Muscle Mass is More than Looking Great

One of the questions that we are asked most often by men is how to gain more muscle mass. It’s an understandable question as muscle and strength are considered synonymous with masculinity, and who doesn’t want to be more masculine?  Here’s the truth. We cannot overstate the importance and lasting benefits of building muscle mass. The sooner you get started the better. Men want to build muscle mass because they want to enjoy what they see in the mirror. Whether they are single or married, they want to be more attractive. They want their girlfriend or wife to want them.  However, muscle mass is vital and so much more than looking great. It has purpose.

Benefits

  • It’s functional and practical.  You never know when life is going to demand something physical from you. Pushing a car, moving furniture, carrying your wife to bed (wink, wink), and so on. When there is a demand for physical strength, the crowd often looks to the man and in that situation. When you are needed, you do not want to under perform. 

  • It increases your metabolism.  Health begets health.  The more muscle you carry the easier it is to remain lean as you age.  Throughout the day calories are broken down to provide nutrients for muscle maintenance.  On average muscle burns 3 times as many calories as fat.  The flip side is that fat begets fat.  Obesity results in systemic inflammation leading to muscle breakdown and loss. As you lose muscle and begin to feel the effects of inflammation movement becomes more difficult and less desired.  This results in a more sedentary lifestyle which only increases fat gain and muscle loss.  t is a terrible cycle.  On the bright side if you decide today to change your life building muscle will begin to reverse the process.

  • It improves insulin sensitivity.  Research shows a strong correlation between decreased muscle mass and dysfunction glucose metabolism.  Some research has even shown this correlation independent of body fat1.  This means the less muscle mass you have the more likely you are to develop an impaired metabolism, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes even if you are not overweight. 

  • It improves bone density2.  Building muscle requires pushing, pulling, and lifting weight.  The concept is known as loading.  Placing your skeletal structure under the load required to build muscle simultaneously improves bone density.  This is especially important as you age.  For an elderly person a serious bone fracture that impairs movement can be life threatening. 

  • It improves disease recovery.  Simply put when your body is under the stress of a disease it needs protein to heal.  Muscles provide protein which is used by the body for the healing process.  In one study muscle mass was found to be an independent predictor of outcome in cancer patients.

  • It improves well being.  Exercise itself produces neurochemical changes that directly improve mood.  It also gives a feeling of accomplishment which breeds confidence. 

So where do you begin? 

It’s important to say upfront that you do not have to be the next Arnold to gain the benefits listed above.  Applying some or all of the tips below will add muscle to any frame. Any muscle gained will contribute to the benefits just covered.  It’s also important to keep in mind that people have different body types and will respond differently to building muscle.  Some gain muscle easily while for others it is more difficult.  Some remain very lean and defined as they gain muscle and others look more “full.”  From the outset you should realize this is not so much about having the “best body” as it is about feeling your best.  Your ultimate goal should always be long-term health and well being.  Take your time and listen to your body.  As you correct your metabolism and apply some of these tips your body will give you feed back and lead you in the right direction.

Correct your metabolism

If you have been eating the average American diet or even if you have been eating a “cleaner” version of the average American diet you likely have developed some degree of insulin resistance and a resulting dysfunctional metabolism.  The way you eat is always going to be at the foundation of your health and ability to build muscle.  All the exercise in the world will not make up for a bad diet.  Start here, today.  Changing your eating habits will change everything else.  While I believe very strongly in customizing a diet to the individual in general the best approach is often to correct your metabolism through a low carb, high fat, and high protein type diet. 

Recovery

Recovery is imperative for muscle growth.  It is during this time that the muscles actually repair and become larger and stronger. Over training is one of the biggest mistakes people make and is an enemy of quality muscle gain.

  • Sleep.  You cannot overestimate the importance of sleep.  Aim for 7-9 hours.  If possible, get up at the same time every morning.  Work on having a proper functioning circadian rhythm by cutting blue light out approx. 1-2 hours before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room or wearing an eye cover, and going outside in the sun first thing in the morning.

  • Stress reduction.  We will be writing on this more in depth soon.  Stress undermines and robs you of your health.  It contributes to overtraining.  It depresses your mood and so on.  Do a thorough evaluation of your life and prioritize your schedule. Play.  I can state the importance of this enough.  Find a hobby you really enjoy.  Spend time with family and friends.  Most importantly have fun.  Practice box breathing and other breathing techniques.  It’s not as complicated or unmanly as it sounds.  Breathing techniques are used by special forces and professional athletes and there is nothing unmanly about those guys.

  • Stay injury free.  Stretch regularly.  Listen to your body and don’t push through pain.  Remember form is far more important than the amount of weight.  If you need joint support, consider supplements. 

