Top Performance Tips: Although many people focus on fat loss, building muscle is an equally significant part of the conversation regarding body composition. Today we explore the hottest tips for building and maintaining muscle.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Muscle for Performance and Weight Loss
Even if your goal is to lose body fat, building and maintaining muscle should be one of the main focuses of your lifestyle choices. Building lean, functional muscle is a key to fat loss because muscle burns more calories than body fat, and the impact of muscle-building fitness programs (and dietary choices) turns you into a fat-burning machine 1.
Muscle quality matters when it comes to muscle building for longevity and health. This muscle has a high functional capacity, instead of the commonly chased bulky muscle (known as hypertrophy), which is big but often has limited function.
Functional muscle is lean and strong and translates to various tasks, including strength but also endurance. It is flexible and enables individuals to carry out different activities without limiting the range of motion.
Too much or too little muscle is associated with health problems 2-3. In contrast, functional muscle is a balance between the two, offering strength without the side effects of training purely for aesthetics and limited functioning big muscles.
Training for functional muscle is a lifestyle project. It includes a fitness training component, but the training itself is a part of a bigger picture that includes self-care, detox, nutrition, sleep, stress mitigation, and some biohacking tools and nutritional supplements.
Self-Care and Relaxation
Starting your day with self-care is a critical aspect of building and maintaining muscle. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest”) first thing in the morning is essential because this is the time when cortisol is naturally highest 4.
It’s common for people to hop out of bed, drink a coffee, and engage in fasted exercise– but coffee may also spike cortisol, which is then further compounded by the cortisol spike of exercise 5. Before engaging in highly stressful activities, honoring your hormones can lead to profound benefits for strength, muscle gain, and longevity if you first downregulate your nervous system.
Consider easing into the day with gentle physical movement like a walk in the sunshine, putting your bare feet on the earth, taking a cold swim in nature, self-massage, stretching, foam rolling, or hanging from an inversion table.
Mindfulness practices like journaling, mediation, or breathwork are other great ways to calm the nervous system and prepare the body for higher intensity activities to come.
Detox plays a role in muscle building in a profound but less direct way. Toxins wreak havoc on the nervous system, bodily functions, and drains the body’s energy 6. When the body has to process and store toxins, organs are burdened. Toxins are also stored in body fat, leading to pesky weight-loss resistance, among other issues.
In other words: when the body is toxic, it’s harder to put on muscle!
Detoxing safely and effectively is a slow process because it generally takes years to accumulate toxicity in the body. Quick fixes can be dangerous and harmful to the body, and safe and effective detoxes target the root of the problem to detox back to the cell.
Cellular detox that takes a 5 R approach can help you build and maintain muscle and clear up the varying side effects of toxicity in the body, including weight loss resistance, brain fog, and no energy.
Other detox tools for maintenance once you’ve undergone a more extended detox protocol can include a weekly mini-detox session using tools like 7-9
- Taking an effective binder (like CytoDetox) to trap toxins
- Jumping rebounding trampoline to move lymph fluid
- Doing a coffee enema to boost glutathione production and liver function
- Taking an infrared sauna to sweat out toxins
Optimal Foods for Muscle Performance
Nutrition for muscle building and maintenance requires implementing diet variation principles. Like cross-training with different methods (quick and slow) for muscle building in the gym, you should vary nutrition to build metabolic flexibility 10.
Diet variation can be done in various ways to suit your lifestyle, including:
- Daily variation: Where you may not consume any carbs until post-workout, where you replenish your glycogen stores with a high amount of carbohydrates. This can work very well for someone who trains most days of the week intensely.
- Weekly variation: Where you may implement a handful of keto days, with one to two high carb days and one day of fasting. This can work very well for someone who is more balanced in their exercise approach and tends to have a Monday-Friday routine and a more relaxed weekend.
- Monthly variation: You may stay keto for three weeks of the month and include one week of higher carb. This can work very well for menstruating women, who benefit from higher carbs just before, and during their monthly bleed.
Food quality also plays a role because the micronutrients provide your body with vitamins and minerals it needs to heal, regenerate, and grow. Building muscle is a break-down, build-up process, and providing your body with high-quality, organic, and pasture-raised products will not only ensure muscle building but will also reduce the likelihood of getting sick, injured, or depleted along the way 11.
