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What To Do When You’re Struggling To Put On Muscle

When people are struggling to put on muscle, the best place to start is with the simple things that you do day in and day out. Contrary to popular belief, muscle is built outside of the gym. The stimulus for muscle growth happens in the gym, however, the physical growth happens in the 23 hours outside of the gym in your recovery phase.

Armed with this knowledge, I’ve highlighted below The 3 Pillars of Recovery that I fall back on when people are not getting the results their effort deserves.

Effort is usually not the issue. The issue often is where their effort is being focussed. 

The 3 Pillars

  • Sleep and rest
  • Nutrition
  • Periodized programming

I am going to dive deep into each of these pillars and explain more on why they each play an integral role in the development of muscle tissue. With this being said, this is not the be-all and end-all of muscle growth. However if you’re short on time these will provide the best bang for your buck! .

Pillar 1 – Sleep

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If you haven’t got the drift yet, I’m obviously talking about sleep! Sleep is the most underutilised performance-enhancing drug of all time. If you’re spending your hard-earned cash on every supplement under the sun and sleeping 5 and a half hours per night, you’re not doing the most simple of tasks correctly. Drop everything you’re doing right now, buy yourself a diary and schedule yourself 8 hours of sleep per night because I guarantee you you will see far superior muscle growth…. And quickly.

Sleep itself is broken into two phases: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). These different sleep stages are explained as:

NREM sleep:

  • Crucial for remembering learned facts
  • Reduces stress and relaxes your fight-or-flight response
  • Improves heart health

REM sleep:

  • Dream state sleep
  • Allows us to deal with emotional stress
  • Promotes creativity
  • Organises information
  • Helps us learn motor skills
  • Is when old and new information is assimilated forming new neural connections

What does all this mean for your muscle growth and recovery? It means getting to the gym will be an easy decision. It means you will get the most out of your training sessions and recover sufficiently allowing for maximal muscle tissue growth. It also means your decisions around food won’t be impaired so hitting body composition goals will be easier! 

How do I ensure I sleep to the best of my ability? Have a bedtime routine that is based on these 5 steps:

  • No screens/blue light at least 1 hour before bed
  • No exercise right before bed
  • No caffeine or alcohol after 1/2pm
  • Keep your room pitch black and cold
  • Maintain a consistent sleep/wake time to the best of your ability

Sleep is the foundation of recovery and hence muscle growth. 

Get to bed! 

Pillar 2 – Nutrition

With so much conflicting information available right now, it’s easy for your nutrition knowledge to be flawed. Here is a simple breakdown of what your diet should consist of if you’re wanting to build muscle…

  • A great place to start is by including a lot of natural foods. Earth grown foods include (but are not limited to the following list) a wide range of fruit and veg, lean proteins, seafood, oils, healthy fats, nuts, legumes, eggs, starchy carbs, rice and oats. These foods are nutrient dense which allows your metabolic pathways to synthesize muscle faster and increase performance in the gym! 
  • A diet that is sufficient in all of your macronutrients. Are you consuming enough carbs to support your workouts, enough protein to ensure optimal muscle growth and enough fat to support proper hormonal production and function? 
  • Water, water, water. Your body is around 60% water, don’t ignore that fact. Water is integral for every cell in your body to perform its function, this includes muscle repair and growth. A good place to start is consuming your body weight (in KGs) x 0.03. For example, if you weigh 85kg, I would suggest the minimum amount of water consumed daily be (85 x 0.03 = 2.55L)
  • Calories are king. At the end of the day, if you’re not consuming enough calories your body will struggle to build muscle. Taking on enough calories can be one of the hardest things about building muscle, sometimes you need to increase the amount of low density, high calorie foods (processed foods) to ensure you’re getting the calories on board. 

People complicate nutrition. There are so many fad diets, lifestyle gurus and big companies pushing their agendas or products. Hitting the fundamentals will provide 80% of the results and ensure you’re growing!

Pillar 3 – Proper Programming

Periodized programming (PP) is the third of 3 pillars that will promote maximal muscle growth. PP is key in tying together the other 3 pillars. PP is structured by a qualified coach who cares about you. A qualified coach knows how to plan your programming to ensure it…

  • Utilises progressive overload. Periodization uses progresive overload to ensure the body is constantly stimulated to develop a desired outcome. In the case of growing muscle, we’re aiming to stimulate the muscle every 48 to 72 hours to ensure maximal muscle growth. 
  • PP is structured in advance so that the individual is aware of their expected energy output and can plan food intake/macronutrient levels accordingly to support training and recovery. 
  • PP ensures that all bodyparts are hit and underdeveloped body parts can be brought up for better muscular balance and the prevention of injury. 

In the 21st century, unfortunately, every man and his dog can pay a small sum of cash to getting their PT certificate. This has led to an industry of under qualified professionals. There are levels to this game. Seek out a coach who:

  • Are qualified to your standards. 
  • A coach who has completed continuous education to constantly upskill and refine their knowledge. 
  • A coach who has a track record of results.
  • Knows how to communicate.
  • Tracks and assesses, not guesses
  • Practices what he or she preaches

Would you trust a “handyman” to put a roof on your brand new house? I wouldn’t! You want a professional right?! If you’re serious about your muscle gaining endeavours, it pays to hire a professional. 

Your muscle-building regime should be based around sleep, nutrition and proper programming. Anything else is a bonus. As I said at the top, “effort is usually not the issue. The issue is where you’re putting said effort”.Start with The 3 Pillars of Recovery.

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