Exercise

In our article on primal living we recommended working out twice a week which is a good amount for those looking to improve overall health and body composition. In that article we also recommend cycling in other types of exercise as well.  For those looking to gain more mass we recommend working out 3 times a week focusing on heavy compound movements. Separate it around dead lifting, bench pressing, and squats.  Add military press to either your dead lift or bench day and start with those exercises, then structure other movements around them.  Or separate into 4 days with military press getting its own day.  If you are working out at home without weights focus on pushups, dips, and pull ups. Consider getting a few kettle bells.  There are multiple other ways to approach weight training that will work and ultimately, it’s up to you but I have seen the above work very well and quickly.

Add a couple days of high intensity interval training (HIIT) or short burst cardio such as sprints.  Running sprints have been shown to aid in muscle growth and retention and significantly increase peak power output4.  In one study just two weeks of sprints “substantially improved a number of metabolic and vascular risk factors in overweight/obese sedentary men”5.

Consinder Testosterone Replacement

We are not condoning using testosterone as a performance enhancement aid, however, if you are under producing and suffering from low testosterone that will severely undermine any attempts to change not only your body composition but also your overall health.  Research has shown that low testosterone leads to loss of muscle tissue and strength as well as reduced desire for sex, erectile dysfunction, depression, fatigue, and cognitive impairment.6 It also increases the risk of developing coronary artery disease and strokes 7,8.  Don’t suffer if you do not have to.

Not only is low T a concern but elevated estrogen is as well.  As men age and testosterone declines estrogen tends to increase this leads to fat retention especially in the abdomen.  What’s worse as you gain fat you begin to lose androgenic hormones like testosterone and manufacture more estrogen9 leading to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing fat gain and estrogen production.

It is normal for this to happen to a small degree as men age however our current lifestyle, stress levels, environment, and foods greatly contribute to it and rapidly speed up the process.  Unfortunately, there are many 40-year-old men living with the testosterone levels of a 70-year -old. Many of the things that you continue to blame on aging may in fact be low testosterone and reversible.

Supplements to boost testosterone do not work to any substantial degree.  You may get slight symptom improvement but even then, it’s generally very minimal.

If you decide to investigate your testosterone levels further, please find a knowledgeable doctor.  Obviously, We recommend our clinic be the place you go to get checked out but if you would prefer someone else just make sure you do your research and find a worthy physician and staff.  Many of these “Low T” clinics are just in it for the money.  They run the minimal lab work and only treat low T.  They claim they only manage testosterone because they only specialize in it, but testosterone effects multiple other body systems and you need a physician who will investigate and treat you as a whole person.  Many well-meaning family physicians have started prescribing because so many patients have asked but they are not up on the latest research and often have very poor treatment protocols.  A clinic like ours will do very thorough lab work.  Lab work other physicians often overlook. We will also help with nutrition and lifestyle as well as medicine.  In fact, we believe nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle to be the foundation of good health and will only prescribe mediation when necessary.  We do much more that just TRT and when we do prescribe TRT we have advanced protocols and know what we are doing.

Supplements

The amount of “body building” supplements for sale is ever increasing as men keep buying more hoping to find that “secret formula.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist.  What does exist is what this entire article talks about.  Put these things into practice and you will see results.  That being said there are supplements that have been proven to aid in muscle growth and enhance performance. 

  • Creatine.  This should be a staple in any muscle building regimen.  I speak to its multiple health benefits in this article on the supplements I recommend all men take    https://www.apexmenshealth.org/article/supplement-recommendations

  • Beta Alanine is used by the body to manufacture and increase carnosine levels in your muscles.  It has been shown to increase carnosine by up to 80%.  Why is this important?  When you lift weight, glucose is broken down within the muscle to produce the needed energy.  However, this results in lactic acid production leading to lactate which makes your muscles more acidic and eventually fatigue.  Carnosine is a buffer reducing the acidity of your muscle allowing for more contractions and less fatigue.  BA has been shown to improve endurance and lean body mass when used with HIIT training10.  In research done by the military it improved soldiers combat performance during high intensity short burst exertion.  It also improved their cognitive performance while under stress11,12. Take 3-6g daily in two doses.  On workout days take before and after workout.

  • HMB is a metabolite of leucine.  In my experience some people respond very well to it while others not so much.  It couples well with creatine and BA and I highly recommend at least trying it for 1-2 months and see how you respond.  It seems to be most effective for those who are just starting out and those who have a more hectic / stressful lifestyle. Take 1-2g 3 times a day on an empty stomach or take 2g pre-workout and 2g post workout.

  • Ashwagandha Is an adaptogen with a proven track record for reducing the negative impacts of stress.  It has a host of health benefits and has been shown to increase muscle, strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health.  See my article on it here for more info as well as product recommendations and dose https://primalhealthscience.com/ashwagandha/

For improved focus and endurance consider Rhodiola 250-500mg with at least 1% - 3% salidrosides.  Rhodiola can be taken daily with Ashwagandha as an adaptogenic stack.

  • Amino Acids If you are eating enough protein then supplementing amino acids generally is not necessary.  You can however supplement single amino acids on an empty stomach for specific results.

