, for that matter, everyday life.
How Green Tea Facilitates The Growth Of "Lean Muscle"
Another 'herb' that most people don't realize can help them get lean muscle is green tea. Green tea increases fatty acid oxidation when you exercise by 17% and improves insulin sensitivity by 13%. The net result is that you burn both glucose and fat more efficiently, improving body composition.
How CoQ10 Prevents Muscle Breakdown
CoQ10 is a shining star of athletic performance and recovery supplements. CoQ10 is needed for your muscles to generate energy and is a powerful antioxidant. In one study, 18 elite martial artists took CoQ10 or a placebo. The CoQ10 group had lower creatine kinase and lipid peroxide. The net of this is that there was less muscle breakdown and less free radical damage.
The Right Protein To Build Muscle
Finally, let's talk protein (again). Out of all the muscle building supplements, this one can be the most confusing. With a vast and ever-expanding array of hulking mega-tubs, warehouse-store discount brands, and designer proteins with triple-digit prices, finding the right protein powder can be daunting. To confuse things even more, you have numerous options besides whey, like soy, pea, rice, hemp, and even more being added!
The first thing to think about with protein is what how our body will digest and absorb it--not all proteins are digested or absorbed at the same speed. There are a few methods commonly used to assess the biological potency of protein (i.e., how well our body uses it), but the most accurate method currently used is the PDCAAS. The PDCAAS, or the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score, is a very accurate method of determining the efficiency of different types of protein.
Milk-derived whey protein isolate provides the highest PDCAAS out of all the common sources of protein, in part because of its solubility (remember how it doesn't slow your stomach from emptying) and also due to its high content of BCAAs. In a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, subjects that used whey protein gained nearly double the muscle mass of those using soy!
One last fact on protein for those people who think that you can get all the protein you need through food. A study in 2011 showed that the intake of whey protein in a 25 gram dose was superior in protein synthesis (muscle building) to taking in the same 25 grams in 2.5 gram intervals over time. Rapid influx of amino acids enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic intramuscular signaling responses after resistance exercise.
The magic to whey protein is that it is quickly absorbed and gets to the muscles fast post-exercise. Other protein does not have that pattern as it is more slowly digested and absorbed. When you are not exercising, this is useful, but right after exercise your muscles will use as much of the protein you throw at them as they can!
Additionally, whey protein was shown to spare more lean muscle mass when attempting to lose weight on a 500 kcal diet in obese people, which shows there is a lean mass sparing effect when trying to target losing fat.
If you do choose whey, look for a high-quality non-denatured powder. And if you don't choose whey, don't discount plant proteins, which can pack an impressive amino acid profile especially when combined. What you should look out for is low-quality proteins which often combine lower-grade whey and soy protein in an attempt to make the cheapest product possible. This will not have the desired effects on muscle growth or health!
When considering rice proteins, make sure that the manufacturer screens for arsenic levels. Recent studies have reported that rice grown in the Southern United States was high in arsenic. If you are intolerant to dairy, and more specifically to whey, then a high-quality vegetarian source should be considered.
Do You Consume Protein Before Or After A Strength Workout?
Ideally, you should take in protein and some carbohydrates immediately or at the very least no longer than 30 minutes after training. This is a common mistake people make: they will take in some sugar-rich recovery drink which has no protein and does little to help restore muscle which was broken down during exercise.
A combination of carbohydrates and protein will help build muscle and decrease muscle breakdown. Combining 20 -30 grams of protein ideally with some glucose (glucose/fructose mixes like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup are less preferred) will help to take advantage of the insulin sensitivity that muscle has after a workout, restore muscle glycogen levels, and start the muscular recovery process.
If you wait too long, cortisol levels can skyrocket and prevent recovery. Additionally, there is a hormonal window right after exercise which encourages muscle to take up glucose to reform glycogen and also to take up amino acids, which will encourage muscular hypertrophy.
Still Too Much To Worry About?
PEERtrainer Recommended Performance Supplement: Thorne Performance. You are free to use any supplement you like, but we'd encourage you to pay close attention to Thorne's quality standards. There are only a handful of companies with their level of quality.
Always have Thorne Performance Prevail protein powder on hand.
