While a good part of the population strives to lose fat, the goal of many other people (increasingly) is focused on how to gain muscle. In the same way that losing fat is the subject of a lot of confusion, also gaining muscle has many myths and false beliefs. In this article we are going to try to simplify things as much as possible and give you a series of practical recommendations that you can apply.
Gaining muscle is usually the objective of a very specific group, which is young people (mostly men) under 30 years of age, although, as we are going to see in this article, muscle gain is objectively beneficial for any human being. at any age. However, women tend to see it as masculine and unsightly, taking professional bodybuilders as a reference. This is one of the beliefs that we are going to try to dismantle. Whether you are a man or a woman, and whatever age you are, read us to the end, you will not regret it😉
Why is it beneficial to gain muscle?
Gaining muscle is beneficial for multiple reasons; These are the ones that seem most important to us:
- Increased strength and physical endurance. Don’t just think about lifting weights, think about heavy suitcases, shopping bags, pushing a car that won’t start, carrying your children… or your grandchildren. Having more strength gives you more possibilities and more independence
- Stronger bones and joints. Strength training puts increased stress on your bones and joints, causing them to adapt and become stronger to withstand this stress. This translates to a lower risk of injury from falls and twists. This part is especially important for women, as their bones are at greater risk of fracture after menopause.
- Reduced risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes or stroke, which are the biggest cause of premature death in the developed world
- Improved mental health and mood. Physical exercise, including muscle building, has significant mental health benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that generate feelings of well-being and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Increased metabolism and fat burning. Approximately 70% of the calories we burn daily are used to maintain our basal metabolism. By increasing muscle mass, we increase our metabolic rate, which means we burn more calories even at rest. The more muscle we have, the more energy it will take to maintain it, which means our body will have to draw on fat stores to meet those additional energy needs. If you want to lose fat… gain muscle!
- Improved aesthetics and self-confidence. Finally, strength training and muscle gain will give you a more beautiful and proportionate body that will increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. It is very important to emphasize this point to women. Gaining muscle does not mean getting bulky or becoming a professional bodybuilder. For a woman to reach that muscular volume, great dedication, very specific nutrition and, very frequently, the use of steroids and other drugs are needed. Ladies, your body is not going to grow that way just by training three or four times a week and eating healthy. More than looking at professional bodybuilders, I invite you to look at fitness influencers like @sophiarose92 or the incredible @fitwithjoan, with strong, healthy and very beautiful bodies.
How to gain muscle?
To answer this question, it is important to have a very basic understanding of the physiology of resistance exercise.
Our muscles are made up of a series of tiny bundles of fibers. By making efforts that we are not used to, we break some of these fibers, which are later repaired during rest. If this process is repeated constantly, our body will try to adapt, making these fibers stronger each time. You can see a graphic explanation of the process in this video
To optimize muscle gain, there are a few things to keep in mind. The closer we are to meeting these conditions, the more strength and muscle we will gain:
Nutrition is undoubtedly the most important component. No matter how much you train, if you don’t eat properly, you won’t gain muscle. You can have the best bricklayers in the world, but if you don’t give them bricks, they won’t be able to build anything.
How should I eat to gain muscle? You just have to keep two things in mind. The first is that you should be in a slight caloric surplus; that is, you have to eat a few more calories than you expend. To calculate your daily spending, we usually use the Harris-Benedict equation. There are many websites that do the calculation, such as this one .
It is important to stress that the surplus has to be light (about 200-300 more calories than you expend), otherwise you risk gaining a lot of fat in the process.
The second is that you have to take enough protein. How much protein is enough? In general between 1.5g and 2g per kilo of weight per day. Careful; more is not better. Eating more protein is not going to make you gain more muscle and may cause other problems. In this previous post we explained everything about proteins. If you did not read it, it is recommended that you do so now😉
Once we have secured the fuel, it is time to start the engine. We need to subject our muscles to that stimulus that we talked about before so that they grow. In this sense, it is also important to consider three things: the volume of training, the intensity and the loads that you should use.
The first would be the minimum training volume that our muscles need, and that would be about 15 to 20 series per muscle group per week. This does not mean that I have to do 15 sets of each exercise, since there are different exercises that impact the same muscle group. For example, if in one training session I do four sets of the military press and four sets of the bench press, my shoulder is getting eight sets total.
In terms of intensity, I should make sure that on each set I’m getting close to muscle failure without reaching it. What does this mean? It means that, in each set, I have a really hard time doing the last two reps, but I could do one or two more. Leaving these few repetitions in reserve ensures that we will be able to recover adequately for the next series and for the following workouts without excessively tiring our central nervous system.
Finally, we have to choose the loads that we are going to use. The efficient range of loads is quite wide. We could say that if you can’t get to 5 reps the load is too heavy, and if you can do more than 25 reps the load is too light. Within this range, you can move wherever you want, although our recommendation is to go for a rather high repetition range, since more repetitions imply more training volume, more time under tension for our muscles and also better movement technique.
- Progressive overload
As we explained previously, we gain strength and muscle mass through a process of adaptation. For this process to occur, the stimulus has to be frequent and has to increase progressively. If the training frequency is short (less than three times a week), even if we train very intensely, our muscles will find it difficult to adapt. If the stimulus comes to them more frequently, they will have no choice but to adapt and grow. Now, if the stimulus does not grow little by little, once our muscles get used to it, they will stop improving.
Rest is the last piece of our puzzle, but certainly not the least important. Our muscles do not grow during training, but during rest. In the same way that we explained that a stimulus that is too infrequent or too little intense is not going to lead us to achieve our goals, a stimulus that is too frequent and/or too intense is not going to help us either. Again, more is not better. In general, and above all, after 35 years of age, it is not advisable to train on consecutive days. The protein synthesis that leads to muscle growth after an adequate stimulus lasts up to 48 hours, as we can see in this study. This means that we must leave at least a couple of days until we train a muscle group again.
Within the break, we also have to talk about sleep. In order to have a hormonal environment that favors muscle growth, it is essential that we have a night’s rest of sufficient quality and quantity, as we explained in this previous article. What is this hormonal environment? We need our cortisol levels to be low and our testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) levels to be increased, and this is achieved through a good night’s rest.
Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together
As a conclusion to this article, here are the practical recommendations that you should apply:
- Maintain a slight caloric surplus with a protein intake of between 1.5g and 2g per kilo of weight per day
- Train strength with enough frequency (at least 3 times per week), intensity (each set close to muscle failure), and volume (15-20 sets per muscle group per week)
- Make sure that the stimulus grows progressively. You can do it by increasing the loads you use or by increasing the number of repetitions (always less than 25 per set).
- Always schedule enough rest between workouts and also keep in mind to have enough good quality night rest (7-8 hours)
We hope this information is useful to you. If you have any questions, we read you in the comments😊