Every guy who goes to the gym wants two things – getting ripped and gaining mass.
Now, there’s one thing you need to understand before reading on – there’s no clear cut way to gain mass, but there are some principles that hold true regardless of your weight, body type, and other variables.
These principles have to do with two things: your diet and your workout.
That’s what we’re going to focus on.
The thing is, your daily workout and the way you eat has everything to do with how much muscle mass you’re going to gain, or if you’re going to gain any at all. This means that you can go to the gym every day and still not gain any visible muscle, if you don’t do it right.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can simply skip gym and expect to gain mass – though it could be that you might afford a few days off and still gain more than you’d do by simply wasting time in the gym everyday.
The real difference, ultimately, is between wasting time and making the most of it.
Table of Contents
- The Diet
- The Foundation: Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, Carbohydrates
- How much should I eat?
- When should I eat?
- Why Carbs Matter
- Workout Basics
- Focus on Compound Exercises
- The Most Effective Exercises
- Stick to Free Weight
- Use Barbells
- Three Times a Week
There are plenty of things that could be said about a muscle building diet – and while you’re probably fed up with things like “carbs are key” or “protein is essential”, you should probably know that there is some truth to those assertions.
The only thing is, it’s not the whole truth.
In fact, eating to gain muscle mass has everything to do with eating healthy first, and then giving your body the necessary materials to actually build muscle.
Of course, you’re never going to build muscle mass by eating along, or by taking steroid supplements without working out. If you couple the two carefully, though, you’re going to see some impressive results.
The first thing you need to know about your muscle building diet is this: it has to be healthy.
That’s right. Eating two pounds of meat per day, slurping up sugary drinks, gorging on protein bars – all these will ultimately have negative effects on your body.
And if they’re going to hurt you, you won’t be able to work out as you should, and chances are you won’t be able to eat right, either.
Look, we know it’s difficult to stick to healthy food at all times, especially with the aggressive protein ads that hang around most gyms. Peer pressure won’t help, either – you’re always hearing about (or talking to) guys who love their steroid supplements, protein bars, order double servings of beef, swallow eggs with their yogurt and all other types of crazy diet stunts.
And it probably works for them, too. That’s not the point here. They may be eating as many as 4,000 calories per day and 500 grams of protein, and they will get buff pretty fast. Everybody knows of that guy that eats like a bull (and looks like one, too).
The thing is, all of the above won’t matter a bit when their liver or their heart fails. You really can’t take too many chances with your health. It’s much better to stick with whole, healthy foods, than having to stick with boiled potatoes because your liver won’t be able to handle anything else.
So what you’ll want to be eating are basically plants and animals – that’s what will ultimately prove valuable to your body building routine.
That’s right. You’ll be able to gain muscle without having too many protein bars, without taking steroids. All you have to do is be determined and follow the principles below.
The Foundation: Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, Carbohydrates
At the basis of any healthy diet you should have a consistent amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and carbohydrates.
Foods that provide these essentials are basically plants.
What plants, exactly?
Try to include in your weekly diet tubes and roots of all kinds (stuff like potatoes and squashes), grains like rice, oats, wheat, vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and fruits – apples, pears, oranges and everything else you can get your hands on.
Why should I eat them?
These are really important because they’ll not only give you the vitamins you need, they’ll also provide a solid source of fibers, which will later help you digest the other foods you’ll be including in your diet.
The Top: Protein and Fats
Once you’ve taken great care to include the basic ingredients in your diet – fruits, vegetable, grains and roots – you need to give your body other ingredients that it needs.
This means that you shouldn’t be eating plants alone – though vegetarianism may be an option for bodybuilders, too.
So what should I be eating?
What you’ll want to be eating aside from the above-mentioned plants are meats, eggs, and dairy products. These will provide the upper part of your diet – the stuff that will help you actually build muscle.
Protein and where to find it
One of the most important things you’ll need if you want to build muscle is protein. You can find plenty of eat in most meat, and in beans and mushrooms, too. We’ll talk about it more later on. For now, remember this principle: you’ll need one gram per pound of body weight. More than that, and it’ll do you more harm than good.
