Building lean muscle mass is simple. All you have to do is lift consistently, progressively overload, and eat just enough for an anabolic stimulus. Unfortunately, as simple as that is, it’s not easy to do. Especially when the internet throws 1000 different fad diets or magical workout plans your way.
So we’re going to break it down for you. Below are the most basic, foolproof, no-frills, best ways to build lean muscle mass. With a little sweat, consistency, and hard work, anyone can do it.
Part 1 – Building muscle
Gaining lean muscle requires specific work. You’ve got to get under resistance and challenge your muscles in one of three ways – metabolic stress, muscle damage, or mechanical stress.
Creating your own workouts for fat loss AND muscle mass can seem daunting, though, so here are the basics.
Lifting heavy can do all three, but we’re going to focus on the last two.
Heavy weights cause muscle damage as your body fights to control an external force. Tiny cross bridges of muscle fibers tear apart, stimulating inflammatory processes.
Muscle damage triggers mechanisms to lay down new muscle. With proper overload and recovery, it’s like slowly adding bricks to a new house. Over time, your muscles start to pop underneath your shirt.
Mechanical stress requires recruiting as many of those fibers as possible to overcome a disadvantage. For example, the joint angles at the bottom of a squat are much harder to overcome than walking just holding weight on your back. Therefore, heavier loads, greater angles, and longer distances to overcome recruit tons of force. That force requirement stimulates anabolic hormonal responses (which adds tissue again).
There are tons of sets and rep schemes to stimulate hypertrophy. And honestly, effort and progressive overload are more important than your day-to-day set/rep scheme. But here’s a chart to get you started.
Abs are made in the kitchen. Period. Your diet will determine your body fat percentage much more than your training. Burning fat, however, can happen during your workouts in addition to building muscle.
When compared to aerobic exercise, moderate to high-intensity resistance training adds lean mass and contributes to fat loss. Using multi-joint exercises, moderate resistance, and little rest is the recipe for metabolic conditioning – training your muscles for the third hypertrophic stimulus, metabolic stress.
The main goal of high intensity training isn’t increasing strength, but rather improving your energy metabolism. You’re training your cells to produce energy in anaerobic conditions, which in turn adds mitochondrial density in the muscles. More mitochondria = more calorie burning, even at rest.
Part 2 – Nutritional interventions
Lots of guys make the mistake of eating too little when trying to stay lean. Which makes sense. It’s much easier to bulk, get huge, and then try to cut. But you can build lean muscle mass, you just have to treat food as the fuel it is. And fortunately, there are a few tricks to making sure that food goes directly to muscle instead of sticking around as fat.
Focus on protein
Your muscle tissue is made from protein. Without enough free-flowing protein in your bloodstream, you can’t build it. It would be like trying to build a house without any concrete and just some sticks laying around. You might create a makeshift shelter, but you’d be WAY better off if someone could drop off some real supplies.
Focus on getting enough protein in your diet, early and often. 1g per pound of bodyweight should suffice, but you can get anywhere up to 2g/pound during truly intense training. Simply ingesting amino acids starts downstream signaling to build lean muscle. The more frequently you’re getting in a protein shake (or BCAAs), the more often you’re triggering growth.
Limit your carbs to around workout
In order to stimulate fat loss, you have to get in a caloric deficit. But in order to maintain lean muscle, you have to fuel your training. While carbs aren’t bad, they do contribute to total calories with lower effect on satiety. Limiting your higher glycemic carbs to around your workout keeps you from wasting away muscle and losing fat instead.
As eating glucose spikes your blood sugar and stimulates insulin, avoid eating anything sugary unless you’re going to use that energy. Simple sugars before a workout, however, raise your blood sugar enough to provide glucose for immediate metabolism. Getting a pre-workout meal of carbs and protein 30 mins to an hour before training sustains energy and limits catabolism of muscle.
After your workout – eat big. Getting in calories starts the anabolic processes to build muscle, as your hormones are primed to uptake that fuel for replenishing tissue. On high intensity days where you hit dark places, the more carbs the better. But if it’s just a normal lift with lots of rest, hold back on loading up your plate with doughnuts. Still get in a 3:1 protein to carb ratio for recovery purposes, but remember you want to stay lean.
Take a T-booster
Outside of reigning in your diet, managing testosterone levels is critical. Testosterone prompts muscle protein synthesis – literally creating the building blocks of skeletal muscle. To highlight its importance, this is what the experts in Sports Medicine have to say about it:
“Testosterone is one of the most potent naturally secreted androgenic-anabolic hormones, and its biological effects include promotion of muscle growth. In muscle, testosterone stimulates protein synthesis (anabolic effect) and inhibits protein degradation (anti-catabolic effect); combined, these effects account for the promotion of muscle hypertrophy by testosterone.”
When you’re in high training phases, your body is constantly releasing cortisol in response to the immediate stress. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, degrading existing tissue to provide energy. Elevated cortisol levels additionally lead to lower testosterone levels, as they’re on opposite sides of the metabolic spectrum. Simply put, you can’t build muscle with high cortisol and low testosterone.
An easy solution is to eat huge and rest. But what if you’re training hard under caloric restriction? How do you stop your body from cannibalizing your results?
Welcome to T-boosters, calorie-free supplements that shift you back to anabolic building. T-boosters stimulate hormones such as LH and FSH to signal release of testosterone. By doing so, they resist stress-induced breakdown. Great T-boosters go so far as to protect existing testosterone AND target cortisol at its origin. Keeping testosterone active for longer triggers maximal muscle development without the risk of adding fat.
Putting on lean muscle mass is difficult, but not impossible. It takes careful attention to your training, diet, and supplementation. You’ve got to go hard in the gym and feed the beast when called upon, but be strict about cheating on your diet. Take supplements like a T-booster to top off your training with extra gains.
And above all – trust the process. You’re not going to balloon over night. Building lean muscle mass takes time. As soon as you jump to the next shiny thing, your gains drop. So stick to the plan and see where it goes.