There is 1 thing above all other factors that determines if you can put muscle on at all, how much you can put on and at what rate.
It's not steroids, or training, or sleep….
The sad thing is that most will be quite disappointed with this boring if an answer, but it is in fact the 100% cold hard truth.
Many people have gotten into the fad of calorie counting for cutting and then don't understand why they aren't growing when they're trying to gain muscle.
If your body expends more calories than you're taking in per day, all of that food you ate has been burned off to fuel your everyday activities.
None of it has gone into building muscle tissue or gaining weight.
The only way you gain muscle is by eating a calorie surplus, where there is an excess amount of calories that goes towards facilitating muscle growth.
I can't stress enough how important eating a calorie surplus per day is for gaining muscle.
Even if you're on thousands of milligrams of anabolic steroids per week, you simply will not grow if you're not eating a calorie surplus.
This is why it is so important that when you pick a goal, it doesn't conflict with another goal.
I also consider this the two steps forward one step back methodology, a common practice in bodybuilding where an individual tries to accomplish two totally separate and contradicting goals like gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
The end result is spinning your wheels, and making crappy overall progress.
Sometimes people will under eat to stay lean, but also want to put on muscle at the same time and gain huge amounts of size.
It simply will not happen.
You should either be gaining muscle and minimizing fat gain eating in a calorie surplus, or losing fat and minimizing muscle loss eating in a calorie deficit.
It would be wise to pick one goal or the other when you are writing out your diet plan.
The plan of attack you create for yourself should always be driven by 1 overarching main goal.
Do you want to gain muscle or get ripped more?
Which is more of a priority for you at this exact moment in your life?
PICK ONE, NOT BOTH
Throw the concept of burning fat and building muscle simultaneously out the window because even if you could accomplish that, your results would be subpar.
It doesn't matter if you have testosterone levels through the roof and take 10 iu's of HGH per day. If you aren't eating enough food, you won't grow.
Sure you can get into semantics and argue that you can grow in a calorie deficit while on performance enhancing drugs, but trust me when I tell you that it is a far cry from how much you could actually grow eating in a caloric surplus on those same compounds, consequently just wasting your health and money to spin your wheels and make subpar progress.
I know for me personally, once my calorie intake goes below maintenance, all that matters at that point is muscular maintenance, and everything else goes out the window.
There will be no strength or size gains being made, even on performance enhancing drugs, the name of the game becomes simply trying to maintain all my current lean tissue and strength.
That is why I stress calorie counting so much, especially for newbies.
It's not just something that is optimal to do when you're trying to get shredded.
The opposite approach to calorie manipulation should still be taken while bulking.
I tell guys this time and time again, “the most anabolic thing you can take is FOOD.”
Instead of slowly tapering down calories and tapering up cardio like you would to lose fat, you should slowly taper calories up and taper down cardio to gain muscle.
All your body mass is essentially just stored calories, whether it be stored muscle proteins in the form of lean muscle mass, or in the form of spilled over carbohydrates stored as adipose tissue/fat sitting on your stomach, your body is a walking embodiment of the food you have ate.
Anabolic compounds are simply hormones that allow your body to make more efficient use of nutrients that are ingested into your body, but the hormones themselves won't do jack for gaining muscle in the absence of enough food to grow.
If you just shot thousands of dollars of drugs week to week but you eat like a bird, do you really think that the amount of food a canary eats (exaggeration but you get the point) is going to translate into inches of meat being slapped onto your arms, chest, back, legs, etc.?
Of course not.
I honestly believe that appetite is one of the top limiting factors of a bodybuilder's development.
Once you get to a certain point of muscular development, you will likely encounter a point where your metabolism has sped up to such a pace that you simply can no longer eat more on a daily basis than your body expends, and that plateau that many individuals hit is ultimately what will hinder their potential as a bodybuilder.
If you can't eat, you can't grow, period.
While genetic inserts, muscle bellies, genetic response to performance enhancing drugs, symmetry, shape, etc. are all pivotal determining factors in how far a bodybuilder can go in their development, being consistent in eating like an animal is usually the breaking point for most top tier bodybuilders' development.
Your current structure may not be the prettiest, or it may be, but you can always get bigger. There isn't a genetic cap on your size, the cap is a fictional plateau placed on one's own where they truly believe they cannot get bigger, but the reality is, they simply cannot eat enough to get bigger.
If I had an insatiable appetite, had hundreds of thousands of dollars of disposable income for performance enhancing drugs, had all the free time in the world to cook and eat like clockwork, and had the motivation to do so, I could probably be a pro bodybuilder within a few years.
Granted, my genetic structure isn't blessed enough for me to be a good pro by any means, but the point I'm trying to make is that drugs, training, all of that is all secondary to the importance of eating like a machine.
I have no aspirations of being a competitive bodybuilder anymore, and one of the main reasons for that is because my appetite sucks, and I simply don't want to commit myself to the round the clock schedule that would be necessary to undertake for years on end to get to that top level.
I truly believe most people are simply in a complete delusional state about their actual potential.
The Formula For Becoming A Jacked Bodybuilder:
In my honest opinion, the formula for becoming a larger than life bodybuilder is simply the following:
Train hard consistently + enough disposable income to spend on performance enhancing drugs and food + the appetite/ability to eat an absurd amount of food = unmeasurable potential
Obviously drugs play a big role in bodybuilding, but the same rules apply for natural competitors as well.
You aren't growing? Eat a couple hundred more calories per day than you have been. Then watch as the scale starts going up again and your measurements start to get bigger.
Rinse and repeat each time you plateau.
It's not rocket science, yet thousands of people are stumped as to why they aren't growing anymore.
Obviously there are some intricacies and rare situations where it isn't this cut and dry, but 99% of the time, if you aren't gaining the size you want to be, it is either because of your hormones, or more often a lack of food intake that is limiting your gains.