Archive for the tag - build muscle

Can You Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?

Dear Davey,

Is it possible to gain muscle while losing fat?

From,
Chuckie

Hey Chuckie,

Thanks for the question. At face value, the goals of losing fat and building muscle seem to contradict each other. In order to lose fat, we know that a calorie deficit is required. That is, fewer calories are taken in than burned. To build muscle, on the other hand, a calorie surplus is required. In general, people engaged in a muscle-building workout program are advised to take in 250 – 500 more calories than are burned.

This is why you’ll see many body builders cycle through a “bulking phase” wherein they increase muscle mass through a calorie surplus and then a “cutting phase” wherein they lean down with a calorie deficit.

Personally, if I was training a client who both wanted to lose weight and build muscle, I’d focus on the goals one at a time. First, I’d use a calorie deficit and workout program that targets fats loss. Once the goal weight was reached, I’d use a calorie surplus and a workout program that produces muscle gain.

But what about for the average exerciser who isn’t interested in counting calories or who isn’t that serious about their exercise commitments? Can the average exerciser lose weight while building muscle?

There are actually a few studies on the subject. For one study, researchers put women through a six-month fitness program that included both cardio and strength training. On average, the women lost 10% of their body fat and increased their muscle mass by 2.2%. A separate study of men came to the same conclusion.

In other words, if you eat well and exercise, you’ll likely lose fat and gain muscle. At the same time. It might not be the most efficient process, and it may not produce maximal results, but it happens all the time with typical gym-goers.

I hope that helps!

Love,
Davey Wavey

Too Much Cardio to Build Muscle?

Dear Davey,

For a little while now I have been trying to put on some muscle mass (I’m a fairly skinny guy), but have been having a hard time. I have been told by a few people that it is because I do too much cardio. I’m a cycling instructor here in Canada and I teach 3 – 5 cycling classes a week. Is there a way to gain muscle mass even though I do a large amount of intense cardio on weekly basis?

Thanks,
Jason

Hey Jason,

The real story here isn’t cardio – it’s calories. In order to build muscle, you need to create a calorie surplus. That is, you need to take in more calories than you burn.

If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight and mass. If you take in the same amount of calories that you burn, you’ll stay the same. But if you want to increase the amount of mass on your body, you need to take in a greater number of calories than you burn. The surplus calories can be put to work building new muscle mass.

Of course, this assumes that you’re exercising and engaged in a workout program that promotes muscle growth (i.e., heavy weights, train to muscle failure, etc.). If you’re sedentary and spending your time watching TV, then those surplus calories will build fat – not muscle. And even if you are hitting the gym, it doesn’t mean that your training necessarily targets gains in muscle size. In other words, make sure your workout is on point.

If you’re looking to build muscle, the recommended calorie surplus is 250 – 500 calories. So, calculate your recommended calorie intake – and then add 250 – 500 calories to it.

Doing frequent and intense steady-state cardio makes it harder to build muscle because you burn many more calories than the rest of us. Whereas I could gain muscle by eating around 3,150 calories, your requirement may be considerably higher – and difficult to achieve. This is why, for many people, frequent and intense cardio sessions can cannibalize their muscle gains.

If you can’t cut back on the amount or duration of cardio, then it just means you’ll have to top your plate a little higher – a problem that most of us would love having!

Love,
Davey

P.S. It’s worth noting that high intensity interval training is the type of cardio recommended for individuals who are trying to build muscle. High intensity interval training is more anabolic in nature and better for muscle retention.

Why Did My Muscles Stop Growing?

Hey Davey,

I’ve been following your advice for about a year to build my muscles. For the first 8 or 9 months, I had a lot of success and my muscles increased in size pretty dramatically. I haven’t changed my workout strategy and I’m still eating what I’ve always eaten. So what gives?

From,
Ryan

This is a common problem – and the solution is surprisingly simple.

Of course, all of this assumes that your workout plan is designed around muscle growth and that it will include low reps of heavy weights and constant progressive overloading. Since you were able to see muscle gains for so many months, it seems likely that your workout strategy is very effective. Good job!

