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March 09, 2023 12 min read

If you're hoping to add lean muscle mass, it's vital to be aware of some fundamental principles that apply to everyone, regardless of experience level.

Although the kind of training plan beginners need isn't the same as an experienced lifter, the same principles still apply when it comes to gaining muscle naturally.

See this article as a beginner’s guide to natural bodybuilding, in which we will discuss muscles, workouts, healthy nutrition, and top-notch supplements.

What is Natural Bodybuilding?

Official definition: Natural bodybuilding represents a competitive activity in which the participants are judged by the aesthetic qualities of their physiques. The bodybuilders’ goal is to increase the size of their musculature while reducing their body fat levels to a minimum without using prohibited performance-enhancing drugs (PED's).

What Does This Mean?

Natural bodybuilding is a sport focused on building muscle mass, strength, and definition through physical exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes. Even if your goal is to participate in competitions organized by the bodybuilding federation, natural bodybuilding can get you there.

And because your choice is natural bodybuilding, you won’t have to worry about drug tests.

Unlike traditional bodybuilding, natural bodybuilding does not involve the use of anabolic steroids or other performance-enhancing substances. Natural bodybuilders strive to achieve their goals through hard work and dedication, emphasizing healthy eating habits, proper exercise, and rest.

Primary Factors to Consider When Pursuing Natural Bodybuilding

  1. Diet: Eating the right number of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients is essential in achieving the desired body composition.

  2. Training: Training should focus on compound movements to build muscle efficiently and effectively.

  3. Recovery: Giving your body sufficient rest and recovery is essential for optimal results.

  4. Supplementation:  Using natural supplements such as protein powder, creatine, and BCAAs can help support muscle growth.

  5. Consistency: Dedication and consistency to your diet and training plan is key to achieving your goals.

    Never disregard the valuable guidance a personal trainer can provide as you get into the workout routine.

The 3 Muscle Types

Type 1 – Slow-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for energy-efficient, long-term contractions. They are more resistant to fatigue and generate smaller, more sustained force.

Type 2a – Fast-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for more powerful, explosive contractions. They are less resistant to fatigue and generate larger, more powerful force.

Type 2b – Fast-twitch muscle fibers that are even more powerful than type 2a. They are the most resistant to fatigue and generate the largest, most powerful force.

Type 1 muscles are not the main focus of a natural bodybuilding program; rather, more attention is given to type 2a and type 2b muscle fibers because they possess a greater capacity for growth and strength. This is what bodybuilders are striving for. Despite this, these fast-twitch muscle fibers tire out quickly – hence why weightlifting sets are only done for a few minutes.

Muscular System - Image from Shutterstock

What Causes Muscle Growth?

Muscle growth is caused by a process known as hypertrophy, which is an increase in the size of muscle cells due to an increase in their volume.

This process is driven by an increase in tension in the muscle fibers, usually brought about by resistance training.

When the muscle is subjected to resistance, it is forced to respond by making the muscle fibers larger.

The body does this by using proteins to build more myofibrils, which are the contractile proteins that make up the muscle fibers.

The increased tension also stimulates the production of growth factors that help to regulate the process of hypertrophy

Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue due to the enlargement of its component cells, often in response to increased functional demands. It is a common response to exercise and is a process of adaptation that increases muscle size and strength.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the increase in muscle size due to an increase in the amount of sarcoplasm, which is the non-contractile material in muscle cells. This type of hypertrophy is typically achieved through high-volume, moderate-intensity weight training. It is fast to achieve but provides only temporary muscle gain.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the increase in muscle size due to an increase in the number and size of myofibrils, which are the contractile elements in muscle cells. This type of hypertrophy is typically achieved through low-volume, high-intensity weight training. It takes longer to achieve muscle gains but leads to a greater and longer-lasting increase in strength.

What is Progressive Tension Overload and How to Achieve it?

