Want to Pack on Muscle? 5 Rules You Need to Live By

a muscular man's back

Building muscle takes real work. | iStock.com

Getting serious about fitness requires a pretty thorough examination of almost every aspect of your life. No longer can you make decisions on the fly about when, where, and what to eat, or even if or when you’re going to get some exercise on any given day. These are aspects of your life that need to be locked-in and planned out, and you need to have the discipline in place to take care of every item on your to-do list in order to reach your goals.

Losing weight is one thing. But if you plan on going the other way, and gain weight — in the form of muscle, specifically — it’ll take even more effort and discipline. It means that your fridge is stocked with the right foods. Protein powder is always nearby. That you have at least some knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and can easily dismiss bad advice. And that your routines are foolproof.

And, perhaps most importantly, that you follow these five simple rules.

1. Run a caloric surplus

all the food groups together

You need to eat more calories than usual. | iStock.com

When you’re trying to lose weight, you want to run a caloric deficit — that is, you’re burning more calories throughout the day than you are consuming. But when you want to add weight, and that means extra muscle mass, you need to do the opposite. You need to run a caloric surplus. So start eating.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can start eating whatever the hell you want. No Pizza Hut binges, multiple Subway meatball sub Footlongs, or Big Macs — you need to fuel your body with the nutrients and elements it needs to build muscle, not fat. That includes high-protein, nutrient-dense foods, like salmon, cottage cheese, and certain fruits and vegetables.

If you want to gain muscle, don’t be afraid to eat.

2. Set a bed time

a bedroom

Pack on muscle by setting a bed time. | iStock.com

You need to go hard at the gym, stay focused in the kitchen, and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest. That’s right: A big part of the muscle-building process, on a physiological level, happens while you’re sleeping. That means that you need to make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep — and that it’s high-quality sleep, in a dark room, away from computers, TVs, and phone screens.

Give yourself a bed time, and stick to it. After a while, your body will adjust, and you won’t need a reminder. Just be sure you’re giving your body time to rest and recover from your workouts.

3. Be disciplined

athletic man holding a gym bag

You can’t skip the gym if you really want to build muscle. | iStock.com

If there’s one theme you should’ve taken away so far, it’s that you need to be disciplined. It’s the first step toward having any form of success or reaching your goals, particularly when it comes to building muscle. The muscle-building process requires discipline in all facets of life — strict adherence to a proper diet, to workout routines, and even to a sleep schedule.

If you’re undisciplined and can’t stick to your routines, you can pretty much give up on hitting your intended goals, within the intended time frames. Learning and developing a sense of discipline is the first thing you need to do — so if you need to, go back to square one.

4. Quality over quantity

a man weight lifting

Make sure you are performing quality lifts that will really challenge your muscles. | Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images

This also plays into almost every aspect of your daily life: It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. That means getting quality sleep, not just being in your bed or bedroom for eight or nine hours. It means that you’re eating quality, nutrient-dense foods, not merely hitting caloric goals. And it definitely plays into your workouts. If you’re hitting your rep goals, but breaking down on your form, then are you really doing yourself any favors?

Focus on increasing quality, not merely quantity. The numbers will rise with time — but your immediate focus should be on doing things the right way, so that you’re not shortchanging yourself and stunting your growth.

5. The more muscle you have, the harder it is to gain

Sporty young woman lying on exercise mat doing sit-ups

You’ll still build muscle, it just takes more time. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

We hate to bring this to you, but it’s the truth. The more muscle you gain, the harder it is to continue those gains and get even more ripped. So, what’s the secret to not getting discouraged? Remember — the process of lifting weights is still helping you progress further, and staying active is great for your mind and body. Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be.

Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler