1 – Eat a Moderate Caloric Surplus
In a perfect world, eating more food would directly correlate to more lean muscle mass. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Except for those on anabolic steroids who are able to elevate protein synthesis around the clock, natural lifters need a moderate surplus to avoid gaining too much body fat.
What you need to do is calculate your calories and shoot for 300-500 calories above maintenance. Now, there are dozens of equations out there to help you do this and they're all fairly similar. Here's a simple one:
Body weight (pounds) x 15 = maintenance160 pounds x 15 = 2,400 calories per day.
So, to build muscle, this hypothetical person would need to consume 2,700 to 2,900 calories.
If you gain fat easily, shoot for the lower end of this range. If you have a crazy metabolism, shoot for 2,900 or a bit over. You'll have to experiment and see what's best for you, but this will get you in the neighborhood.
This sensible increase equates to one or two protein shakes and a banana or two per day above maintenance calories. Alternatively, this is an extra sweet potato and a chicken breast each day, not a 1200-calorie burger from a fast food joint.
2 – Sleep 7-9 Hours Per Night
Your body needs rest, especially if you want to build muscle and stay lean. A 2010 study showed even a 14-day span of 5.5 hours of sleep versus 8.5 hours of sleep decreased the amount of fat loss by 55% and increased the loss of fat-free mass (muscle) by 60%. And this all happened in just two weeks.
And chronic sleep deprivation? It's been shown in numerous studies that it causes cortisol to increase while testosterone, IGF-1, and growth hormone secretion decrease. Together, it appears a lack of sleep favors the loss of muscle mass, decreases your recoverability, and increases fat mass.
Make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep if you're serious about building muscle. Put down your phone and turn off Netflix. This is the lowest hanging fruit and easiest way for most lifters to get bigger, stronger, leaner, and healthier.
3 – Get Lean and Bulk Clean
The biggest mistake lifters make? Trying to bulk up before they're lean enough to make the best use of the extra calories they'll be taking in. As a gross generality, men should aim to be about 12% body fat while women should be between 17-21% body fat. A good indicator you're on the right track is having some abdominal definition before trying to bulk.
If you follow a "dirty bulk" or attempt to bulk up when you're too fat, you'll face a plethora of issues:
Fat Hyperplasia – Your body will increase the number of fat cells as a result of overeating. This makes it easier to store fat in the future and harder to lose fat in the here and now.Decreased insulin sensitivity – You're making it harder for your body to break down food into energy. You'll add fat more easily and struggle to build lean muscle.Poor habit formation – Sure, it's fun to occasionally eat junk. But bulking isn't an excuse to eat like a slob with the self-control of a 14-year-old boy visiting his first porn site. These habits are harder to break than you'd anticipate.
Ignore this advice at your peril. Sure, you'll gain size more quickly, but it'll be a muffin top over your jeans, not a sheet of armor over your pecs. Get lean and keep it clean. Progress will come slower, but you'll build big muscles, not a big gut.
4 - Check your weight
Daily, with the same weighing scale and at the same time everyday. The weight should be going up steadily with some fluctuations but by the end of 2 weeks you should notice the trend of increasing weight. If not, increase your food intake.