5 beginner tips to start gaining body mass the healthy way

Start your muscle gain programme right with these super simple steps

avocado and eggs are both great foods for building muscle

Photo credit - Stacy Spensley

While a few years ago I would never, ever think I'd say this about myself - I'm a gym fanatic. I've been lifting things, running on things, I've even been bending a bit (thank you yoga). It's a new me!

But while I've been pumping iron for the sake of general fitness, a friend of mine is doing it with another goal in mind. Deciding he's tired of always picking the size small shirts, he wants to bulk up. Now this friend's knowledge of food, health and nutrition is, and I'm being generous here, basic. As in "my daily food routine is a protein shake. an egg sandwich and pasta" basic.

So I came up with some easy to follow advice to help him achieve his goals without obsessing night and day over what he does - or growing his own wheatgrass, as my sweetly optimistic personal trainer suggested I do (I did not).

Below are quick summaries of the five tips I gave him - and in future posts I plan to dig down into each one to provide a bit more detail.

And one last thing - be patient! Change doesn't happen overnight.

1. Put down the protein shake

There's really no evidence a protein shake will help someone already eating a well-balanced diet build any more muscle. That's because the body has a set amount of protein it can use in a day. The rest will go, quite literally, down the drain.

eggs are a fantastic source of fat and protein

Photo credit - Andrea Nguyen

You can get as much protein as you need by eating healthier foods like eggs, yoghurt, beans, nuts and chicken - with the added bonus that these foods are packed with other nutrition to help you maintain a balanced diet.

2. Eat lots of healthy fats and whole grain carbohydrates

As well as protein, to build up body mass you will need to increase the amount you eat overall.

Focus on food containing healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados and keep your energy levels high with whole grains like porridge, brown rice and quinoa. Increase your food intake gradually and monitor how your body is responding. To get started, try eating a handful of nuts after a meal, having an extra egg for breakfast or eating an avocado salad dressed in olive oil between meals. Also - sweet potatoes are your friend.

3. Do full body exercises

There are two major variations of exercises - isolation and composite. Isolation work just one group of muscles at a time, while composite works muscles all over your body. I'll go into that in the more detailed post later.

composite exercises work the whole body, improve stability and prevent injury down the road

To gain muscles while feeling stronger, healthier and more in control, go for "composite" exercises about 3 times a week to improve both power and stability, which will reduce the chance of injuries down the road and prevent time off at the gym!

Good composite exercises include squats, planks, deadlifts and bent over (or seated) rows. Have a google and see what you else you like the look of!

4. Do some cardio!

Cardiovascular exercise is so important for your long term health, you should work some into your fitness routine from the start. You don't need to run a marathon - 25 minutes of interval training on a treadmill or cross trainer will do great work for you - but don't go all out from day one. That stuff is hardcore.

interval training is a fantastic short burst of cardio activity that's great  for long term health

Yes the calories you burn may slightly slow your muscle gains, but the increased endurance will also help you avoid that horrible "oh God oh God I'm gonna pass out" feeling after a tough set on the weights - I call that a win.

5. Don't worry about getting "too lumpy"

I promise, you are not going to look like a show-ready bodybuilder with no visible body fat, bulging muscles everywhere and glistening from a spray tan by accident. If you can barely lift a pot plant and your main worry is whether your new muscles will rip all of your t-shirts, you might be getting ahead of yourself.

If your aim is to only get toned, that's probably what's going to happen. It takes a lot of time and commitment for naturally slim men and most women to really pile on muscle - you'll notice soon enough how your body is developing and whether you want to adjust your routine or diet.

In the early days, focus on doing the exercises properly, training your muscles to work efficiently and eating enough to maintain your energy levels, and they will grow at a noticeable but healthy pace.


Okay, that's all my advice for now! I'm really looking forward to digging into each of these points and offering more detail, so tweet me @JustHospitality or just comment below if you have any questions.

Further reading - Are protein shakes healthy? - The second entry in the series for beginners who want to pile on the muscle Recipe - Flaxseed energy bites - A fresh, healthy, super easy recipe to give you a shot of energy before the gym