A 24 Hour Step-by-Step Guide To Building Muscle, Living Lean, and Having More Energy

A 24 Hour Step-by-Step Guide To Building Muscle, Living Lean, and Having More Energy
A breakdown of exactly what you should do every day to build muscle, shed fat, and feel awesome. 
A 24 Hour Step-by-Step Guide to Building Muscle, Living Lean, and Having More Energy

“‘Think simple' as my old master used to say: meaning reduce
the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

Everyone wants to talk sets, reps, and try to mastermind the ‘perfect workout formula’ (if that even exists).  You could easily find thousands – maybe millions – of articles telling you about macronutrient splits, advanced training principles, and theoretical applications of exercise physiology.

But you know what? Information is only as good as the action you take after it. And when you consider that, a lot of the fitness information out there isn’t doing a lot to help you actually do something to reach your goals.

Actionable information provides simple, step-by-step instructions for accomplishing your goals – and then it’s on you to put that to work.

Building muscle and living lean is, at it’s core, about building the right habits and repeating those actions consistently.

So that’s what we’re gonna do here. Consider this your “how to build muscle, stay lean and have more energy” cheat sheet. This article outlines the kind of day you want to have often if you want to build an awesome body, foster a clear mind, and live each day to it’s fullest. It’s simple and incredibly effective.

The following article is inspired by a piece originally written by Nate Green and featured on Scrawny to Brawny, a website that helps skinny guys defy their genetics and build the muscular body they’ve always wanted. A few years ago, Scrawny to Brawny featured an article that outlined a “perfect day” for skinny guys to build muscle. The simplicity and effectiveness of this format was so great that it seemed like reframing this same concept for guys who aren’t skinny would be beneficial for the readers here at Primer.

Do this if you want three things:

  • To have more muscle
  • To be leaner (or stay lean)
  • To have more energy

Let’s look at what you need to do in the next 24-hours to make that happen.

What to Do The Night Before

The kind of day you’re going to have tomorrow starts with what you do the night before. Being able to wake up early and be ready to have a productive day requires that you get enough quality rest.

According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, one of the most beneficial things you can do to ensure quality sleep night after night and wake up feeling rested is to go to bed at the same time each night.

First, determine what time you need to wake up. Next, count back at least seven hours – that’s your bed time. So, if you know you have to wake up by 6AM, you’ll need to be asleep by 11PM.  That means brushing your teeth and any other prep has to start before that.

Every minute you eat into the 7 hours allotted for sleep reduces the benefits of the plan.

Is this always easy? No, but it will make a massive difference in how you feel tomorrow, so more often than not, try to stick to your schedule and get 7 hours of sleep per night.

Here are a few other things you can do to set yourself up for a solid nights sleep:

  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed
  • Try some light reading for 15-20 minutes, again before you start counting the 7 hours
  • Avoid caffeine after 5PM
  • Limit alcohol on weeknights
  • Avoid eating a large meal within 1-2 hours of going to bed

Now that you’re set up for a restful night, let’s get to what you want to do once you wake up.

What To Do In The Morning

1. Get out of bed like you’re Clark Kent.

You think Clark Kent hit the snooze three times and rolled out of bed dreading the day ahead of him? Hell no. The way you start the day can have a tremendous impact on what happens over the next 24 hours. A new day is here. Give it everything you’ve got.

Luckily, your smart planning the night before makes this noticeably easier.

2. Drink a tall glass of water.

You just woke up and you’re dehydrated. Before you reach for the coffee (or anything else), slam a glass of water.  Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that the average male aim for around 3 liters (100 ounces) of water per day.  That’s 6 bottles of the standard .5 liter Deer Park / Arrowhead / Poland Spring bottle.

How much water to drink in a day

Good? Good. Now let’s get moving…

3.  Move.

If possible, get outside for 5-10 minutes and go for a light walk. Easy if you’ve got a pooch to take care of. If that’s not doable, no worries. Take a few minutes to perform a quick mobility circuit.

When you get your blood flowing first thing in the a.m. you’re notifying your body it’s time to wake up and dominate the day. Doing this will also work wonders for overcoming the zombie-like presence most experience for the first few hours of consciousness.

