Are you annoyed that no matter how hard you try, you still can't seem to command those biceps to grow? Check your daily habits to be sure you aren't sabotaging your progress.
#1 – You’re not eating enough protein for breakfast
Picture the scene. You’ve woken up slightly late, and in your rush to the office opt for a bowl of high-sugar cereal to break your overnight fast. Breakfast cereals tend to spike insulin and your blood sugar levels significantly. An insulin surge isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but your body needs to use that sugar wisely. Athletes regularly chow down on cereal pre-match or pre-training as they require sufficient energy to fuel maximum activity levels. However, if you’re just going to be plonked at desk all day, this probably isn’t a wise move. A paper published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found the old school bacon and egg breakfast may actually be far better for you than once thought. Consuming upwards of 25 grams of protein for breakfast ignites your metabolism and a higher rate of satiety – how ‘full’ you feel after eating.
#2 – Your protein is on the low side
At the risk of sounding repetitive, protein is our second recommendation. High protein isn’t just important when it comes to breakfast – you need enough throughout the day. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend in order to gain muscle mass, you should consume anywhere between 0.7-1 grams of protein per day, for each lb you weigh. If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry – it’s not. Here’s a helpful breakdown of a meal plan delivering 140 grams of protein per day.
- Breakfast (7am) – 3 whole eggs and ½ cup cottage cheese
- Mid-morning (10am) – 225g chicken mince with stir fry veg
- Lunch (1pm) – 300g grilled beef, 2 sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli
- Mid-afternoon (4pm) – 1 50g handful nuts, ½ cup of low-fat Greek yogurt
- Post-workout – 1 protein shake
- Dinner (7pm) – 300g grilled fish and 1 large white potato with skin on
- Pre-bed (10pm) – 1⁄2 cup cottage cheese
Don’t forget to supplement these protein sources with vegetables and a thumb-sized portion of fat. Protein isn’t held in your body for very long, hence the need for regular 20-40 gram feeds every 3-4 hours.
#3 – You’re taking a misstep with carbs
The majority of people who join a gym want to both build muscle and lose fat, but you have to understand that these are separate goals which derive differing amounts of energy. Unless you’re a complete newbie, simultaneously achieving both is isn't a sound strategy. In the quest to shed fat, carbohydrates are often dropped significantly, if not completely. Carbs provide your body with energy in the form of muscle glycogen, and so retain some water. Dropping carbs in the short-term will result in a small amount of weight loss simply through the loss of water weight. Long-term, going low carb is a bad idea. Not only will you lose your body’s primary source of workout fuel, but Pennsylvania State University also discovered that those who at more carbohydrates over an 18-month period lost more weight than people who cut them to extremely low levels.
#4 – You forgot about nutrient timing
Building serious size is as much about when you eat as what you have on your plate. Eating every four hours is frequent enough feeding to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), a key factor in your quest to sport t-shirt tearing triceps (and the rest). Tread a fine line carefully, though. Eating too much within these four-hour windows can actually negate the effects of muscle growth by not allowing time for digestion and absorption of amino acids.
Give these training patterns the boot
#1 – You’re doing too much cardio
As you already know, cardiovascular training provides a wealth of benefits for your heart and allows your body to utilize a higher proportion of oxygen when working out (what is known as VO2 max). Despite its ever-increasing popularity, too much high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can counteract your muscle-maximizing efforts. It produces excessive amounts of the molecule AMPK, which can potentially inhibit hypertrophy goals when taken too far. As little as 20 minutes of physical activity has been shown, in studies, to result in improved cardiovascular health and a reduced mortality risk. What’s more, you don’t exactly have to over-exert yourself either. Two to three long walks per week can easily fit the bill.
#2 – Your bars aren’t bending
Unlocking your true potential for growth relies on one main principle: progressive overload. This generally describes the way you should be adding small, incremental amounts to your main lifts. It’s a sure-fire way to boost strength and size. The way this works is clear: your muscle groups need to be placed under enough physical stress to elicit adaptation to a high training volume. In order for your body to cope with the physical demands of weight-training, progressively overloading the bar helps to build new contractile muscle fibers. This is the case whether you’re lifting heavy or quite lighter. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is typically accomplished with low-rep lifts, whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy tends to respond more to higher reps. What remains a constant, however, is that both can only be achieved through progressively getting stronger.
#3 – You’re copying a bodybuilder’s workout program
What works for Mr. Olympia, may not work for you. The only people who should copy a professional bodybuilder’s workout program are aspiring and already-professional competitors. The elite within the bodybuilding world are gifted to the extent that they would probably build muscle brushing their teeth. They can get away with dedicating one workout a week to their chest because their bodies will still respond to the stimulus. This isn’t to demotivate you, rather, what works for you will just look different. Roughly 95% of people should train a muscle group every 48-72 hours, as this is the period by when the most of post-workout muscle protein synthesis would have worn off. Upper-lower, push-pull splits are a great way to include this amount of volume in a given week. Research conducted by leading hypertrophy specialist Dr. Brad Schoenfeld has also shown that full body workouts performed three times a week can produce better results than a singular, separate ‘chest day’, for instance.
#4 – You neglect compound exercises
A compound lift is one which works through more than one joint. A bench press, for example, involves the elbow and shoulder joints in order to contract the pecs, triceps, and shoulders. A tricep extension is the opposite – an isolate exercise which only works from one joint in order to stimulate one muscle. Isolation exercises have their place, but this is largely in helping to draw blood and nutrients into the muscle after heavier lifts – what really goes on when you feel a ‘pump’. They shouldn’t form the basis of your entire regime. Free weight exercises, where the range of motion isn’t controlled by a machine, are also massively effective in growing your much-smaller ‘stabilizer’ muscles, tendons and ligaments. To get seriously strong, these need to be as capable of dealing with heavy loads as much as your main, targeted muscles.