How To Build Lean Muscle?

It’s the age-old question, “How many times a week should I workout to gain muscle?” A lot of people are under the impression that you have to workout every day in order to see results. That is not true. 


You can actually become over-trained if your body does not have time to rest and recover between workouts. Experts recommend working out on average 3-5 days per week for 45 minutes at a time with 2 days of rest in between each session. This allows you to give your muscles adequate recovery time so they can grow stronger and bigger! 


1. Count Calories

It may sound like a no-brainer, but counting calories is one of the easiest and most effective ways to start losing weight fast.


Weight loss occurs when you use more calories than you take in, either by reducing your intake or increasing your physical activity.


While cutting calories alone is generally not considered a sustainable way to lose weight, counting calories can be an effective weight-loss tool when paired with other diet and lifestyle modifications.


Keeping track of your calorie intake can increase your awareness of what you’re putting on your plate, giving you the knowledge you need to make healthier choices.


Interestingly, one review of 37 studies found that weight loss programs that incorporated calorie counting led to 7.3 pounds (3.3 kg) more weight loss than those that didn’t.


Try tracking your calorie intake by using an app or a food journal.


2. How Much To Eat


The very first thing that you’ll need to do is get your calorie intake set for growth. You need to supply the body with a surplus of calories, which is the additional fuel that the body will then use to generate that new lean muscle mass tissue. Most average male athletes will maintain their body weight at around 17-19 calories per pound of bodyweight, so you’ll need to add an additional number of calories to this intake to spark new growth.


First, understand body composition (% body fat vs. % lean muscle) remains constant when you burn the same number of calories eaten. Conversely, a pound of muscle equals 3500 calories. So, in order to safely and effectively gain muscle, you need to increase your total calorie intake by a minimum of 3500 calories per week.


As much as you may dislike calorie counting, it’s what needs to be done if you want to guarantee success. Targeting muscle gain this way ensures you gain lean muscle and minimize fat accumulation in a way the body can effectively manage.

The result is about a pound of muscle gained every 6-7 days. If you gain weight at a rate greater than two pounds per week, you risk acquiring a greater percentage of body fat than lean muscle—definitely not what an athlete wants.


It’s important to understand that when adopting a muscle-gain diet, you are going to acquire some fat—this is normal. A one-to-two-pound a week weight gain goal should average 75% muscle and 25% fat. How do you make sure you’re hitting that target? By testing your body composition regularly.


3. Drink More Water

Upping your water intake is a simple way to boost weight loss with minimal effort.


In fact, one study found that pairing a low-calorie diet with increased water intake before meals resulted in 44% more weight loss over a 12-week period.


Research shows that water may enhance weight loss by bumping up metabolism, temporarily increasing the calories your body burns after eating.


According to one study in 14 adults, drinking 16.9 fluid ounces (500 ml) of water boosted metabolism by 30% after 30–40 minutes.


Drinking water with meals can also keep you feeling full, reducing your appetite and intake.


For example, one small study showed that drinking 16.9 fluid ounces (500 ml) of water before a meal reduced subsequent calories consumed by 13%.


For best results, drink at least 34–68 fluid ounces (1–2 liters) of water per day to maximize weight loss.


4. Measuring Muscle Gain

It’s important to recognize that just because the scale says you gained weight, that does not mean you gained muscle weight. A good rule of thumb is to have your body fat percentage measured every 4-6 weeks, in addition to body-girth measurements (e.g., chest, arms, waist, etc.). By adopting this practice, you will know if the experienced weight gain is truly an increase in lean muscle, or adipose tissue (fat).


Let me offer a word of advice when testing body fat. Fat tests vary widely and some claim to be better than others. Do not get caught up in which test is better than the other. Instead, make certain the test you choose is the same test throughout your performance nutrition plan. 


Furthermore, have the same practitioner administer your body fat test each time. Varying test-type and tester can disrupt the reliability of the body-fat test, resulting in inaccurate measurements.


Finally, muscle-gain goals should occur during the off-season so that performance is not sacrificed. You should aim to reach your target weight 6-8 weeks before the beginning of the season. This way, your body has enough time to adjust to your new weight and composition before you begin competing.


5. Increase Your Protein Intake


To lose 20 pounds fast, including more protein-rich foods in your diet is absolutely essential.


A high-protein diet has been associated with decreased belly fat, as well as preserved muscle mass and metabolism during weight loss.


Protein can also help reduce appetite and decrease calorie intake.


One study in 19 adults found that increasing protein intake by just 15% increased feelings of fullness and significantly reduced calorie intake, belly fat and body weight.


Another study showed that consuming a high-protein breakfast decreased levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, by a much greater degree than a high-carb breakfast.


Meat, seafood, poultry, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds are a few healthy sources of protein that you can easily add to your diet.


