18 March 2021

How To Build Muscle – A Beginners Guide

How To Build Muscle

Here at Time 4 Nutrition, we understand how difficult it can be to build lean muscle. There is lots of conflicting information in the media and amongst gym ‘gurus’, which can be confusing when you are new to training and, ultimately, lead to poor results and even injury.

Perhaps the most common mistake you can make is to try to emulate your bodybuilding heroes by attempting to perform their training programme. This tends to be doomed to failure if you don’t have the base of conditioning, genetics, training experience, diet and lifestyle to accommodate the demands a top professional bodybuilder’s programme will place on your body.

So, to get you started on your muscle building journey, we have come up with a simple by step-by-step guide that will help you to build muscle safely and effectively.

How To Design A Resistance Training Programme

When you are new to resistance training it is generally recommended that you perform a whole-body routine or programme. This simply means that you train all of the muscles in a single session.

The type equipment that you use in your training programme will depend on what is available to you, your preferences and level of experience. Free-weights (dumbbells and barbells), resistance machines, bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, suspension training equipment (TRX), and kettle-bells can all be used in a resistance training programme, providing that they offer the required level of resistance to stimulate muscle growth.

When designing your resistance training programme, you should:

  • Select 8-10 exercises that train all of the major muscle groups (legs, chest, back, shoulders, etc).
  • Aim to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive days to allow at least 48 hours recovery between sessions.
  • Perform exercises involving large muscle groups (multi-joint) first, followed by exercises involving a small amount of muscle (body part exercises).
  • Perform 6–12 repetitions per set using multiple sets, at least some of which should be carried out to the point of muscular failure.
  • Perform the concentric phase of a repetition (when a muscle shortens) at a speed of approximately 1–3 seconds; the eccentric phase (when a muscle lengthens) should be performed at slightly slower speed of 2–4 seconds.
  • Initially perform just 1-3 sets per exercise. You should progress to 3-6sets of each exercise to optimise muscle gains. This does not include warm-up sets.
  • Take 1-2 minutes recovery between sets.
  • Incorporate some form of ‘overload’ into your programme to achieve continued gains in muscle size, such as increasing the resistance. A conservative method is the 2-for-2 rule: If you can perform 2 or more repetitions over your repetition goal in the last set in 2 consecutive workouts, the resistance should be increased in the next training session.

Presented below is an example of a basic whole-body muscle building programme employing both free-weights and resistance machines.

Hamstring Curl3-66-12
Bench Press3-66-12
Lat Pull-Down3-66-12
Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-66-12
Bicep Curl3-66-12
Tricep Pushdowns3-66-12
Calf Raises3-66-12
Plus Core Exercises to suit3-66-12

Note: The information included here is for educational purposes only. If you have any doubt regarding the correct performance of any resistance training exercises, we strongly recommend that you seek the advice of a suitably qualified exercise professional.

Click here to learn more about designing a resistance training programme

How To Build Muscle – Eating To Grow

As the old saying goes: “To get big, you’ve got to eat big”. This doesn’t mean eat anything and everything. Rather, you need to eat the right types and amounts of food to provide you with energy and nutrients needed to train and grow.

There is a common misconception that bodybuilders live on a high protein diet devoid of carbohydrates. While it is true that they consume higher levels of protein and may reduce their carbohydrate intake prior to competition to reduce their levels of body fat, they typically consume a balanced diet containing the various food groups.

If you not sure what a well-balanced diet consists of, check out our article ‘What should we be eating?’

How To Build Muscle – Getting Your ‘Macros’ Right

A term you are likely to hear in any discussion on eating for muscle growth is ‘macros’. This is short for macronutrients, the term used to describe the three major nutrients, i.e., protein, carbohydrate and fat. You will need to consume these in the right amounts, if you are to optimise your gains in muscle mass.

To make things easy for you, we have provided the table below. Simply, find your body weight in the top row and the table will indicate how much protein, carbohydrate and fat you should be consuming on a daily basis. This is a good starting point, but it may take a little trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

Table 1

Bodyweight (kg)60708090100110120130
Fat 20%57g66g76g85g94g104g113g123g

* Calories based on average

How To Build Muscle – Eating Big

Building muscle not only requires the consumption of the right amounts and ratios of the macronutrients, but also an increase in daily energy (calories) intake to create a surplus above normal daily energy needs. This is because the daily energy cost of just maintaining our existing muscle accounts for approximately 20% of our energy intake.  Building new muscle then further increases our energy needs.

As a guide, you should start conservatively with an energy surplus within the range of 350 kcal 500 kcal per day and closely monitor your response, using changes in body composition to determine what, if any, adjustments you might need to make.

Table 1 provides an estimate of an individual’s energy needs based on bodyweight which you can use as a guide to get you started. As with the macronutrients, this provides a good starting point, but it may still take a little trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

How To Build Muscle – How And When To Eat

Not only is what you eat important, but also when you eat it. As you can probably imagine, it would be difficult to consume, digest and metabolise 5000kcal of food in the three standard meals per day typically eaten by the general public. Therefore, you should break your food intake into 5 or 6 healthy balanced meals consumed throughout the day, approximately 3-4 hours apart.

Click here to learn more about eating for muscle growth

How To Build Muscle – The Use Of Supplements

In theory, you should be able to obtain all of the nutrients and energy you require from your diet. However, this can be difficult if you don’t have a big appetite or if the preparation and consumption 5 or 6 meals is inconvenient for you. Supplements cannot replace a well-balanced diet but they can provide a practical way of ensuring your intake of certain nutrients, such as protein. Similarly, if you struggle to consume sufficient calories in a day, a good quality mass gain supplement can help to boost your calorie intake and provide with a number of vital muscle building nutrients in easy to consume and convenient format.

Click here to learn more about muscle building supplements

How To Build Muscle – Summary

Building muscle safely and effectively requires a combination of an appropriate resistance training programme and a sound diet, which provides you with nutrients and energy to fuel your training and growth. You also need to ensure that you get sufficient rest and sleep. If you get this balance right and are consistent with your diet and training, you can begin to see an increase in muscle after just 15 training sessions, or 6–7 weeks of training, and expect to gain on average 1.36kg (3 lbs) of muscle after approximately 3 months of training.

If you wish to learn more about the subjects covered in this article, you can access our comprehensive, evidence-based series entitled The Science of Building Muscle