Do you want to turn yourself into a muscle building machine? Great! you’re going to learn how to build muscle fast in this article.
The most common question I get asked is; “how can I build muscle?”.
Many of you struggle to build muscle effectively because of broscience and ‘magic’ muscle building supplements.
But building muscle is actually pretty straight forward when you get the fundamentals right.
So today we’re going to discuss the following key muscle building fundamentals:
- Muscle mass vs lean muscle;
- Anabolism vs catabolism;
- Muscle building diet;
- Muscle building workouts;
- Best muscle building supplements.
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MUSCLE MASS VS LEAN MUSCLE
What is Muscle Mass?
Muscle mass is, of course, the weight of muscle in your body.
It goes without saying that you need to build muscle mass to gain muscle.
What is Lean Muscle?
There’s a general misconception about lean muscle within the fitness world.
Many folk claim that lean muscle building is adding muscle without fat but, for reasons I’ll explain later, it’s unrealistic to build muscle without adding at least a little fat.
Building lean muscle can be (correctly) categorised as either:
- Adding muscle with limited fat gains, or;
- Adding muscle mass in bulking cycles and decreasing body fat % in cutting cycles (to eventually create a well-muscled lean physique).
Should You Build Muscle Mass or Lean Muscle?
This depends entirely on your goal but I generally recommend the following rule of thumb(s):
- Aim to build muscle mass if your body fat % is low and you want to significantly increase muscle mass;
- Aim to build lean muscle if you don’t want to dramatically increase your body fat % but you want to moderately increase muscle mass.
How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle Mass?
The maximum you can realistically expect to gain is roughly 23lbs of muscle in a year (based on a study by Dr. Michael Colgan).
You’ll probably gain a lot less though, based on:
- Newbie gains – gym newbies can add significant muscle mass for the first 6-18 months of bodybuilding (it’s harder to build muscle after the newbie gains period);
- Genetic limitations – it’s harder to gain significant muscle mass after many years (especially if you’ve hit your genetic peak).
It takes significantly less time to build overall muscle mass than it does to build lean muscle.
But significant muscle gains come at the cost of body fat % increase.
Do you mainly care about getting bigger and stronger?
Or do you care more about creating a well-muscled lean physique?
Read on if you want to get bigger and stronger!
ANABOLISM VS CATABOLISM
Another very important topic we need to address is anabolism vs catabolism, as there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding.
Anabolism is absolutely central to building muscle.
Catabolism is absolutely central to losing fat.
Many fitness “experts” will tell you that you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time but you cannot be in an anabolic state and a catabolic state simultaneously.
Basically, it’s nigh on impossible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
This is something that you fundamentally need to understand so that you can set realistic muscle building goals.
Allow me to elaborate.
What is Anabolism?
Anabolism is a metabolic process that builds small molecules (carbs) into larger molecules for useable energy and muscle growth (if you workout) (source).
It involves the following hormones:
- Growth hormone;
Testosterone and growth hormone in particular play a big role in building muscle.
Anabolic State for Muscle Building
Basically, you want to get your body into a constant anabolic state to:
- Provide your muscles with energy for heavy lifting;
- Provide your body with the required building blocks for muscle growth.
I’ll show you how to get into a constant anabolic state later in the article.
What is Catabolism?
Catabolism is a metabolic process that breaks down large molecules (fats) into smaller molecules for useable energy (source).
It involves the following hormones (source):
Catabolic State for Fat Loss
Basically, you want to get your body into a constant catabolic state for fat loss because your body will break down body fat for useable energy (if you eat at a calorie deficit).
(See The Elite Body Lifestyle Guide 4 for more on catabolism and fat loss).
Anabolic State vs Catabolic State
I’m sure you’ve identified the problem with building muscle and losing fat at the same time!
Your body builds when in an anabolic state.
Your body demolishes when in a catabolic state.
You simply cannot build and demolish at the same time! (unless you take steroids – which you hopefully don’t!).
To optimally build muscle, you need to be in a constant state of anabolism. And yes, this means that you will probably increase your body fat %.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on and discuss how to get your body into a constant anabolic state.
MUSCLE BUILDING DIET
Basal Metabolic Rate
Hopefully you’ve read all about BMR in my Essential Dieting Principles Guide.
Basically, your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories you need to consume per day to function in a resting state.
But in order to get your body into a constant anabolic state, you need to be eating at a daily calorie surplus.
This needs to be based off your personal basal metabolic rate, so if you haven’t done so already, please calculate your basal metabolic rate HERE.
Muscle Building Calorie Surplus
So what exactly should your calorie surplus be for muscle building?
(This is where most people drop the ball).
1lb of muscle equates to roughly 700 calories…
Your body requires energy to store calories during weight gain (roughly 2000 calories to build 1lb of muscle).
