The Best Way to Gain Lean Muscle Mass

Strong man pulling heavy rope at gym
Strength training is essential for gaining muscle mass. (Image: jacoblund/iStock/GettyImages)

Muscles not only add a toned and fit appearance to the body, but also aid in the performance of a number of important everyday tasks. It should come as no surprise, then, that many individuals are interested in gaining lean muscle mass — to look better, counter the effects of aging and to perform better in sport.

Participating in a strength-training routine is crucial for those who want to build muscle mass. Following a healthy diet, avoiding weight loss and getting adequate amounts of rest are also important steps for those who want to gain lean muscle.

Hit the Weights

Lifting weights on a regular basis is the most effective way to gain lean muscle mass. Strength train at least twice per week, and include all major muscle groups — the chest, abs, shoulders, arms, legs, back and hips.

Aim for two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions for optimal results with resistance training. Choose a weight that makes it hard to complete the last few reps in each set and rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Leave at least 48 hours between weight-training sessions, too, as this gives your body a chance to repair and build the lean muscle you're after.

Include Aerobic Exercise

Though lifting weights is important when it comes to building muscle mass, high body fat percentages can make the definition of these muscles difficult. It should come as no surprise, then, that individuals who hope to emphasize increases in muscle mass may also want to cut down on body fat.

According to Duke Health, including aerobic exercise — like walking, biking, or swimming — is effective when it comes to losing body fat. Aim for 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise for best results in fat loss. Don't overdo the cardio, however.

Excessive amounts of cardio can deplete muscle, especially if you cut back too much on calories or fail to fuel before a workout. Your body turns to your lean muscle mass to keep you going when you don't have enough calories on hand as stored glycogen.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Augment resistance training with a healthy diet that supports the development of increased lean muscle mass. Follow a diet that features whole grains, low-fat dairy and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Including adequate amounts of high quality protein — such as that found in eggs, poultry or lean red meat — will also maximize the results obtained through resistance training. The American Council on Exercise states that those who want to build muscle mass should eat 0.8 to 1.0 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight. Determine your weight in kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2.

Avoid Weight Loss

During weight loss, the body is forced to survive on fewer calories than usual and, to function properly, must often rely on its fuel stores. While fat is commonly used as a fuel source during weight loss, muscle mass can also provide needed energy for the body.

Be sure to consume an adequate number of calories each day to avoid potential muscle atrophy. The average moderately active man between the ages of 18 and 40 needs from 2,600 to 3,200, while a women needs 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day.

Get Adequate Rest

Sleep is the time during which your body rests and recuperates from the stresses of daily life. While sleep is a must for all individuals, those who are attempting to build muscle mass may be especially dependent on good slumber.

While you snooze, growth hormone production accelerates and protein synthesis rises — especially if you have a protein snack prior to bed. Healthy adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal gains in muscle mass.

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