The most intriguing question on almost every committed gym enthusiasts mind; How do I continuously gain lean muscle mass? If this is your dilemma, then prepare to learn the secrets which will help you on this journey.
The muscle principles
As a personal trainer, I believe that there should be a general consensus of principles agreed upon by the fitness industry, it should be laid out in simple terms to help direct the average gym enthusiast to their goal of lean muscle gain.
Below are the principles that I know work! They are not false claims, they are backed by the professionals.
Principle 1: Dieting
We have heard it all. Yet, how many of us have applied it? Diets are the foundation to any goal, but essentially for muscle gain how do we know what is what and how much of to get started? So let me explain the knowledge necessary for you to assemble a diet.
- Count Calories : Calories consumed should be assessed for target weight, if you have an ectomorph somatotype (skinny build) ideally you need to find your BMR (BMR equations can be found on http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/bmr-formula.php), then add the additional calories required to sustain your current activity level (activity factor multiplication can be found on http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/harris-benedict-equation/) to get your total. Remember we want you to put on lean mass, not excessive body fat!
- Macro nutrient ratio: Protein, carbohydrates, fats are the basic food essentials. Achieving the right balance in portion to total calories consumed in a day is an important start. (A great blend for building lean muscle is – 45 carbohydrates, 35 protein, 20 fats) (45:35:20)- This is an acknowledged standard lean mass ratio requirement.
- Limit HI-GI carbohydrates: Restrict your intake of High-GI carbohydrates throughout the day, an exception if taken 1 hour prior to your training session. Avoid white carbohydrates, as they tend to have a greater (GI) glycaemic index value that will in turn trigger greater amounts of insulin. This is the snow ball effect that shadows the weight gain illusion, say you put on weight whilst your diet contains a high amount of Hi-GI carbohydrates. You can bet that the weight gain is the by-product of higher insulin levels in which is a higher ratio of fat to lean muscle in total mass gained .
Principle 2: Know how to train your muscle fibres
Targeting different muscle fibres is one of the most important methods in training that is often overlooked. Knowing how to target different fibres is the difference between performing a set at the utmost potential, to neglecting this fact and performing what is known as ‘garbage sets’.
We are all aware that we have muscle fibres, they help us to contract our muscle, produce force and stabilise the skeletal frame. Though do you know that we have several types of muscle fibres? We have a range from type 1, to type 2a and type 2b. Each muscle fibre plays a role and is responsible at one point or another during exercise, muscle fibres even work in combination to assist in a particular movement that requires greater force.
What point does this have towards putting on muscle? Certain fibres are incredibly useful in the development of muscle size. Take a bodybuilder for example. A bodybuilder will focus equally on 2b and 2a muscle fibre types, why? Because these fibres can grow (hypertrophy) allowing the bodybuilder to achieve that “god-like “frame.
Now how do you train 2a and 2b fibre types to gain muscle?
Here are the key points to focus on >
- Per every set in your program try to abide by 20-70 seconds time under tension
(refer to the tempo article for more information).
- Try to stick between 20-25 sets per workout do not perform more then 30-36 as this will lead to over training. 
- Depending on the weight and time you perform a continuous exercise, you can primarily target different muscle fibre types. As a general note, the first initial 10-15 seconds of intensity utilises the anaerobic lactic system which mainly targets 2b recruitment only. From 15 to 90 seconds you will utilise the anaerobic lactic system which begins to share fibre recruitment between 2A and 2B, there for after that the aerobic oxidative system recruits slow twitch type 1 muscle fibres to keep up with the demand.
- Hypertrophy type training is the most highly recommended form of training to develop an aesthetic look, though as a recommendation performing several compound exercises a week that have a set/rep principle more desired for strength (ex: 4-8 rep-5-6 sets). This ensures you have thoroughly recruited an abundance of 2 b muscle fibres. (Note : that if you haven’t completed strength training before do not do this combination unless under the guidance of a personal trainer)
Principle 3: Keep your testosterone in check
Testosterone increases muscle mass strength and regulates other physiological processes such as protein synthesis, so to ensure you always have the highest of your own natural testosterone as possible. Follow these guidelines below.
