How to Build Muscle Without Supplements

Couple flexing muscles
Despite what supplement companies advertise, supplements provide little benefit. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Building muscle results from a proper weightlifting program and sufficient nutrition. Nutritional supplements, such as protein powders and weight gain formulas, can be effective if you do not achieve enough nutrition in your diet. These formulas do little good, however, if you already consume a balanced diet. While ergogenic aids, such as creatine and caffeine, do have ability to help you build muscle, the most effective way to build muscle is with a progressively increasing resistance training program.

Step 1

Man lifting dumbbells
Lift weights to target specific muscle groups. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Lift weights. The process of increasing muscle size is called hypertrophy, and you need to lift just a moderate amount of weight to build muscle. Use between 65 percent to 85 percent of your one-repetition maximum, and perform six to 12 repetitions. You need about two to three non-consecutive sessions a week for maximum muscle growth, and target just one area of the body each session. For example, perform chest and shoulder exercises one session; back and biceps the next; and leg exercises the third day.

Step 2

Balanced diet
Eat plenty of protein. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Eat plenty of protein. If you are lifting weights heavily, you'll likely need more than 200 g of protein a day. A minimum of 15 percent of your total calories should come from protein, and animal sources such as meat and dairy products are the best. Many plant products have protein, but they sometimes lack essential amino acids that help promote muscle growth. Soy is a high-quality plant protein.

Step 3

young couple cooking food in the kitchen
Consume plenty of fat and carbohydrates. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Consume plenty of fat and carbohydrates. The body uses these two nutrients as its primary sources of energy. If you do not consume enough of these nutrients, your body will begin to use its protein stores as a source of energy, and this can cause muscular degeneration. About 30 percent of your calories should come from fat and 50 percent to 60 percent from carbohydrates.

Step 4

Close-up of a young woman eating a candy bar
Eat a high-carbohydrate, high-protein snack both before and after working out. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Eat a high-carbohydrate, high-protein snack both before and after working out. Carbohydrates can provide additional energy to help you perform at a maximal level, as well as help restore depleted muscle glycogen following a workout. Protein helps your body synthesize new muscle tissue and repair damaged tissue following a workout. Chocolate milk, protein beverages and most energy bars are effective snacks for this purpose.

Step 5

Woman stretching at gym
Continue to place stress on your muscles by progressively increasing weight over time. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Continue to place stress on your muscles by progressively increasing weight over time. Increase the weight you lift by five to 10 percent when you can successfully perform two additional repetitions beyond your target number for two sets in a row.

Step 6

Woman reading book on sofa in living room
Rest. (Image: ULTRA F/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Rest your body. The body gains new muscular adaptations through a principle called the "general adaptation syndrome." This process involves first shocking your muscles with a new exercise stimulus. The muscles react by becoming sore and tired, and you are at an increased need for rest at this point. With sufficient rest and recovery, your muscles will respond by increasing in size and becoming stronger. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, and always allow at least a day between weightlifting sessions.


Always work out with a spotter when lifting heavy loads. A qualified trainer or health professional can provide specific recommendations based on your individual needs and goals.


Make sure you have mastered proper technique before beginning to move on to heavier loads. Improper technique can result in injury.

Consult your doctor before beginning any heavy weightlifting program.

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