Getting stronger is an admirable, healthy fitness goal. That’s why you're hitting the gym, lifting more, and packing every meal with protein. But building muscle can be a bit tricky.
Sure, lifting weights and eating more protein can help you become stronger, but to build muscle you need to push your muscles past their limit and then give them time to recover and grow. To build and maintain muscle mass, you need patience and persistence.
So, how do you build and maintain muscle? Proper training, good nutrition, rest, and realistic goals create an achievable equation for success.
How to Improve Muscular Strength and Definition
How to Build Muscle
You need to grow muscle cells to build muscle. This is called muscle hypertrophy, which is when muscle making outpaces muscle breakdown. Strength training plus an adequate amount of protein sets the foundation for building muscle. But rest and recovery are equally important. Below you will find more information on how to build muscle in the following ways:
- Resistance training
- Calorie surplus
- Increased protein
- Recovery time
Strength training, or resistance training, is the primary form of exercise for muscle building. It involves using weights, machines, or your own body weight to stress your muscles, pushing them past their limits.
The mechanical tension you place on your muscles when strength training triggers something called metabolic stress, which gives your muscles the energy they need to adapt to the strain of the weight so you can keep lifting. Pushing past the point where your muscles tire out damages the muscle fibers. This muscle damage triggers the healing process that causes the muscles to grow.
To grow muscle, it's often helpful to find your one-repetition maximum (RM), which is the heaviest amount of weight you can lift without losing proper form. If you can easily do three sets of 10 repetitions, or reps, you’re not at your RM. Consulting with a personal trainer can help you find your one-repetition maximum.
As your strength improves and your muscles grow, increase weight load and the number of sets to continue to build. Professional athlete, gymnastic coach, personal trainer, and creator of PHIIT Strength Kari Pearce says, “You must continue to lift heavier weights to build muscle.” When your weights are no longer challenging, it’s time to increase your weight load.
The time frame is different for each person, but generally within a month you will feel weights becoming lighter.
— Kari Pearce
Varying the type of workout you do also helps build muscle. You workout different muscle groups when you switch from free weights to weight machines. Pearce also suggests using compound movements to progress muscle growth. The more muscles you include in your movements, the greater the benefits.
Pearce says her advice varies for each client. “Experience level will come into play when doing a strength training program. If you are a beginner, more basic and bodyweight movements will be included. When I am working with someone more advanced, there will be more weighted movements as well as more advanced movements. This is not only to see the best results but also to make it more fun and challenging!”
6 Facts About Strength Training
Building muscle requires good nutrition and high-quality calories that includes a mix of protein, carbs, and fat.
In order to grow muscles, you need to maintain a positive protein balance. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) says you need at least 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain a positive protein balance and you may need as much as 1.3 grams of protein per pound to gain muscle.
While protein is important for building muscle, carbohydrates and fat also plays a role in helping your body achieve its goals. Carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains serve as a source of energy and essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fat provides your body with energy and helps with producing the hormones you need to build muscle, according to Pearce. She also recommends “drinking plenty of water and limiting alcohol consumption.”
Giving your body time to recover is also important for muscle building. You should let your muscles rest for 48 hours before working them out again.
You also need an adequate amount of sleep to build muscle. A lot of things happen while you sleep, including repairing and building muscle. Not getting enough sleep triggers your body to release catabolic hormones like cortisol, slowing down muscle growth.
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. But when working out to build muscle, aim for at least eight hours of sleep, says Pearce. Getting an adequate amount of sleep keeps the anabolic hormone levels elevated, improving muscle recovery and growth.
How you manage stress also affects muscle building. When you’re chronically stressed, your catabolic stress hormones remain high, affecting muscle growth and strength. According to Pearce, stress also affects your workouts. She recommends taking it easy on those high stress days and the days you have a hard time getting enough sleep.
