It’s always exciting to start a new training program to build a leaner, more toned physique. Whether this training includes traditional free weights, CrossFit, mixed martial arts, or others, it can be very easy to jump in and get started immediately. But before getting started, it’s important to know about the most common mistakes made during any training program when attempting to build lean muscle. Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid hours of excessive stress, fatigue, and frustration!
1. Improper Form
Before beginning any weight training program, it is very important to understand the significance of proper technique over weight. Your objective is to perform each exercise properly with the appropriate weight for your training level and engage as many muscle fibers as possible. This can only be accomplished with proper weight lifting technique. By using improper form, you are less likely to engage every muscle fiber in a given body part, resulting in slower, less effective muscle growth. Secondly, you are far more likely to injure yourself. Improper technique is one of the most common causes of weight training injuries. So, if you notice yourself using improper lifting technique as you increase weight, decrease the weight and maintain proper form.
Exercise and weight training cause injury to skeletal muscle fibers, which release various signaling molecules to orchestrate the cellular response to muscle injury. While this response is necessary for muscular development, it can lead to overtraining syndrome if insufficient recovery time is given to the body. Excessive inflammation from overtraining can result in muscle fatigue, loss in muscle protein, loss of muscle mass, and reduced muscle function.1 It can also induce a ‘whole-body response’, in which the brain induces sickness, vegetative, or recuperative behaviors, leading to mood and behavior changes that allow the body to get rid of the excess inflammatory factors.2 Some of these behaviors include sickness, disinterest in exercise, reduced libido, arthritis, or a common cold.2 So, give yourself at least one or two days of rest within a seven-day period to avoid overtraining syndrome.
3. Lack of Sleep
A review article by Mullington et al. provides a detailed overview of the negative effects of sleep deprivation.3 Growth hormone (GH) commonly reaches its daily maximum during the first half of the normal sleep period. However, sleep deprived individuals experience a smaller pulse of GH levels during sleep. Sleep deprivation also decreases glucose metabolism, which can contribute to insulin resistance, accumulation of fat stores, and inflammation throughout the body. Interestingly, sleep deprived individuals have reduced concentrations of leptin, the hormone that signals satiety to the brain. They also have increased concentrations of ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger to the brain. The combination of lower GH levels, decreased glucose metabolism, reduced leptin levels, and increased ghrelin levels can be catastrophic to your weight training and fitness goals. In order to avoid these effects, give yourself at least eight hours of sleep per night.
4. No Vegetables
When changing your diet to promote lean muscle growth, simply increasing your protein intake is not enough. Some fitness enthusiasts often neglect the importance of vegetables in their diets. Although higher protein and complex carbohydrate intake is important, vegetables also provide essential minerals and nutrients that promote fat loss, muscle recovery, and muscle growth. Spinach and broccoli are great sources of folic acid, which repairs DNA and helps to produce new red blood cells.4 Brussels sprouts and broccoli are great sources of Vitamin C, which supports the immune system and protects the body from oxidative stress.5 Broccoli is a good source of zinc, which plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing.6 Spinach is a great source of magnesium, which helps to maintain normal muscle and nerve function and supports the immune system. Vegetables in the Brassica family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, are also great sources of fiber.
Although many of these nutrients can be consumed in supplement form, they are utilized more efficiently when they are consumed from whole foods. Other nutrient dense vegetables include, but are not limited to, asparagus, cauliflower, and kale. Interestingly, cabbage is also a source of glutamine, which supports muscle recovery and regulation of the immune system.
5. Alcohol Consumption
Although some fitness enthusiasts drink alcoholic beverages regularly, alcohol intake can be detrimental to your fitness goals. Alcohol, or dietary ethanol, has a high energy density, which can contribute to excess caloric intake. Secondly, alcohol intake causes essential vitamins and minerals to be displaced from its normal function in the body. For example, alcohol metabolism requires increased use of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6.7 This nutrient displacement has the potential to decrease certain B vitamin functions, such as fatty acid metabolism, amino acid metabolism, and the ability to generate glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Alcohol intake also can cause chemical damage to the mucosal lining in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in the malabsorption of nutrients.8
A byproduct of alcohol metabolism is the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), or oxidative stress. When combined with physical exercise, alcohol consumption and metabolism places greater amounts of stress on the body and increases the antioxidant demand. Antioxidants normally used for muscle recovery must then be displaced and used for alcohol metabolism, resulting in reduced muscle recovery. While studies do suggest that light consumption of alcoholic beverages, specifically red wine, can reduce the risk of certain cardiovascular disorders, excessive drinking can significantly inhibit your muscle recovery and fat loss.9
For excessive drinkers, detoxing from alcohol may be the next necessary step to take.
6. Not Enough Calories
Under-eating is one of the biggest causes of problems in failed diet plans. While you are able to lose weight with extreme caloric deficits, the losses will come from both muscle and fat. In order to lose fat and gain muscle, you must first know your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the amount of calories your body will burn with no activity. Next, adjust this value according to your level of physical activity and fitness goals. Even though daily caloric intake is important, the quality of the food is more important. Therefore, your caloric intake should come from foods that contribute to muscle growth and fat loss, such as lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables.
By avoiding these mistakes, you are more likely to facilitate muscle growth, muscle recovery, and fat loss in a shorter period of time. However, these are not the only mistakes that exist! So, continue to do your research. Diligently seek new training and dietary strategies for maximizing YOUR potential, not someone else’s!
1. Reid, M.B. and Y.P. Li, Cytokines and oxidative signalling in skeletal muscle. Acta Physiol Scand, 2001. 171: p. 225-232.
2. Smith, L.L., Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress.Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 2000. 32(2): p. 317-331.
3. Mullington, J.M., et al., Cardiovascular, Inflammatory, and Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation.Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 2009. 51(4): p. 294-302.
4. Fenech, M., C. Aitken, and J. Rinaldi, Folate, vitamin B12, homocysteine status and DNA damage in young Australian adults.Carcinogenesis, 1998. 19(7): p. 1163-1171.
5. Jacob, R.A. and G. Sotoudeh, Vitamin C function and status in chronic disease. NutrClin Care, 2002. 5(2): p. 66-74.
6. Prasad, A.S., Zinc: an overview. Nutrition, 1995. 11: p. 93-99.
7. Ferreira, M.P. and D. Willoughby, Alcohol consumption: the good, the bad, and the indifferent.Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab., 2008. 33: p. 12-20.
8. Rajendram, R. and V.R. Preedy, Effect of alcohol consumption on the gut. Dig. Dis., 2005. 23: p. 214-221.
9. Goldberg, I.J. and e. al., AHA science advisory: wine and your heart. A science advisory for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Council on Cardiovascular Nursing of the American Heart Association.Circulation, 2001. 103: p. 472-475.