How to Build Muscles: Diet, Supplements, Tips & Workout Ideas

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If you’re on a mission to build more muscle, we’ve got you covered. 

Whether you’re looking to gain muscle to boost your athletic performance, get stronger, or just look good, there are things you can do to improve your results.

When it comes to toning up or increasing your muscle mass, consistency and perseverance are key. It’s not unusual to start seeing rapid results when you first start working out before hitting what we like to call a muscle growth wall. 

To push past this all too common muscle-building plateau and get where you need to be, a few tweaks will go a long way. And, as mentioned—we’ve got you covered.

Here in this powerhouse of Smart Guide, we’re going to share a practical mix of insider tips to help you build more muscle with confidence.

Ready? Let’s get stuck in.

Why you might be struggling to build more muscle

Before we dig deeper into our tips, we’re going to explore some common reasons that you might be struggling to build muscle.

Knowing the reason why you’ve hit a wall will help you get to the root of the issue and take the right measures to hit those all-important muscle-building goals.

Here are some of the reasons you might be struggling to build more muscle…

  • You’re not eating enough calories
  • You're not eating enough of the right foods
  • You’re not getting enough sleep or rest in between workouts
  • You’re not drinking enough water
  • You’re not pushing yourself hard enough
  • You’re not using the right form when exercising
  • You’re not being consistent enough
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How to build muscles with training: SmartTips

SmartFact: Muscle growth (also known as ‘muscle hypertrophy’ (1)) happens when muscular protein synthesis outweighs muscular protein breakdown.

In other words, to build muscle consistently, you have to get your nutrition, training, and recovery efforts just right.

Before we dig deeper into the nutritional side of things, let’s explore some training tips to help you maximise those muscle hypertrophy efforts.

Structure your workout routine

First of all, to push past the muscle growth wall and build lean muscle mass consistently, you need to know where you’re aiming your efforts.

Muscle gain (the proper kind) doesn’t just happen at random. To get the most from your training sessions and keep building muscle mass—you should stick with the same exercises for a certain period of time, adding weight as you progress.

When it comes to muscle-building and endurance training, consistency is key. So, rather than switching up your routine, you should aim to stick to a particular set of exercises (we’ll come to that in a moment) and aim to train either three or four times every week.

It’s okay to switch up your training sessions and add new exercises into the mix. But, you should go this gradually and as part of an overall training plan. 

That way, you’ll keep challenging the right muscle groups, achieving the muscle-boosting results you deserve in the process.

Choose your muscle growth exercises wisely

We’ve talked about consistency—now we’re going to take a look at the best kinds of exercises for muscle gain.

If you’re looking to get stronger and maximise muscle mass with resistance training, compound and isolation exercises will give you the greatest returns for your efforts.

What are compound exercises?

Compound exercises are body weight or weight lifting movements that tackle a large muscle group in one single (and pretty epic) movement. 

These exercises include…

  • Bench presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead press
  • Weighted squats
  • Weighted lunges
  • Bent over row
  • Leg press
  • Seated cable rows
  • Press-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips

In addition to the fact that compound exercises work major muscle groups in a single movement, they’ll also help to prime your body for everyday functions like lifting shopping bags, gardening, and housework.

What are isolation exercises?

Isolation exercises are movements that target a specific muscle rather than an entire muscle group. If you’re new to lifting weights, you’ll probably find isolation exercises easier at the beginning of your muscle-building journey. 

These movements include…

  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep extensions
  • Front raises
  • Lateral
  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Calf raises
  • Hamstring curls
  • Leg extensions
  • Rear delt flies
  • Pec flys
  • Crunches

By weaving a solid mix of compound and isolation exercises (those that suit your specific muscle-building goals) into your training routine and sticking to them, you’ll enjoy the best results over time.

SmartTip: Try isometric Contractions.  These particular exercises involve holding a muscle contraction without changing its length. These include planks and wall squats. Weaving isometric movements into your routine can boost muscle activation and contribute to overall strength. Try to add pauses at the midpoint of a squat or hold a plank position for as long as you can.
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Set the right weight

To promote muscle growth without getting injured, choosing the right amount of weight for your training sessions is essential.

Different exercises will command slightly different weights. But, as a general rule of thumb, you should listen to your body.   

