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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 18, 2008

Guest Post – Building Muscle 101: Master the Basics

By Guest
45 Comments

MusclesMuch like was discussed in Fat Loss 101, building muscle is basically a hormonal event. Hormones such as testosterone, insulin, growth hormone and cortisol are giving the body signals on whether to build muscle, or break it down. While exercise is necessary to create a stimulus for certain hormones to be activated, it is also just a small part of the equation. This is why you will see so many people putting in hard effort at the gym day after day, and never really getting any results. So throw away all those books, stop spending $400/month on supplements, cancel your magazine subscription to Muscle Weekly (or one of the other 75+ fitness magazines out there), and master the basics. This is where you get 90%+ of your results from.

Who needs strength training? Everyone! Any age and yes women too! (Don’t fear ladies, you do not have enough hormones to get all big and buff….just that nice toned look you are looking for). In fact, muscle mass has been directly related to the rate at which we age. I guess once you tell the body that you don’t need muscle to do anything, it thinks it is time to shut down! Once you start losing muscle, you see an increase in fat and that is never a good thing for any long term health factor. The muscle most effected is the Type II (Fast Twitch) and not the Type I (Slow Twitch). So moral of the story is, want to live longer then build and keep your muscle! (Just ask Jack LaLanne who is still running around at 94 years young)

Now let’s look at the Hormones we want to use for building and keeping muscle:

* Testosterone – We have all heard about this one, it builds muscle

* Growth Hormone – Another muscle building (and fat burning) hormone

* Insulin – Using this properly can help to stimulate more muscle building by bringing in more amino acids into the muscles (too much and at the wrong time will only store fat)

* Cortisol – The bad guy who breaks down muscle (some is needed, too much is bad)

* Estrogen – Brings down your Testosterone (hence why women will not build the same size muscle as men). Too much has also been linked to cancer.

Ok so now that we know the players, let’s see what we need to do inorder to get the results and control the hormones for building muscle.

* Eat protein – The more amino acids you can make available to the muscles, the more they will be able to build up. There is a point of diminishing returns, but most active people need at least 0.6-0.8g protein per lean (not total) lb of bodyweight.

* Eat FatHigher fat diets raise Testosterone levels. Also higher fat diets have a nitrogen sparing effect (which means less muscle breakdown and wasting). Usually this means over 30% of your daily calories should come from healthy fats.

* Eat more Sat Fat and Monounsaturated Fats – These are the types of fat shown to increase more Testosterone levels (Steak and Eggs!). Also your body uses Cholesterol to build the hormone Testosterone (another plug for steak and eggs). If you are still weary about fat and cholesterol, you can read this excellent article and make up your own mind about it. Oh and Zinc is also key to T-levels (3rd plug for steak and eggs).

* Do not eat low calorie – Doing this too often will just cause a drop off in T-levels.

* Get your Sleep – As we talked about in the Fat Loss article, most of your GH is produced at night. So get your sleep and build muscle in the process.

* Skip the Alcohol – I know St Patty’s day is right around the corner, but alcohol in excess drops your T-levels. So keep it to a 2 drink maximum when you do go out otherwise you won’t look too good with less muscle and more fat around your belly.

* Lose the Fat – People who are higher in fat, will always be lower in T-levels (and higher in Estrogen). So goal #1 should be to get your bodyfat lower and then worry about adding in the muscle as it will be easier at that point.

* Take Fish Oil – Omega 3s will keep you building muscle and keep cortisol levels at bay. Also improves insulin sensitivity (see below) of muscles.

* Improve Insulin Sensitivity – Insulin is necessary to shuttle in amino acids into the muscle tissues (although too much is not good!). So you need to do things to decrease insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity including lower carb diets, carb cycling, resistance training, losing fat, and yes…fasting.

* Eat Your Veggies – Especially broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage that help to keep the Estrogen levels low (High Estrogen=Low Testosterone). This is also a good anti-cancer strategy especially in women.

* Improve your Gut Health – If you improve your health, your digestion improves and you improve the amount of nutrients/vitamins/minerals that your body can digest/absorb/utilize. Taking things such as digestive enzymes with meal may give you more use of the food you are eating. Oh yeah….fasting also helps to improve gut health!

* Detox Your Body – Get rid of all those toxins, take the toxins out of your daily lifestyle (food, drink, water, air, skin) and let your organs like the liver and kidneys work at more optimal levels. A healthy body will always reflect it and look that way as well.

* Train the Right Way – You want muscles? Then learn how to train them quickly and effectively with resistance training. Start with compound movements first to get the hormones up. Lift heavy and with shorter rest periods (reps of 5-10 with 30-60 sec rest between sets). Do enough volume (25-50 total reps per exercise….5×5, 3×10, etc). Keep the intensity high. Get your workout done in 30-45 min. Lift only 2-3x week (most people only need 2x if they are intense enough….as muscles do NOT grow in the gym, you need recovery!)

