For most of us, the prime reason for constantly hitting the gym is to build muscle.
Proper muscle growth helps gain a properly defined physique and improve lean body mass.
Building muscle is not only about consuming lots of protein and going to the gym. To build muscle, one needs to maximize workout performance with each session, consume a well-calculated diet and provide a proper recovery environment for your muscles.
For effective muscle building, it is necessary to understand the concept of hypertrophy. It refers to an increase in the size of muscle cells resulting in growth.
Our body is always in a continual process of reviving and recycling protein building blocks in our muscles.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle protein synthesis surpasses muscle protein breakdown resulting in a positive net protein balance. If there is more removal than addition, it results in muscle loss. However, if the balance is even, there won’t be any change in muscle size.
This review will discuss vital muscle-building tips that may help build your most muscular physique.
1. Exercise or Training
Exercise plays a key role as it stimulates muscle protein synthesis. However, spending the whole day in the gym is not the answer. Studies have shown that resistance training effectively develops muscle strength and stimulates new muscle growth.1
Choosing the right amount of weight and deciding on repetitions is crucial. One must structure the training program meticulously to avoid overtraining.
Focus on Eccentric Phase
Our muscles contract to produce force, and these contractions are of three types – concentric, eccentric, and isometric.
One must focus on eccentric training if the goal is to increase muscle growth. This strength training technique involves the muscle lengthening portion of an exercise by slowing down the movement.
It supports greater movement efficiency and amplifies muscle growth.
During this phase, one can expect more micro-tears and DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). However, the muscle breakdown causes connective tissue surrounding the muscle to undergo higher levels of soreness, creating more potential for DOMS and more remarkable muscle growth through recovery.
Macrophages and lymphocytes come into action as an inflammatory response. They fight bacteria and remove extracellular debris, increasing muscle repair, growth, and recovery. It is essential to perform eccentric training under expert supervision to avoid injury.
Isolation exercises are necessary for muscle growth as they focus on one muscle group and add strength. They also help recover quickly and promote faster healing.
Isolation exercises are great for target toning and improving muscle imbalances. Here are some fruitful isolation exercises to consider to build muscles.
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Bodyweight Flyes
- Butterfly Machine
- Cable Crossovers
- Flat Bench Cable Flyes
- Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
- Barbell Shrug
- Dumbbell Shrug
- Reverse Flyes
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Dumbbell Front Raise
For Biceps and Triceps
- Concentration Curls
- Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Hammer Curls
- Barbell Curl
- Tricep Pushdown
- Tricep Kickback
- Machine Triceps Extension
- Hamstring Curls
- Lying Leg Curls
- Leg Extensions
- Calf Raises
Increase Training Volume
Training volume refers to the total workout load per exercise, session, and week. It plays a significant role in gaining muscle mass as it has been observed that multiple sets are associated with greater muscle size.
One can start with ten sets per muscle and eventually increase to 15-20 sets per muscle per week. However, volume tolerance will vary from individual to individual.
Several factors affect the training volume.
- Age: Muscles respond more when they are young. An adult of 30 years will develop muscle more quickly than a person of 65+ years.
- Health Status: Any medical condition might affect the muscle growth rate.
- Training History: You will be able to tolerate more if you have been training.
- Recovery: Incomplete recovery can affect muscle growth; hence ensure that you take proper food, protein, and sleep.
- Stress: Elevated stress or cortisol levels in the body can sabotage muscle gains and increase muscle recovery time.2
Yes, it is absolutely correct that greater training volume means better gains but to a certain extent. Overdoing is not advisable as it will only degenerate the muscle cells.
Initially, you will feel the muscle size and strength difference by increasing the intensity and training volume. But working out beyond optimal training can deteriorate the athletic performance as training is more than the body can recover from.
The most promising way to lessen the risk of muscle and joint injuries is to avoid doing too sharp increases in the training volume.
2. Diet and Supplementation
One may not get the desired change in body composition if the muscles aren’t fueled properly. Getting the right proportion of nutrients and calories is crucial for building muscle and not adding fat.
Calorie determination should be the first step once you begin designing a calculated meal plan for building muscles. It is necessary to adjust the calorie intake throughout the process as one starts noticing changes in body composition.
