1. Nix Processed Foods
Even if you’re trying to bulk up, it’s still important for your overall health that you’re filling your body with whole foods, says Davis. She notes that trying to gain weight by eating processed foods like soda, refined grains, bacon, and trans fats can increase your risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Instead, focus on healthy, balanced meals in proper proportions.
2. Increase Your Calories
No one can be in a significant calorie deficit and build muscle. To find out how many more calories you need to consume to gain weight, you need to first figure out your baseline, or how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, then add 300 calories to gain muscle mass. And if you’re following a muscle-building program like Body Beast, add the recommended calories outlined in the guide.
3. Pay Attention to Macros
How you divvy up those calories between carbs, protein, and fat largely determines if your weight gained is from muscle or from fat.
Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet is necessary to build muscle. When you’re working out, you’re basically “breaking down” your muscles; the muscle-building phase happens when your body is repairing the damage — which is where protein comes in.
Protein is made up amino acids, which your body uses as the “building blocks” to create new muscle tissue. But how much protein should you be eating? To build muscle, consume between .5 and .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day — and no more than about 25 grams per meal.
To increase weight gain from fat, your macros should skew higher toward carbohydrates and fat, since it is the most calorically dense macronutrient, Davis says. The bulk of your fat should come from unsaturated sources like avocado, olive oil, and salmon.
An easier and faster way to increase lean mass is first to bulk, then lean out, which is the idea behind programs like Body Beast. Using this method, you only have to focus on one thing at a time — building, then leaning out, versus trying to build muscle AND prevent fat gain at the same time.
4. Strength Train at Least Three Times a Week
To build muscle, you should ideally strength train each muscle group at least two to three times per week. Otherwise, you will not be able to effectively build on your previous sessions and will actually backslide a bit between workout days. However, if you have been training for a few years, you may need to ramp things up to five or six days per week to keep progressing.
5. Perform Compound Lifts
Isolation lifts and weight machines can be great for more specific physique goals of someone that has been lifting seriously competitively for many years, but for 99 percent of people, compound lifts will give you much more bang for your buck.
That’s because compound (or multi-joint) lifts like squats, dead lifts, bench presses, and pull-ups tap a greater cross-sectional area of muscle, meaning you can lift and gain more from every rep. If you like to perform isolation moves, schedule them at the end of your workout as a way to further exhaust the muscles you prior worked during your compound lifts, Simpson says.
6. Focus on Hypertrophy Rep Schemes
To maximally increase muscle size, your training should take a hypertrophy scheme — a middle ground between max strength and muscular endurance. Simpson recommends schemes of three to six sets of eight and 12 reps, with loads heavy enough that you can just eke out your last rep of every set with proper form.
A requisite for muscle growth is to increase time under tension, he says. Time under tension is the total time your muscle resists weight during a lift. Give yourself up to 90 seconds to rest between each set.
7. Dial in Your Post-Workout Nutrition
Remember your muscles don’t grow while you lift, they grow afterward in response to the stress of your workouts. Giving your muscle well-timed and sufficient protein to build and repair lean muscle while also carbohydrates and calories to support refueling of glycogen stores, hormone levels, and energy for your next workout.