* Less Cardio – Too much too often will just waste muscle, lower T-levels and hamper any attempt you have at building muscle. If you want to do something, make it short and intense to keep GH levels high and cortisol levels low. This is why you will never see a chronic jogger with alot (if any) muscle…unless they are eating 5000 cal a day or taking some other type of cortisol suppressing hormone “supplement”. Here’s a good read on danger of the cardio obsession so many people have nowadays.

* Eat Post Workout – As you muscles are primed with high insulin sensitivity for a healthy protein+carb meal. Your window goes from 30min to 3 hours. Best is to eat small but frequent meals (not just one big one). Some people may benefit from a quick amino acid + carb drink (but if your main goal for now is weight loss, skip this!)

So if you are spending 5 days a week at the gym and never seeing results, go over the list about and realize you have to look at the whole picture. You can build plenty of muscle only lifting 2x a week and having the right lifestyle around to support it. If you can master these things and learn how to control your eating, lifting and recovery you will build plenty of muscle. Wouldn’t it also be great if you could do this all while improving your health, losing fat, gaining muscle , detoxifying your body, reducing insulin resistance and eating less calories overall to help extend your lifespan? Could that be…..IF?

Mark’s Daily Apple Note: Thanks to Mike O’Donnell of

The IF Life

for the great Guest Post!

Fenchurch Flickr Photo (CC)

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45 Comments on "Guest Post – Building Muscle 101: Master the Basics"

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Crystal
Crystal
8 years 4 months ago

Lots of good info. We certainly don’t want to lose that testosterone.

I have to say that the last thing we want to do is to keep our cortisol levels low. If they’re “low” you won’t be jogging to the mailbox, let alone long distance. We don’t want them low or high, but just right!

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago
Crystal – You are correct, cortisol is what gets us out of the bed in the morning. (as many suffering from chronic fatigue have very low fasting cortisol AM levels, and that’s when they should be their highest to elevate blood glucose levels). However chronic elevated cortisol is not good in terms of keeping muscle and burning fat all day long. More intense anaerobic exercises that stimulate GH (resistance training, intervals, etc) can self-regulate cortisol, while other extended aerobic exercise (aka hours of jogging) will just elevate cortisol over 45min (in a non-muscle saving environment, no GH stimulation) . Vit… Read more »
Chainey
Chainey
8 years 4 months ago
Most of the list agrees with the conclusions I’ve reached from my studies (and I’m still a “student” in these matters), but I do have a couple of quibbles. First, eating immediately after workout: I was just reading a couple of weeks ago on one of the kindred blogs (sorry, can’t find it now) that this is the worst thing you can do. Supposedly the best growth hormone (IGF?) is active immediately after exercise and gets pushed down if you eat. Anyone else read that? (And can find the reference?) You mention low-carb favorably, then a few paragraphs later are… Read more »
Crystal
Crystal
8 years 4 months ago

I agree Mike.

DaveC - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago

Chainey: You’re probably thinking of Devany who comes down rather hard against both post-workout protein replacement, and the practice of eating several small meals a day.

charlotte
8 years 4 months ago
If goal #1 is to lose fat but you don’t recommend much cardio (and no traditional type cardio) then what is your recommendation for losing the fat? Purely by managing nutrition? Also, other than the aphorism about women not being able to bulk out from weight lifting (something I disagree with btw – a woman may not get as large as a man but plenty of women can put on sizeable muscle to the point where it is bulk and not just “tone”) you don’t address the gender disparity at all. There has been some interesting new research about the… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago
Chainey – Good questions. The PWO window is a widely debated topic about prime muscle glycogen replenishment and amino acid intake into muscles (mostly pushed by the supplement industry). My advice is based more on whole food “carbs” (complex version) after a workout in the following hours where insulin sensitivity should be at it highest. Whole food carb sources are always the top choice hands down and you really don’t need that much. (as some people’s carb intakes can vary from 30g-130g daily depending on their activity level, recovery needs and goals on fat loss and muscle gain). In my… Read more »
markus
markus
8 years 4 months ago

here’s an interesting article on the role of vitamin A in protein synthesis and muscle building Vitamin A: The Forgotten Bodybuilding Nutrient http://www.westonaprice.org/men/vitaminabodybuilding.html

apparently – the more you train, the more vit A you need

Markus

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago

Charlotte: I think you’re working off a misconception. The recommendation is to avoid the high intensity, long duration cardio that so many people embrace like the hour long spinning classes with HR constantly at 80% of max or more. Mark cites his cardio coming in the form of hiking, playing ultimate frisbee, bicycling, etc. Doing Crossfit-like circuit training also helps.

