No matter how hard you train, it's what you do outside of the gym that gives you the most results. The science is simple; when we train, we tear down our muscle fibres. Everything else we do influences how quickly we repair them, and consequently, the rate at which our muscles grow.
That's not to say that training isn't important - far from it. But the effort that you put into your training will only be worth it if you put equal effort into your recovery. Food, hydration, sleep, and numerous other factors all play a significant role in muscle growth - overlook them, and you'll never make the progress you've been hoping for.
Here are eight ways to maximise muscle growth outside of the gym, ensuring your hard work at the squat rack isn't going to waste.
#1 - Keep testosterone levels up
Testosterone plays a crucial role in body composition, helping to build muscle and burn fat. By far, the most common problem faced by so called 'hardgainers' is low testosterone - thankfully, there are ways to fix it.
If you suspect you have low testosterone, it is worth getting your levels professionally measured to see if that is what is causing the problem. If it is, take the following steps to see your testosterone levels increase:
- Reduce training volume: It may sound controversial, but if you have low testosterone, you may need to take one step back to take two steps forward when it comes to your training. As eight-time Mr Olympia Lee Haney would say, "Stimulate, don't annihilate." Overtraining will frazzle your central nervous system and cause your testosterone levels to plummet.
- Avoid cardio. Again, it's a stress your body doesn't need right now when your testosterone levels are low. Add it back in when you get healthy again.
- Eat cholesterol rich foods such as whole eggs and red meat, which help in the conversion of testosterone. Avoid going too low on the carbohydrate, which can compromise your hormonal output and compromise testosterone production.
- Sleep more - see step two.
#2 - Sleep More
Nothing is more important for your gains than your sleep. During sleep, muscles are repaired, human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone are produced, and cortisol levels plummet. Prioritise deep sleep above all else, aiming for a minimum of eight hours each night.
#3 - Stay hydrated
If you're dehydrated, your body is unable to transport and utilise nutrients from food effectively. Drinking water also improves kidney and liver function, which in turn helps to burn fat. Being just 2% dehydrated can cause your performance to suffer both mentally and physically - so be sure you are drinking enough to maximise your work inside the gym and your recovery out of it.
Note: Do not drink excessive amounts of water with your meals, as this can interfere with digestion by reducing the concentration of enzymes which help to break down food. Instead, drink between meals to ensure you are properly hydrated.
#4 - Eat a high protein breakfast
As important as sleep is for muscle growth, when you wake, your body is lacking the amino acids it needs to kick start protein synthesis. It is therefore imperative to eat a breakfast containing 20g - 30g protein; scrambled eggs, salmon, or steak are all excellent options. Leave the sugar laden cereal where it belongs - on the supermarket shelf.
#5 - Consume enough calories
Many people overestimate the amount of calories they are consuming, and in turn, do not eat enough to stimulate muscle growth. It is impossible to build muscle when in a caloric deficit. So dial in your calories, and make sure you are hitting enough each day. Be sure to get a balance of protein (such as chicken, eggs, red meat and fish), complex carbs (such as sweet potato and brown rice) and healthy fats (such as avocados, coconut oil, nuts and seeds).
Note: Although we do need to be in a calorie surplus to stimulate muscle growth, this does not mean that doubling our food intake will double our gains. Sure, you'll put on weight - but it will be fat rather than muscle. A calorie surplus of 250 - 500 calories is plenty for lean muscle growth in most individuals.
#6 - Chill Out
Stress leads to the production of cortisol, which compromises muscle growth and encourages the body to store fat. So take steps every day to de-stress and relax;
gentle walks, meditation, and even time spent with friends and family are excellent ways to reduce stress.
#7 - Foam Roll
Foam rolling your muscles helps reduce soreness, allowing you to recover quicker in time for your next workout. For deep tissue recovery, book in for a massage.
#8 - Get Outside
Vitamin D is crucial to bone health, muscle recovery and testosterone production. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sun exposure each day. To boost vitamin D absorption, why not take your workout outside?
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