There’s much confusion around how much protein you should consume when trying to lose fat. Old school bodybuilders believe they should eat protein every few hours, whereas others fear the potential negative health effects of high-protein dieting.
In this article, we will talk all about the evidence regarding protein for fat loss. Does eating more protein actually help when you are in a caloric deficit? And are there any health concerns when it comes to high-protein dieting? Sit back and put your reading glasses on to learn more!
Before we delve into the science behind protein and fat loss, let’s get a clear idea of what protein actually is. We know it helps with building muscle, but there is more to protein than many people think.
Protein is a structural nutrient, meaning that protein is mainly used for building up bodily tissues. As examples, your hair, skin, and eyes all contain protein. But the tissue in which protein probably has the most prominent role is in muscle.
Your muscles are made of the molecule, protein. In this case, also known as “muscle proteins.” These proteins are made up of something that probably sounds familiar: amino acids. Protein is made up of 21 amino acids, of which 9 are essential.
The reason the 9 amino acids you see left above are “essential” is that your body cannot synthesize these amino acids on its own. You need to obtain essential amino acids from your everyday protein sources like beef, fish, and lentils.
This immediately explains why protein is an essential macronutrient for survival. Protein provides the amino acids that your body can’t produce for important physiological processes like muscle function and health maintenance of other tissues.
How Protein Affects Fat Loss
Now that we better understand what protein does, we can dive a bit deeper into protein and fat loss. In the scientific literature, we consistently see that those who maintain a high-protein diet tend to lose more fat and maintain more muscle. A 2017 review paper points out that this is because of three specific effects of protein:
- Enhanced satiety
- Higher energy cost of digestion
- Promotes muscle retention
Let’s take a closer look at each of these effects.
Protein & Satiety
Protein is commonly known as the most satiating macronutrient. Multiple research reviews show protein is more filling than carbohydrates and fats. So increasing protein intake tends to aid fat loss by making you feel more satisfied while staying in a caloric deficit.
A classic example of this is a 2005 study by the University of Washington. When the participants increased their protein intake from 15 to 30% of daily caloric intake, they perceived a sustained decrease in hunger and their spontaneous food intake dropped. This eventually helped them lose more fat.
Higher Thermic Effect
When you eat a 400 calorie-meal, not all 400 calories are directly used to fuel your activities. A small portion of the energy you’ve consumed is directly used for the digestion of nutrients. This is known as the “thermic effect of food.”
The macronutrients protein, carbs, and fat all have a different thermic effect per 100 calories consumed.
- Protein: 20-30 calories
- Carbs: 5-10 calories
- Fats: 0-3 calories
You require more energy to digest protein since it is a complex nutrient. Because of this, eating more protein slightly enhances your daily energy expenditure. This is also part of the reason why it’s hard to gain fat on a high-protein diet.
Having a successful fat loss phase doesn’t just involve weight loss. What most people are looking to do is lose fat while at least maintaining the muscle they currently have. Protein plays an important role here since it affects the composition of the weight you lose when in a deficit.
Having a high-protein diet has repeatedly been shown to increase muscle retention while in a caloric deficit. This makes sense. Muscle protein breakdown increases when you are in a deficit, so your body likely is also in need of more protein.
A good example of this is a 2010 study. In this study, a protein intake of 2.3g/kg (of total body weight) resulted in significantly more muscle preservation than a protein intake of 1g/kg in resistance-trained men.
All in all, current evidence supports that if you have a low-to-moderate protein intake, it’s beneficial to consume more protein for fat loss and muscle preservation.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) of protein in the United States currently is a daily protein intake of 0.8g/kg body weight (0.36g/lb). This recommendation applies to the “average Joe”, who doesn’t lift weights and is mostly sedentary. But for those that train consistently and are looking to maximize their gains, higher protein intakes are needed.
A 2017 meta-analysis compiled the data from 49 studies on protein intake and muscle growth to provide evidence-based protein intake recommendations. The researchers found that a good protein range for muscle growth is around .1.6g-2.2g/kg of body weight (0.7g/lb).
For an 80kg male, this is around 130-175g of protein per day. If you are obese or overweight, use your lean body mass instead of total body weight to calculate the right protein amounts for you.
