Ep #33: How to Build Muscle

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | How to Build Muscle
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What exactly does it take to build muscle? How much and how often you should train? You may know the benefits of building muscle, but where do you even start? There can be a lot of uncertainty and confusion around this topic, so this week, I’m clearing things up for you.

It takes time and commitment to build muscle, but there are some things you can do to make your experience of it feel easier. If you are going to make this your goal, I want you to do it properly, and I’m here to help.

In this episode, I demystify building muscle for anyone uncertain about nutrition or hitting the weights. Discover what exactly it takes to build muscle and where to start, one of the most common reasons I see people fail, and how to build muscle and keep it.


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What You Will Discover:

  • The benefits of strength training if you want to build muscle.
  • How to prioritize your workouts to focus on building muscle.
  • Three key things you need to make any change.
  • How to reach progressive overload.
  • The importance of rest and sleep when it comes to building muscle.
  • Where you want to focus your time and energy if you are going to strength train.
  • Some reasons you may not be keeping muscle.
  • Why it is so important to be consistent with your strength training.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode # 33. If you want to build muscle but you don’t know where to start, check this out.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some day sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new? What’s good? So, what’s good here is that we are going to talk about how to build muscle. I have been asked this question numerous times, and today I’m going to get really specific about the details, and what exactly it takes to build muscle.

Because first, I want to demystify this for anyone uncertain about hitting the weights. And second, if you are going to strength train, I want you to do it properly and get the biggest return on your investment. I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but I want to be super clear about it here.

Now, strength training is really where it’s at. I won’t go so far as to declare it the fountain of youth. But of all the things that you can do to keep yourself feeling and looking young and healthy, strength training ranks up there pretty high. And part of my mission is to help encourage you to try it out, especially for any peri- or menopausal women listening who have not yet tried strength training.

Seriously, we are learning more and more through science and research that strength training helps to decrease the inevitable loss of muscle as you age, increases your bone density, and it also helps to decrease the accumulation of fat around your belly that is so common as women transition into menopause. These are huge wins.

We also know now that strength training, independent of other exercises you do, is inversely associated with the risk of all-cause mortality. So, in plain English, that means lifting weights will help you to live longer. Lifting weights gives you longevity. So, combine your strength training with cardiovascular activity like walking, running, biking, jogging, and you have an even lower risk of death. To be clear, it’s not one or the other; it is most definitely both.

But if you need a reminder on all the reasons to start or keep up your strength training, please go back and listen to Episode 14. That is where I get into all the science and reasons why strength training should be part of your routine. In that episode, I also bust up many of the myths and misconceptions around strength training, and I explain how to get started.

Today, we’re going to build on what I reviewed in that episode, and get more specific about what it takes to build muscle. So many of you have told me that you lift weights, but you’re not building muscle, and you want to change that. Here is what we’re going to cover: We’re going to talk about strength training specifics.

What I mean by this, is that when you go to lift weights, I want you to know what you’re doing and feel prepared. So, you’ll walk away from your workout confident that you did what you need to do in order to build muscle.

Then, we’re going to talk about nutrition. In order to build muscle, you have got to fuel yourself properly, so we’re going to talk about how to eat in order to build muscle and keep it. We’re also going to talk about reasons that you might not be building muscle.

There are plenty of misconceptions, lots of bro science about this, and I want to make this super clear for you. It is not as complicated as you would think, but it does require paying attention and some intentionality behind what you do in both the gym and in the kitchen. Okay? So, let’s go.

First, in order to build muscle, hit the weights. Lift heavy weights. I’m not talking about killing yourself in the squat rack or maxing out every time you head to the gym. No. But too often, I see people lifting weights and not pushing it. So like most everything in your life, this applies to muscle too, in order to get stronger, you have to get outside your comfort zone.

This means maybe you get a little red, maybe you get a little sweaty, or a lot sweaty. Maybe a neck vein becomes visible; you go hard. So, I’m not saying you go to muscular failure, where you lift until you cannot lift anymore. I’m also not saying that you have to be in pain in order for your weight training to work. In fact, you should not be in pain when you’re lifting weights.