This high-quality protein powder make an easy go-to for breakfast, a mini-meal, or pre- and post-workout. Whey is the first choice for lean muscle, but if you want a vegan source of protein then choose the Prevail rice and pea which is similarly high in BCAAs for increasing muscle growth.
Take extra magnesium and make sure that you are getting other electrolytes in the mix at the same time.
You need all the minerals working together to get the most out of your muscle. You get Creatine, Ribose and magnesium in Thorne Performance Catalyte. In addition, all of the B vitamins are in the activated form so that your body utilizes them much more efficiently. If you want to add muscle and be able to train harder, Catalyte is the first thing to turn to sustain and build lean muscle. Catalyte is also important because it helps to regulate your heart rate when you are training hard and it gets rid of lactic acid out of your muscle, which is the enemy of performance and recovery.
Consider plant adaptogens and recovery extracts.
Green tea and rhodiola help your body recover from stress and burn fat more effectively, so you don't feel so wasted after a long day and a hard workout. Thorne Performance Elevate is a state of the art stamina and metabolic support shot that you can take before a workout or during a long day.
How Vitamin D Helps With The Muscle Building Process
Vitamin D is important but make sure to get your vitamin D levels checked by a blood test. Ideally your blood level will be around 40-60 ng/mL, which will have the most physiological benefit without being anywhere near to toxic levels (only found over 100 ng/mL).
Vitamin D affects nearly every aspect of our physiology, so when you are deficient or insufficient in it, your performance will suffer for numerous reasons. Vitamin D is one of the cheapest, most effective supplements on the market, so do yourself a favor and get tested and then take an appropriate amount to fix any deficiencies or insufficiencies!
Why Fighting Inflammation Is Essential For Muscle Growth
Inflammation is the enemy of recovery and building lean muscle. Using Thorne Performance Rebound, which contains curcumin as well as other muscle recovery aids like bromelain, is a safe way to keep your workouts on track and systemic inflammation low.
Many people use ibuprofen and aspirin to manage their inflammation response post-exercise, but this can actually hinder your ultimate recovery and be dangerous to boot. Chronic use of ibuprofen can damage your intestinal lining, lead to gastric bleeding, and restrict blood flow to the kidneys as much as 30% during exercise. Stop taking these types of potentially-harmful products and look to natural products like Rebound that not only cut down the inflammation but provide cellular protection and repair.
Consider conditionally essential supplements.
Probiotics can help with digestive distress and actually improve your exercise performance. If you notice constipation, gas, or loose stools, then Thorne Performance Restore could help you.
CoQ10 can help you get that extra energy out of your muscle and help to limit muscle breakdown if you are going to put the time in the gym. If you want to use CoQ10 you should consider using Thorne Performance Q-Charge, which has a high-quality design that prevent a common problem with CoQ10 supplementation: crystallization. CoQ10 will form crystals and once it crystallizes it can't be absorbed.
Thorne Performance Modulate will help boost your immune system and prevent overtraining. Plant sterols and sterolins are food for your immune system, and one of the first signs of overtraining is catching more colds and flu. Modulate also helps with managing cortisol so you get multiple benefits from this natural compound.
Exercises That Build Muscle
Getting to your office job is the commute from hell, and you're often stuck till 8 p.m. dealing with mounting paperwork and impending deadlines and then add the social and family responsibilities! You're doing well if you have a healthy dinner, but getting to the gym can be a stretch to your time.
If you thought that figuring out what to eat was confusing, learning the right way to exercise can leave your head spinning. There are advocates of Cross Fit, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Aerobics, mixed workouts, and any number of other routines--and if you talk to any of them, their way is the "only" way to get fit or gain lean muscle. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
First, realize that any exercise is better than no exercise at all. Let's look at it from a metabolic perspective and then let the science weigh in to finish the job.
How Long To Exercise To Build Muscle
Most studies today note that the one-hour mark is the cut-off time. Once you train past one hour, changes in the immune system start to occur. That being said, some people may go for a 3-hour bike ride or a 6-mile run on their day off and be fine. If you're just beginning, try to stick to hour-long workouts, at least until you start to feel the effects of your training and are ready for something longer.