Fats are important, too
You’ll also want to include healthy fats in your diet. They’re vital for your general wellbeing, and they’ll help you avoid diabetes.
Meats are great
Finally, you can’t get all the vitamins and minerals from plants alone. However, most meats will provide those essentials. We’re talking about B vitamins, copper, iron, and zinc.
That’s pretty much everything you need to include in your diet to perform at your optimum capacity, increase your strength, and, ultimately, gain muscle mass.
Take some liberty, too
Notice how these dietary principles aren’t too restrictive, either. If you love chicken, then by all means have chicken. If you’re a fish guy, have as much tuna as you want. The essential part is getting all the ingredients in, not exactly how you’re getting them.
As long as you’re eating real, sustainable food, of course.
How Much Should I Eat?
I know many diets go into excessive details on how much of this or that food you should include in your diet. I’m not going to go into all that here, because, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s not really about how much of each food you should eat, it’s how many essential nutrients you actually need.
You’ll need about 16 calories per pound of body weight if you want to build mass, 14 calories if you want to maintain it, and 12 if you want to lose weight. Obviously, this is an estimate, but it’s a pretty good one to use as a rule of thumb. Any more than that and you’re going to get fat, rather than bulk.
As for carbohydrates, you should go for anywhere between 1.5 to 3 grams per pound of bodyweight. Aim for more carbs (3 grams per pound) if you’re thinner and trying to gain muscle fast. If you’re fatter, or trying to lose weight, you should go for less carbs.
Proteins are essential to how you’re going to build muscle. For bodybuilding purposes, you should go for about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
That’s right. A giant protein intake does not automatically lead to more muscle.
The truth is you won’t get mass by gorging up on high-protein products alone. All you’ll do is get fatter and disturb the natural processes in your body. Your liver, for instance, won’t appreciate having to deal with tons of protein and, in the long run, you’ll probably suffer more than gain.
Protein bars aren’t necessarily bad, though, and you can always supplement your protein intake by using them. All you need to do is take them in moderation. For instance, the Optimum Nutrition Opti-Bar Protein Bar is a great way to get some proteins on the go.
When Should I Eat?
There’s another common myth that you’ve probably heard over and over again: you should eat six times a day to bulk up fast.
Like all myths, that’s not necessarily true, but there might be some truth to what’s behind it. It probably originates from the fact that bodybuilders need to eat more in order to gain muscle, and so they’ll need to eat more often, too.
Well, if you can manage to eat six times a day, that’s fine – but doing so alone won’t help you grow muscle.
What ultimately counts is how much you eat, rather than how often – and by how much we’re talking calories, carbohydrates and protein.
Again – you can get 200 grams of protein in one serving, or you can get it in 6; it doesn’t really matter that much.
What’s worse, eating too often might lead to digestion problems.
You should probably go for the traditional three meals a day. This way, you’ll be able to space out how much you eat in one serving. A plentiful breakfast, a solid lunch, and a decent dinner should be fine. Any other combinations will do, really, but you don’t really want to eat too much right before you go to sleep.
Carbohydrates And Why They Matter
Carbohydrates are essential to your overall fitness – and though you’ve heard about cutting them off if you’re going to lose fat and gain muscle, that’s probably not true.
When you first start to cut on carbs, you are actually going to lose fat and look thinner. But you’ll be much more easily exhausted, your muscles will look bad, and you won’t be able to complete your workouts effectively.
What you need to do is balance your carbs with your proteins and fat, and keep a regular carb intake throughout the day.
The carb routine
Always keep track of how many carbs you’re taking in – again, a good rule of thumb is anywhere between 1,5 to 3 grams per bodyweight – and you should be fine.
How you space out the carbs during the day is also important.
There are two times in your day when you should be eating carbs if you want to build muscle mass: sometimes around your workout and at dinner.