- Keep body fat under control (between 10-15% for men 18-25% in women)
- Remember that low calorie diets cause lower testosterone
- Ensure that you retain 7-11% saturated fat in your total calorie consumption. The body uses cholesterol to make testosterone and obviously saturated fat is one way of getting it. So doesn’t mean you smother yourself in butter in the belief you will build muscle
- Too much protein and too little carbohydrates can lead to lower testosterone.
- Alcohol lowers testosterone. (Yes, no more parties)  
- Limit soy protein.
- Continued exercising in the form of resistance training helps in elevating testosterone 
Principle 4: Sleep and grow
I consider this principle to be the simplest of tasks in which can help you to gain lean muscle, but one which is seldom focused on. The essentials of adequate sleep help to reset your body’s hormonal, neurological and chemical functions, the average requirement for an adult is 7.5-9 hours of continuous sleep each night.
|Average Sleep Requirement
|Newborns (0-2 months)
||12 – 18
|Infants (3 months to 1 year)
||14 – 15
|Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
||12 – 14
|Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)
||11 – 13
|School-aged children (5 to 12 years)
||10 – 11
|Teens and preteens (12 to 18 years)
||8.5 – 10
||7.5 – 9
Table retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm
Though for the gym enthusiast this is not enough, see we cannot just merely sleep and we reap the complete benefits. You may achieve the required hours of sleep a night though what we need more than anything what is known as REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep along with deep sleep is the one phase of the sleep cycle that encourages the highest amount of natural growth hormone in a day.
Download your free sleep tracker pdf
Sleep Data Sheet
Principle 5: Supplement to build and maintain
Principle 5 I would say would be the largest commercial push that captures the minds of gym enthusiasts worldwide. How many times have you overlooked eating to supplementing a meal? Or thought if you consume more of a supplement the effects would be greater and you achieve your goal in a quicker time frame? (This just creates expensive urine 90 % of the time or adverse side effects)
Some Supplements are great, others are useless, and some are even so new that the FDA approves the substance even though just a handful of human testing has been completed. For example I will identify the 3 clinically proven supplements that work and will help you achieve lean muscle gain.
Creatine: is naturally produced in the body as Creatine Phosphate and its role is cellular production of energy, essentially used in the anaerobic lactic system. The average person contains an average of 120 milligrams of Creatine Phosphate .
- Improves the ability for your cells to produce energy (ATP)
- Increases protein synthesis and reduces protein break down
- In resting and high doses (20 grams) Creatine has been shown to enhance growth hormone.
Recent Findings: Saremi et al. 2003 reported a change in myogenic transcription factors when Creatine supplementation and resistance training are combined in young healthy males. It was found that serum levels of myostatin- a muscle growth inhibitor, were decreased in the Creatine group.
Creatine Dosage: Creatine monohydrate is the most researched and highly absorbable Creatine (95% absorption rate). Best absorbed upon waking and post workout.
- For healthy people 3 grams/day 1 dose
- Bodybuilders 5/20 grams a day 2-4 doses
5 day loading cycles required and the supplement should be cycled of after 3-4 weeks.
Protein Powder (Whey Isolate): In comparison to other protein sources, whey proteins are shown in research to be most effective at promoting the mechanisms that underline efficient recovery and better results from exercise training. Whey protein provides all the correct amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in approximate proportion to their ratios in skeletal muscle.
Whey Protein Benefits:
- Highest quality source of protein that stimulates a higher rate of protein synthesis and net protein gain into tissue.
- Directly enhances different functions within the immune system.
- Richest known source of BCAA
- Promotes higher glycogen stores within the liver.
- Reduce markers of muscle damage and speed recovery after exercise.
- Provide better strength gains during resistance training.
- Provide a source of calcium to help keep bones strong.
Whey Protein Research findings: Research suggests that the consumption of whey protein before exercise will promote the maintenance of lean tissue while increasing the utilization of body fat for fuel. To promote the preservation of lean mass and a reduction in fat mass, a dose of whey protein (20-50 grams) should be consumed within the hour before exercise.
Research also shows that the presence of carbohydrates and fats enhances whey proteins anabolic effect on muscle tissue. The consumption of whey protein in mixed macronutrient meals is shown to provide a higher net protein gain in both young and older adults compared to other high quality proteins such as Casein.
