4 more thoughts on muscle growth (pt. 2)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  DECEMBER 13, 2022

I shared four thoughts on muscle growth last week, which you are welcome to read here if you missed that newsletter. I didn’t want to make that email too long, so I decided to break up the information into two parts.

Without further ado, here are four more thoughts on muscle growth:

1. While Counterintuitive, Intermittent Fasting Can Be Beneficial

Fasting is the opposite of anabolism, but it can be beneficial under some circumstances.

A few years back, I had a problem that many skinny guys would consider a blessing: I was always hungry. Despite eating 3,600-4,000 calories daily, I rarely felt full and often went to bed hungry.

At some point, I decided to implement intermittent fasting into my bulking plan to see how it would go. I followed the classic 16:8 fast, where I skipped morning meals, had my breakfast around 1 pm, and my dinner around 9 pm.

This was of tremendous help and allowed me to stick with my daily calorie goals without problems. I rarely felt hungry after that. I would have a big meal at noon, an afternoon snack (pre-workout), and a 2,000-calorie dinner.

If you’re having trouble with your hunger and overeat often, try fasting and see if condensing your daily calories inside a smaller eating window helps.

2. Cardio Is Still Important

What is the first thing you stop doing when you transition into a bulking phase? Odds are, it’s cardio. These days, people see cardio as the killer of gains because cardio equals catabolism and strength loss; no cardio equals abundant growth and improvement.

As it turns out, this relationship isn’t as cut and dry as most people imagine, and doing some cardio, even while bulking, could be beneficial.

For instance, cardio develops aerobic capacity: how much oxygen your body can use per unit of time.

Aerobic capacity is vital for our lifting performance because we depend on oxygen to produce much of the energy we need to push through strenuous workouts.

Better energy production allows us to do more work, recover quicker between sets, and maintain better performance. A more robust aerobic system also allows us to recover better between training sessions, which is vital if you train more than three times per week.

3. Muscle Soreness Doesn’t Equal Muscle Growth

Muscle soreness is strange. On the one hand, research doesn’t suggest that soreness predicts muscle growth. But on the other hand, never experiencing muscle soreness is a sign that your workouts aren’t disruptive enough.

Muscle soreness is a sign that we’ve caused a disruption, but whether that disruption leads to growth is a whole other matter. On a molecular level, muscle soreness indicates that we’ve caused a degree of cell damage, which allows for fluids and other compounds to enter and promote inflammation.

Running is one activity that often leads to muscle soreness, especially in untrained people (1). Unfortunately, the activity causes minimal hypertrophy, suggesting that soreness alone doesn’t tell us much about how effective our training is.

Moreover, too much soreness can reduce our power output and range of motion, leading to less productive workouts and a smaller training stimulus in the future.

Check out a previous newsletter where I discuss that topic more in-depth.

4. You Need a Calorie Surplus After The Beginner Phase

In an age where everyone is obsessed with aesthetics, people often wonder, “How can I stay lean while building muscle?” Therefore, approaches like body recomposition and ‘gaintenance’ have become more popular than ever.

So, what’s the problem?

These approaches look good on paper but don’t work well in the real world. People who try to build muscle at maintenance or constantly attempt a body recomposition get disappointed by the results.

We need a calorie surplus to build muscle, and research supports this idea (2). Don’t expect to build much muscle in the long run if you constantly worry about losing your abs.

With that said, some people tend to go in the opposite way. They eat everything in sight, reasoning that it will result in more muscle growth. But here is the thing:

The body can only synthesize so much muscle in a given period. Force-feeding ourselves won’t raise that limit but will instead lead to lots of fat gain.

In essence, we need to strike a healthy balance - not fearing the calorie surplus but also not overeating and gaining tons of fat.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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