The culprit is most likely your diet – and here’s why.

To build muscle, you must have a calorie surplus. Without the extra calories, your body won’t have the fuel to build your increased muscle mass. As such, it’s generally recommended that individuals who are looking to build muscle through their workouts consume a surplus of 250 – 500 calories per day. In other words, if your daily calorie requirement is 2,500 calories for maintenance, then you’d want to eat at least 2,750 calories for muscle growth.

But as your body becomes more muscular, you burn more calories each day. With added muscle, your calorie requirement increases. And so while 2,750 calories may have been sufficient a year ago, it’s no longer resulting in the required calorie surplus. And without the surplus, your body won’t build muscle. This is why you were able to see muscle gains for many months, but then things tapered off – even though nothing in your workout strategy or diet plan changed.

To solve this issue, simply increase your daily calorie intake by another 250 calories. It’s basically one extra snack per day. As simple a fix as it is, it’s the number one reason why muscles stop growing.

Why Am I Not Gaining Weight?

Dear Davey,

I have been trying to put on weight for the last 6 months. I’ve tried several diets, I’ve been eating as much as I possibly can and have been training heaps as well. So far, I’ve toned up but haven’t put on any weight. What tips do you have? Sometimes I feel like I’m meant to stay this size forever and I often feel like I should give up.

From,
Luke

There are a few things to consider if, despite your diet and workout regime, you’re having trouble gaining mass.

Overtraining

First, overtraining may be a contributing factor. Overtraining is a condition wherein you provide more stress on the body than it is able to handle or recover from. When you lift weights, you create tiny tears in your muscles. This is a normal and healthy process – and, as the body rebuilds, the muscle is made stronger and larger than before. However, it takes time to recover. And if you’re training too frequently without adequate rest days in between, then the overtraining response will occur. Your body will become weaker and you may lose muscle mass.

Signs of overtraining include irritability, difficulty sleeping, poor performance, fatigue, losses in strength, weight loss, increased colds or flues and muscle pain. If you experience these symptoms and if overtraining is to blame, take a week or two off to recover – and then reassess the situation. By getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night, taking at least one day off per week from exercise, eating properly and by minimizing life stress, overtraining is easy to avoid.

Caloric Intake

Second, take a look at your calorie intake. Though I recommend using the Harris Benedict Calculator to determine your calorie requirements, a good general guideline is 14 – 16 calories per pound of bodyweight for active individuals. For example, at 155 pounds, I’d need to consume about 2,480 calories to maintain my current body weight. To build muscle and mass, you need an additional surplus of 250 – 500 calories a day. In other words, assuming that I’m following a nutrition and exercise plan to targets muscle growth, I’d want to aim for about 2,750 calories per day. This will result in a few additional pounds of mass per month.

Nutrients

Third, look at what you’re eating. To build muscle mass, you’ll need the fuel your body with the right ingredients. Very general guidelines (these can vary from individual to individual) include a gram of protein per day (per pound of bodyweight) from lean protein sources. It’s also recommended that you consume at least 100 carbs on non-workout days and 150 carbs on workout days – with a strong preference for complex, natural carbohydrates like those found in brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat breads. Include foods rich in heart-healthy dietary fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado.

Train for Hypertrophy

Fourth, consider your workout. Are you following a workout plan that targets muscle growth? When you lift weights, they should be heavy – and your rep ranges should be low. I generally go for 8 reps, and I’m fully fatigued on my last repetition. Ensure that you’re not using low levels of resistance and performing 12 or more repetitions. Lighter weights and high repetitions are great for endurance training, but they’re not well suited for gains in mass.

Avoid Excessive Cardio

Fifth, moderate your cardio. Cardiovascular training offers great benefits – but don’t overdo it. If you have a naturally thin body type, a few sessions of high-intensity interval training or steady-paced cardio each week should be plenty. Limit cardio times to 15 minutes so that your results aren’t cannibalized.

