anabolic lifestyle

How To Build An Anabolic Lifestyle

Do you feel like you’ve tried every training tool and nutritional “hack” out there, but you still can’t build the dense layers of muscle you desire?

If you’re training consistently and sticking to a slight calorie surplus… it’s probably not a training protocol or diet that’s holding you back.

You may be missing out on some key lifestyle changes that could help you get absolutely stacked.

You see, muscle isn’t built in the gym, it’s built in recovery.

But everyday stressors can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to recover and build muscle. How you handle that stress has major implications for your muscle-building potential.

Does stressful modern life mean you’re doomed to being lean and scrawny? Of course not!

Simple lifestyle changes can help you reduce stress’ impact on your physique.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to build an anabolic lifestyle that supports your muscle-building goals and sends your gainz through the roof.

Defining the “Anabolic Lifestyle”

Hormones are either anabolic or catabolic, depending on how they influence your metabolism. Anabolic hormones, like testosterone and growth hormone, promote muscle growth. Catabolic hormones inhibit muscle growth and actually break down muscle tissue instead.

Stressful experiences throughout your day trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much stress can cause chronically elevated cortisol, which reduces growth hormone and testosterone; can lead to osteoporosis; reduces muscle and increases abdominal fat; affects memory and learning; reduces glucose utilization; and impairs immunity. All of these things are detrimental to your overall health and to your ability to build bigger muscles.

In other words, cortisol destroys your hard-earned muscle and leaves you looking puny and weak, despite the dedicated work you put into hitting the weights.

anabolic lifestyle


When building muscle, you want to promote an anabolic hormonal environment. Weightlifting is a big part of this: heavy compound lifts boost testosterone and growth hormone, stimulating muscle growth. Add a slight caloric surplus and plenty of protein, and your body has all the fuel it needs to build big, powerful muscles.

Since anabolic and catabolic hormones work in direct opposition to one another, you want to minimize the presence of catabolic hormones in your body, while encouraging release of anabolic hormones. There’s no point in training hard and boosting testosterone if your cortisol is through the roof, too. That’s like taking one step forward, two steps backward.

To avoid this vicious cycle, you need to build an anabolic lifestyle – one that promotes muscle growth beyond the gym.

Creating an environment that supports your goals

The first, and most important step, in building an anabolic lifestyle is to create an environment supportive to your muscle-building goals. This makes it as easy as possible to follow a training program or nutrition plan without temptations to do otherwise.

An anabolic environment means obvious things like getting your training and nutrition on point:

  • Joining a gym near home or work, so it’s easy to lift every day;
  • Following a training program designed for hypertrophy;
  • Stocking your fridge with fresh foods and protein, instead of junk food;
  • Meal prepping so you have enough food on hand; etc.

But creating a supportive environment is much more nuanced than just “diet and exercise.”

You’ll need to eliminate any distractions that keep you from doing what needs to be done to build muscle. This means scheduling parts of your life around training, meals, and recovery.

I know you’re willing to do that, or you wouldn’t be here. You probably already invest time and energy into your training. You invest time and money into meal prep and supplements.

But something is still missing. You haven’t yet built your anabolic lifestyle.

The key components to an anabolic lifestyle

Training and nutrition are important for building muscle, sure, but you absolutely cannot build your best body without prioritizing recovery.

According to Eric Bach, strength coach and master of getting everyday guys jacked, “the biggest problem for most guys isn’t training or diet; it’s their lifestyle, especially sleep.”

Prioritizing recovery (sleep and stress management) is the key you’re missing.

Get more ZZZ’s to build more mass

Lack of sleep wreaks havoc on your physique. According to Bach, sleeping too little increases cortisol while simultaneously decreasing testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, and negatively affecting insulin sensitivity. This is no bueno for building lean muscle mass.

“The one thing nearly every guy could do that’s free and makes a significant difference in their physique is going to bed and waking at consistent hours, ideally with 7-9 hours of sleep,” Bach advises guys looking to pack on more muscle mass.

A consistent sleep routine helps to optimize your anabolic hormones. And sleeping 7-9 hours per night allows enough time in deep sleep stages for muscular growth and recovery.

“That goes for your Saturdays with the boys as well,” Bach says.

Many people believe they can get by just fine with less sleep, but don’t fool yourself. Lack of sleep impacts everything from memory and concentration to hormone production and hunger signals. Trying to get by with less sleep will negatively affect how big your muscles will grow, even if you feel “okay” with fewer than eight hours.

Making sure you get about eight hours of sleep each night will help your body to recover from demanding training sessions, to repair muscle tissue, and to produce enough growth hormone for building dense muscles.

You NEED quality sleep (and lots of it)


anabolic lifestyle

The amount of sleep you get is important, but so is sleep quality. Tossing and turning all night doesn’t allow your body to get into REM sleep cycles, the deep sleep stages where your body rebuilds and recovers.