What You Need to Know About Strength Training for Lean Muscle and Toning
How to Maintain Muscle
When it comes to maintaining muscle mass, you can follow a "use it or lose it" mentality. After age 30, you can lose up to 5% of your muscle mass every 10 years if you’re not physically active. Like muscle building, fitness and nutrition are vital to maintaining lean body mass.
Regular strength training is key to maintaining muscle mass. Like muscle building, you need to stress the muscle to maintain strength. This means lifting enough weight and doing enough reps to the point where it’s too hard to do one more.
Yoga and Pilates are also muscle building workouts that help maintain lean body mass and improve flexibility.
Resistance training helps you maintain muscle strength, but doesn’t necessarily add more bulk. Pearce says, “I often hear women say that they do not want to lift heavy because they do not want to get bulky. I promise you will not bulk up in a short period of time.”
Further, she says “I believe all women should build muscle—there are a variety of benefits including stronger bones, increased resting metabolic rate, and it will make things in your daily life easier...to name a few!”
7 Exercises to Prevent Muscle Loss
Good nutrition is also important for maintaining muscle, especially high-quality protein. The ISSN says you need 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle.
Eating balanced meals filled with nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups should help you get enough protein, as well as an adequate amount of carbohydrates and for energy and the other essential nutrients you need to maintain muscle and support overall health.
Finding healthy ways to manage stress is also important for maintaining muscle. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that stress decreases muscle strength. How you manage stress right now may affect your muscle strength later on.
You also need to create good sleeping habits. Like stress, accumulating sleep debt increases the release of the catabolic hormones that decrease muscle mass and strength. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night.
A Word From Verywell Fit
Whether you want to build or maintain muscle, it’s important to know that what works for others may not work for you. Many factors influence your body composition, including exercise, nutrition, genetics, sleep, stress, and medical history.
Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. Whether it’s free weights or body resistance exercises, the key to keeping your muscles is consistency.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do muscles grow?
To grow muscles, you need to make more muscle proteins than your body breaks down. Though this sounds simple enough, the process of growing muscles is dependent on exercise, nutrition, and anabolic hormones.
The purpose of strength training is to damage muscle fibers, creating a type of injury. Your body responds by adding more protein fibers to repair the injury, which ultimately increases muscle mass and strength.(Video) how i build & maintain my body | tips for muscle growth, healthy fat loss & maintenance
How long does it take to build muscle?
Though muscle repair happens quickly, muscle growth takes weeks or months. How long it takes for you to build muscle depends on many factors, including genetics, sex, workout, and nutrition.
What are the signs of muscle growth?
More energy, flexibility, and strength are some of the early signs of muscle growth. Over time, your clothes may fit differently and you may see more muscle tone.(Video) 15 Idiotic Muscle Building Mistakes (AVOID THESE!)
How Women Can Build Muscle
This is the most common and effective way to maintain or build muscle while fasting. Some of these include full-body workouts, cardio workouts, weight lifting, and many more. Depending on your fasting protocol, you might want to consume a protein snack for 1 to 2 hours before exercising.
Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein. It's important enough that I'll say it again: If you don't want your body cannibalizing its muscles while you are in a caloric deficit, you need to eat plenty of protein.How often do I need to lift to maintain muscle? ›
To maintain your muscles, aim for 20 minutes of strength-training exercises two to three times a week―with at least one day off in between workouts so your muscles have time to rest, recover, and grow.How do I stop my muscles from wasting? ›
Disuse (physiologic) atrophy can be treated with regular exercise and better nutrition. Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy or an exercise plan. Even if you can't actively move certain joints in your body, you can do still exercises wearing a splint or brace.What foods keep your muscles strong? ›
Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Includes protein from lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, and nuts.What foods help maintain muscle mass? ›
- Lean meat. Animal products are usually a great source of protein, especially lean meats like chicken and turkey . ...
- Eggs. ...
- Dairy products.
- Fish. ...
- Whole grains. ...
- Beans and lentils. ...
- Whey protein.
