Habits are the most important factor when building strength.
Sure, programming is incredibly important if you want achieve your goals, but it’s the combination of proper training, nutrition and recovery that will provide the greatest stimulus for gains. You need ritual and routine to drive the daily effort and progress.
There are no shortcuts or hacks when it comes to building strength and muscle, you earn what you build with dedication and consistency. Long-term goals look just like mountains sometimes – Huge from the bottom up, and too much to take on all at once.
With a little dedication and consistency, you will create a brand new lifestyle that results in increased strength and muscle all on its own.
1. Eat more protein.
Here’s the problem – Most people don’t consume nearly enough protein to support muscle growth. You must focus on getting more high-quality whole food protein sources from animals and plants.
You can begin this habit by batch cooking three different protein sources for the week, such as hard boiled eggs, ground beef or a whole chicken in a crock pot. Just having more food on-hand and ready will make things easier.
Focus on eating one palm-sized portion of protein at every single meal. After two weeks, increase the protein portion closer to one and a half palms per meal, then work towards two palms. Keep that up and you’ll notice a big difference in the gym.
You’ll also start looking much stronger as well.
2. Keep better snacks on hand.
You will need to eat in between meals to add muscle to your frame, there’s no doubt about it. But you can’t settle for unhealthy sugar-laden snacks that will just make you fatter.
With a little planning, you will always be prepared. Keep a stash of healthy snacks in your desk, workout bag, or in your car. That could be jerky, nuts, seeds, coconut chips or high-quality protein bars. Single serving packets of coconut oil and almond butter can be a life saver in a pinch.
When it comes to creating new, better food habits, being prepared is essential. Don’t sabotage your efforts with missed meals and poor snack options.
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3. Consider eating dairy.
Dairy has powerful anabolic properties that support muscle growth, which makes perfect sense. It’s a beverage designed by nature to make mammals much bigger and stronger.
If you do not have an allergy to dairy and need to get more calories to support growth, dairy is very hard to beat. Pick varieties that you enjoy and make a snack out of it. For example, I love to mix about one and half cups of greek yogurt or cottage cheese with protein powder and berries. It’s great before training or as a late night snack.
You could also try having one glass of milk with your smallest meal. Just like with protein, increase your intake slowly.
Begin incorporating dairy at one meal and one snack per day. Keep track of your weight and how you feel for a few weeks, and increase or decrease based on your progress.
4. Sleep 8-9 hours every night.
Sleep is vital. You cannot repair and grow muscle tissue without it, it doesn’t matter how well you train or eat.
Most people get around 6 hours of sleep per night. I know that might feel adequate, but trust me, it’s not. Within a few nights, you will see this for yourself.
Rather than expecting 8 hours of sleep right away, focus instead on developing a night time ritual. Start setting an alarm 30-minutes before you need to be in bed. This will remind you that it’s time to start winding down. Turn off all electronics. Read a novel. Do some soft-tissue and mobility work. Take a bath and meditate, whatever you want. This will greatly improve the quality of your rest.
Try setting the bedtime alarm three day a week at first. Do it before your busiest, most important days for greatest effect. A this becomes part of your routine, add in more days until this becomes a cemented daily habit.
You can thank me later.
You really should sleep more.
5. Support digestion.
You are going to be eating more food than you are used to. Your digestive system will be working harder and secreting more digestive fluids to break down the extra food.
You might consider supplementing hydrochloric acid (HCL) and digestive enzymes to reduce the burden on the digestive system. Probiotics are a great way to support the digestive system as it adapts to the extra volume of food.
Begin by taking the enzyme supplement with your largest meal of the day and a probiotic during your night time routine. See how you feel and adjust as necessary. Also, you might try packing a few forkfuls of sauerkraut with your lunch three times per week. People have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years for a very good reason.
If you are digesting well, you’re going to feel, perform and look better.
6. Reduce stress.
Stress is highly problematic because it hinders digestion and spikes cortisol, which results in muscle loss and fat gain. That’s not good.
When you are trying to build muscle and get strong, stress reduction is critical. So, focus on simple rejuvenating activities that fit into your schedule. Take a walk outside, meditate, read a book or write in a gratitude journal, nothing major. You don’t want to overcommit. Just start small and build your habit.
Try this first. Start your morning with just 3 minutes of quiet time, and then go for a 15-minute walk in the afternoon. As with your other habits, try this on your busiest days, then slowly increase the frequency until you have a new daily habit.
This is not a break from work. It’s not something you might get to, ok? It’s your new priority. Build quiet and recovery into your day and you’ll become a lot more productive and satisfied in the gym and in life.
7. Carbs are your friend!
To get big and stronger, you’re going to need more carbohydrates to shuttle nutrients to those working muscles. So, have some quality carbohydrates at each meal. Some great examples include sweet potatoes, oats, yams, squash, rice or rice cereal. You can also have a piece of fruit with your protein rich snacks to get in some extra calories.
Start by having 1-2 fist-sized portions of dense carbs at lunch and dinner. As you adapt to the greater intake of food, increase the frequency slowly by adding servings to meals and snacks.
This will really bump up your calorie intake, boosting muscle growth and recovery.
8. Outsource meals.
If you try to cook all of your own healthy meals it can quickly get overwhelming, which is counterproductive to the long-term goal.
There are a few options you can try to make things easier. First, pick the most time-consuming aspect of meal preparation and buy that food pre-cooked instead. You can get whole chickens and chicken breasts at the store for pretty cheap, wild caught canned fish as well. Most grocery stores now sell pre-cooked dense carbs in their hot cases.
Once or twice a week go buy enough cooked protein and carbs to last you a few days. It’s a little more costly than prepping the food yourself, but you save yourself a lot of time and stress otherwise. Also, keep in mind that this is still far less costly than grabbing lower quality food on the run.
9. Learn to cook in batches.
One day per week, set aside time to make a favorite meal in a larger portion than normal. Eat your fill, then use the extra servings for lunch or dinner the next day.
You’ll be able to cook more meals at once as you get comfortable handling larger quantities of food. In just a few weeks, you should be able to prepare most of your weekly meals all at once, and with minimal fuss.
You can then spend all that time and effort throwing around barbell in the gym instead.
10. Use the Crock Pot!
The crock pot is an amazing, essential tool for meal prepping and batch cooking proteins, veggies and dense carbs.
Go get a big piece of meat and rub it down with any spice you want, then chop up a bunch of vegetables. Whatever you want. There, your meal prep is done! Put all the ingredients in your trusty crock pot with a half cup of water or some chicken stock. Then just turn it on low and let the magic happen. In 8 hours all you have to do is eat.
Cooking couldn’t get any easier than that. Also, you can find millions of great crock pot recipes online, so you’ll never get bored.
These things will change your life.
Building nutrition habits over time you will notice they become easier and require less thought.
Quality nutrition combined with a smart training program and recovery are guaranteed to result in muscle gains. However, the key to maintaining that progress over a long period of time is staying consistent, dedicated, and being patient with the process.
Do that and you will be successful.