"Protein, bro! Lift harder, bro!" If you're a guy, I'm sure you've heard this muscle-building advice before. But the quest for lean muscle isn't a "men's-only" goal, nor is it an easy one. Most people struggle to build mass.
Lady or dude, if you've been working and working for more muscle but haven't seen any gains, you're probably making one or more of these eight mistakes.
Achieving lean mass is rarely easy, but it's easier if you avoid the following errors.
Muscle-Building Mistake 1: You Don't Eat Enough
I give every new client a simple analogy: Can you build a house with blueprints, construction workers, but no raw materials? Nope.
Muscle doesn't appear by magic. Muscle requires the right amount of nutrients to grow. That includes protein, carbs, and fat. If you don't eat enough, your body can't use calories for repair and growth. You can lift weights until you're blue in the face, but without excess calories, resistance training won't affect your muscle mass.
I'm not saying you should order pizza and eat an entire gallon of ice cream. Plan your meals and learn how many calories you need for a small surplus. Otherwise, you might add too much excess fat. You don't what that kind of size.
Muscle-Building Mistake 2: You Don't Eat Enough Protein
Many people, particularly women, don't consume enough protein given their daily activity. For athletes and people trying to build muscle, I recommend 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For people trying to maintain good health and their current body weight, 1.0 to 1.2 grams should work.
The more you stress your body, the better your nutrition needs to be. Each source of protein—dairy, beef, poultry, seeds, fish, eggs, etc.— contains different amino acid profiles, so consume a variety of protein. Eating a full spectrum of aminos can be highly beneficial to your muscle-building goals.
Muscle-Building Mistake 3: You Don't Train Intensely Enough
If you don't train with intensity, your muscles won't get bigger or stronger.
I see many people, especially women, going too light in the gym. If you think curling those 5-pound dumbbells will tone your arms, think again. Lift with purpose and power; don't just go through the motions. Go hard and heavy enough to challenge your body beyond its normal capacity. That's when change happens.
Muscle-Building Mistake 4: You Don't Rest Or Sleep Enough
What you do in the gym causes your muscles to grow, but change doesn't happen until you're resting or sleeping. One major hormone responsible for this change is human growth hormone (HGH). Our HGH levels are highest when we sleep.
Moreover, many studies suggest an association between a lack of sleep and high cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that can break down muscle tissue. It's exactly what you don't want if you're trying to build mass. Cortisol is also linked with stress, which often occurs when you don't get enough shut-eye.
You charge your phone at night, right? Do the same for your body so it functions at its best.
Muscle-Building Mistake 5: Inconsistency
In college, I remember seeing a bunch of guys training during the day. But come the night, I'd see those same guys with pizza and beer in their hands. If you're not consistent with your nutrition, training, and rest, you'll never achieve your goals. Consistency is applying all the right factors to create the optimal environment for your body to grow.
As time went by, many of the guys I saw training weren't getting any bigger. I was. A few came up and asked me if I was "taking something," because I was having better results with less time in the gym. My answer was always the same. I told them, "You can't give 100 percent in the gym and only 40 outside of it." There's nothing in beer that will help you build muscle, even if you're bulking "dirty."
Muscle-Building Mistake 6: Too Much Cardio
If you're already eating too little, adding cardio and expending more calories will make mass dang near impossible to come by. Don't get me wrong, if you want to build mass and lose body fat at the same time, the right type of cardio is crucial. But your first priority should be resistance training. Feel free to add in a cardio session here or there—but not at the expense of your recovery.
Muscle-Building Mistake 7: You Aren't Training To Build Mass
To build muscle, you must lift weights. But it goes beyond that. You also have to consistently add resistance so your muscles adapt to the heavier weight. If you don't create a workload that challenges your body, it won't respond.
There are many theories about how many reps and sets it takes to get bigger. But most would agree that 3-4 sets of an 8-12 rep range is the best for hypertrophy. Lifting as heavy as possible is for powerlifters and Olympic-style weightlifters. If it's your goal or your sport to bench as much as you can, then lift for that goal.
However, if your goal is physique-based, concentrate on feeling that squeeze and varying your lifts to hit your muscles from every angle.
Muscle-Building Mistake 8: You Aren't Supplementing Correctly
I left supplements for last because they're the last thing you should worry about. Only when you perfect everything I stated above should you concern yourself with them. When you do implement them, be sure to balance them with your nutrition, rest, and training. You can't rely on protein powder to make your gains for you.
Start with a multivitamin to ensure you get all the nutrients you may not get from food. Then go for fish oil, which may help reduce inflammation and could help your heart, brain, and joints to function optimally. Third, grab some whey protein powder. You'll get good nutrients and a broad spectrum of amino acids to help you repair and rebuild muscle.