Sure, you want a broader chest and abs that 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 jelly doughnut you had for breakfast (and to guard against tomorrow’s cruller). 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, C.S.C.S., CEO of Peak Performance in New York City. “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.
Wake Up with Water
When you roll out of bed in the morning, chug 16 ounces of chilled H2O—the volume in a typical consumer bottle—and you can raise your metabolism by 30 percent, 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.
Rethink Your Cereal
In a recent study in Nutrition Today, only 55 percent of the tested cereals billed as “whole grain” were a “good source” of belly-filling fiber. “And most are high in sugar and low in muscle—building protein,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania nutritionist. Try this instead: Mix 1/2 cup Fiber One cereal, a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt, and 1/2 cup of berries. “You’ll get 25 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber,” says Roussell. You’ll also feel full for hours despite having eaten only about 260 calories.
Beat the Traffic
If you’re among the 41 percent of Americans who commute less than 5 miles to work, leave your car at home and join the 4 percent who bike or walk. Live too far away? Hop off the subway a stop or two early, or park far from your building’s entrance. “You could burn as many as 200 extra calories a day,” says Nick Tumminello, C.P.T., of Performance University. “It may not sound like much, but the calories add up quickly.” Or rather, they subtract quickly—about a pound of fat a month.
Order a Grande Black
Adding cream, caramel, sugar, or other high-calorie condiments to your coffee is like chasing a salad with Twinkies. “Most fancy coffee drinks fall into the same category as soda,” says Roussell, “and some pack more than 600 calories.” So take yours black. You’ll not only save yourself a caloric nightmare but also earn extra man points. Drink a cup now, and have another before you work out. (More on that later.)
Mobilize 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, C.S.C.S., 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 1 rep. Do 10.
Schedule Your Workouts
Program your daily sweat sessions into your calendar and set an alert. 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.
Load Up on Protein
To build muscle, you need protein—ideally, 1 gram per pound 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 4-ounce steak (35 grams). Skip appetizers and extra sides—you’ll cut calories, not satisfaction, a study in the journal Health Affairsconcludes.
Dial Back the AC
Office temperatures below 71°F are productivity killers, say researchers at Cornell University. If you’re able to access the thermostat, keep it at 71°F. 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.
Take a Nap
“Napping reduces the stress hormone cortisol and promotes muscle-building growth hormone,” says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., the Men’s Health sleep medicine advisor. “Taking a nap, even for just 15 minutes, creates an environment in your body that builds muscle and burns fat.” Maximize your time with the Sleep Pillow app ($2, iPhone). It plays ambient sounds to drown out noise and help you drift off faster.
Mobilize 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.
Grab Another Coffee
Drinking the equivalent of two cups of coffee (16 ounces) 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.
Skip the Painkiller
It’s time to work out. But don’t pop an ibuprofen 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, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, and nausea. The better remedy: a postworkout massage.
Hop Onto the Table
Try to fit in a professional rubdown; just 10 minutes can ease postexercise 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 percent, another Canadian study found. Work your way up your body, giving each muscle group at least three or four rolls.
“Fill your plate with lean meats, vegetables, and gluten-free starches like rice and potatoes,” says Nate Miyaki, C.S.S.N., 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 Appetitefound.
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.
Record Your Progress
Men who keep a weight-loss journal (on paper or with an app) at least 60 percent 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.
Drink a Protein Shake
Knocking back 40 grams of protein before bed can boost muscle growth while you sleep by 23 percent, 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. His pick: MusclePharm Casein ($45, musclepharm.com).
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 Dr. Winter.
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