Category Archives: lean muscle
By: Scott Quill
The guy lifting beside you looks like he should write the book on muscle. Talks like it, too. He’s worked out since the seventh grade, he played D-1 football, and he’s big.
But that doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Starting now, ignore him.
The gym is infested with bad information. Lies that start with well-intentioned gym teachers trickle down to students who become coaches, trainers, or know-it-all gym-rat preachers. Lies morph into myths that endure because we don’t ask questions, for fear of looking stupid.
Scientists, on the other hand, gladly look stupid—that’s why they’re so darn smart. Plus, they have cool human-performance laboratories where they can prove or disprove theories and myths.
Here’s what top exercise scientists and expert trainers have to say about the crap that’s passed around in gyms. Listen up and learn. Then go ahead, question it.
Slow Lifting Builds Huge Muscles
Lifting super slowly produces superlong workouts—and that’s it. University of Alabama researchers recently studied two groups of lifters doing a 29-minute workout. One group performed exercises using a 5-second up phase and a 10-second down phase, the other a more traditional approach of 1 second up and 1 second down. The faster group burned 71 percent more calories and lifted 250 percent more weight than the superslow lifters.
The real expert says: “The best increases in strength are achieved by doing the up phase as rapidly as possible,” says Gary Hunter, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., the lead study author. “Lower the weight more slowly and under control.” There’s greater potential for growth during the lowering phase, and when you lower with control, there’s less chance of injury.
More Protein Builds More Muscle
To a point, sure. But put down the shake for a sec. Protein promotes the muscle-building process, called protein synthesis, “but you don’t need exorbitant amounts to do this,” says John Ivy, Ph.D., coauthor of Nutrient Timing.
If you’re working out hard, consuming more than 0.9 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a waste. Excess protein breaks down into amino acids and nitrogen, which are either excreted or converted into carbohydrates and stored.
The real expert says: More important is when you consume protein, and that you have the right balance of carbohydrates with it. Have a postworkout shake of three parts carbohydrates and one part protein.
Eat a meal several hours later, and then reverse that ratio in your snack after another few hours, says Ivy. “This will keep protein synthesis going by maintaining high amino acid concentrations in the blood.”
Squats Kill Your Knees
And cotton swabs are dangerous when you push them too far into your ears. It’s a matter of knowing what you’re doing.
A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that “open-chain” exercises—those in which a single joint is activated, such as the leg extension—are potentially more dangerous than closed-chain moves—those that engage multiple joints, such as the squat and the leg press.
The study found that leg extensions activate your quadriceps muscles slightly independently of each other, and just a 5-millisecond difference in activation causes uneven compression between the patella (kneecap) and thighbone, says Anki Stensdotter, the lead study author.
The real expert says: “The knee joint is controlled by the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Balanced muscle activity keeps the patella in place and appears to be more easily attained in closed-chain exercises,” says Stensdotter.
To squat safely, hold your back as upright as possible and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or at least as far as you can go without discomfort in your knees).
Try front squats if you find yourself leaning forward. Although it’s a more advanced move, the weight rests on the fronts of your shoulders, helping to keep your back upright, Stensdotter says.
Never Exercise a Sore Muscle
Before you skip that workout, determine how sore you really are. “If your muscle is sore to the touch or the soreness limits your range of motion, it’s best that you give the muscle at least another day of rest,” says Alan Mikesky, Ph.D., director of the human performance and biomechanics laboratory at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
In less severe instances, an “active rest” involving light aerobic activity and stretching, and even light lifting, can help alleviate some of the soreness. “Light activity stimulates bloodflow through the muscles, which removes waste products to help in the repair process,” says David Docherty, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of Victoria in Canada.
The real expert says: If you’re not sore to the touch and you have your full range of motion, go to the gym. Start with 10 minutes of cycling, then exercise the achy muscle by performing no more than three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions using a weight that’s no heavier than 30 percent of your one-rep maximum, says Docherty.
Stretching Prevents Injuries
Maybe if you’re a figure skater. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed more than 350 studies and articles examining the relationship between stretching and injuries and concluded that stretching during a warmup has little effect on injury prevention.
