In fitness, people generally have one of two goals related to body composition; to lose weight or to gain weight. In this article, we’ll be talking about the principles that apply to gaining quality lean mass.
Gaining lean mass can be attributed to three simple principles: train smart, recover well and eat more than you expend. We will be going into the details and nuances of each below.
A necessary component to stimulate muscle growth is the type of training an individual undergoes. While there is some truth to the common idea of “lower rep counts for strength, medium rep counts for size, and high rep counts for endurance,” building muscle mass through training simply isn’t that black and white.
While rep ranges are a sure-fire way to build size, there are other more beneficial variables that can be manipulated to stimulate a better hypertrophic response. One variable specifically is time under tension, the amount of time a muscle is spent contracting during a repetition of an exercise.
According to Charles Poliquin (one of the fathers of modern bodybuilding), there are three time-ranges for different kinds of hypertrophy:
- Muscular hypertrophy: 30-70 seconds/set
- Functional hypertrophy (both strength and size gains): 30-50 seconds
- Maximum hypertrophy (no strength emphasis): 50-70 seconds
By utilizing time under tension in training, one can obtain the greatest muscle-building response. A great way to do this would be to utilize tempos, such as extending the eccentric portion of a back squat in order to put more stress and tension on the muscles being used. Read more about the benefits of training with tempos and how to interpret them here!
Apply these principles to both large compound movements such as the back squat and bench press, as well as smaller isolated movements like bicep curls and tricep extensions.
While training may seem like the most effective and “sexy” piece of the mass-building puzzle, it won’t produce the necessary results if great recovery practices are not in place. While there are tons of tools that are cool and shiny to the less educated eye, there is one undeniably powerful tool that will help you build muscle better than any other: sleep.
First, it’s important to understand why not getting enough sleep interferes with building muscle. Lack of sleep decreases the activity of protein synthesis pathways, increasing degradation; basically, muscle tissue is much less likely to be repaired and built while sleeping. This results in not only a stagnation of muscle growth but a long term loss of muscle mass. Furthermore, chronic sleep deprivation can also cause fat-gain, and, if the deprivation gets bad enough, muscle loss!
So, not getting enough sleep makes it difficult to recover thus making it more challenging to build muscle mass. Why, however, is it important to sleep an adequate, restful amount?
First, human growth hormone is secreted at its highest concentration from 1:00 am-3:00 am. If someone isn’t off to bed long before this, they aren’t reaping the benefits of this muscle-building chemical.
Secondly, sleep deprivation puts the human body into a catabolic state. This means that more catabolic stress hormones, like cortisol, are secreted at a higher rate into the body. More stress hormone means less recovery. Less recovery means less muscle mass gain!
Lastly, if someone is in an under-recovered state, how can they expect to put in the intensive effort required in training to stimulate muscle growth? Simply put, they can’t.
In short, aim to get a restful 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. This will be the greatest recovery tool to ensure you see the muscle mass gains you so desire.
Finally, the last piece of the muscle mass building puzzle: food!
Our bodies burn calories every day. The simplest rule of energy balance states that if someone consumes fewer calories than they burn, they will lose weight. Conversely, the rule also states that if they consume more calories than they burn, they will gain weight. Similar to training, body composition changes through nutrition are just as complex, if not more.
According to Mike Israetel and the folks over at Renaissance Periodization, when it comes to body composition, energy balance makes up about 80% of the variables that losing weight, or gaining weight, are dependent on.
This means that in the grand scheme of things, focusing on nothing else but calories will deliver the desired body composition changes. However, because Central Athlete is never okay with just ‘good enough’, here are some more specific guidelines to follow when it comes to building muscle mass while in a caloric surplus. By following these measures, one can put on quality lean mass, while also gaining only minimal body fat.
- Calculate your maintenance caloric need using one of the following methods
- InBody Body Composition Analysis, or
- Via the following formula: (Bodyweight in-lbs. x 10) x activity multiplier (1.3-2.2),
- Add roughly 200-500 calories/day to daily maintenance calories (depending on goals)
- Consume at least one gram/pound of bodyweight of protein every day i.e. if you are 150lbs., consume 150 grams of protein in your diet daily.
- Fat consumption should be 20-30% of your daily caloric intake
- Remaining caloric intake should be fulfilled by carbohydrates
- Make sure to eat at least 1-2 servings of vegetables at every meal to meet micronutrient minimum intake requirements
If you follow the steps above and keep your lifestyle in check outside of training, recovery, and nutrition, I can guarantee you will see the muscle mass building results you desire. However, if you want extra guidance and personalization in your muscle-building goals, schedule a strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today!