How to Build Muscle Mass without Supplements

If I could impart just a little tip to a newbie looking to get ‘buff’ and having a hard time getting to the bottom of the whole supplement thing, my advice would be: for now, forget it.

Supplements are, just that – supplements. You don’t need supplements to build muscle, no one does. What supplements are there for is to enhance results in some cases, but primarily to take the burden of the bodybuilders lifestyle off of them from time to time. You know, substituting a protein shake for a full meal, etc. It’s quicker, and more convenient.

To be successful in bodybuilding, you need to get your basic diet sorted. There are no shortcuts to this, but, I do have several tips which will really help you:


Basically, it all comes down to calories in, calories out, and, how many calories you need for your body to stay the same weight, and grow. It’s different for everyone, so you’ll have to establish a rough baseline, test it for a few weeks and see if you gain weight. As a rule of thumb, it may be 15-20 calories per lb of bodyweight. But, it could be more, it could be less… no one can tell you, it’s something you’ve got to find out for yourself, unfortunately.

The idea is, you need to consistently put more calories into your system than you burn. That is the only way to build muscle. But… not so many extra calories that even after the muscle has been built, the body stores the surplus as fat. You’ll need to regularly measure body fat with callipers to make sure you aren’t putting fat on.

For a beginner, it might be smart to aim to put on around 1lb of muscle a week on, and 2 at the most. And again, constantly check your body fat levels with callipers, because avoiding excessive fat will save you months of cutting time later down the line.


Even though calories are important, what they are made of is of equal importance. Calories are made of macronutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins we should be eating for muscle can be egg, milk, whey, fish, beef, tuna and chicken. Many bodybuilders swear by the importance of getting 1-2lb of protein per lb of bodyweight, but this isn’t necessarily essential for everyone. The idea is to keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance, and this is achieved by eating protein regularly – every 3 hours or so.

Next up are carbohydrates. There are simple carbs and complex carbs. We need to avoid simple carbs (namely sugar) because while they can give us initial short-lasting energy, the burden of that is, unless it is burned very quickly, it’s the quickest way to store body fat. Complex carbs are our friends, and should mainly be eaten pre and post workout. Complex carbs you should include in your diet could be rice (particularly brown), pasta, and potatoes.

But, just because they are complex carbs doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe to be eaten excessively. Carbs of any kind are the body’s primary source of energy, and so hunted and metabolised by the body most quickly and efficiently – therefore any excesses quickly become fat.

Fats are very important, and very misunderstood. For the bodybuilder, having a healthy dose of fats – including saturated – in the diet will serve to boost testosterone levels, which is the single most important hormone in muscle growth. It’s why men can build large muscle easily and women can’t.

To find a diet which works for you, and makes you feel good, you’ll need to do some testing. There is no way around this. It’s custom made. You could try a popular split of 40% protein 30% carbs and 30% fats, and see how you fare. Or 50% protein, 30% carbs and 20% fats. It’s your choice. Naturally, the percentages denote the ratios which make up the total amount of calories you consume daily, for instance, 50% protein in a diet made up of 2000 calories would mean 1000 calories come from protein. Simple, eh?

The most important thing with your diet is to ensure you find a diet which allows you to put on steady amounts of muscle mass, but keeps body fat gains to a minimum. True, you can go more all-out and worry about cutting the fat off later, but that will take time. By going steady and trying to find your own unique balance where muscle is gained and fat gains are minimal, you are going to be much better off for it.

Don’t forget though: however you split you diet, a calorie surplus must always be eaten daily or you won’t grow. Eat a calorie deficit and you may even lose muscle. Try to eat every 3 hours, small meals, and be sure to include a relatively good amount of protein in each meal.

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