You’re not a bodybuilder unless you have those pipe-like veins coursing through your body. Here’s how to dial in your training, nutrition, and supplementation to be that guy.
Why is it some of your fellow gym rats seem to have naturally prominent veins, while you’re left flat despite working tirelessly for the same look? Genetics undoubtedly play a role, but it’s too late now to go back and do a better job of picking your mom and dad.
Fortunately, there are ways you can enhance your short-term vascularity. Try these nutrition, training, and supplementation tricks all true vascular beasts know!
1. Get lean
Beyond genetics, the most important factor in skin-popping veins is how lean you are. Since body fat is commonly stored right under the skin, it’s literally what’s between you and your veiny self. For men, this usually requires single-digit body fat; for women, probably sub-20 percent body fat, although both genders may be able to spot a tell-tale biceps vein at slightly higher percentages.
If body fat is a problem, start by figuring out the necessary number of calories you need to maintain your weight, then subtract 300-500 calories a day to create a significant deficit. Over the course of the next 10-12 weeks, aim to lose 0.5-1.5 pounds per week by incrementally—but not dramatically—reducing calories and increasing exercise.
Keep the pace steady, because if vascularity is the goal, you want to lose as little muscle mass as possible.
2. Build Muscle
Bigger muscles demand more blood—it’s that simple. By training and eating with an emphasis on building muscle, your body will adapt by expanding its blood-vessel network to the newly built muscle mass.
In my experience, you’re probably best off alternating between dedicated mass-building and fat-loss phases in your quest to become both leaner and more muscular.
3. Chase The Pump where You Want To See Veins
What you know as the “pump” is really just the term coined to describe cell swelling and metabolite accumulation, both of which are known to produce muscular growth. By consistently chasing the pump via a combination of high-intensity lifting techniques and short rest breaks, you drive a significant amount of blood into your muscles. This bodes well for looking swole.
To specifically hone in on the pump, consider trying blood-flow restriction (BFR) in your training. BFR involves partially restricting the veins of a working muscle, which ultimately results in a pooling of blood, because the veins are unable to carry it back to the heart. This massive increase in blood usually leads to the greatest pump of your life.
If you want to see veins in a particular muscle group—say, biceps, triceps, or quads—it’s a no-brainer to finish off your training day for that group with a solid pump. Choose biceps curls, triceps push-downs, or leg extensions for 4 sets of 30, 15, 15, and 15 reps using BFR, resting 30 seconds between sets. Or try Layne Norton’s “Legs And Arms Blast.”
4. Do Your Cardio
There are plenty of reasons to skip cardio, but one reason not to is that it may help promote more prominent veins. For starters, cardio helps to create a greater caloric deficit (assuming you’re not eating more to compensate), which works to reduce body fat. The leaner you are, the more vascular you appear.
Additionally, consistent aerobic exercise increases capillary density, or the number of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that reach your muscles.[2,3] It may even promote the formation of new capillaries.
By making cardio a staple in your exercise routine, you effectively promote more blood flow to your muscles. Over time, more veins will scratch the surface and show themselves when they’re adequately filled with blood.
5. Take Supplements For The Pump
One of the major reasons blood flow is amplified during exercise is related to the production and action of nitric oxide (NO). NO is a potent vasodilator, meaning it relaxes blood vessels to increase blood-flow efficiency.
Given that NO has such a profound impact on blood flow, many supplements have been formulated to enhance its production, and ultimately your pump, during exercise. Look at your pre-workout’s label or peruse online discussions, and you’ll find plenty of pump supplements getting pumped up, from agmatine to glycerol to ornithine.