About an hour before your workout, you should get anywhere 25 to 50 grams of carbs. It could be from anything – bread, potatoes, oatmeal, rice – the thing is you need some carbs to fuel your training. There’s nothing like a good dose of carbohydrates to feel good and train well – you should never skip this important pre-workout step.
If you want to get a quick carb boost, you can always try the Gatorade Prime Fuel Bar. It’s a quick, convenient way to get all the carbs you need before an early morning workout.
You should also have some carbs at dinner. This is important because not only will it allow you to eat most carb-filled social meals that people tend to love (stuff like pizza or mashed potatoes, for instance), but it’ll also help you sleep better. This way, you’ll be able to lose weight faster, workout better, and increase your testosterone level.
Fruit Is Good
Another lie that you’ve probably heard once or twice is the one about fruit being full of sugar – and we all know sugar is not exactly great for you.
Now, a banana or an apple won’t get you fat – not in a million years, especially if you work out for muscle mass. This means there’s no reason not to enjoy the tremendous benefits of eating fruit – vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
You’ll also notice you feel great after eating an apple. That’s because the sugar in fruits is actually good for your brain– much better than chocolate, for instance.
Plus, after all the meals and carbs, having a fruit once in a while will do wonders for a diverse diet. And a diverse diet is essential if you want to be healthy, not just buff.
You should have anywhere from three to five servings per day, but any amount will do, really, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Too Much Fat Is Not Good
Everybody knows that saturated fat is not bad for you. Obviously, you should include it in your diet – much like you would include any other nutrient.
However, getting too much of it won’t help you in any way – other than just making you fat, obviously.
The myth that you need lots of fat is another consequence of the low carb, high fat diets that have, at some point, been quite popular. Again, this is false.
In fact, what you need to understand is that carbs are more important to you than fat – though, by all means, do include healthy fat in your diet.
How much fat, really?
A good estimate would be 0.4 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight. More than that, and you’re just fooling yourself – you won’t get better results.
As we’ve already mentioned, carbohydrates are more important for bodybuilders because they fuel high-intensity workouts like weight lifting. Fats, on the other hand, are more important for general health and hormone levels, rather than fueling physical activities. They’re good for low-intensity stuff like walking, but they won’t give you the boost you need to complete your intense workouts.
So please don’t butter everything up and don’t include ham in each of your sandwiches. Stick to what makes sense – and too much of a good thing never does.
Keep An Eye On How You Feel
Building muscle mass is all about working out successfully – and if you don’t feel good, you won’t be able to do so.
This means that, rather than blindly sticking to whatever food you’ve heard are good for you, try to always pay attention to how every item of food you’ve just consumed makes you feel.
For instance, fruits might give you an instant feeling of well-being. This happens to a lot of people, really – a sign that you should include them in your diet. A heavy, rich meal – like tortilla, for instance – might make you feel sick hours after you ate them.
I’m not saying you should go overboard on fruits and avoid tortilla – I’m saying you should pay attention to how eating different stuff makes you feel.
It’s all about knowing what’s good for you, so that you’ll be able to train appropriately.
Nobody likes to go to the gym with a bad headache, or a nasty case of stomach burns. You may be perfectly happy with a hot pepperoni pizza, and have a terribly runny nose after eating yogurt. Adjust your diet accordingly, rather than following some online script.
The bottom line is this: there’s no better judge of what you should eat than your body. And if it tells you something’s wrong after eating fish, you should probably stop eating fish.
What’s feeling all about?
And the things you should be looking out for are common-sense, really. Pay attention to how energized you feel after eating something – some people, for instance, have lots more energy after they’ve eaten salad then they do after eating burgers, while for other the complete opposite is true. That’s just how things go.
You should also pay attention to how your stomach feels. Mayonnaise, for instance, makes some people sick after an hour or two. Others can’t stand fried stuff. Again, you need to take these things into consideration.
Your head should also tell you something about which food you should eat. Coffee, for instance, might give you a headache. So can beer. Learn to adjust your diet so that you’ll maximize the times you don’t get headaches, while minimizing the times you do. Makes sense, right?
