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Gaining MuscleGaining muscle takes work. In order to build muscle, the body needs an overload stimulus, sufficient calories, optimal protein and carbohydrate macro ratios, nutrient timing and adequate recovery. Gaining muscle not only increases muscle tone and strength, but also improves metabolism so that we are burning a higher amount of calories every minute of the day. Strength training itself also burns a great amount of calories and results in a significant ‘after burn’ of increased metabolism for the hours following a training session. This combined increase in metabolic rate results in an improved body composition (as more fat is lost). If you want to lose fat- don’t underestimate the power of pushing hard in the gym- cardio alone is NOT the best way to do it.
Gaining muscle takes time, consistency and patience – months and years (not weeks and days). And women usually have significantly less testosterone than men, which makes this more challenging. Initial gains in strength (first few weeks weeks) come from neuromuscular co-ordination, or ‘smarter’ muscles. The neural pathways become stronger, the number of muscle fibres being recruited increases and the synchronicity improves first. Once this has been accomplished, muscles begin to grow (6+weeks) by increasing the size of the muscle cell fibres. Here are some tips to work on when your goal is muscle gain:
- Calorie budget – if you are at your ideal weight but want to lose fat and gain muscle, work with a maintenance budget. If you have signficant weight to lose, work with a moderate caloric deficit budget (-250-500 calories per day). If you are at or close to your ideal body fat percentage and only want to put on muscle then you need to create a calorie surplus of +250-500 calories per day along with optimal levels of protein grams/timing.
- Macros – hit those protein targets daily (for maintenance or surplus budget). AND, don’t skip your post workout refuelling window (within 30 minutes) – 15grams of protein mixed with 60 grams of carbohydrate in a liquid form if possible. Have a good carbohydrate snack or meal before your workout so that you can work HARD and make those gains.
- Get consistent- strength train 3 days per week and include exercises for all of the major muscles, focusing on compound exercises that use more muscle mass. Include exercises for each major movement 3 days per week- Hip extension (single and double leg exercises) Push (chest and shoulders), Pull (back and shoulders), Rotation (back/core) Extension (back) and Flexion(core). Variety can be beneficial to access different muscle fibres and in different movement patterns- so long as you include exercises for the entire body and add extras for the areas you want more gains in.
- Train smart - muscles are stimulated to grow through protein synthesis when they are challenged in a variety of ways: mechanical tension (muscular force ie GO HEAVY), metabolic stress (maintain constant tension on the muscles ie PUMP), and muscle damage (eccentrics, superslows, deep ranges). A variety of repetition ranges have been shown to effectively increase protein synthesis and muscle growth using the methods listed above. If you are working on creating 'tension' the reps will be lower and the weight higher, vs 'stress' the reps will be higher but no breaks between lift and lower vs 'damage' the reps will be mid range, but focus ondeep range of motion and/or slow lowering (eccentrics).
- Work hard- log your resistance training workouts and aim to beat your last workout numbers each week. It may not happen every time, but it will happen often, especially if you are new to consistent/smart strength training. Reaching to the next level = overload = adaptation = gains. This reaching can be accomplished by increasing reps or increasing weight or decreasing rest etc.
- Be patient! If you are pushing to fatigue/failure, completing multiples sets over multiple days and following optimal macro nutrition timing, you will see results. But including these techniques will cover all of the basis. Everyone responds differently to strength training, however, and so you need to experiment to find out what works best for you.
And for those of you who need help adding calories to make those gains...
- Tips For Increasing Calories In:
- Boost the calories in your meals by adding healthy fats (nut butters, homemade dressings, dairy, avocados).
- Increase portion sizes slightly and add min-meals containing protein and carbohydrates as snacks.
- Consume a meal containing 50-100grams of carbohydrates combined with 15-25grams of protein within 30 minutes of your workouts to assist with recovery and protein synthesis.
- Add healthy ‘liquid’ meals to boost daily calories – smoothies with fruit and yogurt or skim milk/natural protein powder. Add milk, juice and healthy liquid calories to your daily menu.
- Create your own calorie and macronutrient budget using the steps in this post or call me and I can do it for you (Nutrition services!)
Losing FatLosing fat takes time, consistency, time and consistency and time. We know that lasting results come from gradual weight loss over the long term. We know that dramatic changes and drastic caloric restrictions rarely result in long term weight loss and maintenance. And that IS the ultimate goal. In fact, the slower it comes off, the longer it usually stays off.
We also know that there are just as many health risks associated with being underweight as there are with being overweight. Learn what a healthy body weight and body composition is. Learn how many calories and nutrients your body needs to thrive and perform the way you ask it. If you haven't already, be sure to read this post about weight management, healthy body composition and creating your own nutrition 'budget' to reach your goals in a safe and healthy way. When focusing on fat loss through nutrition and exercise, there are a few keys things to work on:
- Calorie budget- eat a little bit less each day and each week, over the long term. Too drastic a deficit and the changes will not be sustainable. You must be able to maintain this budget a year from now...and beyond. Start with a small caloric deficit and see how your body responds when followed consistently (2 weeks). A 250-500 calorie deficit per day is a good place to start. If you have more to lose, you may be able to create a larger deficit but if you have only a small amount to lose you will need to be careful not to cut your calories to low (see the risks of caloric restriction in this post).