How can you improve your sleep quality?

The most important thing to remember is that our bodies thrive on routine. Stick to a consistent “bedtime” and wake time, and keep these times similar on the weekend, too.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you feel “wired” at night, try turning off electronics an hour before bed. The blue light from screens affects your production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which can keep you awake late into the night. Instead, do something relaxing before bed, like reading a book or drawing – anything that helps you wind down for the night.

Control your sleep environment as much as you can. Keeping your bedroom cool and dark will help you fall asleep faster. For better sleep quality, turn down your thermostat at night, remove electronics with glowing lights from your bedroom, and use a heavy blackout curtain to keep outside lights from ruining your sleep. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and avoid alcohol within 2-3 hours of going to bed. Alcohol affects your ability to fall into deep, repairing REM sleep.

Speaking of alcohol…

Look, we were all thinking it, right? If minimizing stress boosts anabolic hormones, it may seem like a no-brainer to knock back a few drinks with your crew to take the edge off… but alcohol generally has a negative effect on muscle gain.

Drinking alcohol can mess with your macros and calorie balance, while offering no nutritional value in return. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it dehydrates you, making it harder to function mentally and physically the next day.

More insidiously, when you drink, your body shuts down other metabolic processes in order to flush out the toxic alcohol. That means that fat burning is shut down, so your body can’t process fats you’ve eaten until the alcohol is out of your system.

Protein synthesis is also affected by up to a 20% reduction! Because protein is essential to building muscle, you want protein synthesis to be HIGH, not low. Alcohol has a negative effect on your body’s ability to digest protein, break it down into amino acids, and use those aminos to rebuild bigger muscles.

Finally, blood alcohol levels are directly correlated with a drop in testosterone levels. The more alcohol in your body, the lower your testosterone. Since testosterone is an anabolic hormone, this will impact your ability to build bigger muscles (even for women).

Add to that the fact that drinking alcohol generally means staying up late; less sleep and recovery; making poor dietary choices; and leaves you feeling worn out the next day so that you can’t train as hard when you hit the gym… All of this is bad news for muscle growth. It’s best to minimize alcohol consumption during a muscle gain training plan.

Stress management

We’ve already talked about how stress releases catabolic hormones like cortisol. Thing is, your body can’t really tell the difference between good stress (like training) and bad stress (like poor diet, lack of sleep, or your mortgage payment).

The harder you train in the gym, the less outside stressors your body is equipped to handle. That’s why it’s vital to your anabolic lifestyle to have an effective stress management strategy.

Try these strategies for reducing everyday stress:

  • Always plan ahead; being “proactive” is less stressful than being “reactive” all day;
  • Schedule recovery days and de-loads into your program to avoid overtraining;
  • Make time for activities you love (outside of the gym) such as hiking, playing an instrument, creating art, or building things;
  • Surround yourself with supportive people you can talk to when facing stressful events;
  • Practice yoga or meditation, or keep a gratitude journal;
  • Make time for yourself. Take a mental health day from work or mini vacation; get a massage; buy yourself a new pair of gym shoes. Treat yo’ self.

Above all, do things that make you happy! There is more to life than the gym. Ironically, focusing less of your time on lifting can actually be beneficial to your physique. And what’s the point of looking shredded AF if you don’t get out there and enjoy your muscle-bound body, really?

anabolic lifestyle

The final word on living the anabolic lifestyle

By now, you get the point – training and nutrition aren’t the end-all, be-all for hypertrophy. You have to build your life around recovery, sleep, and stress management.

The missing ingredient for building your best body isn’t the weights or what’s on your plate, it’s what’s going on between your ears.

If you’re an intermediate lifter who’s passed their “newbie gains” stage and hit a frustrating plateau, your mental game becomes even more important.

The number one piece of advice physique master Bryan Krahn gives to intermediate lifters is to learn to play the long game while focusing on the day-to-day process.

“Forget about the goal and just focus on the process TODAY,” Krahn advises. “Eat the best you can at your next meal, and then the meal after. Train with intention. Do every little thing under the assumption that by doing the little things you will eventually reach the finish line. It will still be a long haul, but focusing on right now is the only sure path to a successful tomorrow.”

Embrace the process. Train hard, eat well, sleep soundly, and recognize that what you do outside of the gym may be more important for your muscular development.

The anabolic lifestyle is a long game, but that’s how you achieve your best physique.

About the Author

Katie is a strength and conditioning coach for the everyday athlete. Katie loves coffee, craft beer, and deadlifts. When she's not lifting heavy things, you can find her exploring the mountains - hiking, climbing, and snowboarding. Katie believes that training in the gym should make you more awesome at the things you love to do outside. Visit to learn how you can look better, feel better, and perform at your best to conquer every adventure life throws your way.