Now that I’ve covered fat loss, I want to discuss how to gain muscle. For beginner lifters I always suggest a bulk or muscle gaining goal before attempting to cut/lose fat, that is unless you are severely overweight or obese then I would suggest going the fat loss route.
Anyway, if you are new to lifting or returning after an extended period off then I envy you because the first 6-12 months will be the time that you make the best and fastest muscle gains (naturally). This is because your muscles aren’t used to being under the stress from lifting weights and have to learn to adapt to this new activity.
The basic principle of gaining muscle is – by lifting weights you are creating micro tears in your muscle fibres and your body will repair these tears with the amino acids from protein. Think about it like this – imagine your muscles are a brick wall and lifting weights is the weather…with me so far? Okay good, now over time the weather wears down the wall and bricks fall out, well the wall needs maintenance and workers come along and repair the gaps and add extra bricks and mortar to reinforce the wall. Those workers are the proteins/amino acids that come along and repair your muscles and just like the workers they add reinforcement to your muscles which in reality appears in a bigger, denser, stronger muscle. Hope that made sense. So that was a very basic analogy but I just wanted to cover it for those who are new to lifting.
But how do we actually gain muscle? Well it’s a bit more than just lifting weights and eating protein, the way you lift, the amount of food you eat and your hormones play a big part and will determine if you are going to make gains or not. So lets get into it.
1. Lifting weights
Now this is a widely debated topic and you’ll hear different things from different people. Some people will tell you to lift heavy with low reps, others will tell you to lift lighter with more reps while some may say it’s all about time under tension. Truth be told, like fat loss there is no cut and copy method, no one size fits all. Different methods work for different people so it’s all about trial and error. Now I know that sounds like a cop out but it’s the truth. The best thing to do is experiment and see what gets you the best results. What you do need to do is something called ‘progressive overload’.
Basically what that means is you want to be progressively overloading your muscles to keep them stimulated so new growth can occur. So progressive overload can be in the form of adding more weight to an exercise the next week you train it. E.g. one week you might be able to bench 100kg for 6 reps and then next week you bench 105kg for 4 reps. Yeah your rep count has decreased but the weight you are lifting has increased. But look you can’t keep adding weight forever so how else can you progress? Well let’s go back to the bench example. If the next week after you benched 105kg for 4 reps you do the same weight but for 5 reps then again you’re still performing progressive overload as you’re adding in a new factor – that additional repetition. Get me? Good.
Also I would suggest lifting weights anywhere from 4-6 times a week, whatever suits your lifestyle. Me personally, I like to train 6 days straight and then have 1 rest day. You should also be hitting those big compound lifts like bench, squat, deadlift, shoulder press, pull ups and some type of row movement. These lifts are essential when it comes to building size and mass as they incorporation many muscles into a single exercise.
If you’re read my ‘Building muscle on a plant based diet‘ series you’ll already know how vegans get their protein, carbs and fats. If you haven’t then I suggest you read those articles before proceeding.
To be able to gain muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus. That’s a fancy way of saying you need to eat more calories than your body is burning. So the first thing you need to do is work out what your maintenance daily calorie intake (you can use this tool here) is and then add some more calories to it – around 200 – 300 extra calories is a good starting point. As the weeks go by and your strength increases you can then consider adding in an extra 200-300 calories in but you don’t want to rush this as eating too much will lead to significant fat gain and that is something that the majority of us would like to avoid.
For me I’ll eat around 3000 calories as my maintenance and then bump it up to 3200-3300kcals if I’m wanting to bulk up a bit.
Now this is something that I don’t always see people discuss when it comes to fat loss or muscle gaining and it baffles me as to why that may be because in my eyes this is one of the most important aspects to consider when it comes to fat loss or muscle gain. So what you want is to ensure that you have a good balance in your hormones keeping your testosterone high, estrogen lower (but not too low because you still need estrogen for many bodily functions) and cortisol to a minimum. So how do you keep your test levels high? Here are a few ways…
- Exercise regularly (lifting weights, high intense activity)
- Eating enough calories coming from nutrient dense foods
- Minimize stress levels (Cortisol is a hormone secreted during stress, you want to keep it away!)
- Ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D
- Get good quality rest and sleep
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
Now I know this is a very basic guide to how muscle is built and it’s not individually tailored for each person reading this but like I said earlier there is no ‘one size fits all’ method when it comes to building muscle but if you take some of this information and utilize it to fit your individual needs then I’m sure you will be well on your well to packing on some mass and getting closer to your goals!
As always thank you for reading and if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me as I’m always up for a chat!