1. Commit to some form of strength training.At a minimum, perform lunges, squats, and other exercises that work your quads and hamstrings, along with extra cardio activity that will prompt your legs to begin building muscle.
No matter which strength training method you choose, however, be sure that resistance levels (the amount of weight you use) and the number of repetitions you do are high enough to fatigue the muscle. Failure to do so, Adams says, will hinder growth. The ACSM recommends three sets of 8 to 12 reps for each exercise.
To speed up the process, make the most of your workout, and keep your heart rate and metabolism elevated, try "super-setting," says Lisa De Los Santos, a Cooper's-Institute-certified personal trainer at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.
She suggests one set each of two or three opposing muscle exercises. Rest, then do a second set of each exercise before moving on to the next group.
2. Alternate muscle groups.Weight training creates tiny micro tears in muscles, which then repair and rebuild during periods of rest. Serious injury can result if muscles are not allowed adequate time to repair.
The ACSM recommends a three-day split as follows:
- Day one: Chest, triceps, and shoulders
- Day two: Lower body (quads, hamstrings, gluteals, hip abductors and adductors, and calves)
- Day three: Back, biceps, and abs
3. Drink plenty of water -- before and after workouts.Adequate hydration is essential to muscle building, yet few people get enough water, even without daily exercise. So in addition to the daily 8 to 10 glasses of water recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Karas suggests an additional 12 to 16 ounces before working out. He then recommends another 8 to 10 ounces for every 15 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Prefer sports drinks? Indulge only if you're exercising for more than an hour, when electrolyte depletion becomes more of a risk.
4. Eat a balanced diet.Muscle building requires a careful balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein as well as plenty of vitamins and minerals, all of which are best absorbed through food.
Avoid carbohydrate-heavy diets, which can cause insulin levels to spike and inhibit growth hormones that prompt muscle growth, says Karas. Instead, opt for five or six small, balanced meals every day. And if muscle building is your goal, don't use this time to diet.
"The body won't easily put on muscle if it is at a caloric deficit," explains De Los Santos.
Watch your fat intake, which should be no more than 30% of your total daily calories, and be sure to consume plenty of vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables.
5. Get lots of protein.
"If you want to build muscle mass, the key is protein, protein, protein," says Karas. "Muscles are comprised of protein and you need the essential amino acids that are the building block of protein."
No time to cook? De Los Santos suggests high-protein snacks like cottage cheese, cheese sticks, protein bars, and protein shakes. Health and nutrition stores carry a variety of powders which can be mixed with water or low-fat milk for an energizing protein power punch between meals.
Other recommendations include turkey, cheese, and cracker snack packs as well as frozen or prepackaged diet foods that combine protein-rich choices with low-fat, low-complex carbohydrates.
6. Get enough sleep.
In addition to being linked to high blood pressure, depression, and other health problems, sleep deprivation can inhibit the growth hormone important for muscle building, says Karas. Recent studies have linked it to obesity as well.
How do you know you're getting enough to build muscle? People who are well rested feel alert and do not have the urge to nap, reports the CDC. The average adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep, although some may need more.
7. Hire a trainer.
If you need information or motivation, consider hiring a personal trainer. Costs vary according to location and experience, but typically cost between $30 and $85 an hour.
A trainer doesn't need to be a long-term investment, however. According to De Los Santos, working with one for just three months is enough time to get comfortable in the gym, establish a routine, learn a variety of exercises, and see good results.
"A good trainer will educate while training and will not create long-term dependence," De Los Santos says. "Ideally, you'll learn the skills to either maintain your fitness level or work toward new goals."
Be sure your trainer is certified through a reputable fitness organization like the ACSM, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, or the American Council on Exercise and has an updated certification in CPR and/or first aid as well. You'll also want to hire someone you like, since you'll be spending at least an hour a week together.