Certainly, you’re not destined to be a skinny guy for life… so long as you follow these steps. With some effort, energy, dedication and know-how, you’ll be bulking up in no time!

No Longer Sore After Workout: Am I Doing Something Wrong?

No pain, no gain: No way.

Hi Davey,

I’ve been getting back in to shape lately by going to the gym 2 – 3 times a week. When I first started, my muscles would become sore 1 – 2 days after my workout. Recently I’m finding that my muscles don’t become sore in the slightest. I am increasing the amount I lift but I’m cautious because I’m still getting back into it and I don’t want to harm my muscles.

Does this lack of soreness or stiffness in my muscles mean I’m not working hard enough?

Thanks and much love,
Eric

Hey Eric,

Congratulations on getting back into the swing of things and renewing your commitment to exercise!

First things first, muscle soreness that occurs 12 – 48 hours after exercise is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – and it’s a good thing. Immediate muscle soreness or pain, on the other hand, is often related to injury – and immediate medical attention is encouraged. Since the soreness you experienced is the former, there’s no need for concern.

When exercisers start a new routine (just as you did), muscle soreness is very common. Since the new workout is a shock to the body, muscle soreness is a likely result. But, over time, the body will adjust – and soreness will tend to decrease. This is all very natural and part of the process.

Though many people become addicted to feeling sore after exercise, soreness isn’t required for muscle growth. Provided you have an effective strategy to target muscle growth, your muscles will continue to grow even if you don’t experience discomfort.

In this way, the age-old adage of “no pain, no gain” is certainly a fallacy.

Love,
Davey

Cortisol And Lifting: Limit Your Workout Time.

Think you need to spend 10 hours a day in the gym to look like this? Think again. Longer workouts may have the opposite effect.

When you exercise, your body releases hormones. We generally think of hormones like testosterone, growth hormone and insulin. These three hormones are anabolic because they help build tissue.

But there is another hormone that the body releases during exercise. It’s called cortisol. Unlike the previously mentioned anabolic hormones, cortisol is catabolic – meaning it breaks tissue down. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand cortisol and the role it plays in your workout.

The hormone cortisol has the following effects:

  • Reduces protein synthesis.
  • Facilitates the conversion of protein to glucose.
  • Stops tissue growth.

In other words, the effects of cortisol on anyone looking to build muscle are very much undesirable. So, here are some tips you can use to control cortisol:

  1. Shorter training sessions. While we might think more is more when it comes to hitting the gym, keeping workouts short is one of the best ways to control cortisol. Cortisol is released by the body in response to stress, and strength training sessions shorter than 45 – 60 minutes have been demonstrated to minimize this. Similarly, cortisol is best controlled by cardio sessions shorter than 30 – 45 minutes. Going to the gym should be part of your day – not the whole day.
  2. Eat carbs when it counts. When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to recognize the inverse relationship between glycogen and cortisol. As glycogen levels go down, cortisol goes up. When your body runs out of glycogen – which it uses for energy – the increase in cortisol triggers a breakdown of protein (stored as muscle) to be converted to fuel. It’s not a good thing for people trying to build muscle, but it can be avoided by eating first thing in the morning and consuming carbs immediately after a workout. When taking your post-workout protein shake, ensure that you are also getting some simple carbohydrates that can be absorbed quickly.
  3. Manage stress. Since cortisol is released in response to stress, managing your stress levels outside of the gym will be helpful. This may mean setting aside time for meditation, bubble baths or even a massage.
  4. Get enough sleep. Cortisol levels are lowest (and growth hormone levels are highest) in the deepest phase of sleep. Get your required 7 – 8 hours, and do your best to ensure that it’s uninterrupted (i.e., put your phone on silent).
  5. Supplement. A 2001 study by Peters, Anderson & Theron concluded that getting 3 grams of Vitamin C a day helps lower cortisol levels. It’s also believed that supplementing with glutamine may help. If you’re concerned, you may wish to consider these options.

The biggest takeaway is the importance of quality vs. quantity when it comes to your gym time. Spending more time at the gym may actually have the opposite effect that you intend, so keep your workouts shorter, efficient and effective.