“Stretching increases flexibility, but most injuries occur within the normal range of motion,” says Julie Gilchrist, M.D., one of the study’s researchers. “Stretching and warming up have just gone together for decades. It’s simply what’s done, and it hasn’t been approached through rigorous science.”
The real expert says: Warming up is what prevents injury, by slowly increasing your bloodflow and giving your muscles a chance to prepare for the upcoming activity. To this end, Dr. Gilchrist suggests a thorough warmup, as well as conditioning for your particular sport.
Of course, flexibility is a good thing. If you need to increase yours so it’s in the normal range (touching your toes without bending your knees, for instance), do your stretching when your muscles are already warm.
Use Swiss Balls, Not Benches
Don’t abandon your trusty bench for exercises like the chest press and shoulder press if your goal is strength and size. “The reason people are using the ball and getting gains is because they’re weak as kittens to begin with,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S. You have to reduce the weight in order to press on a Swiss ball, and this means you get less out of the exercise, he says.
The real expert says: A Swiss ball is great for variety, but center your chest and shoulder routines on exercises that are performed on a stable surface, Ballantyne says. Then use the ball to work your abs.
Always Use Free Weights
Sometimes machines can build muscle better—for instance, when you need to isolate specific muscles after an injury, or when you’re too inexperienced to perform a free-weight exercise.
If you can’t complete a pullup, you won’t build your back muscles. So do lat pulldowns to develop strength in this range of motion, says Greg Haff, Ph.D., director of the strength research laboratory at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.
The real expert says: “Initially, novice athletes will see benefits with either machines or free weights, but as you become more trained, free weights should make up the major portion of your training program,” says Haff.
Free-weight exercises mimic athletic moves and generally activate more muscle mass. If you’re a seasoned lifter, free weights are your best tools to build strength or burn fat.
By: Travis Stork, M.D.
How did they do it? That’s the first question anyone asks when they see a friend or colleague who’s lost a lot of weight, or remade their body into a healthier, leaner version. How did they do it?
Well, it’s no mystery. In fact, one of the most important and intriguing studies ever conducted was put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back in 2006. This is our tax dollars at work, and I’d say we got our money’s worth.
The pages of the study—its catchy title is “Dietary and Physical Activity Behaviors Among Adults Successful at Weight Loss Maintenance”—take all the world’s weight-loss theories and compare them to what works for real people in the real world. It looked at people who won the fat war by losing at least 30 pounds and then keeping the weight off using strategies that will work for you, too.
Keep in mind: It wasn’t a 100 percent success story. The CDC studied 2,124 people, and only 587 of them actually lost the weight and kept it off. But those who succeeded used many of the same strategies, the strategies outlined here.
And for even more ways to revolutionize your diet and get lean for good, check out The Lean Belly Prescription by Dr. Travis Stork. It’s filled with simple strategies that will help you lose weight the same way you gained it: By making easy lifestyle choices that will transform your life—for the better.
Lean-Belly Strategy #1
Pay Attention to What You Eat
Mindless eating is excessive eating. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts discovered that people who watched TV while they ate consumed nearly 300 more calories than those who dined without an eye on the tube. You need to pay attention to the messages your stomach is sending to your brain; if the TV is blaring, you won’t see the “slow” and “stop” signs.
Lean-Belly Strategy #2
Fast eaters become fat people. If you consciously stop to take a breath between bites, you can cut your food (and calorie) intake by 10 percent, according to researchers at the University of Rhode Island. Special bonus: You can do this in social situations—Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Marge’s—and nobody will even notice. That is, until you show up next year minus 20 pounds of flab.
Lean-Belly Strategy #3
I Said Slow Down!
It takes 20 minutes for the news that you’ve had enough to eat to travel from your gut to your brain. The reason: Hormones that trigger the “I’m full—stop!” sensation are at the end of your digestive tract, and it takes a while for digested food to reach there. If your mouth is filled with conversation, it won’t be so full of food. Talk more between bites, and weigh less when the conversation/meal is over.