- Macros – hit your macro’s. Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates are the foods we eat that provide us with calories, energy, building blocks and more. Again, read this post to find out how to do this. Make sure you are consuming enough protein and eating real, quality food 80-90% of the time to stay within your budget and get as much nutrient density as possible.
- Do the 'YOU' Diet. I don't write meal plans or recommend rigid diets for my clients. The key to long term success is learning to include portions of the foods that you and your family enjoy within your budget. Use a food log to learn the caloric and nutrient value of the foods you commonly eat- you may be suprised. Find a balance that works for you and learn to include portions of the foods you LOVE within your budget.
- Work HARD in the gym. Read about the benefits of strength training in regards to body composition, above. If you want to lose fat and keep it off over the long term, pushing hard in the gym/home with your strength routine is one of the secrets to success.
- Move – how many minutes you spend sitting versus moving every day will have a great impact on your caloric expenditure. Get a FitBit. Track your steps. Get up every 30 minutes from your computer. Get a stand up desk. Avoid sitting for hours on end. Go for a coffee walk rather than sitting down with a friend. Make more time for movement and park as far away as possible. Any time you are not sitting is a good use of your time.
- Follow the Nutrition Keys daily and weekly. Set a daily intention and visualize the nutrition keys that you will use each day.
- Log your food ‘live’ as the day goes, rather than waiting until the end of the day. Or, even better, enter your meals before you eat them, to see how they will fit into your budget
- Increase the size of your breakfast and lunch-never skip or skimp on these meals. Research repeatedly shows that this will prevent overeating later in the day.
- Choose high protein snacks, quality (natural) fats and fibrous fruits and veggies to keep you feeling full longer.
- Use most of your carbohydrate calorie budget for the meals before (and during endurance sessions over 2 hours) and immediately after your workouts to make the most of this fuel. You will be able to work harder during your training sessions and see even greater results with correct nutrient ‘timing’.
- Limit ‘liquid’ calories- alcohol, lattes, sugary drinks and sports drinks and choose water, herbal teas or whole fruits and vegetables alongside protein for snacks.
- Emphasize nutrient rich food choices and plan your meals around lean protein and vibrant, colourful vegetables and fruits-5-10/day.
- Decrease the amount of empty calories in your diet: limit processed foods, fast foods, junk food and alcohol. This is one of the the easiest ways to create a deficit (or surplus!). Eat 80-90% REAL food every day.
- Keep the ‘non real’ foods that you enjoy in your diet in the 10-20% range rather than cutting them out entirely (it won’t work long term, I promise). Learn to choose smaller, snack sized portions of these foods so that they fit within your budget. Cutting them out entirely is a sure fire way to set yourself up for ‘breaking’ and failure down the road. Enjoying them in small amounts, takes away some of the lure and doesn’t make them seem so ‘special’ and tempting. Finding a healthy balance over the long term is the secret to success, happiness and ‘guilt free’ eating!
- Focus on portion control: Avoid overeating by eating slowly, using smaller plates, and starting with a smaller serving size. Put your fork down between bites and pay attention to the taste and smell and experience of eating your meals. Do not eat until you are full, eat until you are no longer hungry.
- Set yourself up for success: Plan healthy snacks that contain protein and fruits and veggies to avoid overeating later (busy days, on the road etc). Yogurts, cheese, hard boiled eggs, bananas, mandarin oranges, cut veggies, home made energy bars etc.
- Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluid per day- water, herbal tea, soups etc all count as fluid.
- Pay attention to ‘why’ you are eating, as part of your logging. Are you hungry? If so, how long has it been since your last meal? Did you eat a good sized breakfast and lunch? Did you have enough protein, fruit & veg and water? Are you eating because you are tired? Stressed? Emotional? Food is for fuel. It will not solve problems, although it may seem like a remedy in these difficult moments. Create a list of healthy alternatives to help you move beyond emotional eating habits - so that you can nurture your body AND mind and feel good about your choices in the future. Emotional? Practice mindful breathing, take a 5 minute walk outside, pour a hot bath, call a friend or do a 15 minute yoga practice. Leave the kitchen and go outside if you need to. The more you practice these alternatives, the more they will become automatic choices.
Ultimately you are in charge of the nutrition and activity choices you make each and every day and you can choose to stay within your budget or go over or under it, any day you like. No stress needed, at all. You are in charge and no one says you have to be a slave to your nutrition or your fitness plan. But do please remember that YOU are making choices every day that effect the direction, speed and ultimately the destination of your health journey. The more frequently you choose to take actions are inline with your nutrition and training plan, the faster you will reach your weight and body composition goals. But you don't HAVE to do it every single day. It really is, up to you.
PS: I often hear people saying 'It isn't FAIR' that so and so can eat XYZ and reach their body composition goals'...or 'so and so NEVER works out and...' or ' I used to be able to eat XYZ and I had no problem.'. Don't waste your energy, time or emotional resources comparing to others or the past. Get clear on your goals, look to the future, figure out your current budget and take consistent steps to stay within it. Focus on YOU, and what you can do each day to work towards your personal health goals. Because, you really can reshape your body by personalizing your nutrition and training plan...to YOUR needs. Forget about what everyone else is doing...DO YOU.
Let me know if I can help!