Jan 13 , 2020


Muscle Gain - A Beginners Guide...


Always start with Why:

  • Similar to weight loss I would still ask the question why? You’ll need to attach value, strong emotional value to why you want to gain weight and build muscle – this, is just as hard a process, I have found both anecdotally, and through the literature, as it is to lose weight – especially if you want to promote muscle gain and not just weight!

Newbie Gains:

If you’re a newbie to lifting – have never had a periodized program, or stepped in the gym before, this is your time to shine. If you stick to a well-structured program, eat well and are consistent this is the time you will see the most improvements, and you will have the halo’ed newbie gains – once you’re intermediate or advanced these gains slow down and the progress you makes becomes less and less noticeable, but should still be strived for absolutely – and gains are still there to be made trust me!

Weight Gain – The Opposite to Weight loss in Approach:

  • With weight gain and muscle building, it’s the opposite equation to weight loss, it’s a calorie surplus we’re aiming for (but it doesn’t need to be anywhere near as drastic as people think!)
  • I would use the same process as weight loss, work out your maintenance calories, make sure you can maintain a consistent weight for two weeks at this calorie amount, once you’ve found it, then the application is the same, add 250 calories to your total daily intake, and watch those scales.
  • In beginners you will likely see increases in muscularity, shape and strength changing quite obviously potentially within weeks of starting, for more advanced lifters this will take longer but you may see the strength changes before the body composition.
  • Muscle gain should not be rushed, it’s a process, it takes time and patience – if you rush you’ll put on significantly more fat than muscle and you will get demotivated.
  • Small calorie surpluses will reap more rewards in the long run.

Get Tracking:

  • If you want to get a little more technical then you need to work out your maintenance calories and then your surplus from there – there are plenty of calculators online that can roughly work out your calorie goals – download and make use of the MyFitnessPal app.
  • Be HONEST with your inputs, i.e. your activity level and don’t overestimate, if you’re sedentary, you’re inactive and unless you are doing a ridiculous amount of work in the gym, which is unlikely, your calorie targets won’t be impacted massively.
  • Work it out try those calories for 2 weeks, track them by using MyFitnessPal and see if you maintain your weight, if you do then you know it’s worked out well for you
  • Then you can create your surplus – take approx 250 calories and add this to your daily total (this could be one snack in some instances) track your weight average across two weeks and see if it changes – without any change to your exercise if you are strict with your calories then you SHOULD and WILL gain weight.


The Dirty Bulk Yay or NAY?

  • People tend to eat anything and everything to hit their calories, my advice would be stick to whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible
  • Then, and only then, if you are struggling to hit your calories would I suggest adding in those treats or more calorie dense foods to bulk up your total calories for the day
  • If you’d prefer to add in some additional calories through mass gainers, these are a perfectly legitimate source of quality protein and carbs. You could also try adding just carbs as that will also support your mass gain phase. 
  • The best news is if you are going to add in calorifically dense treats that people would consider DIRTY then you can time them pre and post workout for maximum impact and least detriment!
  • I would suggest no longer than 10-12 weeks of bulking and have a target weight to keep you laser focused on the goal!
  • Don’t be fooled into just eating to excess – it’s detrimental to your progress, health and will not promote more muscle gain than a well-controlled, planned and supported bulk!

Food Timing for Muscle Gain:

  • Carbohydrate timing and meal timing becomes more important, as does meal frequency and construction
  • Without overly complicating – target faster digesting carbs approx 45 mins to 1 hour pre workout to maximise performance, and within an hour post workout to maximise recovery as you are most insulin sensitive and will replenish glycogen stores preferentially over fat storage – you should invest in some post workout/intra workout supplements such as dextrose/BCAAs and whey protein shakes.
  • Carbohydrates, proteins, fat – these are your macro priorities in this order, protein should be around 0.8-1g per lb of body weight (so for some around 80kg approx 160-180g) and carbs should be your main calorie driver – research has shown that carb is less preferentially stored as fat than fat is on a bulk… but it is individually sensitive.

    Additional Supplementation:

    • Once you’ve nailed your calorie goals, you’re happy with your macro targets and you’re on track using MyFitnessPal – it’s the right time to optimise your muscle gain goals through additional supplementation
    • BEAR IN MIND – these are not magic, and will merely SUPPORT a well-structured, thought out and consistently followed muscle building program.


