How to Build Muscle Mass During Recovery
Why is muscle mass important? Or, rather, why are above average levels important, such as you would see on an athlete’s or bodybuilder’s frame?
There are a couple of acute advantages to having good musculature – something from which you can benefit in the short term.
Aesthetics cannot be overlooked. You might feel more attractive and confidant with greater muscle mass. Then there are the athletic advantages. If you are into any sport at all, having more muscle in relevant body parts will be a good thing – sprinters need muscular legs, rugby players strong backs, tennis players powerful shoulders.
There are also some shorter term health benefits. Joints surrounded by dense muscle mass are far less likely to be injured. Muscle mass will hold you together and act as a bit of a shield to trauma.
These are all good if you’re in recovery, as they are for anyone. Keeping yourself safe from injury when your proprioception and balance are impaired, as they often are following addiction, can be very important.
However, I’m more interested in the longer term benefits and how to make the most of them.
Muscle mass, resistance training, and mortality
A recent meta-analysis has backed up what many of us have suspected for a long time: resistance training leads to increased longevity. The process of pushing your body through muscle- and strength- building exercises can reduce your risk of premature mortality.
A Japanese research team recently pooled data from 16 separate studies into one meta-analysis. They were looking at longevity and disease risk where participants undertook regular resistance training.
They found that as little as 30-90 minutes of weekly resistance training can decrease your risk of dying from all causes.
This could be particularly good for those going through addiction recovery, as addiction notoriously shortens life-expectancy by a good margin. If you have been addicted to any substance for any amount of time, you could be looking at losing years of your life through premature mortality. Lifestyle factors can help to undo this – resistance training and improved muscle mass can help to undo this.
Building muscle mass during recovery
So, we know that resistance training and heightened muscle mass is good for us. It will bring some good short-term benefits and will most likely help you to live longer. But what exactly is it? How do you go about it? And how do you make sure you get the results you want?
I like to break it down into three distinct areas: diet, training, and recovery.
Your diet is crucial if you’re looking to make the most of resistance training and build up good quality, lean muscle mass. Most people think that an athletic physique is made in the gym. This isn’t so. It’s a cliché amongst personal trainers that an athletic physique is made in the kitchen.
This cliché is there for a reason. It is very much true. You can have the best training plan in the world, push yourself to breaking point in the gym five times a week, but a bad diet will undo everything. Conversely, a half-assed, sub-par workout routine will yield pretty decent results if your diet is perfect.
Though, of course, a good training regime, well-executed, backed up by good nutrition is optimal. Try to aim for this
There are a few factors to take into account when planning your diet. They generally revolve around macro- and micro- nutrition and calorie consumption.
Nutritional intake for building muscle
Firstly, you will need a calorie surplus if you want to build muscle. This means that you need to eat more than your body needs. Muscle is metabolically active. Your body doesn’t want to build it – from an evolutionary point of view, it is unviable as it will use up too much energy. Therefore, you need to force it to adapt. You need to fuel growth, to use gym-bro parlance.
A daily surplus of 500 calories is a good place to start. You may put on a little body fat (we’ll come to this later.) However, you should be able to put on a pound or two of muscle mass each month.
Then we come onto macronutrition. Here, we are talking about the split between fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. You want a moderate amount of fat and carbohydrates. You want a lot of protein. Aim for 2 g of protein per kilogram of your current bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 80 kg, you will want around 160 g of protein per day.
This is hard to do without supplements. I would recommend using a good quality whey or soy protein powder and drinking a couple of shakes per day, 2-3 scoops in each.
Split your remaining calories fairly evenly between fat and carbohydrates.
Micronutrition refers to vitamins and minerals. I’m going to add fibre to this, though it is technically a form of carbohydrate. You want a large and varied amount of each. This means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Doing so will keep you healthy. It will also give you the energy you need to train properly and will optimise your hormonal output for muscle growth.
Now we come onto the fun part – training for muscle mass.
