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11 Common Muscle Gain Mistakes

Posted on March 1, 2021

11 Common Muscle Gain MistakesDividerimage


What does it really take to build muscle mass consistently over a period of years?


Sure, beginners can make some easy gains early on, but this growth won’t last forever. And then like most, building muscle takes time and grueling effort in and out of the gym.


We all want movie-star quality abdominal muscles and a biceps vein that runs from the shoulder to the wrist.


But the reality is, we don’t all have the access to what hundred-million dollar Hollywood heroes have.


Let’s face it, a team consisting of nutritionists, personal trainers, personal assistants, chefs and a home gym with all the bells and whistles makes a heck of a difference.




But there is nobility in building muscle the hard way too, requiring us to tap into solid determination, making do with our financial situation and time constraints.


Sure, you’ve got to wait longer than you’d like for the bench press at a crowded gym while someone takes five minute break between sets.


Perhaps you can’t afford top notch rib-eye fillets, instead turning to bulk cheap mince.


And most likely, you’ve got to squeeze in food prep and cooking between work and family life, which means occasionally you’re eating out of a can or freezer.


Or worse- a pizza box.


But this means for every gram of muscle you have dangling from your bones, it was earned the hard way. And this is something to be proud of.


It takes blood, sweat and tears. Because yes, squeezing out a few more painful reps at the end of a brutal session after a sleepless night can and will make your eyes water.


But against all odds, you're getting it done. And by God nothing short of an alien invasion will stop you from making that next gym session!


There are an absolute plethora of pitfalls to gaining muscle. For many it’s as simple as not realising what it actually takes to gain muscle naturally.


It can mean significant lifestyle adjustments and drastic dietary changes.


It can mean training with more intensity and regularity than you really want to.


But it’s not all grim and sobering like a cold slap in the face from a White Walker. Once you get the hang of eating protein rich meals frequently and how to adequately stress a muscle for growth, it can all become second nature.


And yes, even though it’s hard work it can be enjoyable.




Beyond the shock to the system that can come from instituting a natural gains lifestyle, diet and training program, there are some common pitfalls that can keep the average Joe or Jill from making the gains that they deserve.


It’s freakish how often these common denominators rise to the surface and interfere with muscle gain.


Here’s a list of some common factors that may be interfering with your ability to gain muscle mass.


They may not all resonate with you. In fact, hopefully they don’t! But surely there's at least one area where improvements can be made to enhance the process of lean muscle mass accrual.


Nicotine Use

Despite the fact that nicotine is a natural chemical found in eggplant, tomatoes and tobacco leaf, it is a tremendously powerful stimulant.


Of course, there’s a great deal more naturally found in tobacco leaf than the humble eggplant.


And what do stimulants do apart from make us think and talk fast?


They crank up the metabolism and suppress the appetite. Two things you want to keep well clear of when you are looking to size-up.


Too many stimulants of any kind can make it tricky keeping your metabolism in check. So watch out for too many coffees, scoops or pre-workout or cans of energy drink.


The trick here is to just rely upon enough caffeine to help you get the job done.


There’s no need to never eat babaganoush again (eggplant dip). Just simply try to cut back or eliminate all forms of tobacco leaf smoking, as well as vaping.


Then maybe you can pour the leftover cash on higher quality food, some training accessories or quality supplements.




Poor Digestion

You can eat all day long and all night, but if you’ve got digestive issues there is only so much nourishment you can derive from food.


After all, apart from shoveling mountains of calories down your gullet, we ultimately have to digest the food and absorb the nutrients.


Otherwise, it all just ends up passing straight through via a bowel motion.


If you’ve got digestive issues, such as frequent belching, flatulence, loose stools, nausea, see a Naturopath or Holistic Doctor to sort out these issues.


In the meantime, pre-digested nutrition may be of benefit, such as 100% hydrolysed protein powders and essential amino acid products. Stick to capsules and powders, where needed, and not tablets. 


Consider going organic to cut out as much glyphosate residue as possible and introduce cultured foods on a daily basis, such as sauerkraut, kimchee and kefir.


Low Protein and Calorie Intakes

It goes without saying that low food intakes rarely motivate one to lift heavy weights. In a glycogen depleted state and with dwindling fat and muscle reserves, the body typically prefers a good snooze over heavy lifting.


It is well known that calorie-restricted weight loss diets lead to the loss of muscle mass. This is believed to be due to a lower protein intake and consequently less anabolic signalling, and lower insulin levels which are anti-catabolic.


If you want to gain muscle, whether it be lean muscle or simply some mass or bulk, food is obviously key here. Chugging down extra protein or calorie shakes can be helpful, but ultimately you need the nourishment of quality food.


