Building muscle mass: This is how it works

Muskelmasse aufbauen: So funktioniert es

You train a lot and like to do sports, but you haven't seen any real results yet? One of the reasons for this may be that your training is not effective enough. If you want to see a change in your body, it takes more than simply going to the gym. If you want to build muscle mass, you have to find the right balance between training and rest and make changes to your diet.

Here you will learn everything you need to know about building muscle mass and learn some methods to get better results faster. You'll also learn why muscle mass is relevant to more than just looks and that not everyone can achieve the same results.

the essentials in brief

  • In addition to the visual effect, building muscle mass also has health benefits and is important for protein metabolism. As you age, your body sheds muscle every year. Physical activity and a healthy diet help to stop muscle loss in old age.
  • How much muscle mass you can build also depends on your genetics. Men can gain up to 22 kilograms and women only 10 kilograms. Because of a high testosterone level, men can therefore also build muscle mass faster.
  • The most important success factor is the right strength training, in which you should not underestimate the recovery time. But a balanced and protein-rich diet can also support muscle building.

Background: What you should know about building muscle mass

Before we get to the tips for building muscle mass quickly, it makes sense to look at how muscle building actually works and how you can influence it. We have summarized the most important background information for you so that no question remains unanswered.

What happens in the body when building muscle?

Muscle building is also called " muscle hypertrophy ". When you strain your body, for example by doing weight training, your muscles are initially damaged. In order to recover from heavy physical exertion, skeletal muscle adapts to heavy physical exertion and individual muscle fibers are enlarged.

Muscle building is an adaptive reaction of the body.

It is important that muscle activity exceeds a certain threshold and damage occurs. Only then can the tissue be strengthened again. So, for muscle building to occur, the muscles must be exercised beyond threshold for an extended period of time.(1)

What does it mean to build muscle mass?

In addition to the purely visual aspect, building muscle mass also has health benefits. If you've been confined to your bed for several weeks after an illness, you'll lose around 25 percent of your muscle mass.

Even with increasing age, without regular physical activity, your muscle mass gradually decreases and converts to fat. From the age of 30, your body sheds almost 1 percent of muscle annually. That's about 40 percent of your muscle mass by the time you hit 80.

Muscle mass is crucial for protein metabolism. It is important for health, strength and functionality and promotes healing in case of diseases and wounds. Immune and organ function also depend on it. If you lose 10 percent of your muscles, this already leads to a higher risk of infection. Sporting activity is therefore harmful in your case, be it to build muscle or just to maintain your muscle mass.(2,3)

How much muscle mass is considered normal?

The normal amount of muscle mass, i.e. the skeletal muscles in your body, cannot be called a flat rate because it depends on your body weight and your gender. In general, however, it can be said that it accounts for about 40% of body weight in men and about 35% in women. This applies to normal-weight men and women in their mid-twenties.

The natural muscle mass has usually reached its maximum at this age and decreases with age. But with certain physical activity, you can maintain or even improve that percentage over the years. (4)

How much muscle mass can I build?

The maximum amount of muscle mass you can build differs according to gender. There are various models that will give you information about this, but fitness coach Lyle McDonald's model is the most well-known. Accordingly, as a man, you can build up an average of between 20 and 22 kilograms in addition to your existing muscle mass. On the other hand, a woman can only build up an additional 10 kilograms of muscle mass.

man in the gym

Not only does strength training help you transform your appearance, but it also has many health benefits. But there is a difference between men and women. Men can build more muscle mass faster and overall than women. (Image Source: Sam Moquadam / Unsplash)

Depending on your body size, it can also be a little more or a little less. This assumes that you have not yet built up any special muscles and are starting from scratch, so to speak. If you've already exercised and built muscle, you'll need to subtract that amount from the maximum.(5)

How long does it take to build muscle mass?

According to McDonald, muscle gain is greatest within the first year and then decreases as training progresses. As a man, you can gain around 250 grams of muscle mass per week in the first year with good training. This corresponds to 1 kilogram per month and adds up to 9 to 11 kilograms per year. The following table should give you an overview:

training year Muscle mass in kilograms
1 between 9 and 11 kilograms
2 between 4.5 and 5.5 kilograms
3 between 2.3 and 2.7 kilograms
4 between 1 and 2 kilograms

About half of the information applies to women. The values ​​drop by almost half every year, so that after 4 years of continuous training you can only build up 1 to 2 kilograms of muscle mass per year. If you started with 60 kilograms of lean mass (body weight minus stored fat), you will have reached around 80 kilograms after 4 years.

Fitness trainer Alan Aragon's model focuses less on years of training and more on your training status. This means that you can gain 1 percent of your body weight in muscle mass in one month as a beginner in strength training and between 0.25 and 0.5 percent as a professional.(6)

Can I still gain muscle mass as I get older?

You can still build muscle mass as you get older. You should of course adjust the training individually, but sport is good at any age to build up or at least maintain muscles. It becomes even more important with age, as we lose more of our original muscle mass every year due to less exercise.

A weekly endurance training of up to 140 minutes will help you stop muscle breakdown. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator in everyday life or preferring the bike to the car can keep you fit into old age. The right diet can also support your muscle building.(7)

Build muscle mass: The 5 most important success factors for building muscle quickly

Now that you've decided to build muscle mass, there are several things you can do. We want to introduce you to the most important success factors that can help you on your way to a more muscular body.