Lean-Belly Strategy #4
Beware the “Healthy” Menu
If you order the stuff that’s supposed to be good for you, you’re likely to underestimate a meal’s calorie total by more than a third, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The restaurants know that; now you do, too. So be especially aware when ordering “healthy,” and make sure you have a “to go” box handy to carry leftovers home.
Lean-Belly Strategy #5
Beware the Community Chest
Always serve snacks in a bowl or dish, and put away the packages. Never eat from the bag or container. That way you won’t ever eat an entire bag of something in a single sitting.
Lean-Belly Strategy #6
Beat Hunger with Your Mind
Have a craving even though you ate just an hour ago? Before you indulge your mystery hunger, here’s how to test whether your appetite is real or not: Imagine sitting down to a large, sizzling steak. If you’re truly hungry, the steak will sound good, and you should eat. If the steak isn’t appetizing, it means your body isn’t actually hungry. You might be bored, or thirsty, or just tempted by something you don’t need. Try a change of scenery: Researchers at Flanders University in Australia found that visual distractions can help curb cravings.
Lean-Belly Strategy #7
Redecorate, Repack, Remember
If you don’t have a countertop fruit bowl, buy one so you can grab a peach, banana, pear, or other piece of fruit on your way out the door in the morning, to munch on during your commute. (Plus, it’s fun to throw the core out the window.) Plan a 10 a.m. apple-a-day break. Toss an orange in your briefcase to help you past the mid-afternoon lull (otherwise known as Temptation Time). Make fruit part of your entourage, and it will beat up lesser foods.
Lean-Belly Strategy #8
If You Can’t Bear to Eat Vegetables, Drink Them Instead
That’s right, you could have had a V8—as long as it was the low-sodium variety. It has pureed tomatoes, beets, carrots, celery, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and watercress, and 8 ounces supplies two of your five recommended daily servings of vegetables. It also heats up nicely as a base for soups.
Lean-Belly Strategy #9
If You Can’t Bear to Eat Vegetables, Hide Them in Your Pasta Sauce
And no, neither you nor the kids will notice. Using a fine grater on your food processor, grate 2 cups total of onions, garlic, carrots, beets, and zucchini (or any combo thereof), then sauté the microscopic vegetable bits in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add 4 cups of basic marinara sauce and simmer to an anonymous tomato flavor.
Lean-Belly Strategy #10
If You’re Not Yet Drinking Smoothies, Why Not?
Have you read the label of your fruit juice? Lots of sugar (however “natural” it is) and not much fiber, which means it’s a carb bomb when it hits your bloodstream. Not so with a blended smoothie, because ingredient number one is whole fruit, making the sugar content drop and the fiber climb.
Two tips: Use frozen fruit; buy it by the bag in your store’s freezer section. And buy a wand mixer and a small pitcher so you can mix your smoothie in the same container you drink it from; it’s much easier than washing out a blender. Almost any fruit-and-berry combo will do, but you can start with this recipe: 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 banana (peeled ones freeze well), 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons whey powder (it’s in the supplements aisle in the grocery store), 1 cup 2% milk, and 1 cup water.
Lean-Belly Strategy #11
Buy Smaller Dishes
According to the food scientists at Cornell University, people tend to eat as much food as will fit on their plates. That’s where “duh!” overlaps with dangerous. Over the past 100 years, our plates have grown, decade by decade. And we also know that the nation’s obesity rates have grown exponentially in that time as well. No, it’s not a coincidence. If you dine off of smaller plates, you’ll grow smaller, too. Shoot for 9 inches in diameter, and you’ll be on your way.
Lean-Belly Strategy #12
Drink out of Skinny Glasses
As have gone dinner plates, so have gone drinking glasses. And if you fill the newly cavernous ones with any kind of sweetened beverage, you’ll overindulge in calories. But here’s a smart tip: We tend to gauge our drink sizes by how tall, not how stout, our drinking glasses are. So if you buy tall, skinny ones, you’ll think you’re drinking more even though you’re drinking less.