charlotte
8 years 4 months ago
Dave C. – Thanks for trying to help me! I think I’m quite clear about what cardio Mark advocates. I have read his Case Against Cardio article at least a dozen times and have spent a fair amount of time thinking about it. The problem for me is that when I only do the cardio as he instructs, the weight piles on. When I add in the hour-long spin classes etc. then the weight comes back off. Unfortunately, with the high intensity cardio I also get mad carb/sugar cravings. I am quite unsettled about the issue – I want to… Read more »
Gabriel J Wigington
3 years 7 months ago

Charlotte, long endurance cardio sessions use aerobic, slow muscle fibers which will not help increase lean muscle. As for fatloss, these chronic cardio workouts will increase cortisol too high and actually can be counterproductive which the majority of women seem to be unaware of. Resistance training is key to both muscle gain and fat loss. The rules dont really change. I’ve found through my many years of research, Kinesiology, and nutrition study that the same foods and same ways of training work for both goals(muscle increase/fat mass decrease).

Crystal
Crystal
8 years 4 months ago

Charlotte-
I don’t think that Mark’s plan only applies to men. There must be something else going on.

I was a die hard spinner, jogger, boxer, stepper for many years. I even did a 3 hour spin class once just for fun.

I didn’t stop by choice but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to hour long cardio sessions. I thought I’d gain weight, but I haven’t.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago
Charlotte – If you do some High intensity stuff, and then follow that with a lower paced “cardio” you can lose weight. Kind of like how DeVany will say he goes for a walk/plays Basketball after lifting. It has to do with depleting muscle/liver glycogen and getting the body to burn fat. If you are having issues burning fat it could be a low thyroid output (or more low T4-T3 conversion). Cardio or what I like to call an active lifestyle is needed for many people (especially getting that stubborn fat off). Oh yeah….I forgot the above article is also… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago

Charlotte – If you are looking for more just fat loss based tips, you can also check out here:
http://projectfit.org/iflifeblog/2008/02/25/fat-loss-101-master-the-basics/

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago

Charlotte: Sorry for the miscommunication. But when you said:

If goal #1 is to lose fat but you don’t recommend much cardio (and no traditional type cardio)

that triggered my response. Mark recommends going for walks with a little pace, and cycling without your tongue dragging, and I consider those traditional type cardio…just not at an intense level.

Caloi Rider
8 years 4 months ago
Charlotte – I’m sure someone will disagree with me, but high-intensity cardio does burn more calories. Unfortunately, the high amount of cortisol will also tend to break muscle down. The result is lower weight, of course, but some of the weight can be muscle as well as fat, which isn’t such a great thing. With regard to weightlifting, you have to weigh how much type I vs. type II muscle fiber you’re naturally endowed with. If you have more type II, then yes, muscle will tend to “bulk” on faster. If you have more type I, then you can weightlift… Read more »
charlotte
8 years 4 months ago
Crystal – Yay, a girl! I’m interested in hearing more about what your specific workout routine is. Also, do you adhere to the paleo diet? And although you didn’t gain weight did your bodyfat % stay the same? Did you lose/gain muscle? Mike OD – LOVE your articles on IF. I also enjoyed your fat-loss article. It’s really more scientific than personal for me. I’m already at a very low body fat % (for a woman) and at a low weight so I’m not interested in going lower – I’d just like to maintain. It just seems to me that… Read more »
Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago

I’m saying don’t do it if you are trying to follow Mark’s concept of the Primal Blueprint. My take on that is that it is better for you in the long term to avoid a lot of training at that level. But if your goals include kicking ass at the Turkey Trok 10K or some other form of competition, I don’t think a couple hours of Ultimate Frisbee is gonna hack it.

Daniel
Daniel
8 years 4 months ago
REALLY great article, Mike, thanks so much for the concise and informative overview. I spent months looking for something like this last year. I have a question about the “lose weight” part. I recently dropped 40 lbs to ~11% BF, and have since been trying to add muscle back on. I am seeing some small gains (trying to figure out how to optimize further), but it seems impossible (at least I’ve read this) to put on muscle without putting on at least some fat, too, since I’m on a caloric surplus. So now I’m more like 12%, and my question… Read more »
Crystal
Crystal
8 years 4 months ago
Girl here. Maybe I’m a bad example because I don’t count anything or follow #’s. I am 38 years old and have been active most of my life. I’ve been a gym rat for the last 15 years. For the first few years I followed the typical low-fat, low-calorie diet with lots of aerobic training. I loved it but I couldn’t lose weight either. I kept doing it because that is what I was taught to do. Then, a few years ago, I changed my diet. I eat quality protein/eggs/nuts, a lot of fat by most standards, fruits and vegetables-more… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago
Daniel – First off congrats on losing 40lbs, that is great. Ideally for men 8-10% is pretty good. You actually can gain muscle on a calorie deficit diet (just look at people who do the Zone and gain muscle and lose fat while eating less…or IF too). The best results for that are more higher fat intake, moderate amounts of protein (but making sure you are getting around 1g/lb of bw to put on muscle) and carbs but usually lower or cycled around workout pwo. Most weight gain is going to come from carb spillover where the muscles are not… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 4 months ago
Charlotte – 45 min total for more higher intensity stuff (lifting, running, Higher HR cardio based activities). After that cortisol starts taking over. If you are doing lower intensity like walking or hiking, you can probably do longer as it doesn’t spike your cortisol. Also Vit C in divided doses has shown to keep cortisol levels at bay, so take them pre-wo, pwo, before bed or just during very stressful times. Good fat burning program is to do something high intensity for 20-30min (weights/intervals) and then go lower intensity for another 30min to burn the fat that is now released… Read more »
charlotte
8 years 4 months ago