Other than what you eat, when you eat can also play a significant role in building muscle. Intermittent fasting and more extended periods of fasting have been shown to increase IGF-1, the growth hormone that promotes muscle growth 12.
Intermittent fasting (or time-restricted feeding) simply requires you to condense your meals to a feeding window. An ideal feeding window should be around 4-6 hours, but you can start at 12-hours and find your own ‘sweet spot.’
It’s important not to eat less, but simply less often. If you’re finding it too hard to consume enough calories to keep you satiated (and sleeping properly through the night), widen your window. Chronic caloric restriction (too low caloric count for your body) will prevent you from building quality muscle and downregulate your metabolism 13.
If you’re training very hard in a fasted state, you may consider supplementing with
with essential amino acids (EAA), ketones, or minerals to prevent muscle loss.
When it comes to post-workout meals, fasting for 1.5 hours after exercise will increase growth hormone, an increase in testosterone, and a powerful fat loss effect 14.
Workout: Train Fast and Slow
The benefits of variation apply to nutrition and training. Training in different ways (known as cross-training), you target different types of muscle in the body. The body has fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, activated when you perform explosive and slow movements (respectively) 15.
Training fast-twitch muscle occurs with rapid or explosive movements. This type of workout is also very effective at burning fat. You can do fast-twitch muscle workouts with various techniques, including sprinting, skipping, HIIT, and powerlifting.
An example of an explosive workout would be the NYT 7 minute workout, which incorporates 12 simple exercises, with 30 sec on and 10 seconds of rest in between each exercise.
Slow-twitch muscle training uses higher weight resistance, with fewer reps and a very slow tempo. This can also be done in various ways, using different machines or free weights. Generally, it is safer to do these movements on pin machines or using the type of equipment that cannot injure you if you drop it.
With this slow training, a session may last 15-20 minutes and incorporate a chest press, a shoulder press, a seated row, a pull-down, and a leg press using free weights or weight machines. You simply perform a single set to failure for each exercise, using a tempo of about 20-30 seconds up and 20-30 seconds back. For added benefit, end the round with 2 mins of intense cardio (like an assault bike).
Another way to benefit from slow training would be to lift a HEX bar for one set of five reps a couple of times throughout the day. HEX bars are great because they naturally protect your back and lead to glute activation. This exercise is also one of the predictors of longevity **.
To maximize the benefits of exercise, you should incorporate heat stress into your weekly routine. The hormetic stress that heat causes in the body due to movement is amplified by getting into a sauna or a hot bath post-workout. Hormesis is the beneficial outcome of a low-dose stressor, which creates a beneficial adaptation in the body 16.
One of the main benefits of heat stress is the generation of heat shock proteins (HSP). A single session of heat stress increases muscle mass and protein synthesis and aids in maintaining muscle fiber size 17. Since muscle adaptations are mediated in part by HSPs, exposing your body to heat stress facilitates muscle protein synthesis.
For optimal benefits, sauna should be used regularly (2x-5x a week), ideally directly after exercise 18. Although most sauna studies have been done with traditional Finnish saunas, infrared sauna heats tissue more thoroughly and can provide more robust detox benefits. If using an infrared sauna, you should seek out a lower EMF model.
The 1, 2, 3 punch combo for muscle growth is a super slow exercise routine combined with an explosive exercise routine and regular exposure to heat stress.
Sleep is a part of muscle building that cannot be overlooked since it’s during sleep that our bodies do the bulk of our regeneration and healing. Muscle building occurs from the breakdown, which is then built back stronger than before during periods of rest. You must address sleep quantity and quality.
Most people do well with 7-8 hours of sleep quantity-wise 19. Quality, however, is just as if not more important. Quality refers to how deep your sleep gets, and the quality is built on the foundation of your daily habits and sleep hygiene.
Some of the best tips for optimizing sleep quality include: 19
- Avoid artificial blue light after sundown, and opt for natural light (fire) or red light instead if need be
- Use blue light blocking glasses after sunset if you cannot avoid blue light
- Expose your eyes to sunlight first thing in the morning to help set your circadian clock
- Finish hard workout at least 3 hours before bed
- Finish your last meal at least 2 hours before bed
- Limit caffeine in general, but especially afternoon
- Sleep on a bio balance PEMF mat
- Sleep on a ChiliPAD to cool down your core temperature
- Diffuse relaxing essential oils while you sleep (like lavender)
- Listen to white noise or binaural beats while sleeping
- Keep technology out of the bedroom
- Turn off wi-fi at night and be mindful of EMFs in general around you while you sleep.
