Building muscle without steroids can be extremely challenging.
The harsh truth is that most fitness models, bodybuilders, and movie stars supplement their training with drugs. And this makes it very easy for them to pack on mass.
You see, anabolic steroids manipulate your hormone levels and interact directly with your muscle cells to increase muscle protein synthesis – and this radically enhances your rates of muscle growth.
However, there are a lot of negative side effects to taking steroids, from short-term aggression and acne to long-term brain damage and crippled testosterone production.
The good news is that it’s still possible to build quality muscle as a natural lifter (see my transformation above). It just takes a slightly different approach (and slightly more patience).
Get ready, because you’re about to learn exactly how to rapidly pack on mass (without drugs).
Step #1: Get Lean BEFORE You Bulk Up
The first step is to cut down and get lean (before you gain weight and bulk up).
While steroids allow you to efficiently pack on mass and shred fat regardless of your body fat percentage, it’s a different story as a natural lifter.
Why? Getting Lean Naturally Boosts Testosterone
Studies show that higher levels of body fat are linked with lower levels of testosterone and decreased insulin sensitivity. They also confirm that it’s possible to increase your testosterone (and your insulin sensitivity) simply by lowering your body fat percentage.
This is significant because both of these things play a large role in the muscle building process.
You see, higher levels of testosterone (and increased insulin sensitivity) both lead to higher rates of muscle protein synthesis. And this means that you get to build more muscle.
Let me phrase this in a different way, in case that doesn’t make sense: When you get lean, your body becomes more efficient at building muscle. For every pound of bodyweight that you gain, more of it will be muscle and less of it will be fat (versus when you’re at a higher body fat percentage).
And That’s Not the Only Reason to Get Lean First…
We all want to look good naked. And the key to looking good naked is being lean.
Yes, you also want to have quality muscle mass. But if it’s covered by a thick layer of fat, you’re still going to look like shit. When you get lean, you essentially remove that layer of fat and expose your muscle definition. Even if you’re not quite as big as you want to be, you will still look good.
So by cutting down first, you get the gratification of looking good sooner, rather than delaying that gratification for months and months of bulking up and looking chubby.
Plus, building muscle takes longer than cutting fat. Our bodies are simply not naturally capable of packing on mass faster than half a pound per week (as best!). However, you can cut fat as quickly as one pound per week without losing muscle in the process.
So Exactly How Lean Should I Get?
So now you’re probably wondering: “Ok cool, but how lean do I need to get?”
Good question. There’s no perfect answer here, but I believe you should cut down to around 12-15% body fat (here’s what that looks like).
For most guys, this will allow you to optimize your hormone levels and look good naked, without starving yourself or risking developing an eating disorder.
You see, the leaner you get, the more you’ll have to restrict your calories in order to keep burning fat and losing weight. And once you approach about 10% body fat, this can become a painful process. In my opinion, there’s no reason to subject yourself to that pain unless you’re planning to become a fitness model or doing a bodybuilding competition.
Not to mention, extremely low body fat percentages can actually lead to negative side effects like compromised hormone levels and a hindered immune system. Our bodies simply require some level of body fat to function at an optimal level.
Step #2: Once Lean, Gain Weight SLOWLY
Once you’ve reached the aforementioned level of around 12-15% body fat, it’s time to build some muscle!
However, you must be careful here. Traditional bodybuilding-style bulking (where you aim to gain as much as 1-2 pounds per week) only works well for steroid users…
Why? Gaining Weight Too Fast Leads to Fat Gain
As I mentioned above, your body is only naturally capable of synthesizing about half a pound of muscle per week… and that’s only if you’re brand new to lifting! This means that any weight you gain beyond this point will be strictly fat.
Just like anything in life, there are diminishing marginal returns. The more training experience you have, and the more muscle you build, the harder it becomes to gain additional mass.
With steroids, this limit does not exist. You can stuff your face, gain 1-2 pounds per week, and almost all of it will be muscle. And this is why a lot of bodybuilding advice tells you to “eat big” and gain weight fast.
However, if you’re a natural lifter, gaining weight too fast will just make you fat!
So Exactly How Fast Should I Gain Weight?
In the video above, I break down my top 9 foods for gaining muscle (without gaining fat).
Now, given your body’s natural limits, you should aim to gain half a pound per week (or 2 pounds per month) in order to optimize muscle growth. This ensures that your body has the extra energy it needs to synthesize new muscle tissue. It also ensures that you don’t go overboard and gain a bunch of fat.
When combined with a solid training routine (and a relatively low body fat), gaining about 2 pounds per month will allow you to efficiently pack on mass without gaining fat.
And, as a natural lifter, this is your best possible option. It allows you to gain size and get bigger while staying lean (and maintaining optimal hormone levels) all year round!
Also… Make Sure Your Training is Optimized for Bulking
If you gain weight, but your workout routine isn’t on point, you can still end up gaining fat.
The fact is that some training routines are simply better for building mass. In short, make sure your training routine follows these 3 key principles:
- Focused on compound movements (squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups, etc)
Your routine should include more compound movements than isolation movements (curls, tricep extensions, abs, leg curls, etc). These movements allow you to move more weight, and this stimulates more muscle growth as a result.
- Built in progression that forces you to increase the weights
If you don’t give your body a reason to build more muscle, then it won’t. And the best way to give your body this reason is to use progressive overload and consistently, but slowly, increase the weights.
- Enough volume (and enough rest) for you
If you’re a new lifter, a simple 3-day per week full body routine is optimal. At this point, you don’t need much of a workload to grow, and 3 days per week is more than enough. If you’re more advanced, then consider a 4-day per week routine.
The Fastest Way to Build Muscle Naturally
Ok, let’s quickly review the best way to build muscle without steroids:
- Start by getting lean (12-15% body fat)
- This will increase your testosterone, and you’ll look better naked
- Next, start gaining weight (2 pounds per month is optimal)
- This will max out your natural muscle growth limits and minimize fat gain
- Make sure you follow a proper, progressive-overload based routine
This simple system will allow you to consistently get bigger and stronger. Plus, it will make sure you stay lean all year round in the process!