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How to Start Training to Build Muscles Optimally

Looking to get fit and feel alive? Check out this guidance, it’s packed with tips and tricks, to kickstart the exercise!

How Does Muscle Building Work?


Muscle hypertrophy refers to the growth and enlargement of muscle cells. In order for muscles to grow, two key processes need to take place:

– Stimulation
– Repair

After a workout, damaged muscle fibers are repaired or replaced through a cellular process in which muscle fibers are fused together to create new muscle. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaptation occurs during the resting period. It is therefore crucial for us to prioritize proper recovery and rest.

Progressive overload

Skeletal muscle grows bigger and stronger in response to the training stimulus, but for further gains, we need to continue making greater demands on it. If the muscles are not progressively overloaded by being forced to do more than they’re accustomed to, there is no reason for them to make further adaptations. The human body will not change unless it is forced to. That’s why we can never grow complacent with our training. Once we fall into a comfort zone and the workouts are no longer challenging, a plateau will be reached.


Rest and recovery are critical elements of a successful training program. However, rest and recovery are not identical. Rest encompasses both sleep and the time spent not engaging in training. How we sleep and rest is of utmost importance. On the other hand, recovery pertains to the techniques and actions undertaken to maximize the repair of our bodies, such as nutrition, hydration, stretching, and so on. Achieving a balanced combination of rest and recovery, along with a proper diet and exercise, should be our number one goal.

Sleep is the most important time for us to recover. Adequate levels of sleep will provide us with mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery.

Our goal should be to aim for 7-10 hours of sleep per day.

Sleep rituals are particularly important, especially if we have trouble falling asleep or wake up multiple times during the night. It’s possible that we might be working on our laptops, checking our phones, reading emails, or catching up on social media late at night. The problem is that the blue light emitted from these devices can deceive our brains and cause a drop in melatonin levels because our bodies think it’s still daytime and need to stay awake.

Tips for good sleep

  • Refrain from using electronic devices at least 1 hour before going to bed.
    Instead, we can read a book, meditate, or engage in a stretching routine.
  • Setting bedroom temperature between 17°C – 19°C / 62°F – 66°F
    Our bodies prefer cooler temperatures to slow down our heart rate and facilitate quicker sleep onset.
  • If outside light enters our room, trying blackout curtains can be helpful.
  • Investing in a good mattress, sheets, and pillow is also beneficial, as it helps create an optimal sleep environment.

The importance of diet

The health implications of fat and carbohydrates are subject to debate. However, there is a general consensus regarding the importance of protein. While most individuals consume sufficient protein to prevent deficiency, to build more muscle higher protein intake is necessary.

Protein serves as the building block for our muscles. Therefore, consuming adequate amounts of protein helps us maintain muscle mass and facilitates muscle growth during strength training. Here are some numbers to check out:What are the Requirements of Muscle Growth?

Nutrition distribution

Workouts can be maximized by fueling our bodies in the right way. This not only provides us with more energy during exercise and improves our performance but also helps us feel better throughout the day.

Regardless of whether we train in the morning or at night, fueling our bodies with the right nutrition is crucial for an effective workout. While many of us tend to focus more on post-workout meals, it’s important to note that a nutritious pre-workout meal is just as significant in order to achieve the best possible workout and results.

What to eat

In every meal, we need to consider the three macronutrient and more importantly, their quantities:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fats

When it comes to dieting, some individuals tend to limit or completely eliminate carbs. However, carbs are actually essential for providing our bodies with the long-lasting energy required for a workout. Fast-digesting carbs such as white bread, white rice, fruit, and sweet potatoes are ideal pre-workout foods.

However, if we have a sensitive stomach, it’s best to opt for easily digestible carbs like a banana along with a scoop of protein. This is important to avoid the discomfort of heartburn that can occur if we eat a large meal too close to our workout. As for fat, it slows down digestion, so it’s advisable to keep fat intake to a minimum before exercising, as we want the nutrients to be digested quickly to provide us with the necessary fuel for an outstanding workout.


