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Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The importance of muscle mass

Simply put, having muscle not only allows you to move and perform everyday activities, they also dictate the speed of your metabolism and, let’s be honest, to most, muscles look good. A fit toned body not only means you are able to perform athletically, perform everyday task with ease, in many cases, it can restore a sense of self confidence and pride.

There are over 600 muscles in our body split into three categories:

Smooth muscle: Muscle that are involuntary controlled by your brain suck as muscles in your stomach, intestinal lining, colon, bladder, Uterus, eye muscles etc. These are the types muscles you do not think about that work behind the scenes and tell your body what needs to be done. Such as throwing up to avoid alcohol poisoning.

Cardiac muscle: Muscles that make up the heart

Skeletal muscle: The voluntary muscle that you DO control. These muscle are attached to your bones via tendons and ligaments and are the ones responsible for all physical movements.

What is resistance training?

Typically, this type of training is associated with weight lifting but it is any activity that will create an opposing force/resistance to your muscles. Whether it is a resistance band, a heavy stone, cement bag, wheel barrow, it doesn’t matter. If it is making your body strain, your muscles contract, it’s most likely a form of resistance training. The typical result will be an increase in strength, speed, muscle tone and muscle mass. Easier said than done though, there is typically careful thought and planning that goes behind a successful resistance training program.

Before we elaborate on the science of building muscle, there are a few points that I want to clear up. Questions that I often get asked and want to get them out of the way.

Many women will ask me :’’Will I get too bulky’’?

Answer: 99.9% of you will not. The only way you will is if you have testosterone levels higher than the average man and in this case your chest hair and full beard should be you main concern. No offense to bearded women, please.

Men: Is it possible to get big like the guys in the magazines without steroids:

Answer: Magazines 40 years ago maybe. Today, the fitness models competing in ‘’all natural’’ shows are often on Anabolic steroids, SARMS, GH, diuretics and I will stop here before I give anyone bad ideas… So do yourself a favour and focus on making small improvements and becoming the best version of yourself. Of course, some are genetically gifted, many actually so it is possible to be ‘’jacked’’ and ripped without drugs, hell yes!!

Will your have to work your buns off for it and have a near perfect diet, you bet your __ you do. Especially if you are over 40.

Can anyone get under 10% bodyfat: Yes, science and logic would lead me to say that 99.9% of people can. Some body types will have it easier than others, that is for sure, but everyone can. The challenge in my mind is getting lean and not looking like you are starving. And doing so in a manner which allows you to sustain the diet and lifestyle. The process of leaning out requires a calorie deficit and if done too fast, muscle mass, metabolism and health can be compromised. Meaning that will not only loose fat, you will also loose a proportion of muscle and might create nutritional deficiencies depending on how crazy/plain stupid your diet is. The only exceptions to those who can loose fat and not muscle would be obese people who have NEVER trained before in their lives, They can lose weight and also gain muscle at the same time provided they start training hard. If you have been training for years, are 100% natural and over 40, hanging on to muscle while trying to cut fat can be a challenge.

If you are completely new to resistance training, the majority of your gains at first, can be all muscle. For those who have been training for years, this is a bit more challenging as your body is used to the stimulus of resistance training already. For those who have been training for years, it becomes critical that the diet be on point and that the training provides a progressive challenge to your muscles.

What are the required elements to build/maintain muscle? If you are asking yourself that question, odds are you are a guy,.. but some women are also concerned about building muscle, as everyone should. Why? Because muscle mass drive metabolism! Those with higher muscle mass can afford to eat more and not gain excess body fat. Also, muscles look good, let’s be honest. If anyone had to choose between being super skinny, obese or muscular, the choice would be easy for most.

I’ve been lifting weight (resistance training) for many years now and my focus and objectives have changed drastically from a 15 year old who wanted to NOT weigh 114 pounds and simply wanted to gain weight ?( any weight, didn’t care…) To an aspiring sprinter trying to make the national team where I simply wanting to be strong/powerful and NOT gain weight. Today; middle aged guy who wants to stay fit and not feel/look his age. And it gets harder every year.

Now back to gaining muscles, the first thing that you should note is that the body does NOT want to gain muscle mass. Maintaining muscle is extremely energy taxing on your body (hense metabolism shift) and your body will NOT want hang on to extra lean muscle unless you give it a very good reason to do so. The best way that I know to convince your body to gain and maintain more muscle is by the use of resistance training and progressive loading (adding weight/adding intensity). Resistance training ”tricks” the body into a survival mode where it feels it needs to add muscle in order to survive the grueling new habit you have just developed. We are much more primitive that you think and adding muscle in combination with neural adaptation (getting more efficient at a particular movement) is how the body adapts.

