How to Build Muscle: Workout, Diet, and Habit Basics for Men

How to Build Muscle Mass
Heather Black post Reviewer
The article is verified by Heather Black
Personal Trainer, Precision Nutrition Coach, and Health & Wellness Director of a chain of fitness centers

Various research studies have proven that having more muscle leads to a longer life and improved mental health. It’s not only about looking good but also about quality of life. Building muscle is a huge science that consists of regular workouts, the right diet, and positive habits. Let’s dive into this topic deeper.

Table of Contents

How do muscles grow?

Muscles grow whenever they are exposed to exercise. This includes anything that requires your body to move: walking, running, training in the gym, and other activities.

Exercise damages muscle fibers. This activates satellite cells which proliferate the injured tissues in an attempt to repair the damage. Satellite cells are our body’s skeletal muscle stem cells, meaning they are used as raw material for regeneration.

muscle growth after workouts
Phases of muscle growth after workouts

The satellite cells fuse together and stick to the muscle. While some satellite cells remain as organelles on the muscle fiber, the majority turn into normal cells and generate new muscle protein strands. This leads to growth in the muscle area, also called hypertrophy.

muscle hypertrophy
Muscle hypertrophy

Some of the fused satellite cells become a source of new nuclei that basically help the growing fibers get nutrition and a chance to expand. This lets the muscles create more protein strands and, therefore, grow bigger and faster.

Two main types of muscles

Although there are many types of muscles, our focus now is on the two general types – slow-twitch and fast-twitch. The human body develops both. However, the dominance of one of these types determines your body’s capabilities.

  • Slow-twitch muscles

Slow-twitch muscles, also known as “red muscles,” are capable of working for a long period of time without running out of energy. They use a stable, even flow of energy for low-intensity activities, such as walking, running, and aerobics. 

  • Fast-twitch muscles

Fast-twitch muscles, also known as “white muscles,” are capable of using your body’s maximum energy in the shortest possible time frame. They use a lot of energy and get tired very fast. That’s why they are more suitable for activities requiring a “burst” of energy, like sprinting, powerlifting, boxing, etc.

Which ones should you develop?

The average human has about 50% slow-twitch and 50% fast-twitch muscle fiber in their body. Much of the ratio has to do with genetics and even sex (i.e., women tend to have more slow-twitch fibers than men). However, the odds may differ when speaking about professional athletes. They may have up to 80% of a single muscle type. 

If you don’t plan on competing at the Olympics, it is recommended that you develop both types equally. That means combining workout elements from different kinds of sports. It’s a great approach to losing weight and building some muscle.

Workout fundamentals to grow muscle

If you don’t know how to build muscle and lose fat correctly, the following suggestions will help you get a better understanding. Consider this your guide to the truth.

How long does it take to see muscle growth?

There is no one answer to this, as everyone’s body develops at an individual pace, which is related to the concept of ontogeny. The rate of muscle growth has a lot to do with genetics and is somewhat determined by your DNA. A lot depends on your current body constitution, workout approach, diet, and lifestyle, as well. That’s why it is only possible to provide a general number.

You should see a slight change in your visual appearance after about 4 weeks of regular working out. Significant changes mostly appear after 12 weeks. Most people start by losing excess weight and then gaining muscle after that. 

However, the main point isn’t about what you look like. It’s about how you feel. If you feel stronger and have more endurance, you’re on the right path.

How much muscle can you gain by working out?

If you train regularly and follow a strict diet, it is possible to gain between 1 to 2 kg of muscle per month at the beginning of your workout journey. For example, research conducted by the University of Central Missouri shows that experienced weightlifters were able to gain up to 1.78 kg in lean mass during an 8-week training session. 

The longer you train, the harder it becomes to grow muscle because of the extended cycle of hypertrophy. Each new level will require you to put in more effort by increasing the training difficulty. If it feels too easy, you probably won’t see results. Muscle needs to be challenged in order to grow.

Do you need weights to grow muscle?

If you are aiming to develop your slow-twitch muscles and work on your endurance, you will definitely need weights for your training. The more resistance you can withstand for a longer time, the better. You can work with dumbbells, kettlebells, free weights, and other types of equipment.

If you are aiming to develop your fast-twitch muscles and increase your strength, working with weights isn’t that necessary. You can do short-distance sprints, shadow boxing, and other activities that require explosive power. Working with weights is also an option, but it isn’t obligatory.

Research shows that both high-intensity and low-intensity workouts develop muscle mass and strength. Therefore, you can combine any type of workout and still expect to get some results.

high-intensity and low-intensity workouts for muscle growth
High-intensity and low-intensity workouts for muscle growth

Can you lose fat while building muscle?

The term “recomposition” describes the process of losing fat and building muscle simultaneously. It is generally quite easy for beginners to do. All you need to do is continue training consistently and follow a healthy diet.

However, the more advanced you get, the harder it becomes to change your body composition. That’s when you will have to create a calorie deficit, consume more protein, and eat plenty of carbohydrates. Also, you shouldn’t forget about getting good-quality sleep.

