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4 reasons you’re not building muscle

In this blog, Doctor Daniel Grant looks at four common reasons you’re not building muscle and how you can build muscle mass safely while optimising your performance.

Ever wondered why you’re not building muscle? You’re certainly not on your own. In fact, building muscle is one of the most popular fitness goals that there are [1].

In this blog, Doctor Daniel Grant looks at four common reasons you’re not building muscle, from protein intake to how much you workout each week, and how you can build muscle mass safely while optimising your performance.

You’re not eating enough quality food

Whether you're into resistance training, bodybuilding, strength training or just interested in muscle-building, it's good to know how muscle is built. So, did you know that muscle growth is an anabolic process? An anabolic process means it requires energy and builds up large molecules from smaller ones [2]. So, you need to be taking in more energy than you burn.

But it isn’t just about quantity when it comes to your food, it’s quality too. When people think about building muscle mass, it’s usually protein that comes to mind, like whey protein or a different protein powder. While you do need protein, you also need carbs and fat [3]. Try to aim for your food to be high quality, home-cooked, whole foods, rather than junk and quick-fix shakes, too.

Taking in too much of any food is likely to result in you gaining weight or excreting excess nutrients. If you’ve ever overdone the protein shakes, you may have even experienced some odd urination aromas. On the flip side, taking in too little means you won’t build muscle as fast as you might want. So how do you get the right balance? Fortunately, there’s some useful science to help.

Knowing your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) will help you work out the right amount of food to match your exercise levels in order to build the muscle you want. A TDEE calculator can help you to plan your diet depending on whether you want to gain, lose or maintain – also known as bulking, cutting and maintenance.

You’re not training right

There’s no quick fix for healthy muscle growth. It takes time, dedication, and routine, especially if you have a certain goal like gaining weight or building lean muscle. The element of plateau also means you might find that you gain muscle relatively quickly to start with and then it becomes harder, which is completely normal.

Building muscle involves breaking down and reforming muscle tissue, so you’ve got to do a workout that challenges you. Having said that, training isn’t just about going as hard as you possibly can.

Golden rules to training right

  1. Take it easy when starting out - Build up the weight over a couple of months.

  2. Train regularly, but not too regularly – Don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row and have one or two rest days each week to fully recover. If you overdo it, you may start to feel fatigued.

  3. Do some cardio, too - Try to get 20 minutes in every time you’re going to do weight training. It’ll warm you up for training and also help you build muscle.

  4. Stay hydrated - Muscle breakdown products strain the kidneys, staying well hydrated will reduce the pressure and keep you safe.

Your hormone or nutrient levels are low

Everyone is unique and what works for one person might not work for someone else. So, how do you know if your body is recovering from training, if you have healthy hormone levels or if you’re getting the right nutrients? One way is by looking at your blood.

Here’s how a test like the Ultimate Performance Blood Test for top-level athletes helps you to optimise, stay safe and not over-train.

Testosterone and oestradiol - Having healthy levels of testosterone and oestradiol can help effective muscle growth. You may hear that having a lot of testosterone is essential for muscle growth. This isn’t true. Instead, you need to have a healthy level. Blood tests can see if your level drops low, which can result in muscle development dropping off. Addressing the underlying cause, such as stress, poor sleep, poor diet or excess alcohol, is crucial.

Micronutrients and cholesterol – To optimise your performance, keeping your cholesterol in check through a diet that gives you the right balance of fats and having optimal levels of micronutrients for muscle growth and performance are both important. A lot of people have sub-optimal vitamin D and iron levels, which can make it harder to build muscle. Once you know you have a deficiency, you can address it easily through diet or supplementation.

Creatine kinase (CK) – CK is a breakdown product from muscle. If you overdo it in training, you can put way too much strain on your kidneys. Looking at your CK level can ensure you’re working out within your bounds. Kidney function is tied into CK, but also hydration. If your kidney function is low, it’s an indication that you need to drink more in and around your workouts. If you take anabolic steroids, it can really disrupt your blood, but we’ll go into that more in a moment.

Overtraining syndrome – This is an issue facing high-level athletes that can result in burning out and takes weeks or even months to recover from. If you’ve noticed a drop off in performance, let our doctors know so they can look at your results from this point of view. Changes in hormone balance and some other markers may indicate overtraining and be a sign that doing less in the short-term will save a lot of pain long term.

Are you supplementing safely?

Supplements can refer to anything from multi-vitamins to anabolic steroids. Vitamin deficiencies can be easily corrected with supplements, but it’s important not to overdo it because high levels can be just as bad as low levels. If your blood test shows a low vitamin or cholesterol level, our doctors can give you advice on how to correct these safely.

Finally, let’s talk about anabolic steroids. We can’t ever recommend using these, but we know that people take them and we’d rather they did so as safely as possible. Steroids are potentially very dangerous. Their actions can cause a whole array of changes to not only disrupt your hormones but also your organ systems. This can lead to permanent body shape changes and greatly increase the risk of something like a stroke or heart attack.

If you take steroids, monitoring yourself regularly could be vital for your health – every three months or so. Please be open and honest with our doctors and let them know what you take. If your blood is dangerous, it’s important to follow their advice to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Muscle-related blood tests

  1. Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT): Advanced TRT Blood Test

  2. High-level trainers: Ultimate Performance Blood Test

  3. Mid-level trainers: Advanced Well Man Blood Test and Advanced Well Woman Blood Test

  4. Starting out or baseline: Fitness Blood Test


References

  1. https://www.exercise.co.uk/learn/the-fundamentals-of-building-muscle/

  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zm6j47h/revision/2

  3. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/training-and-recovery/building-muscle/strength-building-and-muscle-mass