5 Rules for Building Muscle
Rule #1: Calories are Key, But, They're Not Everything
While it's okay to chow down on the occasional fast-food choice for convenience, a mass-gain program isn't an excuse to gorge on pizza and chocolate sundaes. "Rebuilding muscle tissue broken down by training requires energy - in other words, calories," Aceto says. "But many people, including many nutritionists, overestimate the energy needs for gaining mass, encouraging extreme high-calorie intakes. This often leads to an increase in body fat, making you bigger, for sure, but also leaving you fat." In general, aim for 300-500 more calories every day than your body burns through exercise and normal functioning (multiply bodyweight by 17). And that's divided among six meals a day.
Concentrate on Protein
Protein is important for mass gains because it's the only nutrient that's capable of stimulating muscle growth. You should consume up to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. Eating every three hours will help ensure you're absorbing and assimilating enough protein to support muscle growth.
Eat After Training
"It's especially important to eat a carb- and protein-rich meal immediately after a workout," Aceto says. "Right after training, it turns out that your body is really lousy at taking carbohydrates and sending them down fat-storing pathways," he says. "So post-training, carbs will be sent down growth-promoting pathways instead." And when these carbs are combined with a protein source, you've got a strong muscle-feeding combination because carbohydrates help deliver the amino acids into muscles by boosting insulin levels. This anabolic hormone drives nutrients into the muscle cells and kick-starts the muscle-growth process.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially in the hours leading up to your workout. This can help you feel full and reduce hunger pangs. During training, drink about 8 ounces every 15-20 minutes, more when it's hot and humid. The reason is simple: Your performance quickly begins to suffer when the body is dehydrated just 1%-2%. And if you wait till you feel thirsty, you've waited too long. A flavorful, low-calorie electrolyte drink is a great way to hydrate. Try drinking fluids stored at cooler temperatures; studies show that people consume more when the liquid is colder.
Mass Gains Vary by Individual
Gains will differ from one individual to another depending on body size and level of experience in the gym. To make sure you're gaining muscle, not fat, don't just consider your scale weight. Instead, rely on what you see in the mirror and use a tape measure twice a month to keep track of your waist and hips (you don't want to gain there) as well as your biceps, chest and quads. Also, don't think that you have to gain a set amount of weight each and every week. "Your mass gain doesn't have to be uniform," Aceto explains. That means you can gain 1/2 pound one week and 1 1/2 the next, perhaps none the third week and still remain on course. "Expecting uniform gains ignores the intricate makeup of the body and the way it gains mass - or loses fat - which is by no means in linear fashion," adds Aceto.