Building a strong, and muscular body is a hell of a statement, especially as you age. With every decade being in shape makes you more of an outlier as it’s something that needs a high level of discipline and work to attain and maintain for most.
When you’re younger you can get decent to great results doing a lot of nonsense with a high amount of effort. With age less so.
For various reasons like time, energy, recovery, hormones, and priorities every decade after 30 brings the requirement to be more focused with where and how you spend your effort.
Based on my experiences working with clients from 14-86 here’s what I feel are the most important components of building muscle.
5 Essential Rules of Building Muscle (especially over 40)
1. Calorie Surplus
The first thing to establish is whether you’re going to do a recomposition or bulk. ""What is that?" you might ask, let me explain.
The body needs 3500 calories to build 1lb of new tissue. The more body fat you have the harder it is to build muscle efficiently if you just add calories. Muscle always comes with a certain amount of body fat, water, and other tissues.
My strategy with clients especially those who also want to get leaner is that if they’re over 15% body fat then they’ll do what’s been coined as a body recomposition. This means aiming to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously.
If you have enough expendable body fat. some of the calories you need to build muscle can be supplied by the body breaking down fat stores to build new muscle if you have enough protein available. This often will be slower than someone who’s already lean building muscle, but you’ll get the best of both worlds.
For clients with already low body fat percentages, we’d do what’s often called a bulk in the fitness world which is just focusing on adding calories gradually.
Determining your muscle-building calorie needs:
Step 1 - The body fat measurement anyone can do
This will tell you your current approximate bodyfat percentage.
Step 2 - Determine your muscle-gaining calorie needs
Recomposition (Gain Muscle / Lose Fat)
If your body fat percentage is >15% Men or 22% Women
Daily Calories Needs = Your bodyweight x 12-15
If I have a male client who’s 200lb and over 15% body Fat
Daily Calories = 200 [Bodyweight] x 15 [multiplier between 12-15] = 3000 calories/day
Bulk (Gain Muscle)
If your body fat percentage is < 15% Men or 22% Women
Daily Calories Needs = Your bodyweight x 15-20
If I have a male client who’s 200lb and under 15% body Fat
Daily Calories = 200 [Bodyweight] x 18 [multiplier between 15-20] = 3600 calories/day
Once we have a target we make modifications to our food intake to meet our calorie goals. I use a few different methods of tracking nutrition with clients but for most people going at it on their own using a calorie tracking app like myfitnesspal is typically the most effective.
2. Weight Training
The body gains muscle as a response to the demand you place on it. You’ll gain a certain amount of muscle doing things like bodyweight exercises, and even cardio, but muscle growth will plateau from these extremely fast.
In my experience resistance training with barbells, dumbbells, cables and machines is the fastest and most efficient way to build muscle especially when focused on high-return exercises.
Most efficient exercises for building muscle
How often should you train?
For the best results, I often say 3-4 days per week is optimal for most people to build muscle efficiently.
It’s important to mention though that some can improve with as few 2 sessions per week if they’re able to challenge themselves enough.
When it comes to growing muscle though more is often better so the less you train the slower the progress.
3. Progressive Overload
In practice, this just means pushing the body harder over time. The body improves as a result of trying to make the work you throw at it easier for itself. So it adapts if given enough rest and nutrients. The response is getting bigger, stronger muscles, and more resilient body structures like tendons, ligaments, and bones.
This means as you gain skill and ability you need to work harder for more gains.
Ways to progress
Protein is bodies building material, especially muscle. It’s a non-negotiable to gain muscle and maintain it. As you age the body also starts to become less efficient with protein even breaking down its existing muscle unless you eat protein and train your muscles. So if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
How much protein you need
0.8-1.0g protein /lb body weight is usually enough protein for most people, but sometimes especially when trying to lose body fat at the same time you’ll want more.
14 of my favorite high-protein foods
Lean Ground beef
Greek or Skyr Yogurt
Building muscle requires patience and focus on the process because unfortunately, it’s slow. Unless you’re a complete beginner, adding .5-1lb of muscle per month is fantastic, which means If you’re able to put on 6-12lbs of lean muscle per year you’re in a great place.
Its also really important to try not to lose muscle due to highly restrictive diets or age as it’ll take a long time to gain back.
A few pounds of lean muscle will be very noticeable especially when combined with losing body fat or being lean in the first place.
I’ve often found with clients having multiple ways we can win helps us stay committed to the process. How we do that is by tracking progress markers in a few different categories along the way.
How I track progress with clients
It’s important to remember progression requires less perfection and more consistency over time especially when it comes to building muscle. Embrace the process, don’t take it too seriously, and have fun.
May the gains be with you.