Moderate exercise is important to begin with and will keep your heart rate below 70% of your age-adjusted maximum (the most common formula to determine this is 220 minus your age, so a 30-year-old's maximum is 190 and moderate exercise will bring him to about 135 BPM [beats per minute]). The higher the intensity of training, the more the heart rate will go up until you reach your maximum--the literal limit at which your heart cannot beat any faster than it already is, which also happens to be the limit to how hard you can exercise going all out.
Why is heart rate so important? Basically, the lower your resting heart rate the longer you will live. We only get so many beats out of the heart, about 1 billion, and by improving your cardiac muscle you can lower your resting heart rate so it beats less per day. In fact, resting heart rate is used to monitor if you are overtraining and need to take a rest day. So before we talk about how to train, let's get the most important thing down first: how to monitor if you are training too much.
Here is a simple way to determine if you are overtraining that Olympians and professional trainers alike use:
First: Take your resting morning pulse, ideally before you get out of bed.
Second: The morning after you exercise take your resting pulse again.
If your resting pulse is 5% higher than baseline then you should cut down your training volume or load by 50% for the day. So if you trained with weights yesterday and were planning on a run today, now you would take a brisk walk.
If your resting pulse in 10% or more over baseline, then you need to take a day off.
Common Muscle Building Mistakes:
Training with bad form is a huge and common mistake. If you've never lifted weight, either find a partner who has or invest in a little personal training to learn how. Learning how to do exercises correctly will not only decrease the risk of injury but also maximize the benefits you derive from it.
Avoid trying some intense routine listed by a pro in the latest Men's Fitness Magazine--respect the shape they are in, but be realistic about the shape you are in. If you can't exercise at the correct intensity without holding good form (see above!), then you're increasing your risk of injury and lowering the amounts of gains you'll see.
Change up the routine often. You do not have to train with heavy weights all the time to get lean muscle gains (more on this later), and the types of workouts should vary so that there is a periodization to your training. No one trains full tilt all the time so incorporating stretching, some aerobics, and varying your strength training will make a difference.
Some Shocking News on Lifting Weights and Gaining Muscle
While many experts advocate that you have to lift as heavy of weights as you can and go for max lifts, a new study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism reported that you can in fact build muscle without lifting heavy weights. This study took place at McMasters University with resistance-trained young men and looked at volume, load and repetitions.
It turns out that the higher volume and repetitions at a lower weight performed until failure as just as effective at driving muscle gains as heavy intensity and lower reps, with a few addenda. The weights must still be heavy enough that you cannot do more than around 22 reps, otherwise you will be engaging your Type I muscle fibers (the ones in charge of endurance activities that don't grow nearly as much as Type II). Also, every now and again you do need to work out with near maximal weight in order to develop the nerves necessary to recruit all the muscle fibers at once and develop power.
Barring these two addenda, you can vary your routine a lift lighter weights for 20 reps or heavier weights for 10 reps and make identical gains! As a plus for mixing in some higher rep work, the higher repetitions needed to require fatigue actually had a sustained muscle building effect for several days.
Whether you decide to select 3, 7, 10, or 20 for the magic number of reps, the most important step in a successful muscle building workout is to go to muscular failure. People waste hours and hours pounding out countless reps but falling short of muscular failure, which will provide a great endurance work out without actually resulting in muscular hypertrophy or significant strength gains.
Training with a lower weight, slower reps, and failing between 1 and 2 minutes (7-10 seconds per rep) provides a couple of metabolic shifts that are important to your health and longevity not to mention muscle mass. First, you become more efficient at glucose storage on muscle tissue, which means you are managing glucose and insulin better, a key component to longevity. Second, the slow-training method can also stimulate hGH (human growth hormone) release, which helps with building and rejuvenation of muscle and is also a key hormone in longevity and maintaining your vitality.
One thing you should also consider is how your genetic profile may influence your results. Different genetic make-ups can predetermine how many Type I (slow twitch), Type IIa (intermediate fast twitch), and Type IIx (pure fast twitch) muscle fibers you have. More or less fast twitch muscle fibers will dictate how much muscle you can build. Some people may be really strong and remain slender while others may gain massive muscle but not really be strong.