Because that generally means one of two things: You’re either going too heavy, you have poor lifting technique, or actually both. I don’t believe in “no pain, no gain.” I don’t want you to have pain, but I am going to be 100% honest, lifting weights burns. It burns when you’re going hard. Your booty, your quads, and your hamstrings, they will burn when you squat. When you have a barbell and plates sitting on your back, and then you try to sit down with it, it burns.

But it burns in a good way. It’s kind of like the burning in your legs when you’re running, or the burn in your lats and shoulders when you’re swimming hard. It’s that kind of burn that I’m talking about. And like everything, there is a happy medium to be found. That place where you’re pushing yourself, but you’re not overdoing it.

And the way to find that is through practice. When you rack your weights, and you walk away from your workout, I want you to feel like you did something. Okay?

The guiding principle of strength training, which I’ve mentioned a few times now, but it bears repeating, is progressive overload. Progressive overload is a fancy term, but all it means is that in order to build muscle, you have to subject your muscle to increased stress over time; that’s it.

So, when you strength train, you put your muscles and joints through a range of motion against resistance, and essentially, what you’re doing is ripping up your muscles. And when I say ripping up your muscles, what I mean is that you are literally creating micro-tears in your muscle fibers, that your body then has to go back and repair. But this is a good thing.

Your body has the machinery to go and repair those micro-tears in your muscles, once you put down the dumbbells after your workout. And it’s in this repair and rebuilding process, that your muscles come back bigger and stronger. Your muscle fiber size, both the length and the diameter, and the muscle strength increases. This is the muscle hypertrophy process right here.

This is where it gets interesting. As your muscle strength increases, it adapts. It adapts to accommodate the stress you apply to the muscle. So, what this means is that eventually, the muscle will stop getting bigger and stronger, once it has adapted to the stress of the weight you’re lifting. It’s at this point that you have to apply increased stress to your muscle in order for the hypertrophy process, or that ripping up and repair process, to repeat itself.

I think this is best explained in an example. So, let’s say you’re doing dumbbell chest presses, and you’re doing three sets of 10 reps. All that means is you do 10 chest presses, you rest for one to two minutes, and then you do another set of 10 reps. You do that for a total of three times. So, three sets of 10 chest presses.

Let’s say you choose 25-pound dumbbells. Maybe the first few weeks you do this, you are sore as heck. And those 25-pound dumbbells are hard to put up. But you keep at it. You keep showing up every week. You put in your reps, and you keep doing three sets of 10 chest presses with 25-pound dumbbells.

What you should notice, if you stick with it, is that over time, those 25-pound dumbbells will not be as hard to lift. It won’t make you as sore in week six, or eight, as it did in week one. So, what happened? That 25-pound dumbbell did not get any lighter, right? Instead, you got stronger.

Every time you show up to the gym, you do your workout, and you do those three sets of 10 chest presses, your muscles get ripped up. And then, your body did its job and repaired the muscles, which came back bigger and stronger than they were the week before.

What happened over time is that your muscle adapted to that training stimulus. And then, in order to continue building muscle, you repeat the process. Meaning you have to apply increased stress to your muscles to challenge them so that they continue to rip up and be repaired. The process repeats itself. That, right there, that’s the progressive overload.

So, very simply: You lift the weight, you challenge your muscles, and when your muscles adapt, you do it again; you step it up. Okay?

How exactly do you do this? How do you achieve progressive overload? There are a couple of ways to do this, and I’m going to go over them now. First, the most obvious and, honestly, most fun way to get to progressive overload is to increase your load, or you bump up your weight. That, in my opinion, is the most fun way to do it.

In our example, instead of doing three sets of 10 chest presses with 25-pound dumbbells, you pick up the 30-pound dumbbells, and you go for it. Here’s a key point to note, you do not have to do all three sets of 10 with the heavier dumbbells.

