“‘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.
Good? Good. Now let’s get moving…
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- An apple
- Baby carrots
- Beef jerky – Learn how to make your own
- Mixed nuts
- Protein powder
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.
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.