Building Muscle On Nutrients and Hormones. The only problem with this strategy is that you’re only consuming simple sugars and you’re only consuming processed, man-made food. This then means that you won’t be getting any vitamin C, D, A, B, E… and you won’t be getting any omega 3 fatty acid, any CoQ10, any magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron… you get the picture!
All of these things have important and crucial roles in the body and can help us to improve the look of our skin, the strength of our bones, our brain power, our immune system, our hormones and much, much more.
Think of the people you know who eat nothing but junk food. They’re probably either badly overweight, or spotty with bad hair and nails. This is not conducive to building muscle! And thus, what’s also highly important is to get your micronutrients. And that means that you need to be eating fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and more.
This is what will allow your body to operate optimally and in turn, it’s what will ensure that you can build as much muscle as possible and also maintain the best possible health. An easy rule for this is to try and go ‘paleo’. Paleo is another popular diet which involves eating only foods that would have grown naturally. These are the foods our bodies evolved to thrive on and they include tons of nutrients. So the simple rule is that if you couldn’t hunt or forage it, you can’t eat it!
Paleo is quite a strict diet though and especially if you combine it with IIFYM (just try ordering anything in a restaurant). And if you’re trying to get lots of calories from carbs, it does help to be able to eat bread, pasta and rice.
So instead my version of this diet is the ‘agricultural diet’. You can eat anything that would be in a paleo diet plus anything that could be grown or made on a farm. And of course I’m fairly relaxed with that: because I do sometimes fancy an ice cream or some chocolate and my macros allow for that… so why not? It’s not that you can’t eat processed foods – it’s that you must eat the other stuff.
And when you do, you will feel and perform much better, leading to better muscle mass. So just be aware of this difference. Seek out complex carbs rather than simple carbs, eat lots of fruit and veg and keep the processed foods and empty calories to a minimum and make them treats!
Building Muscle On Nutrients and Hormones
Why Aren’t I Growing? The Hormones Element
We haven’t gotten to the exercise you need to do yet but that’s because we’ve put things here in order of importance. Bulking is done predominantly in the kitchen, with the gym being the afterthought – not the other way around. As long as you are eating a calorie surplus and getting your grams of protein, then you will find that you are able to grow and bulk up and even add some muscle.
But some of you have probably tried ‘eating a lot’ in the past and found it didn’t work. So the question now becomes why not?
If you’ve calculated your AMR, your macros and your regular calorie intake and you are maintaining a surplus… how can you not be growing?
You can ask this question on a forum and depending on where you ask, they’ll tell you-you’re wrong! “It’s simple math!” they say. “If you eat more calories than you burn, it has to go somewhere and you will grow!” they say. “If you’re not growing, you can’t be eating enough calories. Are you skipping meals?”
But what they fail to take into account here is individual differences and just how much your AMR can vary depending on your hormonal makeup and other factors. You can run the numbers all you want and wear fitness trackers but there’s certain things that they just can’t tell you.
This is something that a lot of people deny who swear by calorie counting and IIFYM.
They snort in derision at people who say that eating a low carb diet is useful as a way to manage insulin for example. But if you need proof that this does play a role, then you just have to look at someone who uses steroids.
Someone who uses steroids will build much more muscle and burn much more fat while doing the exact same routine as someone who doesn’t use them (although they’d also suffer lots of side effects…). However, if they were to put their numbers in as we had done earlier, their AMR would be the exact same.
Steroids work by increasing testosterone (by binding to the androgen receptors). Now imagine what happens if you have low testosterone. And as it happens, a lot of guys do have low testosterone – which leads to them being weak, flabby and overweight.Conversely, you might struggle to gain weight if you have a condition like hyperthyroidism.
This is a genetic disorder that causes your metabolism to be very fast. It makes you anxious, jittery and thin and it’s all to do with your balance of T3 and T4 hormones. It’s also possible to have hypothyroidism (note the ‘o’) which has the opposite effect and makes you tired, lethargic and overweight (while also causing problems like acne). In women, hypothyroidism can be the result of polycystic ovaries.
What’s my point? Simply that you might be trying to bulk and not understanding why it’s not working – only to eventually be diagnosed with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism! And in that case, you wouldn’t be able to change size and shape but you also wouldn’t know
why you had that problem!
Likewise, you could have low testosterone but not realize it and carry on in vain trying to gain more muscle mass. But even if you don’t have either of these conditions, there’s a good chance that you could have some kind of imbalance or deficit that leads to similar problems. It’s actually a mistake to think of your body too much in terms of being ‘ill’ or ‘well’. In reality, our systems are not binary but they are spectrums.
You don’t have ‘low testosterone’ or ‘high testosterone’: you have a number somewhere between those two extremes. What’s more, is that your testosterone levels are constantly fluctuating throughout the day – after you exercise, after you eat, while you sleep, when you’re stressed, during sex. And they fluctuate more or less for different people.
Building Muscle On Nutrients and Hormones
The same goes for insulin, myostatin, cortisol, T4…
So you might not have hyperthyroidism but you might be ‘borderline’. You could have a very high metabolism that still falls within the normal range. No one is going to prescribe you any medication and yet your attempts to bulk will likely be met with failure.
So what do you do?
The best strategy you have is to try and change your hormonal makeup for the better, while at the same time carefully monitoring your results and adjusting your approach. Not gaining any weight with that 300 calorie surplus? Then you probably have a very fast metabolism that you’re not picking up on, meaning that your surplus probably isn’t really a surplus. Try increasing that number!
Meanwhile, you can slow down your metabolism with the way you eat. Continuously supplying yourself with complex carbs will do that, as will your training if you keep it up. The rest of the time, it can help to try and minimize stress which contributes to a faster metabolism by raising cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
And believe it or not – running long distance or going on long walks can also help! Why? Because this will help you to develop more cardio strength. In doing that, you can lower your resting heartrate, which will actually send signals to your brain that make you feel calmer. When you do this, you can then keep your cortisol lower throughout the day.
Likewise, if you’re someone who struggles to lose weight, then you should try going low carb. This will force your body to learn to prefer fats as an energy source which in turn will help with your weight loss. It will also avoid those insulin spikes that make you hungry and lead to more fat storage. At the same time, try doing HIIT which uses up all of the sugar in the blood stream and muscles through intense bursts of energy and then forces you to turn to your fat stores.
Another thing to think about is the peaks and troughs in your metabolism and when the best time to eat is. If you want your carbs to go to your muscle, then you need to consume them when your glycogen stores are lowest – right after you’ve trained (that’s called carb backloading). Likewise, if you want to build muscle overnight, then consuming a slow release form of protein (such as casein).
Is a good idea because it will help you to have all the protein you need just when you’re in the deepest levels of sleep. 4am is the time when the body maximizes its production of testosterone and of growth hormone – which are the anabolic hormones that tell the body to build muscle. In the morning when you wake up, your blood sugar is low because you’ve gone all night without eating.
This is great for losing weight but terrible for building muscle, so if you want to avoid it being a negative thing then you need to get some calories in you early to get out of that highly catabolic state.
As you can see then, you shouldn’t think only in the short term and ask yourself how to quickly add lots of calories to your diet – you should also think in the long term and think about how what you’re eating will change your body and help you to build more muscle over time by slowing down your metabolism.
But the simplest way to start bulking for most people is going to be to maintain a surplus. For most people that is more than sufficient and the AMR will be accurate. It’s only when this fails that you then need to think about ways that you can slow your metabolism down and/or increase your surplus further. And you need to monitor your results as you do that to see what’s working – so keep those scales out!