I mentioned progressive loading before because as with all lifters, you will hit a plateau where you are no longer gaining muscle mass or strength. That often happens when your body becomes accustomed to a routine and the total load is not increasing. When this happens, you guessed it, the body no longer feels the need to add muscle. There are many strategies one can take when this happens and many will opt for the muscle confusion approach where they will change their routines every 6 weeks in order to continuously challenge their bodies. In some cases, especially for intermediate lifters, the strategy is great. For more experienced lifters, results are not as positive. The problem is that during the initial stage of a new routine, the body goes through a neural adaptation phase where your body learns to become more efficient at a particular movement. You will see increase in loads at almost every workout for the first 4 weeks. Don’t confuse this with becoming stronger; you have just become more efficient. Like to old golfer who has trouble walking but can still out drive you… He/she is likely not stronger than you, just more efficient at that particular movement. Changing exercise every 6 weeks is a great way to confuse your body into growing but there are basic compound movements which in my opinion should remain staples to a routines aimed and gaining mass. You should seek to break through your plateaus on these lifts rather than switching to a completely new exercise for the sake of seeing another nice progression curve. If your year is filled with beautiful progression curves but your body has stagnated, this should be a sign. Either your workouts are off or your diet is off- Likely both…

P.S For newbies who have never lifted, your body will likely react to ANYTHING so don’t even worry about switching routines every 6 weeks. You likely will not see a significant plateau for the first 12 months. All you have to be concerned with is that you have a safe, well designed training program that addresses all major muscle groups as well as correcting your weaknesses.

Best exercise for mass

  • Dead lift

  • Squat

  • Bench press

  • Overhead press

  • Barbell row

These can be varied in so many ways, from rep scheme, time spent under tension and tempo, that you can afford to keep these exercises for the majority of the year. If you get extremely strong at these basic compound lifts, you WILL add mass. Provided you are eating properly, sleeping properly and recovering between workouts.

The mechanism behind anabolism:

Relax, this is not where I start to talk about steroids, your body can be anabolic without anabolic steroids. Anabolism simply means ‘’ in a state of building’’. The opposite of this is catabolism where your body is breaking down. Your body is in a continuous cycle of anabolism and catabolism and the trick is to create an environment where you are more often in an anabolic state than a catabolic one

In order to do so, once should understand the roles that hormones play in our body:

We’ll only stick with the major ones as to not make this a science book that will bore you to death:











How they work together to create an environment for muscle gains:

Diet for gaining muscle

Your body is either building or being broken down. This is an ongoing cycle where if at the end of the day, you have broken down more muscle that you have rebuilt, you are considered to be in a negative nitrogen balance state (muscle loss). If you have built more that you have lost, this is a positive nitrogen balance, which is where you need to be if your goal is gaining muscle. In order to grow and have positive nitrogen balance, three areas NEED to be covered

1-Resistance training

2-Slight calorie surplus

3-Adequante protein intake.

We briefly touched on resistance training above and it is important to note that if you are in a calorie deficit, your body will not have the required energy to add muscle mass (unless it is a very slight deficit and you have never trained before)

How much protein do you need?

The question that has a thousand answers…And since I have read them all and tried most, here is my opinion.

  1. It will depend on your body type. I do not want to get into the science of eating for your blood type, nor do I want to segregate, ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs body types. The truth is everyone appears to be a little different. Not only when compared to other but compared to how they were 10 -15 years ago. Simply put, our ability to digest and assimilate certain types of protein can fluctuate as we age. I do believe that a young, enzyme rich digestive system will be more efficient at digesting meat and certain legumes.

  2. It will depend on the size of your meals: Consuming a shake that has 100gr. Of protein on an empty stomach does not in my opinion yield the same impact as having 3 separate meals of 30-35g of protein such as wild fish, chicken and beef. Protein is digested in the intestines and the science points to us only being able to assimilate roughly 10-30gr. per hour (depends on the type of protein) and if we look at whey protein (most popular for shakes) , we can only assimilate about 10gr per hour. The kicker here is that your shake will pass through you in about 1.5 hours (on empty stomach) meaning you will not be able to utilize all this protein for muscle building. That being said, if you add fat, carbs and slow down the digestion a bot, you will assimilate more. But if you really want to max out your protein assimilation, add enzimes such as Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus oryzae. Reasearch shown that amino acid levels when enzimes are added will be 3-4 times higher than when just taken plain.

  3. The type of protein makes a difference: Protein are made up of amino acids and amongst these are some that have more of an anabolic effect on muscle building. L-Leucine is the most anabolic.

  4. Timing of your protein meal: Your body is eager to rebuild post workout so there is a window where your muscles are slightly more prone to rebuilding right after your workout but please note that consuming your protein meal 2 hours after your workout isn’t going to kill your gains.