A protein intake of 1.6-2.2g/kg is also a good range for feeling more satisfied. But I want to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with starting at 1.2-1.5g/kg if you are not used to high-protein dieting yet. Research shows that an increase in protein intake as small as 5% helps with losing fat. So if a protein intake of 1.6-2.2g/kg sounds intimidating, have a small increase instead that’s realistic for you and gradually build up your protein intake.
Is A High-Protein Diet Safe?
Now that you know why protein is beneficial for fat loss and how much you need to achieve the benefits, we’re going to look into the health effects of a high-protein diet.
Because low-protein diets are used for treating some existing health conditions, like kidney disease, many think a high-protein diet is also harmful to healthy individuals. But the evidence against this assumption has been increasing in the past decade.
Several review papers show no long-term negative effect of high-protein diets on renal function or overall health. In a 2016 study, researchers made bodybuilders maintain a very high-protein intake of 2.5-3.3g/kg of total BW for 12 months. There was no negative effect in any health marker. This is in line with recent experimental research.
So for overall healthy individuals, there’s no need to fear a high-protein intake. If you stay reasonable with your protein consumption and have an overall nutritious diet, protein won’t do harm.
Practical Takeaways + Fat Loss Checklist
- Protein is a structural nutrient. Protein involved in maintaining proper muscle function and the health of other bodily tissues.
- A high-protein diet is generally favorable for fat loss because protein is very satiating, has a high energy cost of digestion, and promotes muscle retention.
- A protein intake of 1.6-2.2g/kg of body weight is effective for most people. If you are not used to high-protein dieting, first make a small increase in your protein intake. From there on gradually build up your protein intake.
- High-protein diets are safe for overall healthy individuals. A multitude of research reviews shows no negative health effect after years of high-protein dieting.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and can apply a few of the discussed concepts in your nutrition. If you want more detailed information on how to set-up a complete fat loss phase, check out my fat loss checklist. It goes into detail on how to approach a fat loss phase effectively. Subscribe to my mailing list by leaving your email below and I’ll send it to you!
The most important variables for achieving your fitness goals are your training and nutrition. Supplementation has an overall small effect on your progress.
But that doesn’t mean there are no useful supplements. Creatine monohydrate is one of the few scientifically validated supplements that actually work. In this article, you are going to read all about creatine monohydrate.
What Is Creatine?
In human energy production, we use the nutrient “creatine” to resynthesize ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the energy source for muscle contraction. The body only stores a limited amount of ATP at each time, about 100g to be specific. This is enough for just a few seconds of high-intensity exercise (like strength training).
To resynthesize ATP during high-intensity training, your body first uses the creatine phosphate stored within your muscle cells. So the more creatine you have stored in your muscles cells, the longer you can sustain high-intensity training and the better you perform.
Now, unless you eat a large amount of red meat, your muscle creatine stores likely aren’t maximized. By supplementing with creatine, you can saturate your muscle cells with creatine and, therefore, delay muscular fatigue.
This is in a nutshell what creatine is and how it works. Next up we’re going to discuss the specific benefits of creatine monohydrate supplementation.
The Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate
Muscle & Strength Adaptations
Since creatine monohydrate helps delay muscular fatigue and improve your strength performance, research shows that it helps with slightly boosting muscle and strength gains. This makes sense, consistently performing better will eventually result in better training adaptations.
Another benefit of creatine supplementation in regards to strength performance is its effects on performance recovery. For strength performance, stored muscle and liver glycogen are essential energy sources. Creatine monohydrate supplementation may enhance muscle glycogen resynthesis after training. Because of this, your strength performance after training essentially recovers more quickly.
Overall Brain Health
The benefits of creatine monohydrate are not limited to improving muscle and strength gains. There is good research showing creatine supplementation also enhances brain function. Several studies have reported improved memory, focus, and attention as a result of creatine supplementation.
A classic example of this is a 2003 study. This research found that when 45 young adults took 5g/day of creatine for 6 weeks they significantly improved working memory and intelligence test performance. Other research indicates creatine monohydrate may also have neuroprotective effects. Although more research still needs to be done, creatine monohydrate seems to be a good agent against neurodegenerative processes and even headaches.
The way creatine has positive effects on the brain is similar to how it has positive effects on muscle performance. Taking creatine increases the availability of creatine in the brain, which can be readily used in brain energy metabolism.
Is Creatine Monohydrate Safe?
As you just saw, the benefits of creatine monohydrate are well-established in current research. But many have concerns regarding the health effects of creatine. Many short– and long-term studies have investigated the effects of creatine supplementation on kidney function, liver function, and general health in healthy individuals. No negative health effects were found.