6. Consider When To Eat

Now that you know how much food to eat, and what kinds of food are the best choices, let’s talk about timing. When it comes to how often you should be eating, since you are going to have a much higher calorie intake, you’ll find you do best eating every 3-4 hours.

If you are aiming to eat just three times per day and have a calorie intake of closer to 3500 or 4000 calories, this can be extremely difficult to get in and you’ll end up feeling bloated and sluggish after each meal.


Instead, divide it up into six meals per day so you feel energized after each one and your muscles get a steady stream of nutrients to kick-start the growth process.


In addition to this, make sure that you are eating a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein at each of these meals, and simple carbohydrates right before as well as after your training and workout sessions. This is the prime time when the body is in muscle growth mode, so you want to maximize it by feeding your body the nourishment that it needs. Then, 4-5 hours after an intense workout make sure that you take in plenty of unprocessed complex carbs.


Here’s a bulleted list of these key nutrient timing tips:


  • Eat frequently, every 3-4 hours, and aim for 6 small meals during the day


  • Try not to lump your calories into 3 big meals, as it will make you feel sluggish


  • Eat a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein at each meal


  • Eat simple carbohydrates directly before/after training sessions


  • Eat unprocessed complex carbs 4-5 hours after an intense workout


7. Cut Your Carb Consumption

Decreasing your intake of refined carbs is another useful strategy to accelerate weight loss.


Refined carbs have been stripped of their nutrient and fiber content during processing, resulting in a final product that is nutrient-poor.


What’s more, they typically have a high glycemic index, which means that they are digested and absorbed quickly. Rapid digestion leads to spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, followed by increased hunger.


Consuming high numbers of refined carbs has also been linked to increased body fat and weight gain.


For instance, one study in 2,834 people found that a higher intake of refined carbohydrates was associated with increased belly fat while a greater intake of whole grains was associated with less belly fat.


Another small study had similar findings, reporting that a diet rich in whole grains decreased both body weight and calorie intake compared to a diet focused on refined grains.


To get started, simply swap out refined grains in pasta, white bread, cereals and pre-packaged products for healthy, whole-grain alternatives such as couscous, quinoa, brown rice or barley.


8. Consider Liquid Calories

Finally, the last piece of advice to remember so that you can learn the best way to build muscles is to use liquid calories.


Trying to eat whole foods with such a high-calorie intake can cause some digestive strain for a number of people, so blend up a high-calorie shake with added protein every so often.


Mix together some milk, protein powder, Greek yogurt, frozen or fresh fruit, flaxseeds or nut butter, and, if you want, some ground-up oatmeal to boost the calorie intake.


This is a fast and easy way to get more calories in without feeling like you’re eating—yet again. Some people who want to gain muscle as fast as possible will start to feel like they never stop eating, so using smoothies and shakes can help out with this issue.


9. Eat More Fiber


Fiber moves slowly and undigested through your gastrointestinal tract, slowing the emptying of your stomach to keep you feeling full longer.


One study in healthy men found that consuming 33 grams of insoluble fiber, which is commonly found in wheat and vegetables, was effective in decreasing both appetite and food intake.


The satiety-boosting effects of fiber could produce big benefits in terms of weight control.


One review reported that increasing fiber intake by 14 grams per day was linked to a 10% reduction in calorie intake and 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg) of weight loss over a four-month period, even without making any other diet or lifestyle changes.


In addition, a 20-month study in 252 women found that each gram of dietary fiber consumed was associated with 0.5 pounds (0.25 kg) less body weight and 0.25% less body fat.


Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of fiber that are integral to a healthy weight loss diet.


Your Muscles Grow Bigger and Stronger

Any lifting routine, daily or otherwise, depends on your training goals. For example, if you want to be able to lift heavier weights, your strength-training program will look different from someone’s who wants to grow visibly bigger muscles, also known as hypertrophy, or develop muscle endurance to complete more reps before they fatigue.


“Before I give anyone a strength plan, I always tackle what their goal is,” says Prince Brathwaite, a National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM)-certified personal trainer and owner of Trooper Fitness.


For example, are you lifting to build tank-worthy biceps or to hit a new bench press record? “There will be some overlap in rep schemes and phasing, but for the most part, the programs vary in three different ways: volume, effort/intensity and rest,” Brathwaite says.


That’s because the muscle fibers you engage and how you do so differs by goal.


First, a refresher: You have two main types of muscle fibers: type I (slow-twitch) and type II (fast-twitch), according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Type I muscle fibers require steady oxygen intake to activate during endurance exercises, like running, biking and swimming. Type II muscle fibers are used during explosive movements like heavy lifts when the task at hand is more than type I fibers can handle alone.


Following a higher rep range at a lower intensity will help you train your type I muscle fibers. A lower rep range at a higher intensity will help you train your type II muscle fibers for hypertrophy, explains Kristen Lettenberger, PT, DPT, a certified sports and conditioning specialist (CSCS) at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.

Scroll to Top