Quick, 5-minute Mobility Circuit:

  • Arm Circles x 10 each direction
  • Cat/Camel x 10 each
  • Push-Up x 10
  • Bodyweight Squat x 10

4. Grab a quick breakfast.

Most guys are rushing out the door in the mornings (you too?), no worries, breakfast doesn’t have to be a huge thing.

Here are three quick ideas:

Oatmeal w/ almond butter and protein powder

  • Microwave 1 cup quick oats according to directions on box
  • Toss in a spoonful of almond (or peanut) butter
  • Add 1 scoop of protein powder

Smoothie

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • 1 cup fruit (mango, strawberries, pineapple, etc.)
  • A handful of spinach
  • 1-2 scoops vanilla protein powder

Muscle Building, Fat Burning Latte

This isn’t your typical latte. Instead of being jam-packed with sugar and other useless ingredients, a Muscle Latte is full of nutrients that will help you build muscle and burn fat. Here’s how you make it:

  • Brew some high-quality coffee
  • Preheat the blender and coffee mug by pouring hot water into them. Pour out after.
  • Pour coffee into blender and add 1 TBSP coconut oil, ½ scoop vanilla protein, 1 tsp creatine (optional)
  • Blend on high for 20 seconds
  • Pour into mug and garnish with a dash of cinnamon
  • Drink
  • Use the energy to go do something awesome

Rotate back and forth between these three options or be adventurous and make your own concoctions.

What To Do At Work

1. Slam another 8-16 oz of water

Invest in a nice, stainless steel water bottle and bring it with you throughout the day.

2. Grab a quick snack

Coffee drinker? Hit a cup of fresh-brewed coffee as you work. The caffeine will give you a little boost of energy and you’ll be able to focus better.

Other options:

  • An apple
  • Baby carrots
  • Beef jerky
  • Mixed nuts
  • Protein powder*

*Protein powder is a great option for convenience, but it should never replace whole foods. Try to limit the use of protein supplements to once per day.

french press coffee

Get better coffee at work: Read our complete guide on Upgrading Your Joe: A Beginner's Guide to Better Coffee

3. Get your most important tasks done first

This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with building muscle or living lean, but from a productivity standpoint, you’re likely going to have the most energy and ability to focus in the morning. Identify the 1 or 2 things you MUST get done today and get that out of the way first.

Looking for a proven way to tackle more work easily? Look into the Pomodoro Technique.

What To Do At Lunch

1. Eat a good lean-living, muscle-building meal

Focus on lean protein (hard-boiled eggs, chicken, tuna, etc.), fruits, veggies,  and some starchy carbohydrates like rice, sweet potatoes, or quinoa.

Check out Primer's great article on making cheap and super convenient office lunches.

Remember: You need to take advantage of meals that you have control over and keep things in check so that you can indulge a bit later when you’re with friends or family.

Lunch Tip:

If you’re like most guys, the day can get really hectic around lunch and sometimes you forget to plan ahead. Have some fruit and protein powder on standby in case you forget to bring something and go with that instead of hitting up the vending machine or convincing yourself you deserve fast food. Places like Whole Foods also have a bunch of tasty, pre-made meals that you can pick up in a crunch.

2. Drink 8-16 oz. of water

Your body is 83% water. Your brain is 73% water. And your muscles are 75%.  Starting to feel like water is important?

If I haven’t convinced you of the importance of water yet, consider this: A study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” found that as little as a 1.5 percent decrease in water loss resulted in a decrease of muscle strength of the one rep max bench press.

If you don’t want your efforts in the gym to build muscle and strength to be held back, take my advice and drink a tall glass of water asap.

3. Call, text, email, or write a friend or family member.

This won't make your body stronger but it will help you lead a more remarkable life. Get ahold of someone important to you and let them know you care about them.

What To Do In The Afternoon

1. Eat muscle-building, lean-living snack

A combination of the following:

2. Wait for it… Drink 12-20oz of water

3. Hit a Slump?

Have a New Hour's Resolution.

