There are two main things that affect muscle growth: food and exercise. Actually, there’s one more thing: sleep (rest).
Both creatine and whey protein powder have been shown to increase muscle mass when taken in combination with resistance exercise.
Creatine increases exercise capacity during high-intensity exercise. This leads to improved recovery and adaptations such as increased muscle mass.
Meanwhile, ingesting whey protein in combination with exercise provides your body a high-quality source of protein, enhancing muscle protein synthesis and leading to increased muscle gains over time.
While both creatine and whey protein promote muscle gain, they differ in the ways they work. Creatine increases strength and muscle mass by increasing exercise capacity, whereas whey protein does so by stimulating increased muscle protein synthesis.
Muscles are made out of protein, among other things. So, you’re going to need to consume enough protein to build muscle. You should target 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For example, I currently weigh 178 lbs so I should consume 178 grams of protein. Here’s are some protein-rich foods.
|Food||Quantity||Protein (g)||Calories||Protein / Calorie Ratio|
|Chicken Breast||1 roasted w/o skin||53||284||18%|
|Cottage Cheese||1 cup||28||163||17%|
|Greek Yogurt||6 ounces||17||100||17%|
|Regular Milk||1 cup||8||149||16%|
|Soy Milk||1 cup||6.3||105||6%|
|Broccoli||1 cup chopped||3||31||9.6%|
|Lean Beef||3 ounces||25||186||13%|
|Tuna||1 can (142 grams)||27||128||21%|
|Quinoa||1 cup cooked||8||222||3.6%|
|Whey protein supplement||25||130||19%|
|Lentils||1 cup boiled||18||230||8%|
|Ezekiel Bread||1 slice||4||80||5%|
|Pumpkin Seeds||1 ounce||9||158||5.6%|
|Turkey Breast||3 ounces||26||125||20%|
|Brussel Sprouts||1/2 cup||2||28||7%|
Other protein-rich foods
Pistachios, cashews, parmesan cheese, swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, regular full fat yogurt, kefir, soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds.
Consuming a lot of protein without supplements can be difficult because you might feel full before you’ve reached your target daily intake. Also, it can be expensive. For that reason, most bodybuilders take protein supplements. When choosing a protein supplement, it’s important to stay away from ones with a lot of added sugar. The most popular protein supplement is whey protein. To be safe, opt for pure whey protein. I personally get the unflavored Nutricost Whey Protein Concentrate. It contains only one ingredient: Whey protein concentrate. 1 scoop contains 25 g of protein and 130 calories.
Creatine monohydrate is the best-studied and most effective form of this supplement. There are 2 dosing regimens:
- Loading phase: Take 20-25 grams split into 4 or 5 equal doses over 5-7 days.
- Maintenance phase: Then, take 3-5 grams per day to maintain your muscle stores of the compound.
Skip the loading phase and start the maintenance phase.
Both options are effective the first option will allow you to experience the benefits 4x faster. Source
I personally take unflavored Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate.
Now, don’t go consuming nothing but protein shakes. They are meant to be supplements and not food substitutes. You can eat whatever else you want but generally, you should avoid processed foods and foods with lots of added sugar. I have personally found the Keto diet (very low carb diet) to be one of the best, if not the best diet. I was able to lose 20 lbs following the Keto diet. It’s not just good for losing weight but it’s also good for overall healthy eating.
While you can build muscle in a calorie deficit (losing weight), it will be quicker to build muscle by having a moderate calorie surplus.
Example Meal Plan
Here’s my daily meal plan.
- 4 eggs in a bowl microwaved for 2 minutes
- 1 cup of Nespresso coffee with frothed milk, 1/4 teaspoon of Truvia sugar substitute (erithrytol + Stevia extra), and cinnamon
Protein shake containing
- 1x 5.3oz of Ratio Keto Yogurt (15 g protein, 200 calories)
- 1 scoop of Nutricost Protein Powder (25 g protein, 130 calories)
- 1 scoop (5 g) of Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate
- 1/2 handful of walnuts
- 1 tbsp of chia seeds (2 g protein, 58 calories)
- 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds (1.6 g protein, 46 calories)
- 1/2 tsp of Matcha powder
- 1 pack of frozen Acai (1 g protein, 70 calories)
- 1/2 cup of unsweetened Soy milk (3.5 g protein, 40 calories)
5 air-fried skinless chicken legs (60 g protein, 380 calories) with one Anaheim pepper
Another protein smoothie but substitute the Acai with 3 or 4 frozen strawberries
Chocolate-flavored Premier 30g Protein Drink (30 g protein, 160 calorie)
Total Daily Protein and Calorie Consumption
Now, I currently weigh 178 lbs so I could just skip the last protein shake and the total would be 180 grams of protein and 1768 calories.
