Young athletes often tell me they want to gain as much muscle as they can as quickly as possible. While this is an understandable goal—people equate muscles with strength, and strength with better performance—muscle mass alone isn't necessarily the best way to gauge one's true ability. In fact, strength isn't necessarily a result of increased muscle mass.
Look at the typical teenage athlete who begins a lifting program. Once he gets the hang of the lifts and proper form, he will rapidly be able to increase the amount of weight he can lift. I have seen kids go from dumbbell pressing with 30-pound weights to 60-pound weights in a time that is too brief to actually put on muscle mass.
The strength gains in this situation are a result of improved neuromuscular activity rather than muscle gains. Basically, the athlete becomes more coordinated and is able to fire his or her body in a more efficient pattern to perform the lift.
To gain a pound of bodyweight, you need to be taking in about 500 calories per day beyond what your body burns. An active teenage athlete with a high metabolism can consume as many 5,000 calories a day (the exact number depends on his or her activity level, diet and genetics), so we're talking about a lot of food here. Especially protein. We'll get to that in a second. (Get to your goal: Feeding the Beasts: NFL Training Camp Nutrition.)
The good news? The typical teenager has enough testosterone to build muscle quickly. If you follow the plan below, you can gain as much as three to four pounds of lean muscle mass in as little as ten days.
As the building block for muscle gain and tissue repair, protein is the most important nutrient for someone trying to quickly add size. Aim to consume about a gram of protein or more for every pound of body weight. Studies have shown this to be the optimal amount to properly repair muscle damage and spur muscle growth. Good protein sources include chicken, fish, eggs, milk and small portions of red meat. (Ask the Experts: How Much Protein Do I Need?)
You'll want to pay attention to the timing of your protein ingestion. The most important time to load up: immediately following a workout or competition. Consume a protein shake within an hour of finishing your workout. Your body is better able to absorb protein in liquid form, and is primed to take in the nutrient following activity. An ideal post-workout recovery for someone looking to gain mass should have between a 3:1 and 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
While supplements are not a necessary part of any lifting program, they can be helpful if you aren't getting sufficient nutrition from your diet. If you're struggling to maintain the lofty protein consumption goals in this plan, a branched chain amino acid supplement may be helpful. Amino acids, found in animal protein, are the building blocks for muscle repair.
Of course, the other supplement people often use for gaining muscle is creatine. (See Is Creatine Safe and Effective for Young Athletes?) Creatine can be absorbed through your diet, but I suggest supplementation for size-seeking athletes because, in my experience, it helps grow and preserve muscle size while also delaying fatigue. Proper dosage varies by body type, so do your homework—and as always, consult a doctor—before adding this substance to your training regimen.
To gain the maximum amount of muscle mass in the shortest period possible, focus on large muscle groups. The workout plan below emphasizes full-body lifts over forearm curls. The moves will be tough, but produce more muscle stimulus—meaning more growth.
Sets/Reps: complete five sets of each (not including a warm-up set, which you should perform before every move).
Start with a warm-up set at 50 percent of your max and work your way to 85 percent of your max for 10 repetitions. Complete only as many reps as you can do with full control and proper form. Rest for three minutes between sets.
These workouts will likely leave you pretty sore, so pay attention to your body and allow for proper recovery between workouts. I recommend training on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday schedule. You can do abs and core on your off days, or just rest; but while you're trying to add muscle mass quickly, do not perform cardio work. Extended steady state cardio sessions cause your body to become catabolic and degrade muscle tissue.
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