How to Build Muscle Without Supplements

Doing resistance exercises, like weightlifting, offers you a drug-free way to build muscle.
Image Credit: Mireya Acierto/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Disease, aging and a sedentary lifestyle break down your soft tissues. Many methods let you build muscle and prevent this loss. Yet muscle-building drugs can cause side effects. Fortunately, there are ​natural ways to increase muscle mass without supplements​. Learning these effective and safe methods can help you slow aging and fight disease and muscle breakdown.


Read more:Bad Side Effects of Muscle Building Supplements

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Understand Muscle Anatomy

You have ​more than 600 muscles​. Many of them develop in pairs: right and left. Trainers mostly concern themselves with the large skeletal muscles you use during a workout. Examples include the biceps muscles in your upper arms and the quadriceps muscles in your lower legs.

A paper from Palacky University nicely illustrates the functional muscles of your body. In their paper, the authors describe a way to increase muscle mass without supplements. They also show how making this change improves your health and helps you fight disease.

Read more:A Description of Tendons, Ligaments and Muscles

Understand Muscle Physiology

Your muscles do a lot more than you think. In addition to generating force, they also remove dietary sugar from your bloodstream and keep your body active — metabolically — as you rest. Given these important roles, everyone should want to build more muscle. Scientists call the muscle-building, or anabolic, process ​hypertrophy.


You need to alter the balance between muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown to attain hypertrophy, according to a 2018 report in Nutrients. Exercising and increasing your protein intake will help you reach this goal. Athletes often supplement protein in creative ways, but a well-balanced, omnivorous diet achieves the same effect. Thus, it's possible to build muscles without supplements.

Read more:Protein Synthesis in Muscle Growth


Know Muscle Wasting in Aging

Doctors call the age-related decline in muscle mass ​sarcopenia​. This process is inevitable. If you live long enough, you will have to face it. Yet you can ​slow the decay by building muscle​.


Unfortunately, some people cannot easily build muscle — they have ​anabolic resistance​. This medical condition appears most often in older people, and it's more than just their age. This group has added risk factors for anabolic resistance, such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and lipotoxicity, according to a 2013 report in JAMDA.


Read more:At What Age Do You Start to Lose Muscle?

Know Muscle Wasting in Disease

Muscle wasting occurs in many diseases as well. This process, ​cachexia​, appears in 50 percent of all cancer cases. Unfortunately, patients with cancer face ​two​ anabolic problems: Cancer directly causes muscle loss, and chemotherapy exacerbates this loss.


Patients with cancer also have difficulty overcoming muscle loss. Like older people, patients with cancer often experience anabolic resistance and other medical complications. Hospitalized patients also find it challenging to exercise, given the physical and mental drain of a life-changing illness. Finally, hospitals rarely have exercise equipment readily available for patients to use.

Know Muscle Wasting When You're Sedentary

Sedentary people of any age also experience muscle wasting. Automation has simplified many jobs, and even a short hospital stay can quickly decrease muscle mass. Children are far less active today than in years past, and this trend seems likely to continue.


Many obstacles prevent sedentary children and adults from becoming active, according to a 2017 article in Obesity Reviews. The authors of this report describe 77 barriers to exercise, ranging from childcare availability to safety issues. Fortunately, they also describe a few facilitators of exercise to help create an environment where exercise naturally and easily happens.


Read more:This Is What Happens to Your Body When You're Sedentary for Two Weeks


Know Muscle Wasting in Women

Muscle wasting affects women and men differently. Their different hormone profiles likely explain these gender differences. While testosterone has anabolic properties, estrogen protects the muscles of women from inflammation. The age-related decline in these hormones put both genders at risk.

Yet women seem particularly affected by muscle loss, even into old age. Many reasons underlie this finding. Women, for example, are less likely to take anabolic supplements. They are also less likely to attend a gym.

Read more:Is There a Difference Between Female and Male Muscles?

Recognize the Consequences

The muscle loss found in sedentarism, disease and aging has dire consequences. ​Losing muscle puts you at risk for disease​ and even death, according to a 2018 paper in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. This relationship holds true regardless of issues like smoking and disease, and it's apparent even in younger people.

Read more:10 Basic Workout Moves to Lengthen Your Life

Identify the Treatments

The obesity epidemic has at least one positive effect: It has brought attention to the problems associated with inactivity. This attention has led many companies to offer solutions. You can use these treatments for building muscle in addition to losing weight.

Most muscle-building treatments feature anabolic substances. However, there's an increasing interest in ​natural treatments like exercise, vibration and light​. These effective and safe methods provide a healthy way to build muscle without supplements.


Read more:What Is the Fastest Way to Build Muscle Naturally?

