Do you work out a lot?
Only for no one to really notice.
You’ve likely seen the person walking past you at the grocery store or scrolling through your feed and thought “damn, if I could just look like them” or “damn, that person looks fit/strong/etc. I wish I looked like that.”
You’re NOT ALONE.
This is usually one of the top 3 reasons why our clients hire a Clar-e-ty coach.
You spend hours in the week at the gym.
You pay the $$$. You put in the work. You likely have bruises, scrapes, rips, scabs, etc. to show for it. There’s been all the sweat & maybe even some blood and a few tears.
All of that & you don’t look representative of the efforts & sacrifices you’ve been making.
And that just...sucks! Plain and simple, no way around it.
If you work out, chances are you at least want to look it.
In fact, that’s how Clar-e-ty Coach and Founder, Clare, first got into the world of nutrition. She, like many of you, worked out a whole lot. Starting as a young child with gymnastics and soccer, into a whole lot of running during college, before eventually finding CrossFit. When starting her CrossFit journey, she did lose some weight in her first year...but still never had that “muscle” that top athletes—both in the world and at her gym in North Carolina—had. She wanted to look strong, not thin, and wanted her 5am morning alarms to be worth something!!
So she dove into nutrition, saw every single result she’d been looking for, and eventually made it part of her professional career & bam Clar-e-ty Nutrition & Wellness Coaching was formed.
In today’s blog, you’re going to learn the 4 BEST ways to look like you work out, ranging from programming to nutrition. When you implement these four techniques and tips, you WILL see your desired results. At the end, if you’re looking for more guidance, you can apply for 1:1 Coaching with a Clar-e-ty coach to work closely on your nutrition to get your desired results.
Without further do, let’s get into it!
Tip #1. Workout hard
There needs to be some intensity in your workouts. While we want to avoid injury, stress DOES drive adaptation. This is why banded workouts, 5lb dumbbells, bodyweight workouts, HIIT, etc. only does so much towards building muscle. The stress put on the body isn’t great enough to drive the adaptation to elicit muscle growth.
In the process of building muscle, when you lift, you want to use that muscle to an extent where when the muscle fibers breakdown, it drives the need for your body to “grow” new muscle fibers to handle that greater load.
In other words, you have to lift heavy enough and put in enough effort to see those changes you want.
That means pushing yourself in the gym.
That means adding 5-10lbs when you can.
That means using progressive overload strategies to build 1-10% in a cycle.
Although low intensity exercises are great, think yoga, walking, etc., there’s less of a stimulus and not an ideal environment to grow muscle.
So add in that volume and embrace it! If you work with an experienced coach, you’re not going to be injured. So toss those 5-lb dumbbells away...you lift more carrying your groceries into your home, so let’s use the gym to challenge yourself!
Tip #2. Eat your protein
Protein is the building block for growing muscle.
You need to eat it if you want to look like you work out. You also need it for basic survival...but we’ve talked enough on that & have plenty of resources here on our website for you to check out on your own.
Protein is composed of smaller molecules, called amino acids. These amino acids serve as the building block for proteins, which are literally every where in your body. Your skin, your muscles, your hair, your stomach lining, your digestion, even your saliva contains proteins. Enzymes, which are a type of protein, help literally every thing in your body. In fact, the process of building muscle & turning amino acids into functional proteins in your body requires proteins!
A lot of normal functions in your body require protein. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t make protein on its own, so we have to get protein from foods. If you’re not eating enough protein for basic survival (i.e. to make the proteins in your body that assist with digestion or form the muscle in your organs), you’re not going to have remaining amino acids sitting around ready to be turned into skeletal muscle.
This is why eating a higher protein diet is absolutely crucial to putting on muscle and supporting your body’s exercise you’re putting it through on the daily.
Specifically, in terms of muscle protein synthesis, all amino acids are important, but two in particular, isoleucine and leucine, are the two main amino acids responsible for building muscle in your body.
Isoleucine and leucine are most commonly sourced in animal products, which is why we encourage higher protein *including animal protein* diets.
How much protein? We recommend eating a diet that aims to get your bodyweight in grams of protein. If you’re a 150-lb individual, then you’re aiming for 150g protein. If you have 20+ lbs to lose in your journey, then we’d recommend setting your protein goal at goal target body weight...again in grams of protein.
This amount ensures you’re supporting allllll the other protein-dominant needs in your body AND building muscle.
