I could make some kind of silly statement about how rest is more important than training or nutrition, but I will refrain. If you don't train, you won't grow. If you don't eat, you won't grow. And if you don't rest, you won't grow.
Muscle growth only occurs during rest periods. You muscles may pump when they are worked, but this is only because of fluid being trapped in the muscle, not actual growth of muscle tissue. Your muscles may appear larger the day after a workout, but this is most likely swelling caused by muscular damage, not actual growth.
Growth only occurs during rest. First your body, if given a chance, repairs the damage incurred by your training. Then it will, if sufficiently stimulated, adapt to the stress with further growth. At a certain point after training the body will decompensate, and lose strength, if it is not stressed further.
If you lift every day you will never grow. If you never lift you will never grow. There is an optimum ratio of rest to training that will allow your body to recover fully from the damage of each workout, and adapt maximally before being stressed again.
Everyone's specific rest needs are different. Poor diet, poor genetics, high stress levels, poor sleep, and age all increase the need for rest. Optimal diet, low stress, freak genetics, and youth reduce the need for rest, by either increasing the anabolic rate or decreasing the catabolic rate. The lower your catabolic rate the less damage your body will have to repair in addition to the exercise induced damage before it can grow.
Nobody, it seems, can work a muscle every day. Similarly, most people will need at most two weeks of rest between workouts. Remember, too much rest will result in decompensation and muscle atrophy.
To determine your rest need, vary the length of your rest periods and chart your strength levels while keeping your caloric intake constant. If you make your best strength gains with four day's rest between workouts, then rest for four days. I personally need at least five days of rest, and I might need seven. If you aren't growing and getting stronger, you might need more rest.
You should definitely not do hard physical work on your rest days. There is some disagreement beyond this point. Some argue that light physical effort will increase the anabolic rate, by increasing blood flow to the muscles. Others say that any activity will just slow recovery by using up the body's limited resources. In my experience any activity on off days slowed recovery, but when I do aerobics I tend to overdo it, which may have been the culprit.
Make sure to eat well on your rest days, not just on work days. Remember that you grow on your off days, and the better you eat the more you will grow.
There are three different reasons (which are not incompatible) for someone to do cardio (aerobic activity):
The health benefits of cardio done in addition to an intense weight training regimen are questionable. Look at the Super Slo Mo Home page for some more info on this topic. The cardiovascular system exists to service the body's lean tissue. Stimulation of that tissue should stimulate the cardiovasular system.
The use of cardio to aid recovery is controversial. If you do that, then at least use a low degree of intensity and do something that works the whole body.
The use of cardio to aid fat loss is very popular. I personally lose fat better by just reducing calories, and I lose less muscle than when I add in cardio. If you do cardio to lose fat then at least do it first thing in the morning, and take a caffeine/ephedrine/caffeine stack to help.
I lied. You should also use cardio to warm up. If you do, then only do cardio for about 5-10 minutes at most. Any more will just use up the energy you need for your workout.
There are three basic requirements for muscle growth: you must eat enough protein, you must eat enough total calories, and you must eat frequently enough. One meal a day is not good, nor is one meal a week, even if it is very large.
You need protein because frequent feedings of protein is both anticatabolic and required for anabolism. Your muscles are made, after all, of protein. Certain amino acids are more important than others. The branched chain amino acids are preferentially used by your body for energy, so you must keep your intake of them high, or your body will get them by burning muscle tissue.
Some "authorities" recommend enormous calorie intakes for bodybuilders, up to eight or ten thousand a day. That level of calories will make you very fat. To determine your needs, start recording how many calories you eat every day in your journal. Weigh yourself weekly. If you are gaining weight, and it seems to be mostly muscle (check the mirror) then you are fine. If you lose weight, add a few hundred calories to your daily intake. If you are gaining fat, drop a few hundred instead.
I recommend eating especially large amounts of carbohydrates the day before you lift. This will fuel your workouts and improve your pump.
Eat at least four to six meals a day, including some protein with each. Drinking protein shakes can help, but most of them are largely sugar. See the recipe section for more details.
Make sure to eat at least two hours before your workout and again within an hour or so of its end. That is when your body is most "primed" to accept nutrients.
Bodybuilders love supplements, and supplement companies love supplements. Before taking any make sure you're getting enough food - it's a better use of your money. Here are a few I like:
Creatine Monohydrate, HMB, and Acetyl -L-Carnitine look good too. Write to me if you have good experience with them. I can't afford any of them.
That's most of what you need to know. Assess your needs, pick exercises, do one set to failure for each, go home, eat and rest, and write all of it down. Things will happen.
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