Don’t Be Afraid Of Fast-Food
If you’ve done everything right – kept good track of your carbohydrates, got just enough protein, kept on top of your fats – you might occasionally enjoy some tasty foods that everybody tells you you shouldn’t.
Stuff like hamburgers and pizza, for instance.
All you need to do is make sure you don’t exceed your carbs, protein and fats. As long as you’re within your daily limits, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a hot dog or a beer.
The nice thing is you could theoretically do it everyday, as long as you stick to this important rule: most of what you eat should not be junk food, but organic, healthy food.
This means you can have a hot-dog a day, as long as that’s everything you’re going to allow in terms of junk food. Or you can have an ice-cream and don’t drink beer, or any other combination you can think of.
The thing is, you can occasionally let your hair down and have some junk food – you simply shouldn’t make a habit of it.
Again, it’s all related to how you feel and how you look. Chances are, if you’re working out and eating right, you won’t feel great if you’re having hamburgers every day. You won’t look great either.
But when the craving strikes – provided it doesn’t strike daily – you can still enjoy some junk food without worrying too much.
Muscle is Strength
There’s one crucial principle that you need to understand – and if you use it as the basis for your workout, you’ll see yourself gaining mass sooner rather than later.
The principle is the following: mass comes with strength, and vice versa.
That’s right. You’re not going to gain any mass unless you’re getting stronger, and you’re not going to get any stronger unless you’re going to build muscle mass.
There’s one basic measurement of strength, though it’s obviously an oversimplification: how much can you lift? If you can lift more than you could last week, you’re stronger.
I know it sounds too simple to be true. But the main principle still holds: the only way to grow muscle is if you grow stronger.
And the only way to grow stronger is to lift more.
It really is as simple as that – but simple never equals easy.
Our workout tips will be focused on getting you to lift more, train more effectively, and stop you from wasting precious time in the gym.
Don’t train too long
You might think that the more time you’re going to spend in the gym, the more you’re going to build muscle. This is simply not true – marathon sessions of friendly gym chat and the occasional push-up won’t build anything other than a complete slacker reputation.
What you really need to focus on is having an intense session, rather than a long one.
And intense means lifting more than you did the previous session. That’s what you should focus on.
Body-part Splits Won’t Work
Not unless you’ve already spent years building mass.
The thing is, you see plenty of amateur gym goes doing body-part split routines, and you’re probably thinking it works great for them.
It probably doesn’t. They’re going to get some limited short-term benefits – like looking a bit better right after they’ve finished training – but they won’t get buffer in the long run.
In fact, unless they’ve got great genes or they’re taking steroids, most people won’t build mass with body-part routines alone.
Those body-builders who are successfully using body-part routines are precisely those who have already gotten stronger by focusing on lifting more. That’s the proper way of doing body-part splits: you’ll use them to sculpt your body after you’ve gained mass.
That’s right – body-part splits are for sculpting muscle, not building it.
You need strength training to build muscle. Don’t do body-part splits for that – you’re doing it wrong.
Add Weight To Get Stronger
This is the most important thing you’ll need to do in order to see real progress in your workout: increase the weight you’re lifting, so that you’ll gain stronger.
Muscle mass will then come naturally.
You don’t need to do hundreds of reps with small weights – tens of reps with the right weight is much better. Even as much as a few reps with a heavy weight is better – and heavy only means heavier than previously.
It could be as little as five pounds – it’s still better than sticking to the same weight and seeing no results whatsoever.
You don’t need to work out until you feel like you’re about to pass out. Failure training is what it says it is – a failure. All it’ll ever do is burn out your muscle, make you feel like hell, and discourage you from working out. It might even lead to injury.
You don’t want to kill yourself – you want to build mass.
If you want that, you’ll need to lift more weight. Not do more reps, not work out more – just lift more weight.
That’s all there is to it.
Focus On Compound Exercises
Isolation exercises won’t work as well as compound exercises for muscle growth.
