If you’ve ever thought about getting fit, then you’ve probably asked yourself, “How to get lean muscle?”
It’s a very good question! The problem is, there are dozens of opinions and ideas, most of which contradict one another. And in most cases, the answers you find are far more complicated than they need to be.
To help you scale this mountain of information, we’ve put together this post that contains the most valuable lessons related to building lean muscle.
STEP 1: NUTRITION
The Fundamental Importance of Good Nutrition
While many people put all of their attention to the training side of muscle gain, our nutrition is what dictates change. In terms of how to get lean muscle, your diet is as important as your training.
And having a lean physique is most directly impacted by your body fat percentage, not the amount of lean muscle you have. So even if you don’t have high muscle mass, if you have very low body fat (10-15% body fat) than you will likely have a lean, muscular frame.
Likewise, the alternative is also true. I you have really solid muscle mass, but you have 25%+ body fat percentage, you will not have a lean, muscular look.
So diet and nutrition are step #1 to getting lean muscle. You want to eat healthy to build lean muscle, but you also want to eat lean so that lean muscle can actually be seen on your frame!
Nutrition is the first key because it provides the body with everything it needs to grow – building blocks (protein), the primary source of energy (carbs), and nutrients that ensure good health and normal functioning (fats). To reap the many benefits of good nutrition, we need to follow a balanced diet full of meats, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats.
Nutrition is also vital for weight manipulation (loss and gain) because the number of calories we consume is what matters most here. For example, skinny people with little muscle mass need to be in a calorie surplus on as many days as possible. Overweight and obese folks need to be in a calorie deficit as many days as possible.
The good news is, as a beginner, you can lose fat and gain lean muscle simultaneously – this is a process better known as body recomposition.
As far as diet composition goes, protein is the essential macronutrient because it supplies the body with the amino acids it needs to repair muscle tissue and grow it. It’s a good idea to have protein at every meal. Great examples include meat, fish, poultry, cottage cheese, eggs, and such.
Having some protein after your workout is also important as that helps kickstart the recovery process. For example, you can have a protein powder shake after training.
Protein snacks (egg whites, cottage cheese, tuna, etc.) throughout the day can also help prevent muscle loss and maintain a steady stream of amino acids available.
STEP 2: RESISTANCE TRAINING
How to Get Lean Muscle With A Sound Training Plan
Aside from good nutrition, following a solid resistance training plan is also vital. For most people, training two to three days per week will be more than enough. Specifically, many people can stick with two weekly workouts and make great progress.
If you’re a hard gainer or more advanced, consider training three days per week.
Your workouts don’t need to be much longer than 45 minutes, but you should make sure to perform a variety of movements for the different muscle groups in your body – the large (chest, back, and legs) and small (biceps, triceps, shoulders, calves, etc.).
You really need only two days a week of resistance training, one A-day, and one B-day. And best to build your resistance training days around your “cheat” days on your diet. This helps to fuel your muscles, and also burn some extra calories around those higher calorie days.
- Resistance training 2 days a week: (1) A-day, (1) B-day
- 2 exercises per muscle group (biceps, for example)
- 2-3 sets per exercise
- 6-12 reps per set
STEP 3: FREQUENT CARDIO
Should You Do Any Cardio If Your Goal is Lean Muscle Gain?
Contrary to popular belief, knowing how to get lean muscle also involves understanding cardio and how it can be beneficial.
You should do cardio on most days (ideally, daily) to burn more calories and lose fat. Maintaining a leaner physique will be more beneficial because you will be able to see muscle growth as it occurs.
If you have a lot of fat covering your body, new muscle will be invisible, and you might often feel like you’re not making any progress.
So here is the key on cardio…
Cardio itself will not build lean muscle. But what cardio does very effectively, is it reduces your body fat over time thereby allowing your lean muscle to be visible. And that’s really huge for most people, as most people workout in order to look and feel better.
STEP 4: HYDRATION IS KEY
Hydration is a Vital Consideration for How to Get Lean Muscle
When most people ask how to get lean muscle, they typically look for answers related to training or nutrition. But, the truth is, other considerations can also make a huge difference.
As you’ve probably heard, the human body is around 60 percent water, and staying hydrated allows us to function well, feel good, and grow optimally. Researchers suggest that we should aim for two to three liters of water per day. (1)
Shoot for 8-12 glasses of water daily, and this will be plenty of hydration and put you far ahead of the crowd.
STEP 5: PROPER REST IS VITAL
Proper Sleep and Rest for Muscle Growth
Sleep is also vital because most of the muscle growth occurs while sleeping. This is primarily thanks to the body’s increased muscle protein synthesis and rapid production of growth hormone. (2)
The less we sleep, the more challenging muscle gain becomes. According to research, we should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
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- Link, R. (2019). Drinking 3 Liters of Water per Day: Benefits and Downsides. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/3-liters-of-water.
- Litwack, G. (2018). Protein Synthesis. Protein Synthesis – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/protein-synthesis.