Lean-Belly Strategy #13
Never Eat from the Box, Carton, or Bag
Those same clever food scientists at Cornell did an experiment in which they gave one set of moviegoers giant boxes of stale popcorn and another set smaller boxes of stale popcorn. The big-box people ate more than the small-box people. The theory: You gauge the amount that’s “reasonable” to eat by the size of the container it’s in. Put two cookies on a plate, put a scoop of ice cream in a bowl, or lay out a small handful of potato chips on your plate, then put the container away; you’ll eat far less of the treat.
Lean-Belly Strategy #14
Limit the Fried Stuff
Fun fact: Fast-food burgers and chicken from KFC and McDonald’s are the most frequently requested meals on death row. It kinda makes sense. The inmates won’t be around to suffer the aftermath. Fried foods are packed with calories and salt, and that crunchy, oily coating beats down any nutritional qualities that whatever is entombed inside might have.
That said, eating one piece of fried chicken won’t be, um, a death sentence, if it’s surrounded on the plate by generous helpings of vegetables and you follow with fruit—not more fat—for dessert. What’s more, the fat in the chicken will help you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the veggies.
Lean-Belly Strategy #15
Eat the Good Stuff
Make sure your diet is filled with healthy fats in the forms of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), fatty fruits (avocados), extra-virgin olive oil, eggs (among the healthiest foods known to humankind), and healthy-fat snacks (nuts are nutritional powerhouses and keep you feeling full). I even give bacon in moderation a green light; at only 70 calories per strip, it carries big flavor and belly-filling capabilities.
Lean-Belly Strategy #16
Wear Your Milk Mustache with Pride
Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheeses all contain slow-to-digest protein and healthy fat, so they can be excellent belly fillers. And studies have suggested that the calcium in dairy products may aid weight loss. Make them part of your diet and you’ll find the cow elbowing aside lesser members of the food kingdom.
Lean-Belly Strategy #17
Eliminate Sweetened Beverages
If you’re going to follow only one piece of advice in this article, make it this one. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Drinks with added sugar account for nearly 450 calories per day in the average American’s diet. That’s more than twice as much as we were drinking 30 years ago. If you’re looking for a way to cut unnecessary daily calories to help you lose a pound a week, wean yourself from the overload of sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages.
No, artificially sweetened sodas are not okay. Even if they have few calories or no calories, they maintain or increase your taste for highly sweetened foods, so you seek out the calorie payload elsewhere. Worse yet, they crowd out the healthy beverages. My prescription: Out with the bad, in with the great—in taste and nutrition.
Lean-Belly Strategy #19
Reduce Your Intake of Food Prepared Away From Home
When you let somebody else prepare your food—especially if it’s a teenager in a paper hat—you lose control over what you eat. And the fast-food companies, being what they are, encourage all of your worst eating habits by stuffing their products with crave-inducing ingredients like unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. If you can stay out of the drive-thru, you can shrink your calorie intake every day.
Lean-Belly Strategy #20
Keep a Food Diary
Clearly, this weight-loss technique isn’t for everybody. It’s a hassle to write down every little thing you eat, day after day. But it’s strikingly effective for those who do it. My advice: Try it for a week so you can get a handle on how many sodas you drink and under what circumstances, when you’re most likely to veg out with a bowl of chips in front of the TV, and when your dessert cravings strike. That will help you identify your dietary danger zones and lead you to strategies that save pounds.
But it wasn’t just dietary changes that helped all those folks lose all that weight. Becoming active was another enormous factor in leading the successful losers into the promised land of the lean (but not hungry): exercising for 30 or more minutes per day, and adding physical activity to daily routines. Clearly, these are Lean Belly Prescription kind of people. And that provides a great segue to talking about the activities that these “successful losers” used to shed fat and keep it off .
Here’s why it’s so important to keep both healthy eating and exercise going as your one-two punch against belly fat. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reported that when people chose healthier foods and combined that benefi t with exercise, they torched 98 percent of their weight directly from their fat stores. People who changed their diets alone were much more likely to break down muscle for fuel, and that’s a big problem. Muscle is one of your prime metabolism boosters, so it will help you burn fat for up to 24 hours after a workout. So let’s tackle the activity list, and give you strategies to make the most of it.
Lean-Belly Strategy #21
Walk for Exercise
I consider that great news. Is there a simpler exercise than walking? Is there a better way to incorporate talking with friends and loved ones into your fitness plan? Is there anything else that gets you out among your neighbors at a pace that lets you say hello? And is there anything that makes your dog happier than your saying the magic word walk?
A study from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada (a lovely place for a walk, mind you) found that largely sedentary people who wore a pedometer for 12 weeks increased their total steps by 3,451 a day, to about 10,500. By walking more, they also lowered their resting heart rates, BMIs, and waist measurements. Once you start paying attention to footsteps, you’ll find ways to bank the extra strides. Thirty here, 300 there, 1,000 after dinner, and suddenly you’re walking away from your old weight. Why not start right now? The closer you pay attention, the more you’ll walk. And the more you walk, the greater the temptation will be to mix in an even bigger calorie burner: running.
Lean-Belly Strategy #22
I suspect that for 81 percent of you, the picture that just flashed in your mind was of a no-neck Bulgarian weight lifter straining as he hoisted a steel beam over his head in the last Olympics. I know that isn’t you.
But you should still be taking advantage of the weight lifter’s advantage: Muscle is the all-night convenience store of fat burning—it never shuts down. Not only do you burn a ton of calories while you’re actually exercising, but there’s also a big afterburn effect that kicks in. Your body has to expend energy to cool you down and repair the small tears in muscle fibers that happen when you lift. (Don’t freak out. If you lift reasonable-size weights, you won’t tear muscles, you’ll just push the muscle fibers hard enough to make them grow.)
Lean-Belly Strategy #23
Believe it or not, “none of the above” is a legitimate option when it comes to physical activity, because there’s nothing magical about running or weight lifting or even walking. They’re just the most common activities people choose in order to add more activity to their days. The only one that’s important to you is one that a) you enjoy, b) fits into your life well enough that you can do it most days, and c) allows you to up your energy expenditure.
You can do that by adding three 15-minute walks to your day or by scheduling 2-hour bike rides on weekends. Or simply by walking more, standing more, lifting more, and sitting less.
Just look at your whole day as an opportunity to make the smart choices that will help you lose weight and feel better. Achieve that, and where might you be next month? Or next year? Some place far better than where you are today!
This workout is still great for busy people that always use the excuse that they don’t have time to go to the gym, or even for the normal gym rat to try out for a few weeks to break out of a plateau.
Please keep an open-mind and don’t worry so much about what other people think, because this is quite different and you may get some funny looks, but you’ll get the last laugh with your new rock hard body! To be honest, most people are too self conscious to try something like this. If that’s the case for you, then that’s your loss.
Here’s how it works (these workouts can be done at home or even in your office):
Instead of doing your traditional workouts of going to the gym 3-4 times a week and doing your normal weight training and cardio routines for 45-60 minutes at a shot… with this program, you will be working out for just a couple minutes at a time, several times throughout each day, 5 days/week.
The program will consist of only bodyweight exercises done for about 2-3 minutes, 6-8 times per day, throughout each day. Now obviously if you work a normal office job, you are going to have to not be shy about doing a few exercises in your office and having your cube-mates watch you. Actually, I’ve found that some people that have tried this have actually gotten their co-workers to join them!
If you have a private office, then you don’t have to worry about anybody watching you. If you work from home, or are a stay at home mom, there’s no reason you can’t fit these in throughout the day while at home. If you end up having a busy day with meetings and so forth, and can only fit a couple of these 2-minute workouts in, then so be it, but try to get as many done each day as you can.
If you’re on a normal 9-5 office schedule, I recommend doing your 2-minute workouts every hour, on the hour, with the exception of lunch. For example, you could try 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm, and 4 pm.
Some of the bodyweight exercises that are the best to focus on are:
bodyweight squats (and variations)
pushups (and variations)
forward, reverse, or walking lunges
up & down a staircase if one is available
floor planks (holding the plank position from forearms and feet)
floor abs exercises such as lying leg thrusts, ab bicycles, etc.
one-legged bodyweight Romanian deadlifts
This list is not fully comprehensive, but I wanted to keep it relatively simple. If you know other good bodyweight exercises, you can add those to your routine also. If you want to keep it real simple and don’t want to get down on the floor for anything, you can stick to squats, lunges, and pushups and still get great results.
