How to Build Muscle with a Proper Diet and Exercise Program

Posted by: Robert Swilley
Body Builder Flexing Muscles with Dumbbells

With the increasing understanding that muscles burn fat, it is more than just body builders who have an interest in building muscle. If your goal is to build muscle, whatever the motivation, understanding the physiology as well as the nutrition, exercises, and other demands will help.

People have three kinds of muscle; cardiac, skeletal, and smooth. When someone wants to increase muscle mass they are referring to their skeletal muscles. We'll start with a look at these muscles and how they grow.

What Causes Muscles to Grow

Muscles improve with use, unlike machines. The more you use your muscles the stronger they become. There are two ways that your muscles grow. They are sarcomere hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sarcomere hypertrophy occurs when you increase your muscles contractile machinery. Sarcoplasmic hypotrophy is the process which allows you to increase the number of ATP-producing cells in each muscle cell. Muscular hypertrophy in simpler terms is the increase in the size of the muscle.

So, which is most effective if you want to gain muscle? Both are effective. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases the diameter of a muscle, while wear down the density, but sarcomere hypertrophy increases density, and that is what you need for greater strength and performance. You need both to occur to develop additional muscle mass and get stronger.

Damage to muscle fibers that occur during exercise causes a reaction within the cells that remove damaged tissue and releases growth factors. Heavy lifting with low repetitions causes this to happen. These growth factors can stimulate all sorts of cells to proliferate, or grow, leading to increased muscle mass. You can also increase the release of growth hormone by engaging in resistance exercises.

Factors in Muscle Building

It is clear that developing bigger muscles is a complex process. It can take weeks for you to see significant results. Differences in gender, body composition, hormone levels, and heredity can affect how your body reacts to the stimulus of exercise.

There are other issues to consider, as well. Diet, for example, can make a big difference in your success. Your body will cannibalize protein to rebuild damaged muscle, if it doesn’t get enough from what you eat. You must both eat enough food, and be sure to eat the right kind of foods. You can use our daily calorie estimator to see how many calories you should be eating per day.

Spreading out your meals can also be important to get all the calories you need; shoot for 5-6 meals a day. That allows you to eat enough, and provide your body a constant source of energy and nutrition throughout the day. However, don't get too caught up on the number of meals you eat per day. Do whatever works for you. I drink a protein shake pre workout and post workout, and I count them as "meals", so even if I only eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner I still will be having 5 meals if you include the shakes.

Rest is equally critical. Muscles grow when at rest. Getting enough sleep allows your body to heal fastest and best. Rest also extends to proper training. Excessive training won’t let your muscles heal and can lead to injuries and will keep you from building muscle.

What to Eat to Build Muscle

Healthy Food - Salmon with Vegetables

As we have established that what you eat is critically important, let’s look at the breakdown of meals you want to have. You want to start with a ratio of 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. Many people decrease their fat intake even further, but it isn’t a good idea. Fats are essential nutrients and are necessary to ensure proper metabolic function.

Select proteins that are lean; chicken or turkey breast, egg whites, wild caught salmon, lean beef, bison, whey protein, cottage cheese, and tuna. Protein is the building block of muscle and is what your body uses to repair the damage to muscles and to gain muscle fibers.

Carbohydrates provide you with the fuel you need to get through your day, and to power your body through your workouts. Whole grains such as brown rice, whole oats, teff, quinoa, and wheat berries are great choices. Baked potatoes and sweet potatoes make a nice change, as do beans or whole grain tortillas or bagels.

You can also get carbohydrates from vegetables. Vegetables have the advantage of being loaded with fiber, as well. Fruit is fine in moderation, but some fruits are loaded with sugars - berries are the exception. Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat as they are full of fiber and antioxidants.

Heart healthy fats are your best choices for fats. Olive oil, natural peanut butter, nuts, avocados and fish or flax seed oil capsules will take care of your fat needs.

Exercises That Build Muscle

There is a lot of discussion regarding which exercises are best for building muscle mass. In the end, as long as you work each muscle group to overload, you will achieve your goal. This means that each time your muscles adapt to the new load, you will need to increase the weight to encourage your fast-twitch muscles to keep working.

The reason you want to increase weight, and not repetitions, is that after you hit about 15 repetitions, slow-twitch type I muscle fibers start to take over. These fibers are not as inclined to gain mass the way fast-twitch, type II fibers do. Choose a weight that allows you to perform about 12 repetitions while maintaining good form, then up that weight as needed.

So, which exercises are considered essential? Compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups such as pull-ups, dips, rows, overhead presses, dead lifts, and squats. Consult with a trainer to make sure that you are using good form, and to add exercises that target the specific areas of your body that you want to develop.

Man Performing Bench Press
Photo Courtesy: jason.lengstorf

Muscle building involves a comprehensive approach to nutrition and exercise. No program will succeed for long if it ignores either aspect. While there is a great deal of information to be had online, much of it is biased. What isn’t biased is often erroneous. The Web can be a good source for new work out routines that will help you avoid boredom at the gym. If you’re unsure of where to start check out these muscle building workout routines. Take a few minutes to run them by your trainer first, so you know they will help, not hurt, you.

When engaging in any new physical program, it is best to seek professional assistance. It is also a good idea to have a chat with your health care provider, to make sure that you are healthy enough to take on the challenges you propose.

Once you start on your muscle building endeavor, expect it to take about 3 weeks before you see any significant changes, and about double that before others notice how much all your work has paid off.

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