This article looks at how to build lean muscle mass.
The most effective way of achieving a lean and toned physique is to build lean muscle through exercise and modify your diet to lose any excess weight you carry.
The right combination of nutrients will also help, as will getting adequate sleep.
The benefits of toned muscles go beyond just being pleasing to the eye.
They include greater strength, more stamina, and improved functional fitness, so everyday tasks such as lifting something heavy or toting a bag of groceries become easier.
Weight management will be easier, too, as you will burn more calories, even when you are inactive.
And your bones will be stronger, which will help prevent breaks and osteoporosis later in life.
Keep reading for my best tips on how to build lean muscle mass.
Table of Contents
Which is more important – Diet or Exercise?
Many fitness experts say that losing weight and getting into shape is 80% diet-related and 20% exercise. However, this ratio is more relevant to weight loss than building lean muscle mass.
No matter how good your diet is, you won’t build muscle if you don’t work out.
Conversely, you could train every day, but if your diet is unhealthy, you won’t have the energy needed to put in the required effort, and your body won’t get the nutrition it needs for your muscles to build and repair.
To reduce body fat, we need to burn more calories than we take in, but to build muscle, we need to take in more calories to increase the size of our muscle fibers.
This poses a dilemma if you want to shed some pounds and also build muscle. So, where to start?
If you are carrying a fair bit of excess weight, I recommend you lose it before embarking on a muscle-building program. This is because excess fat will hide muscle gains, causing you to look bigger, not leaner, which can be discouraging.
Next, we will look at the best diet to build lean muscle.
Best diet to build lean muscle
The best diet to build lean muscle includes plenty of protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient that comprises amino acids. Amino acids are the muscles’ building blocks.
Protein gives your body the fuel needed for muscle growth, so try to eat it at every meal. It is virtually impossible to build, maintain, or repair muscle without it.
Fitness experts and nutritionists recommend that between 10% and 35% of an adult’s diet comes from protein. Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this equates to approximately 200 to 700 calories or 50 to 175 grams.
What are some good protein sources?
Protein-rich foods include lean white and red meats.
Among the best are chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, bison, and pork tenderloins. Lean jerky is another option.
Fish and other seafood are excellent protein sources, so include salmon, tuna, tilapia, shrimp, and scallops regularly.
Tofu is another excellent source of protein that is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, as are beans, including soy, edamame, black, kidney, pinto, and chickpeas.
Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and eggs are other options.
If you can’t get enough protein through your diet, a muscle-building supplement can help to fill the gap.
What other nutrients are important?
Whole food carbs are an excellent energy source that contains vital vitamins and minerals and cause a reaction in the body that contributes to building lean muscle.
Healthy carbohydrate sources also rich in protein include brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Consuming a high-protein snack containing healthy carbs thirty minutes or longer before working out can boost energy, enabling you to put more into your session.
Oils, such as Omega 3 fatty acids, provide energy. These come in three different types. Included are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults get 650 mg of DHA/EPA (combined) per day and that individuals with coronary heart disease (CHD) get 900 mg per day.
ALA is present in some plant foods, including green, leafy vegetables, nuts, flax seeds, and vegetable oils.
Our bodies slowly convert a small amount of ALA into DHA and EPA.
DHA and EPA have substantially more health benefits. These are present in fish, including tuna, salmon, and halibut.
They are also in some algae products.
DHA and RPA are not found in plant foods, and most of us get less than the recommended amount.
An easy way to increase your consumption is to choose food brands that add Omega 3 to their products. These include some milk brands, yogurt, certain spreads, eggs, and bread.
Fish oil supplements are another option.
Next, we will look at some exercises to build lean muscle.
How to Build Lean Muscle Through Exercise
There’s more to building lean muscle mass than just grabbing a set of weights and lifting them repeatedly.
The right strategy will help you avoid uneven muscle development, which can occur when some muscles are overtrained, and others are undertrained. This can result in injury.
To formulate a structured muscle-building plan, choose a range of exercises that target the body’s primary muscle groups: the chest, shoulders, arms, back, abs, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles.
