Mike Matthews: Decoding How to Build Muscle in Less Time

Feb 15, 2019

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Mike Matthews from Muscle For Life is the author of many top titles in the fitness industry. Josh and Mike discuss why it’s beneficial to do a quicker cut when losing fat, and how we can pack on the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time.

The Body Fat Set Point

The concept is that your body has a natural body fat range it defaults to which relates to your hunger hormones. The longer you stay at a certain body fat percentage, the easier it is to remain there, and the more it seems your body fat set point can be malleable. However, this set point is easy to increase but difficult to decrease.

Bang For Your Fat Loss Buck

To lose fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit. The energy output side of the equation can be tricky when it comes to the thermic effect of food and water intake, which can affect your BMR.

The two schools of thought on fat loss:

  • Slow Cutting: Mild calorie deficit of 5-10% that you maintain over time. This is underfeeding your body by a small amount. The energy you are not getting from food comes from fat.
  • Quick Cutting: Higher calorie deficit of 20-25%, where you lose fat faster. Some say you will lose strength and muscle.

People mistake fat gain for muscle gain, and forget how long it takes to build quality muscle. For Josh and Mike, it would take a year to gain 3 pounds of muscle. For a person wanting to build a physique slow, cutting is counterproductive.

Mike believes in losing fat as quickly as possible without sacrificing muscle and strength. The FFMI (free fat mass index) is the relationship between your total lean mass and height. When you see the FFMI figure above 25, it is steroids. When you underfeed your body, it impairs the body’s ability to synthesize proteins, which effects all tissue and cells.

In your first year, you can gain 20lbs of muscle, second year 10lbs, third year 5lbs, and after that 3lbs.

Mike never does more than 90 minutes of cardio per week, and only does high intensity intervals because you lose fat faster with HIIT cardio. The overtraining problems come from people who go overboard and do 90-120 minutes of HIIT per day, plus weights and a 30-35% caloric deficit.

It’s Not Just Your Muscles That Fatigues

It is also your nervous system and psychologically that fatigues. If you are doing something that makes you feel horrible for long periods of time, you should question what you are doing. If you think it’s normal to be at 4-5% body fat, Josh wants to assure you that being at that level is pure torture. Mike says there is no healthy way to get to that point and only ways to minimize the damage.

Gaining Muscle

You build muscle most effectively when you are eating a slight surplus. “Eat big to get big” doesn’t really help, so the goal when bulking is slowly gain body fat over time on a ratio of 1:1 (fat to muscle.) Most guys find that their metabolism speeds up, and they will stop gaining weight so they have to increase food. 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is all you’ll ever need for this. Mike is a big proponent of higher carb dieting because carbohydrates fuel your workouts. 300-500 grams of carbs will see a big boost in training, as opposed to 200 grams per day. Other benefits are insulin levels being higher, and protein synthesis rates that are higher than protein breakdown rates. This will help build muscle over time. Your body doesn’t need more than 0.3 grams of dietary fat per pound of lean mass on your body. Most people don’t realize that you need to have 80% of dietary calories from fat to be in full ketogenesis (which is living misery). In terms of weight gain, Mike likes to see 0.5-1 pound per week.

Tip Top Training Tips

The number one most important thing for a natural weightlifter is emphasizing heavy compound weightlifting. This involves your big lifts, such as dead lifts, squats, bench presses, military or overhead presses, heavy weightlifting, and progressive overload. If you are not adding weight to the bar over time, you won’t get big and strong. If you can still get six repetitions, then it’s time to add weight. How long it takes depends on your diet and training intensity and genetics. There is a point when you are working in the higher strength range where you will plateau, you will no longer get stronger, and your body won’t change. When you change your routine to emphasis the heavier weightlifting routine, there is a correlation of reaching your genetic potential of strength and muscle growth.

Essentially you only need to know 20% of what is out there to get 80% of the results. Total weekly volume, given a certain weight intensity, is more important than frequency. There are only so many reps you can do every week to train a muscle, and whether you split them in two or three workouts, it doesn’t really make a difference.

Totally Tracking Workouts

You have to know what you’ve been doing historically so you can measure if you are getting stronger over time on the big lifts. This also helps with weekly goal setting. The total weekly volume point is around 70 reps every 5-7 days per muscle group. High repetitions are useless if you are brand new to lifting and weak. Mike suggests doing everything in the 4-6-repetition range, but you will get more out of heavy compound weight lifting as the sole focus. As you get stronger, you will be able to move weight for the higher rep ranges. The primary factors of growth are progressive overload and muscle damage, which comes from heavy lifting. If you want to include high reps, include it at the end of the workout.

Mike’s Top 5 Supplements

  • Protein powder: Whey protein before and after workouts, as well as in the middle of the day.
  • Creatine: 5g per day. This is the one natural supplement you build muscle fast with.
  • Caffeine: Good for pre-workouts. Mike’s line of supplements is Legion Supplements.
  • Fat loss supplements: Green tea extract, yohimbine, and synephrine.
  • Health: Vitamin D, fish oil, spirulina, and multi vitamins.

The militarization of fitness is trendy right now with the “no pain, no gain” mentality to prove how tough you are. Take the drive and will power, and apply it to something that won’t ruin your body. In exercise, there is a point where too much is harmful but less is sometimes more. Unless you have an elite goal, fitness should be making your life better and not sacrificing social life.

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