Progressive tension overload is achieved in natural bodybuilders by gradually increasing the weight used for each exercise. This can be done by increasing the weight by a small amount each week, or by doing more reps with the same weight. This gradual increase in weight and, or reps will cause the body to adapt and become stronger over time.

Progressive Overload - Image from Shutterstock

The 5×5 method is a great way to shock the muscles into doing something they haven't done before. You start by performing five sets of five reps of your major compound movements, adding more weight to the bar each time.

This gradual increase in weight eventually leads to a considerable increase in strength and muscle mass.

You can also take a fixed weight and add one rep each session – so if you did eight reps with a weight in one session, you'd aim for nine reps the next. It's important to keep the weight increments small, so you don't reach failure too soon.

Additionally, natural bodybuilders can also use other methods such as tempo training, forced reps, and partial reps to increase the difficulty of their workouts and create progressive tension overload.

Compound and Isolation Exercises – Choose Wisely

Compound exercises are exercises that involve multiple muscle groups and joints. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, and chin-ups. These types of exercises are great for overall strength and fitness, as they help to build multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Isolation exercises are exercises that involve targeting one muscle group at a time. Examples of isolation exercises include bicep curls, triceps extensions, and leg curls.

These types of exercises are great for targeting specific muscle groups in body parts like your arms or legs and improving strength and size in those particular muscles.

Isolation Exercise – Image from Shutterstock

To build muscles naturally, it is important to be smart when choosing exercises. A good bodybuilding program should focus mainly on compound lifts with heavy weights, done in low repetitions, to increase the size of the muscle fibers and strength.

A lesser portion of the program should include isolation exercises with lighter weights and higher repetitions, to boost blood flow to the muscle tissue, creating a good pump and promoting sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Always ensure to allow sufficient rest time between sets, typically 30 to 60 seconds between sets of isolation exercises and around 2 minutes between sets of compound exercises.

Example Exercises to Include in Your Upper-Body Workout

Select five or six exercises per workout, and switch them around to avoid monotony and boredom with your bodybuilding workout.

  • Barbell Bench Press – 4 sets of 5 reps

  • Barbell Squat – 3 sets x 5 to 8 reps

  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 5 reps

  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

  • Cable Rows – 3 sets of 5 reps

  • Lat Pulldowns/Pull-ups – 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

  • Barbell Curls – 3 sets of 5 reps

  • Triceps Pushdowns – 2 sets of 10 reps

  • Barbell Squat 3 sets x 5 to 8 reps

  • Leg Extensions 3 sets x 10 reps

Rest for 1–2 minutes between sets.

Example Exercises to Include in Your Lower-Body Workout

Again, select the number of exercises you want to include in your lower-body workout routine, alternating them to target different muscles and avoid boredom.

  • Squats – 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps

  • Glute Bridges – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

  • Lunges – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps (each leg)

  • Step-Ups – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps (each leg)

  • Calf Raises – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

  • Leg Press – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

  • Glute Kickbacks – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps (each leg)

  • Seated Leg Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

  • Standing Hamstring Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

  • Seated Calf Raises – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Rest for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

It is important to challenge your body with each strength training workout you do to promote development. Whenever you can, add extra weight to the bar. If that's not possible, try doing more reps, an additional set, or switching up the exercises. Doing something different with each workout provides the stimulus your body needs to get stronger and bigger, and including a bit of cardio is always good.

What You Eat is What You'll Get

Nutrition is an essential part of any natural bodybuilding routine. Eating a balanced diet of whole, nutritious foods is key to getting the most out of your workouts and achieving the desired results.

Eating the right foods helps to fuel your muscles, providing energy for intense training and allowing you to build muscle mass and reduce body fat.

A proper bodybuilding diet also ensures the body has the essential nutrients and vitamins needed for growth, recovery, and overall health.

Eating the correct foods can help to optimize hormone levels, increase strength and endurance, and even improve mental clarity and focus. In short, nutrition is key for natural bodybuilders to succeed.

When it comes to your diet, the two most important words will be calories and macronutrients.

The only way to build more muscle is to provide the raw materials your body needs.

