You’ve most likely heard “it’s 80 per cent nutrition” or something to that effect. This emphasises the importance of food. It’s imperative that we consume more calories than we burn with an adequate macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats and protein) balance to optimise muscle gain. Physiologically the body won’t add muscle mass while in a malnourished state. Therefore, it’s important to track our intake and amend accordingly. There are many tracking apps like, My Fitness Pal and My Net Diary that will provide greater insights to your intake.
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Knowing what and how much to eat is a challenging task. There is no one-size-fits-all-diet, every individual is different and it’s best have these factors investigated by a qualified person (e.g. dietitian or nutritionist). They can calculate the calorie requirements and macronutrient balance needed to achieve your goal. Your requirements will be determined by a number of factors including age, weight, height, sex and activity levels. I believe that going straight to the experts for this personalised information is one of the best investments you can make to get on track to achieving your goals.
Once you have an understanding of your calorie and macronutrients requirements to achieve your goal, it’s time to implement a meal plan to match. My previous Men’s Health piece on ‘how to simplify and automate your meal prep to save time, money and effort’ will provide some insight into my approach. However, if that fails, there’s a number of meal prep companies that deliver to your door and have done the hard work cooking and counting macronutrients and calories for you.
Once your nutrition is under control and you’re adequately fuelling your body, it’s important to fine tune your training to stimulate muscle growth. Often, 8-12 rep range is cited for best hypertrophy training, 15+ reps for endurance and 1-6 reps for strength. However, in order to increase strength and muscle size, you must implement one of the fundamental training principles, progressive overload. This is defined by the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. This is often expressed as training volume (eg weight x reps x sets). For example, if your training program asks for 10 reps of a deadlift and your usual is 80kg, you would increase the weight slightly to 82.5kg the following session and execute the same rep and set range. By doing this, you have effectively increased the training volume.
By increasing the training stimulus as you progress through a training program the demand on the body increases and adaptations occur. However, like with diet, I’d advise that you consult with a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach to maximise your results. Plateaus are inevitable so it’s important to track your training, listen to your body and strategically reduce the stress load to allow for adaptations to occur – an expert will help you navigate this while providing guidance, progressions, and technique assistance.
Getting good quality and a high quantity of sleep is vital for the growth and recovery process. Much about sleep is still unknown, however, we do know that it’s a time when information processes and consolidates, tissues grow and repair, and the management of hormonal activity occurs.
You can also employ supplementary methods to speed up the recovery process and optimise muscle growth. These methods include, but are not limited to, nutrition, hydration, meditation, supplementation, hot/cold therapy, light mobilisation, massage, compression garments/therapy and foam rolling.
However, sleep is the most effective and inexpensive method of recovery and should be prioritised if you want to get the most out of your training and optimise muscle gains. I personally aim for 8 hours every night and implement the following practices before bed:
- Have a set bedtime and wake up time
- Listen to audiobooks or podcasts
- No caffeine or stimulants within 8 hours of sleep
- Drink herbal non-stimulant teas
- Reduce/eliminate use of technology
- Reduce distractions and bright/blue lights
Establishing beneficial routines and habits are fundamental to our success. Routines and habits allow us to perform tasks and activities without much conscious effort. For example, having your gym gear next to you ready to go when you wake up in the morning or having your meal prep stockpiled and ready to take to work. These automatic mental and behavioural activities can be both advantageous and detrimental to our progression. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of what they are and whether they are pushing us in our desired direction. Your ability to ‘repeat’ will be strengthened by having a meaningful goal, practising good time management, discipline, patience, consistency and rewarding your progress.
Each element of the ‘eat, train, sleep, repeat’ mantra is interconnected and extremely important for muscle development and performance progressions in general. Refining this process specifically to you and your goals takes time. Twelve years on and I’m still making changes. So be patient and consistent and trust in the ‘eat, train, sleep, repeat’ process.