How to Build Muscle: Beginner's Guide for Optimal Gains

Want to build muscle but don't know how to get started? Check out this comprehensive guide for all the tips, tricks and techniques you need to know for an effective muscle-building journey.

How to Build Muscle: Beginner's Guide for Optimal Gains
Will robots replace personal trainers? Image generated by AI.

As part of our series on AI coaching, I asked an AI (ChatGTP) to write this guide. I inserted comments when I felt more precision or nuance was needed. Again, the AI was surprisingly accurate. -Dr. Carl Juneau, PhD

Building muscle is a journey that requires patience, dedication, and the right approach.

While many people believe that muscle-building is only for bodybuilders and athletes, the truth is that almost anyone can benefit from a stronger, more toned physique.

Whether you're looking to build muscle for improved health, better athletic performance, or simply to look and feel your best, this guide will help you get there.

So, if you're ready to take the first step on your muscle-building journey, read on to learn everything you need to know to build muscle effectively.

The importance of nutrition for building muscle

Nutrition plays a crucial role in building muscle.

In order to grow, your muscles need fuel, and that fuel comes from the food you eat. The right combination of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats will help support muscle growth and repair.

Additionally, consuming enough calories each day is crucial to ensure that your body has the energy it needs to build muscle.

Setting your macros

One of the first steps in building a muscle-building nutrition plan is determining your macronutrient needs. Macronutrients are the three main types of nutrients that your body needs in large quantities: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.


Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue. A good starting point for protein intake is to aim for 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight each day. This can be achieved through a combination of protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, beef, and eggs, as well as protein supplements like whey protein powder.


Carbohydrates are also important for building muscle, as they provide the energy your body needs for intense workouts. Aim for 2-3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight each day, and choose complex carbohydrates like brown rice, whole grains, and sweet potatoes over simple sugars.


While often vilified, fats are actually essential for good health and muscle building. Healthy fats like those found in nuts, avocados, and olive oil help support hormone production, regulate inflammation, and provide energy. Aim for 0.5-1 gram of healthy fats per pound of body weight each day.

[Editor's note: These recommendations are generally correct. However, most people can build muscle on a wider range of diets, like a low-carb diet. Some people actualy get better results that way. So, while you can experiment with ChatGTP's advice above, I also invite you to experiment further to find out what works best for you. -Dr. Carl Juneau, PhD]

Meal planning for muscle building

Once you have a grasp on your macronutrient needs, it's time to start meal planning. A good place to start is to aim for 3-4 main meals each day, with snacks in between if needed. Each meal should contain a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, and be based around whole, nutrient-dense foods.

The right workouts for building muscle

While nutrition is important, exercise is the key driver of muscle growth. Resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, is essential for building muscle, as it challenges your muscles and encourages them to grow.

Creating a workout plan

When creating a workout plan, it's important to consider your goals, fitness level, and schedule. Aim for 3-4 weightlifting or bodyweight training sessions each week, with at least one day of rest in between. In each workout, target all of the major muscle groups, including your chest, back, legs, and arms.

Progressive overload

In order to continually challenge your muscles and encourage growth, it's important to use the principle of progressive overload. This means gradually increasing the weight, reps, or sets in your workouts over time. This forces your muscles to work harder, which signals your body to build more muscle to keep up with the demands being placed on it.

The importance of rest and recovery

Rest and recovery are just as important as the workouts themselves when it comes to building muscle. This is because it's during rest and recovery that your muscles actually grow and repair. Adequate sleep, stretching, and foam rolling can all help facilitate recovery and ensure that your muscles are ready for your next workout.

[Editor's note: While rest and recovery are paramount, there is little evidence to support the idea that stretching and foam rolling enhance recovery. I would focus on adequate sleep, nutrition, and stress management. -Dr. Carl Juneau, PhD]

The best exercises for building muscle

There are many exercises that can help you build muscle, but some are more effective than others. The following exercises are considered [some of] the best for building muscle:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench presses
  • Pull-ups
  • Overhead presses
  • Barbell rows

These exercises work multiple muscle groups at once, resulting in more muscle growth.

In order to build muscle, it is important to do a variety of exercises that target different muscle groups. It is also important to change up your workout routine every few months to continue challenging your muscles and avoid hitting a plateau.

[Editor's note: This can be done by changing exercise, for sure. But changing exercises too often can actually slow down your gains. Instead, I usually recommend varying reps, sets, using deloads, and new exercises in rotation. -Dr. Carl Juneau, PhD]

Lifestyle changes for optimal muscle building

Building muscle goes beyond just nutrition and exercise. Other lifestyle factors, such as stress management and sleep, also play a crucial role in your muscle building success.

Stress management

Stress can negatively impact your muscle building goals in several ways.

Chronic stress can increase levels of cortisol, a hormone that can break down muscle tissue. Additionally, stress can interfere with sleep and recovery, two critical components of muscle building.

To manage stress, consider incorporating practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing into your routine.


Sleep is essential for muscle building and recovery. During sleep, your body produces growth hormone, which helps repair and build muscle tissue. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, and establish a consistent sleep schedule to support your muscle building goals.

7 bonus tips for building muscle

Here are some tips and tricks to help you build muscle effectively:

  • Start with a solid strength training program that provides progressive overload and challenges your muscles.
  • Focus on compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, that work multiple muscle groups at once.
  • Train with weights that are heavy enough to fatigue your muscles within 8-12 reps.
  • Incorporate a variety of rep ranges, such as low reps for strength building and high reps for muscular endurance, into your strength training program.
  • Eat a diet that's rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, and that provides adequate calories to support muscle growth.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Get enough rest and recovery time between strength training sessions. Aim for at least 48 hours of rest between strength training sessions for the same muscle group.


Can I build muscle without lifting weights?

Yes, it is possible to build muscle without lifting weights. Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups and squats, can still provide a challenge for your muscles and encourage growth. However, adding resistance in the form of weights or resistance bands can help maximize muscle growth.

How long does it take to build muscle?

The timeline for building muscle can vary depending on several factors, including your diet, workout routine, and starting fitness level. On average, it can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks to see significant muscle growth, with continued progress being made in the months and years to come.

Do I need to eat more protein to build muscle?

Yes, consuming enough protein is important for building muscle. Aim for 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, and focus on getting protein from whole food sources, as well as supplements like whey protein powder if needed.

Conclusion: The right approach to building muscle

Building muscle can seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be a rewarding and achievable goal.

By focusing on nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes, you can transform your physique and reach your fitness goals. Remember, building muscle takes time, effort, and patience, so stay committed and keep pushing yourself.

The journey to building muscle can be challenging, but the results are well worth it.