Biohacking is anything that shortcuts a natural biological function that you’re trying to achieve. Although these tools are not necessary to build muscle, many of them can help fast-track your results, especially if you’re living with the unnatural and stress-filled woes of modern society.
These biohacking tools are all inspired by the tips mentioned above but offer a different option for receiving the benefits. For example, someone who does not have access to much sun year-round (due to geographical location or wing indoors) can benefit from indoor light therapy. Some biohacking tools also offer tracking metrics to make sure you are indeed on track with your goals.
- Tools that measure heart rate variability (HRV) can help you stay one step ahead of injury or illness. By tracking HRV first thing in the morning, you can tailor your daily activity in favor of intensity or recovery.
- By providing you with a daily sleep score, the OURA Ring can help you better track and understand sleep quality, which can also help you choose to go hard (or not) that day. It can also help you tweak your lifestyle habits to see if they help or harm your sleeping patterns.
- Essential oil diffusers can help promote alertness or relaxation, depending on the oils you choose to diffuse 20. Oils that promote alertness include cinnamon, peppermint, and rosemary, while lavender, chamomile, and bergamot encourage relaxation.
Various types of light therapy are available on the market today. Light therapy, or photobiomodulation, provides an array of benefits, including:
- Mitochondrial health
- Release of nitric oxide
- Collagen health/ skin health
- Activation of cytochrome c oxidase
- Blood flow to the brain
- Muscle maintenance
- Mild detox
Choosing the correct type of device simply depends on your situation or goals.
- Blue light machines like the Human Charger, the ViLight, or NanoV can help wake up the body, boost alertness, support memory, and cognitive function, and prevent or reverse the ailments associated with seasonal depression. 21-22
- Red light machines like JOOV promote wound healing, improve hair growth, improve various skin ailments, including psoriasis, scars, cold sores, sun damage, wrinkles, and support pain relief inflammation. 23-24
You can enjoy the benefits of red light therapy all day long, but to encourage deep sleep and a healthy circadian rhythm, you should avoid blue light therapy or full-spectrum light after sundown.
Although many supplements are linked to gaining muscle (like protein or creatine powders and growth hormone injections and replacements), we will highlight 3 of the top unconventional supplements to help build and maintain muscle.
Bovine colostrum supplementation has been shown to increase insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels 25. The benefits of colostrum outweigh similar supplementation both in soy and whey protein powders. These studies are supported both in younger individuals and older (50+).
Some of the main benefits are colostrums IGF-1, which stimulates the growth of muscle tissue and is vital for maintaining muscle mass and function in adults. Colostrum also helps reduce gut permeability 26.
Essential Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Although branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are commonly consumed by gym-goers, they are not optimal as an amino powder. BCAAs only contain three (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) nine essential amino acids (EAAs). New research has shown BCAAs alone may slow the rate of muscle gain may even have adverse effects on overall health 27.
Consuming all nine (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) of the essential amino acids offers a much more anabolic response in the body. It is less likely to spike blood sugar 28.
Consuming 10-20 grams per day of EAAs is optimal for anyone wanting to put on muscle. You can use them during a fasting period if you are training in a fasted state.
An HMB + ATP Combo
The combination of β-Hydroxy β-Methyl butyrate (HMB) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is linked to building and maintaining muscle. HMB is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine and slows down muscle protein breakdown. ATP is simply the energy currency of the human body.
Combining these two supplements has been shown to reduce recovery time in athletes, which is crucial if you’re trying to put on muscle 29-30. Remember: muscle is created through the breakdown and then healing process. The faster your muscles can repair, the sooner you can repeat the cycle to build more muscle!
Building and maintaining muscle is a critical component of living a long and healthy life. Achieving your muscle-building goals can be done using a holistic lifestyle approach that incorporates self-care and relaxation, detox, proper diet (nutritionally and in timing), workouts that pairs fast, explosive exercises on some days, with slow, heavy lifts on other days, regular heat stress, biohacking tools, and the right supplements.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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