Make no mistake – training your muscles in isolation has its benefits, especially if you’re focusing on sculpting them. For growth purposes, however, doing compound exercises is much better.
There are many advantages to doing compound over isolation exercises, and the main ones add up to this: you’ll look better in a shorter time.
The Most Effective Exercises
With a good routine of just a few exercises, – something like barbell rows, bench press, deadlifts and squats – you’ll be working out most of your body in a fraction of what it would take to go over each of the separate muscles in isolation.
Do you want stronger biceps? Try barbell rows instead of bicep rolls. Go for overhead press if you want bigger shoulders. Try squats if you want bigger legs.
You need to train more than just one single muscle. This way, you’ll grow muscle much more evenly all over your body, because you won’t be overlooking anything.
Training more muscle simultaneously means you’ll avoid awkward body types like chicken legs, weak shoulders, or huge bellies.
If you want to find out more about compound exercises and why they’re essential, you might want to read the The Ultimate Guide to Deadlifting. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about why compound exercises – especially deadlifting – are essential to developing muscle mass.
Stick To Free Weight
You might be tempted to lift inside those beautiful, fancy machines. They feel great, really – all you do is repeat rep after rep, and everything goes smoothly.
It feels right. It doesn’t mean its natural, and it doesn’t mean it’s going to help you build muscle.
One thing weight lifting machines do is balance the weight. They don’t allow your balancing muscles to grow, because they don’t have to – everything is pre-set for you.
That’s actually cutting back on your workout. You need those balancing muscles to grow, in order to gain straight. And you’re only going to grow them if you train with free weights.
Free weights are safer than machines, too. Rather than forcing your muscles to do the same fixed repetition over and over again, they allow you more freedom to balance and stabilize the weights naturally, in tune with the complex angles and forces that pull at your muscle with each rep. This means more of your muscles will work harder, and your joints will be that much safer.
If you’re afraid you’re going to be dropping weights on your feet or face, simply start with smaller weights, and increase them when you feel more confident. Or work inside a Power Rack – you can get a small one for your home gym, too – where the safety pins will keep you safe if you happen to drop the weight.
There’s no reason to use dumbbells if you’re serious about building muscle mass. They’re smaller, less flexible, and they’re really not fit for your purposes.
Remember: you want to lift more and to become stronger. Sticking to the same pair of barbells won’t help you get there.
One thing dumbbells won’t help you with, for instance, is workouts. You’re really going to waste energy getting them on your shoulders and balancing them there – and all that before you’ve even done your first squat.
Dumbbells are dumb, really. They’re static.
They are helpful, true – simply not for building mass. They’ll work your stabilizing muscles more, and they’ll work great with assisting your main lifts.
But for bulding muscle mass, there’s nothing like solid barbells.
You’ll be able to progressively increase the weight of your lifts, you’ll be able to keep a barbell over your shoulders without straining too much, and you’ll be able to do a whole array of exercises much more effectively than you would using dumbbells.
You can find a decent barbell set on Amazon for about $100. It’s a great addition to your home gym, which means you can work out more conveniently, any time you want.
Train More Often
If you’re going to give up on isolation exercise, you’ll notice you’ll be able to train the same body parts more often.
This is in tune with the whole compound exercises we’ve talked about earlier.
You don’t need to train a muscle until it’s sore – what you want is train it simultaneously with other muscles, so it doesn’t get sore.
You want to maximize the benefits. You want to increase the weight.
You don’t need isolation training. You want to train your muscles multiple times a week, so that they’ll grow naturally.
Look: you need to do squats and benches at least twice a week.
And you need to do them right. This means, not training them to failure, and increasing weight week after week.
Take Days Off
You could grow muscle with as little as three days per week in the gym.
You need to allow your muscles to rest if you want them to grow bigger and stronger.
There are plenty of reasons why taking days off will do wonders for you. For one thing, you’ll feel sore if you work out hard every day – and by hard we don’t mean failure-hard, we just mean decently. Lifting weights, doing compound exercises – you don’t want to do that on a daily basis, because your muscles and your joints will eventually give up on you.