Our protein intake truly depends on our goals. Although it’s challenging to provide exact figures due to conflicting study results, a reasonable estimate seems to be around 0.7–1 gram per pound (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) of body weight. If we have a significant amount of body fat, it’s a good idea to use either our lean mass or goal weight instead of our total body weight, as our lean mass mostly determines the amount of protein we need. To determine the calorie count, we can simply multiply the grams by 4.


Approximately 50-55% of our total daily calories should come from starchy carbohydrates. To calculate this, we need to divide our total daily calories by 2 (50%). Then, we divide those calories by 4 to obtain the number of grams.

Healthy fat

Once we have calculated our intake of proteins and carbohydrates, it’s time to deduct those calories from our total daily calorie intake. The remaining calories should be allocated to healthy fats, which should be approximately 30-33% of the total calories. To determine the number of grams, we can simply divide the remaining calories by 9.

When to eat

The timing of our pre-workout meal determines its size and composition.

  • Fast absorbing food
    30 minutes to an hour before our workout, it’s recommended to have a light meal consisting of simple carbohydrates and some protein.
  • Slow absorbing food
    2-3 hours before our workout, we can consume larger meals containing a good source of protein (around 25-30g) and complex carbohydrates (around 20-50g).

For example, if we prefer to workout out in the morning, a small snack like a banana and protein shake or Greek yogurt and fruit can be consumed, requiring only around 30 minutes for digestion. However, if our workout is scheduled for later in the day after a more substantial meal such as chicken, rice, and vegetables, eating 2-3 hours beforehand is ideal to avoid feeling overly sluggish.


Drinking sufficient amounts of water is crucial for our health, energy, recovery, and performance. It is recommended to aim for consuming 10 – 13 cups / 2.5-3 liters of water per day.

Water is essential for life, as the body consists of 50-75% water. Maintaining adequate hydration is one of the most critical aspects of our diet. By drinking enough liquids to keep our body’s fluid levels replenished, we help ensure that all bodily functions remain normal.

Hydration requirements vary significantly among individuals and depend on factors such as sweat rate, sweat sodium content, body weight, body temperature, exercise intensity, and ambient environmental temperature. Experiencing excessive dehydration appears to hinder exercise performance, and the responses to dehydration can vary among individuals.

The goal for individuals engaging in exercise is to achieve optimal hydration, which means preventing a body mass loss of 2-3% or a gain of 2% in body mass. Both of these conditions can lead to hyponatremia (low concentration of sodium in the blood) or hypovolemia (decrease in blood volume).

Failing to hydrate adequately before exercise reduces the work that can be completed during exercise performance.

Training Tips

  1. How to select the weights
    We will know the weight is heavy enough if we struggle to complete the last few reps without compromising our form. The weight is too light if we easily cruise through all of our reps during the given time frame. Let’s choose the heaviest weight we could use to complete each rep without sacrificing our form. Food for thought: Arnold Schwarzenegger says
    “I can judge a man by watching him lifting weights. If the man is slacking at doing his reps, having an imperfect form and just want to get over the thing then that man is just like that in everything else in life too.”
  2. Warm Up & Cooling Down
    Warming up before exercise prepares our cardiovascular system for physical activity, by increasing the blood flow to our muscles and raising the temperature of our bodies. It also helps to lower the risk of getting injured — when our muscles are adequately warmed up, the movements, stretches, and strain put on them during our workout are less severe. This also minimizes muscle soreness. Cooling down after our workout aims to gradually bring our heart rate and blood pressure to their normal levels — the levels they were at prior to exercising.
  3. Logging
    A workout journal is a simple and highly effective way for us to track the weights lifted in previous workouts. This way, we will know if we are getting stronger. If the same weights are continually used, a response to change will no longer be elicited by our bodies, so it is important to ensure that the weights are raised as we progress.
  4. Discomfort versus pain
    Effort and discomfort are often experienced together, and that’s what most people would refer to as good pain — we generally expect to feel some level of discomfort. If actual pain arises during the workout — a burning or stabbing sensation or sharp pain — that’s not a good sign, and the exercise/workout should be stopped. While it is normal to feel discomfort from fatigue during exercise, acute pain associated with injury or illness is not. Therefore, it is important to listen to our bodies.
  5. How to Substitute Exercises
    While following our BUILD Program, we may find that a particular exercise isn’t working for us, and we may need to learn how to substitute exercises to make the program more suitable for our personal needs. We may not have the right equipment, the exercise may cause us discomfort, it may be too easy or too difficult, or we may have an injury that needs to be accommodated.
    If this is the case, we shouldn’t feel like we must give up on the entire workout. We may just need to substitute exercises with something else that is similar to what we can do.