So 1lb of muscle actually equates to roughly 2700 calories.
We’ve already established that even the most genetically gifted athlete can only build a maximum of 23lbs of muscle in a year, so let’s do the math based on that.
23lbs of muscle per year = 0.48lb per week (roughly).
1lb of muscle = 2700 calories (roughly).
0.48 of 1lb = 48%
48% of 2700 calories = 1296 calories.
This means that your weekly calorie surplus should be 1296 to build up to 0.48lb of muscle per week (daily surplus of roughly 185 calories).
A very important aspect of diet planning is accounting for excess calories.
Many people make the mistake of just adding their target calorie surplus to their basal metabolic rate, but what about the calories you burn throughout the day?
You need to factor in those excess calories!
This can include your workouts, daily tasks, and even calories burned during your social life.
Total Calorie Intake
With that in mind, let’s see how this works in practice.
Your basal metabolic rate is, in this example, 2200 calories.
You work an office job, go to the gym 5 days during the week, and walk your dog at weekends.
- 500 calories during workouts;
- 200 calories during your office job;
- 200 calories walking your dog.
Your weekday calculation should be something like:
- 2200 (your BMR) + 200 (office job) + 500 (workout) + 185 (calorie surplus) = total calorie intake of 3,085.
Your weekend calculation should be something like:
- 2200 (your BMR) + 200 (walking your dog) + 185 (calorie surplus) = total calorie intake of 2,585.
This is just a basic example but I hope you get the gist.
- Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR);
- Account for excess calories;
- Plan a daily calorie surplus of roughly 185 calories.
Muscle Building Macronutrient Ratios
As I’m sure you know, you can’t eat 60% chocolate, 30% simple carbs, and 10% protein, and expect to build muscle just because you’re eating at a calorie surplus.
The type of calories you eat are just as important as the amount.
Carbohydrates are pivotal in making sure your body is in a constant state of anabolism.
Your body will lap up those small molecules and easily convert them into readily available energy for your workouts.
(I’m referring to complex carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes, and wholewheat pasta).
Your carb intake should ideally be between 40%-50%.
Protein is obviously very important for repairing and building muscle!
You need between 1g-1.4g per lb of your bodyweight for muscle building.
So let’s say your daily calorie intake is 3000 and you weigh 170lbs.
You would need to consume between 170g-238g of protein per day (roughly 25%-35% of your daily calorie intake of 3000).
As a general rule of thumb, keep your protein macro ratio between 25%-35%.
Although not as important as carbs or protein for muscle building, healthy fats still play a role.
Aim for 15%-25% fat and make sure you include foods like eggs and fatty fish.
You can sign up to my FREE 5 day Elite Body Bootcamp and get a 7-day muscle building diet plan!
MUSCLE BUILDING WORKOUTS
Understanding muscle fibres is really important because you need to know how many reps you should be doing per set to build muscle.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of misinformation bandied around gyms about rep ranges, so allow me to clear it up.
Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibres
Slow-twitch muscle fibres are catered towards slow, endurance-based movements.
Basically, you want to activate your slow-twitch muscle fibres for endurance-based sports like marathon running.
Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibres
Fast-twitch muscle fibres are the largest type of muscle fibres in your muscles, catered towards powerful, explosive movements.
Basically, you want to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibres for muscle growth and explosive sports like 100m sprinting.
How to Activate Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibres
To maximise muscle growth, you need to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibres.
You can do this by lifting heavy weights over short rep ranges.
But as mentioned earlier, there’s seems to be confusion over muscle building rep ranges within bodybuilding circles.
Many personal trainers recommend 10+ reps per set but this is simply not optimal for muscle building!
Studies have shown that 3-7 high-intensity reps is the optimal rep range for activating fast-twitch muscle fibres.
While 8-12 reps will certainly give you more of a pump, 3-7 reps is without a doubt superior for strength and muscle building.
Any “expert” who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about (sorry if you’ve been mislead).
The best way to build muscle is through progressive overload.
This essentially means that you need to gradually increase the weight your lifting over time to build new muscle fibres.
How to Ensure Progressive Overload
The trick is simple.
You already know that you need to hit between 3-7 reps for compound exercises (you can increase the rep range to 6-8 for isolation exercises).
So you just need to adhere to the following rules:
- Compound exercises: if you can do 7 or more reps, you should increase the weight on your next set;
- Compound exercises: if you can do only 2 or less reps, you should decrease the weight on your next set;
- Isolation exercises: if you can do 8 or more reps, you should increase the weight on your next set;
- Isolation exercises: if you can only do 5 reps or less, you should decrease the weight on your next set.
Following those rules means that you will:
- Increase the weight your lifting as soon as you hit 7 reps (progressive overload);
- Increase reps week-on-week so you can hit your 7 rep target (progressive overload);
- Always be sticking within the muscle building 3-7 rep range.
