8 Muscle Building Secrets

Health

Here are my eight most important muscle building secrets that will help you to pack on some serious mass.The list below combines a mix of nutrition, training and lifestyle advice and forms a pretty complete primer for muscle building.

Chances are that, if your struggling to put on muscle, you’re neglecting one of the following muscle building secrets:

1) Eat animal products at every meal
2) Eat a moderate to high fat diet rich in cholesterol
3) Avoid very low carb dieting
4) Prioritise compound exercises
5) Don’t overdo aerobic training
6) Raise your calories
7) Enjoy a good night’s sleep
8) Use post workout nutrition

Read on to find out why they’re so important…

 

1) Eat animal products at every meal

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Bodybuilders and strength athletes have known for a long time that it is much easier to put on and to maintain muscle mass if you eat meat, or at least eggs and dairy. Protein from animal products is of an extremely high biological value and will readily support muscle recovery and growth after a gym session.

It is theoretically possible to combine different plant proteins to form protein of a high biological value. For example, rice, low in lysine, combined with beans, high in lysine, makes a better protein source. But in the real world, you won’t gain as much muscle mass if you use these foods as your main protein sources.

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Animal products are fantastic fuel for muscle gain. They contain many substances besides high quality protein that are necessary for the stimulation of new muscle growth.

For example, arachidonic acid, an omega 6 fat found only in animal foods, is critical for the initiation of muscle cell development after training, and zinc, more bioavailable in animal products than vegetable products, is needed to support healthy testosterone levels and proper insulin function.

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Different animal proteins behave slightly differently in the body. Whey, a milk product, is rapidly absorbed and stimulates a large insulin release making it an ideal protein to use around the time of your workouts. Casein, the main milk protein in cheese, is more slowly absorbed than whey so it can be used throughout the day.

Milk products raise levels of the anabolic hormone IGF-1 so they are good foods for most bodybuilders and athletes to eat. Red meat takes longer to digest than egg whites or whey so it will fuel muscle growth for longer between meals.

One of my muscle building secrets is to enjoy a variety of animal proteins each day and to try to use more than one source at each meal. For example, try a full fat cheese omelette for breakfast and then chilli con carne with rice for lunch. A massive chicken and lentil curry, based on yogurt, served with rice would also give you a good mix of proteins for dinner and loads of calories to support muscle gain.

2) Eat a moderate to high fat diet rich in cholesterol

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One of the most effective muscle building secrets is to avoid falling into the trap of eating a standard low fat diet. Diets containing at least 30 percent of calories coming from fat are known to improve levels of the muscle building, libido raising hormone Testosterone(T).

Enjoy mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter and coconut oil and monounsaturated fats such as olive and hazlenut oils as these support healthy T levels.

Limit your consumption of polyunsaturated fat rich oils such as commerical vegetable oils and don’t take large amounts of cold pressed seed and fish oils as all of these fats will suppress T levels and will interfere with thyroid function.

Cholesterol, found exclusively in animal products, is the building block of Testosterone and therefore it’s not surprising that diets high in cholesterol will help you build muscle faster than low cholesterol diets(1). Old school bodybuilders like Vince Gironda ate whole eggs and cream – you can and should too.

3) Avoid very low carb dieting

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Despite the great sounding arguments of low carb advocates, there is very little evidence that humans are not designed to consume carbs. Most people, especially athletes, feel better physically and mentally when they consume fairly mixed diets.

Long term restriction of carbs below approximately 70 grams a day is going to make gaining muscle very difficult. Very low carb diets lower active T levels, keep levels of the anabolic hormone insulin constantly low and damage metabolism by starving the thyroid of glucose.

Dropping below 50 grams of carbs a day both hurts most peoples’ mood throughout the day by lowering brain serotonin levels and hurts training performance and muscle recovery by depleting muscle and liver glycogen supplies.

Low carb gurus claim that carbohydrates cause obesity because they raise levels of the fat storing hormone insulin. This is incorrect for a number of reasons one of which being that the thyroid needs sufficient glucose to function properly and low thyroid function stops us from burning fat efficiently.

This post workout mix contains twice amounts of carbohydrate to high quality protein, along with creatine and individual amino acids – drink this after your workouts to boost recovery and to speed up the muscle building process!

Whilst the dietary carbohydrate fructose can and will cause insulin resistance in large quantities, glucose does not cause insulin resistance. There is no evidence to support low carb gurus hypothesis that repeated stimulation of the pancreas by eating starch causes diabetes and its pretty obvious from studying traditional diets that this is not the case.

