Much 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 Fat – Higher 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
for the great Guest Post!
Fenchurch Flickr Photo (CC)