What are the main training principles for gaining muscle?

There are three key principles for building muscle:

  1. Train close to failure.

You should make your body work even when the brain is screaming “stop.” This is the only way any real progress can be made. Forcing yourself to keep working builds a healthy habit and takes you to the next level.

  1. Always do more.

If you feel that an exercise is getting surprisingly easy, you should start adding more resistance to keep your level going up. For example, if you can easily bench-press 50 kg 10 times, that is a reason to go for at least 75 kg. Even if you can only do it once, it will be much better than remaining at the same level.

  1. Value recovery.

Training too much can produce a negative effect. Muscle building, especially if you focus on the visual part, requires a lot of recovery. That’s why powerlifters only train 2-3 times a week. You need a lot of sleep, distributed workouts, and mental distraction to remain interested and keep the process going.

Muscle gain diet

When it comes to gaining muscle, food is just as important as regular workouts. You need to know what and how much to eat so that your hard work produces positive results.

How many calories you should eat to build muscle

The average calorie intake in the US appears to be 3,641 Cal per person. If your goal is recomposition, avoid calorie maintenance. Instead, you will need to create either a caloric surplus if you want to gain muscle or a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight.  But be careful with specific regimens like intermittent fasting, as they will probably prevent you from gaining muscle weight.

From a bodybuilding point of view, there are three phases to follow:

  1. Bulking.
  2. Cutting.
  3. Maintenance.

The bulking phase lasts up to 6 months and requires you to consume 10-20% more calories than usual, so your muscles will have enough fuel to grow. However, this phase tends to make you accumulate fat, so you might want to focus on recomposition.

The cutting phase is where you start reducing your calorie intake and increasing the aerobic load to remove the accumulated fat. This helps you shape your muscles and lose weight. You are generally expected to maintain the muscle mass you gained during bulking and not gain any more.

The maintenance phase is when you try to find the most optimal diet to let you keep your muscle mass without gaining fat. Research shows that bodybuilders usually consume 2,400 Cal during cutting and maintenance, as opposed to 3,800 Cal during bulking. You should find the most balanced combination that works best for your body.

How to gain weight in muscle but not fat: food perspective

Gaining muscle weight quickly usually requires an increased caloric intake, leading to the appearance of some body fat. If you are not okay with that, you should try the following diet:

  • 40% of calories from carbs;
  • 40% of calories from protein;
  • 20% of calories from fat.

You need to let your body keep getting valuable nutrients while maintaining those amounts at a certain level. Protein-rich food like fish, dairy products, nuts, chicken, and legumes will help you get enough fuel for muscle growth. Combine that with fruits like kiwis, bananas, watermelon, and avocado to get enough vitamins and lose fat.

Each person has their own individual calculation depending on their current weight, metabolism, lifestyle, and many other factors.

How many grams of protein do you need to build muscle?

According to the UK government’s dietary recommendations, you have to consume at least 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight to prevent muscle loss. Research shows that the maximum effective amount is  2.2 g per kg if it’s spread across 4 meals during the day (0.55 g per kg per meal). 

That being said, you should find the amount that’s most effective for your body. People have different metabolisms and required nutrient intake levels, so you need to know yours first.

When to eat: before or after a workout

If you don’t eat before training, your body has to break down fat to gain energy. A study of 273 athletes was done to test this and it was proven that fasted exercise leads to higher fat burning. Thus, not eating before a workout is a good idea if you want to lose excess weight.

Eating after exercise will help your body gain enough nutrients to start recovering. You need foods with protein and carbohydrates, like fruit, yogurt, meat, and vegetables. It is best if you eat no more than 2 hours after a workout for maximum nutrient intake efficiency.

5 small meals throughout the day or 3 bigger ones?

If you are familiar with this topic, you probably know how controversial it is. Among the most common statements are the following:

  • You need to eat 4 to 6 (or even more!) meals per day to boost your metabolism
  • More frequent meals allow for quicker muscle gain

However, a recent study among athletes has confirmed that meal frequency doesn’t influence body composition (or muscle gain in particular) that much. The core rules for muscle growth nutrition-wise are still overall caloric intake and getting enough protein in every meal. If you can meet those requirements by having three meals a day, don’t bother increasing the number of meals.

On the other hand, increasing the volume of each meal in order to keep a 3-meals-per-day regimen may cause gastrointestinal distress. In that case, the best way to find the most suitable diet for your body is by consulting a nutritionist and following their guidance. It may also require a bit of trial and error to see which approach works best for your body and lifestyle, so no need to be frustrated if you don’t find the perfect diet in one take.

Habits & additional factors

Your habits determine your chances of success in life, sports, and muscle building. That’s why it’s crucial that your lifestyle consists of healthy habits.

Sleep

Studies show that men getting less than 6 hours of sleep have poorer muscle strength than those with 7-8+ hours of sleep. Good-quality sleep is essential for greater muscle strength and effective recovery after training. 