You’re not a professional athlete. If you were, you could probably work out a smart plan to train daily without hurting your body – and your body would eventually get used to that, too.
But you’re not, so don’t overtrain. You’ve probably got a family, a job, or all sorts of other obligations, which means no time to invest in coming up with the best workout plan that will allow you to train daily without injuring yourself.
Three Times a Week
Stick to three times a week. Allow your body to recover.
It’ll be much easier and much more motivating, too. If you manage to get a workout on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you’ll have the weekend off, and you’ll feel much better enjoying a beer with your buddies on Saturdays, knowing you’ve earned that right.
Your muscles won’t feel like hell, either. That’s because you won’t have overtrained them.
Sometimes, less is more. Take rest days. Your muscles will grow, and you’ll feel better.
Keep On Working
There’s one common mistake that many novice bodybuilders do – and this is mostly the fault of all that hype bodybuilding marketing that’s not helping anybody but industry giants.
It’s the blatant lie that you can gain 30 pounds in 30 days – or any other hilarious amount of muscle in an equally hilarious time frame.
This is just not going to happen.
What you need to understand is that muscle doesn’t grow like that. You could be training like an animal, and still not gain anywhere close to ten pounds per month.
You don’t have to.
Gaining as much as two pounds per month is still great news – and it’ll look better than you think, too.
Look – you need to be perfectly happy with gaining two pounds per month, because it’s not bad by any measure. It’s actually a solid amount – and, if you’re focusing on gaining strength, your body will look great, too.
If you gain muscle naturally, your muscle will also stick with you for longer. Of course, in the ideal situation you’d be training constantly. But even when you’ll skip a month or two – anybody may suffer the occasional health problem – you’ll still have a decent body when you’ll hit the gym again.
Your whole mindset needs to shift from expecting 30 pounds of body muscle in a month, because that’s not going to happen. Not naturally.
And if it’s not natural, it’s not sustainable, and it’s probably not healthy, either.
Keep working out even if you don’t see instant results. Because you might not see the, but they’re there.
Take a photo of yourself right now. Go to the gym three times over the next week, then take a photo of yourself again.
Compare the two.
Chances are there’s going to be a noticeable difference, even though you might not have noticed it during your daily workout.
The same is true for working out month after month. If you do it right, your body will grow, and you’ll look better.
All you have to do is keep on working. And to keep working, you need to give up on your unrealistic expectations.
There are no easy gains in life, and neither are there in bodybuilding. Most guys look ripped after months in the gym – not days. Those who get ripped fast are either using steroids, or they’ve got crazy genes. If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you need to be consistent about working hard without noticing immediate gains.
That’s just the way it is. A great body doesn’t come without a sweat – but that’s just more reason to appreciate it, when you have it.
Building muscle mass is all about eating right and working out properly. That’s about as simple as it gets.
You need to understand that building mass is, before anything else, building: you need materials (nutrients) and you need technique (working out).
There are no compulsory foods you should be eating, and there are no wonder diets that will get your ripped. But there are some decent guidelines that will allow your body to build more muscle: get 1 gram of protein, 16 calories, about 2.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight. Stick to whole foods rather than junk, but don’t go crazy over it.
As for training, focus on getting stronger, rather than pumping out or working yourself to exhaustion. The key is to increase the weight your lifting week after week, so that your muscles will grow naturally.
So if you’ll remember just two things from this article, remember these: increase weight as you lift, and keep an eye on how many nutrients you’re taking in.
You don’t need steroids, and by God you don’t need tons of protein – all you need to do is focus on working out properly and eating right.
And, finally, you should understand that you’re never going to grow muscle like Popeye. You’re probably going to work out for months before seeing any impressive results.
That’s just the way it is – you need to be consistent if you want to see results.
After all, it’s called work out for a reason, right?
Do it right, and you’ll build muscle mass – the healthy, sustainable way.