Sure, you want a broader chest and abs that will whistle in the wind. Biceps that bulge through your shirtsleeves would be nice too. But these aren’t the only reasons you hit the gym. You also work out to burn off the chocolate croissant you had for breakfast (and to guard against tomorrow’s post-work chips). You might even believe that an hour of pushing weights makes up for eight spent sitting at a desk. And as long as you don’t miss that hour each day, you will build a body that makes the doe-eyed barista downstairs take notice.
The reality: the rest of your day is just as important for building muscle. “The point of working out is to force your body to adapt,” says Joe Dowdell, CEO of Peak Performance. “But those adaptations don’t occur in the gym – they occur during all the hours you’re not there.” Build muscle on the 24-7 plan with these 18 tips.
7AM: Wake Up with Water
When you roll out of bed in the morning, chug 450ml of chilled H2O – the volume in a typical consumer bottle – and you can raise your metabolism by 30%, according to scientists in Germany and Canada. The fat-burning benefits don’t stop there: that same study found that the metabolic boost lasted for up to 90 minutes after people took their last sips.
7:30AM Rethink Your Cereal
In a recent study in Nutrition Today, only 55% of the tested cereals billed as “wholegrain” were a “good source” of belly-filling fibre. “And most are high in sugar and low in muscle – building protein,” says Dr Mike Roussell, a nutritionist. Try this instead: mix 1/2 cup low-kilojoule muesli or cereal, a cup of low-fat plain yoghurt, and 1/2 cup of berries. “You’ll get more protein and fibre,” says Roussell. You’ll also feel full for hours despite having eaten very fewer kilojoules.
8AM: Beat the Traffic
If you live less than eight kilometres from work, leave your car at home and hop on a bike or walk. You’ll save on rising petrol costs and avoid traffic, especially since Joburg has the third worst traffic congestion in the world behind Beijing and Mexico City, according to a Global Commuter Pain study. Live too far away? Hop off the train a stop or two early, or park far from your building’s entrance. “You could burn as many as 836 extra kilojoules a day,” says Nick Tumminello of Performance University. “It may not sound like much, but the kilojoules add up quickly.” Or rather, they subtract quickly – about half a kilo of fat a month.
9AM: Order a Large Espresso
Adding cream, sugar or other high-kilojoule condiments to your coffee is like chasing a salad with a packet of biscuits. “Most fancy coffee drinks fall into the same category as soda,” says Roussell, “and some pack more than 2 508 kiloujoules.” So take yours black. You’ll not only save yourself a kilojoule nightmare but also earn extra man points. Drink a cup now, and have another before you work out. (More on that later.)
10AM: Mobilise Your Shoulders
Bending over a keyboard can turn you into a hunchback. “Your muscles and tissues adapt to that position, reducing mobility and increasing your injury risk,” says Eric Cressey, of Cressey Performance. Your fix: standing Ys. Face a wall and place your forearms against it, elbows tucked by your ribs. Slide your forearms up until they form a Y; then pull them backward, off the wall. Reverse to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10.
11AM: Schedule Your Workouts
Programme your daily sweat sessions into your calendar and set an alarm. In a Clayton State University study, people who received workout reminders spent more time exercising each week than those who didn’t get the alerts. Plus, according to new research from Tunisia, working out at the same time each day triggers hormonal adaptations that make you strongest at that point.
12PM: Load Up on Protein
To build muscle, you need protein – ideally, 1 gram per half kilo of your target body weight per day. So make it the star of your lunch, says Roussell. Two good options: a grilled chicken breast (27 grams) or a 120g steak (35 grams). Skip starters and extra side dishes – you’ll cut kilojoules, not satisfaction, a study in the journal Health Affairs concludes.
1PM: Dial Back the Air Con
Office temperatures below 22°C are productivity killers, say researchers at Cornell University. If you’re able to access the thermostat, keep it at 22°C. If you’re not, throw on a light sweater. By staying comfortable, you’ll accomplish more work in less time – and be that much less likely to skip your workout later in the afternoon.
2PM: Take a Nap
“Napping reduces the stress hormone cortisol and promotes muscle-building growth hormone,” says Dr W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine advisor. “Taking a nap, even for just 15 minutes, creates an environment in your body that builds muscle and burns fat.” Maximise your time with the Relax Melodies app (free, iOS). It plays ambient sounds to drown out noise and help you drift off faster.
3PM: Mobilise Your Legs
“If you don’t take the time to work your hips, ankles and glutes throughout the day, you’ll be too tight to lift properly when you eventually hit the gym,” says Tumminello. To loosen up, squat until your glutes nearly touch your heels; grab the edge of your desk for balance if you need to. Hold that position for 45 seconds, and then stand back up. Repeat three times.
4PM: Grab Another Coffee
Drinking the equivalent of two cups of coffee (450ml) about an hour before you work out can help you lift more weight, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found. The reason: caffeine blocks the signals of pain and fatigue that your muscles send to your brain, boosting your performance as a result.
5PM: Skip the Painkiller
It’s time to work out. But don’t pop an a pain killer to alleviate lingering soreness from yesterday’s workout. You’ll not only stall muscle growth by disrupting collagen production but also leave yourself vulnerable to gastrointestinal irritation – cramps, diarrhoea, intestinal bleeding and nausea. The better remedy: a post-workout massage.
6PM: Hop Onto the Table
Try to fit in a professional rubdown; just 10 minutes can ease post-exercise soreness and may speed recovery, say researchers in Canada. Too busy? Grab a foam roller and hit the floor. As little as two minutes of rolling can increase your range of motion by 13%, another Canadian study found. Work your way up your body, giving each muscle group at least three or four rolls.
7PM: Chew Longer
“Fill your plate with lean meats, vegetables and gluten-free starches like rice and potatoes,” says Nate Miyaki, the author of Intermittent Feast. “It’s a simple way to feed your muscles without packing on fat.” And chewing each bite for 30 seconds can help reduce food cravings later on, a recent study in the journal Appetite found.
8PM: Take In More Vitamin D
Men with higher blood levels of vitamin D tend to have stronger upper-and lower-body muscles than those with low levels, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. That’s because vitamin D acts as a hormone and may increase testosterone levels, the researchers say. Shoot for 600 IU of vitamin D a day.
9PM: Record Your Progress
Men who keep a weight loss journal (on paper or with an app) at least 60% of the time are more likely to keep the weight off, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. “And by keeping track of your workouts, you’re also better able to gauge both your progress and the effectiveness of your exercise program,” says Tumminello.
10PM: Drink a Protein Shake
Knocking back 40 grams of protein before bed can boost muscle growth while you sleep by 23%, according to research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. “Look for powders high in casein, which digests slowly to provide a steady stream of protein,” says Roussell.
11PM: Kill the Lights
Go to sleep now – and again at this time tomorrow night, and the night after that, and the night after that. Bedtime consistency is crucial for weight control, say researchers in Japan. “And failing to sleep at least eight hours a night slows your metabolism and increases your hunger throughout the day,” says Winter.