Staying active is vital for overall health, and it is also the best way to build skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is one of the three major muscle types. Tendons attach these muscles, which contract and cause movement, to bones.
People are best able to improve their muscle mass by performing the right exercises and eating particular foods.
In this article, we look at how to develop the skeletal muscles, including what types of exercise to engage in, which foods to eat, and when to rest and stretch.
How do muscles grow in the body?
Muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance or weight. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers of the muscles sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles.
Certain hormones, including testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin growth factor, also play a role in muscle growth and repair.
These hormones work by:
- changing how the body processes proteins by preventing protein degradation and stimulating satellite cells, a kind of stem cell involved in muscle development.
- Anabolic hormones, which increase muscle growth and protein synthesis, are stimulated.
- promoting tissue development
Strength and resistance training can help the body:
- release growth hormone from the pituitary gland
- stimulate testosterone release
- improve the sensitivity of the muscles to testosterone
Do males and females grow muscles differently?
A variety of factors, including genetics and the levels of estrogen and testosterone in the body, can affect how rapidly a person can develop muscles.
Regardless of biological sex, muscle grows at different rates for people with different body types.
Both males and females can have the following body shapes, and each requires a different approach to muscle building:
- Mesomorphic: Persons with this body type are often muscular and grow muscle mass far faster than people with other body types.
- Ectomorphic: A slender or straight frame is described as ectomorphic. Ectomorphs have a lower likelihood of gaining muscle mass, but resistance training can help them gain strength.
- Endomorphic body types have a more rounded or curving shape. Strength training is the most effective way for people with an endomorphic body to gain muscle.
However, in an interview with Australian news service ABC, sports scientist Dr. Tony Boutagy points out several traits that are more pronounced in males and support faster muscle growth. These include larger muscle mass, higher testosterone, and tighter joints.
Building muscles through exercise
People build muscle at different rates depending on their age, sex, and genetics, but muscle development significantly increases if exercise is:
People also achieve the best results when they follow exercise with enough rest.
The best type of exercise to build muscle is strength training, although cardiovascular activity can also provide benefits.
It takes several weeks or months of consistent activity and exercise before muscle changes become visible.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, adults should engage in muscle-strengthening exercises that involve all major muscle groups at least twice weekly.
Examples of strength training activities include:
- Lifting free weights
- Using stationary weight machines
- Resistance band activities
- Bodyweight exercises such as pushups and squats
- strength training classes that incorporate some or all of the above activities.
A 2019 review Trusted Source looked at the effects of resistance training on the conditioning of crew members preparing for spaceflight. Its findings suggest that resistance training with three weight sets was generally more effective than performing one set.
However, a one set resistance program also yielded benefits.
Strength training and aging
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of limited mobility and other skeletal and muscular problems, such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.
However, older adults should try to meet adult exercise guidelines if they can. If they are unable to do this, they should remain as physically active as their physical limitations allow.
Strength training is also beneficial for older adults to prevent injury and aid recovery.
Also known as aerobic activity or simply “cardio,” cardiovascular exercise benefits a person’s heart and respiratory system.
Cardio is vital for overall health. Current guidelines recommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.
While some people believe that aerobic exercise does not help build muscles, recent research disagrees. Regular cardio can support muscle growth and function. It also increases overall fitness levels, which may help reduce the risk of injury.
For optimal muscle building, the authors of a 2014 review suggest that people carry out aerobic exercise:
- at 70–80% of their heart rate reserve, which a person can calculate by subtracting their resting heart rate from their maximum heart rate
- for 30–45 minutes at a time
- on 4–5 days per week
Rest and muscle growth
Muscle growth necessitates a significant amount of rest. A person’s ability to mend is harmed if they do not allow each muscle group to rest. Inadequate rest also stifles fitness gains and raises the chance of injury.
People should not strength train the same muscle group on two consecutive days, according to MOVE!, a US Department of Veterans Affairs fitness campaign.
For the process of muscular building, getting enough sleep is also critical. Sleep debt, according to the experts behind a 2011 studyTrusted Source, reduces protein synthesis, contributes to muscle loss, and limits muscle repair. However, a lot more research is needed to confirm the link.
According to a report published in 2019, Sleep and muscle gain have no clear link, according to Trusted Source. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, may increase the amount of cortisol that circulates in the body after exercise, according to the study’s authors. Cortisol, or cortisol, is a stress hormone.
Stress reduction may aid in muscle growth.
The hormones released by the body during times of stress have a negative impact on muscular development, according to a reliable source.
Diet and building muscles
Eating a balanced and healthful diet is key to staying fit. For people who wish to build muscle, protein intake is especially important.
Current guidelines recommend that adult males and females consume 56 grams of protein (g) and 46 g, respectively, every day.
The timing of protein intake may also be of importance. A paper belonging to the 2013 Nestlé Nutrition Institute Workshop Series suggests that consuming 20 g of dietary protein during or immediately after exercise helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, reduce protein breakdown, and promote more effective muscle reconditioning.
Sources of protein include:
- milk and cheese
- soybeans and tofu
- beans and lentils
Tips for beginners
A fitness professional can advise people on the correct form to use when lifting weights and using other gym equipment. Using the right technique reduces the risk of injury and enhances the potential to build muscle.
People may also benefit from following the advice below:
- Before indulging in strength or cardio workouts, warm up and stretch for 5–10 minutes.
- Start with low weights and progressively raise the weight or resistance level.
- All exercises should be performed with proper form, breathing methods, and controlled movement.
- Expect some muscle soreness and weariness afterward, especially in the beginning. Excessive soreness or exhaustion, on the other hand, indicates that the workouts are too intense, too frequent, or too long.
People should consult a doctor before embarking on any new exercise regimen if they have underlying health conditions or concerns about injury. Otherwise, a personal trainer or gym employee can provide safety guidance.