Want to gain muscle, but getting nowhere? The good news is
- you are probably nowhere near your upper limit of lean mass yet, and
- there is plenty of evidence-based strategies that can get you closer to your goals, without having to partake in the old 'dirty bulk'.
- The Oxygen Nutrition Crew are mighty fine educators.
The three main things you need for mass gain are training, calories and protein, however, context is required here.
Firstly, there are a lot of variables that influence muscle growth including genetics, sex, training practices, training age, nutrition, height, bone structure and sleep.
As a rule of thumb, females can expect to gain around 500g per month and males 1kg per month, within the first year of resistance training, provided that training is well structured, nutrition is taken care of and that recovery practices are in place.
As previously stated, a proper training program is the first thing to organise if you are chasing the gains.
Many people lose time by trying to muddle through their training by themselves and fail to achieve a level of intensity and frequency that would trigger the body to adapt and grow.
If you are starting, invest in good training advice and workout with people who know how to train. It sounds odd but getting a feel for what proper training looks and feels like is imperative and will set you up to achieve maximum growth. The same 'don't guess, ask' principle applies to nutrition.
While, technically yes, you can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, to optimise your body’s ability to gain muscle, adequate calories are a must.
Again using a rule of thumb, if you have some extra body fat, you can probably get away with sticking to maintenance calories or a touch above and still gain, however for leaner individuals a calorie surplus needs to be planned out.
Yes, that’s right, planned out. The infamous dirty bulk (eating anything and everything in sight) might sound like fun, and for the first few weeks, be fun, however, healthy eating principals apply.
If your body is not receiving adequate-protein, spread evenly across the day, and the micronutrients from healthy foods, you could be compromising your results.
Adding in extra calories, to the tune of 500-1000 calories per day for an aggressive mass gain period is a good place to start to cover the additional energy required to build muscle while minimising excess body fat.
Aim for a weight gain rate of 0.5-1kg per week most weeks, adding in more calories if you are not achieving this rate, or taking some away if the rate of gain is much higher.
A little body fat gain is inevitable; however, this can be lost during a fat loss phase later down the track- the better managed your calorie intake is during a mass gain, the less pain you will have to face dropping fat later.
For the most part, the calories consumed should be coming from healthy sources of fats, carbs and protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables to ensure micronutrient intakes are being met.
However, it is possible to spend a portion of your daily energy budget on your favourite foods and still get results, so you don't need to be too strict, but also, this is not an invitation to eat like The Rock on cheat day- you're probably not quite at that level yet.
In summary, muscle mass gain can be as simple or difficult as you make it. For the most part, if you are training hard, eating well and resting in between sessions, you will be in a great position to build mass.
Remember, results take time, it can be tempting to take the elevator, but inevitably, the stairs are the best way up.