    Creatine (5g daily)

    • Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. ... This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP.
    • As it’s predominantly found in the diet from meats, vegetarians or vegans will have lower resting creatine concentrations and will need to supplement higher dosages(1)
    • Many studies demonstrate that supplementing with creatine in combination with resistance training is more effective at sustaining training workouts and increasing muscular strength and lean body mass(2)
    • Study concluded that creatine supplementation combined with complex training improved maximal muscular strength and reduced muscle damage during training (3)
    • Here’s a list of some great creatine supplements - **LINK HERE**

    L-Carnitine (3-3.5g daily)

    • Carnitine is naturally present in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, and milk and dairy products; small amounts are present in some plant foods – but can be supplemented directly with L-Carnitine Liquid or Tablets it has been shown to shuttle fatty acids into the mitochondria and helps with fatty acid oxidation, study participants who supplemented with L-Carnitine lost an average of 33kg more weight than those using a placebo (4).
    • As such this will support muscle tissue gain vs fat gain when in a bulking phase whilst it has also been shown to be effective for weight loss as well!
    • It can be taken orally via liquid or tablets.

    Beta Alanine (3-5g daily)

    • Beta alanine is a non-essential amino acid that has been shown to enhance exercise performance - It is also found naturally occurring in animal products such as pork, chicken or red meat – so again vegetarians or vegans will have lower resting beta alanine concentrations and will need to supplement higher dosages (5)
    • It’s primary benefit when helping with muscle gain is the effect it has on buffering lactic acid production through increased carnosine synthesis.
    • This also helps with muscle fibre sensitivity to calcium, which improves muscular excitation, and contractile capability (6) – resulting in improvements in strength and endurance – perfect to help you push harder, with more intensity, for longer!

    Caffeine (up to 500mg daily)

    • Caffeine increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation (7) and its effect therefore increases with increased consumption (8)
    • A 100 mg dose of caffeine, for example, increased energy expenditure by a mean of 2 kcal/hr more than placebo in healthy humans (9)
    • Caffeine helps you focus, promotes muscular endurance and has been shown to improve performance up to 8% (10) - so if you want to maximise your workouts and push heavier loads and keep the intensity high to promote muscle gain then here are a few ways to sneak that extra caffeine in through supplementation –  Pre-workouts, energy drinks, coffee.
    • Word of warning – be sensible with the amount of caffeine you consume, start with smaller doses and incrementally increase as you become more tolerant and try not to consume more than 400-500mg daily; avoid after 4pm where possible and cycle off caffeine periodically to re-sensitise yourself to its positive effects!

    Protein Supplementation:

    • Dietary protein is effective for body-weight management, in that it promotes satiety, energy expenditure, and changes body-composition in favour of fat-free body mass (11)
    • Dietary protein stimulates gut hormone secretion, digestion effects, circulating amino-acid levels, energy expenditure, a ketogenic state, and possibly gluconeogenesis (12) THEREFORE it increases your total body energy expenditure and temperature – i.e. you burn more calories simply through additional consumption of protein!
    • When gaining weight, we want to promote muscle gain and as little fat mass as possible, and increasing your total protein consumption has been shown to do this
    • If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, have a look through the following protein supplements– Whey protein, Casein Protein, Egg whites.

    Mass Gainers

    • Mass gainers have their place and specifically in those looking to add extra calories and protein into their diet.
    • This combination of easily digested, fast acting carb and high protein content per serving promotes mass gain and hypertrophy – if taken pre or post workout it will be most effective as it will be used for muscle protein synthesis and for replenishment of glycogen stores, depleted through the effort of weights and resistance based training (13)
    • Mass gainers are high in calories (through a combination of carbohydrate and proteins).
    • Note – if you can eat enough food to hit your calorie goals then mass gainers should not make up part of your daily intake, however, if you are struggling to hit your calorie goals, or are out and about and do not have access to prepped food then they can certainly play a role – do not become reliant on them though!

    Further Information

    Obviously these are basic strategies in the first instance – but they are a good starting place for anyone looking to lose body fat – if you want more technical advice, tweaks to your program or ideas about how to optimise your training, nutrition or anything related to health and fitness head to www.eattosuccedltd.co.uk or reach out to me on Insta @conorpillaipt or email me conorpillai@eattosucceedltd.co.uk

    A little about the author: Conor is an experienced Personal Trainer, Physiotherapist, Nutrition Coach and is also deeply invested in human behaviour(psychometrics), communication styles, personality types and genuine coaching. He currently works out of TheGym Group – based in High Wycombe.

    Conor Pillai 

    BSc Hons Physiotherapy 2.1
    Senior Personal Trainer (REPS Level 3)
    PN Qualified Nutrition Coach
    Optimum Nutrition Qualified Nutrition Coach
    DISC Personality Profile Assessor
    Cardiac Rehab IV Specialist



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    2. Cooper R., Naclerio F., Allgrove J., Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: An update.  Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2012;9:33. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-33.
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