How can I effectively build muscle mass?

Muscle building depends on several factors. You can influence most of these, but there are also some things or other things that you have no influence over. In the following you will find out more about the individual factors.


Diet plays a key role in strength training to build muscle mass. The time after exercise is crucial, because during strength training your metabolism breaks down proteins, fats and carbohydrates and enters an anabolic state. During this time, metabolic activity is particularly high.

So use this time to provide your body with plenty of vitamins and protein combined with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates in particular provide you with energy and accelerate protein synthesis. Examples of foods that promote muscle growth include the following:

  • Dairy and cheese products (eggs, yoghurt, cheese etc.)
  • Fish and lean meat (turkey, chicken, beef)
  • Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.)
  • fruit and vegetables
  • Cereals (quinoa, oats etc.)
  • tofu

Carbohydrates should make up about 40 to 50 percent of your daily calories and protein between 20 and 30 percent. Otherwise, fatty acids are essential for the body. They are found, for example, in nuts, avocados or vegetable oils. They should also make up 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories.(8)


In addition to healthy eating, many body builders and athletes use supplements that not only build muscle, but may also improve health. They come in the form of powders, tablets, or liquids. In principle, they contain nutrients that you also find in ordinary foods, only more concentrated and in higher doses.

Whey protein , casein and L-glutamine , for example, are suitable for beginners because they are high in protein, carbohydrates and fat. Advanced users also like to resort to creatine if they are not achieving the desired results through intensive training.

However, beginners are not advised to do so, as the supplement does not bring any other benefits for them. You should always choose your supplements wisely and remember that they are not a substitute for a balanced diet.(9)


The most effective and crucial way to build muscle is strength training. Choose a variety of exercises and focus on targeting one muscle, such as the back muscles , in isolation, as this is the most effective way to stimulate muscle growth. You can vary between exercises with free weights and exercises on large machines.

Man deadlift

Strength training is the most effective form of building muscle mass. You should vary between different exercises and train with both free weights and machines. (Image Source: Victor Freitas / Unsplash)

In addition, the intensity is an important factor, which is expressed as a one repetition maximum. It describes the maximum weight that you can move during an exercise. So that you can now achieve your desired result, you move your weights in a range of 60 to 80 percent of your personal one repetition maximum and repeat the exercise in this range about 8 to 15 times.

For beginners, it is enough to do one exercise per muscle within a training session. For advanced users, it's recommended to do about 3 sets per muscle group, but you'll make the best progress if you do as many repetitions as possible.

It doesn't matter how often you train. At best, you train at least 2 days a week and take rest periods on 3 to 4 days. (10)


In addition to training, the regeneration phase is at least as important. You should pay attention to supercompensation because it states that exercise followed by rest allows for faster protein synthesis in your body, which leads to increased performance.

So you should give your body enough time after your workout before continuing so you don't re-damage damaged tissue. This is exactly when supercompensation is at its peak and equates to about 48 hours when you should be resting that muscle group. Sufficient sleep is also important for regeneration. (10)

Personal success factors

How much muscle mass you can build is also largely up to you and your genetics. As a woman, you can build muscle less and more slowly than a man, because men have high levels of testosterone, which promotes building. Ultimately, testosterone levels are also affected by age, so you can also build muscle faster as a younger person.

Since every body is composed differently, everyone has a different number of muscle fibers. Conversely, if you have less, you can also build less. Likewise, if you have more white muscle fibers, you can build more muscle mass and if you have more red fibers, this process will be more difficult. Your muscle building can only be influenced to a certain extent. (10)


So there are more benefits to building muscle mass than just looking muscular. Muscle mass is also instrumental in protein metabolism and also has some health benefits, such as stronger immune function and a lower risk of infection.

First and foremost, disciplined strength training will help you achieve your goals. However, this is only effective if you give your body enough time to regenerate. A healthy diet and protein supplements will also help. However, every body is individual and whether and how quickly you reach your desired mass also depends on your gender and genetics.


  1. Friedmann, B., Recent developments in strength training. Muscular adaptive responses to different strength training methods, 2007, German Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 58, No. 1, pp. 12-18 Source
  2. NDR: Muscle loss: The underestimated risk, 01/23/2018 Source
  3. Kressig, R., Quality of life in old age - focus on muscle mass and muscle strength, 02/2012, Swiss Journal of Nutritional Medicine, pp. 25-26 Source
  4. Stemper, T., Muscle Building Training - Which Training Method Is Most Effective?, 2017, Fitness and Health, pp. 80-82 Source
  5. McDonald, L., The Ketogenic Diet: A complete guide for the Dieter and Practitioner, 1998, ISBN: 0-9671456-0-0 Source
  6. How fast and how much muscle mass can you build up? (Genetic Limit), Dotzhauer, D. Source
  7. Muscle building is so important in old age, Tackmann, U. Source
  8. "Use anabolic window": You have to eat that to build muscle, Schneider,P., 2021 Source
  9. 7 Dietary Supplements That Really Matter, Schaarschmidt, J., 2020 Source
  10. Academy for Sport and Health: Muscle building - what you need to know about physiology, training & nutrition, Bergmann, J. Source
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