You might want to lift heavier weights as soon as you start training, but doing so will increase your chances of hurting yourself.

Setting the right weight for the best muscle-building results will take a little trial-and-error. The best thing to do is… 

  1. Start with a fairly low-weight
  2. Perform your exercise and see how many reps it takes before you start to feel the burn
  3. If you can perform more than 15 to 20 reps without feeling challenged, up the weight
  4. If you can’t perform more than five reps with your new weight, go slightly lower
  5. Keep making tweaks until you feel suitability challenged with each exercise set

Push to failure

We did just talk about counting reps—but there’s a caveat coming. Once you’ve set the right weights for your training session, you can stop counting.

For the biggest gains and most consistent muscle growth results, pushing to failure is the way to go. Rather than counting reps, you should focus on form, performing each exercise with complete control.

Keep repeating your exercise until you cannot perform any more reps (this is the pushing to failure part)—that way, you’ll keep progressing while reaping the rewards of maximum muscle hypertrophy.

SmartTip: Try performing some exercises (like bicep curls, shoulder presses and squats) slowly to increase your time under tension. Doing so will push your muscles harder, leading to greater growth.

Prioritise muscle recovery

If you want to gain muscle, you have to rest. Some people think that they have to train hard every single day to experience muscle growth—but that’s a myth.

To support muscle growth and enable protein synthesis, getting enough rest is essential. Big training sessions are designed to break down muscle tissue—so rest (alongside the right nutrition) is the gateway to repair, recovery, and growth.

According to Science In Sport (2), around two to three rest days per week is perfect for consistent muscle development. So, make sure you take a break between sessions.

Getting enough sleep is also vital for building muscle—and getting around seven hours of quality slumber each night will help you get the best gains.

SmartTip: Read our Smart Guide on how to turbocharge your muscle recovery for additional tips, tricks, and insights.

SmartWorkout...

Even if you’re flat-out busy, you can weave a little resistance training into your schedule with the right mix of big-hitting bodyweight exercises.

Remember, when you’re on a mission to build muscle, consistency is key. Even 15 minutes of focused effort can help you hit your goals—and to help you on your journey—here’s a quickfire workout you can bust out anytime, anywhere (within reason), even on your most hectic days.

Quick-fire 15-minute body booster…

1. Reverse lunges

2. Squat jumps

3. Raised push-ups

4. Archer push-ups

5. Controlled tricep dips (remember our 'time under tension' tip)

6. Bicycle crunches


SmartMethod: Attack this muscle-boosting full-body workout as a 15-minute circuit session. Breathe deep, get in the zone, and perform each exercise for two minutes each, taking a 30 to 60-second break in between. You’ve got this. 

If you do have a spare 10 minutes, you can do this workout for a little longer for even bigger muscle-boosting results.

Healthy foods to build muscle
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Gaining muscle mass with nutrition

We’ve covered training—now we’re going to look at how what you eat can help you in building muscle mass the Smart way.

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again because it’s important: to reach your muscle-building goals, striking the right balance is key. Food and nutrition are no exception.

Here are some top nutritional tips to help you on your muscle development journey…

Get your muscle-building macronutrients

To tack on more muscle mass, improve your body composition, and fuel your workouts, consuming the right mix of macronutrients is key.

Macronutrients are the three big-hitting food groups that we need to eat plenty of to maintain solid energy levels and keep our bodies in tip-top condition. 

The three big macronutrients are…

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Healthy fats

Getting the right fill macronutrients will help your muscles repair and grow while supporting your overall health and wellness.

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SmartHack

As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to follow these macronutrient ratios for the best muscle mass-boosting results…

40/30/30

This translates to: 40% carbs / 30% protein / 30% healthy fats

While your daily macronutrient intake in terms of grams will differ depending on your current weight, level of activity, and specific fitness goals, here are some general guidelines to follow when building muscle…

Carbohydrate intake: Around 200 grams of healthy complex carbs.

Protein intake: Around 150 grams of protein, largely from quality supplements and lean food sources.

Healthy fat intake: 67 grams of fats from healthy sources like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish.


SmartTip: Get the insider scoop on what to eat for muscle gains with our essential guide that includes a seven-day eating plan.

How many calories do I need to build muscle mass?

