For most people trying to add muscle, the basic protocol is pretty straightforward:
1. Eat a healthy, protein-rich diet
2. Exercise, specifically by pumping some iron
That'll definitely help, but there's also a third component to achieving that coveted "ripped-and-toned" look. Or, at the very least, that coveted "better-than-things-used-to-be" look. This third component has nothing to do with how much iron you pump or how many protein shakes you knock back.
Yes, it sounds a bit weird at first, since most people assume that getting bigger muscles means spending more time in the gym. But when you look at the actual process by which your body makes muscle, it soon becomes very apparent that the hours you spend sleeping play a huge role in developing muscle mass. The reason has to do with your hormones.
Exercise "stresses" your muscles
Most people don’t realize this, but while exercise is certainly great for your body, it's also a type of stress. That means an increase in stress hormones, namely cortisol, which gets released during stressful situations, including during exercise.
One of the effects of a cortisol increase is muscle breakdown. In fact, studies show that exercising too much can greatly increase the risk of muscle breakdown due to increased cortisol levels, which is why fitness experts like me always emphasize the importance of rest and recovery after exercise, so you don't end up taxing the body too much and losing precious muscle mass.