Everything You Need To Know About Building Muscle

by | Oct 3, 2016 | Fitness

Hack your body with our be all end all guide to muscle growth.

There’s no way around it: to gain muscle, you have to pay the iron price and sweat buckets. (and rethink your grocery list.) The ultimate cost (in time, especially) depends on what you know. In our never-ending quest to help you get in the best shape of your life, we tapped into some of the world’s top fitness minds and combed through cutting-edge research to find the most effective ways to reveal the stronger, leaner man inside you. In short, we’re about to fast-track your muscle-building goals. Whether the goal is improved health, performance or you want a body you can show off, we’ve got your back. Here’s absolutely everything you need to know about building muscle to get you on your way.

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Where do I start?

Everybody has to start somewhere. Even the musclebound behemoth you’re thinking of right now. Don’t fret. You’re not the only tenderfoot reading this. It’s really a lot simpler than it may seem. Firstly, choose a beginners training program. You don’t want to burn out in the first week. Your body needs to adapt over time.

Once you’ve decided on a training program, sort out your diet. As you’ll read throughout, a good diet is a big part of the battle won. It’s worth taking the time to plan your assault. Plan your training schedule and your meals for the week. Also plan your rest days with as much vigour as your training schedule. When you sleep your muscles grow.

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How does my body actually build muscle?

Your muscles require beyond their usual level of performance in order to break down and then grow, during a workout, micro-cracks form in strained muscles. In the recovery phase after weight training (about 24 hours) the body begins to repair the battered fibres and it becomes thicker.

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How do I create a training plan for optimal muscle building?

First set your goal. Write down what you want to achieve with strength training, the more specific the goal, the better. Then create your training schedule by setting three training days, plan between a maximum of three days of rest. Grab what you need for training, such as a dumbbell set and try to find some professional assistance.

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How many reps and sets do I need to do?

Choose the weights so that you create no more than eight to 12 reps – the last rep should be done with difficulty. A good movement speed for beginners: 2 seconds down, 1 second pause at the bottom and 2 seconds for the raise up again. In one pushup take  two seconds for the downward path, one second on the lowest position and two seconds going upward. Already one intensive repetition is sufficient for muscle growth. Between sets, treat yourself to at least one minute break. To get the most out of your training read How Many Reps Should I Do? 

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What weight brings optimal muscle growth?

The amount of weight is very important for your exercise intensity and muscle growth. The load is optimal when it generates an effective stimulus for the muscles without increasing the risk of injury unnecessarily. The ideal weight should be 10% less than the maximum exercise intensity. This you can find out if you do an exercise for the first time, by estimating and trying (or seeking advice from a trainer). When doing strength training, the weight should be selected so that you perform eight to 12 repetitions. If you perform less than eight, the weight is too high. If you perform more than 12, the weight is too low.

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What exercises are the best exercises for building muscle?

XL-arms will be of little use if you have a chicken legs. This not only looks strange, such muscular imbalances have a drawback in sports and everyday life. Select exercises for upper body, back and legs. Using these basic exercises you’ll be engaging at least 2 joints. The main exercises you need to focus on as a beginner. These are also in order of importance, relating to the amount of growth stimuli these movements provide to your body.



3.pull ups

4.bench press

Avoid choosing too many exercises that focus on one muscle group as you’ll end up doing more harm than good. Beginners should focus on doing between 20 and 50 repetitions on each muscle group. For those who’ve been around longer,  you could even go up to 100 on  one muscle group. Select free weights as opposed to machines as they recruite more muscle fibres and can gradually encourage  more muscle mass.

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How many times a week should I train?

When it comes to building strength, how often you work a muscle is just as important as how hard you work it, according to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning

Research. “You need about 10 to 15 sets per muscle group per week to see results,”Tumminello says. Shoot for three total-body workouts a week; during each one, complete three to five sets per muscle group. Only repeated, regular exercise leads to the goal. Work out at least 2, preferably 3, times per week. Beginners train twice a week, advanced trainers up to five times. Ideal time spent should be 30 to 60 minutes per session.

If you can only manage time twice a week to train, the only way to gain muscle with a training schedule would be to incorporate full-body exercises. When you exercise at least thrice a week, it is useful to divide the total body workout by muscle groups for several days. For each muscle group you should only workout again after a complete recovery. After about 48 hours, they will be charged again. Advantage of the so-called split-training is that you can train on consecutive days. The 3 most common split tactics:

The push-pull method:

An example of the push-pull method would be: chest, triceps and front shoulder. The next day you’ll focus on the back, biceps and the back of your shoulders.

The player opponent Method:

Working muscle groups are trained specifically together. Example: biceps and triceps and abdomen and lower back, front and rear thighs and chest and upper back. A big advantage is that each muscle can be loaded to the maximum, because it is fresh and rested.