4. Working out today? Do This…

Take a quick look at your workout so you know what you’re going to do today (cause you sure as hell better not be winging it).  Think about what equipment you’ll be needing and visualize yourself going through your workout and how you’ll feel when you’ve completed it.

Doing this will get you in the right mindset and decrease the likelihood that you’ll find yourself skipping the workout and sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching Game of Thrones.

Need a place to start? Check out Primer’s comprehensive Train section or start with Primer’s Big Lifts Big Progress program which editor and founder Andrew used to lose 50 pounds.

What To Do In The Evening

1. Chill out for 15-20 minutes

You’ve been going hard all day, and let’s be honest, most of us don’t know how to dial things back and recover. Put down the phone for a bit and turn off the TV and just relax.

Try meditating, reading, listening to calming music (I like Hawaiian), or taking a walk while listening to a podcast.

This gives your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system a break and allows your parasympathetic (rest and relax) system to take over so that you can recover from the day.

I know what you’re thinking, “sounds nice, but…”. Stop with the “buts” and prioritize de-stressing. It’s single-handedly one of the most important things you can do to feel happier, have more energy, and defog your mind.

2. Eat a lean-living, muscle-building dinner.

Focus on lean protein, veggies, and quality carbohydrates (like lunch). Out with friends or lucky-enough to have a home cooked meal by someone else? Try to focus on protein, veggies, and carbs as outlined above and do what you can. The main thing is to avoid stuffing yourself, especially with things like bread and pasta. Eat until you are satisfied and then call it good.

Flat iron steak

The flat iron steak is the best value in beef. Learn more about the different cuts of beef in our visual guide

3.  Drink 12-20oz of water

Noticing a trend?

4. Spend time with good people

You’ve had a good, productive day. Now it’s time to unwind and spend time with people that are important to you. Motivational speaker and self help guru Jim Rohn once said,  “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you’re likely to become more like the people you spend the most time with, make sure you choose wisely.

5. Unload the Mental Baggage

Ever try going to bed with a mind full of to-dos? It sucks. If this is you, take 5 minutes and write down everything you have to do the next day and narrow the list down to the top 1 or 2 most important tasks. Remind yourself you will have plenty of time to take care of that tomorrow and there’s no need to worry about it tonight.

6. Prep for Bed, Lights Out – Repeat.

Your body needs sleep to repair muscle and keep everything operating optimally so that you can burn fat and stay lean (or get leaner).

What To Do Now

Print this out and repeat as often as possible.

We are what we repeatedly do. Have the kind of day outlined here more often than not and you’ll be well on your way to building muscle, living lean, and having more energy.

Eric Weinbrenner is the founder of Muscle That Matters, a website dedicated to turning average joes into the strongest, most badass version of themselves by providing simple, effective, muscle building, fat loss, and mindset strategies for building a lean, muscular body within the context of a busy life.

  • Sean

    annnnnnd bookmark.

  • Blane

    When do your clean your apartment or house, do the dishes, etc..???

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Try to build stuff like dishes and other quick clean up tasks into mealtime. So, you’re cooking supper… while whatever you’re making is cooking, load the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, and get stuff put away.

      As for other household chores, you gotta build it into your schedule like anything else important: have an allotted time slot to get it done. A few minutes spent per day on those types of things an go a long way to keeping a tidy space.

      • JL

        Excellent point. I normally cook AND do the dishes at the same time. It sounds like a pain, but it’s actually pretty efficient. You have to wait for your food to cook anyway. Why not do something in the mean time? That way, When you finish eating, you have free time to do whatever you’d like!

    • Adam Scolatti

      Do this on the weekends and you’ll be good!

      http://www.gq.com/story/apartment-fast-clean

      • Bullet Tooth Tony

        another option is to do one item per day – e.g., dust Monday, vacuum and/or mop Tuesday, clean restroom(s) Wednesday, etc.

  • Alex Bear

    A very simple post on something that can be a very complex subject. I loved the links to some Primer Articles I have somehow looked past. And will definitely be making some beef Jerky for myself, I hate the taste of reheated chicken, that alone ahas messed up many of my days meals.