For those of us looking to pack on muscle, including carbs in the diet is very important. Carbs are protein sparing because they are burned preferentially before protein; this leaves protein free to repair the muscle tissues after training. Insulin is raised after all meals but especially after meals containing carbohydrate; sensible spiking of insulin will help with both muscle gain and fat loss.

It’s very difficult to consume sufficient calories for muscle gain without starchy carbs in the diet. For example, there is a limit to the amount of fat you can eat in a meal without feeling sick and there is evidence to show that a significant amount of excess dietary fat is simply excreted if carbs are kept very low.

We don’t want to fulfil our energy needs with protein as this is burned innefficiently as fuel. One of the key muscle building secrets is, when trying to consume a high calorie diet to include a decent amount of starchy carbs along side protein and fats – good news given they taste delicious.

 

Even with the best nutrition, you’ll never grow if you perform ineffective exercises in the gym. One of the most important muscle building secrets of seriously muscular trainers is to prioritise performing compound exercises over doing popular isolation exercises.4) Prioritise Compound Exercises

By compound exercises I’m referring to hard whole body movements such as the squat, the deadlift, the bench press and the chin-up or pull-up. These exercises, or variations on the above like the incline bench press, should form the core of your workouts. Regularly practising these movements will lead to a bigger you!

Going to the gym each day and performing endless reps of dumbbell curls or tricep pull-downs may be fun but is an ineffective strategy for building muscle or for burning fat.

If you generally do gym sessions of around 45 minutes or so as not to deplete Testosterone levels, you will have only a little time left after doing your compound exercises for isolated movements like the bicep curl. If you don’t have time for these, don’t sweat it! Doing chin-ups and the bench press will trigger bicep growth well beyond anything that religiously practising bicep curls ever could.

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Compound exercises favourably alter your hormone balance by increasing Testosterone (T) and Growth Hormone (GH) levels. Higher levels of these hormones will allow you to put on muscle mass more quickly and easily. Regular squatting and dead lifting will not only cause your quads, calf and back muscles to grow but will stimulate major upper body development.

Mastering the correct form for these exercises is crucial to maximising results. Refer to the exercise technique articles on this site and/ or consider getting a couple of sessions with a personal trainer who can show you exactly how the movements should look and can check that you are doing them right.

5) Don’t overdo aerobic training

Doing hours of aerobic training a day may help you to lose weight for the first month or so but it is a recipe for developing long term metabolic problems. This popular fat loss strategy will also limit the effectiveness of my other muscle building secrets.

Excessive aerobic exercise initially makes you feel great because of the raised adrenaline levels but it is a chronic stressor that raises Cortisol levels. The hormone Cortisol stimulates increased muscle breakdown and constantly raised levels will make building muscle very difficult, despite all the intelligent weights training you’re doing.

Down the line excessive aerobic exercise will burn out the adrenal glands and cortisol and adrenaline levels will drop. This is not a good thing as adequate reserves of adrenaline and cortisol are needed to deal with acute and chronic stressors. When levels are depleted we are left unprotected against many inflammatory diseases.

 

Heavy weights training also temporarily raises cortisol levels but, as long as we eat and rest well between workouts, we will grow bigger and stronger as a result of the stress.

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One of the key muscle building secrets is to limit other stressors that raise cortisol levels between workouts so that muscle breakdown is minimised and we can recover quickly and grow.

Getting adequate sleep, not going too low on calories and/or carbs, using effective post workout nutrition and doing your best to stay on top of stress will keep cortisol levels as low as possible. This will allow you to maximise results from your weights training.

Doing some exercise between workouts, however, will benefit you. Light, fun activities like walking, recreational tennis and swimming are all great because they help your muscles to completely get rid of the biproducts of weights training like lactic acid.

Light, fun exercise is also great for your mood and for dealing with stress because it stimulates the release of endorphins, feel good neurotransmitters.

Doing exercise outside in natural light means that the production of the sleep hormone melatonin is triggered to stop and you can fully wake up! Melatonin spillover into the daytime hours due to lack of natural light is a common cause of both daytime brain fog and of poor night-time sleep.

6) Raise your calories!

of the key muscle building secrets is to considerably up your calories whilst performing heavy compound exercises without worrying too much about fat gain.

Calories are greatly protein sparing because the body will use fats and carbs to fulfill its energy needs before using protein. As long as you eat enough calories from fat and carbohydrates, protein will be left to build the new muscle that we’re trying to put on.

Excess protein can turn to fat, so don’t go overboard, but eating slightly more protein than you need when trying to build new muscle would be in many bodybuilders’ lists of muscle building secrets.

Your body’s demand for energy will greatly increase once you start performing compound exercises regularly. A large increase in calories on top of what you would normally eat will actually only translate to a slight calorie excess if your lifting heavy weights.

The reason for this is that you will be burning more calories all day long to support muscle building and repair. Once you have packed on lots of muscle you will have to eat more each day to maintain your larger physique.

If you get lots of calories from natural starchy carbohydrate sources, add in generous amounts of healthy fats and oils i.e. coconut oil, olive oil or butter, and eat adequate healthy protein each day, then fat gain will be minimal and the fat will burn off easily. It’s overeating on sugar and refined vegetable oils that sets the stage for long term metabolic problems and weight gain.

7) Enjoy a good night’s sleep

Sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stress that will seriously raise cortisol levels. As we have seen, chronically raised cortisol levels makes packing on muscle extremely difficult. Lack of sleep will limit the effectiveness of my other muscle building secrets.

When you do a heavy weights session, especially one focussed around squatting, you’ll naturally feel more tired later that day and possibly for the next day or so. Don’t fight the urge to slow down during this recovery period; allow yourself a longer night’s sleep than usual if your body is telling you to.

There’s research suggesting that we are designed to sleep for 9 to 10 hours each night and that, whilst we can get by on less, we need this amount to perform optimally. I’m not sure this applies to everyone as I’ve tried sleeping for 9 plus hours a night and find that my mood suffers when I do this regularly.

Deliberately oversleeping can actually lead to worsened sleep quality and to you feeling drained when you wake up. This is because the overdreaming that occurs in this unusually long period of REM (last phase) sleep wears you out.

Some studies have shown that both sleeping under 7 hours a night and sleeping over 9 hours a night worsens insulin sensitivity (2)so don’t immediately start waking up late and expect to gain lots of muscle doing this.

The question of what is the optimum human sleep time is still debated – my advice is to trust your instincts and to sleep 10 hours if you feel best on this. But, if your happy on 6 hours a night, don’t worry that this is killing you as your sleep requirements may simply be less than other peoples’.

Whilst individual sleep times vary, one of the undisputed muscle building secrets is to not deliberately restrict your sleep whilst trying to pack on muscle. In fact, expect your sleep requirement to go up during periods of heavy training.

Napping during the day can help muscle recovery and growth but napping for too long or taking too many naps can make falling asleep at night difficult and can lead to shallow night time sleep. Use naps wisely!

8) Use Post Workout Nutrition

Post workout nutrition is no fad, it has been shown in an overwhelming number of studies to promote better recovery after weights training and to improve muscle growth. Anyone who embraces this development in sports science research will suddenly be able to pack on more muscle than they previously could.

This post workout mix contains twice amounts of carbohydrate to high quality protein, along with creatine and individual amino acids – drink this after your workouts to boost recovery and to speed up the muscle building process!

A good post workout shake would combine an easily digestible and quickly absorbed protein like Whey with a high glycemic carb source like maltodextrin, or brown rice syrup for those of you who like to keep things natural. These can be mxed with water or milk to make a shake, or can be mixed into yogurt, oatmeal etc. depending on your tastes.

One of the muscle building secrets that I’ve discovered recently is to add fat in the form of coconut oil or coconut milk to my post workout shake. Coconut oil is the ideal fat to use post workout as it is quickly digested, increases the insulin spike induced by glucose, promotes better muscle recovery and replenishes intra muscular fatty acid (IMFA) stores after excercise.

For more information see Coconut oil benefits bodybuilders post workout – part 1 and Coconut oil benefits bodybuilders post workout – part 2.

I don’t like drinking pre workout or during workout shakes myself and never found that they helped my muscle recovery or gains when I took them. In contrast, taking a well designed post workout meal noticeably helped me.

Consider adding in a pre workout meal and maybe try sipping on a protein and carbohydrate drink during your workouts to see if this helps you. If don’t notice obvious benefits then simply forget about these shakes and concentrate on getting your post workout nutrition right.

Aside from being a major one of my muscle building secrets, your post workout meal will become a delicious treat to look forward to after completing a hard session.

John Berardi is an expert on post workout nutrition that I pay a lot of attention to. See John Berardi’s website, Precision Nutrition, for high quality information on how to eat to build serious amounts of muscle whilst staying lean.

Finally…

If you’re already pretty muscular without carrying much fat, I expect that you are practising the majority of my muscle building secrets, even if you didn’t realise it until now.

If you’ve struggled in the past to put on muscle bulk, look carefully at how you can control the stress in your life, make sure that your training is based around compound movements and re-design your diet so that it will support your muscle gain objectives. Following the above muscle building secrets is a sure fire way to pack on muscle.

Ed Clements is a fitness and health writer who offers advice to men and women explaining how to optimise hormone balance through diet, training, lifestyle improvement and through intelligent supplementation.

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