Elite Athlete Claire Thomas Doing a Bicep Curl

How to Gain Muscle: Everything You Need to Know

Why do people work out? In many cases, it's because they want to change their body in some way.

Now, these physical changes can be anything from losing body fat, packing on muscle, or even simply gaining strength. But, did you know that building muscle can actually help with fat loss and strength too?

That's right! Gaining muscle can do a lot more for you than just making you look bigger, or going up a t-shirt size. Your muscle tissue literally covers just about every inch of your body and is responsible for a lot, including the following:

• Movement and performing daily tasks
• Breathing mechanics
• Maintaining posture and balance
• Protecting the body's vital organs

On top of that, muscle tissue alone has been shown to account for roughly 20% of the calories we burn [1]. The actual amount of calories changes depending on how much muscle tissue you have.

So, as a result, building muscle can actually help with metabolism and keeping body fat low long-term!

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

As you can see, muscle tissue is involved in a lot more than meets the eye. That said, building muscle isn't just beneficial for men. Women can benefit from muscle growth just as much, if not more!

So, what does it take to gain muscle? In this article, I'll discuss everything you need to know about building muscle, and more...

What Are Muscles & How Do They Work

We all know what muscles are ... but most of us don't know much beyond that. For one, did you know that there are 3 types of muscle in your body? This includes:

• Smooth muscle
• Cardiac muscle
• Skeletal muscle

Smooth muscles are also called involuntary muscles, because you don’t consciously control them. As an example, this is the type of muscle you’ll find in your intestines to help move food down your digestive tract.

Cardiac muscle, on the other hand, is the type of muscle tissue found in your heart. This is actually the only place in the body this type of muscle tissue can be found.

Skeletal muscle tissue refers to all other muscle tissue. It's what you think of when you hear the word "muscle". These are muscles such as your biceps, pecs, quads, and glutes.

From here on out, when I mention your muscles, I'm referring to skeletal muscle. After all, a majority of your body's muscle tissue is skeletal muscle.

Now, for starters, our muscles are made up of tiny contractile proteins that allow the muscle to shorten when they contract (think flexing your muscle), and lengthen when they relax (think resting or stretching). This is the most fundamental part of what they do.

Most (not all) of our muscles generally have a tendon on both ends of them. These tendons are attached to different bones on the other end of a joint.

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Let’s imagine your biceps for instance. One end is attached at the shoulder joint in 2 places, and the other end is attached to the forearm on the opposite side of the elbow.

Think of the end attached at the shoulder as the anchor point.

When you flex your bicep, the muscle becomes physically shorter than when it was relaxed ... because the tendon of the bicep is attached at the forearm, making the muscle shorter pulls your forearm to your shoulder and bends the elbow.

This should give you a very basic understanding of how your muscles help your body move.

How Muscles Grow: The Science

Muscle tissue is made up of 75% water, 20% protein, 1-10 percent fat, and 1% glycogen (stored glucose) [2]. If you exclude water, the vast majority of muscle tissue is made up of protein.

When it comes to making changes to the amount of muscle you have, it can be gained or lost based on 2 factors:

• Muscle Protein Synthesis
• Muscle Protein Breakdown

Muscle protein synthesis is when your body uses amino acids from the protein you eat to repair and build new muscle tissue.

Muscle protein breakdown is the opposite. It's when your body actually breaks down muscle tissue for different purposes, like energy production, or to fuel an immune response.

Protein's Role in Fat Loss

Both of these processes are constantly happening all the time, but to varying degrees. At the end of the day, muscle growth happens when your body is in a state of muscle protein synthesis longer than it's in muscle protein breakdown.

Obviously, if your body adds more muscle protein than what gets taken away, you’re left with net muscle gain. If your body breaks down more muscle protein than it adds, then you lose muscle.

Adding muscle happens in small amounts over time. That's why it's important to do the right things consistently if you want to gain muscle. I would argue that there are two main things you need to focus on to maximize muscle gain...

Resistance Training to Build Muscle

The first component to building muscle is resistance training. After all, if you want to build muscle, you have to give your body a reason to build it.

That's when resistance training comes into play. This can be done with free weights, machine weights, resistance bands, or even just your bodyweight. When you train with resistance, your body has to produce force to overcome the resistance.

Building muscle is as simple as giving your body more stress than it's used to. When the activity is hard enough, your body won't want to struggle like that again.

That's when your body will adapt by building more strength and lean muscle to make it easier next time. It really is just your body adapting for survival purposes!

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

Now, that means you won't be able to keep seeing results from doing the same thing. You have to apply a principle called progressive overload.

What is Progressive Overload, and Why Is It Important For Muscle Growth?

Remember when I said your muscle needs increased stress to adapt to in order to grow? Progressive overload is simply the practice of increasing the demand placed on the muscle over time. Progressive overload can be achieved by:

• Increasing the weight
• Increasing the number of sets
• Increasing the number of reps
• More time under tension (longer time in each set under resistance)
• Decreasing the amount of rest between sets
• Increasing the training frequency

The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you keep changes to time, weight, and intensity within 10% or less week to week [4]. This allows for gradual adaptations while also minimizing the risk for injury.