The upper-body lower-body method:

They work in a unit, the legs, and the abdomen and lower back, next time the arms, chest, shoulders and upper back to avoid overloading of certain muscle groups.

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How important is recovery when trying to build muscle?

Recovery times are as important as your training. The muscles need time to regenerate, nutrients need to be filled and the lactic acid in your muscles needs to be removed. You also have the added benefit of having your muscles grow during your recovery period. Therefore it is better to treat your muscles after each workout resting at least 24-48 hours rest. Looking for food that’ll help you recover? Try the Ultimate Recovery Recipe

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Why am I so sore after training?

A slight soreness goes with it. Muscles only grow when micro-cracks form in the muscle while exercising. These little injuries repair themselves, becoming bigger and stronger than they were before. Give your muscles a break until they have recovered so you should not train immediately after your workout otherwise there may be long-term damage to the muscle. Accelerate muscle regeneration with a cold shower after the strength training accompanied by at least seven hours of sleep per night.

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The complete guide to building muscle

Can you build muscle without equipment?

You can also easily complete your muscle-building workout at home. You don’t even need heavy equipment. All you really need is your own body. Strength training using your own body weight is ideal for an untrained and overweight person, because it’s easy to learn with natural movements, plus body weight training demands no muscle isolation and can make you a lot more functional.

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Why is nutrition so important when trying to build muscle?

Strength training and regeneration alone is not enough, however for effective muscle building your diet also has to be right. In order to grow your muscles they need the right nutrients. The most important nutrients for muscle growth are proteins. They are the ones that make your muscle fibres grow stronger. If you don’t consume enough proteins or consume too much of it your muscles will begin to degrade. A protein diet allows you to train intensively for muscle growth. Amino acids are not proteins in themselves but are building blocks. Some of them are essential, which means that the body cannot manufacture them itself, but must obtain them through a healthy diet. Good protein sources include fish, meat, dairy products, legumes and nuts.


The traditional food pyramid is heavy on refined carbs and light on protein and fats. So it doesn’t meet the nutritional needs of active men who want to build muscle and burn fat, says nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, That’s why he created the “food tower” below. It provides the ideal balance of muscle-building foods and flab-defying nutrients. Use it as the basis of your diet.

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How much protein do I need to build muscle?

Add all the protein you consume in a day, if it is less than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, you definitely need to ingest more protein. Anyone who wants to build muscle should increase their protein consumption to two grams per kilo of body weight.

Recommended daily intakes of protein for muscle building:


1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.


1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight


1.5 to 2 grams per kilo of body weight

Tip: To ensure that your body can get all the nutrients, especially protein you need to be consuming fluids. Drink at least two, preferably three to four litres of water a day.

Protein rich foods such as  eggs, meats (like chicken), fish (such as tuna), unsweetened dairy products, legumes and nuts are a great choice.

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How do I use carbs and fats for muscle building?

In addition to the intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats are also important nutrients for muscle development. Carbohydrates and fats provide the necessary energy for muscle to work, while protein leads to building muscle. For your body, the supplied amount of protein is only used when the carbohydrate and fat intake is right. If not, the body utilizes the proteins namely. Many studies by renowned universities have shown that an overdose of carbohydrates does not only make you sick, but also leads to poorer athletic performance. Omitting you cannot do without carbohydrates as well. Your daily diet should consist of 150 grams of muscle fuel in the form of carbohydrates (sweet potatoes or basmati rice).

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When should I eat for optimal muscle growth?

To effectively build muscle mass you should eat 5 to 6 meals every 2 to 3 hours. Eating before exercise can provide a little energy (about a few nuts will do), so your body is not running on the back burner and resorting to other sources for quick energy. Immediately after training you should consume an abundant amount of protein (before showering), anything along the lines of a protein shake, and anything rich in carbohydrates (for example, fruit). Reason being so your body has the fuel available for building muscle just after any physical exertion. An hour after weight training, consume a meal that’s high in protein and carbohydrates. Just before bedtime it’s recommended to snack on one cup of cottage cheese.

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What are the best supplements for muscle growth?

Building muscle requires a lot of energy which is why you should consume the correct food for muscle building. As long as you eat wholesome, you do not need pills and supplements.  Protein or protein powders are the exception as they’re incredibly useful. Other supplements that have been researched thoroughly are Creatine monohydrate, BCAAs, amino acids and omega 3.

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What are the best protein powders and protein shakes for muscle building?

Protein powder is the classic among the dietary supplements to build muscle. Good products are primarily of whey protein, and prepared egg protein. Caseins (milk proteins) should only be second or third in the list of ingredients, as this can cause allergies. Protein powders and protein shakes are a quick and convenient way to build muscle. So-called weight gainers, in addition to proteins and carbohydrates are therefore suitable as a meal replacement or as a supplement to their normal diet.