Recently, the International Society of Sports Nutrition also released a position stand in which they reviewed the available scientific literature on creatine. The researchers conclude that supplementation within recommended doses (~3-5 grams daily) is safe. Numerous other research reviews support this.
All in all, creatine is one of the most extensively studied and scientifically validated nutritional supplements available. There is no evidence suggesting it causes negative health effects in healthy individuals that use it correctly and get their creatine from a reliable source.
How About Abdominal Bloating?
Another common concern some people have is the potential bloating creatine causes. Although creatine supplementation does result in weight gain through water retention, this water should be stored in muscle cells (intracellularly), not under your skin. So if you experience bloating after taking creatine, it’s likely a combination of multiple factors, rather than just the creatine.
And Hair Loss, Is That A Legitimate Concern?
You may have heard of recent rumors suggesting creatine negatively affects hair growth. This idea is primarily based on a 3-week study that found creatine supplementation may increase the levels of an androgenic hormone known as “DHT”. DHT can block the delivery of nutrients to hair follicles in men with “Male Pattern Baldness”, this is believed to be a contributing factor to hair loss.
Now, these findings are controversial because there are no other studies showing such a great increase in DHT through creatine supplementation. Also, not everyone will respond the same way to an increase in DHT, genetic factors will influence the response.
Considering this and the fact that athletes who supplemented with creatine for up to 4 years did not report an unusual increase in hair loss, it seems unlikely that creatine supplementation will make you lose more hair.
How To Take Creatine
To saturate your muscle cells with creatine and keep them saturated, all you need to do is take a dose of around 3-5g of creatine monohydrate per day. Cycling or timing your creatine intake will not make a practical difference.
Even loading creatine once you start using it for the first time is not necessary, with research showing no added benefit of a creatine-load in terms of muscle creatine levels after 4 weeks of supplementation.
All in all, there’s no need to complicate creatine supplementation. Taking 3-5g/day of creatine monohydrate is all you need to achieve the benefits. There are also other forms of creatine, but none of these creatine forms have been studied more than creatine monohydrate. So I suggest you stick to what is proven to work if you decide to use creatine.
Key Takeaways + Mailing List
- Creatine monohydrate is one of the few supplements that is scientifically proven to enhance muscle and strength gains. There is also promising research showing benefits in terms of brain health.
- Creatine monohydrate is widely regarded as safe for healthy individuals. It also does not cause bloating and it’s unlikely to accelerate hair loss.
- To achieve the benefits of creatine, take 3-5g/day of creatine monohydrate from a reliable brand. No cycling or loading is necessary.
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Testosterone, often touted the king of all male hormones – and rightfully so. Research shows testosterone has a function in regulating:
In this article, we’ll focus on the effects of testosterone on muscle growth. With all the “T-boosters” and “anabolic diets” we see on the internet every day, it’s important to understand how great the effects of testosterone on muscle growth really are.
Without any further ado, let’s jump straight in!
More Testosterone = More Muscle?
It’s widely accepted that the normal range of testosterone for males is around 250-950 ng/dl. Without any drug use, it’s impossible to go way beyond this “normal range.” In science, testosterone levels beyond the normal range are referred to as “supraphysiological levels of testosterone.”
Through research, we know that supraphysiologic levels of testosterone allow tremendous muscle growth to occur. In one study, volunteers who injected supraphysiological doses of testosterone were able to gain muscle without any form of exercise.
That’s part of the reason why professional bodybuilders are able to become so big, their testosterone levels are through the roof due to the large amounts of testosterone they inject (which can be very dangerous).
Because supraphysiological levels of testosterone have great effects on muscle growth, it’s often believed that every small and/or temporary increase in testosterone will help grow more muscle. But that’s not always the case.
Like Dr. Stu Philips once stated, naturally occurring levels of testosterone do not significantly influence the rate of muscle protein synthesis (the process in which muscles grow). Muscle growth only increases when anabolic hormone levels drastically increase for an extended period of time, which is not possible naturally.
Basically, those who squat every day and/or maintain very short rest periods to achieve a greater hormonal response, do not benefit from it in terms of muscle growth.
Researchers actually went out and studied this too. A study by the University of McMaster found that maximizing the post-workout hormonal response, by manipulating training variables, does not result in more overall muscle growth. Again, this is because the testosterone levels of the volunteers stayed within a normal range.