So, say you do your first two sets with the 25-pound dumbbells. You’re having a good day; you slept well, maybe your caffeine is infusing, and Britney Spears just shuffled into your music library. On that third set, you grab the 30-pound dumbbells, you bust out your last set, and you get nine reps in.

That’s okay, keep going and try it again the following week. Here’s the thing, the only way you will become capable of lifting that heavier weight is by lifting the heavier weight; you have to try. And it may mean that you fail or that you don’t get in all 10 reps the first few times to do it.

I’ll say this here to be clear, always lift safely. If you’re new to this, if you’re trying to lift heavy, and you’ve never done it before, work with a trainer. Or, at the very least, make sure you’ve got someone to spot you so that you don’t injure yourself. Okay? Lift weights, but be safe and smart about it so you don’t get hurt. Have a spotter.

But my point here is that in order to advance your weight, you have to try it out. You have to take a chance on yourself and go the next step up. I will say, this takes time, like lots of time. If you are brand new to lifting weights, you’ll likely find that you can increase your weight faster than someone who is an experienced lifter and has been lifting weights for years.

Eventually, our human capacity to build muscle slows down when we already have a solid base of muscle. There are genetic and hormonal factors that play into this, but suffice it to say that beginning weight lifters will put on muscle more quickly than someone who has been lifting for years.

So, another way to get to progressive overload is to increase the number of sets or reps you do or both. This is straight-up math. When you increase the number of sets or reps that you lift, you’re increasing the volume of the training stimulus that you apply to your muscles.

So, going back to our three sets of 10 chest presses at 25 pounds, if you increase to three sets of 12 or four sets of 10, that’s a larger volume, which means increased stress on your muscles. And that will get you to progressive overload. Again, this is just simple math.

From a practical perspective, there is a point at which increasing your number of sets and reps just doesn’t make sense. Don’t do three sets of 30 chest presses, and don’t do eight sets of 15 chest presses, okay? That is excessive. You’ll be in the gym forever, and you’ll likely set yourself up for injury. There is a balance to strike here between volume, time, and practicality.

All right. Next, you can decrease your rest time. So, for most strength training exercises, anywhere from one to two minutes is enough to allow your muscles to recover, so that when you start your next set, you feel ready. If you’re going super heavy, like you’re trying to max out, then you want to give your muscles more time to recover. That can be anywhere from three to four or even five minutes.

But for most training purposes, one to two minutes between sets is enough. If you’re someone who takes a longer rest period, challenge yourself to take a little less rest. Yes, your muscles won’t be as fresh, it will be more of a challenge, and that’s how you get to progressive overload.

The key here, again, is to do this safely. For those three sets of 10 chest presses, as you cut your rest from one and a half to one minute between your three sets, you should be able to maintain proper form. If you feel that your form is breaking down, then you’re on your way to injury, and you should go back and increase your rest time.

The next way you can get to progressive overload is by increasing your time under tension. So, here is where I’m going to get just a little bit nerdy on you. But I want you to understand this, so you walk into the weight area feeling prepared. All right?

Most strength training exercises have two phases: First, there’s the concentric or shortening phase. This is the part of the lift where you overcome gravity or the weight load. So, examples would be pushing the dumbbells up over your chest, in that chest press. Pulling the bar down in a lat pulldown. Or, pulling yourself up to the bar in a pull-up.

The E-centric or lengthening phase of your lift is when you resist gravity or your weight load. Examples of this would be lowering the dumbbells during your chest press. Descending into a sit, in your barbell back squat. Or lowering the dumbbells towards your thigh in a biceps curl.

As a side note, isometric exercise involves no change in the length of your muscle when it is contracted. Examples of isometric exercises are things like planks and wall sets.

When you slow down the eccentric or lengthening phase of your move, what you’re doing is increasing the amount of time that your muscle is under tension. The longer your muscle is under tension, the more stress you apply to it, and the more you rip up that muscle and create micro-tears in it that need to be repaired. There’s your progressive overload.