You will find plenty online if you are unsure about which exercises to include.
Alternatively, book an appointment with a personal trainer who can devise a workout for you.
After choosing your exercises, decide how many sessions you can do each week.
If you can manage two days each week, you will be training your entire body these days. In this instance, you should have a day of rest between sessions.
If you can commit to three weekly sessions, you could work your upper body one day, your abs another day, and your lower body on the third day.
As your strength improves and you become fitter, if you can fit in four sessions a week, you could target your shoulder and tricep muscles during your first weekly session, your back muscles on day two, your chest and bicep muscles on day three, and, your legs on day four.
If you stick with the plan above, you will get results.
Isolation & Compound Exercises
Isolation and compound exercises provide an excellent means of building muscle mass. Each has different benefits.
Isolation exercises engage single joints and muscle groups. They allow you to focus on specific muscles and strengthen these areas.
Examples of isolation exercises include Triceps Extensions and Bicep Curls.
Compound exercises work multiple joints and muscle groups. This makes them ideal for increasing muscle overall and building greater strength.
Examples of compound exercises include Squats and Dumbbell Chest Presses.
What equipment should I use?
Weight machines have many benefits. They are particularly useful if you are a beginner as they enable you to focus on learning the exercises and targeting specific muscles without worrying about balancing weights.
However, using weight machines exclusively may limit your muscle growth, so once you have become stronger and fitter, give free weights a try.
Lifting dumbbells can target some muscles that weight machines do not.
Therefore, they are worth adding to your routine to maximize muscle growth. Be sure those you buy are balanced.
Lifestyle Tips for Building Lean Muscle
Get Adequate Sleep:
No article on how to build lean muscle would be complete without mentioning the importance of sleep.
When working out, our muscles develop minute tears. These are repaired during sleep when the pituitary gland releases a growth hormone essential for muscle repair.
Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night. Nine hours is even better If you are doing regular, intense workouts.
Getting fewer than six hours of restful sleep per night will inhibit growth hormone release, so your muscles won’t recover optimally between workouts.
Studies have shown that under these conditions, muscle shrinkage can occur. This is because our level of the stress hormone cortisol increases during times of inadequate sleep, counteracting the effects of growth hormone.
Sleep quality is as vital to muscle growth as sleep duration, so create an environment that promotes restful slumber.
Don’t overheat your bedroom or have the temperature too low, and make sure the room is dark and quiet.
If possible, turn in at approximately the same time every night.
A significant spike in growth hormone occurs 70 to 120 minutes after falling asleep.
This pattern will be thrown out of kilter if your bedtime varies significantly, resulting in substantially less growth hormone being released.
Even if you get eight hours of sleep a night, this will be the case. The occasional late night is fine, but try not to make a habit of it.
Limit Alcohol and Sugary Foods at night:
Minimize your alcohol intake, particularly at night.
One or two drinks a few times a week should do no harm. More than this can negatively impact sleep quality and lower growth hormone levels.
The more alcohol you drink, the lower the level will be. If you drink enough to become intoxicated, your growth hormone production can dip up to 70%, and new muscle mass formation can diminish by 63%.
Excess alcohol can also increase inflammation, resulting in a headache, so you may not be able to put as much effort into your workouts.
Go easy on dessert, too. Foods containing a lot of sugar increase cortisol levels, which, as mentioned previously, can disrupt sleep.
Try an Evening Protein Snack:
We’ve long been told not to eat before going to sleep. However, recent research shows that a snack containing 30 grams of protein before retiring for the night will boost amino acid levels and better repair muscles.
This is of particular benefit if your daytime protein intake has been low, as, without this extra boost, your body may break down more muscle than it builds.
Casein protein, as is contained in cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk, is a good option as it digests slowly.
Final Thoughts on How to Build Lean Muscle
In a nutshell, the key to building lean muscle is to eat moderate-sized portions of healthy foods containing the right combination of nutrients, strength train regularly, cut back on alcohol and sugar-laden foods, and get adequate sleep.
A light nighttime protein snack may also help.