When building muscle, it’s best to aim for a daily target of around 44 calories per kg of body weight. 

So, if you weigh 82kg, your daily calorie target will be 3,600 to consistently build muscle alongside your strength training plan.

If you’re bulking up (trying to gain as much mass as possible over a certain timeframe), you should aim to consume 5 to 10% of extra calories each day. This is called a calorie surplus.

If you’re looking to cut (trim down your body fat after bulking up to improve your body composition), you should aim to consume 10 to 15% fewer calories each day. This is called a calorie deficit.

Eat at the right times

SmartFact: The Journal of Applied Physiology (3) discovered that subjects who got at least 20 grams of protein six times a day shed body fat and increased their lean mass, even without regular training.

From this insight alone, it’s clear to see that when you eat has an impact on your success in building muscle. While eating protein six times a day may be the ‘muscle synthesis sweet spot’ (especially when coupled with a solid resistance training regime), we know that’s not achievable for all.

As long as you eat the right balance of nutrients and get at least decent meals a day, plus snacks or supplements—you’ll get where you need to be.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs during rest periods between workouts. So, aim to get your protein no later than 30 to 60 minutes post-workout—and fuel your body with a snack or supplement around 30 to 60 minutes before a workout.

SmartSummary: Use this information as a guide on when to eat. But, make sure you listen to your body and eat at the times that suit you best. Remember, consistency and balance is always the main aim of the gain when you’re on a muscle-building journey.
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Stay hydrated

Increasing muscle mass isn’t always about eating—it’s about drinking, too. And when we say drinking, we mean water—lots of it.

Staying hydrated is key when you’re looking to build muscle mass and keep your health in the green. 

Drinking water will not only optimise your body’s most important processes, but it will also provide energy, help you feel fuller, and deliver those all-important macronutrients to your body when it counts most.

SmartTip: To stay hydrated, you should aim to drink around 15.5 standard cups of water every day.
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Choosing the right muscle-building supplements for…you 

Now, we move on to supplements. Taking the right supplements will help you fuel your workouts, speed up the muscle repair process, and give you the added protein boost you need to go for those big gains.

The best protein powders will flood your body with nutrients your body needs to remain energised throughout the day while helping you hit your nutritional targets while getting your fill of essential amino acids.

SmartFact: Studies show (4) that regular protein supplementation can improve muscle strength and size in people who regularly lift weights or take part in resistance training sessions.

Let’s take a look at the best supplements to help you hit those muscle-building goals.

For a bulky protein boost

To reach your daily protein intake and achieve a muscular build, protein powder is your friend. By taking a high-quality protein supplement or shake before or after a workout, you’ll flood your body with the amino acids you need to succeed.

SmartSuggestion: With a whopping 23 grams of protein per serving, The Protein Blend will help you in your quest for building muscle and improving your body composition. 

If you’re looking for a high-quality plant-based protein powder, our Ve-Gains supplement is packed with nutrients and comes in three tasty flavours. Oh, it’s also packed with nutrients to help you with those all-important post-workout recovery periods.

For extra powerful workouts

In addition to getting your protein fix and flooding your muscles with essential amino acids, focusing on your pre-workout nutrition is also essential to getting the most from your training sessions.

By taking the right pre-workout supplement before a big pump, you’ll be able to train harder, boosting your muscle-building potential in the process.

SmartSuggestion: With 5g of creatine per serving and the perfect storm of body-boosting ingredients, our epic Peak Performance will help you lift weights like a legend, increasing your muscle strength in the process.

Supplement your goals the Smart way

If you want to know how to build muscle fast, following the tips and advice featured in this Smart Guide is key.

Train well, eat right, be consistent, take the right protein-packed supplements—and you’ll hit those all-important muscle-building goals quicker than you think.

For additional advice on the Smart Protein products and supplements to help you on your health, fitness or wellness journey, take our quick-fire quiz, and we’ll deliver tailored suggestions straight to your inbox.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. NIH:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950543/

2. Science In Sport:

https://www.scienceinsport.com/sports-nutrition/how-many-rest-days-a-week/#:~:text=In%20summary%2C%20it%20is%20generally,help%20support%20long%20term%20gains.

3. BMC:

https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

4. Medical News Today:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323093#health-benefits

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