So you’ve decided that you want to bulk up and shed your body fat down to 10%, and you want to achieve it right now.
But getting to that stage of fitness takes a great deal of hard work, so those looking for a “quick-fix” to their muscle-mass issue will need to change their approach.
To help you get there, we’ve rounded up all the information you need to start building muscle and losing fat without fad diets or pills.
How long does it take to build muscle?
The length of time it takes to build muscles varies depending on the individual.
As a general rule, men build muscle quicker than women, simply because they have more testosterone and a higher capacity to produce growth hormones. While women respond to workouts in the same way, it will take them around 2-3 times longer to get the same results as men.
If you are devoted to building serious muscle, you have to be committed for at least 6 months to a year, and even beyond that.
Why does it take so long to build muscle?
It’s not healthy to dramatically change your body in a short period of time. Not only can it affect things like your blood pressure, but it’s also less sustainable in the long run. You need to give your body time to adjust to tone up long-term.
The first month is all about familiarising your muscles with the process of breaking down and rebuilding. You may notice greater definition in your muscles straight away, but it will take a few months until they will noticeably grow, and even longer before you can transform your physique.
As the months pass, you can gradually increase the amount of weight that you lift to encourage your muscles to develop, and you can reasonably expect to gain around 1-3 lbs a month. While this doesn’t sound like a huge amount, it equates to around 15 lbs a year, which can make a huge difference to your strength and appearance.
In short, be prepared to put in plenty of gym work over a prolonged period.
With that in mind, let’s dig into one of the most important (and tastiest) factors that should be considered when building muscle: food.
What to eat when building muscle
They say that abs are made in the kitchen — and it’s true! No matter how hard you may work in the gym, your progress will stay hidden if you don’t employ the right mindset with your diet.
Calorie-controlled diets may help you to initially lose weight, but starving your body of macronutrients (the foods that are required in large quantities for growth) won’t enable you to develop the strong muscles that you desire.
While protein should be a vital component of everybody's diet, it’s especially important for anyone wanting to build muscle.
When you train, you break down muscles, which are then rebuilt to become bigger and stronger.
To gain muscle, you must consume more protein than you break down. Therefore, on a busy training schedule, you need to consume a high quantity of protein in order for your body to change.
The British Dietetic Association recommends that athletes who are strength training should consume between 1.2 g and 1.7 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 80 kg, you should be eating between 96 g and 136 g of protein each day. However, further research suggests that an 80 kg individual can consume up to 176 g of protein a day to maximise their muscle-building potential.
If you are carrying a lot of extra body weight, we advise you to base this estimate on your lean mass (your weight divided by body fat percentage) or your goal weight, so that you don’t end up consuming too many calories.
Go for quality foods
It’s not just the amount of protein you eat: the quality of what you consume also affects your development.
Meat, eggs and fish are all good quality sources of protein, while quinoa, legumes and nuts make for protein-rich snacks that keep your energy levels high. Aim to eat good-quality meat with a low saturated fat content and always buy fresh meat instead of processed. Yoghurt and quark are also high in protein and work well not only as a quick snack but also as a low-fat alternative in dairy-based dishes like cheesecake or lasagne.
Many people find that using fitness apps to track the food that they eat encourages them to stick to a set plan. Counting calories is one thing, but tracking macronutrients allows people to monitor their daily intake in a much more accountable and beneficial way.
Supplement your diet
Supplements such as protein powders and tablets can also be beneficial when you are trying to add more protein into your diet, but they should never be consumed as a meal replacement.
It’s important to consume some form of protein an hour after you exercise, so that your muscles can restore themselves. Therefore, having a protein shake can be very useful to get a protein hit on the go. These should always be followed by a balanced meal including protein, carbohydrates and some fat in order for your body to fully recover.
Whey concentrate protein powders contain 70-80% protein, and some milk and fat, which means they will be more palatable. If you’re intolerant to lactose, isolate and hydrolysate protein powders will be just as beneficial. Should you have an allergy to milk proteins, you might be better choosing pea or rice proteins as an alternative.
How to lose fat while building muscle
Cardio is sometimes seen as a dirty word in the realms of muscle builders, but in order for you to be able to view that newly defined muscle, you need to melt away the fat that hides it by doing cardio.
Swap out steady running for interval training
Instead of traditional steady-state cardio, which includes running for an hour on a treadmill at a constant speed, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This includes alternating 30 seconds of working at your maximum heart rate, with 30 seconds of resting for a total of 20-30 minutes.
HIIT pushes your body into overdrive, burning huge amounts of fat while you exercise and continuing to do so for up to 24 hours afterwards due to a process called “post-excessive oxygen consumption”, where your body tries to return to the state it was in pre-workout.
Unlike steady-state cardio, which is commonly completed for longer amounts of time, 30 minutes of HIIT training is more than enough to achieve great results. You will be able to burn fat without losing muscle or wasting hours doing cardio.
Try out our FGT HIIT class, which utilises challenging bodyweight moves with Dynamic Movement Training techniques, a circuit training or MetaFit class. Both will help you build muscle while shredding body fat.
Lifting weights is key in building muscle, but it can also help you trim your body fat. Lifting heavy weights at a moderate number of reps burns significantly more calories than lighter weights at higher reps, so pick up a couple of dumbbells that will challenge you.
There are eight key moves that everyone should include in their weight routines to ensure a full body workout that will really develop strong muscles. These include:
- Bench press
- Bent-over row
- Military press
- Bench dips
Aim for three sets of 8-12 reps with a 2-3 minute rest in between. As you progress, reduce your resting time to 30 seconds. Choose a weight that is in the medium range to begin with (over 8 lbs) and reduce the reps if you can’t quite make it to the end.
Take it slow
Finally, don’t try and complete all of these exercises in one gym session as you may injure yourself. Instead, split them into individual body groups and spread them out over a week. Avoid doing your HIIT workout just before or just after your weights routine, as your body will need time to recover.
You should also check out our free Fitness First Core app for access to training programmes, workouts and even booking classes at your DW club.
By combining a good diet, plenty of cardio and challenging weight training, you’re well on your way to becoming a leaner, stronger you. Remember that persistence is key, so stick at it even when you don’t see the results at first. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Got any tips to help build muscle and trim fat that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!