Strive to be the best you can be, look at your metabolic profile, and determine which areas are weakest. Olympic lifts have become popular and can develop strength and dense muscle. One reason these work is because the more muscles you trigger during an exercise, the greater the increase in testosterone. This is also why it's a good idea to begin your workout with large muscle groups and multi-joint exercises like leg presses, bench presses, or Olympic lifts--they will increase the testosterone available for the rest of the session! These lifts can be dangerous, however, if you don't know how to do them properly, so learn these lifts from a trainer who knows how to teach proper form.
Alternate your training days with different types of work to create a progressive week. There is no magic to the combinations, but one thing is for sure: to gain muscle mass, training to failure with weights or body weight is how you will max out your gains without maxing out your free time.
Mix It Up To Build Muscle
Here's a sample training week so you have an idea of what mixing it up can mean:
Day 1: Train to failure and work a little harder on your weak areas.
Day 2: Focus on some interval cardio (sprints, rowing, elliptical) and stretching.
Day 3: Take a rest day, but you can still stretch or do yoga.
Day 4: Go for a super slow moderate weight workout.
Day 5: Medicine balls, plyometric box jumps, chins, dips, push-ups and other bodyweight exercises.
Rest the following two days or at least choose activities that are recreational are not causing further muscle breakdown like a 100-mile bike ride! After this routine is performed for several weeks, change it up.
Once you've found a routine that works, make it fun (or at least interesting) and commit wholeheartedly to doing it. Schedule it in your calendar if you have to. And remember: mix things up so you don't stagnate!
The net result of all of the current research is that you don't need to make the gym your second home to get a muscle-building workout--you just need to be sure to train smart. Remember to always go to failure (for muscle gains), and to vary your routine, and you will gain muscle.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Many experts favor high-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called burst training, to build muscle and burn fat if you just don't have time to exercise for more than 15 minutes in a day. When studies compare HIIT and endurance training, HIIT is the big winner: researchers found burst training superior for burning fat and building muscle.
To take advantage of HIIT, you'll want to move at maximum capacity for up to 1 minute (you should be breathless or you're not doing it hard enough), then at normal pace for 1 -- 2 minutes. Repeat this four to six times, but don't go longer than twenty minutes--if you find that at the end of fifteen to twenty minutes you have energy to spare, then you most certainly were not exercising hard enough during the "high-intensity" portion!
Regardless of the type of exercise you choose, hiring a professional or attending classes can be your best bet to improve form and accountability, at least until you've mastered a routine.
Take-Home Strategies for Exercise
If you have the budget, hire a trainer to master the basics and then build on them.
Find a 20 -- 30 minute at-home routine you can do, ideally which combines weight resistance and burst training.
Make it fun, mix it up, and find an accountability partner who will hold you to it.
Go to failure on your set. Consider slow moving sets done to failure and complete the repetitions of the exercise in 1-2 minutes. You can reduce the amount of weight needed to gain muscle mass.
Vary the stimulus to your muscle, chin-ups, and other bodyweight exercises, bands; medicine balls can all be included in your training.
Change up your routine; include max lift strategies if you really wanting to go for it.
Know your goals, because depending on the goals you may incorporate different types of exercise into your routines.
Incorporate intervals to your program.
Stretching is essential to muscular growth.
For maximum benefits, the more intense you train, the more rest you will need before your next workout.
The Muscle Building Lifestyle
You've rearranged your schedule so you can fit in a 30-minute workout, and you're starting to prepare healthy meals--so what if you miss an hour of sleep, right? Wrong. Sleep is incredibly vital to building muscle, and you should always attempt to get at least seven hours of quality-sleep a night--more if you know you need more.
Sleep increases the release of beneficial hormones like hGH and inhibits the hormones which fight muscle growth like cortisol. If you don't get enough sleep, it often leads to snowballing bad consequences--you're hungrier, so you decide to go for that giant lardy hamburger at lunch. Later in the day, you're so tired all you want to do is crash on the couch and watch some TV, chips close at hand. Because you didn't get enough sleep, your potentially anabolic, muscle-building day has resulted in some extra fat and poor mood.
Remember to wind-down before sleep, and schedule a time for when you plan to go to bed. We set an alarm for when we wake up, so learn to set a signal for yourself for when to sleep as well. By getting into a routine, your body will experience hormonal balance and muscle growth will be much easier!
