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The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass

by
author image Nate Green
Nate Green is an author, speaker and a “marketing and ideas guy” for Precision Nutrition, which was selected as one of the world’s most innovative fitness companies by Fast Company magazine. Nate writes about health and fitness, working remotely, relationships, minimalism and self-awareness.
Lifting heavier weights is key to gaining muscle mass.
Lifting heavier weights is key to gaining muscle mass. Photo Credit MoMo Productions/Stone/Getty Images

Here's the frustrating truth: Most guys spend their entire life going to gyms, performing endless reps and sets, and never gaining more than a few pounds of muscle. You sacrifice sweat, invest in hustle and for what? Yeah, good health — that's great. But if you're like me, you also want results you can see.

Eventually many guys end up wondering, "Is my body just not designed to add size?"

I tried my own personal experiment to build as much mass as possible in one month. The result: I gained 20 pounds in 28 days.

I learned what it takes to add size — no drugs, no cheating, no gimmicks.

I did this to help all the average guys out there, guys just like me. The ones that are tired of being frustrated, misled and unable to make any changes that they can see. And as a former skinny guy, it was further proof that anyone -- with enough patience and effort -- can change their body.

If you want to add some mass to your body, or just make sure that you're not wasting your time with your training and diet plan, here are six lessons that will help you avoid your common frustrations.

RULE #1: Eat More Calories Than You Burn

This might seem obvious, but when you're trying to add mass, you need to eat more. If there's a consistent theme in the struggle to gain weight, most people just don't eat enough. Keep in mind that everyone's body is different, so there's no hard-and-fast rule on how much you need to eat. But most people eat for the body they currently have. When they eat "a lot," that’s just compared to their current weight. If you want to gain more size, you have to be thinking about what it would take to fuel the body you desire.

So eating "a lot" for your size will undoubtedly leave you at your size. You need to push the limits and find ways to take in more calories. Remember, you're trying to change the way you look and push past a weight that is easy for you body to maintain. What's more, you're trying to add muscle that might be stubbornly resisting all your efforts.

The best approach is finding an eating strategy that makes it easier to take in more calories. This might mean eating more meals. It might mean eating less often but taking in significantly larger meals. That's what I did. I only ate 3 times per day, but I ate a lot at each meal. (See my eating plan for yourself.)

Sometimes you might need some simple tricks to add calories. This could be adding 1-2 tablespoons of oils (like Udo's oil) to meals, or adding a few extra tablespoons of nut butter after you're already full. But if you're trying to gain weight and your not seeing any changes, start eating more. It's a simple idea, but one that can be difficult to achieve because it's an uncomfortable process. Hang with it, and your body will eventually adjust — both with the "ease" of eating more and the changes you'll see.

RULE #2: Double or Triple Your Protein Intake

If there's a type of food you want to eat more of, your top choice should be protein. Most guys don't eat enough protein. That's because there's a variety of myths out there that will have you believe that you can only digest 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving. Or that you need to eat lots of small doses of protein 5 to 6 times per day. The result is that you feel like you're getting enough protein, but you're actually falling short of your goals.

If you want to boost how much protein you're eating, understand that you can take in more than 20 to 30 grams per serving. And then focus on eating two to three times more protein, in general. If you're already taking in about a gram per pound of your body weight, you don't need to triple that amount. But just like calories, you want to eat for the body you're trying to build. So add more protein as part of your effort.

RULE #3: Eat Mostly Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods

One of the biggest mistakes when trying to gain weight is eating the wrong types of food. Gaining weight can be hard for some people. (And yes, people that struggle to lose weight do not want to hear about your "difficulties" stuffing your face, but both can be equally challenging.) When you hit that wall, your first instinct might be to eat the most calorically dense foods possible. Scarfing down pizza and donuts might help you gain weight — but not the type you want.

Remember the goal is mass, but more muscle and less fat is what you want. So you'll want to eat foods that are dense in calories — think steak and potatoes — as well as foods that have nutritional value and will help with digestion, like greens and sauerkraut.

While you will have more room to take in extra calories, if those calories are all from the bad sources you will grow — in all the wrong ways.

Avoid over-complicating your training -- focus instead on becoming an expert at a few exercises and lift more weight.
Avoid over-complicating your training -- focus instead on becoming an expert at a few exercises and lift more weight. Photo Credit Gary John Norman/DigitalVision/Getty Images

RULE #4: Do Compound Exercises in The Gym

A quick look at my workout should reveal something very important: the workouts were not overly complicated. I hit the exercises that worked the greatest number of muscles. Moves like squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and rows. Add in some "isolation" exercises to train your vanity muscles, and you have the perfect plan.

Don't over-complicate your training with endless exercise changes. The fastest way to gain size is to become better at a few exercise and lift more weight. Your body will grow. Trust me. Which brings up another important rule.

RULE #5: Lift Heavier Weights

There is a place for higher reps in any program. In fact, I incorporated some on my "conditioning" days. But training heavy plays an important role in your ability to grow. That's because focusing on heavier weight increases your strength. And as you increase your strength, you can use more weight for more reps. And as your total work capacity increases (amount of weight you use multiplied by the number of reps you perform), you are able to add more mass.

You'll want to be smart about your approach. The downside of heavier lifting is that it can put you at a greater likelihood of injury. So doing a proper and thorough warmup, as well as several work-up sets, will ensure that you body--and your muscles, tendons, and ligaments--are prepared to add more weight, become stronger, and stay injury free.

RULE #6: Get 7+ Hours of Sleep Every Night

Two simple reasons why you want to make sure to prioritize sleep:

  • Sleeping enough helps your body build muscle
    - Not sleeping enough makes it harder to build muscle

When you get enough sleep, your levels of growth hormone increase. This is a natural hormone that plays an important role in muscle growth and recovery. When you don't sleep enough, another hormone--cortisol--is increased. This stress hormone makes it harder for you to gain muscle. In fact, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who don't sleep enough not only lose weight, they also lose muscle.

Your goal should be to prioritize your rest just as much as your meals and workouts. It'll ensure that all your hard work won't go to waste.

By following these guidelines, you'll be avoiding some of the most common mistakes that make gaining size seem impossible.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you struggled to gain muscle mass? What steps have worked for you? Have you followed any or all of Nate’s rules? Leave a comment below and let us know.

_Nate Green is the program director of Scrawny To Brawny. He's been featured in The LA Times, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, and lots of other places with fancy names. He's also written two books, “Built For Show,” and “The Hero Handbook,” and helped provide research for Tim Ferriss' bestselling book, “The Four Hour Body,” and co-authored Dr. John Berardi's “My Experiments with Intermittent Fasting.”_

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