Do Sports for Muscle Mass

Playing team sports provides many health benefits. Sports increase heart health and decrease body fat. They also evoke feelings of camaraderie and joy. A 2019 report in the European Journal of Sport Science looked at changes in muscle mass in younger men as they returned to competition.

These researchers tracked the players' body composition and metabolic rate as they began playing rugby. Compared to baseline, competing for 14 weeks increased the players' muscle mass and decreased their body fat. Playing rugby didn't alter their metabolic rate.

Read more:Why Should Children Play Sports?

Do Weightlifting for Muscle Mass

Bodybuilders evoke images of abusing anabolic steroids and lifting heavy dumbbells. Interestingly, these two muscle-building techniques have taken dramatically different paths during this century. ​Most people now know the dangers of steroids, and doctors want their patients to start doing resistance exercise.

The increased popularity of weightlifting comes from its high health value and low injury risk. Doing resistance exercise gives you numerous health benefits, including positive changes in your physique. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the impact of different weightlifting protocols on the muscle health of older women.

Subjects did resistance exercise in two different formats — a traditional pattern and a pyramidal pattern. The subjects reported to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for eight weeks. For the traditional pattern, they did three sets of eight to 12 weightlifting repetitions with a constant load for each set. For the pyramid pattern, they did three sets with higher loads and fewer repetitions for each set.


Results indicated that both patterns increase muscle strength and muscle mass, compared to baseline. Both treatments were equally effective, and neither pattern caused side effects.

Read more:13 Benefits of Weightlifting That No One Tells You About

Do Aerobics for Muscle Mass

Swimming is an excellent way to improve your overall health.​ It also has an another benefit: The water provides added body support, making swimming a low-impact activity. Thus, people with limited mobility and damaged joints can swim to improve their body composition without fear of injury. A 2017 report in the Central European Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine tested the effects of a similar water-based activity — aqua aerobics — on people post-menopause.

The subjects did the water-based aerobics three times a week for three months. Each session lasted 45 minutes. The data showed dramatic improvements in body composition. Compared to baseline, the water aerobics increased muscle mass and decreased body fat. It also improved the whole-body function of the women by increasing their blood flow.

Do Plyometrics for Muscle Mass

Plyometrics go in and out of fashion in the fitness world. These explosive exercises provide many health benefits, yet the bouncing can cause injury. The authors of a 2019 paper in Frontiers in Physiology sought a safer form of plyometric exercise for older clients at risk for sarcopenia.

Participants worked out on a modified trampoline three times a week for six weeks. Compared to baseline, the trampoline-like workout increased muscle power and muscle mass. No injuries were reported.

Use Vibration for Muscle Mass

Modern technology gives you ways to improve your health without doing exercises and playing sports. Whole-body vibration, for example, can provide many therapeutic benefits with little injury risk. This treatment empowers fragile patients who can't get to a recreation center. A 2018 article in BMC Geriatrics looked at the effects of vibration therapy on muscle mass in institutionalized adults.

Patients with sarcopenia received vibration therapy three times a week for 12 weeks. Each therapy session lasted for 15 minutes. Compared to baseline, the patients showed increases in physical fitness, muscle mass, grip strength and flexibility. Most important, the treatment increased their quality of life.

Read more:Is Vibration Exercise a Scam?

Use Electricity for Muscle Mass

Electrical stimulation can also help patients keep their muscle strength during a short-term hospital stay. For example, a 2016 report in Critical Care showed that an hour of daily stimulation allowed patients to regain their strength 4.5 times faster after surgery than a sham treatment.

This study didn't find a positive effect of electrical stimulation on muscle mass. The authors believe that postsurgery inflammation altered the results. Thus, testing more-healthy individuals should reveal the benefits of electrical stimulation. A 2015 paper in the European Journal of Translational Myology evaluated this idea in healthy older adults.

Sedentary participants received in-home stimulation three times a week for nine weeks. Compared to baseline, the home treatment increased the muscle cell number and mass. The treatment also increased the subjects' flexibility and strength without causing side effects.

Combine Treatments for Muscle Mass

Elite athletes are increasingly turning to lasers to enhance their performance. The light emitted from these lasers can prevent fatigue and promote recovery.

Lasers can also regenerate muscle in animal models. These findings suggest that laser treatment may enhance the muscle hypertrophy caused by resistance exercise. A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology tested this hypothesis in healthy men.

The researchers randomly assigned men to one of three groups: control, treatment with resistance exercise or treatment with resistance exercise and laser therapy. For the treatments, the subjects did an extensive series of leg-extension exercises twice a week for eight weeks.

Compared to controls, subjects who did resistance exercise showed increases in muscle strength and muscle mass. Laser treatment significantly enhanced these positive changes. No side effects were reported.

Thus, ​combining natural treatments​ gives you an easy way to increase muscle mass without supplements.