The good thing about these workouts is that you do enough in 2-3 minutes to get your blood pumping, heart rate up a bit, a large portion of your body’s muscles worked, and body temperature raised. However, it’s usually not enough to break a sweat in only 2 or 3 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about sweating in the office or where ever you may be. At most, you might just get a little moist on the skin.
Here’s an example workout routine at home or the office (adjust the reps up or down based on your capabilities):
9 am – 10 pushups/15 bodyweight squats, repeat 1X for 2 sets
10 am – plank holds (hold the planks as long as you can taking short rest breaks for a total of 3 minutes)
11 am – 5 pushups/10 bodyweight squats, repeat for 4 sets
1 pm – plank holds (hold as long as possible in 3 minutes)
2 pm – 8 pushups/12 bodyweight squats, repeat for 3 sets
3 pm – plank holds (hold as long as possible in 3 minutes)
4 pm – max pushups/max bodyweight squats in one set (no repeat)
9 am – 6 fwd lunges each leg/6 rev lunges, repeat 1X for 2 sets
10 am – one legged bw Romanian deadlifts (RDL) 6 each leg/floor abs for 20 sec, repeat 1X for 2 sets
11 am – 3 fwd lunges each leg/3 rev lunges, repeat for 4 sets
1 pm – one legged bw RDL 3 each leg/floor abs for 20 sec, repeat for 4 sets
2 pm – 5 fwd lunges each leg/5 rev lunges, repeat for 3 sets
3 pm – one legged bw RDL 10 each leg/floor abs for 30 sec (no repeat)
4 pm – max fwd lunges each leg/max rev lunges in one set (no repeat)
In order to progress on these workouts, you could either add 1 or 2 reps to each set per week, or you could progress to more difficult versions of each exercise each week (for example, close grip pushups, one leg raised pushups, squats with arms raised straight over head, etc.).
The above routines are just a couple examples of how you can use this very unique style of training. Use your creativity and come up with your own. Think about what you’ve accomplished with these “mini” workouts completed throughout each day… You’ve increased your heart rate and pumped up your muscles 6-8 different times throughout each day, burning a lot of extra calories and stimulating your metabolism.
Even though each “mini” workout was a very short duration, you’ve accumulated lots of repetitions for almost every muscle throughout your entire body, and you didn’t even have to break a sweat during any of the “mini” workouts. And there’s hardly any excuse for not being able to take a 2-minute break once per hour and do a couple of exercises.
Another benefit of this style of training is that now you don’t have to devote any time before or after work to going to the gym because you already got your workouts little by little throughout the day. You’ve now got some extra free time on your hands!
Try this type of time-efficient workout routine out for 3-4 weeks and then go back to your normal gym routines. I think you’ll find that it was a great way to break out of a plateau and stimulate new results in your body. You can try mixing in a cycle of these “mini” workouts every couple of months to keep things fresh.
Keep in mind that this is only one method of training and doesn’t mean that you should only stick to this method for eternity. You will hit a plateau on any given training method, so I’d recommend just rotating it into your arsenal of various training methods. And by all means, don’t worry so much about what other people think…have the courage to try something a little different. In the end, you’ll be the one laughing back at all of the “blubber-bellies” at your office that are giving you funny looks while they eat their donuts!
By: Adam Campbell
But forget about your alleged high-revving metabolism, says Doug Kalman, R.D., director of nutrition at Miami Research Associates. “Most lean men who can’t gain muscle weight are simply eating and exercising the wrong way,” he says.
Here’s your fix: Follow these 10 principles to pack on as much as a pound of muscle each week.
Maximize Muscle Building
The more protein your body stores—in a process called protein synthesis—the larger your muscles grow. But your body is constantly draining its protein reserves for other uses—making hormones, for instance. The result is less protein available for muscle building. To counteract that, you need to “build and store new proteins faster than your body breaks down old proteins,” says Michael Houston, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Virginia Tech University.