Eating enough food, preferably containing a balance of carbs, proteins and essential fats, regularly throughout the day, is a great way to stay energised and nourished.


Sure, you don’t want to overeat and blow out through the middle, as this can make it hard down the track to get the weight off.


Shoot for a minimum of five small meals daily, with two of those allowed to be a shakes and snack combination, such as a protein shake, a palm full of nuts and a piece of fresh fruit.


For more information on ideal protein intakes, check out Protein Powder: The Essential Guide.


Poor Quality Food

Fifteen years ago the recommendations in this section would have been a great deal less extreme. But today, our food supply has never looked so grim.


It’s what we can’t see in our food that is most concerning. A herbicide and desiccant called glyphosate.


Since the late 2000’s not only has this pesticide been used around our food crops to keep the weeds away, but applied directly to the plants before harvest.


This glyphosate saturation is believed to be the reasons why non-coeliac gluten sensitivity has taken off over the last decade or so. It may not be the gluten so much as the microbiome disturbance created by glyphosate ingestion.


If this is all getting a little too intense for a mass gains program, sure I get it … the take home message here is go organic as much and as often as is humanly possible.


The broad range of bacteria living in your digestive tract will thank you for it, as will your immune system and your ability to liberate nutrients from food and absorb them.


And when you’re on a muscle gains program, you need to be well nourished. Building muscle is an energetically expensive process. Malnourished people simply won’t build muscle as fast as healthy people.


So look after yourself.


Introducing some cultured foods into your diet is a must. These live cultured foods help to reinoculate our GUT and support optimal health.



Stress does crazy things to our appetite and food choices. When we’re stressed it might feel more natural to reach for the packet of tim tams than a salmon salad.


Psychological stress is important to manage, as it can wind up cortisol levels. Though cortisol is a beneficial adaptive hormone that we need, too much for too long can become problematic.


Sorting our stress issues might be as easy as a 20 minute meditation twice daily, ensuring you get enough quality sleep, marching off for some counseling or simply keeping a journal.


Believe it or not, apart from the fact that no one really enjoys chronic psychological stress, it will interfere with gains! So man-up or woman-up and look at taking some steps towards minimising it.


Ashwagandha may be a helpful herb to assist with the process, as it has been shown to improve food decisions in stressed people, improve cortisol and DHEA levels, and offers powerful adaptogenic effects.



If you’re a hard-gainer, the last thing you want to do is workouts that go for over two hours with additional cardio sessions thrown into the mix.


This isn’t overtraining in the athletic sense, where the immune system becomes depressed and fatigue ensues with an elevated heart rate.


The form of overtraining we’re talking about here is one that will make it nearly impossible to gain size if you have a naturally fast metabolism—which is most young men and women.


It’s quite simple, if you want to put on muscle mass, a bodybuilding style of training is designed to create muscle size. The sessions need to be short and sharp, preferably under 1 hour.


There’s no need to rush between sets. Just take enough time to catch your breath and prepare for the next set.


But hanging around and chatting to mates or diving into you’re your social media accounts between sets can easily turn a 45 minute session into a 2 hour one.


Remember, the goal is to stress the muscle and the longer you wait between sets the more chance it has to recover. You may like to time your rest periods between sets and shoot for one minute or less, depending on the exercise.


For instance, heavy deadlifts require more recovery time while rear deltoids require less, simply due to the stress placed on the cardiorespiratory system.


A solid intra-workout can help as well, such as an essential amino acid, electrolyte and carbohydrate mixture.


Inconsistent Training

This can be one of the toughest parts of gaining muscle. But ask any Mr Olympia and they will tell you how important it is to never miss a session.


There are always those nights when perhaps you spent more time tossing and turning in bed rather than sleeping. Or maybe your nutrition hasn’t been on point and the gas tank feels half empty.


Or even worse, you’re scraping the bottom of the tank for some dregs of petrol.


This is when the comfortable sofa and Netflix can call to you. And then you remember there’s that bag of potato chips pushed to the back of the cupboard where you aren’t supposed to see them.


But you know they’re there. You pushed them there a few weeks ago after buying them and rationalising that it’s okay to buy them as long as you don’t eat them.


At the time you had felt strong, without significant chip-urges. But now it’s all going pear-shaped and the sweet starchy-goodness of the potato crisp is calling your name soothingly like the one-ring whispered to Boromir before he went insane.


The point is, if you’re really feeling unwell, it’s probably best to rest. But if you’re just tired and moody, get that slack-ass of yours into the gym!


The best way to prepare yourself psychologically is to think about how much better you will feel when the training is done. That’s if you can’t quite get to the place where you’re looking forward to the training itself.