You can also get to progressive overload by increasing the frequency of your training sessions. So, this makes sense by the math. If you increase the number of workouts you do in a week, then you’re increasing the stress you apply to your muscles. The most important thing to consider here is rest. Ideally, you want to give yourself at least 48 hours between training sessions for the same muscle group; anything less than this and you risk overtraining and injury.

To truly understand this, think about what happens during your strength training sessions. You are literally tearing up your muscles. So, when you’re done with your workout, your body needs time to repair and rebuild that muscle.

That’s how it gets stronger. Plus, if your chest is still sore from the chest presses you did on Monday, you’re probably not going to be at your best and most fresh to do those chest presses again on Wednesday.

If you want to increase the frequency of your training sessions, it just means that you need to be thoughtful in planning out your workouts, so that you’re staggering the muscle groups you’re working, in order to give those muscles adequate time to recover.

This works especially well for smaller muscle groups. In general, your smaller muscle groups are things like your calves, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. They tend to handle the increased training stress more easily than larger muscle groups; they repair and recover faster. And this is largely because of their smaller size.

This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t do squats, as an example, twice a week. But what it means, is planning your workouts so that you give enough time for your legs to recover. Remember, about 65% of your muscles are below your waist, and your leg and booty muscles are the largest muscle groups in your body. You want to work them hard but treat them kindly. So, give them at least two, but ideally three days between workouts.

To summarize so far, in order to build muscle through strength training, aim for progressive overload. All that means is that you apply increased stress to your muscles over time. You’re increasingly challenging yourself in order to stimulate muscle growth; that’s it. And there are a number of ways to apply increased stress to your muscles: Increase your weight. Increase the number of sets or reps; that’s your training volume. Decrease your rest time. Increase your time under tension, or that lowering phase of your exercise; that’s your slow burn there. And increase the frequency of your training sessions. Those are all the different ways that you can do it.

Beyond progressive overload, what else do you need to know in order to build muscle? First, prioritize your movements. This means go for big, compound, multi-joint exercises, first and foremost. Okay, so I know biceps curls are fun, but they just are not going to get you the same results as squats or rows. Many of you are strapped for time and have told me you don’t have a lot of time to strength train, so what do you do? This is it; this is what you do. You focus on big moves that incorporate multiple muscle groups, in order to get the biggest return on your investment.

So, multi-joint or compound moves are exactly that; they incorporate multiple muscle groups at the same time. I’ve said this before, and I’m going to repeat it here, if you do no other exercise, focus on the big five. The big five are; squats, deadlifts, bench presses or chest presses, rows, or pull-ups, and overhead shoulder presses. If you focus on nothing more than these five moves, you will see serious gains in your muscle.

This is where you want to focus your time and energy if you’re going to strength train. The other upside of these five moves is that they’re more representative of the functional moves you make in your daily life. Bending down to pick up something. Reaching overhead. Pulling something towards you in a rowing type of motion.

The other thing to know about compound moves is this, the more muscle groups you engage in an exercise, the more calories your body will need in order to repair it. So, this is a win-win here.

To be fair, single-joint exercises most definitely have a place in your strength training plan. Single-joint exercises are things like calf raises, biceps curls, triceps extensions, front shoulder raises, and the leg extension or the leg curl machine.

These moves typically isolate fewer muscle groups than compound moves. And it’s because of this that single-joint moves are helpful for overcoming muscular weaknesses. But generally, hang on to those exercises for after you’ve done your larger compound moves. Okay?

With this in mind, here’s how to focus and prioritize your workouts. Start with large, multi-joint, compound moves first. Then move on to single-joint isolation exercises. When you do this, you’re using your energy and your strength for the biggest and potentially hardest moves first, when you’re at your most fresh in your workout. The single-joint exercises will round out your workout, and they are less taxing, so save those for last.

Next, how much and how often should you train if you want to build muscle? This is a great question I have been asked many times, and as you would expect, there is no one right answer here. How much and how often really comes down to your goals, your schedule, and your commitment.

So, the CDC is pretty vague and simply states, “Aim for two days of muscle strengthening activity per week, working all of the major muscle groups.” That’s not super helpful. They also say, “Do this in addition to your aerobic activity.” The CDC does get a little more specific and suggests 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.

To be honest, I generally encourage at least two strength training sessions per week. And as for how to break this up, that is your call. If you have a few days separating your strength training sessions, you could do two full-body workouts hitting all the major muscle groups. If you’re doing your training days back-to-back, like a Saturday or Sunday, then you could do a lower body workout the first day and an upper body workout the second.

At the same time, let me remind you of one of my favorite rules to live by: Something is better than nothing. Really. If your life and schedule allow for you to get one solid strength training session per week, do it. I would rather you lift weights one day per week than not do it at all. Okay? Something is better than nothing.

And as for how much, that is entirely up to you. Generally, two to four sets of 8-10 reps per exercise will be sufficient. If you are totally strapped for time, one set of 10 reps of each of those big five exercises, that’s good. Don’t overcomplicate this.

So, there are all kinds of debates about whether or not you should do high weight and low reps, or low weight and high reps. And truthfully, it is just straight-up confusing. When you are just starting out, keep it simple with 10 reps of each exercise. You can decrease it to eight. You can increase it to 12. And you can make it more interesting, but don’t get tripped up by this. Three sets of 10 are just fine.

The other thing to know is this, in order to maintain the gains that you are making, and in order to keep the muscle that you build, you have to keep showing up. Meaning, if you just did your first pull-up and you want to continue being able to do pull-ups, you got to practice pull-ups once a week in order to maintain that level of strength.

Or, if you just went up to three sets of 10 chest presses, all with 30 pounds now, you want to practice that once a week in order to maintain it. This is most definitely a case of ‘use it or lose it.’ You have to keep showing up and putting in your reps, in order to maintain the strength that you have worked so hard to build.

Along this line, it is also important to note that more is not always better. Please, please, please do not underestimate the impact of rest and especially sleep on your ability to build muscle. When you leave the weight room, you are leaving with a bunch of torn-up muscles. So, this is a good thing, as I’ve said. But it requires that you give your body rest and the sleep that it needs in order to repair those muscles.

Your body does its best work, making you strong and building your muscle when you’re sleeping. There is a point after which there are diminishing returns on your strength training. If you are not sleeping enough, if you are constantly exhausted, or if you’re starting your workouts feeling tired, and if you’re not taking any rest days, your body will feel it, and it will reflect in your strength and ability to build muscle.

Rest and days off from strength training, along with sleep, should be just as much of a priority as the strength training workouts themselves. Okay? All right. So, we’ve talked about progressive overload. We’ve talked about how much and how often. And we’ve talked about the importance of rest and sleep. Here are some other things to know about strength training. Soreness is not the be-all end-all. You do not have to walk away sore in order for your workout to count. In fact, I do not want you walking away from every single workout sore.

I have many clients who tell me they know it’s a good workout when they can’t lift up their arms. But I don’t want you aiming for that every time you head to the gym. Okay? Again, there is a middle ground here that I want you to find. That place where you have pushed yourself, but you haven’t annihilated your muscles to the point you can barely move.

You shouldn’t wake up after every leg day unable to sit down. That is too much. While there is absolutely no literature that states this is how many days you need to be sore, take this into consideration. If you are never sore from your workouts, you’re likely not going hard enough. If you are always sore from your workouts, you are likely going too hard, too often. Okay? I know that’s not super specific. But that’s what I’m going to give you.

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely appreciate the soreness after a serious leg day. It tells me I did something. But I don’t aim to feel that way after every Monday leg day.

Next, I want to address one of the most common reasons I see people fail to build muscle; it’s inconsistency. Like many things, failing to find success often comes from inconsistency. And this can take shape in a number of different forms. It may be that you strength train one day a week here, two days a week there, and you just don’t stick with it. Or maybe, you don’t have any real, deliberate, structured program that you’re following.