You risk overuse of certain muscles
Using the same muscle groups over and over again doesn't leave any time for your muscles to repair and grow. I recommend alternating days training different muscle groups so that you give your body time to recover.
Strenuous workouts cause muscle breakdown, while rest allows our bodies to build it back up. If there are no growth days in your routine, continuous muscle breakdown may hinder your progress.
- Schedule recovery time. Give yourself enough time to recover between workouts. ...
- Don't restrict. Avoid any type of eating plan that's too drastic or restrictive. ...
- Exercise. Exercise is another important aspect of maintaining muscle mass. ...
- Eat healthy. ...
- Try a supplement.
It's important to eat enough protein if you want to gain and/or maintain muscle. Most studies suggest that 0.7–1 gram per pound (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) of lean mass are sufficient.
The bottom line is, maintaining muscle mass is relatively easy. All it takes is modest effort on a regular basis to keep most of your muscle mass intact, even into old age. Building muscle is an entirely different matter, and monumental effort is required.Why am I losing muscle even though I workout? ›
As protein degradation exceeds protein resynthesis your muscles are shrinking and your metabolism is likely requiring less calories to support the muscle. If you are losing muscle and you seem to be increasing body fat, it is most often due to a caloric surplus from not moving as much and consuming too many calories.What age do you stop building muscle mass? ›
Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men.What are signs of muscle loss? ›
- having one arm or leg that is noticeably smaller than the others.
- experiencing weakness in one limb or generally.
- having difficulty balancing.
- remaining inactive for an extended period.
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.What food builds muscle fastest? ›
- Beef. While red meat should be eaten in moderation, animal foods have complete proteins with all essential amino acids. ...
- Salmon & Tuna. ...
- Eggs. ...
- Greek Yogurt & Cheese. ...
- Shrimp. ...
- Leafy Greens. ...
- Avocados. ...
- Nuts & Peanut Butter.
- Tart cherry juice. Drinking tart cherry juice may benefit both trained athletes and novice gym-goers alike. ...
- Watermelon and watermelon juice. Watermelon is sweet, hydrating, and loaded with nutrients. ...
- Fatty fish. ...
- Pomegranate juice. ...
- Beet juice. ...
- Whey protein shakes. ...
- Eggs. ...
The bottom line: Most people don't need protein powder, but if it works for you, have at it. For the vast majority of people, getting protein from their diet isn't a huge lift, so there's no need to spend a lot of time and money looking for a protein powder that doesn't taste like chalk.What foods stop muscle loss? ›
Eating protein‑rich foods to help build muscle is the key. “To build muscle, you need 0.45 gram of protein per pound of body weight,” Calabrese says. For example, a person weighing 140 pounds should eat 63 grams of protein a day (140 x 0.45). Good sources are milk, cheese, eggs, poultry, fish, peanuts and beans.Which protein is best for muscle gain? ›
Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. It's particularly rich in leucine, the amino acid that kick-starts the muscle-building process ( 1 ). This makes it a good option for men who want to grow muscle or just maintain what they have.
This easy-to-use and easy-to-eat food can be used in a variety of recipes from smoothies to on-the-go snacks. Just one tablespoon of peanut butter has four grams of protein, making it a good source of protein for building muscle.
Yes, you can train biceps every day while maintaining your regular training schedule. This works very well for people who have always struggled with biceps growth.How long should a muscle workout last? ›
The ideal workout duration can vary significantly depending on the person, their goals, their preferences, and the exercise type. For weightlifting and bodyweight strength training, 45–60 minutes per session may suffice. Meanwhile, cardiovascular and calisthenic training may be better if performed for 30–60 minutes.What is the best workout schedule? ›
- Monday: Cardio.
- Tuesday: Lower body.
- Wednesday: Upper body and core.
- Thursday: Active rest and recovery.
- Friday: Lower body with a focus on glutes.
- Saturday: Upper body.
- Sunday: Rest and recovery.
