Gaining muscle requires three basic things: food, training, and rest. For those beginners who struggle with gaining muscle, one or more of these variables are usually the culprit.
It takes food to grow. You’ve heard it millions of times, “Eat big to get big.” Well, it’s true. Your body needs energy in the form of food to carry out metabolic functions, daily tasks, rebuild tissues, and fuel your training sessions. If you expend more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. If you consume more calories than required of your energy demands, you will have a surplus of calories that could potentially be used to build more muscle.
A basic way to start is with about 1.25 grams of protein per pound lean body mass daily. Next, make sure to take in roughly 2 grams of carbs per pound lean body mass, and about ¼ of your lean body mass in dietary fats. Split the amount of food as evenly as possible over the course of 5-6 meals per day.
Adhere to the diet 100%. After a week, assess and increase/decrease food a little depending on whether you are gaining or losing. Don’t adjust anything if you are gaining lean body weight.
How much do you bench? How much do you squat? None of that matters if you aren’t stimulating the muscle properly. Train the muscle, not the movement. When it comes to muscle size, it’s more important to focus on feeling the muscle contract and stretch during the movement, rather than just focusing on moving parts of your body from point A to point B. When performing an exercise, you should make sure that the resistance is primarily placed upon the muscle you are targeting. This way, the majority of stress is placed on the target muscle and not another muscle group or tendons/ligaments.
Warm up properly and thoroughly when moving into a new exercise. Know the muscle you are trying to target. Make sure you can feel it stretch and contract fully when performing your warm up sets. Build mind-muscle connection with it. When you are ready to execute a working set, maintain that feel and focus throughout the entire set, and take that muscle to failure or near failure in the 8-20 rep range. Gradually increase the load or number of reps performed in order to continue to develop that muscle. When training performance is progressed (provided the form and execution are the same), muscle will progress as well.
3. Rest and Recovery
The third basic requirement for gaining muscle is the simplest, but also one of the most neglected. Simply put, a muscle needs to rest in order to grow. This isn’t simply a matter of getting more sleep. This also means achieving quality sleep and managing training volume, stress, and general workload to set yourself up to recover optimally. An overenthusiastic beginner might plan to do arms every single day thinking that more is better. This is definitely not the case. If you are truly training with intensity and pushing that muscle toward more growth, you shouldn’t need to train it more than once every week—twice per week max.
Without proper recovery time, muscles cannot regenerate to a bigger, stronger state. Your nervous system also needs time to recover from the intensity you put forth every training session. Training hard every single day, day after day, will eventually lead you to a state of catabolism where muscle is torn down. Excessive stress and lack of sleep can also result in a catabolic state, so making sure you get in at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep and managing stress will greatly enhance your ability to build muscle.
When you get down to the basics, it’s not hard to see where you might be falling short. Keep these three requirements in mind and you will be sure to make some gains.