Another common reason you might not be building muscle is program hopping. So, what this means is you find a cool workout on Instagram, and you do that one day. Then you do a 10-minute arms workout after your Peloton ride a few days later. Then you start a 30-day core challenge, but you don’t do any large compound moves. There’s no consistency.

Remember, there are three key things that you need in order to make any change, PCP: A Plan, Consistency, and Patience. This goes back to one of my key foundational concepts, PCP: Plan, Consistency, and Patience. If you need a review on this, go back and listen to Episode 3, I get into all the details about it there.

So, you need a plan. What is your plan to build muscle? Do you have a structured workout routine, so that you can follow it on a consistent basis? And then, are you consistent with it? This is so key; I cannot overstate how important it is to be consistent with your strength training. Find a program and stick with it. Come up with a schedule for yourself.

For me, every Monday is leg day. Tuesdays, chest and shoulders. Wednesdays are arms and abs. Fridays are back days. And Saturdays are shoulder days. It’s my standing morning date with my husband. So please, know you do not have to lift this way. I love to split it up by muscle groups. But that’s me; strength training is my favorite.

You can do alternate lower and upper-body workouts for a total of four sessions per week. Or, you can do upper, lower, and full body, three days a week. There are so many ways to break this up. And I don’t care how you go about it. You just have to be consistent with it if you want to see results.

And then, of course, be patient. It takes time to build muscle. We’re talking months to years here. When you commit to building muscle, I would simply encourage you to be in it for the haul and find a way to fit it into your life consistently, and for as long as you can. As in, for as long as your body will allow you to lift weights. And I mean that in all seriousness.

I joke with my husband; well, maybe I’m not really joking. But I joke, I’m going to be one of the oldest bodybuilders on the stage someday. I will make a return to bodybuilding at the tender age of 70. Why not? Because I plan to keep hitting the weights for as long as this body will go with me.

Another reason you may not be building muscle is that you’re not eating properly to support it. So, let’s talk about nutrition. And as I start to talk about nutrition for building muscle, remember that, like most everything in science, and especially related to nutrition, what we know to be true today will probably not be true in five years. And that is the beauty and madness of science.

There are endless debates among exercise physiologists, personal trainers, dietitians, influencers, bodybuilders, and your neighbors, about what and how to eat in order to build muscle. I do not aim to solve those debates here. But instead, I want to cut through the junk and give you the best science that I was able to find, in order to guide you on this.

I’m going to start with protein because this is where there’s endless back and forth. And to be honest, I’m not sure that there will ever be agreement about this. However, of the three macronutrients, protein is most important when it comes to building and repairing your muscle after you lift weights.

It is also essential to help mitigate the inevitable muscle loss that happens when you lose weight. So, I mention this because when you lose weight, you don’t get to control how much of that weight comes from fat or comes from muscle. But you can help to prevent losing the muscle you’re working so hard for, by eating adequate protein.

As for what is considered adequate, this is where it gets fun. Many studies agree that the standard RDA suggestion of protein intake, .36 grams per pound per day, is insufficient to build muscle. So instead, many experts suggest a range of .72 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound per day, as long as you have healthy, normally functioning kidneys.

Some studies even go up to a protein intake of as much as 1.5 grams per pound in order to build and maintain muscle, if you’re eating in a calorie deficit to lose weight. That is most definitely on the high end. And while you may be thinking there is no way you can eat that much protein, you can. It requires planning and most definitely intentionality behind your eating. But it is absolutely possible. Though it may not be desirable, and that’s fine.

For most healthy people trying to build muscle, I aim for one gram per pound of protein. But I will often suggest starting lower and building up, especially if you’re starting from a largely carb and fat-heavy diet. And as a reminder, if you need a review on all things macronutrients, go back to Episode 30, and I get into all kinds of details about that.

I’ll get into the timing of protein in just a few minutes, but I want to cover carbohydrates first. So, carbohydrates also have a role in building muscle. When you strength train, you deplete your muscle’s glycogen stores. Eating carbs supplies your muscles with energy and repletes those glycogen stores.