Low Intensity Training (all the time)

This is a tough one to recommend in generalities, as the intensity that is right for you depends on so many factors, such as age, general health status, personal goals etc.


That being said, you won’t stack on muscle mass if the weight you’re lifting is nice and comfortable. To stress a muscle adequately for growth, the stimulus needs to definitely be there.


This is achieved by oscillating between moderate to heavy weights, done with decent to excellent form. Though you want to build up to heavy weights over time and repeat this process when engaging in new exercises.


It can take time to make the correct muscle-mind connection with a new exercise too. During this time it’s best to use light to medium weights until you really feel the correct muscles being worked and have gained some confidence with the new movement. 


Of course, you don’t always want to train to the absolute maximum and fry your nervous system in the process.


This is why we have periodisation programs.


But you do want to know the difference between an intense workout and a lighter pump up session.


Low Dosage Supps

Understanding what an effective dosage is can be a difficult process. But it can be the difference between a product that delivers real benefits and one that essentially does nothing at all.


And that’s quite a difference. After all, you’re investing your hard earned cash into a product, so the dosages need to be on the money.


It’s worth understanding some of the basics, like 200mg of Citrulline Malate doesn’t quite cut it when the dosages generally used in clinical trials is around the 6,000mg to 8,000mg mark.


Many companies get away with the fact that most consumer are too busy to do their own research into dosages, knowing that the mere presence of a “known” ingredient will generate interest.


Another common one is L-Carnitine in protein powders. Because Carnitine is a sulphur containing nutrient, it doesn’t taste particularly good. This means many companies pull back on the quantity added to fat-burner protein powders so the flavour doesn’t get destroyed.


So although it’s a fat-burning protein containing stacks of potent thermogenics, check to see how much of each is actually in there. Shoot for around 750mg to 1,000mg of Carnitine twice daily (at least).


Creatine is another common sports supplement ingredient. Most love it. A few avoid it. Just like most things in life. Ergogenic dosages start at around the 3 gram mark and can be as high as 10 gram daily for larger and more active athletes.


And that is a daily dosage of creatine at this level, whether you train or not. This keeps the muscles topped up and ready for action on training days.


Try to be aware of the quantity of ingredients in your supplements. Is there enough in there to actually make a difference?


Or have you fallen prey to clever marketing and shiny labels.


Lack of Sleep

As it turns out, partying, gaming or TV series binging all night instead of sleeping isn’t the best idea when your body is trying to recover from some gruelling training sessions.


In fact, bodybuilding style training may increase your need for quality uninterrupted sleep. After all, there is some serious healing to take place.


And what better time to get the recovery done than while you are enjoying some solid rack time. Some pre-sleep casein can go a long way to supporting this process as well.


Ideally, sleep in a room that is as dark as possible and switch off your wireless devices, especially the modem. If you can’t switch off your mobile phone, turn up the ring volume and banish it to the other side of the house.


Because yes, EMFs is a very real thing that can affect our health and the quality of our sleep. There are only more than 10,000 scientific studies validating that they are problematic.


That’s not a typo—ten-thousand research papers over the course of about half a century indicating the electromagnetic frequencies are injurious to our health.


Try to keep clear of alcohol after lunch time. Though it is a sedative and can help relax us and get to sleep, the presence of it in our system interferes with deep sleep.


Stagnant Knowledge-Base

Okay, so if you’ve read this article all the way through and are up to this paragraph, then this probably isn’t a very important point for you to contemplate.


Learning new skills and concepts can make us feel pretty small at times. And we’re all about mass gains and looking larger than life, right?


 The word “learn” does sound quite juvenile however. Perhaps “acquiring data” or “intellectual enhancement” are more on point.


If you ever reach the point at which you feel like you’re knowledge base is complete, it is highly recommended that you head to the bathroom and find a mirror. And there, staring back at you, you will see a fool.


Why so harsh?


Because even leaders in their fields, such as physicists and physiologists, willingly admit that humans are basically infants when it comes to understanding reality.


Though you don’t need to be able to recite the basics of string theory or parallel dimensions, more information is always an absolute boon to muscle gains. Because there is a lot out there when it comes to training, nutrition and lifestyle.


As French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) said, “It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.”


In the day and age of technological advancement where our every query and curiosity can be punched into a search engine, it’s easy to start thinking that you’re got it all covered.


And sometimes it’s the firmly held beliefs about all kinds of things, even dietary principles, that can jam the brakes on us even considering new information.


As some say, diets have become the new religion.


Hmm … confronting much?


Well, success in any area is not for the faint of heart. And gaining muscle is no different.


Good luck and enjoy the pump.