Here’s the thing. You could do weight training until a point of exhaustion and follow a diet plan religiously, but unless you do it right and make some changes to your overall lifestyle, you won’t gain muscle mass.
So, what do you have to do for lean muscle growth? Gaining muscle mass can be tricky, but it is possible. If your goal is muscle building and getting rid of excess fat, you’ll have to fine-tune your diet and learn exactly what type of workouts to do.
Continue reading to find out the many reasons you’re not gaining lean muscle mass and what you can do about them.
I’ll share some tips and tricks to build muscle mass that are simple and easy to incorporate into your daily workout routine and nutrition plan.
1. You’re training inconsistently.
Consistency is key if you want to accomplish your workout goals, whether it is building more muscle or something else.
Muscle growth is a slow and steady process - it doesn’t happen overnight. When you exercise inconsistently, your body has a harder time adapting. It is more challenging to form good habits.
Consistent training, on the other hand, helps you increase your stamina. You start exercising with greater efficiency and can achieve the muscle gain that has been eluding you.
The best way to go about it is to set a realistic goal. Planning to hit the gym six days a week may be a tall order. Instead, aim for something like exercising 3-4 days a week and building up from there.
As you see results in skeletal muscle tissue growth, you’ll become motivated to be consistent.
2. You’re not lifting heavy enough.
You probably know that lifting weights is the best way to gain muscle. But did you know that you need muscle hypertrophy for building muscle?
In other words, you need muscle tissue growth at a cellular level.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by lifting heavy weights with fewer reps because muscle hypertrophy occurs when the skeletal muscle tissue enlarges through resistance training.
If you find you can easily do 12-15 reps with lighter weights, it’s time to move on to a heavier weight.
Experts recommend doing pyramid training when you lift weights. A pyramid workout means you start weightlifting with a weight you can easily lift for 8 reps, then move on to heavier weights that you cannot lift for more than 6 reps, 4 reps, and so on.
Bottom line is, if you can’t do more than 4 reps, it’s too much weight. If you can easily do more than 10 reps, you should add more weight.
3. You’re not allowing enough recovery between sets.
To build muscle, you need to perform multiple sets of resistance training. However, you also need to sit it out for a while and avoid overtraining. This gives time to the muscle fibers to recover.
Muscles recover pretty quickly, getting back up to 85% of maximum capacity in under 20 seconds.
For efficient muscle building and an enviable physique, it’s a good idea to allow at least 2-3 minutes between sets.
4. You’re doing too much cardio.
If you are eating too little, adding cardio to your workout regimen will mean you are expending more than your calorie intake. This will make gaining muscle mass near impossible.
Of course, doing the right type of cardio is essential to build muscle mass and lose body fat, but your priority needs to be resistance training.
Feel free to add in a cardio session once in a while, but don’t do it at the expense of recovery for whatever muscle group you’ve worked on.
5. You’re training wrong.
Whether you’re working with a personal trainer or going solo, if you are not able to gain muscle, here are some things that could negatively impact your workout.
One, you could be lifting heavy and doing too few reps in the gym.
Second, there may be a big gap between your workout days.
Third, you might not be consuming enough calories.
Before you move on to lifting heavier weights, make sure you are doing between 3 and 12 reps. Here’s why.
Less than 3 reps will help you gain strength and power but not build muscles. More than 12 reps will increase endurance but limit the growth of muscles.
Ideally, you should aim for around 6 reps during your workouts.
Also, ensure that there are no more than 3 rest days between training. You should be working out 2-4 days per week. If you are not consistent in this, muscle building will occur at a much slower rate.
Lastly, make sure you are eating enough. Err on the side of a small surplus in calories rather than a deficit.
6. You’re not eating enough protein.
To stimulate the growth of muscles, you need an adequate amount of protein. Proteins contain amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle cells. Yet, most people don’t eat the amount of protein they need to stay healthy, let alone build muscle.
