When it comes to packing on size and strength, the unfortunate reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all training regimen or meal plan that is going to be ideal for everybody.  

However, the good news is that experts and fitness junkies alike have been experimenting for decades with all different kinds of diets and training programs and it turns out, there are a lot of different methods that can be effective.    

While there are indeed various approaches to building size and strength, there are some underlying fundamentals that you’ll need to have in place in order to be successful, no matter which angle you chose to take.  

In order to get you pointed in the right direction on your muscle building journey, where ever it may lead you, we’ve sought out advice from some of the top practitioners in the field of strength and conditioning.  Here’s what they had to say.

Justin Roethlingshoefer

Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Diego Gulls & Anaheim Ducks Hockey Clubs

Justin Roethlingshoefer

Quite often I am asked ‘what is the best piece of fitness advice you could give me?’ Does it have to do with sets, reps, exercise selection, morning or afternoon training, fasting, macro counting, and on and on and on. When after all the years of experience and learning, I have come to one conclusion…consistency.  By definition, consistency means: acting or doing something in the same way over time, especially so as to be fair or accurate to a particular outcome.

Knowing that we have the power to make the ultimate changes to our bodies by simply making a decision is very commanding.  It should inspire us to learn more and educate ourselves on what that simple change in our lives can be. Then as that change becomes routine, we can slowly integrate another consistent change.  Soon we will have transformed our habits to resemble something that before we thought to be ideal and something difficult to achieve.

Its all about small steps and consistency.  Lay the most perfect brick every single day and understand that by the end of the year you will have a beautiful wall.

Eric Hammer

Collegiate Sports and Performance Coach

Eric Hammer

The latest research clearly shows that what you eat and when you eat, makes a tremendous difference in the speed and quality of the results you get from your workouts as an athlete.

Research shows that one to two hours before your workout, you should eat a light meal, drink a meal replacement drink or eat a large protein bar. Immediately before workouts you should drink a pre-workout drink. Whey protein is the preferred choice since it digests fast. Along with protein, consume at least 30-40g high glycemic carbohydrates such as glucose, maltodextrin or glucose polymers. This helps spare glycogen for improved performance and results.

When you exercise your body produces a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is actually your muscle’s enemy since it tears muscle down and converts it into fuel. The opposite is true for insulin, which helps rebuild muscle and suppresses the release of cortisol. Drinking a carb-filled drink therefore stimulates insulin and blunts cortisol. The result? More muscle gains!

Misunderstanding how these hormones work is why so many people hit plateaus in the gym despite their heavy workouts.

If your workout is less than one hour, just drink water. However, if training extends past an hour, during your workout you should consume the same high-glycemic, carb/protein pre-workout drink previously mentioned to help maintain glycogen (stored energy) levels for a longer workout.

After a workout, it is a critical time for proper recovery. You need to rush nutrients into your body preferably within 30 minutes of your workout. By taking a carb/protein drink immediately after your workout, you will double your amino acid uptake and increase subsequent protein synthesis by a whopping 25% when compared to waiting a few hours!

The post-workout formula should contain at least 15g of whey protein (which is fast-digesting) and about 45g of high glycemic carbohydrates. This is about a 3 to 1 ratio of carb to protein in a liquid form for fast absorption.

After about two hours your body is primed to stimulate further muscle protein synthesis and recovery. This is the time to eat a regular meal. Eat about 20-40g of protein along with low-glycemic carbs. Lean meats and steamed vegetables are a good choice. Stay away from refined carbs like breads, pastas, rice, and cereal to minimize insulin stimulation unless you are trying to gain weight.

Dan Franceschetti, MS CSCS

Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for HC Kunlun Redstar/Shenzhen Vanke Rays of the CWHL

Daniel Franceschetti

The importance of having a plan before entering the weight room is vital to any individual looking to make progress, whether your goal is to increase strength and size or learn to move like a supple leopard. It doesn’t need to be perfect to start, nor does it even need to be something you created, but having a game plan before you enter weight room or fitness center will go leaps and bounds towards seeing the gains you want and keeping you motivated in the process.

The body needs different stressors to adapt and see change. Beginners can get away with repeating the basics and still produce great results, but as you get more experienced variety becomes crucial when trying to avoid reaching a plateau and even boredom.

Here are a few tips that should guide you towards completing your training sessions with a purpose. First and foremost, WRITE IT DOWN! Another bonus to planning your sessions is that you’ve just made it that much easier to record and track your progress for either your main lifts or accessory work.

Furthermore, whenever we start something or have created purpose there is additional motivation and desire to complete the task, so whether you’re just starting out or feel the need to get away from your own programming, having a plan or experimenting with someone else’s could give you that extra push through that plateau you may be experiencing.

Lastly, hang up the cape before you start your session. It’s one thing to shoot for the stars an attempt that monstrous 1000rep workout someone posted online, but be smart and look at what you’ve done leading up to that point so that massive jump towards this insane workout doesn’t leave “paralyzed” for a week and unable to train.

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Matt Minuth

Powerlifting World Record Holder at the 242-pound weight class

The first thing that I try to focus on [for building size and strength] is having a consistent training log. So for a heavier workout program, being consistent and documenting everything is important, you need to have your exercises consistent from workout to workout to make sure that you’re tracking them evenly.