Can you eat plant-based and still get desired results? Absolutely. It is, however, going to be a bit more work, as most plant-based sources are what we call incomplete sources of protein. This means that they don’t have the full “range” if you will of amino acids for your body. Collagen, for example, is an incomplete source of protein because it only contains the amino acids and protein structure & functionality for collagen...meaning that when you take it, it’s used for collagen-based functions in your body. Does this mean you’re doomed or can’t take collagen? Absolutely not. It does mean that you likely need to get your protein from a variety of sources to ensure that you do have the full range of all 22 amino acids for your body. It also means that you may need to consider supplementation with a protein powder to ensure you’re getting isoleucine and leucine specifically.
Lastly, we know protein can be tough to eat. It fills you up. It likely takes longer to eat. You’re full longer. BUT THAT’S THE POINT. Fill your plate with protein, carbs, veggies & some fats and you’ll be amazed (1) at how great you feel, (2) how great your workouts feel & (3) at how your cravings & hunger magically disappear.
Tip #3. Eat plenty of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are another key to the puzzle.
Carbs fuel your workouts, specifically by providing your body with glucose that will be stored as glycogen.
Glycogen will be used as your predominant fuel source for lifting.
Glycogen is stored in two places: (1) your liver and (2) skeletal muscle. When you lift, your muscles use that stored glycogen for fuel. In fact, when you’re muscles deplete all its glycogen stores, it starts using lactic acid, which is what causes muscle soreness.
When your body depletes its skeletal muscle glycogen, it resources to glycogen stored in the liver (which is ideally used for other fuel-driven processes in your body). Once it depletes that, it starts to pull energy from breaking down muscle.
Meaning that if you don’t have enough stored glycogen from carbs you eat, you risk not only not growing new muscle, but also breaking down muscle that already exists. For individuals who do have stored body fat, your body will tap into stored fat cells as fuel, BUT this is a slower process, so you will still see some muscle breakdown as well. This is why we don’t put clients in huuuuge calorie/carb deficits.
We end up having the conversation often, but to be clear, we’re talking starches, grains, sugars, “processed” carbs. Veggies and fruits are absolutely wonderful and YES are carb sources. BUT they’re lower in calories & in carbohydrates and therefore require more volume in order for the same effect. In a seasoned lifter, we’re likely seeing a consumption of 250-400g of carbs depending on the type of athlete & their weight...but that’s a lot of veggies if we aren’t relying on starches and grains as well.
In fact, consuming SOME higher glycemic *i.e. quicker digesting* carbs has its benefit, specifically in the timing of fuel replenishment & blood glucose spikes.
Carbs pre-workout supply blood glucose to give you energy to workout. If you eat super “healthy” veggies as your carbs, you’re less likely to get that blood sugar boost supporting your workout and also not as quick as your body requires more time & energy breaking down cellulose (i.e. cell walls in vegetables). Carbs post-workout go towards replenishing your glycogen stores so you can rebuild & grow muscle. When you don’t eat quickly digesting carbs, your glycogen stores (meaning your muscles) stay depleted longer, running the risk of a catabolic (muscle breakdown) effect.
So eat your rice and bread, folks!!! There’s too much good NOT to!
How much depends on the person. Generally 200-250g is consistent for many. If you would like to learn more about your individual carb requirements, apply for a diet audit, where you’ll talk with a Clar-e-ty Coach for 30 minutes & get set up for success!
Tip #4. Don’t program hop
There’s the notion that you have to try a million programs out there to find the one that works for you & makes you look the best. This eventually leads, though, into the very popular—and the very ineffective—phenomena of program hopping.
The process of building muscle takes time...and lots of it.
If you’re hopping program to program, then your body is constantly facing changing stimuli & doesn’t have any of the required time to elicit change.
Optimal conditions to improve strength & grow muscle is a combination of exercise (i.e. a good program), stress management (your body needs to be healthy because growing muscle = energy), and nutrition (i.e. enough carbs, protein, & calories).
When you put your body under the stress of changing programs left and right, it doesn’t ever get into the optimal condition to grow & thrive. Remaining patient is the key there.
The last piece of the puzzle on improving strength is the concept of progressive overload. Building strength, as we’ve said, takes time. It’s not overnight. If we put someone through a muscle gaining phase, they’re gaining maaaybe 1lb/month, meaning 0.25lb/week. That means we’re not just throwing tons of weights around & lifting 50+lbs more per week. Instead, an ideal program progresses week to week in a controlled fashion, improving & building 1-10% at a time. There are deloads & back-off phases. There are blocks where you build (again, very slowly, 5-10lbs/week). That slow & progressive build is where we see the most growth. When you program hop, you never build over a progressive phase of time and therefore miss out of progressive overload.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into “looking” like you work out.
But in reality...it’s very simple!!
Support your body.
Move your body. Challenge yourself! Embrace the volume.
Do these things and you’ll not only crush those weights at the gym, but you’ll have the body to show for it too.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.