Over the past years, the muscle-related benefits of consuming a high-protein diet have become clearly evident. Increased protein intake evenly distributed across meals contributes to greater strength and muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance exercise, allowing higher muscle mass preservation.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the protein requirement may range between 1.4-2 grams per kg body weight per day for highly active athletes.3 The protein should be evenly distributed every 3-4 hours across the day.
Protein should preferably come from high-quality protein sources like dairy, whey protein, eggs, chicken, and seafood to fulfill daily essential amino acid needs, particularly leucine.
Before bedtime, casein protein intake (30–40 g) boosts overnight muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate without impacting fat breakdown.
Ignoring carbs is the most common mistake that one is likely to make during bodybuilding. Insufficient carbohydrates can impair strength training as they can reduce glycogen depletion and enhance performance.
Though low-carb diets are fruitful during the weight loss and cutting phase, severely restricting carbohydrates may prove harmful. Therefore, one needs to determine a point when the carb reduction is optimal and unlikely to become detrimental.
The carbohydrate requirement may range between 4-7 grams per kg body weight per day, depending on the training intensity.
Adequate fat intake is essential as they are a good energy source. Studies support that dietary fat impacts anabolic hormone concentrations; therefore, it can not be overlooked during muscle growth.
At times people aiming to build muscle believe in severely restricting the fat, which is not advisable. Workouts are fueled by fats when the body runs out of carb stores, and you won’t be able to push more without enough fat.
One must meet the dietary fat needs through healthy fat sources like fatty fish, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, whole eggs, and avocado. They promote HDL cholesterol levels in the body, stimulating the production of growth hormones.
Fats are also needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, which otherwise can lead to nutritional deficiency and affect energy metabolism.
Experts suggest that fat should form 15-20% of the total calorie intake from healthy sources.
Though physically active individuals can obtain their daily protein requirements through whole foods, supplementation is a productive and practical way of ensuring adequate protein quality and quantity while minimizing caloric intake, particularly for athletes completing high training volumes.
This section will discuss the approved nutrition supplements that are undoubtedly safe and can be considered to amplify workout capacity and muscle growth rate.
Protein supplementation has been shown to accelerate muscle building when paired with proper exercise.4 One can opt for whey protein and casein protein powders that provide around 20-25 g of protein per serving with fewer calories.
Whey protein shakes are a superb option for post-workout recovery when you need something for immediate muscle recovery. In contrast, casein protein forms a perfect bedtime meal for overnight muscle repair and maintenance.
Have plant-based protein powders if you need something equally beneficial but vegan and without lactose.
This ergogenic supplement increases the energy supply to the muscles by assisting the synthesis of phosphocreatine. Numerous studies observed a significant muscle strength and size boost when athletes introduced a creatine supplement to their training program.
Beta-Alanine supplements play a powerful role in supporting muscle growth by providing stamina and delaying fatigue during workouts.
Our skeletal muscles utilize beta-alanine to synthesize carnosine, which acts as a pH buffer and neutralizes the effects of lactic acid. Additionally, combining creatine and beta-alanine may increase high-intensity performance, increase lean mass and decrease body fat percentage more than creatine alone.
BCAAs are the most popular and widely consumed amino acid supplements. They play a pivotal in increasing lean mass and strength mainly due to the presence of leucine. Researches say that BCAA intake increases skeletal muscle protein synthesis and decreases muscle degradation.
Multivitamin supplements are often underestimated, but ideally, they should bag the top position in your product stack list. Taking a high-potency multivitamin and multi-mineral formula may help secure the supply of those essential nutrients necessary for thousands of metabolic reactions.
Vitamins and minerals act on a cellular level and contribute to functions like oxidative stress reduction, the formation of collagen, and tissue repair. They also aid in increasing muscle mass and providing structural strength.
This most abundant amino acid enhances exercise performance, improves buffering capacity, and reduces muscle soreness after exercise. Glutamine also plays a key role in maintaining an electrolytic balance. Studies support that glutamine prevents sodium excretion when taken with glucose which can help prevent muscle cramping during and post-workout.
Glutamine supplementation ameliorates BCAA oxidation which is vital for muscle growth and recovery.
The benefits of omega-3 fats are often linked to the heart and brain but do you know they can also speed up muscle recovery by alleviating inflammation and soreness.
Muscle pain and soreness are commonly experienced post an intense workout session as increased free radical production might harm the muscles, ligaments, and joints.
