This is something that almost every bodybuilder goes through: muscle plateaus in their weightlifting program. Fact is, more often than not, your troubles with stagnation have a lot more to do with your post-gym actions than what you’re doing inside the gym.
It could also very well be a combination of both, and so we aim to address the spectrum of likely problems in the following article. Without further ado, let’s see what you can do to start building muscle again.
Your Protein Consumption Is Too Low
Simply put, your chief problem may be that you’re not getting enough protein to support the muscle growth you desire. Protein is useful for both recovery and rebuilding; no matter how much you workout in the gym, if you’re not making sure that your body has access to enough protein consistently throughout the day, then it will start eating its own muscles to satiate itself.
The minimum amount of protein that you should be eating is 1 g per kilogram of body weight. This translates to half your body weight; if you’re not eating this much (at least) then you cannot expect to be able to build muscle after you plateau.
This doesn’t go only for men, in fact, as shown by a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed how important protein powder for women can be. Several female bodybuilders were able to gain nearly 5 pounds of muscle over an eight week. When they supplemented their resistance training with 1.13 g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Alternatively, bodybuilders who imbibed about half of a gram of protein per pound of body weight over an identical eight week period gained just 1.3 pounds of muscle. Furthermore, the latter group did not benefit from the same loss in body fat experienced by the former (higher protein intake) group.
For a working example, then, if you weigh 200 pounds, then you will need a minimum of 100 g of protein daily in order to maintain this and add some more muscle over time. If you take just 50 grams of protein at a body weight of 200 pounds, you will be unlikely to gain much muscle mass or experience greater fat loss.
The best method for elevating and managing protein intake is to use an online calorie/macronutrient counter to keep track of the numbers. Avoid taking too little or too much protein at once per meal; there have been multiple studies showing that your muscles cannot utilize more than 30-40 g of protein at once. If you take much more than this, your body will simply secrete the amino acids as waste.
This is one of the tremendous benefits of protein powders. If you mix whey protein powder with a cup of milk (assuming you’re not a vegetarian or vegan or lactose-intolerant) then you can easily get in 30 g of protein immediately post-workout. If your other meals consist of beef/steak, fish or chicken, then you have a diet in which you get enough protein for the day. Another advantage of whey protein, as shown by a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, within about 20 minutes post-workout your body can start digesting whey protein to start repairing and building your muscles right away.
You “Suffer” From Long Term Training
Let’s be clear: we do not mean overtraining in this title. It simply refers to a long-known reality – beginners tend to be able to put on way more muscle than seasoned veterans in the weightlifting game. In fact, as noted in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, new bodybuilders put on thrice as much muscle over a five-month period when compared to weightlifters who had been added for at least a year.
The culprit is “muscle protein synthesis”. For newcomers, this chemical process remains activated at a higher level for up to two days after your last workout to me: whereas for weightlifters with at least a year of experience, muscle protein synthesis starts to subside after just one day. The exact reasons for this are still being studied, but in October 2005 article in The Journal of Physiology strongly suggests that it has to do with the sensitivity of the pathways involved in muscle protein synthesis; the longer you’ve been training, the less sensitive and responsive these pathways are.
There isn’t any straightforward way to fix some of the results of long-term training; generally, you want to shock your body by trying new training methods if you still want to build muscle. For example, a study performed in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggested that altering your present workout to perform high reps with lighter weights, or sticking to the 8-12 rep range with heavier weights can help experienced bodybuilders start gaining muscle again. The trick with the higher rep option is to keep lifting to complete failure without injury.
Lack of Sleep And Rest
If you’re serious about gaining muscle and general well-being, then getting enough sleep is imperative. It’s been proved – recently, for that matter, in the Physiology Reports January 2021 version – that you will suffer from lower testosterone levels if you average fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. This inevitably increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while simultaneously decreasing muscle protein synthesis. Essentially, you are hampering yourself in several ways if you’re not getting enough sleep:
- high levels of the stress hormone cortisol reduce your body’s ability to pack on lean muscle mass
- a lot of muscle protein synthesis occurs when you’re sleeping; therefore, if you’re not getting enough sleep you are reducing this crucial period
- testosterone is the primary hormone that your body employs for muscle synthesis; too little sleep inevitably leads to lower testosterone levels
Although it is not imperative to get exactly 8 hours of sleep nightly, it is very important that you average this number over a period of about seven days. Therefore, from week to week you should be getting 56 hours of sleep in total. Additionally, you must ensure the quality of your sleep so that your body can get into the crucial phases that optimizes hormone management.