I’ve been lifting for 23 years straight so I switch it up pretty regularly.  I have exercises that I do that are consistent every time no matter what and those are kind of benchmarks for me to tell me whether or not the rest of my program is working. I know if those exercises are going up the rest of my other exercises are doing their job.

Matt Minuth Powerlifter

But for someone starting off, I would say they should stay on the same program for at least 3 months at a time.  So track their program for 12 weeks, if they’re getting improvements a few weeks in, keep going and then by the 12th week their bodies are going to adapt at least by then if not earlier and then the program should be changed.

I usually try to keep those simple, so you got 6 major muscle groups, so each different day I try to focus on a different muscle group. There needs to be consistency between all the major muscle groups.

As for nutrition, I am always a fan of the 40/40/20 split, so having 40 percent of your calorie intake coming from good carbohydrates, 40 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat. All of that in terms of grams. So if in each meal you’re shooting for a 300 calorie meal, 6 or 7 times a day, you should be getting 100 calories from protein, 100 calories from carbohydrates and 100 calories from fat in terms of the grams you’re going to get a 40/40/20 ratio on that.  

Nora Minno, RD, CDN

Daily Burn Coach and Trainer

Nora Minno

When working out one should keep these four tips in mind: consistency is key, your nutrition plan should reflect your fitness goals, Keep moving and don’t let time be an excuse, and Start small.

Building strength and changing body composition doesn’t happen after just one, two, or even three workouts. Consistency doesn’t mean your routine has to be the same every single day — but rather finding a cadence of fitness that works for you whether that’s 30 minutes 5x/week or 1 hour 3x/week.

Remember, consistency in strength training isn’t just about building muscle or strength, but ensuring that you don’t lose the muscle or strength that you’ve worked to build over time.

Know that nutrition isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach. For starters, a diet should be balanced and contain a blend of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. All play important functions and are essential in fueling a sustained fitness program.

You don’t need workouts to be long to be effective. Even just adding in 10-30 minutes a day of exercise can make a difference in both how you feel and how you look.

When starting to work out, you should start small and build a routine. Sometimes overhauling everything at once isn’t sustainable and can leave you feeling burned out. Instead, focus on one thing you’d like to change first — for example, if that’s exercise, try adding in just 20 minutes 3x/week to start. Then build from there.

Dr. John Rusin

Professional Strength Coach

I’ve spent the past 10+ years developing and testing a proven system to help you gain muscle and strength — even if you’re dealing with chronic aches and pains. I structure my training programs differently than most other fitness experts out there. I want my clients to get long-lasting results—but I also want them to make progress on their very first workout.

If you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s likely because you did put in the work—and it didn’t get you results. If you trade your joint health for strength gains, you’re guaranteed to lose both.

there’s another option, Functional hypertrophic training, The intelligent, joint-healthy, hardcore training program that’s helped thousands of people build muscle, lose fat, and gain strength fast. Functional Hypertrophy Training was designed specifically for people who want to gain muscle, lose fat, and build strength faster than ever before—while bulletproofing their body from injury and overtraining for the long run.

You’ll be cursing Dr. John during your workout, but you’ll find you recover quickly and finish your workouts feeling strong and accomplished. (Instead of feeling like your joints hurt and you got the crap kicked out of you.)

Get a fresh start with training and get in better shape than ever before (even if you have injuries). The 9 week, joint-healthy, training restart program that’s helped thousands of people move smarter, get stronger, and look better than ever.

Dr. John Rusin

If you’ve fallen off the wagon, don’t worry. You’re in good company. EVERYONE has setbacks that jeopardize their health and fitness. Over the past 10+ years, I’ve worked with everyone from desk jockey’s to Olympians, and I can tell you this: At some point in their lives, they need a “reset”. A reset that will get them back in the gym and back to moving consistently without pain.

Many of my clients come to me with their heads hanging low. “I used to be an athlete”, “I used to go to the gym 5x a week”. And over and over again, they want to know one simple thing: Why does every attempt I make to restart fail?

If we want to restart and succeed, we have to do something differently: We need exercises that are built to make our bodies stronger without sacrificing our joints, We need a program to follow, that allows us to see our progress, and  We need a coach in our corner, to check our blind-spots and help us not to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Back to the body they were proud of, back to the gym, and back to feeling like themselves: It’s called Foundations. Foundations was designed specifically for people who have taken a break from training, and want to restart. It’s for people who want to gain muscle, lose fat, and build strength—while learning how to master the foundational movement patterns that will keep their body bulletproof for life.

Wrap Up

As you can see, there is a good deal of variation in how each of the experts we spoke with approaches the muscle building process.  However, there are also a number of recurring themes that seem to pop up in just about everybody’s advice.

For example, did you notice how frequently everyone talked about consistency?  It’s not just a coincidence. It’s perhaps the most important variable of them all when it comes to building size and strength.  Once you find a diet and training program that works, you have to stick to it, day after day, week after week, and month after month. As such, one of the biggest takeaways from this expert roundup seems to be this:

Building muscle is a process that takes time and if you want to be successful, you have to be prepared for the long haul.  There are multiple avenues through which you can get there but the key lies in finding ways to be consistent with your training and diet once you have a clear plan in place.