Most beginners will see noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks, while more experienced lifters will see changes in three to four weeks. Most individuals gain one to two pounds of lean muscle per month with the right strength training and nutrition plan.How do you know if you are building muscle? ›
- You're gaining weight. Tracking changes in your body weight is one of the easiest ways to tell if your hard work is paying off. ...
- Your clothes fit differently. ...
- Your building strength. ...
- You're muscles are looking “swole” ...
- Your body composition has changed.
A typical two-day split, for example, works your lower body one day and upper body the next day. Or you can work your pushing muscles — chest, shoulders and triceps — one day, then your pulling muscles — back and biceps — the other day.How many sets a week to maintain muscle? ›
4 weekly sets are enough for most to maintain muscle mass (Bickel et al.How many sets per week to build muscle? ›
So, How Many Sets to Build Muscle? The ideal training volume for building muscle is around 9–18 sets per muscle per week. And if you're choosing good lifts, doing 6–20 reps per set, and bringing those sets within 1–2 reps of failure, the bottom end of that range is often enough to maximize muscle growth.Is it easier to gain muscle after losing it? ›
In the context of working out, muscle memory describes the phenomenon of muscle fibers regaining size and strength faster than gaining them in the first place. In other words, it refers to the fact that it's much easier to regain lost muscle and strength than it is to build muscle and strength from scratch.
Gabriel Lee, the co-founder of Toronto's Fit Squad and a former strength coach, says that generally speaking, muscle mass — i.e. the size of your muscles — starts to dwindle after four to six weeks of inactivity.Can you fast without losing muscle? ›
SUMMARY There's no evidence that fasting causes more muscle loss than conventional calorie restriction. In fact, studies demonstrate that intermittent fasting may help you maintain muscle mass while dieting.How do I maintain muscle without growing it? ›
- Work out with weights regularly.
- Eat plenty of protein.
- Consume enough calories.
- Combine cardio and resistance training.
- Get enough rest and sleep.
Some research suggests that you can start to lose muscle in as quickly as one week of inactivity - as much as 2 pounds if you are fully immobilized (3). And another study suggests your muscle size can decrease by about 11% after ten days without exercise, even when you aren't bed ridden (4).At what age do you stop building muscle? ›
Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men.Will I lose gains after a week off? ›
Contrary to what you may have heard, you won't lose muscle or strength if you take a week or two off from the gym. It takes a while to build muscle, and it doesn't just disappear the second you stop lifting. Take more than three weeks off, though, and you will probably lose some strength and muscle.At what age do you stop making strength gains? ›
“Muscle mass peaks around age 40. [Then it] begins to decline due to sarcopenia,” explains Pete Rufo, a performance coach at Beast Training Academy in Chicago. “A major contributor to muscle mass decline is lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles.How much protein do you need to maintain muscle? ›
It's important to eat enough protein if you want to gain and/or maintain muscle. Most studies suggest that 0.7–1 gram per pound (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) of lean mass are sufficient.How much protein to gain muscle? ›
To increase muscle mass in combination with physical activity, it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly or is training for a running or cycling event eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.Why do bodybuilders not fast? ›
There's two main concerns with intermittent fasting for bodybuilders: It's Hard to Bulk (Especially For Hardgainers) Working Out Fasted May Be Difficult For Some.
You won't ever stop gaining muscle as long as you keep lifting weights and eating enough calories. However, your gains will gradually slow down as your body adapts to your training. If you want to keep building muscle, you need to continue lifting heavier weights and challenging your muscles in new ways.Can muscle gains be permanent? ›
Your muscles will always be able to shrink and grow depending on your lifestyle, but some of the adaptations you make while building muscle will improve your musculature forever. If you can accumulate enough of those changes, you'll find that your new set point is far more lean and muscular than it was before.Will working out once a week maintain muscle? ›
Training Once Per Week
If you can only train once per week, don't despair–you can not only maintain muscle, strength, and conditioning, but you too can make gains. The following workout hits every major muscle group in the body, and takes about 1:15 to complete. Rest 2-3 minutes in between each set.