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When should I take my protein shake?

You should consume a protein shake immediately after training, preferably before showering. When your blood is removed of proteins it can weaken the body’s defences. If you balance the protein deficit quickly, your body can fully focus on muscle growth for faster, more effective muscle building. Smoothies are a great option for easily boosting protein in your diet. Check out our list of 5 protein-packed smoothies

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What is creatine and should I take it?

Creatine is an endogenous substance, which is produced by the pancreas, liver and kidneys. The body needs about two grams every day. Half of it establishes itself; the rest comes from proper dieting. Only when the creatine is released into your body can your muscles  work at their highest level. Creatine helps you put in more work and simply put, “If you can lift one or two more reps or five more pounds, your muscles will get bigger and stronger,” says Chad Kerksick, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Oklahoma.” A daily dose of five grams of creatine downed by 0.5 to 0.75 litres of water should be a safe way for your muscle goals. A five gram dose should always be taken directly after exercise. Muscle cramps are one side effect that happens when  the fluid intake is not increased accordingly. In individual cases and in case of overdose can cause kidney damage. Looking for more on creatine? Read this article: What Creatine Is, What It Does, And What Are Its Side Effects

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What are Branched or essential amino acids and why do I need them to build muscle?

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) such as isoleucine, leucine and valine are often advertised as muscle-building products. In the natural state these substances are found in dairy products and meat and are essential for humans. Since amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, can a normal, balanced diet meet the demand? The answer is yes. (More on What You Should Know About Taking BCAAs)

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What does a muscle building diet look like?

To build muscle you need protein, however the quality of protein is important. The egg, which has a biological value of 100, means that your body can consume 100% pf the protein in the egg. Also beef or tuna can keep up with a value of 92. Make sure your eating plan is set out so you know which proteins you eat: animal protein (meat, fish, milk and dairy products, etc.) are usually effective for muscle growth and more easily recyclable than vegetable proteins (cereals, legumes, nuts, etc.). Nevertheless: The key is the right food combo. So eat both: animal and vegetable proteins. Eat 2.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. (Here are 8 Foods That Pack On Muscle)

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Why can’t I build muscle?

If you aren’t reaching your expected goal , you do not have to throw the barbell in the corner. Whether hardgainers, vegans or vegetarians: For each eating practice there’s  an ideal muscle-building strategy:

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Training as a hardgainer

Muscle growth as hardgainer is not so easy. Your metabolism is working at full speed. An average hardgainer burns up to 5000 calories per day. To build muscle you need to know your energy and calorie needs. Write down for two weeks, your calorie intake and weigh yourself every day at the same time. The amount of calories in your weight remains constant corresponds to the energy requirement. To build muscle, your calorie intake should be above the daily requirement. Hardgainers, which are those who really struggle to put on weight, should not do without meals like breakfast or skipping meals due to stressful situations. The body would then be operating on muscles, literally using them up as a source of energy leading to muscular atrophy. Eat every 2 to 3 hours, all meals and snacks should (ideally every 30 to 50 grams) contain high-quality proteins. (More: A Hardgainer’s Rules For Faster Muscle Growth)

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I’m a vegetarian/vegan how can I build muscle?


Even if you do not eat meat, you are well supplied with protein for building muscle mass, especially if you eat dairy products and eggs. Plants contain all eight essential amino acids (protein building blocks, which cannot be produced the human body). When legumes, grains or nuts, vegetables or fruits combined in a meal, the amino acids contained therein complement each other perfectly. You can also rely on protein shakes.

Those who reject any animal foods should definitely pay attention to their muscle building diet plan, on the plan should definitely be peas, beans and lentils as these foods are very high in protein and essential to muscle growth. These legumes are among the most protein-rich foods. Also grains such as buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa provide lots of protein and can act as a substitute for rice. Also, nuts and seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and flax seeds are rich in protein and taste great in salad. You can also get hemp-based protein powder.

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I’m over 40, can I still build muscle?

From the age of 40 muscle strength development is slowed down namely by 1.5 percent annually. This is because the level of testosterone decreases with age. “Work out at most three times a week, because at your age, muscle  regeneration takes longer. Important to note during a workout: Always choose weights that allow you to create eight to twelve repetitions for three to four sets per exercise. (Here is the Best Weightlifting Advice For Men Over 40)

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How long will it take me to build muscle?

Realistically, you need to understand that the the average male who decides to go the al naturale route, puts on just under 1kg of muscle a month.

To transform your body takes time and dedication. It can be a fun and challenging journey with lots of twists and turns as you get to know your own body and how it responds. Keep at it. If you’re struggling with motivation, join a group of people who are motivated. No man’s an island and 9 times out of 10 you’ll enjoy your training a lot more.

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