Want to bulk up? Gaining muscle is a strategic interplay of getting the right amount of protein, combined with the right amount of kilojoules and the right amount of exercise.

Protein is the building block for building muscle. A common analogy that we use to describe this is “you can’t build a wall without bricks”. Basically that means, that you can do as much exercise as you like, but unless you’re consuming enough protein to meet your requirements, you will struggle to increase muscle. Be careful though: too much protein and you may increase your percentage of body fat.

When trying to build muscle, some people end up eating a diet which is almost pure protein. As a result they miss out on key nutrients, and are not optimising your body’s energy stores for exercise. Ensure that you’re eating enough kilojoules for growth. Small, regular meals distributed evenly throughout the day, usually work best for increasing muscle mass. Ensure that you refuel within 20 minutes of your exercise sessions to optimise muscle growth.

This part is obvious. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! Regular resistance training will assist with your muscle growth. Be careful that you build your exercise up slowly so that you don’t cause an injury. It is important to factor in rest and recovery after bouts of intense exercise.

Tips to help you bulk up
Don’t diet
Muscle mass is quite metabolically active and as a result, the more muscle you have, the faster your resting metabolic rate will be. You need to ensure that you are meeting your increased energy and protein requirements to sustain your muscle, so don’t cut down to a skeletal diet. If you don’t meet your nutritional requirements, your body may break down muscle mass to use it as an energy source, therefore limiting muscle growth and slowing down your metabolism.

Love the post-workout pain? It is a sign that you are breaking and building more muscle fibres. Maximising your recovery is important to ensure that you can increase your muscle mass as efficiently as possible. Research shows that a post-exercise meal containing a mixture of protein and carbohydrates maximally stimulates protein uptake and can aid in recovery. If your protein shake doesn’t have carbohydrates in it, then you may like to make it up with some milk or yoghurt.

Stay hydrated
Every cell in your body needs water, including muscle. Being dehydrated puts extra strain on muscle cells and you may be more prone to cramping, fatigue and delayed recovery. Increased muscle mass or extra fluid losses through sweat and endurance training means that your fluid and electrolyte balance may be difficult to maintain, thus the general rule of 2 litres of water a day may not be applicable to you. Talk to your dietitian to work out your specific fluid requirements on training and rest days.

Granted that after a good night’s sleep you can focus more clearly on your exercise and diet regimen, however being well rested has benefits beyond rejuvenating the mind. Sleep deprivation can interfere with your appetite hormones, which can jeopardise your energy and protein intake. Additionally, growth hormone is naturally released while you sleep which can improve muscle recovery and regeneration, so even if you workout in the evening, make sure you prioritise enough time for some quality sleep.