Increasing weight week-on-week is unlikely but you should always aim to at least increase reps (progressive overload) to experience muscle growth.
So take a notepad with you to the gym and record your sets, reps, and weight lifted for each exercise. This will enable to you see your weekly progress and identify areas where you need to improve.
You need to decide how many days you can train each week.
You can do a 3-day split, 4-day split, or a 5-day split.
I recommend a 5-day split because you can isolate muscle groups and hit them harder vs a 3-day or 4-day split.
Below are examples of how you could schedule your workouts.
- Monday – Legs;
- Tuesday – Chest;
- Thursday – Back;
- Friday – Shoulders & abs;
- Saturday – Arms.
- Monday – Legs;
- Tuesday – Chest & triceps;
- Thursday – Back & biceps;
- Friday – Shoulders & abs.
- Monday – Legs & shoulders;
- Wednesday – Chest & triceps;
- Friday – Back & biceps.
Sets & Rep Ranges
Your rep range for heavy compound lifts should ideally be between 3-7 reps.
Your rep range for isolation exercises should ideally be between 6-8 (the increase in reps is so you can maintain good technique when isolating smaller muscles).
Aim for 3 sets per each exercise (but include warm up sets for the first exercise of each muscle group).
So your workout should look something like this:
- Squats – 3 sets of 3-7 reps;
- Romanian deadlifts – 3 sets of 3-7 reps;
- Leg press – 3 sets of 3-7 reps;
- Leg extensions – 3 sets of 6-8 reps;
- Calf raises – 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
Short rest periods between sets causes a greater release of anabolic hormones vs longer rest periods.
It’s very important to adhere to the following rest periods:
- 3-7 reps should have a rest period of 2 minutes;
- 6-8 reps should have a rest period of 90 seconds.
You can sign up to my FREE 5 day Elite Body Bootcamp and get a muscle building workout plan!
BEST MUSCLE BUILDING SUPPLEMENTS
Last up is muscle building supplements.
There’s a huge variety of supplements on the market but there are only 2 required for muscle building.
There are many different types of proteins but they don’t all carry the same benefits.
Whey is a quick-absorbing protein that contains a fantastic amino acid profile, among other nutritional benefits.
It’s been heavily studied and is used as a supplement for building muscle.
Whey Protein Benefits
- Building muscle – whey contains growth factors that make it ideal for building muscle;
- Protein content by weight – most protein powders contain 80% or more protein by weight and little fat or carbs;
- Post workout recovery – whey is fast digesting so is ideal for post-workout recovery.
Whey Concentrate vs Whey Isolate
Whey concentrate is the least processed form of whey and usually contains between 70%-80% protein content by weight.
It generally contains more growth factors that make it ideal for increasing muscle strength and muscle mass than other types of whey protein.
Whey isolate goes through more processing steps than whey concentrate to produce a higher percentage of protein content by weight, at 90% or more. But in doing so, it sacrifices some of those growth factors that concentrate keeps.
The bottom line:
Whey isolate is more suitable for those of you aiming to build lean muscle.
Whey concentrate is a better option for those of you aiming to build muscle mass.
The Best Whey Concentrate
The Best Whey Isolate
Creatine is the second must-have muscle building supplement.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a molecule found in meat, eggs and fish. It’s very useful for building muscle because it quickly produces energy to aid cellular function.
What does that mean for your workout?
Translated into English:
When you do a bicep curl, for example, your body desperately tries to source energy to support the contraction.
It sources this energy from your phosphate system.
Guess what the most energy dense phosphate is? Yup, it’s creatine.
Creatine is the difference between doing 4 reps and 6 reps.
If you get to rep 4 and your phosphagen stores are low, you’re going to fail at rep 5.
If your phosphagen stores are high (because you’ve been supplementing creatine), you’re going to smash out another rep or two.
The way you build muscle is by progressively lifting more weight.
Creatine is essential because it helps you increase reps and then, in turn, muscle size.
The Best Creatine Supplement
Before we finish up let’s do a quick summary of what we’ve talked about:
- The most muscle you can expect to gain in 1 year is 23lbs;
- You need to be in an anabolic state to gain muscle;
- Your daily calorie surplus (to be in a constant anabolic state and gain up to 0.48lb of muscle per week) is roughly 185 calories;
- You need to consume between 1g-1.4g of muscle per 1lb of body weight to optimise muscle growth;
- You need to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibres to optimise muscle growth (3-7 reps);
- Aim for week-on-week progressive overload;
- The only supplements you need for muscle building are whey protein and creatine;
- You can join my FREE 5 day Elite Body Bootcamp for more on muscle building + 7 day diet plan & workout templates!
Thanks for reading! Have a great day!