3 Key Tips to Improve Muscle Growth
Building muscle takes intense training, a properly-designed diet, adequate rest and patience. Yep, if you’re looking to build thick, dense muscle, you’re going to have to put in the work and time. However, while muscle growth results are not always immediate, there are a few things you can do to fast-track them.
1. Change It Up
The longer you stick to a specific routine or workout, the more your muscles will adapt to it. Essentially, the same training program can lead to diminishing returns over time. Plus, the more advanced you are, the quicker this seems to happen. Therefore, to avoid training plateaus and continue growing – you need to switch up your program periodically.
You can avoid plateaus by changing your sets/reps, rest between sets, exercises, and the number of days you work out. Keep in mind that adding more isn’t always better. Pulling back on your training is an effective strategy that can give your body the break it needs to recover, strengthen and grow.
As a general recommendation, change up your training program around every 12 weeks and be sure to incorporate breaks. Just be certain that your overall progress has halted before making significant changes. If you’re getting stronger on your lifts or still packing on muscle – then why mess with a good thing?
Also, be mindful of your own body and mind as it will signal to you when it’s time for a change. If the workout is suddenly easy or even much harder, then it’s time to switch things up.
2. Limit Cardio
Cardio is beneficial for various health reasons but is primarily done to improve endurance/speed or boost metabolism (increase calorie burning) to support weight loss. While cardio can be helpful, an overabundance can compromise muscle gains.
Your muscles adapt to the stress you place on them. When muscles are damaged, they are remodelled and repaired to better withstand similar stress in the future. This is why it’s crucial to provide your body with adequate rest and appropriately change the stress (add more weight, increase the number of sets, decrease rest between sets, etc.) to make further improvements in size and strength.
Depending on the stress, the adaptation or remodelling within the muscle fibre is different. For example, endurance training enhances mitochondrial content (the energy production centers of the cell), which helps improve fatigue resistance. In contrast, weightlifting leads to protein build-up in the contractile proteins. In other words, your muscle fibres get bigger and stronger.
Adding too much cardio changes the demand on the muscles. Now your muscles are not only trying to adapt to a muscle-building program but also to endurance training. This is referred to as interference and has been shown to limit gains.
Unfortunately, you can’t excel at two different goals at the same time. They require two very different training, nutrition and recovery programs. So, if swole is the goal and size is the prize, but the focus on your lifts, not cardio. However, as mentioned, there’s a place for cardio during a muscle-building phase – you just have to do it right.
As a general recommendation, add a light cardio session with a heart rate target of around 100-120 bpm after a workout or non-training days. Keep them limited to about 15-20 minutes once or twice a week. These brief sessions can enhance blood flow, transport nutrients to and waste products from the muscles to support overall recovery.
3. Maximize Your Protein
Protein intake is essential for muscle growth. When muscle tissues are damaged during intense training, protein supplies the amino acids necessary for recovery and growth. In fact, muscle protein synthesis increases when protein is consumed after a workout. However, it’s not just after a workout you want to consume protein.
Research reveals that how you divide up your daily protein consumption can have an impact on your body. In this study, they found that weight-trained men who ate moderate amounts of protein several times throughout the day had greater whole-body protein synthesis than consuming greater amounts less frequently.
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The most efficient way to achieve your protein needs is to consume complete protein sources with each meal. This includes red meat, poultry, fish, pork, eggs, dairy and high-quality protein powders. These sources contain all nine essential amino acids required in optimal amounts to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
(Note: For the most part, plant sources are low or missing one of the essential amino acids, making them an incomplete protein. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians would have to combine different plant sources to help optimize muscle growth).
Protein supplements are often encouraged because they are convenient and easily transportable, especially when you are on the move or short on time.
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Whey protein and casein protein supplements are essential staples for hard-training athletes. Whey is absorbed quickly and provides an instant supply of amino acids to the body. Whereas casein takes longer to break down and offers a steady stream of amino acids over time. A fusion of both proteins supplies provides an immediate and continuous supply of amino acids to help maximize growth.
As a general recommendation, consume around a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Then split the amount over several meals throughout the day. Each meal should provide at least 20-25 grams of protein, with more muscular athletes possibly requiring more.
Summing It Up
While muscle growth can take some time, varying your workouts, limiting cardio and ensuring a sufficient intake of high-quality proteins will accelerate your efforts and have your muscles growing in no time.