How to build muscle naturally

Health Advisor

10 August 2017

What makes muscle grow?

When we lift weights we put stress on our muscles and create microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Our muscles grow bigger and stronger as a result of our body repairing the damage – this is why recovery time is so important!

After working out our body repairs torn or damaged muscle fibres and rebuilds them through fusing more muscle fibres together to form myofibrils, or muscle protein strands. The repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number which creates muscle growth.  This process is only possible when the breakdown of muscle protein is less than the rate of building muscle protein strands.

There are two types of muscle growth: hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Hypertrophy occurs when the size of the muscle fibres increases whereas hyperplasia is where there is an increase in the number of muscle fibres.

In order to build muscle we have to expose our muscles to a higher level of stress than they are used to; if we don’t expose our muscles to some resistance they will shrink, a process known as muscular atrophy.  However, muscles rely on more than physical activity to grow; factors like hormone levels, genetics, diet, and recovery time also play an important part in muscle growth.

How long does it take to build muscle?

This varies from person to person, depending on how many days a week you exercise, how long you exercise for, and how intense the workout is. However, weight training for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week is enough to see more growth. Over time you will begin to see muscle definition and be able to lift heavier weights.

Men and women build muscle differently because of differences in body types and levels of the hormones testosterone and Human Growth Hormone (GH), which play a big part in muscle development. Both men and women have testosterone in their bodies but men have more of this hormone.  However, women have more GH than men which is thought to be linked to oestrogen levels.

There are many different factors that can affect how long it will take you to build muscle – if you decide to build muscle naturally it will take longer than if you load up on supplements.

Top tips to build muscle naturally

Recovery time
Ever had that stiff muscle pain a few days after your workout? That’s DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and while it can be a good indicator that you have accomplished a tough workout it may not necessarily be an indicator of muscle growth.
DOMS is characterised by pain and stiffness felt in the muscles after hard exercise. It can happen anywhere in the body and generally peaks 24-48 hours after exercising, although this timeline can vary in each individual.

While the DOMS is not necessarily a bad thing, it can make regular activities like walking up stairs or sitting down painful and challenging! Try applying Atrogel to the affected muscles to help relieve the pain and stiffness after exercising.

Pushing your body to its extreme every single time you work out won’t give it enough time to recover and re-build the muscles properly. Leave at least one rest day in between each muscle-building training session to allow your muscles to recover.

Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, making you feel less alert and more fatigued. It can also inhibit production of Human Growth Hormone (GH) which plays an important part in muscle growth and increases during the deep stages of sleep.

Your body does most of its repair work at night so aim to get 8-9 hours of sleep which will give your body enough time to repair your muscles.

Eat more food
If you want to build muscle you will have to eat more food that will cultivate muscle growth. Eating more protein will preserve muscle mass, and is essential for building muscle and recovering damaged tissue.

Carb loading is popular among many athletes; it is a way of adjusting your diet to maximise the storage of glycogen in the muscles. However, if you just load up on junk food you are more likely to gain weight and do damage, so it is important to carb load in a healthy way so that your body still provides you with energy and all the nutrients you need. Check out our blog on ‘what is carb loading?’ for information on how to carb load in a healthy way.

Vegetable intake is also an essential part of muscle building as they provide your body with essential minerals and nutrients that can aid your body in muscle recovery and muscle growth.

Containing more protein per calorie than steak, broccoli is the champion muscle-building vegetable!  Broccoli and sprouts are not only high sources of iron, vitamin C, fibre, and zinc but they also contain a naturally occurring compound called sulforaphane glucosinolate which helps to reduce the amount of oxidative stress (or cell reduction) in the body.

Studies have shown that sulforaphane acts as an indirect antioxidant in skeletal muscle and could help to prevent exercise-induced muscle damage.  Broccoli’s potential for injury-prevention should make it an important part of any athlete’s diet!

What’s more broccoli sprouts contain an even more concentrated amount of sulforaphane glucosinolate! Try our organically produced Broccoli Seeds which are not only nutritionally beneficial but also make a tasty addition to meals!

Build strength AND flexibility!
While building strength and growing muscle may be your ultimate goal, it is important to also think about your flexibility. If we completely neglect flexibility training in favour of muscle building we end up causing ourselves more injury. Yes, you’ll look more ripped, but, you can actually lose the range of motion in your limbs – meaning you might find it more difficult to raise your arms above your head!

Alternating muscle building with flexibility training will help prevent you from losing motion range in your muscles and joints. Working on your flexibility as well as your strength will also help to prevent injury as your muscles will become more accustomed to weight-bearing as well as increased mobility.

Lift heavier weights
To build muscle you have to challenge the limits of your body and lift heavier weights. However, it is important to do this safely and gradually to prevent muscle damage and tearing. Aim to weight train around 3 times a week and increase the heaviness of your weights every 3 to 4 weeks or so.

Remember to change the types of muscle-building exercises you do regularly to work different muscles in different ways and build overall muscle strength rather than in just one area.

While it can be tempting to load up on supplements for building muscles, they are only meant to enhance the work that you are already doing.

Some protein shakes make unrealistic claims about being able to drop fat and turn you into a sculpted model within a couple of weeks  – and sadly this just isn’t the case! Protein shakes alone aren’t enough to build muscle (regardless of what the packaging may say!,) you have to put in the hard work too!

If you decide to take protein shakes or supplements, do so sparingly and for the right reasons! Try to find a product that has mostly natural ingredients that will help to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat and support muscle growth. Try taking a Balance Mineral Drink sachet after your workout; it contains zinc which contributes to normal protein synthesis as well as calcium and magnesium levels, which are essential for muscle function.
If you choose to build muscle naturally without using supplements and shakes it will take longer but it will be better for your body in the long run – plus you’ll know that your hard work and results are down to you rather than because of the supplements!


A.Vogel Atrogel Muscle Aches & Pains


£ 7.50

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Arnica gel for relief of muscle pains, stiffness, sprains and bruising. 100ml size available.
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Cherry and Almond Protein Balls

These tasty protein balls are the perfect pre- or post-workout snack!

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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Muscles and Joints advisor, I recommend Atrogel® Arnica gel to ease stiff, sore muscles after exercise.

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Did you know?

Peanut butter is a great food to fuel up on before a 5K or 10K because of its low GI, high carbohydrate and high protein content.

What to eat before a 5K or 10K

Recover the right way!

Balance Mineral Drink helps to replace electrolytes and reduce fatigue, making it the perfect post-workout recovery drink!

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Improve your flexibility!

Join Hetty and Martin in the A.Vogel gardens to improve your flexibility.

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