Is there anything I can do to increase muscle mass other than weightlifting?

Last updated on August 4, 2020


I am 16 and I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to increase muscle growth other than just generally lifting weights. I know it strays from the general or typical questions you get, but it is still (somewhat of) a body and biological question.  Are there any type of food that can help raise my testosterone level or is that just a hereditary thing? I know protein helps, and that isolate whey protein is supposed to boost you as well.  I have also heard that eating a large number of carbohydrates with whey protein right after a workout increases the repairs of your muscles. But that last one might be a myth, because I haven’t tried it.

Thanks for all the wonderful work you have done on this site! I’m sure everyone appreciates it.


Actually, I’m glad you asked about muscle building. I have some interest in that area since I’m a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a certified instructor.

Wouldn’t that be nice, to be able to eat your way into building muscle? Before you can build large muscles, you have to reach stage four of development in Tanner’s stages of physical development. Before that point, you can increase your strength (within limits), but your muscle mass will not increase. If you are curious as to what stage you have reached in your own development, you can use the Tanner Stage Calculator for Boys to make an estimate. Generally, if you have started growing facial hair, you have reached stage four.

In the design of the human male, God made our muscles such that when they are taxed, additional muscles grow to make the task easier. The exact mechanism that triggers that growth is not known, though that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from guessing, and even more people making claims so they can dip their hands into your bank account. Interestingly, the opposite is also true. If a muscle isn’t stressed, it will eventually wither away (the process is called atrophy). This is why someone who has been ill or injured for a long time has to work to regain their strength once they recover. Actually, your body is constantly recycling your muscle fibers. Stressing the muscles just causes them to grow faster than they are taken apart.

Women are able to build up muscle strength, but like boys before stage four, there are limits to the size of muscles they seem to be able to build. This has led to the conclusion that testosterone is involved in regulating the number of muscles a person can build. Testosterone is one of a class of chemicals called anabolic steroids. “Anabolic” means “growing.” What is true for testosterone is also true for other anabolic steroids.

But taking testosterone won’t give you bigger muscles. Your body has natural regulators to control your hormone levels (though these are developing during adolescence, which leads to your hormones levels being unsteady). If you take supplemental testosterone, your body concludes you are producing too much and shuts down the production in your testicles. If you take extra testosterone for too long, you testicles can actually “forget” how to make testosterone, so that when you stop taking the supplements, your hormone levels drop way too low. Taken too long, the testes actually shrink and stop producing as much sperm — in other words, you would damaging your ability to have children along with your ability to have sex.

Worse, taking too much testosterone in your adolescent years throws your system that controls your growth off. It thinks you are older than you really are and you stop growing sooner than you would have without the supplements.

Taking excess testosterone has serious side effects. You can get too much of it. Since a man’s moods are tied to his hormone levels, men who take too much testosterone tend to be overly aggressive, easily angered and depressed. Since many parts of your body are tied to testosterone, too much of it throws other systems out of whack. For instance, too much testosterone is known to cause liver damage. Since it promotes growth, people who take testosterone and other anabolic steroids have much higher incidences of cancer (uncontrolled cell growth).

Since muscles are composed of protein, people have concluded that eating more protein will give you bigger muscles. But that is only true if you don’t have enough protein in your diet. Imagine there is a brick layer building a wall. If he is short of bricks, the wall won’t go up very fast. If you gave him more bricks, the wall would go up faster. But if you gave him a ton of bricks, the wall will still only go up so fast because there is only one brick layer. The same is true of your body. You need protein to build muscles. Too little protein means your muscles won’t grow much, if at all. But too much protein won’t speed you up beyond what you are able to grow.

So how do you build muscles? The safest and most reliable method is to regularly put them under stress. As you get stronger, you increase the stress so that even more muscle is built. Each muscle must be stressed. Lifting weights with your arms isn’t going to build up your abs or your legs, they have to be exercised as well.

Here is a decent exercise routine:

Day 1: Find a weight that you can for 10 to 12 repetitions. If you can easily get to 12, add a little more weight. If you can’t get to 10, take some weight off. Do one set and then more to another area of your body. Do a set there and then move to another area. When you get all through. Repeat the sets a second and third time.

Day 2: Take about 25% off the weights you used on day 1 and for a set go for the maximum number of repetitions you can at a fast clip but still using good form. Go through each area you are exercising. Repeat three times.

Day 3: Repeat Day 1

Day 4: Repeat Day 2

Day 5: Add about 10% to what you used on day 1. Do as many repetitions as you can, though you shouldn’t get very many in, at a nice slow pace. Move around the body. Then repeat two more times.

Day 6 and 7: Rest so your muscles have a chance to build.

As you build muscles it is critical that you also take time to stretch after a workout. Stretching forces the muscles to relax, allowing better blood flow into the area. Better blood flow means you will have fewer cramps. Muscles also tend to limit your range of motion. Having big muscles is nice, but if you can’t move as far or as fast it can be a hindrance.