Building Mass Muscle: The Exercise and Protein Connection

May 21, 2023 | 


Joanna Newman


Building mass muscle is a goal that many regular exercisers aspire to achieve. There are several approaches one can take, including adjusting exercise routines and dietary habits, specifically protein intake. Here, we will examine these factors and discuss the impact of age on muscle growth.

How to Gain Muscle Mass

For those already engaged in regular exercise, the first step towards gaining muscle mass is adjusting their workout routine. The key to increasing muscle size, known as hypertrophy, is to focus on strength training exercises that target multiple muscle groups. These might include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends performing strength training exercises 2-3 times per week. However, achieving muscle hypertrophy requires more intensive training. This might involve lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions, progressively increasing the weight you lift, or increasing the volume of your training, either by doing more exercises per muscle group or adding more sets.

Recovery is also essential for muscle growth. This includes getting sufficient sleep and allowing at least 48 hours between training sessions for a specific muscle group to allow for muscle repair and growth.

The Role of Protein

Why is a protein often linked with gym-goers and athletes? Proteins are the building blocks of muscles. They consist of amino acids, which are essential for muscle repair and growth. When you work out, especially when doing strength training, your muscles experience microscopic damage. This damage is repaired with protein, leading to muscle growth.

But does that mean you need to consume excess protein? Not necessarily. While protein intake is critical for muscle growth, consuming more protein than your body needs won´t necessarily lead to more muscle. It´s about balance and timing.

The American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggest that athletes consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on the intensity of their training. It´s also recommended to consume protein within two hours after exercise to maximize muscle repair and growth.

While it´s not dangerous to consume excess protein in the short term, long-term overconsumption can lead to potential health issues like kidney damage, especially for those with pre-existing kidney conditions. Therefore, it´s always a good idea to consult a nutritionist or dietitian to determine the right amount of protein intake for your specific needs.

Young Athletes and Muscle Growth

What about individuals younger than 18? Can they safely build muscle mass? The answer is yes, but with a few important considerations.

Youth strength training should be supervised by a qualified professional and focus on proper form and technique rather than lifting heavy weights. ACSM guidelines suggest that children and adolescents should participate in strength training exercises for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week.

Regarding protein intake, it´s important for young athletes to consume a balanced diet with sufficient protein to support growth and development. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily protein intake of 34 grams for 9-13-year-olds and 52 grams for boys and 46 grams for girls aged 14-18. However, these needs may be slightly higher for those engaged in regular strength training.

It´s essential that young athletes avoid protein supplements unless advised by a healthcare provider, as these can sometimes contain harmful substances and lead to unnecessary excess protein intake. Instead, they should aim to get protein from wholesome food sources like lean meats, dairy, eggs, and plant-based proteins like beans and lentils.

Building muscle mass is a journey that involves a combination of strength training, adequate recovery, and balanced nutrition. Regardless of age, it´s important to approach it safely and consult healthcare and fitness professionals along the way. By doing so, individuals can gain muscle mass effectively and sustainably, without compromising their overall health.

Consistency is Key

One critical aspect of building muscle mass is consistency. Whether it´s your workouts or nutrition, staying consistent with your routine can help you see the progress you´re aiming for. Make sure you´re consistently challenging yourself in your workouts, progressively increasing the intensity over time. Likewise, consistently consuming a balanced, protein-rich diet is crucial to support muscle growth and recovery.

The Mind-Muscle Connection

While physical exertion is a significant part of muscle building, it´s essential not to neglect the psychological aspects. Developing a strong mind-muscle connection, where you focus on the muscle you are working during each exercise, can optimize muscle activation and lead to more significant gains.

Hydration and Rest

Hydration plays an essential role in muscle building. Water helps transport nutrients to your muscles and remove waste products, aiding in recovery. Aim for at least 8 cups of water per day, and more if you´re sweating heavily during workouts.

Rest is just as important as your workouts. Your muscles need time to repair and grow after a workout. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you´re feeling overly fatigued, it may be a sign that you need to take more rest days.

The Role of Carbohydrates and Fats

While protein gets a lot of attention, carbohydrates, and fats are also important for muscle growth. Carbohydrates provide the energy your muscles need during a workout. After workouts, carbs help replenish your muscles´ energy stores.

Healthy fats are also beneficial. They support hormone production, including testosterone, which plays a significant role in muscle growth.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found in food — the other two being protein and fat. They serve as a primary source of energy for the body. The term "carbohydrate" comes from the chemical composition: they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.

Carbohydrates can be classified into three categories: sugars, starches, and fiber. Here´s a brief look at each:

Sugars: These are the simplest form of carbohydrates and include both single sugar molecules (monosaccharides) like glucose and fructose and double sugar molecules (disaccharides) like sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (found in milk).

Starches: Also known as complex carbohydrates, starches are made up of many sugar units bonded together. They´re found in foods like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. During digestion, the body breaks down these complex carbs into glucose for energy.

Fiber: This is a type of carbohydrate that the body can´t digest. Despite passing through the body without being broken down into sugar molecules, dietary fiber plays a significant role in maintaining health. It can aid digestion, help control blood sugar, and contribute to feelings of fullness, which can help manage weight.

When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose (blood sugar), which is used for immediate energy or stored in your muscles and liver for later use. The type and amount of carbohydrates you consume can affect your health, energy levels, and weight, so it´s important to focus on high-quality sources, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, as part of a balanced diet.


Building mass muscle is a comprehensive process that includes the right balance of strength training, nutrition, and recovery. It´s not about excessive protein intake but rather about a well-rounded diet and consistent, well-planned workout routines.

For younger individuals, it´s safe to engage in strength training and consume a balanced, protein-rich diet, under proper supervision and guidance. However, it´s recommended to avoid protein supplementation unless advised by a healthcare provider.

Whether you´re a seasoned gym-goer or a young athlete, the keys to gaining muscle mass are consistency, proper form, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest. With these in mind, you´ll be on the path to sustainable and healthy muscle growth.