Calories

You must consume more energy than you expend during the day. A calorie surplus is when you consume more calories than your body needs. This can help with gaining muscle and weight, as the excess calories will be used to build muscle, or if your caloric intake is too high, unburned calories will be stored as body fat.

Macronutrients

Macros play a crucial role in your quest to build the perfect body.

They are the three primary components of nutrition: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and are essential for the human body to function properly and are consumed in large amounts. They provide energy, help build and maintain the structure and organs of the body, and help regulate many metabolic processes.

Healthy food - Image from Shutterstock

Lean Protein: Proteins provide the building blocks of muscle tissue.

Carbohydrates: To build muscle tissue from those building blocks (protein), your body needs energy provided by carbs.

Dietary Fats: Although dietary fats also provide energy, their primary job is to normalize hormones like testosterone, key players in the direction of the muscle-building process.

To get the proper start, you might want to seek the guidance of a dietitian or nutritionist to help you understand how to determine your caloric needs. Ignorance could have the opposite effect, adding body fat instead of muscle mass.

Examples of macronutrients to include in a healthy diet for natural bodybuilders include the following:

Proteins: Lean beef, chicken breast, turkey, salmon, tuna, egg whites, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Carbohydrates: Oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Dietary Fats: Extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Plan Your Meals

Planning ahead is the key to success in obtaining your muscle-building goals, no matter how chaotic or unpredictable it may be. Taking the time to plan out your training program, nutrition plan, and meal program will help ensure you are prepared for whatever life throws at you and can take the stress out of worrying about what to do and what to eat if you are pushed for time.

It will also prevent you from rushing out to buy unhealthy meals because you are unprepared and out of time.

When planning your daily meals, ensure you include the following:

Protein

Protein is essential for building muscle mass, and the amount of protein you need each day depends on your individual goals. Generally, for muscle growth, it is recommended to consume at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day, or up to 2 grams per pound for more advanced bodybuilders.

Protein – Image from Shutterstock

Carbs

When it comes to consuming carbohydrates, it is best to focus on complex carbs that digest slowly, such as whole-grain bread, pasta, rice, and oatmeal, which have a low glycemic index. Simple carbohydrates like potatoes and white bread should be avoided as they are essentially fast-digesting simple sugars and can cause a spike in insulin, followed by a crash.

Complex Carbs – Image from Shutterstock

It is important to vary your carbohydrate intake to keep your body guessing and your metabolic rate up. Bodybuilders should have high-carb days on the more intense training days, such as leg days, to maximize their metabolic rate. Alternating between high and low-carb days helps to keep the metabolic rate accelerated.

Dietary Fats

If you are looking to gain serious size, do not neglect any macronutrients, including fats. Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats, are important for muscle repair and protection. However, trans fats like baked and fried foods should be avoided. Saturated fats can also play a role in bodybuilding goals.

Healthy Fats – Image from Shutterstock

Vegetables

Vegetables are essential for providing the body with essential nutrients that will benefit overall health. Fiber is particularly important for proper digestion and nutrient absorption and can help to prevent kidney stones and other ailments that are often associated with high protein diets. Men should aim for 35 to 40 grams of fiber per day and women should aim for 25 to 30 grams. Eating whole foods is the best way to get in this amount, but a fiber supplement may be necessary.

Vegetables – Image from Shutterstock

Hydrate

Water is an essential element for overall health and is necessary for proper hydration. It helps nutrients enter the bloodstream, aids in efficient protein synthesis, and aids in digestion. Water is also needed when taking supplements, as many can quickly cause dehydration. For serious bodybuilders, a good rule of thumb is to drink one gallon of water per day.

Water – Image from Shutterstock

Don't Starve Yourself

To meet the extreme demands of your training, you need to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition. You can do this by eating smaller meals more often (every 2 to 3 hours) or 3–4 bigger meals each day. It's important to make sure you are getting enough calories to meet your surplus for gaining muscle mass.

