You naturally begin to lose muscle with age, but resistance training can help prevent or reverse this loss. The exercise can also help promote bone strength, boost your metabolism, reduce your risk of injury and help prevent or relieve conditions such as diabetes, back pain, arthritis and osteoporosis. Your body is only capable of producing a limited amount of muscle in a month, but you can maximize gains through healthy eating and a well-planned strength-training program.
Rate of Gain
Your body can only gain about 2.5 pounds of muscle per month. Your individual rate of gain depends largely on your gender, hormonal makeup and genetics. If most of your family members are thin or have trouble gaining weight, chances are you'll have a much slower rate of muscle gain than someone from a family of burly individuals. Men tend to gain muscle faster than women due to their higher levels of testosterone.
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To build muscle at a rate of 2.5 pounds per month, or half a pound per week, you'll need to start consuming 250 to 500 calories more than you burn each day. If you tend to gain fat easily, aim for the lower range; but if you struggle to gain any weight at all, go for more calories. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of muscle, so try to eat 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Boost your caloric intake by eating plenty of carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, juices, fruits and vegetables.
Eating extra calories without strength training will only result in fat gain. To ensure your extra food intake turns to new muscle mass, make strength training your primary form of exercise. The American Council on Exercise recommends performing three to six sets of six to 12 repetitions to promote muscle hypertrophy, or growth. Choose one to three exercises for each muscle group in your body, and always lift with enough weight to fully fatigue your muscles by your final repetition. If you can finish your final set with proper form, increase the resistance level for your next workout.
While both nutrition and strength training are necessary for muscle growth, doing too much too fast won't speed up your gains and can cause serious health concerns. Many athletes looking to gain muscle turn to protein supplements. But because your body is unable to rid itself of excess protein, any excess is stored as fat. When your body processes protein, it consumes water and expels urinary calcium. Thus, taking too much protein -- especially in the form of supplements -- can lead to osteoporosis and dehydration. After strength training, always give your muscles a full 48 hours to recover between workouts. Stop lifting right away if you experience pain, dizziness or feel short of breath. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise program.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Why Strength Training?
- CNN.com; How Should I Eat to Build Muscle Mass?; Melina Jampolis; June 2009
- American Council on Exercise; When Strength Training, Is It Better to Do More Reps With Lighter Weights or Fewer Reps With Heavier Weights?; Jessica Matthews
- American Council on Exercise; Are There Health Risks Concerning Eating Too Much Protein?; Jessica Matthews