There is a complex interplay of hormone interactions that occur during restful sleep. The totality of this is called sleep architecture; during which you go through light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. When you’re getting all of these in order and consistently, one of the things that occurs is a release of antioxidants into your gut to combat the information-causing free radicals that would otherwise roam and inhibit muscle growth.
If you are suffering from too little sleep, there are ways to rectify the situation. Basically, you have to prioritize the need for sleep if you want to get back to building muscle. The following are a few ways to prepare the necessary environment to optimize rest:
- Minimize how much coffee/caffeine you imbibe during the day – especially after the mid afternoon. Caffeine takes about 6-8 hours to flush itself out of your system completely.
- Try to have a set sleeping schedule that doesn’t vary; this means you should go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time all through the week. This includes weekends.
- Time your work schedule (as well as your leisure schedule) to conclude with the shutting down of all lighting electronic devices as you get ready for bed. Multiple studies show that your smartphone screen like mimics daylight; this is known to suppress the increase of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- You want the temperature in your bedroom to facilitate sleep; this means it should be relatively cool and hover around 64°F on average.
Your Caloric Intake May Be Subpar
Although getting enough calories isn’t a problem for most Americans, it does sometimes turn out to be an issue for weightlifters who have seen a plateau in their muscle gaining efforts.
If you’re not consuming enough calories to maintain your size, then the very first thing your body will do with the calories that do come in is repair, once your workout session is concluded. After that, the rest of the calories are going to go towards your other biological processes.
Alex continues. “Once these are completed, then anything that’s remaining will go towards building muscle – however, this is only if there’s enough stimulus, in addition to the necessary resources.” In March 2016, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a study which showed that men were able to gain muscle while losing weight only by engaging in intense resistance training as well as dramatically increasing their protein intake.
It’s important to note that you can be eating enough protein, but still not getting enough calories – this is due to the fact that protein naturally contains fewer calories than fats and carbohydrates. After all, adenosine triphosphate is the energy source used by your cells to power the growth of new muscle; this takes glycogen, which is composed of carbs. Without sufficient carbohydrates, you’ll find it difficult to grow muscle even if you are getting enough protein. In fact, your body will produce less testosterone if you’re not getting at least 30% of your calories from carbs, and 25% of your total calories from fats.
Here’s a rule of thumb that has been found to be profitable: to make sure you’re getting enough calories daily to gain muscle, add about 300 calories to your diet if you notice muscle growth stagnation. About 2-3 ounces of almonds and a 3-ounce serving of salmon ought to do the trick.
Stress Is a Big Drain on Muscle Growth
Stress can be a big drain on muscle growth, as well – whether it comes from work-related issues, general life, or relationships. Somehow, someway, you have to manage it if you want to see results in the gym.
When you are stressed, your body shades toward stifling all anabolic processes. This includes sex drive and muscle growth. The presence of rising cortisol levels in your body stifles the creation of the anabolic hormones that are responsible for stimulating muscle growth; even worse, there are other hormones being created that actively destroy both skeletal and lean muscle mass.
As if the problem couldn’t get any worse, if you’re sufficiently-stressed out, then your muscles won’t even contract properly during a workout. The Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research published a study in January 2014 showing that stress inhibits muscle contraction along two dimensions: quality and hardness.
Basically, then, if you’re stressed – you have to find a way to correct the situation if you want to experience muscle growth. There are many ways to help you manage stress; from yoga, breathing exercises and journaling, to simply taking a much-needed vacation or time to yourself. Even taking more time to indulge in gaming, for example, can be enough of a stress-reliever to make working out profitable again. Your health cannot take a backseat to your life – otherwise you may find both being dramatically shortened. Best of luck in your muscle-building endeavors!