Working out, eating what you think is right, and trouble gaining muscle that you thought you would, sucks doesn’t it? Sure, you could lift weights until you’re blue in the face, day in and day out, following the best exercise and nutrition plan out there to a tee, but without an adequate amount of nutrients, you’re not going to get where you want to go. Here are the 11 most common reasons why you can't build muscle mass and how to fix them.
1. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is often one of the most overlooked components of a healthy functioning biological system. Getting an adequate amount of high-quality sleep is vital to facilitate recovery, initiate the muscle-building process, and to recover from brain fatigue caused by normal daytime activities. Human growth hormone (HGH) production is highest when you sleep, and if you’re not getting adequate amounts of high-quality sleep, chances are you’re not seeing the gains, you should be.
RELATED ARTICLE: How To Get Better Quality Sleep Every Night
Training day-after-day puts your muscles and body in a constant state of active recovery and sleep is extremely crucial for the muscle building and muscle repair process. Moreover, there’s a direct link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels and lack of sleep. Why is this bad? Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue and this is exactly what you don’t want if you already have trouble gaining muscle.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Control Cortisol Levels To Reduce Stress
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2. Training Inconsistency
Lacking consistency in your workout regimen is a critical reason why you’re not gaining the lean muscle mass you want.
Instead of setting out to hit the gym 6-days a week and for an hour each day, start out with a smaller, more manageable goal, such as going 2-4 days per work, then build from there. I recommend to my clients, to hit every component of their training with at least 80% effort or better on a daily basis.
The best thing to help you avoid not gaining muscle? More effort. Nothing good came easy and your muscle isn’t going to either. Don’t give 80% of your lifestyle and just 40% in your training. Bump up that percentage with consistent effort and see your strength, size, and lean muscle mass improve, as you become more consistent.
Muscle mass is the hardest thing to build and arguably the hardest to maintain. Getting fat is easy, gaining muscle is just the opposite. Believe it or not, you’re going to have to eat to gain that hard-earned muscle, and probably more than you have been. Does that mean you should go ham on a pizza and a gallon of ice cream? No, it doesn’t.
Does that mean increasing your vegetable intake to 2 cups at every single meal and including protein, carbs, and fat to get into a small surplus so that your body has the energy it needs to make muscle? Yep, it does. Gaining muscle without the excess fat is possible, but not with the junk. Trim it up and add it in.
RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Signs You Are Not Eating Enough
4. Eating Too Fast
Are you a super-fast eater? Then this might be contributing to you not gaining muscle. Sounds silly, doesn’t it. Well, I’m for real. When you eat too fast you actually overhaul your body’s natural hunger cues - the ones that tell you you’re hungry and full. Ever have to open up that top button of your jeans because you stuffed your face? This is why!
There are six fundamental activities of the digestive system and it all begins the moment you see food - your salivary glands begin producing even before you put the food in your mouth. Once you ingest the food via the mouth, you’re able to moisten and dissolve the food, carbohydrates begin breaking down, and lipase is released to break down lipids all before you swallow through a process called lipolysis.
Once you start to swallow, the pharynx takes the food from the mouth to the esophagus where the esophagus propels food to the stomach. If you don’t chew your food well enough in the mouth, you shortchange your body’s first mechanism towards breaking down that food.
From here, there are lots of incredible things that happen in the stomach, small intestine, accessory organs, and large intestine, but if you’re trying to focus on slowing down how fast you eat, then we can learn these another time.
Final takeaway: you’re only as good as the food you absorb. If you’re inhaling your food at record speed because you’re watching TV, running out the door, or are in-between calls at work, chances are you’re going to miss out on some serious nutrients, overeat, feel like crap and not gain muscle.
The moral of the story? Slow down, pal, or you’re going to choke.
5. Drinking Alcohol
The cheapest date is a big muscly bro. You know why? Because to build serious, high-quality muscle mass, you’re not going to want to drink alcohol in an effort to protect the precious gains. Alcohol causes dehydration, nervous system sedation, suppressed immune function, and even interferes with the mTOR protein synthesis pathway (yikes).
There are lots more scientific reasons to avoid it, but in short, skip the drinks and opt for a night out with the boys that don’t involve drinking (bro sesh lift date, anyone?).
If you're going to have a few cocktails, then make sure you get the proper nutrients such as b-vitamins before you go to sleep, to take the edge off that hangover.
RELATED ARTICLE The Healthiest Alcohol Choices For A Clean Diet
6. Not Drinking (Enough) Water
Not getting enough water means that you’re starving your muscles of their ultimate potential. Not only do your mental and physical capabilities become diminished when you don’t hydrate adequately throughout your day, but your muscle-building ability also suffers too. We recommend a gallon of water (that’s 16 cups) a day.
To make this a bit easier, I usually recommend my clients drink 2 cups of water with every meal and every snack (3 meals + 3 snacks = 12 cups) and at that rate, you only need a couple more cups to reach that gallon in a day. Another pro tip? Drink your water early in the day so that you don’t have to wake up and pee 3 times in the night.
7. Overestimating Protein Intake
Generally speaking, people don’t eat enough protein. They don’t eat enough to maintain their muscle mass when they stop working out and most certainly don’t eat enough to gain muscle mass when working out. As a nutrition coach, protein is often the most overestimated macronutrient in people’s daily diets - meaning they think they consume a whole lot more than they actually do.