Week 4: Final Thoughts About Creatine.

This week marks the fourth and final week of my month-long creatine experiment. Starting in early April, I started my first cycle with creatine, and alternated between 5 gram and 15 gram loads each week thereafter.

Creatine is a popular supplement that aids in muscle function. Contrary to popular belief, it’s neither a steroid nor illegal in collegiate, professional or Olympic sports. Creatine simply flushes the body’s muscles with water, and often results in strength and muscle mass gains.

Many claim that creatine results in a 10 pound weight gain within the first month. Though I’m sure there is a basis for this assertion, I experienced none of that; I am at the same weight today as I was on April 1. My body looks slightly different, though I’m currently leaning up for the filming of an upcoming fitness video. I don’t think much of the difference can be attributed to creatine so much as my modified diet. I had some minor strength gains at the gym, though I suspect I may have experienced those gains even without the creatine.

The bottom line is that I didn’t see or feel much of a transformation, even after trying some creatine tips and tricks. It doesn’t discount creatine or its potential, but it does put emphasis on the reality that all of our bodies, circumstances and situations are quite different. It stresses that importance of finding out what works best for you, and recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to health, nutrition and fitness.

If you are curious to try creatine, go for it! Your results will likely differ from mine. And so long as you are between the ages of 18 – 60, looking to increase your muscle mass or improve your strength, strength training regularly and don’t have kidney concerns, liver issues or diabetes, creatine may be a good fit for you.

Top 9 Strength Training & Lifting Mistakes.

Improper form is just one of the many mistakes that exercisers tend to make.

I’ve been going to the gym long enough to have seen it all. And though I often have the urge to point out the mistakes of the gym-goers around me, I resist the urge to be that guy. But since you’ve actively solicited my advice, there’s certainly no reason to hold back.

Here are 9 of the most common strength training mistakes that I’ve encountered.

  1. Using momentum. This is huge, and I see it all the time. When you perform a movement for an exercise, it creates momentum. When reversing directions, this momentum can be used to cheat. Unfortunately, it’s not using muscle power – and so this type of cheating should be eliminated. A simple trick is to pause for a second or two before reversing directions – this will absorb the momentum.
  2. Wrong number of reps. The number of reps that you perform for an exercise is entirely dependent on your fitness goals. If you want size, you should probably aim for 4 – 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you want definition, increased endurance or strength (and not size), then you should probably shoot for 10 – 15 repetitions. Whether you are going for 4 or 15 repetitions, you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. And that brings us to our next mistake…
  3. Improper weight. Using the right amount of weight is important. Unless you are just looking to maintain what you’ve got – and not progress – then you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. If you feel like you could do another rep or two, then the weight is too light. Bump it up.
  4. Not progressing. If you’re looking to increase your size or strength, it means you’re going to need to progress to higher levels of resistance over time. Muscles don’t grow unless they are forced to grow – and doing more of the same will only get you more of the same. I recommend the 2 for 2 rule to help know when it’s time to increase the weight.
  5. Doing the same workout each day. A lot of exercisers try to train every muscle group each time they hit the gym. While this is an especially poor practice if you go to the gym often (it can result in over-training), all people will benefit from focusing on different muscle groups on different days. Instead of trying to train every muscle in 45 minute (and not really hit any of them hard), focusing on just a muscle group or two can give you an effective, deep workout.
  6. Not adding variety. Many of us get into workout routines that we like, and then we stick to it. Unfortunately, our muscles adjust to our routines – and stale routines make plateaued results more likely. Try switching things up – change the base of stability, order of your exercises or even try something new.
  7. Improper form. Improper form goes beyond the momentum-based cheating mentioned above. It covers anything from incorrect postures to not using a full range of motion. Compromised form means compromised results. If you think you may be using improper form, then work with a personal trainer – or, at the very least, perform an internet search to see the exercise performed properly.
  8. Resting too long. For most of us, 45 – 60 seconds of rest in between sets does the trick. But those seconds tick by quickly, and it’s easy to take a bit of a cat nap. Watch the clock to make sure you’re not resting too long – it will make your workout much more efficient.
  9. Exercising during pain. If it hurts, stop! Delayed onset soreness is good and healthy – but if you’re experiencing pain while lifting, something isn’t right. Continuing to exercise while in pain is a recipe for serious injury. Moreover, if a muscle is still sore from a previous workout, then it is too soon to train it again. Hold off until the muscle heals.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!

