Building muscle is serious work. It’s not something that can be accomplished as a weekend project, knocked out halfheartedly between watching football and an afternoon nap. No, it takes brawn, sweat and the right tools to get the job done.
In the gym, the tools are easy to understand. You have barbells, dumbbells and machines. You lift until you’ve squeezed every last rep out of your body, you run or bike until your shirt is soaked through and you go home, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
But what about the other implements, the ones that aren’t so obvious? What we’re talking about is the food and supplements you need to make sure that effort in the weight room wasn’t all for nothing. This special two-part MuscleMag online exclusive, we’ll give you four essentials for your muscle-building toolbox today and four more later this week. Grab your hard hat and lunch pail — it’s time to get down to business.
THE TAPE MEASURE: CALORIES
If your goal is to expand your dimensions and be more physically imposing, you’ll need an excess of total calories to gain size. That means eating more than you’re burning, while also training hard and heavy…or else you’ll just gain body fat.
A little trial and error may be needed for you to determine how many calories you need to start seeing results, because caloric requirements are highly individualized. To figure out how many calories you need to eat each day for growth, use this shorthand formula: Multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 15 to 18. A 150-pound man, then, would need 2,250 to 2,700 calories each day.
If you hit that and you’re still not growing, you’ll then have to take a hard look at what you’re eating — you may either not be consistently eating as much as you think, or you may need to bump up your calories by 200 to 500 per day, trying that new total for a week or two at a time, until you do finally see results.
Looking to drop pounds? You need to do the opposite of a gainer: Expend more calories than you consume. The problem here is that dropping calories too drastically can lead to metabolic slowdown, where your body learns to function on less fuel. Try multiplying your bodyweight by 12 to find a ballpark calorie goal. If you seem to be dropping too much weight per week (more than 3 pounds), slightly bump up the amount you’re eating. Losing too much weight may sound like a good thing, but that usually means you’re not just losing fat, you’re dropping valuable muscle tissue as well.
THE HAMMER: PROTEIN
To craft an appreciable amount of muscle, you need to hammer away at that goal in the gym and in the kitchen. That’s where protein comes in. This vital nutrient is the building block your body needs to develop lean mass.
The protein you consume is broken down into individual amino acids during digestion and absorption. The body then uses these aminos for various jobs like manufacturing tissue and enzymes needed for metabolism and — most importantly for this discussion — creating muscle. That’s why you should have some form of protein with every single meal.
How much is enough? At least 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day — about 30 to 35 percent of your total daily caloric intake, split over five to seven meals. (In other words, you want to even out your protein and not have it all in a couple sittings, because your body can’t process it in huge doses.)
And it isn’t just the total amount — when you eat it can be just as important, such as within the 30-minute window after working out, when you want a protein paired with a carbohydrate, either in whole-food or supplement form. For optimal convenience, consider stashing a prepackaged shake or bar in your gym bag or a couple scoops of protein powder in a shaker cup you can mix with water.
Good sources of protein include skinless white-meat chicken and turkey, fish, lean cuts of beef (loin and round), protein shakes, soy products, low-fat dairy products, beans and egg whites.
THE SCREWDRIVER: CARBOHYDRATES
If you had to name an essential tool that everyone should have around the house, the screwdriver would probably top your list, as it’s needed for so many things. Carbohydrates serve the same all-purpose role, in a nutritional sense. Without them, your body wouldn’t be able to function at its peak inside or outside of the gym.
Because you’re weight training, you should aim to get 50 to 60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. If you also participate in endurance activities such as long-distance running, cycling or swimming for over 60 minutes at a time, know that these activities deplete liver and muscle glycogen, the body’s stored form of carbohydrate, and you’ll need more carbs to fuel your training and not cannibalize your muscle gains. If you don’t up your carbs, your body will steal protein from your muscles to fuel your efforts.
The type of carbs you consume is an important consideration. For the most part, carbs can be separated into two groups: simple vs. complex. Simple carbohydrates like fruit juice, candy, white bread and soda tend to be quickly absorbed by the body and spike blood sugar levels. Simple carbs are good postworkout to recharge depleted energy stores (to be eaten with the aforementioned protein), but otherwise should be minimized in your diet.
Meanwhile, complex carbs include oatmeal, whole-grain foods, vegetables, beans and lentils. Your body takes more time to digest these foods, making for a more stable blood-sugar level and setting the stage for optimal gains. The bulk of your daily carb intake should be mostly comprised of the complex variety.
THE LUBRICANT: WATER
Many guys walk around in a constant state of dehydration, which is a huge mistake when you’re trying to transform your physique. When dehydrated more than 1 percent to 2 percent of your body weight, your physical work capacity and exercise performance are significantly compromised. Lousy workouts equal lousy results.
While it’s true that most liquid beverages — even colas and coffee — can help you meet your hydration needs, consider this: Numerous scientific studies show that most beverages have weak satiety properties, as demonstrated by one study that found subjects who drank a 450-calorie sweetened fruit drink gained a significant amount of weight (and not the good kind), while subjects who ate the same amount of calories from food did not.
Of course, some calorie-laden beverages, most notably protein shakes, are okay. But to meet your hydration needs, reach often for the ultimate no calorie drink — water. You need it for your body’s metabolic and physiologic systems to function optimally. How can you tell whether you’re drinking enough? A simple clue is whether you have to use the restroom often and keep drinking to compensate for what you’ve lost. Most importantly, don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, as by then, it’s too late and you’re playing catch-up.