Protein Intake Recommendations:
Overall Health Maintenance: 1.0 - 1.2g protein per pound of body weight
Athletes & Muscle Gain: 1.3-1.5g protein per pound of body weight
That being said, the type of protein that you include in your diet is important. We recommend including a variety of protein throughout the week including:
- Dairy (greek yogurt, eggs)
- Beef (steak, lean ground beef)
- Poultry (chicken breast)
- Seeds (hemp, chia, flax)
- Eggs (with yolk & without)
- Whey Protein Isolate
Each of these sources of protein includes a full spectrum of branched-chain amino acids which are the building blocks of your highly sought after muscle. If you haven’t been including foods with a full amino acid profile in your diet, it could be another reason why you can't build muscle mass.
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8. You Don’t Eat Enough Carbohydrates
When it comes to building muscle protein gets all the glory. But if you’re not gaining muscle mass, then you’re going to need to add more carbs to your diet. Tons of "IG experts" and fitness enthusiasts tell you that you need to cut carbs or lower your carb intake to put on muscle and get the body you've dreamed of, when in fact, it's quite the opposite.
High-intensity and resistance training requires energy, and carbohydrates are your body's fuel source. Having low glycogen levels, coming from a low carbohydrate diet, would negatively impact your athletic performance and results.
Getting the proper and adequate amounts of essential amino acids from protein and glycogen from carbohydrates is crucial for post-workout nutrition, in order to replenish and initiate the repair process to optimize your training and help build more muscle mass.
RELATED ARTICLE 5 Reasons Why You Need To Eat More Carbs
Clinical studies have shown that including carbohydrates and protein together into your post-workout nutrition has the greatest benefits on performance optimization and muscle growth. Just remember, if you want that muscle body with the tiny waist, you're going to need some complex carbs in the mix [R].
Short on time? We recommend the CLEAN CARBS from Swolverine which is made from sweet potatoes, yams, oats, and blueberries. Real food that will help those muscles grow.
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9. Not Working Out Enough
Back to the consistency thing, if you’re eating too much and not working out enough, uh-oh, you’ve got yourself a predicament. While our recommendation on how many times and for how long you need to hit the gym varies from individual to individual, we recommend giving each muscle group the love and time it needs to develop at least twice a week, with variance in the workloads from training session to training session.
This means paying attention to what works with your body, being consistent with your effort (get off your phone at the gym, dude), and consistent with how often you frequent the gym.
We recommend aiming for 4-5 days a week, incorporating a bit of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and lifting a weight that challenges you to really dig into that muscle building capacity.
10. Not Lifting Heavy Enough
Heavy workloads put stress and pressure on the skeletal muscles and force them to grow. Gradually increasing the workload as you get stronger is key - nobody likes the guy who walks into the gym, picks up the 100lb dumbbells, then gets stuck halfway up his first press. So don’t be that guy, but don’t also be the guy who avoids the heavyweights and picks up baby weights.
Lifting heavy weight stimulates fast-twitch muscle fibers causing growth. Don’t worry about how fast you build muscle (dirty bulk, anyone), just focus on the quality of the muscle you build with your weight and the quality of your nutrition. The two go hand in hand and the result pays off a lot better in the long run.
Long story short, lift progressively heavier weight, minimize the risk of injury by not biting off more than you can chew, incorporate high-intensity training between sets or at the end of your training session, and end your trouble gaining muscle like a champ. Capeesh?
RELATED ARTICLE 5 Reasons Why Women Should Be Lifting Heavier Weights
11. Using Proprietary-Blend Filled Supplements
Stay away from supplements with proprietary blends. Supplements with proprietary blends make it impossible to know exactly what you are ingesting and eliminate your ability to pinpoint how effective specific ingredients are within your body. Most, if not all supplements with proprietary blends, under-dose the actual ingredients you need to improve your performance, to save money. They sprinkle ingredients proven to increase muscle mass and strength such as Beta-Alanine, Citrulline Malate, and Creatine.
So instead of getting stronger, optimizing recovery, or improving endurance, you're really just wasting your money, since you're not getting enough of the ingredients you actually need to make a difference. But, if you fit into the majority of consumers, you’re not looking at the ingredient list, you’re looking at what you think is a great product, because it contains an energy deriving complex, filled to the brim with, for lack of a better word, shit!
The bottom line is, don't be most people. You should care about what’s in the supplements you’re taking because you wouldn’t be looking at taking nutritional supplements in the first place if you didn’t genuinely care about yourself, and your well-being. Take the extra time, do the extra research, to make sure your products are transparent, clinically dosed, and made with proven ingredients with no blends. It’s worth it.
RELATED ARTICLE What Is A Proprietary Blend In Supplements?
Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle Mass: Conclusion
If your goal is to build lean muscle mass, then it’s going to more than just cleaning up your diet and supplementing with the cheapest low-grade pre-workout powder. Building lean muscle mass takes consistency, dedication, optimizing your diet, lifting heavy and most of all, putting in the effort.
Need Help With Optimizing Your Diet And Nutrition Plan To Finally Get The Results You've Been Waiting For?
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We believe that everyone can optimize not only their athletic performance but their human potential. The way we believe we can optimize performance is through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes. We provide the nutrients you need to power your active lifestyle.