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Glad you liked it Alex!

  • Mike Marrotte

    This is why I love Primer. Excellent post fellas.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Thanks Mike, that means so much! 🙂

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Thanks Mike!

  • Geremy Massolin

    My fiance is wondering how any of this would change for women? Could the essentially follow the same routine?

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Hey Geremy, Yeah, women could definitely follow the same routine. In fact, doing this together is going to make it even more enjoyable/sustainable and you may even notice it brings the two of you closer.

  • Rt1583

    A couple of personal notes, with absolutely no science to back them up.

    On sleep, maintain your sleep schedule as best possible every day. Doing the sleep thing for five days and then going out on Friday and Saturday nights like you’re 21 and don’t have a care in the world limits the overall benefits of a good sleep cycle.

    On snacking, don’t limit your healthy snack to just fruit. I’ve done that and I always seem to have a craving after eating just fruit. What I’ve done is to include some fat and protein with the fruit and it seems to quash the cravings.

    Fruits like dates (medjool are my favorite), prunes and figs go great with decent cheese (no American slices but otherwise whatever combination you like) and nuts (walnuts, almonds and cashews). I get the cheese sliced from the whole at the deli counter which helps tremendously with portion control and provides for easier prep and transportation. I’ve found that the combination of sweet, fat and protein in this is just as satisfying as a candy bar. Probably equal in calories to a candy bar but at least you’ve got a little more control of what you’re eating this way.

    Another snack I’ve started eating is cracker, cheese, egg and salami (summer sausage, hard sausage etc., pre-sliced). One hard boiled egg, one slice of cheese, four crackers and four slices of salami. I’ve found the combo of fat, protein and carbs to be quite satisfying even for four little open face sandwiches. I know salamis and processed meats get a bad rap but I use them because they are already seasoned and I don’t have to worry about my snack being bland.
    One big bonus to each above is that they can be prepped in whole for the week on Sunday and kept at work ready to go, limiting transport to Monday morning and Friday afternoon.

  • Steeps

    Thanks! I’ve been looking for something to get started to becoming more fit before summer but everything else that I found has been so challenging to try and fit into a work schedule.

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Yup, too many fitness articles and blogs out there lay out some crazy plan, that, at best, may be followed for a few months. I’ve never been about these hyper-short results; I want to help people get in shape – and stay that way – for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years.

      Fitness ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon (a la Ice Cube).

  • Jacob Crim

    Even though I work out in the AM, I may supplement my preworkout powder with that latte during the week days. It sounds good.

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      That’s a great idea – and yes, It is REALLY good.

  • Kyle Butler

    Great article! I made the coffee this morning instead of my usual brew, and now i am a mighty frigate of explosive energy! Added bonus, it was actually really tasty. Next time i might throw some cacao in there to experiment. Cheers!

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Glad you liked it, Kyle.

  • Steven Lloyd

    All good concepts, but eerily similar to this one: http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com/bigger

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Hey Steven — yes, the structure of this article is based off of that one from S2B. The difference? S2B is a resource for skinny guys.

      This article, while beneficial for those looking to build muscle, is written with the recognition that most guys here at Primer probably need at least an equal focus on fat loss and takes a different angle on a number of things.

  • noe_garcia

    what’s your stance on flexible dieting? I was introduced last year and lost 31lbs (within about 6months). It was just macro counting and calorie restriction. I want to say 75% of my food intake was from whole foods the rest from going about my normal life – eating out with friends family, having drinks, enjoying my favorite snacks. I’ll admit, it’s not the healthiest method to lose weight ie energy levels, digestion health and dehydration but its either go about my normal life and continue to be out of shape or restrict calories and track macros while going about my normal life and be leaner and better looking. It was just much less of a sacrifice for me. Don’t get me wrong, if one sticks to something like what you are describing in the article for long enough a habit will form and you’ll be a healthier person overall. I just found flexible dieting is the only thing that I can maintain long term.