When To Worry About Testosterone
As you just read, healthy individuals with testosterone levels in a normal range do not benefit from slightly more testosterone in terms of muscle growth.
But we know through research that testosterone levels tend to decrease as someone gets older. Eventually, this can result in testosterone levels below the healthy range. Also, some people have poor nutrition, don’t sleep well, and are very stressed. This also causes a significant drop in testosterone, which can put a person below the healthy testosterone range.
The condition in which the human body does not produce enough testosterone is known as “Hypogonadism.”
When someone does not produce enough testosterone, even a relatively small increase in testosterone levels can be beneficial. Not just for muscle growth, by the way, but also for overall health.
Naturally Increasing Testosterone Levels
So, now we know that individuals with low testosterone levels benefit from increasing testosterone. Often, low testosterone levels are caused by poor health habits. That’s why it’s no surprise many studies suggest that changing a few of these poor health habits will naturally increase testosterone.
Let’s look at a few natural ways to increase testosterone.
1. Consume sufficient micronutrients
Micronutrient (vitamins & minerals) deficiencies have been shown to significantly decrease testosterone production. Several studies show that getting rid of these deficiencies has a positive effect on your testosterone levels and can put you back in a healthy range.
There’s evidence showing that many US citizens are deficient in several micronutrients. So, consuming more nutrient-dense meals and taking a good multivitamin can help many people with increasing testosterone.
2. Get rid of excess body fat
Fat cells contain an enzyme called aromatase. As you accumulate excess body fat, aromatase levels increase. Aromatase has been shown to convert testosterone to estrogen and, therefore, negatively affects testosterone levels. This helps explain why observational studies link obesity to lower testosterone.
Having that said, getting too lean is not beneficial. Something like a bodybuilding contest prep can be detrimental to your testosterone levels.
3. Get enough sleep
Poor sleep is a no-go for active individuals. Next to suppressing testosterone production, it also slows down fat loss and decreases muscle growth.
One study on older males shows that the difference between 4 and 8 hours of sleep a day can mean the difference between testosterone levels below and testosterone levels within a healthy range. Yeah, kind of a big deal!
Final Words on Testosterone
Testosterone is very important for basic human function and, of course, muscle growth. To optimally gain muscle as a natural lifter, you need to make sure your testosterone levels stay within a healthy range.
But slightly boosting your testosterone by manipulating training variables, for example, won’t make you gain more muscle. If you are a healthy individual who trains hard, sleeps properly, eats nutrient-dense meals, and is not constantly stressed out, boosting your “T-levels” should not concern you.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the one and only key to healthy testosterone levels. Yes, even for older men.
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If you are having trouble with shedding body fat, this article is for you. You will be reading all about the 4 biggest fat loss mistakes, which I see people make every day. I will show you how to prevent making these mistakes, so you can keep burning fat at a rapid pace.
I recommend you to read through this article carefully since it is easy to think that you are doing everything right (I’m guilty of this too). Being critical of the way you set up your diet and training will tremendously help improve your fitness results whenever possible.
Mistake #1: Focus On Eating ”Clean”, Instead of Eating Less
The first thing many people do when they want burn fat is start consuming more nutritious meals. This is great, but your body does not burn fat based on how “healthy” your meals are.
Fat loss is a response to an ”energy deficit”. If the number of calories consumed are lower than the number of calories burned, your body has no choice but to burn fat. If you are familiar with my work, you know that this is dictated by something called the ”Energy Balance”, which is supported by the law of thermodynamics.
The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed or created, only transformed. So a surplus of energy has to be stored (fat gain) and an energy deficit needs to be ”compensated” by internal reserves (fat loss).
So regardless of how ”clean” your meals are, you always need an energy deficit to burn fat. Goji berries, chia seeds, brown rice etc. won’t make you burn fat if you consume more calories than your body requires.
Does this mean that I can eat whatever I want?
You could eat mainly junk food all day and still burn fat. A professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas University State, Dr. Mark Haub, did it to prove this point. After all, snacks do not make you fat, overeating on snacks does.
But just because you can burn fat while consuming mainly junk food, does not mean you should. Research shows that you still need sufficient vitamins and minerals for basic human function and health.
Fitness is not just about burning the maximum amount of fat in a short period of time, but also about feeling your absolute best in the long-term.