10 Skinny Guy Muscle Building Tips

Even skinny guys can add some bulk and muscle to their twinkish frames with a little effort and dedication.

Dear Davey,

I am one of those guys who is very thin and eats whatever his heart desires and I will not gain a pound. I do not expect to ever be “jacked” but I would like to be fit and filled out. With that being said, do you have any work out tips for people with a build and metabolism like myself?

From,
Max

Dear Max,

So you’re one of those people. I’m sure your metabolism is the envy for anyone reading this that is trying to lose some weight. You probably won’t get much sympathy here. But there are a few things that you should know!

First, nutrition is still important. Even though you can eat whatever you want without increasing your waistline, it doesn’t mean that unhealthy food options are any better for your body. I remember reading about autopsies being done on young American soldiers who had died in Iraq. Their veins looked like they belonged in 60-year-old cardiac arrest patients. In other words, nourish your body with healthy choices.

Second, it’s important to be realistic. If your nickname is “String Bean,” or “Tommy the Twink,” then you probably don’t have the genes to look like the Hulk. All of us are given different body types, and so it’s important to create expectations within the boundaries of what is possible. Instead of comparing ourselves to other people at the gym (who have a totally different set of genes) compare yourself to… yourself. You certainly can add bulk, but it will be to a different degree. It will be bulky for you, and that’s what matters.

Beyond paying special attention to your nutrition and being realistic, the recommendations for building bulk are the same for you as anyone else. You’ll need to:

  1. Lift weights. If you want to get creative, try P90X for a serious workout.
  2. Target a low number of repetitions (4-8 or 10 at most).
  3. Be fully fatigued on your last rep.
  4. Keep pushing yourself to progress to heavier levels of resistance or weights.
  5. Fuel your body with enough calories.
  6. Consume the right amount of protein.
  7. Don’t overtrain – get rest!
  8. Continue with moderate cardio. Don’t worry, it won’t burn off your muscle.

So the truth is, with a little effort and dedication, you’ll certainly be able to add some muscle to your frame. You might not look like Popeye, but you will see some fantastic results.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

The 2-for-2 Rule: How to Know When You Should Increase The Weight.

Building muscles requires increasing resistance. Following the 2-for-2 Rule helps you identify when it's time to up the weight.

We know that progression is necessary to build bigger and stronger muscles. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten; our muscles won’t increase in size or strength unless we push them to do so. And that “pushing” is done through incremental increases in the amount of resistance.

Just yesterday, while exercising with my boyfriend, he asked a common question: When should I increase the amount of weight that I’m lifting? To answer that question, most people expect an answer that’s attached to a time-frame, like “every three weeks” or “every fifth workout.” But that’s not really how it works, and all of our bodies work, adjust and develop differently.

Graves and Baechle created a more practical formula to determine when it’s time to increase the amount of resistance. It’s called the 2-for-2 Rule:

If you can successfully complete two or more repetitions in the last set in two consecutive workouts for any given exercise, then the load should be increased.

For example, I perform 4 sets of 8 reps of dumbbell bicep curls. If I can perform 10 reps on my final set of bicep curls for two weeks in a row, then it’s time to increase the weight. Remember, if you are looking to build muscle, you’ll want to target a low number of repetitions – but you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. The 2-for-2 Rule helps identify when fatigue is no longer happening!

If you are new to working out, you may be able to increase resistance by 5% – 10%. If you are more advanced, 2% – 5% may be more appropriate. This usually amounts to 2.5 – 5 pounds for smaller muscle groups and 5 – 10 pounds for larger muscle groups.