So, don’t get too overzealous when switching up your training variables. Here’s an example of how you can do it effectively...

Let’s say you’re doing a bench press with 135 pounds and it’s difficult for you to get 3 sets of 10 reps. Sometimes you fail, but you keep trying to get it.

The body recognizes that you’re struggling to lift that weight as many times as you’re trying to, and it’s physically stressful.

The body doesn’t want you to struggle with it again, so it will adapt by getting stronger and building a little more muscle tissue. Let's say after a couple weeks you can now get 14-15 reps with 135.

That is your body adapting to the stress! But once your body adapts to doing the same 3 sets of 10 with 135 pounds, it no longer needs to overcome the stress (AKA build new muscle and strength).

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This is when many people hit plateaus with their results. If you want to keep gaining muscle, you need to implement progressive overload.

So, instead of doing the same 3 sets of 10 at 135 ... maybe you try increasing the weight to 140 pounds. You could also add sets, reps, or even intensity by allowing less time to rest in between sets.

But like I said earlier, this process happens gradually over time. As long as you continue to demand more of your muscles and make it challenging to finish your sets ... you will see muscle and strength gains in the long run, assuming you're taking care of your body's nutritional needs.

See, even progressive overload is only one part of what it takes to build new muscle. Now that we've covered the exercise portion ... it's time to talk some nutrition...

How to Eat to Gain Muscle

Like I mentioned earlier, if you want to gain muscle, you have to be in a state of muscle protein synthesis as much as possible. That's why your nutrition is so important for seeing the results you're after.

You see, exercise is what primes your muscles to make a change. Nutrition gives your body the raw material to start repairing and building new muscle.

So, it's ultimately the combination of these two factors which stimulates muscle protein synthesis. You have to make sure you're getting the protein and calories your body needs.

There are a ton of studies that tested protein intake's effect on muscle growth. The general consensus amongst these studies is that you need 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day to maximize muscle building [3]. For those of us who don't use the metric system, that's the equivalent to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

So, let's say you weigh 185 pounds — You would need 185 grams of protein every day to maximize your potential for muscle growth.

How Many Calories Do You Burn From Walking?

When it comes to overall calories, you need to be in a calorie surplus to gain new muscle. That just means you need to eat more calories than you're burning. Your body can use all the extra energy to help build muscle.

But, how much of a calorie surplus do you need to be in? Well, there isn't a ton of definitive science on this subject, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

According to Frontiers in Nutrition [5] roughly 360-480 additional calories above your maintenance is what's recommended. But even this is just a starting point. You'll want to make adjustments as you go.

I know you’re probably thinking... "How do I calculate my maintenance calories?"

Here’s a good rule of thumb for most people ... multiply your bodyweight by 14-16 depending on how active you are every day. This will give you a rough estimate of your maintenance calories. If you’re more active throughout the day, lean toward 15 or 16, and if you don’t move much outside of your workout, then use 14.

Then, add 360-480 calories and start there. You can always adjust these as you progress over the next few weeks and months. My advice is to take it slow with any increases or decreases in total calories. Be careful though ... if your calories are too high, you can put on unwanted body fat.

Additional Strategies For Gaining Muscle

I know I've thrown a lot of information your way so far, but we're not quite done yet. Muscle growth can also be impacted by nutrient timing as well.

I want to talk about post-workout specifically. Let me explain...

During your workout, 2 things happen in the muscle:

1. You deplete muscle glycogen (stored glucose in the muscle used for fuel)

2. You create micro tears in the muscle tissue (causes soreness)

Both of these issues need to be addressed to recover properly. That's why it's recommended that you use a rapid digesting carbohydrate and protein source after your workout.

One study demonstrated that drinking 40 grams of protein from whey protein isolate mixed with 43 grams of glucose pre- and post-workout displayed significantly greater muscle growth and fat loss opposed to taking that same drink in the morning and evening instead [3].

This is exactly the protocol I recommend for males with our post-workout stack.

Females tend to have significantly less muscle mass than their male counterparts. So, for them, I generally recommend half of that for post-workout consumption.

What Else Should I Know?

I know we covered a lot in this article, and it can be a little overwhelming. But, if you stick to the basics, work hard, and apply the things you learned here ... you are 100% capable of earning the results you're after.

If you're looking for some extra guidance or have any more questions ... reach out to us! Our team of Certified Personal Trainers (NASM-CPT) and Nutrition Coaches (NASM-CNC) are always happy to help.

We also offer the 1st Phorm App, where you can get access to:

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• 1 on 1 coaching with a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coaches, and even some registered dietitians
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I hope this information was helpful for you, and I can't wait to hear all about your progress moving forward. You got this!


[1] https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/metabolismcontroversy.html

[2] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2016/3182746/

[3] Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1

[4] https://blog.nasm.org/progressive-overload-explained

[5] Slater GJ, Dieter BP, Marsh DJ, Helms ER, Shaw G, Iraki J. Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training. Front Nutr. 2019 Aug 20;6:131. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00131. PMID: 31482093; PMCID: PMC6710320.