Mistake #2: Taking It ”Slow and Steady”
You now know that you need a ”calorie deficit” to burn fat. It’s often thought that maintaining a small calorie deficit will help preserve muscle during a fat loss phase. The issue with this is that you lose fat very slowly and often need to extend your fat loss phase to achieve your goal body-fat percentage.
This is unfavorable because the longer you are in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down and the less muscle you build. That’s why it’s generally a good idea to keep a fat loss phase short if it’s possible.
This said, crash-dieting is also not the answer.
Crash-diets basically make you feel like crap. An experiment by the University of Minnesota shows that starvation-based diets negatively affect mental health. The volunteers of this study could not stop thinking about food. Some were unable to handle the restrictive diet and eventually binged on snacks.
Crash-diets can also cause muscle loss. Since we want to improve our overall body composition (more muscle and less fat), it is not smart to implement a crash-diet.
So instead, opt for an aggressive calorie deficit that allows you to burn 0.5-1% of total body weight (in mostly fat) per week. A research review suggests that this rate of fat loss is effective for those who want to preserve muscle during a fat loss phase.
This usually can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%. At the end of this post, you will be able to download a free fat loss checklist that will show you exactly how to implement this.
Mistake #3: Not Consuming Enough Protein
When food is scarce, the human body primarily taps into two internal energy sources: Body Fat and Muscle Proteins. So muscle breakdown increases when dieting (don’t worry, this does not have to result in net muscle loss).
Plenty of studies show that a high-protein intake during a fat loss phase decreases muscle breakdown and stimulates the synthesis of new muscle proteins. So dietary protein plays a vital role in muscle preservation during a fat loss phase.
Also, multiple research reviews show protein is more filling than carbohydrates and fats, making it the most satiating macronutrient available.
In one study, increasing protein intake from 15 to 30% of total calories resulted in a large spontaneous drop in food intake, most likely because of a sustained decrease in hunger and appetite. Because of this drop in food intake, the volunteers lost more fat.
That helps explain why research shows a high-protein intake doesn’t just decrease muscle breakdown but also increases fat loss.
A good general recommendation for protein consumption is around 1.6-2.2g/kg (0.7-1g/lb.) of total body weight
You can find out more about macronutrient requirements in the free fat loss checklist below.
Mistake #4: Being too strict
The science is quite clear on this: Flexible dieters lose weight and keep it off, whereas those who are very strict lose weight and gain it back quickly. This can differ per person of course, but implementing a flexible diet increases your chance of success.
Don’t get me wrong, flexible dieting does not mean ”Eat whatever you want and get to 6% body fat!”. Flexible dieting refers to consuming mainly nutritious meals that you enjoy and not being overly obsessed with caloric and macronutrient tracking.
Tracking food intake should not cost you more than 10 minutes a day
We are not good at estimating how much food we need to consume. A well-designed study shows that we tend to underestimate just how many calories we truly are eating in our diet. That why’s tracking calories can be useful. This way you ensure you are near your caloric and macronutrient requirements.
But trying to be 100% accurate when tracking calories and macros is not realistic. The FDA allows a 20% variance on nutritional values. So a meal that is listed as 600 calories, is allowed to be 720 or 480 calories.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that research shows that most nutritional values, found online and on packages, are not precise and have an average variance of 20%. This means that we can’t precisely track food intake, as there are no 100% accurate nutritional values available. So a lenient approach to tracking calories and macros will do just fine.
Final words + Free Fat Loss Checklist
There you have it, the top 4 fat loss mistakes. Preventing these 4 mistakes will improve fat loss tremendously.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment below!
Free fat loss plan
If you are planning on having a fat loss phase soon, I highly recommend you check out my free ”Fat Loss Checklist”. You will receive it once you join my email list by filling in the form below.
We all know someone that is super strict about how many meals he/she eats per day, but has no control over the number of calories those meals contain. This is a classic case of “missing the forest for the trees.” In this article, I will show you why meal frequency does not deserve as much attention as many people think and what you should focus on instead.
Meal frequency, Energy Balance and Fat Loss
The energy balance describes the relationship between “energy in” (calories consumed) and “energy out” (calories burned).
- If the number of calories consumed is higher than the number of calories burned, you gain fat (positive energy balance).
- If the number of calories consumed is lower than the number of calories burned, you burn fat (negative energy balance).
The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed, only transformed. So a surplus of energy has to be stored (fat gain) and an energy deficit needs to be ”compensated” by internal reserves (fat loss).
This is relevant because no matter how many meals you consume a day, the energy balance eventually dictates whether you will lose or gain fat. Research is very clear on this:
- A study by the University of Ottawa compared consuming 3 meals with 6 meals a day while matching total caloric and macronutrient intake. They found no difference in terms of fat loss.
- An extensive research review done by French scientists found no significant difference in weight loss when consuming 1 to up to 17(!) meals a day while matching total caloric intake.
As you can see, meal frequency doesn’t seem to affect fat loss whatsoever.
How about your metabolism?
Contrary to common belief, consuming multiple small meals a day does not boost your metabolism, and consuming a couple of big meals a day does not harm it. Multiple studies show that meal frequency has no significant effect on your metabolism and total daily energy expenditure.
Also, not eating for a while won’t make you go into “survival mode.” Research shows that your metabolism starts slowing down after approximately 60 hours of fasting. I don’t think anyone reading this will ever fast for 60 hours straight.
Meal Frequency, Intermittent Fasting, and Muscle Growth
For decades, bodybuilders have been telling us to spread protein requirements equally throughout the day. To do this, you will need to consume multiple smaller meals (typically 6). This claim is understandable since muscle protein synthesis is an energy demanding process. Muscle protein synthesis basically is the ”muscle-building process”.
There’s research showing that consuming protein frequently is more effective than having just a few protein servings. The problem with many of these studies is that total protein intake is not matched between the groups.
Those who consume protein more frequently tend to consume more protein in a day compared to those who only have protein in a few meals.
That likely is part of the reason why we tend to find greater muscle growth when higher protein feeding frequencies are used. Up to a certain point, higher protein intakes simply make you gain more muscle.
But when protein intakes are matched, a 2013 meta-analysis led by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld shows that how much protein you consume is far more important than when you consume it. Here’s a quote out of this research paper:
Perceived hypertrophic benefits seen in protein timing studies appear to be the result of an increased consumption of protein as opposed to temporal factors. In our reduced model, the amount of protein consumed was highly and significantly associated with hypertrophic gains. (Schoenfeld et al. 2013)
Research regarding intermittent fasting also shows that a high meal frequency is not a necessity to build muscle. Individuals who do intermittent fasting consume no calories for the bigger part of the day and reach their nutritional needs in 4-10 hours.
Not eating for 14-20 hours may sound horrible for muscle growth, but there’s evidence showing it’s similar to eating regularly throughout the day, as long as total caloric and macronutrient intake is matched, of course.
What about fasted training?
Muscle breakdown increases during fasted training. The fact that you get a great anabolic response after breaking your fast, may offset the increased breakdown during training. This would help explain why intermittent fasting has been shown to preserve muscle as effectively as eating regularly throughout the day.
As far as workout performance goes, it depends per person. There’s research showing that fasted training has no significant effect on workout performance, but your personal experience may be different.
The Bottom Line on Meal Frequency
Hopefully, this post has made it clear that meal frequency has a negligible effect on fat loss, metabolic adaptations, and muscle growth. As long as you reach your nutritional needs for a given day, meal frequency won’t make or break your progress.
Therefore, how many meals you should consume per day mostly depends on your personal preference. Pick a meal frequency that is most enjoyable for you and you can stick with it.
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During the initial phases of your lifting career, it seems like almost everything works. As long as you train, muscles will grow. Unfortunately, this does not last. As you get more advanced, muscle growth slows down and may even come to a halt.
I learned this the hard way. When I just started off with lifting weights, I used to train 5 times a week. All I did was isolation exercises with a few compound lifts and a drop-set after every single set. I did gain some muscle, but this did not last very long.
In this post, I will be showing you 4 mistakes (which I all made) that could be holding you back as an intermediate or advanced trainee. Preventing these 4 mistakes will help you make better use of your muscular potential. But first, I will be explaining why beginners seem to build muscle faster.
Why ”Newbie-Gains” are real
Muscle growth is not something that just comes along with training hard and eating right. It’s an adaptation to a “stress.” This stress is provided by resistance training. Someone who is new to the gym is not used to the stress resistance training provides. So these muscles will react very well to training stress by adapting to it.
How do muscles adapt, you ask?
Muscles adapt by becoming bigger and stronger than before, so they can handle future stresses more efficiently.
As you get more advanced though, your body has already adapted quite a bit to stresses from resistance training. Therefore it does not see the need to keep increasing muscular strength and size at the same pace.