  • Taurine is a sulfur containing amino acid present throughout the body especially in high amounts in the heart and brain.  It has a host of benefits including cardiovascular protection, preventing high blood pressure, protecting the liver, reducing inflammation, etc.  Taking taurine post workout will help restore depleted taurine in your muscles and aid in recovery.  Taken just before bed with magnesium or ZMA it will aid in the absorption and use of those minerals and improve recovery during sleep.  Take 1 -3g post workout and / or 1-3 g at night before bed on an empty stomach

  • Vasodilating amino acids such as arginine and citrulline or amino acid derivatives such as agmatine can be taken pre-workout to improve circulation and the “pump” muscle get as blood rushed into them.  Generally, arginine can be dosed at 3-5g, citrulline at 3-6g, and agmatine at 500-1,500mg.

  • Stimulating and focus enhancing amino acids are often used pre-workout with vasodilators to improve energy, endurance, and focus during a workout.  L-tyrosine 1,000-3,000mg, ALCAR 500-1,500mg, and theanine 200-400mg are examples and can be taken on their own or in combination.  They couple very well with 100-250mg of caffeine.  I speak more on tyrosine here https://primalhealthscience.com/tyrosine/

  • Pre-workout.  Personally, I feel most pre-workouts are overloaded with stimulants and have few actual muscle building supplements.  Often you are better off designing your own so that you can adjust the ingredients and doses as needed or using a product such as PES High Volume that focuses only on improved blood flow and circulation.   

  • Are supplements necessary?  Not necessarily, diet and lifestyle are always going to remain the most important.  Supplements will never make up for a poor diet and a bad lifestyle.  In fact, I don’t even recommend considering supplements until the other parts are put in order.  Obviously, no one is perfect and the combination of all is likely to have the biggest impact but for those who do not like supplements or do not have the money you can go without. 

Keep in mind creatine is extremely cheap and as noted in my linked article has a host of other health benefits so I would at least consider that.

A good place for most people to start is with creatine and BA.  If your lifestyle to be moderately stressful adding in ashwagandha and rhodiola can have a pretty significant impact. 

References:

Sarcopenia Exacerbates Obesity-Associated Insulin Resistance and Dysglycemia: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III  Preethi Srikanthan, 1 , * Andrea L. Hevener, 2 and Arun S. Karlamangla 1

Effects of training on bone mass in older adults: a systematic review.  Gómez-Cabello A1, Ara I, González-Agüero A, Casajús JA, Vicente-Rodríguez G.

Clinical outcomes related to muscle mass in humans with cancer and catabolic illnesses  VickieBaracosSeyyed Mohammad RezaKazemi-Bajestani

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1998 Jun;84(6):2138-42.  Muscle performance and enzymatic adaptations to sprint interval training.  MacDougall JD1, Hicks AL, MacDonald JR, McKelvie RS, Green HJ, Smith KM.

Metabolism. 2010 Oct;59(10):1421-8. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2010.01.002. Epub 2010 Feb 12.

Effect of 2 weeks of sprint interval training on health-related outcomes in sedentary overweight/obese men.  Whyte LJ1, Gill JM, Cathcart AJ.

Petak SM, Nankin HR, Spark RF, Swerdloff RS, Rodriguez-Rigau LJ. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Medical Guidelines for clinical practice for the evaluation and treatment of hypogonadism in adult male patients--2002 update. Endocr Pract. 2002;8:440–456. [PubMed

Tirabassi G, Gioia A, Giovannini L, Boscaro M, Corona G, Carpi A, Maggi M, Balercia G. Testosterone and cardiovascular risk. Intern Emerg Med. 2013;8 Suppl 1:S65–S69. [PubMed]

Shores MM, Arnold AM, Biggs ML, Longstreth WT, Smith NL, Kizer JR, Cappola AR, Hirsch CH, Marck BT, Matsumoto AM. Testosterone and dihydrotestosterone and incident ischaemic stroke in men in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2014;81:746–753. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1979 Apr;48(4):633-8.  Increased estrogen production in obese men. 

Schneider G, Kirschner MA, Berkowitz R, Ertel NH.

Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial.  Smith AE1, Walter AA, Graef JL, Kendall KL, Moon JR, Lockwood CM, Fukuda DH, Beck TW, Cramer JT, Stout JR.

Amino Acids. 2015 Dec;47(12):2463-74. doi: 10.1007/s00726-015-2051-9. Epub 2015 Jul 24.β-Alanine supplementation and military performance.  Hoffman JR1, Stout JR2, Harris RC3, Moran DS4,5.

Amino Acids. 2015 Mar;47(3):627-36. doi: 10.1007/s00726-014-1896-7. Epub 2014 Dec 16.

β-Alanine ingestion increases muscle carnosine content and combat specific performance in soldiers.  Hoffman JR1, Landau G, Stout JR, Hoffman MW, Shavit N, Rosen P, Moran DS, Fukuda DH, Shelef I, Carmom E, Ostfeld I.