Shoot for about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which is roughly the maximum amount your body can use in a day, according to a landmark study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. (For example, a 160-pound man should consume 160 grams of protein a day—the amount he’d get from an 8-ounce chicken breast, 1 cup of cottage cheese, a roast-beef sandwich, two eggs, a glass of milk, and 2 ounces of peanuts.) Split the rest of your daily calories equally between carbohydrates and fats.
In addition to adequate protein, you need more calories. Use the following formula to calculate the number you need to take in daily to gain 1 pound a week. (Give yourself 2 weeks for results to show up on the bathroom scale. If you haven’t gained by then, increase your calories by 500 a day.)
A. Your weight in pounds.
B. Multiply A by 12 to get your basic calorie needs.
C. Multiply B by 1.6 to estimate your resting metabolic rate (calorie burn without factoring in exercise).
D. Strength training: Multiply the number of minutes you lift weights per week by 5.
E. Aerobic training: Multiply the number of minutes per week that you run, cycle, and play sports by 8.
F. Add D and E, and divide by 7.
G. Add C and F to get your daily calorie needs.
H. Add 500 to G. This is your estimated daily calorie needs to gain 1 pound a week.
Work Your Biggest Muscles
If you’re a beginner, just about any workout will be intense enough to increase protein synthesis. But if you’ve been lifting for a while, you’ll build the most muscle quickest if you focus on the large muscle groups, like the chest, back, and legs. Add squats, deadlifts, pullups, bent-over rows, bench presses, dips, and military presses to your workout. Do two or three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, with about 60 seconds’ rest between sets.
Have a Stiff Drink
A 2001 study at the University of Texas found that lifters who drank a shake containing amino acids and carbohydrates before working out increased their protein synthesis more than lifters who drank the same shake after exercising. The shake contained 6 grams of essential amino acids—the muscle-building blocks of protein—and 35 grams of carbohydrates.
“Since exercise increases bloodflow to your working tissues, drinking a carbohydrate-protein mixture before your workout may lead to greater uptake of the amino acids in your muscles,” says Kevin Tipton, Ph.D., an exercise and nutrition researcher at the University of Texas in Galveston.
For your shake, you’ll need about 10 to 20 grams of protein—usually about one scoop of a whey-protein powder. Can’t stomach protein drinks? You can get the same nutrients from a sandwich made with 4 ounces of deli turkey and a slice of American cheese on whole wheat bread.
But a drink is better. “Liquid meals are absorbed faster,” says Kalman. So tough it out. Drink one 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.
Lift Every Other Day
Do a full-body workout followed by a day of rest. Studies show that a challenging weight workout increases protein synthesis for up to 48 hours immediately after your exercise session. “Your muscles grow when you’re resting, not when you’re working out,” says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health exercise advisor and a former skinny guy who packed on 40 pounds of muscle using this very program.
Down Carbs After Your Workout
Research shows that you’ll rebuild muscle faster on your rest days if you feed your body carbohydrates. “Post-workout meals with carbs increase your insulin levels,” which, in turn, slows the rate of protein breakdown, says Kalman. Have a banana, a sports drink, a peanut-butter sandwich.
Eat Every 3 Hours
“If you don’t eat often enough, you can limit the rate at which your body builds new proteins,” says Houston. Take the number of calories you need in a day and divide by six. That’s roughly the number you should eat at each meal. Make sure you consume some protein—around 20 grams—every 3 hours.
Make One Snack Ice Cream
Have a bowl of ice cream (any kind) 2 hours after your workout. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this snack triggers a surge of insulin better than most foods do. And that’ll put a damper on post-workout protein breakdown.
Have Some Milk Before Bed
Eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes before you go to bed. The calories are more likely to stick with you during sleep and reduce protein breakdown in your muscles, says Kalman. Try a cup of raisin bran with a cup of skim milk or a cup of cottage cheese and a small bowl of fruit. Eat again as soon as you wake up. “The more diligent you are, the better results you’ll get,” says Kalman.