The other key function of carbs is that they carry amino acids to your muscles to help prepare them and make them stronger. So, as for how much carbs you need, there is even less consensus on this than there is about protein. If you look it up, you will find numbers in the range of .5-2 grams of carbohydrates per pound, if you’re trying to lose weight.

And up to 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound, if you’re eating in a slight surplus to put on weight. And all kinds of shades of gray in between. There really is a very wide divergence on this.

And then, as for fat, there’s the least amount of literature, at least that I could find, related to dietary fat in order to build muscle. However, the takeaway is that fat is essential in any human’s diet. And anywhere from 20-35% of your daily calories from fat is recommended. Okay?

Let’s talk about the timing of your nutrition, starting with before you head into your strength training, or your pre-workout nutrition. So, most experts suggest a combination of carbs and protein before you hit the weights. You can look this up and, again, see all kinds of fancy ratios, three carbs to one protein, or whatever. But again, there is no agreement here and no repeatable science to back it up. So, let’s keep it simple.

Eat a combination of protein and carbs before you strength train. Your pre-workout snack may be more carb-heavy, to supply your muscles with quick energy before your training. So, the closer you are to your workout, the more you want to focus on simple carbs like bread. Or, even a piece of fruit like an apple, orange, or banana, which is a combination of both simple and complex carbs.

As for the timing, you’ll find recommendations of anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours beforehand. And if you’re wondering, you can absolutely do your morning workout without eating. If you are someone who doesn’t like to eat first thing in the morning before you work out, that is fine.

And if you’re wondering further, if fasted exercise is better than non-fasted exercise, the jury is still out. There is no hard and fast evidence that states that fasted exercise will burn more fat or help you to lose more weight than non-fasted exercise in the long term. So, anyone who tells you that fasted cardio or fasted training is the be-all end-all, please do not let that fool you. Okay?

Then, after your strength training session, focus on a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein to boost muscle protein synthesis and recovery. As for how soon, there are some camps that will tell you to eat your post-workout protein within 30 minutes of the end of your training. They refer to this as the “anabolic window,” this short period of time after your strength training to maximize muscle building.

This is also unproven, which means don’t feel like you have to hurry up and guzzle down a bunch of protein after your workout. Other studies suggest anywhere from two to four hours after your workout is an optimal time to eat.

If you are confused, admittedly, I was when I was preparing this podcast. Here are the takeaways regarding nutrition. If you perform better with food before your workout, choose a combination of carbs and protein beforehand.

The closer you are to your workout, the more simple carbs you want. Things like dried fruit, honey, or even a piece of fruit, which is a combination of both simple and complex carbs. You are not going to burn more fat in the long term by doing fasted exercise.

After your strength training, eat a combination of complex carbs. So again, fruit or whole grains, plus protein, anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours, even beyond, after your workout is fine. Do not feel the need to shovel in your protein within 30 minutes of your workout. The anabolic window is still not proven across the board.

And the key here, it is not the timing of your nutrition as much as it is the quantity of your nutrition that matters. So again, to be clear, I recommend 20 to 30% of your calories come from protein spread evenly throughout your day’s meals. And then after that, the combination of carbs and fat is by your preference.

Some authorities suggest 20 to 35% of your calories come from fat. But again, that is totally up to you. One of the most common macronutrient ratios I use on myself is 30% protein, 35% carbs, and fat. But there is no science to back that up. This is what I’ve used, and what I have found works well for me. You get to play around with it and determine what works best for you.

Again, it’s the total amount of protein and carbohydrates you eat in a day that is more important than the timing of your meals.

So, there it is. This is a basic primer on how to build muscle. If you really want to boil it down, it is two things; lift heavy stuff and eat properly, including adequate protein. I know that I may be oversimplifying, especially after I just spent the last half hour going through all of this, but you know me, and I really like simple; lift heavy, eat protein, and of course, rest. That is how you get strong as hell. Okay? Awesome.

Thank you again, for hanging out with me. Go lift heavy stuff, and I will catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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