Whey Protein Dosage: Bodybuilders and others that desire optimum gains in lean muscle mass should aim to consume a dose of 1.5g/kg/day of whey protein during a resistance training program. This dose should be divided into 4 or 5 smaller servings and consumed in mixed macronutrient meals throughout the day.
Studies show that the regular use of antioxidant supplements, just like L Carnitine, can reduce muscle damage after exercise
The Average requirement per day for zinc supplements is 12 milligrams for women and 15 milligrams for men
Case Study: Supplementation with 600 milligrams of Alpha-Tocopherol (vitamin E), 1000 milligrams of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and 32 milligrams of beta-carotene was enough to increase the ratio of testosterone to cortisol by almost 30% in a group of basketball players
For more information on supplementation, which is peer reviewed and current. I would advise reading the journal articles from the British Journal of Sports Medicine known as (A-Z of nutritional supplements: dietary supplements, sports nutrition foods and ergogenic aids for heath and performance). This study has been conducted over several years which is soon to be administered to the public and even documented into a book.
In conclusion, the 5 principles of muscle building is a set of guidelines for those seeking to confirm clearer fitness topics to achieve lean muscle gain. Though what this article does not have is the factors associated with muscle atrophy (loss), so even if you have the principles correct the external factors such as lifestyle/stress/priorities/partying and binge drinking etc all impact on you achieving the results you want.
The unspoken truth of “muscle mass potential”
So we have established the principle’s behind building muscle, now to let you in on the final key ingredient that underpins all others. Let me discuss the natural muscle “Cap” in males. In my time spent searching for a solution to muscle development I came across a hard to neglect fact that lead me to several articles, and forums which directed me to a man by the name of Casey Butt Ph.D. (E-book- Your Muscular Potential: How to Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements by Casey Butt, Ph.D) . Professor Butt devoted 6 years of research to help establish the links between body composition and total natural muscle potential. This to me was amazing and it made sense, how often have you seen your own friends plateau out after several years of training . Or known of a veteran natural bodybuilder reaching their potential regardless of what variety of training, intensity, frequency and volume they created to develop further muscle gains .
Though I would like to note Professor Butt does not establish a definite personal limit to your own muscle mass, but realistically establishes the upper limit.
The formulas mentioned below have been taken from the E- book (Your Muscular Potential: How to Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements by Casey Butt, Ph.D) . As a bodybuilder and admirer of Casey Butt Ph.d I would like to advise that the formulas below is intended to provide recognition for Casey Butt Ph.d work and devotion and not intended to be personally assessed. I do advise the purchase of this 58 page E-book , as it has helped me establish my own personal bench marks to aim towards .
H = Height in inches
A = Ankle circumference at the smallest point
W = Wrist circumference measured on the hand side of the styloid process.
(The styloid process is the bony lump on the outside of your wrist.)
LBM= Lean body mass includes muscle, bone everything aside from body fat .
%Bf = The body fat percentage (you can retrieve this from a dexa scan, hydro density test , bio impedance , skin fold test and the lesser accurate methods)
To convert maximum lean body mass to maximum bodyweight at any given body fat, use these equations. ( weight should be in pounds when calculating )
Formula is most accurate with ectomorphic males
For the bodybuilding enthusiast utilise the formula above with additional equation below.
To convert it into maximum body weight
Body weight = (Lean body mass / (100 – %body fat) ) x 100
Considerations for bodybuilders who in the off-season eat more calories and drink more, they can hold up to 4% of their total weight in water and food in the digestive tract
Bodyweight x 1.04 = maximum bulk body weight
You can purchase the book on
 Macrobolic Nutrition “discover how to unleash the Anabolic effects of food” by Gerard Dente with Kevin J. Hopkins , published by Basic Health publications Inc , 28812 Top of the world drive , Laguna beach ,CA 92651,Copyright © 2004 Gerard Dente. (Chapter 1: understanding macrobolic nutrition)
 The poliquin principles ,successful methods for strength and mass development by Charles Poliquin , published by Dayton Writers group ,1541 third st , Napa , CA ,94559 © 1997Dayton Writers and Charles poliquin . PG14
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