You guys are just a wealth of knowledge. I feel a little bad picking your brains all the time while not having a lot to give back but do know that I really appreciate the help & the advice! Thanks everyone for clarifying it for me. And Crystal, thanks for telling me more about your story. I’d never thought of the long-term effects of overtraining on my thyroid.

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[…] last week’s guest post on muscle building, reader Charlotte raised the issue of gender differences in exercise benefits. Are men and women […]

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WaigmaThearma
8 years 3 months ago
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[…] have tried on several occasions to increase my muscle mass through a focused program of more intense weight-training and more copius eating. But I’m what we […]

DaveC
7 years 6 months ago

Julianna,

Nope…there used to be but there were more spammers than legit users.

Deborah G
Deborah G
7 years 6 months ago

Regarding high-intensity cardio: Can’t simply increasing protein intake offset the potential for muscle-wasting? I’m about to start training for the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall.

Charlotte–I laid off running in ’04 as soon as I noticed amazing, rapid results from increasing protein/skipping simple carbs AND switching to 10-min twice-a-day weight workouts without rests. I can’t believe that’s all it took to finally shed the fat and see muscle definition.

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[…] Mike OD’s guest post on Mark’s Daily Apple: Building Muscle 101 […]

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[…] The IF Life: Building Muscle 101 […]

Wilma F.
Wilma F.
7 years 1 month ago

I’ve been eating large amounts of steak, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage…basically everything that is stated to reduce estrogen and increase testosterone. Is this really something that a menopausal woman should be doing? And if so, why?
Thanks kindly for any feedback…

trackback

[…] Effects of Cardio?Mark Sisson and Co. have got me thinking a lot about cortisol recently. Basically it is a hormone that your body makes when you are stressed out and it is bad […]

Jesse
Jesse
6 years 1 month ago

“Insulin – Using this properly can help to stimulate more muscle building by bringing in more amino acids into the muscles”

How can we use insulin properly for muscle building?

I’d imagine immediately have some carbs post workout with some protein. But I’ve read on another post that carbs aren’t nessesary post-workout…

trackback
5 years 6 months ago

[…] Yeah, protein “works” the kidneys, but that’s what they’re there for! Strength training works the muscles. You might even say it strains them. But is that a problem? Compromised kidneys […]

Muscle Relaxer
5 years 1 month ago

For me proper execution of a workout with a proper diet works a lot.

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[…] you want fat loss without muscle loss, it’s important that you eat between 4-6 smaller portions of food per […]

tiffanymary
tiffanymary
3 years 16 days ago

First, it’s not solely your waist and hips than storing fat. The muscles truly store and contractor fat will decision this the foremost immediate supply of fat for energy if necessary. This fat is keep within the muscle tissue itself within the kind of fat droplets. owing to its physical proximity to exercise the muscles, it will be a really convenient supply of fuel, particularly for well-trained athletes have higher levels of fat burning accelerator conjugated protein enzyme. they’re able to use this supply of fat before and a lot of effectively compared to unqualified persons.

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Allen @ Jiu Jitsu Mats
2 years 10 months ago

The main thing I liked about this post is that you have explained almost all the required thinks about muscle building. Thank you for making and sharing this post.

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[…] Building Muscle 101 talks about how everyone no matter what age or sex should be doing strength training. It also talks about diet. […]

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2 years 1 month ago

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David
1 year 6 months ago

Excellent article. You seem to have brought together and summarized all the points required for muscle growth. Though I don’t agree your point about it being best to eat small and frequently. If you calorie/macronutrient intake is the same it makes no difference.

I never had any success with twice per week training but I think I’ll try it again when I start my fat loss program, as you can’t train so often when in calorie deficit anyway.

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8 months 9 days ago

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Shavonne
8 months 21 hours ago

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2 months 8 days ago

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