Some people, no matter what they do, struggle to build muscle.
It must be insanely frustrating to hit the gym 5 days a week, week in week out, and not see any results.
And, as a result, they become disheartened and simply give up — wasting hundreds, if not, thousands, of dollars to not see any results then give up.
But, not to worry, there are some mistakes you could be making which are hindering your progress.
I’ve called this the biggest mistake in the gym in the past — it is why many people can’t build muscle.
The fundamental training principle to build muscle is progressive overload — to constantly and consistently add weight on the bar or increase reps.
The famous Dr. Greg Doucette refers to this principle to build muscle as “training harder than last time.”
Unfortunately, far too many lifters leave too much effort in the tank out of fears stemming from a variety of reasons. Alternatively, others avoid putting more weight on the bar out of fears of injury — mostly stemming from a lack of confidence in one’s form.
But if you have confidence in your form, putting more weight on the bar should be welcomed and not feared.
Many novice lifters also forgo heavy compound movements that elicit an anabolic response — to build muscle — as they prefer to focus on “beach” muscles or have been fed faulty information.
This is easy to rectify, but you have to put in the effort and train harder than last time if you want to see increased growth.
This is another reason why you can’t build muscle as optimally as you’d like.
In order to build muscle, you need a slight caloric surplus (no more than 100-200 calories) and one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Sadly, some new lifters struggle to eat enough and stifle their progress.
The following is taken from: https://herculeanstrength.com/how-much-you-have-to-eat-to-get-big/
While there is some truth to the truism “you need to eat big to be big,” you don’t want to put on poor quality mass in the form of fat and bloat.
And, apart from being apart to grow in a calorie deficit, there is no upside to overeating. Think about it, do you want to bulk for 6 months, put on 5lb of muscle and 15lb of fat, only to have your abs fade and lose half of that muscle mass in dieting back down to reveal your hard-earned gains?
No, of course not. It’s a lot more sensible to eat in a marginal caloric surplus — no more than 100-200 calories above your base metabolic rate — than overeat, slonking down thicc mass gainer shakes and shoveling pizza into your pie hole.
Of course, other factors why you can’t build muscle as effectively as you’d like range from your free testosterone levels, age, thyroid activity, stress, etc., can all determine whether you pack on size or not.
As I mentioned in the above post:
But assuming that everything is functioning within the normal range, you need around 15 calories per pound of bodyweight a day for maintenance. And muscle is metabolically expensive; a pound of muscle will increase your base metabolic rate by 20-30 calories per day.
Out of those 15 calories a day, 4 calories — just under a third — needs to be earmarked for protein. For optimal growth, you would need a gram of protein per pound of LEAN body mass. However, for most, this would be too difficult to calculate and we are trying to keep the math simple.
Then, out of the remaining 9 calories a day, it’s really up to you as to how choose to fill your macronutrients.
Too many carbohydrates may leave you sluggish and more insulin resistant; and you need dietary fats from responsible food sources such as grass-fed beef, salmon, nuts, avocados, olive oil, butter, and hard cheese for healthy hormonal balances and joint health.
However, undereating can be remedied by eating calorie-dense foods so that you enter a small calorie surplus.
Small incremental steps including calorie-dense, less-than-filling foods can help you gain weight and build muscle.
This does NOT mean fast food, chocolate, pizza, chips, sodas or other foodstuffs that will wreck your quality of life. It doesn’t mean throwing away $100s on sickly “weight gainers.”
You will need to download a calorie-tracker such as My Fitness Pal on your phone to ensure that you’re eating enough — and not too much, either!
And it can include small changes to your diet such as switching chicken or turkey breast for dark meat. It can even include throwing in a couple of extra portions of rib-eye steak a week instead of chicken.
Cook with butter or olive oil to stealthily increase your calories — it can take on the form of reversing easy dieting principles for weight loss by adding instead of removing calorie-dense foods.
Snacking on nuts and seeds — which are both calorie-dense — between meals can help you reach your calorie goals. Peanut butter is a good unobtrusive addition to your diet if you have a sweet tooth. A lot of female lifters include peanut butter as a staple to their diet model.
It really is as simple as that if you don’t have much of an appetite.
Failing that, we have a simple protein shake recipe that I add/subtract from my diet according to my goals.
My (Diet) Bulking Shake:
When I used to powerlift, this shake was my breakfast of choice and its remarkably easy to make.
-1 cup of oats
-1 large banana
-1 or 2 scoops of protein powder
-handful of berries
-tablespoon of flax seeds
-1/2 liter of cold water (you can have cow’s milk or plant-based milk instead if you need more calories)
The way I made it, using Carnivor protein (30g protein, 120 calories per scoop), would roughly total 500-600 calories.
-tablespoon of peanut butter
-tablespoon of coconut oil
Of course, adding whole milk, peanut butter, coconut oil, and other ingredients could fluff the shake up by another 500-600 calories.
Stress, Not Resting Enough, and Alcohol
Stress — or more precisely, cortisol — is one of the biggest gains killer — and fat loss preventer — out there for those on the noble quest to build muscle.
But why must we produce such a hostile hormone?
Well, cortisol has its use in helping to regulate blood sugar, metabolism, and energy conversion.
Think of a man as a more primitive animal — what would cause stress? Famine, war, climate change — all events that would lower the availability of food or resources.
Now, pencil-pushing workloads, a rocky divorce, anxiety, and more modern phenomena cause stress, but our bodies haven’t metabolically adapted to modernity — see our current obesity crises.
Muscle is metabolically active and expensive; fat, is metabolically inexpensive and a greater source of reserve energy. Therefore, the body would rather shed muscle to lower its base metabolic rate rather than lose fat that can keep the body trundling on for longer.
The body doesn’t want to build muscle when it is stressed.
Stress and poor sleep are also related. Ideally, the body needs anywhere between 7-9 hours sleep a night to recover from a hard weight’s session. Poor sleep not only hinders the body’s to repair tissue damaged by training, but it can also lead to elevated cortisol levels.
One study found that submaximal lifting — hypertrophic rep ranges — was negatively affected by sleep deprivation. This means that your ability to train to stimulate muscle growth will decrease.
Alcohol, in moderation, can actually reduce stress levels and increase both insulin sensitivity and HDL (good) cholesterol.
However, alcohol in excess interferes with sleep quality and can actively lower muscle protein synthesis after resistance training — meaning that you will struggle to build muscle
Drinking to excess can also lower natural testosterone production by inducing increase aromatization — the process where the body converts testosterone to estrogen. Hoppy beer, in particular, contains phytoestrogens which can lead to a further lowering of one’s T levels.
And being somebody who used to train hungover, the quality of your workouts also suffer immeasurably following a night on the ale.
If building muscle is something you’d like to do, try to keep binge drinking to a minimum.
I can’t help you with this one.
Some people were dealt good genetic hands and go onto win Mr. Olympia; others train their entire life and gain 10lb of muscle.
It’s the luck of the draw, really — some were destined to never build muscle.
Judging by somatotypes, an ectomorph would be considered as having bad genetics for building muscle. Naturally skinny, fast metabolism, and struggles to put on any weight. If this is you, don’t be disheartened as you can still try new things to pack on some size.
One of the ways to tell whether or not you have bad genetics for building muscle would be to glance at smaller muscles that are harder to directly stimulate or have a limited range of motion such as the neck, forearms, and calves. If these all remain relatively underdeveloped after a period of weight training, well, I have bad news for you.
Don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for personalized coaching and a client questionnaire if you’d like DEDICATED tailor-made personal training on strength training, building muscle, losing fat, developing athleticism, and more — all to your liking, lifestyle, habits, and taste!