Studies support that EPA and DHA present in omega-3 fats curtail muscle damage and reduce DOMS severity (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect of EPA and DHA improves muscle strength and joint flexibility with a better range of motion.6
Effect of Hormones on Muscle Synthesis
- Insulin Growth Factor (IGF)-1 and Testosterone are the two vital hormones that promote muscle growth.
- Testosterone has been shown to increase synthesis, minimize breakdown and stimulate other anabolic hormones.
- Strength training also makes muscle cells more susceptible to testosterone hormone.
- The IGF contributes to muscle growth by facilitating glucose and amino acids uptake into skeletal muscles to enhance protein synthesis.
Sleep for Recovery
Without adequate sleep, your exercise and diet can suffer. Ensure that you get enough sleep (7-8 hours) as crucial muscle-building hormones are released during sleep. Sleep helps boost muscle coordination and overall muscle mass as our body repairs micro-tears in muscles that occur during exercise.
Dehydration affects the muscle, and water loss can adversely affect the muscle’s mechanical and metabolic functions. Therefore, it is always recommended to stay hydrated to maintain the body temperature, keep your joints lubricated and prevent cramping.
Hydration also ensures that you have enough stamina, and muscle contractions are better for maintaining muscle pumps.
Consider including water, watery fruits and vegetables, sports drinks, amino drinks like BCAAs and EAAs, electrolyte drinks, buttermilk, coconut water, lemon water, and herbal teas to maintain fluid intake.
Always remember that muscle building is a gradual process that requires constant training. Maintaining consistency adds to the stamina and improves the workout capacity with better efficiency.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the secret to building muscle fast?
The secret to fast muscle building is to follow a disciplined diet and workout routine with sheer dedication and consistency.
2. What makes it hard to build muscle?
An imbalanced diet, overtraining, inadequate rest, and too much cardio might make muscle building challenging.
3. What stimulates muscle growth the most?
Resistance exercise has been shown as the most common and primary intervention used for muscle building.
4. Is it easier to gain muscle if you had it before?
Yes, it is easier as learning the exercise movements and muscle-building skills are much faster, which is also referred to as muscle memory.
5. What is some advice on muscle building for beginners?
- Isolation & compound exercises.
- Train each muscle group.
- Gradually increase the load.
- Avoid training every day.
- Practice the correct exercise form.
- Avoid junk foods
- Focus on protein.
- Take proper sleep.
6. What is the best way to build muscles at home?
Design your workout routine including these exercises:
- Chest Press
- Biceps Curl
7. What are five tips for building muscle strength?
- Lift weights.
- Avoid overtraining.
- Do not skip workouts.
- Nutrition is king.
- Optimize sleep schedule.
8. How can you build body muscle without weight gain?
Gaining muscle while losing fat simultaneously is referred to as body recomposition. It requires a well-calculated meal plan and carefully distributed macros with a customized training program.
9. Why is it hard to gain muscle?
Muscle growth rate varies from person to person depending upon factors like age, body type, metabolic rate, food choices, exercise pattern, and genes. Proper diet, exercise, and recovery are the pillars of muscle building, and any lack can make muscle building difficult.
10. How long does it take to build muscle?
One can expect to see visible changes in 4 weeks and real results in about 12 weeks.
- 1Krzysztofik, Wilk, Wojdała, & Gołaś. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24), 4897. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
- 2Stults-Kolehmainen, M. A., Bartholomew, J. B., & Sinha, R. (2014). Chronic Psychological Stress Impairs Recovery of Muscular Function and Somatic Sensations Over a 96-Hour Period. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(7), 2007–2017. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000335
- 3Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., . . . Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- 4Pasiakos, S. M., McLellan, T. M., & Lieberman, H. R. (2014). The Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic and Anaerobic Power in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 45(1), 111–131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0242-2
- Philpott, J. D., Bootsma, N. J., Rodriguez-Sanchez, N., Hamilton, D. L., MacKinlay, E., Dick, J., Mettler, S., Galloway, S. D. R., Tipton, K. D., & Witard, O. C. (2019). Influence of Fish Oil-Derived n-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Changes in Body Composition and Muscle Strength During Short-Term Weight Loss in Resistance-Trained Men. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00102
- 6Smith, G. I., Atherton, P., Reeds, D. N., Mohammed, B. S., Rankin, D., Rennie, M. J., & Mittendorfer, B. (2010). Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(2), 402–412. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.005611