Indeed, protein is one of the most deficient macronutrients in diets across the world. People think they consume enough protein but they’re wrong.
The recommendations for protein intake are 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight for overall health maintenance. However, in athletes and in people who want to build muscle, the body needs 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
You should eat enough and include a variety of proteins into your post-workout nutrition, such as:
- Greek yogurt
- Lean meats
- Chia and flax seeds
- Whey protein isolate
In general, natural food sources and animal proteins tend to be better choices than supplements like casein protein.
7. You’re not eating enough carbohydrates.
This might sound counterintuitive because fitness experts routinely advise people to cut carbs from their diet. In fact, it’s a sticking point with many fitness gurus. So you might be under the impression that eating healthy means cutting carbohydrates because they prevent you from gaining muscle.
However, the truth is that high-intensity weightlifting requires energy, and carbs are the body’s fuel. A low carbohydrate diet can lead to low glycogen levels and impact your athletic performance.
In order to gain muscle and keep energy levels up, make sure you eat enough carbs. They are crucial to gain strength and repair and build muscle cells. You can work with a registered dietitian if you find you’re not making progress. They will help you find the right amount of carbs to consume on a daily basis.
8. You’re not drinking enough water.
When you don’t drink enough water and stay well hydrated, you starve your muscles of a critical nutrient.
Water plays a key role in the transport of nutrients that form protein and glycogen for muscle growth. It is also needed by nerves which control muscles.
Staying well hydrated should be your first priority when fine-tuning your health.
How much water should you drink to gain muscle? A good guideline is 50 mL or 1.7 fl. oz. per kilogram of body weight consumed throughout the day. Or aim for 16 cups or a gallon of water.
Pro tip: A gallon might seem a lot, but if you drink 2 cups with each meal and snack, it should be doable. And try to get your water intake done earlier in the day, so you’re not waking up during the night to pee.
Also, keep in mind that alcohol is dehydrating. It also suppresses the central nervous system and immune system. Studies have shown that when you drink alcohol, it interferes with protein synthesis pathways as well. This is all bad news if your goal is muscle building.
Skip the drinking sesh with friends and opt for something healthier. If you do have a few drinks, be sure to pay attention to your nutrition to make up for the damage.
9. You’re not getting enough sleep.
A healthy diet, focusing on one muscle group at a time, and high intensity training are all very well, but if you’re not getting enough shut-eye, you’re going to have trouble increasing muscle size.
Getting adequate rest is a critical component of healthy functioning!
Sleep is the time when your muscles recover and repair themselves. The levels of human growth hormone are highest when you’re sleeping. Stress hormones are known to break down muscle, and a high stress hormone level (cortisol) is directly linked to lack of sleep.
When you are sleep deprived in the long run, it is at the expense of your recovery. This is why it can be impossible to gain muscle if you’re not getting enough rest.
Focus on not only the amount of sleep but also quality sleep.
Pro tip: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Stick to a fixed time for going to bed and getting up. If natural methods don’t work, consider taking a supplement like melatonin.
10. You’re gobbling down your food.
It may sound silly, but when you eat too fast, you prevent yourself from building lean muscle.
Here’s what happens: When you eat super fast, your body doesn’t get enough time to process hunger cues. As a result, you don’t realize you’re overeating and end up with a calorie surplus.
You probably know that how many calories you eat plays a critical role in muscle building. While enough calories are necessary to build muscles, more calories can be detrimental.
TL;DR -- don’t eat to the point of gastrointestinal distress.
Slow down, switch off the TV, stop looking at your phone, and truly savor your food. Chances are you will eat less crap and feel fuller sooner.
Dedication and more frequent trips to the gym are not the only things that will help you with lean muscle growth. You need to pay attention to the full range of nutrition and exercise to increase muscle mass and make gains effectively.
Now that you know the common reasons for not building muscle mass, you can fine-tune your workout, diet, and lifestyle to get the results you want.