Too thin, too little muscle, too lean, too stressed; all describe many of my most driven athletes. What’s the best way to gain muscle and improve performance? Here are my five top tips:
Stress. It is impossible to gain muscle without adding disproportionate amounts of fat if you are overstressed. Stress simply drives a negative mixture of adrenaline, pheromones, and appetite-related hormones that suppress hunger for the optimal foods or for eating at the right times. So step back, center down, and analyze how to redefine your life. Stress is a tool that we use to push ourselves and our team—but the fine line between negative stress and useful stress is often blurred. Define what the stress balance is for yourself, then live as though you will live forever.
Protein. Refocus your nutritional intake to be protein-loaded, with fruits and vegetables as complements and starches as condiments. Protein loading within the first hour after exercise has been shown to be the most effective tool for muscle building. Lean meats and fish at every meal are an easy way to start. Protein shakes carried in your water bottle are the convenient way to augment your diet. But not all protein shakes are alike—look for the ones with at least 20 grams of protein, then add peanut butter and bananas to make them palatable.
Think six meals a day. Smaller, targeted food intake fuels your output and is the pro athlete way to run your system. Not letting yourself get hypoglycemic, hungry-angry, or hungry-stressed is a key component of managing your measured weight gain in proportion to your muscle requirements.
Adjust your workouts. Make them proportionate to your sports requirements and body image. Working out excessively in the gym, when you get your joy from cycling, makes no sense. A great coach or trainer can help you mix in more fun with more effective exercise time. Think about your body image and what it means to you. There may be more images than the one currently fixed in your mind—images that could provide satisfaction for the next stage of your life.
Team up. Engage your partner, your best friend, your workout buddy, your family, and set muscle mass and fitness goals together. Too often we keep these goals private when in reality our appearance is social and our shapes are obvious to everyone. So why not celebrate the journey of moving from one body shape to another, from one fitness level to the next, from our current mental state to a happier one?
Each of these tips can help people of all shapes and sizes. Paradoxically, it is the most driven athletes who so commonly defeat themselves with non-optimal choices. “Impossibly thin” really is impossible.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.