Building muscle and taking part in resistance training are related. They aren’t strictly the same thing, however.
Building muscle (hypertrophy) needs resistance training. Things like weight lifting, swimming, and bodyweight styles like Calisthenics and vigorous yoga will all help you to build muscle. They are all forms of resistance training.
To build muscle, you need a high volume of effort going through your muscles, through full ranges of motion. For example, if you struggle to perform 10 push ups (a full range of motion movement for your arms and chest), doing three sets of 8-10 will elicit growth. If you find 10 push ups easy, doing sets of 10 won’t. You need to overload your muscles, training nearly to failure with each set.
You also need to do so regularly. Ten sets or more per body part per week should do it, though most people will go to around 15-20.
Here is a good weekly plan for building muscle in the gym:
Monday: Upper body pressing
Wednesday: Back and rows
Saturday: Lower body
Fill your Monday with upper body presses designed to build muscle. Your session should look something like this:
1: Bench press, 12 reps nearly to failure, 4 sets
2: Dips, as many as you can perform, 4 sets
3: Overhead dumbbell press, 12 reps nearly to failure, 4 sets
4: Push ups, as many as you can perform, 4 sets
5: Cable triceps push downs, 14 reps nearly to failure, 4 sets
Resistance training needn’t revolve around building muscle mass, however. You can train for power, strength, or even relaxation. For strength, bring the reps down to 3-6 per rep, dipping down to 1-2 from time to time. You won’t grow as much muscle, but you will get stronger. For power, try speedwork. Sprints, especially swimming sprints, and boxing against a heavy bag are a good way to go.
For relaxation, try yoga. It needs to be vigorous to count as resistance training. There will be a strength and hypertrophy component to it – as there will for all of the above – it’s just the goal that changes.
Recovery is often overlooked, yet it is incredibly important for healthy muscle mass. You could as easily say that an athletic physique is built during sleep as it is in the kitchen.
Recovery takes a few forms. Firstly, sleep is vital. It is where your body adapts, embeds the new skills you taught it during training, and builds muscle. Aim for at least seven hours of deep sleep per night – several REM cycles are necessary.
Then there is recovery during your waking hours. Diet is key here, as above. So too is active recovery. Active recovery is anything that warms your muscles, improves your circulation, and gets your joints moving, without taxing you too badly. I walk my dog every morning and perform at least 20 minutes of yoga most days as my active recovery. You can probably think of similar things you could do.
This loosens stiff, sore joints and muscles. The improved circulation also means that your muscles and soft tissue are getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to repair, and that any metabolic waste is being cleared.
Massage is also a good tool for overcoming post-training fatigue (often called DOMS, or the delayed onset of muscular soreness). Going for a professional massage is great, if often expensive and impractical. Foam rolling is a great daily substitute.
Cutting and bulking
Cutting and bulking will often be necessary for resistance training. Here, ‘bulking’ means maintaining a calorie surplus to put weight on as muscle mass. Conversely, ‘cutting’ means maintaining a calorie deficit to lose weight as body fat.
As above, a surplus will generally lead to a little gain in body fat. Sometimes it can lead to a lot. This will happen no matter how hard you train – the point of a surplus is that it goes above and beyond what you’re using, no matter how active you are. Some of these extra calories will go into muscle growth. Some will be stored as fat.
Therefore, lots of people end a bulking phase with a cutting one. They might spend three months bulking, putting on lots of muscle. Then they will cut their food intake. A deficit of 500 calories per day should allow you to lose a pound of fat each week.
You should still train, as this will allow you to maintain the muscle mass you’ve put on. However, the goal will be to lose that excess weight rather than putting more muscle on.
A cut could last anything from weeks to months, depending on how much body fat you need or want to lose.
However, this will all still count as resistance training as long as you are still working out. It will all help to elicit the main goal we are going for here – it will help you to live longer, no matter what happened in your past.
Just 30–90 minutes of resistance training weekly decreases risk of premature death https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-03-minutes-resistance-weekly-decreases-premature.html