7 hours is the approximate minimum to keep your body synthesizing enough protein and reduce your muscles’ degradation process. So, for good-quality sleep, you should:

  • Turn off all the lights in the room to create a dark environment;
  • Go to sleep before midnight to get a full night’s sleep;
  • Keep your bedtime hours consistent;
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after dinner.

Recovery is as important as a workout, so don’t neglect it!

Consistency

The Canadian bodybuilder Christian Thibaudeau once said that an average program followed all-out always produces better results than the best program done half-assed. This leads to the point that your training must be consistent. Don’t skip workouts, eat on schedule, and go to bed on time. Keeping all these stages consistent will help you gain muscle and stay positive mentally. 

Hydration

Water is an essential resource for the human body, so it is necessary to stay hydrated. This determines how your body works and the way nutrients are transported through your veins.

The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking at least 500 ml of water 2 hours before a workout and 250 ml for every 20 minutes of exercise. This should help you keep your body at maximum efficiency at all times.

Sports drinks with electrolytes are another great way to hydrate yourself and replenish the lost micronutrients that are so important for your body. However, note that for most workouts under two hours, a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes is not necessary and could actually hinder your progress by consuming excess calories.

Supplements

There are multiple supplements used to gain muscle. Among the most popular ones:

  • BCAA (branched-chain amino acids);
  • Creatine;
  • Beta-alanine;
  • Weight gainers, and others.

Supplements are generally not that important as long as you train consistently and consume a high-protein diet. However, they are mostly used as an additional boost that has a minor impact on your training. Training hard is more important.

Beginner-friendly workout to build muscle

You will get a plan for your first three days of training. It is aimed at developing both ST and FT muscles, building up basic endurance, and helping you get started working out.

Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 1.
Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 1.
  • 5 minutes – warming up and stretching;
  • 5 minutes – jumping rope for an additional warm-up;
  • 10 minutes – inclined dumbbell press;

Take dumbbells that are at least 12 kg in each hand and do 3 sets of 12 per hand. Get at least 1 minute of rest between each set.

  • 10 minutes – one-hand dumbbell rows;

Take dumbbells that are at least 12 kg in each hand and do 3 sets of 10 per hand. 

  • 2 minutes shadow boxing;

Do 1 round of shadow boxing to get rid of any stiffness in your muscles. Imagine an opponent in front of you and throw a lot of punches. Your hands need to be relaxed. Aim for speed and relaxation – no power is needed. You need to keep your muscles flexible.

  • 10 minutes – leg extensions;

Set the weight between 30-40 kg and do at least 3 sets of15.

  • 10 minutes – abdominal crunches;

Do at least 3 sets of 20. Keep your hands behind your head while doing this exercise but make sure you do not pull on or strain your neck while doing so.

  • 2 minutes – shadow boxing;
  • 5 minutes – cool down by walking and stretching.
Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 2.
Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 2.
  • 10 minutes – stretching and warming up;
  • 30 minutes – running.

Find a decent place outside or use a treadmill at the gym. During this time, you should run about 5 km. Running is essential for developing slow-twitch muscles, improving stamina, and strengthening your heart muscle. It will also help you lose excess weight.

  • 10 minutes – cool down by walking.
Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 3.
Muscle gain workout for beginners. Day 3.
  • 5 minutes – warming up and stretching;
  • 5 minutes – jumping rope;
  • 10 minutes – pull ups;

Do at least 3 sets of 10. If you want to develop your ST muscles, do each pull-up slowly. To develop your FT muscles and build explosive power, you will need to do the whole set in a burst.

  • 10 minutes – push ups;

Do at least 3 sets of 20. If it feels too easy, you can increase the difficulty by adding a clap after each push-up. That will develop your explosive power as well.

  • 10 minutes – jump squat lunges with dumbbells;

Do at least 3 sets of 30 for each leg. Use dumbbells that are at least 6 kg in each hand and hold them near your chest. Do a squat and then jump into a lunge; repeat for both legs. 

  • 10 minutes – barbell biceps curls;

Do at least 3 sets of 15. You will need about 30 kg of weight on the barbell for this exercise. If it appears to be too difficult, you can adjust the weight.

  • 2 minutes – shadow boxing;
  • 7 minutes – cool down by walking and stretching.

Explore countless exercises for building muscle in the Muscle Booster app. Choose at-home or gym training to achieve muscle growth.

Important Note

The suggested workout plan is to help you start training and get your body accustomed to exercising. It is quite general and provides a starting point for your muscles to grow. As you continue training, you need to rotate in various exercises and increase the intensity accordingly.

Final Recommendations

Here is what you should remember at all times:

  • Determine whether you want to develop slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscles. You can do both;
  • Always increase the difficulty of your workouts to gain results;
  • Eat at least 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight a day;
  • Eat within two hours of exercising;
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of good-quality night sleep;
  • Keep a consistent training, eating, and recovery schedule;
  • Do not skip a single scheduled training session!

The information provided on the site is for educational & informational purposes only. If you seek diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice or want to make significant changes in your diet and health-related routine, please, consult a medical professional or healthcare provider.

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