That’s why multiple studies show that novice lifters (also called ”beginners”) gain muscle quicker than experienced lifters.
For muscles to keep growing, a need for adaptation is critical. This helps explain why overloading your muscle is essential for muscle growth. Constantly challenging your muscles beyond their present capacity causes a need for adaptation.
Without further ado, here are the top 4 reasons why most intermediate and advanced trainees are not gaining muscle.
Reason #1: You are doing too much
Since childhood, we’ve been told that if we want something, we will have to work hard for it. This somewhat does apply to fitness, a certain level of dedication is required to achieve a great physique. But there definitely is a point where “more becomes less.”
Training volume (sets*reps*weight) has a linear relationship with muscle growth. Meaning, the more volume you perform, the more muscle growth occurs.
However, this relationship only exists up to a certain point. If you perform more volume than you can effectively recover from, your fatigue levels increase, which causes your performance to go down and you are in a suboptimal environment to train for progression.
The helps explain why an extensive research review shows that there indeed is such a thing as having too much volume in your training. So, eventually, training too hard results in less muscle growth and strength.
The earlier cited extensive research review shows that performing 30-60 reps per muscle group 2-3x per week is a good starting point for maximizing muscle growth. Based on your progression over time, you can adjust the volume to fit your training needs more.
Reason #2: You are relying on ”fancy training tricks” and isolation exercises
Training for muscle growth is actually quite simple. The new ”revolutionary” ways of training, which supposedly give you pumps like Arnold and abs like Frank Zane, do not magically work better than traditional training methods.
Training tools such as drop-sets and supersets cause great fatigue and a good pump. But if achieving a pump is your main goal when training, you are missing the bigger picture. Achieving overload by progressively challenging your muscles beyond their present capacity should be the main goal of your training plan.
Performing primarily big compound movements and getting stronger will always be the best way to build muscle.
But a stronger muscle isn’t always a bigger one, right?
That’s true, research shows that your body recognizes movement patterns and becomes more efficient if you perform certain movements consistently. This enables you to lift more weight (get stronger) without actually having bigger muscles. In exercise science, this is known as “Neuromuscular Adaptations.”
With that said, once you’ve mastered a movement, any progress you achieve over time is partly also due to you having bigger muscle fibers that can be put to use to produce force. So, eventually, consistent strength progression is a good indicator of positive muscular adaptations occurring.
Reason #3: You are not eating enough
Building muscle and losing fat at the same time, is possible. But to lose fat, you will need to consume fewer calories than your body burns (energy deficit). This energy deficit somewhat inhibits muscle growth, as it decreases protein synthesis rates and increases protein breakdown rates.
The human body constantly synthesizes (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins. If the number of muscle proteins you’ve synthesized exceeds the number of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle. So, eating at an energy deficit simply results in less muscle growth.
When you consume slightly more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you can optimize muscle growth by facilitating anabolic processes and supporting heavy resistance exercise. Maintaining an energy surplus of 200-300 calories is generally sufficient for optimal growth.
Want to learn more about the proper way of bulking? Read this article.
Reason #4: You are underestimating your potential
Believe it or not, your perception of what is naturally achievable has an effect on your results. Those who think that everyone with a bit of muscle is on steroids are often very skinny.
They have ”accepted” that they will never be able to achieve good muscular development without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Clearly, this is not the case.
Having an optimistic mindset and truly believing in your body’s abilities goes a long way.
A very interesting (and kinda funny) study by the Manchester Metropolitan University, shows that a different mindset has a great effect on your physical abilities. The volunteers in this study were all powerlifters. The powerlifters received a pill before training, which was presented as a ”fast-acting steroid.” The pill was filled with saccharine, an artificial sweetener.
Basically, they tricked the powerlifters into believing that they were taking steroids. The result? The powerlifters broke their PR’s by an average of 5% in just 1 training session. Considering these were high-level powerlifters, a 5% increase in total weight is quite high. Normally, such an increase in weight would take months of periodized training.
This all just because they truly believed that their body was capable of more. Therefore, don’t underestimate your capabilities, as this directly can influence your actions.
There you have it, the 4 likely reasons why some of you are not gaining muscle. I hope you enjoyed this article and have gotten plenty of insights. If you have any questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to comment below. I will gladly help you out.
If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data regarding muscle growth in “simple English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.