6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass

By Nate Green, Originally Posted on Livestrong Blog, October 16, 2012

Here’s the frustrating truth: Most guys spend their entire life going to gyms, performing endless reps and sets, and never gaining more than a few pounds of muscle.  You sacrifice sweat, invest in hustle, and for what? Yeah, good health – that’s great. But if you’re like me, you also want results you can see.

Eventually many guys end up wondering, “Is my body just not designed to add size?

That very question is why teamed up with two LIVESTRONG.COM advisors–nutritionist Dr. John Berardi and fitness expert Martin Rooney. Together with their help, I tried my own personal experiment – which I detailed in my free book Bigger Smaller Bigger – to build as much mass as possible in one month. The result: I gained 20 pounds in 28 days.

I learned what it takes to add size – no drugs, no cheating, no gimmicks.

I did this to help all the average guys out there. Guys just like me. The ones that are tired of being frustrated, misled, and unable to make any changes that they can see. And as a former skinny guy, it was further retribution that anyone–with enough patience and effort–can change their body.

If you want to add some mass to your body, or just make sure that you’re not wasting your time with your training and diet plan, here are 6 lessons that will help you avoid your common frustrations.

RULE #1: Eat more calories than you burn

This might seem obvious, but when you’re trying to add mass you need to eat more. And if there’s a consistent theme in the struggle to gain weight, most people just don’t eat enough. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different. So there’s no hard and simple rule on just how much you need to eat. But most people eat for the body they currently have. And when they eat “a lot” that is just compared to their current weight. If you want to gain more size, you have to be thinking about what it would take to fuel the body you desire.

So eating “a lot” for your size will undoubtedly leave you at your size. You need to push the limits and find ways to take in more calories. Remember, you’re trying to change the way you look and push past a weight that is easy for you body to maintain. What’s more, you’re trying to add muscle that might be stubbornly resisting all your efforts.

The best approach is finding an eating strategy that makes it easier to take in more calories. This might mean eating more meals. It might mean eating less often but taking in significantly larger meals. That’s what I did. I only ate 3 times per day, but I ate a lot at each meal. (See my eating plan for yourself.)

Sometimes you might need some simple tricks to add calories. This could be adding 1-2 tablespoons of oils (like Udo’s oil) to meals, or adding a few extra tablespoons of nut butter after you’re already full. But if you’re trying to gain weight and your not seeing any changes, start eating more. It’s a simple idea, but one that can be difficult to achieve because it’s an uncomfortable process. Hang with it, and your body will eventually adjust–both with the “ease” of eating more and the changes you’ll see.

RULE #2: Double or triple your protein intake

If there’s a type of food you want to eat more of, your top choice should be protein. Your muscles are made of protein. (Studies show about 25%) So if you’re trying to add muscle, it makes sense to take in more protein, so that the food you’re eating–whether it’s chicken, steak, fish, eggs, or a shake–can turn into muscle.

But there’s another reason that might surprise you. Most guys don’t eat enough protein. That’s because there’s a variety of myths out there that will have you believe that you can only digest 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving. Or that you need to eat lots of small doses of protein 5 to 6 times per day. The result is that you feel like you’re getting enough protein, but you’re actually falling short of your goals.

If you want to boost how much protein you’re eating, understand that you can take in more than 20 to 30 grams per serving. And then focus on eating two to three times more protein, in general. If you’re already taking in about a pound per gram of your body weight, you don’t need to triple that amount. But just like calories, you want to eat for the body you’re trying to build. So add more protein as part of your effort.

RULE #3: Eat mostly nutrient-dense whole foods

One of the biggest mistakes when trying to gain weight is eating the wrong types of food. Gaining weight can be hard for some people. (And yes, people that struggle to lose weight do not want to hear about your “difficulties” stuffing your face, but both can be equally challenging.) When you hit that wall, your first instinct might be to eat the most calorically dense foods possible. Scarfing down pizza and donuts might help you gain weight–but not the type you want.

Remember the goal is mass, but more muscle and less fat is what you want. So you’ll want to eat foods that are dense in calories–think steak and potatoes–as well as foods that have nutritional value and will help with digestion, like greens and sauerkraut.

While you will have more room to take in extra calories, if those calories are all from the bad sources you will grow…in all the wrong ways.

Read the rest of the ways to gain muscle mass! 

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