Workout Meal - Image from Shutterstock

Don't Miss a Meal

Your body requires fuel to cope with stress, so it's important to make sure you don't miss meals. If you feel hungry during the day, it's your body's way of telling you that it requires proper nutrition to replenish energy and aid in recovery. Therefore, it's best to ensure you don't get to the point of feeling hungry. Make sure to plan for those moments. Having an apple or a banana on hand will prevent you from buying a candy bar or unhealthy fast food.

Supplements

Natural bodybuilding does not mean all supplements are forbidden. Only performance-enhancing supplements and any products containing artificial fillers, sweeteners, and other additives are forbidden.

What to consider when choosing supplements?

Quality ingredients: Always look for supplements that are made with high-quality, natural ingredients. Avoid supplements with artificial sweeteners, fillers, or other additives.

Dosage: Be sure to read the label and follow the dosage instructions carefully. Too much of certain vitamins or minerals can be dangerous.

Safety: Make sure the supplement you’re taking is safe and has been tested for purity and potency.

Research: Research the supplement thoroughly to make sure it is right for you. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to be certain it’s a good fit for your body and goals.

Protein

While a protein supplement isn't compulsory, it makes it simpler to get the right amount of daily protein. Bodybuilders have a much greater need for protein than the general public. To meet these needs, a diet of whole foods is usually sufficient; however, incorporating a high-grade whey protein supplement into their regimen is an easy way to make sure they are getting enough protein. This can be used as a snack or after a workout.

Strive for a top-notch whey isolate that gives you 20–30 grams per serving.

This will assist you in reaching your protein aim of one to two grams per pound of body mass daily. The best aspect of protein supplements is the quick digestion and absorption of the amino acids, enabling them to go right into the muscle.

Creatine

Creatine is a well-known bodybuilding supplement that has been proven to be effective. It is converted into ATP in the body, the necessary energy to work out harder. It also helps with post-workout recovery, reducing muscle soreness and helping you to bounce back faster.

A quality creatine supplement should include 5 grams per dose, and for best results, it is advised to take one serving before and after a workout.

ATP-FUSION is a stimulant-free non-bloat muscle-building creatine, perfect for men and women seeking lean muscle gains.

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that is important for muscle metabolism. It is also known to have immune-strengthening properties, as well as aid digestion. When you work out, your body’s stores of glutamine diminish quickly, so it is wise to take it before, during, and after your workout. The video below will show how you can benefit from the ELITE PRE-WORKOUT STACK, which contains Glutamine containing Pre-, Intra- and Post-workout supplements.

You can read the Science behind ADABOLIC by Dr. Paul Henning here.

Pre-Workout

Another product explained in this video is CHARGED-AF, containing Citrulline, Betaine Anhydrous, and Beta-Alanine. Maximizing the impact of your exercise routine is critical to achieving the best results in a timely manner. Clinical studies have demonstrated that these components can significantly boost strength, muscle mass, stamina, recovery, blood flow, and much more.

CHARGED-AF pre-workout contains proper amounts of these elements as well as other ingredients for maximum effectiveness.

Multivitamin

It is essential to take a multivitamin supplement to complement the nutrition you get from your whole foods. The intensity of bodybuilding can be too much for the body to handle if it is not supplied with the necessary nutrients. Thus, it is imperative to purchase a good quality multivitamin like ONE+ to consume with your breakfast.

Anti-Oxidants

Antioxidants are essential nutrients that rid the body of dangerous toxins. It's essential to incorporate a selection of antioxidants in a bodybuilding program, as exercising will generate free radicals which can be damaging to the body. STEEL’s ESSENTIAL STACK will have your back.

TAKE AWAY

In conclusion, natural bodybuilding is an effective way to build muscle, burn fat, and improve overall health and fitness. It is important to begin with a well-designed workout plan and diet program tailored to your individual goals.

Proper nutrition, adequate rest, and gradual progression are key to achieving the desired results in a safe and healthy way. With dedication and hard work, anyone can become a successful natural bodybuilder.