Note that some of the foods listed above are superfoods. Here’s a list of superfoods:
- Dark leafy greems (Kale, Swiss chard, Collard greens, Turnip greens, Spinach)
- Berries (Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Acai berries)
- Green tea and matcha
- Legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts, alfalfa)
- Nuts (Almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts)
- Seeds (Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds)
- Kefir (and yogurt)
- Olive oil
- Turmeric (Curcumin)
- Sweet Potato
Muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance or weight. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers of the muscles sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles. This increase, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest.
You need to be consistent and lift progressively heavier weights. To do this, you should keep track of your efforts. Personally, I log my workouts using the free version of the FitNotes app.
Sets and reps
A standard way of exercising each muscle is by grouping each exercise into 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps (repetitions). For example, if you bench press, you can choose a weight such that for the first set, you lift X lbs until your reach failure (can no longer lift) after the 12th rep. Then, for the 2nd set, you do the same until your failure is after the 10th rep. And for the 3rd set, your fail after 8 reps.
Note that more important than the number of reps is the effort to lift until failure. If, after a while, you feel that you can lift more than X lbs, you need to increase the weight and continue to lift until failure, regardless of the exact number of reps you can do. This is called “progressive overloading.”
Let me repeat that. Train until failure such that you can barely complete your last rep with proper form.
The longer your lift weights, the harder it becomes to grow more muscle. Following are average muscle weight gains for men and women at different stages of resistance training.
|Newbie||1.5 lbs / month||0.5 lbs / month|
|Intermediate||0.5 lbs / month||0.3 – 0.4 lbs / month|
|Advanced||0.25 lbs / month||0.1 – 0.2 lbs / month|
|Year of Proper Training||Potential Rate of Muscle Gain Per Year|
|1||20-25 lbs (2 lbs / month)|
|2||10-12 lbs (1 lb / month)|
|3||5-6 lbs (0.5 lbs / month)|
|4+||2-3 lbs (not worth calculating)|
Muscle Gain vs Weight Gain
Traditional muscle gain is achieved by gaining weight. Yes, you can gain a little bit of muscle while losing fat, but this process is fairly slow and not as efficient as building muscle during a true bulk. If you want to gain some serious muscle mass, this requires weight gain.
The thing about weight gain and weight loss is that it is always a combination of lean tissue and fatty tissue – never one exclusively. This means you will always gain some additional body fat when trying to gain muscle and lose some muscle when trying to lose body fat.
Depending on a number of factors, for each pound you gain, anywhere from one-third to two-thirds will result in fat, with the remaining being lean tissue (muscle).
Here’s a diagram of some of the more obvious muscles that you’ll want to target when lifting weights.
Sleep / Rest
In order for your muscles to grow, you need to have sufficient rest. Make sure to sleep enough, e.g. 7 hours a day.
Stages of Muscle Growth
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually build muscle while you’re lifting weights. You do need to lift weights to add mass, but training actually causes muscle breakdown. There are three stages of muscle growth.
|1. Muscle breakdown||You break down your muscles by lifting weights at a high intensity|
|2. Hormone increase||Beginning during the lifting session and continuing when you’re resting, certain hypertrophy-specific hormones increase|
|3. Muscle repair and growth||While resting, damaged muscle tissue is repaired and the muscles grow bigger only if you have consumed an excess of calories|
How to Tell if You’re Gaining Muscle
- You’re Gaining Weight
Track your weight at the same time each day and plot it on a chart to see your long term progress.
- Your Clothes Fit Differently
Getting jacked will often mean your clothes start to fit differently – usually in a good way. If you’re noticing your shirts are fitting a bit tighter around your shoulders, chest, and biceps, or your pants are getting snug in the thigh and hip area, these tend to be good signs you’re gaining healthy weight.
- You’re Building Strength
If you can lift heavier weights, then you are probably building muscle. Track your strength using a log and practice progressive overloading.
- You’re Muscles Are Looking “Swole”
Feeling puffier or bigger is normal and likely a good sign you’re growing your muscle fibers. Lifting weights increases fluids to your muscle giving you that post weight training pump, especially when you are just getting started with strength training. Over time, some of the water retention may diminish but you should continue to feel bulkier.
- Daily or Weekly Progress Photos
Stand in front of a mirror and take a full body photo. Repeat and assess your visual transformation regularly.
- Your Body Composition Has Changed
Ultimately, the most efficient way to measure your muscle gain progress is to assess your body composition at the beginning and end of your bulk. You can opt for an affordable and convenient at home scale, or schedule a DXA/DEXA scan that estimates your body fat percentage within a 1.6% margin of error.
The best way to know you are gaining muscle is if you are progressively able to lift heavier weights because the only way you can lift heavier weights if you have bigger muscles.
- Stay in a positive protein balance by hitting your protein consistently.
- Get your protein from high-quality sources like meat, eggs, dairy, and soy.
- Your body needs energy to grow, so it helps to be in a caloric surplus — or at least in maintenance if you’re new to lifting.
- Make sleep a priority — both quantity and quality.
- Hit the weights consistently, and train harder by adding volume (in weight, reps, and sets) over time – progressive overloading.