Most people underestimate what it takes to gain a few pounds of muscle. Although some people who might be afraid to lift weights have said “I don’t want to get too big”. Anyone who has spent years trying to put muscle on just smiles and thinks if only we could wake up and find that we have accidentally gained a few too many pounds of solid muscle. Maybe there might just be something in that! I am going to share with you the secrets and the science of gaining lean mass as quickly as possible. Although many of us do gain at different rates, there are principles and tricks that so many miss. I have discovered this through years of investigation, education, trial and error as well as personal experience.

Sleep – When you gain the most muscle

So many athletes and amateur sports people tell me all about the post anabolic window, the protein shake, the special diet and the lifting routines they are doing to build muscle. They convince themselves that eating 5 chicken breasts or some other equally crazy strategy is the one that will pack on pounds and miss the most obvious and in my experience -the most powerful muscle building opportunity of ALL top build muscle. When does the vast majority of tissue repair occur? When does the most muscle repair occur? When we sleep! Most people focus so much on training and forget about providing the optimum opportunity to actually build. Remember -we are doing the muscle damage when we train. The pineal gland secretes growth hormone during the first 2 cycles of deep sleep. Just let that sink in for a second! The brain signals to the body to build when our machinery is shut down. It makes perfect sense. Many things determine protein synthesis or muscle building. This is one major one and another is blood amino levels – do you have the raw material ready to do the repair? My advice here will really help you – make sure you have a pre-bedtime snack or shake which contains casein protein. Casein protein takes hours to absorb and hit the bloodstream. Having a casein shake before bed will coincide with growth hormone production and promote and accelerate repair and building.

Total Protein Intake & Timing

There have been several peer-reviewed studies in recent years looking at the timing and amount of protein to increase or optimize muscle repair. It has been hypothesized that protein ingestion in the immediate post-exercise period is the most critical nutrient timing strategy for stimulating muscle protein synthesis/growth. Does the data back up this claim? Surprisingly – not really. The evidence suggest that it does not make any difference if you have your protein shake pre-exercise or post-exercise. This may come as a surprise to many. It is up to personal preference, tolerance and availability.

The next obvious question might be – how much? This again has been investigated thoroughly by the Australian Institute of Sport and many other notable and credible Institutes. There is a clear scientific understanding or even formula. At the very upper end – 2g of protein per Kg of bodyweight per day. You must also remember that you will be getting protein from your normal diet and this includes vegetables, rice and most whole foods you eat! Your overall protein intake is an important factor in determining if you gain muscle, so try to get this right.

A quick reminder to have a protein shake or slow releasing protein food before you go to bed to help the body do the maximum repair.

Calorie Balance

One of the signals that you must send to the various systems in your body is that now is a good time to build bigger and stronger muscle fibres. The resources are readily available and coming in every day. This means eating a slight excess of calories in terms of what you need to maintain function. One mistake people make here is trying to cut and gain at the same time. In order to gain there must be an excess of calories and in order to loss, there must be a deficit. The fastest way to gain solid muscle is to aim for one goal at a time. Once you hit your weight, it is much easier to shred and lose fat quickly -attempt both and you will fall between two stools.

How is it done?

There are many theories and formulas available. If you are lifting the right type of weights at the right intensities, you should feel an increased urge to eat! The demand for surplus calories will be there. A good general indication is to increase calorie consumption by 10-20% of normal. We don’t want to go completely overboard. It will depend also on your body type. Don’t starve yourself for long periods either. Keep a steady flow of food going into your body to feed growth. You might need a little help with this but there are lots of resources out there.

Vitamins, Minerals and Phyto-nutrients

One of the mechanisms that trigger hunger is the need for micronutrients. So far, we have focused on and spoken a lot about macronutrients. People often overlook this element of Nutrition. Packing in loads of nutrient dense foods sends a clear message to your body that you are indeed getting more than adequate nutrition. So much so that the body can sustain growth. Vitamins and minerals are seen as metabolic spark plugs which improve performance, facilitate recovery and accelerate growth. Many are absolutely critical for growth and if they are not available -then growth will not occur!

Take Home Messages

Sleep more! Provide your body with the necessary fuel than when you do sleep, you work with your body in providing the right fuel at the right time. There is no faster way to pack on muscle than getting this correct.

Get the right amount and type of protein into you. Your body can only facilitate growth in spurts, so having amino acids or protein in the bloodstream is not necessary 100% of the time. Make sure you get adequate amounts daily. That simply means protein with each meal.

Make sure you get your vitamins and minerals. Without these, most of your efforts will be thwarted. These are the tiny chemical messengers which help signal growth and maintain function. It’s a complicated enough process, but if we do the right things at the right times, we can really help our bodies pack on pounds. These are the key areas in developing muscle fast and this is what working for years with professional athletes and coaches has taught me. Eat, train, sleep, repeat.