    • noe_garcia

      to add to my comment, the first 2-3 months of those 6 months were experimenting with every diet principal in the book. Some of the methods I tried were bro diet or body building diet – no chance in hell I was gonna stick to that. I don’t think anyone should do a bro or body building diet unless they are either a fitness model, or cutting for a physique comp. Carb Cycling – too much to keep track of. Low Carb – worked great but I was eating close to what you described in the article and found that would get intense cravings. No Carb/Keto – my body hating me for doing that. Intermittent Fasting – my work schedule kept conflicting and wasn’t able to try it long enough for it to kick in if it was ever going to. IIFYM/Flexible dieting was the answer for me but I did have to experiment to find out what exactly maintenance or TDEE was. Cnce I found the magic number/ratios I subtracted it by 500 and the fat melted off.

      • Eric Weinbrenner

        I think flexible dieting is a great tool for some people. Most of the guys I work with (I’d say 80%) follow a habit based approach that ends up looking what I’ve shown in this article because it’s proven to me to be the best long term solution.

        I used to have people count macros/calories and while it got the fat off (and often quickly), I kept seeing “rebounds” – in 6 months, those people had gotten tired of tracking everything and didn’t know another approach. So when I started introducing a more habit based approach, I saw a few things:

        1. Initially, the fat loss process was slower. But after a few months, when the habits started to compound, things ended up similarly (so someone following counting calories and someone learning habits both ended up losing around the same amount of weight after 4-6 months – even if the time tables didn’t match up).

        2. People who learned the habit based approach KEPT THE WEIGHT OFF. Once done following my program, they knew exactly how weight was lost – and what to do to maintain it. There was no burning out because they’d already integrated new habits into their lives.

        All of that said, I think for some people, tracking calories can work – and maybe even long term. But, if you take 6 months to build the habit based approach, I doubt you’d regret it and it would make the process simpler (for the rest of your life).

        Great question.

  • http://www.fernandolozer.com Fernando Lozer Lichtenheld

    Awesome article.
    Just have a quick question about that Latte: that vanilla protein powder is the regular whey protein powder? Or is it some kind of vanilla protein?

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Hey Fernando,

      It’s just regular whey protein, my man. Nothin too fancy.

  • brownm279

    Great post. When I read posts like this that have steps in them, it would be nice to have a take-away with it. A printable check-sheet, or reminder list to put on my fridge Go big and make a printable infograpgic.

  • jrreich

    One thing that should go into the bedtime routine. Plan/pack for your next day. It not only helps you not forget things since your brain tends to work better in the evening than when you first get up. But it also allows you to get one more worry out of your mind before laying down to bed. That helps me to fall asleep quicker knowing I’m ready to tackle the next day.

    Lay out your clothes for the gym and work. Pack one of them in a bag (which ever one you won’t be putting on first) as well as any workout gear you need; heart rate monitor, headphones, etc.

    Plan and pack your meals for the day as best as possible. I put my 40oz hydro flask in the fridge as well so I can just grab it and go. Same for my preworkout drink. Just add ice and go. I make a rather huge salad almost every night and just keep the a bottle of dressing (or lime juice or balsamic vinegar) at work. Again just grab and go.

    I got this all from a former military coworker, don’t put off things for the morning that you can get done that evening. Its an extremely simple concept but helps me a lot.

    • Eric Weinbrenner

      Dude – that’s fantastic. I actually do something very similar to this each night – don’t know how I let it not get in the article. Great advice!

  • Bullet Tooth Tony

    This is a good general set of rules for every-day living, but missing some critical details depending on one’s immediate goals: macro ratios, caloric intake for bulking, cutting, etc.

    For example, this isn’t cross referenced back to the “Diet Math” article.

    If you’re one of those people who can manage to build muscle AND burn fat simultaneously, my hat is off to you – I know I can’t, for the life of me. Odds are, 90% of readers won’t be able to do both simultaneously – at least, once you enter into advanced programs.

  • ildottore

    Great article, I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. I love it how you break down the individual steps and offer concrete examples. I’ve been looking for a muscle building diet to complement the one I’m using to loose fat while still allowing for some treats from time to time. You can check that out at https://optimizemy.life/bodyhacks/lose-fat/