You’ve been pumping iron for a month, so why don’t you look like a Titan already?
Wanna build muscle faster? Here’s what you’re doing wrong.
Q: I’m a runner. I’m fit, but how do I get ripped?
Stop running so much.
Performing cardio too frequently, too intensely, or for too long can certainly prevent you from gaining muscle from your strength training workouts.
Running burns tons of calories, demands lots of fuel, and gobbles the protein and amino acid resources your body needs to build bulky muscle.
This is not a bad thing if you want a sexy, lean runner’s body. But if you’re trying to bulk up, stop distance running. Instead, incorporate cardio in low-intensity recovery sessions.
If you’re a skinny guy that runs three or more miles a day, it will be very difficult for you to build muscle. If you love running, then by all means continue. Just know that it’s a huge part of the reason why you don’t look like a superhero. You should spend your time on three things for maximum efficiency: Lifting three times a week, eating big, and sleeping. That’s it.
-Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness
Q: What is the “cut phase” and “bulk phase”? And do they work?
This is a fitness approach with two phases:
- Cut: a very restrictive diet to lose fat while minimizing muscle loss
- Bulk: heavy workouts and high calorie intake to gain muscle while minimizing fat gains
This is hotly debated in the fitness world. Probably because most people do it wrong. The bulk phase ends up being a calorie free-for-all. And the cut phase is spent trying to undo the bulk phase weight gain.
Here at Factor, we think there’s a better way. Don’t put yourself on a yo-yo diet. Eat clean foods and pump hard; your progress will be more gradual, but consistent.
We love Jason Ferruggia’s stance: “You will still end up making the same progress without having to go through the fat-ass phase.”
When you allow yourself to get fatter you not only increase the size of your fat cells but there is also evidence showing that you can increase the number of fat cells you have. This means that it will forever be easier to get fat again and harder to get lean. So basically one or two “bulk” phases gone awry and you’re fucked for life. As many people have said before, the best way to get lean is to never get fat in the first place.
Q: I’m lifting weights, but I’m not getting jacked. What should I do differently?
If you’re not gaining weight, you gotta eat more. Pack on protein (more on that below). Take in high-quality carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and steel cut oats. Choose high-calorie snacks like nuts and seeds.
Don’t cut your carbs.
High-protein diets are great for losing weight, but your body needs carbohydrates and fat to feed muscle growth. If your carb intake is too low, your body could tap your protein stores for fuel.
If your cache of carbs is low, your body will use protein as an alternate fuel source, and your muscles won’t grow as much as they would if you were feeding them a cocktail of protein and carbs. As for the fat, it’s vital for the production of muscle-building testosterone. (Studies show that guys who eat higher-fat diets also have higher testosterone levels.)
Train smarter, not harder.
Stop killing yourself with complicated exercises. Your main focus should be to activate as many muscle fibers at once.
Use heavy weights to do exercises that recruit your biggest muscle groups. Squats, lunges, kettle bell swings, and clean and presses work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, with the added value of enlisting balance and core strength.
Biology Lesson: Why Heavy Weights Work
Growth hormone release, brah. Get to know it.
Resistance training, aka weightlifting, is the most effective at inducing growth hormone release. Load and frequency determine how much of the hormone is secreted into the bloodstream.
This study showed the spike in growth hormone at the onset of exercise. You can see that the greatest amount of growth hormone release was measured during shorter, high-intensity workouts, and the hormone release drops off during longer, cardio-intensive workouts.
That’s why weight training is better than cardio for muscle mass.
Your growth hormone is stimulated in two major ways: exercise and sleep.
If you don’t get enough rest you’ll greatly reduce your growth hormone secretion. This is essential for repairing muscles after a workout and making them pumped and toned. These two studies found that 70 percent of your hormone release happens during slow-wave sleep (SWS) (stages three and four below).
That’s a lot! So don’t skimp. Read more about the importance of recovery here.
This graph shows the five stages of brain waves during an average sleep cycle.
The first four stages are non-REM sleep and are characterized by high amplitude, low frequency EEG waves (a measure of brain activity). Growth hormone release is highest during the deep-sleep (SMS) phases three and four.
Check out the spike in growth hormone release during the early morning SWS sleep phase.
Q: Should I be eating more protein? How much is enough?
This is a hard one. The experts have differing opinions. Ultimately, the best way to know how many grams of protein you should be eating is to track your progress. [Try one of these handy apps to make it easier]
Remember, fitness advice is just a guideline. Listen to your own body to determine what works best for you. Here’s where to start:
Peter Lemon, professor of exercise nutrition at the University of Western Ontario, told Men’s Fitness candidly, “If you’ve been shooting for a gram of protein per pound of body weight–or more–you’re overdoing it. Your body won’t be able to process those extra calories, and they’ll ultimately end up as just one thing: fat.”
Lemon recommends between 0.5 and 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
So what does that look like?
If you’re 180lbs x 0.5g of protein per pound = Shoot for 90g protein a day.
Protein has 4 calories per gram, so 90g x 4 calories = aim to eat 360 protein-calories a day
On the other hand, Michael Matthews of Muscle for Life observes the weightlifting rule of thumb: One gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
“If those numbers sound really high to you, consider this research published earlier this year, and conducted by AUT University” which found athletes may need up to 1.4g of protein per pound, or more, depending on the intensity of the resistance training.
As you get leaner, keeping your protein intake high becomes very important. If it drops too low (below 1 gram per pound of body weight, in my experience), strength and muscle loss is accelerated.
Some facts about protein intake:
- Incomplete protein is a myth. All protein found in plants is “complete.” MIT debunked that one.
- High protein diets will not damage your kidneys. Period.
Biology Lesson: Why Protein Builds Muscle
Proteins are made up of amino acids. When we eat protein, our bodies break down these amino acids and repurpose them for our own muscle repair.
Each protein source has a different amino acid profile and absorbency rate. That’s why it’s important to maximize the range of amino acids you’re ingesting.
Eat protein from a variety of sources like high-fat dairy, grass-fed beef, hormone-free poultry, seeds, nuts, fish, and eggs.
Go get stacked.
Growth hormones, amino acids, and slow wave sleep: now you’ve learned how to build muscle faster.
Have other questions about gaining muscle? Hit us up! Ask and discuss in the comments below.