Progress tracking

We’re talking about muscle gain here as if it happens quickly and something we’ll immediately notice. Yet, muscle gain occurs so gradually that we won’t readily notice it.

Keeping track of our progress is important. By doing so, we will know when changes need to be made during our program, when we are overtraining, or if our diet is on point. There isn’t just one method of keeping track of our progress, and we shouldn’t rely solely on one way. For example, if we solely relied on a scale to track our gains and it indicates a weight gain of 5 lbs, we might not know if it’s due to gaining fat or muscle.

  • Keeping a log
    It won’t be possible for us to memorize all the calories we consume for each meal every day. Either we should write down what we eat, or a better option is to track our foods in an app such as Cronometer, loseit or such.
  • Measurements
    Measurements provide an objective way to assess if muscle growth has occurred.
    The only issue is that when we’re in a calorie deficit, we’ll also be losing fat. So, if our limb measurements ARE decreasing, it’s important to remember that this is likely due to fat loss rather than necessarily muscle loss.
  • Scale
    We shouldn’t become too obsessed with weighing ourselves several times a day. There will be fluctuations in our weight from day to day due to water retention, glycogen levels, and other factors. It is recommended to weigh ourselves once in the morning and then calculate the weekly average of those weigh-ins over 14 days. This will provide us with a more accurate understanding of how our weight is changing.
    Progress Photos
    We all tend to look at ourselves in the mirror multiple times a day, so it’s unlikely that we’ll notice very gradual changes in muscle mass.
    However, taking regular progress photos (for example, every month) will enable us to look back and compare.
    Just remember to take the photos in the same location, under the same lighting, and at the same time of day.
  • Clothes
    The fit of our clothes can provide valuable clues about what’s happening.
    If our shirts and t-shirts are becoming looser around the waist but remaining tight on the arms, chest, back, and shoulders, we can be confident that we’re losing fat and, at the very least, maintaining muscle in a deficit.
    Similarly, if the waist of our jeans is getting looser while remaining tight around the quads and hamstrings, it’s an indication that we’re losing fat and maintaining or even gaining muscle.
    In reality, we should use all these signals as feedback in combination since there isn’t one perfect way to determine with certainty whether we’re definitely gaining or maintaining muscle.
  • Gym Performance
    In general, if our performance in the gym improves, we can have confidence that we’re at least maintaining the muscle we already have.
    It’s also likely that we’re gaining muscle. More muscle mass leads to increased strength, which in turn leads to further muscle growth.
  • DEXA Scan
    A DEXA scan provides a comprehensive view of our muscle-to-fat ratio. It is the most accurate method for measuring changes in muscle mass.
    However, it’s worth noting that DEXA scans are quite expensive (around £150 per scan, as of my last check) and still not 100% accurate.

Finally, don’t train too much

When workouts are excessively long, a lot of fatigue is generated. Technique ends up being sacrificed, resulting in a negative impact on the entire workout. Overtraining will be experienced, and the outcomes can be ruined. When too much is done, such as over 3 hours of intense resistance training, growth will be hindered, and counterproductive effects will be observed.


  • Train hard while maintaining correct form
  • Rest properly, to allow the body to recover
  • Eat well, to facilitate muscle growth
  • Track progress and adjust methods if necessary
  • Have some fun!