How to gain muscle in a healthy way
If you want to build up muscle, it’s always best to do it the natural way
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Gaining muscle in a healthy way is about more than just lifting weights. It’s about what you eat, how you recover, and the type of training you do. It’s also about having patience and understanding that you will see the results over time.
While it might be tempting to try steroids as a way to build up muscle fast, these will have serious and significant side effects, many of which may be lifelong and irreversible. It’s always best to put the work in and do it the natural way.
How muscles grow
In order to build new muscle, we actually need to damage our existing muscles. Certain activities, like weight lifting, causes the muscle fibres to tear, and when the body starts to repair the damage made by lifting the weights, the muscles will grow bigger.
The process that your muscles go through when repairing the damage after a workout involves muscle fibres being fused together to form muscle protein strands, also known as myofibrils. This leads to muscle growth, sometimes referred to as muscle hypertrophy, as the myofibrils increase in number and thickness.
In order for this to work, the muscle protein that you are creating as your body repairs itself must be higher than the muscle protein that you lost when working out. This is why it’s important to also pay attention to how much protein you eat.
How long does it take to build muscles naturally?
If you choose to avoid steroids and supplements, then it will take some time to see results. It could take a few weeks or even months before you start to notice a difference. However, if you train regularly, you will be able to keep moving on to heavier weights as time goes on.
Everyone is different, and one person might start to see results sooner than another person. All you can do is stick with it and know that you will start to notice a difference if you keep it up.
Why do you want to build muscle?
It’s a good idea to consider your reasons for wanting to build muscle. If your only motivation is because you want to look good and get bigger, but you don’t actually enjoy the activity, then you’re probably not doing it for the right reasons. If you’re struggling with how you feel about the way you look, then you might have a negative body image. Learn more about body image and how to improve it here.
If you genuinely enjoy the exercise and the training, then that’s a good reason to participate and work on building muscle. Sport and exercise should be enjoyable. If resistance training isn’t for you, there are plenty of other ways to get fit.
Approaching muscle building in a healthy way can be broken down into three elements: Training, nutrition, and rest.
Resistance training for muscle growth
The best way to build muscle is to do resistance training. This means doing activities that use resistance as a way of strengthening muscles and increasing your endurance. Resistance training involves using your legs and arms against resistance provided by weights, rubber bands, your own body, or exercise machines. Weight lifting is one example of resistance training.
In order to build muscle throughout your body, it’s best to break your workout routine out into three or four days in the week, focusing on a different part of the body each day. Try to change up your exercise routines every few weeks so that your body doesn’t have enough time to adapt to what you’re doing.
Working with a trainer
It’s not a good idea to simply walk into a gym and start lifting weights without having had any training or instruction before. Your form and appropriate lifting are really important, and you won’t be able to work on this without the help of a trainer or mentor. Contact your local gym or a personal trainer to ask about starting resistance training.
Resting is a really important part of muscle growth. Because the growth happens during the recovery stage after your workout has damaged your muscle fibres, it’s really important to give your body enough time to build new muscle. If you’re constantly training and pushing your body to its limit, your muscles won’t have a chance to repair themselves and grow as a result.
If your body is telling you it needs to rest, listen to it. If you overwork yourself, it could have the opposite effect on your muscles, and it will make recovery time much longer.
What you eat is just as important as how you train, especially when it comes to protein. However, you’ll need to take more than protein into consideration when planning meals alongside your training.
The first thing to look at is your calorie intake. It’s important that you are eating more calories than your are burning each day in order for your body to have enough energy to grow new muscle. If your body doesn’t have enough calories, it will actually break down muscle as a source of energy, giving the opposite effect.
The amount of calories you need in a day will depend on your weight, metabolism, and how much you’re working out. You can use an online calculator to tell you how many calories you burn in a day. Based on this, you can work out how many you need to eat, making sure it’s more than the amount you burn.
The amino acids in protein help to repair and build muscle tissue, which is why it’s so important that protein is a key part of your diet when trying to gain muscle. When planning your meals, make sure that protein is one of the key elements in each.
Foods that are a source of protein include:
- Greek Yogurt
- Peanut butter
- Pumpkin seeds
Remember, while protein is important, there is such thing as too much protein. In some cases, it can even be dangerous to consume too much protein. If you are getting enough protein in your meals, then it’s unlikely that you will need to supplement that with things like protein shakes.
It is recommended that for every kilogram that you weigh, you have between 1.6-2 grams of protein in a day.
Carbohydrates give your body the fuel it needs to get through a workout, so eating carbs before you exercise is important.
If you can, try to eat a meal high in both carbs and protein 1-3 hours before a workout. Carbs fuel your body for the exercise, while protein repairs your body afterwards.
Number of meals
Instead of trying to load all of your calories, carbs and proteins into three big meals a day, it will be much easier if you break your meals out into smaller portions that you eat throughout the day. Your body can only absorb small amounts of protein at a time, so it’s better to spread it out instead of trying to introduce it all at once.
The best way to do this is to eat between six and eight meals or snacks a day, with two to three hours in between each.
Eating right, tailoring your workouts for muscle gain, and making sure to take rest when you need it will all help you to build muscle in a natural and healthy way.