Beyond getting enough sleep, learn how to actively manage the stresses of daily life (they will always be there!). Too much stress elevates cortisol, and cortisol breaks muscle down. While you're busy sweating the business brief you need to deliver, cortisol is actively telling your body to fuel itself with your own muscle--not the ideal situation for getting stronger.
Lower Your Stress Levels To Build More Muscle
A short, brisk walk can help alleviate stress, calm you down, and break your workload monotony, not to mention that whether you work in an office or at home, you're probably sitting too much which is also not pro-muscle.
Many times it is not enough to just walk or meditate to manage stress, and you may need some supplemental help. In these situations, adaptogenic herbs and plant sterols/sterolins can be of tremendous use in fighting excess free cortisol.
By understanding the metabolic demands your lifestyle places on your body, you will go a long way towards building a healthy, muscular, lean body. How you feel today is the sum total of your metabolic and psychological events that shaped your current biochemistry. By identifying the weak links in your metabolism, you can take charge of it.
The goal is to have vitality at every stage in life. While you won't build muscle without exercise, it is the choices you make the other 23 hours a day when you're away from the gym that will determine your success at maintaining or building lean muscle mass. Staying active, getting adequate sleep, managing stress and eating foods that fuel your metabolism are the building blocks to your metabolism and to your vitality.
Take-Home Strategies for Lifestyle:
Aim for 7-9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, check out these top sleep strategies: http://www.peertrainer.com/health/how_to_sleep_better_naturally.aspx.
Don't sweat the small stuff -- or the big stuff, for that matter. Do yoga, meditate, or find another de-stressor that works for you.
Don't stay confined to your cubicle or chair too long. Walk your dog, stretch, or do some pushups and planks.
Limit the amount of time you spend on your laptop, iPad, iPhone, and other electronics (easier said than done!)--it only increases your time spent sitting.
Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfudd T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:8.
Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine Supplementation with Specific View to Exercise/Sports Performance: an Update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. July 2012;9:33.
Cinar V, Polat Y, Baltaci AK, Mogulkoc R. Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Testosterone Levels of Athletes and Sedentary Subjects at Rest and After Exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res. April 2011;140:18-23.
Noreen EE, Sass MJ, Crowe ML, Pabon VA, Brandauer J, Averill LK. Effects of Supplemental Fish Oil on Resting Metabolic Rate, Body Composition, and Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:31.
Venables MC, Hulston CJ, Cox HR, Jeukendrup AE. Green Tea Extract Ingestion, Fat Oxidation, and Glucose Tolerance in Healthy Humans. Am J Clin Nutr. March 2008;87:778-84.
Kon M, Tanabe K, Akimoto T, et al. Reducing Exercise-Induced Muscular Injury in Kendo Athletes with Supplementation of Coenzyme Q10. Br J Nutr. February 2008;100:903-9.
Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward SL, Bastian ED. A Whey-Protein Supplement Increases Fat Loss and Spares Lean Muscle in Obese Subjects: A Randomized Human Clinical Study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008;5:8.
Davidson JR, Moldofsky H, Lue FA. Growth Hormone and Cortisol Secretion in Relation to Sleep and Wakefulness. J Psychiatry Neurosci. July 1991;16:96--102.
Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Pereira G, et al. Fish-Oil Supplementation Enhances the Effects of Strength Training in Elderly Women. Am J Clin Nutr. February 2012;95:428-36.
West DW, Burd NA, Coffrey VG, et al. Rapid Aminoacidemia Enhances Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis and Anabolic Intramuscular Signaling Responses After Resistance Exercise. Am J Clin Nutr. September 2011;94:795-803.
Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. Metabolism. July 1994;43:814-8.
Jim LaValle, R.Ph., CCN, DHM, author of Cracking the Metabolic Code, Nine Keys to Optimal Health and Vitality and nationally recognized expert in metabolic performance. Jim is also the consultant in charge of metabolism and nutrition education with Life Time Fitness, a 1.2 million member fitness organization with 3,000 trainers and dieticians.
Jim LaValle was 2011 Clinician of the year from the Natural Product Association and the author of 18 books and hundreds of articles. He is the founder of LaValle Metabolic Institute in Cincinnati. He is a nationally recognized authority in dietary supplements and metabolic medicine. Jim teaches thousands of clinicians and fitness trainers yearly about nutrition and metabolism. To learn more about Jim go to www.jimlavalle.com.