  5. Health of your digestive system; stomach acids, enzymes, intestinal lining. An unhealthy digestive system with compromise the efficiency of your protein absorption.

  6. Are you used to eating protein? I suspect that the person who has been deficient in protein for an extended period of time will react more positively to a nutrient they were lacking. The body will crave it more and although digestive rate may not be higher, the utilization rate could be higher at first.

So with all these variable, do you feel it is fair to say that you need 1.5g/kg of lean body mass to gain muscle? No, it will vary from one person to the next and depending on where you fit amongst these variable, it is best to start low, until you hit the point where you are seeing the gains and recovery you need.

*Please also consider that the amount of protein you need to maintain health VS the amount of protein you need to gain muscle mass is VERY different. Before I throw out more number let’s get some definitions straight as you will undoubtedly see these terms elsewhere

Lean body mass vs lean muscle mass.

LBM(or fat free mass)

Includes Muscle mass



Bones Muscle mass


Consists of skeletal muscle, Cardian muscle and lean muscle

Amongst these categories, there is one that is of primary interest which is lean skeletal; muscle mass.

Lean skeletal mass if what most people are looking for and keep in mind that skeletal muscle mass is approx. 79% water. Meaning that drinking water can contribute to lean skeletal muscle mass gains.With this in mind, do not get overly excited with quick gains or losses. Rather, you should measure over periods of weeks, months and years to get an accurate measure of your progress.

My suggestions: Your clothes and your smart phone should be the judge.

  • Take pictures every 2 weeks and look at the progression

  • See if your clothes is fitting you differently.

  • If you are under 20% bf, you can take callipers to mark you progress

    • Free caliber testing guide.

  • BF scales: Although there are several limitations to some of these scales. If you take your weight in the AM, at the same time, you will notice a trend that is directly in line with what your mirror is saying and what how your clothes are feeling.

Once you have determined your approx. lean skeletal muscle mass, you can the start playing around with the amount of protein you consume.

How to calculate LBM:

Eg. 200lbs at 25% bf, your LBM is 200-(200 x.25)= 150. A good place to start for those interested in gaining muscles, is at 1 gr. per pound of LBM and then move up to 1.5 if needed. The truth is that everyone is slightly different and since protein is required for recovery and repair, the person training 3 hours a week will not require as much protein as the person training 20 hours a week in preparation for a competition. As you can see, there is no cookie cutter formula and you will actually have to do some work and be disciplined enough to count your macros and measure your progress. Everyone wants the quick formula to success but it is unfortunately not that simple.

You should also not be obsessed with getting 30gr/protein in EVERY meal. Protein synthesis in natural athletes stays elevated for 48 hours post workout stimulus so skipping a protein meal is not the end of the world. As long as at the end of those 2 days you have a positive nitrogen balance, meaning you have a surplus of protein, then your muscles are getting all that they need to grow (provided you are not in a calorie deficit)

Once you protein is established, work on your carbs and fats. As long as protein is high and that you are not too high above your calories, the split between carbs and fats won’t be as significant as you might think. I know I am making some heads spin here and no, I am not anti Keto. Just saying that the amount of calories you ingest and their nutrient profile has a larger role that the split between carbs and fats.

Although the ‘’if it fits your macro’’ is accurate for body composition in the short run, anyone interested in being healthy SHOULD be concerned about the QUALITY of the foods they consume. 200gr of carbs from candy is not the same as 200 gr. of carbs from nutrient rich sources. In the end, your body NEEDS vitamins and minerals for optimal functioning so getting your greens, your fiber, your healthy starches, EFA’s, saturated fats, mono/poly unsaturated fats will play a role in your ability to sustain rigorous training and achieve optimal health.

There are certain basics that NEED to be covered in order to gain muscles and too often these are ignored.

1-You MUST create a caloric surplus

2-You MUST eat an adequate amount of protein

3-The balance of your diet should be composed of ‘’clean’’ food

4-You must progressively load your workouts to make them more difficult

5-Make sure the stable ligts are part of your workout if you are not a newbie

Squats, Chin up/pull ups/Row, Bench press/overhead press.

6-You must rest and get enough sleep.

7-Since protein synthesis only last 48 hours, in theory, you should hit each muscle group every 2 days through variations of exercises that hit your muscles from slightly different angles.

8-Muscle hypertrophy range is typically between 6-15 reps. What is of greater importance than the rep is the stress that you put on your muscle and the time that it spends under tension. Your body can’t read the weight on the DB so make sure you isolate the muscle and create as much tension as possible. 6 reps with a 4 second eccentric (lowering of the weights) can be a lot harder that 15 quick reps with a weight you could have done 20 reps with.


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