It is very difficult to find reliable information on how to be a natural body builder as a man. The usage of steroids, even in the form of TRT (testosterone replacement therapy), has made steroids very accessible to even young teenage boys. Most Instagram and YouTube fitness models and channels are ran by people who are ‘enhanced’ by usage of steroids and other compounds, which can make it challenging to find information that is actually applicable to the majority of men who are seeking information about how to get into body building without the enhancement of steroids. The lack of information can even make people assume incorrectly you cannot develop a good bodybuilder physique naturally.

The hardest thing is finding good nutrition and training advice. Some of the workouts and training methods of seasoned body builders simply will not work for those who are not likewise enhanced, since using TRT is guaranteed to make you gain muscle mass size even if you do not work out and even if you don’t rest adequately, since your body is getting boosts that would otherwise be impossible. While some body builders claim the work they do in the gym is what creates their success, scientific studies on the topic have proven men taking TRT and doing no weight lifting activities will gain muscle mass, and TRT combined with weight lifting results in 4x faster muscle size gains compared to not supplementing testosterone. This is because testosterone supplementation puts your body into a constant state of muscle protein synthesis, which is a state where your body breaks down proteins to build muscle tissue. By staying in an anabolic state far longer than is naturally possible, enhanced athletes gain muscle size and strength at a faster rate than natural athletes can.

This Millennial Gentleman guide on how to become a natural body builder has been written to gather good information of use and value to men seeking to be a natural body builder, to make the process easier and less confusing.

Why Should You Be a Natural Bodybuilder?

It can seem more beneficial to abuse steroids such as TRT to make quick gains, as the objective of bodybuilding is to develop a great looking physique. Using steroids will allow your body to grow muscle tissue at a faster rate than is possible naturally. This, however, has serious drawbacks. Abusing steroids in this way causes long-term negative health side effects. This is primarily because when you use steroids your body does not only grow muscle tissue in the areas you want it to for a good looking physique; it also causes growth of other organs and tissues at the same time, and some of this growth is very harmful to you. This is why steroid abusing body builders frequently suffer from heart enlargements, which leads to a significantly high risk of cardiac arrest. There are a wide other range of health problems that anabolic steroid abuse also cause as well, which even includes hypogonadism, testicular atrophy and impaired spermatogenesis (i.e. becoming sterile), baldness, acne, gynaecomastia (ie. growing man boobs), and psychiatric disturbance.

These problems are a consequence of steroid abusing athletes dumping synthetic testosterone and other synthetic growth hormones into the human body. While these synthetic chemicals do trigger an anabolic state and keeps the body in a muscle protein synthesis state for a much longer period than is achievable naturally, the body reacts to this flood of testosterone and growth hormones by ceasing its own natural production. The problem with this is that when your body produces testosterone it also produces a variety of other things, and so when your body stops producing testosterone it also stops producing these other things; one of these things is sperm. Basically, TRT will make you sterile and the longer you are on it, the less reversible your sperm production impairment is.

If you don’t want to end up like these young guys who abuse steroids and end up with no sex drives and becoming sterile at a young age, you want to avoid abusing steroids.

With that in mind it is best to remain a natural body builder for longevity, instead of trying to take the quick and easy path. The problem is that so much information has been published on the internet by enhanced body builders who are using steroid cycles, and with steroids even a bad workout and diet plan can still produce gains since the steroids allow the body to enter an unnatural state that is unachievable by non-steroid using weight lifters.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bodybuilder Physique as a Natural Bodybuilder?

The length of time it takes to get a classic bodybuilder physique is going to depend largely on your age, as age has the largest impact on how much testosterone and other growth hormones your body can naturally produce. Your own genetics also play a role too, which is why there is a variable; some men have better genes for releasing more testosterone and growth hormones, or genes that better utilize proteins for muscle protein synthesis and tissue repair.

In general, for the average man to gain a classic bodybuilder physique naturally will take 3 to 6 years. However you should see significant muscle growth and definition in as short as 8 months so long as you are giving yourself proper rest periods, eating good nutrition and working out with proper training intensity. You will generally see a noticeable increase in muscle mass size every 2 to 3 months of consistent lifting, eating and sleeping.

I think it is important to clarify what is meant by a ‘classic bodybuilder physique’ to manage expectations. Modern bodybuilders who compete in ‘classic physique’ category are referring to the body type of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used steroids to achieve that physique.

By ‘classic bodybuilder physique’ what I actually mean is the kind of physique which is achievable naturally by strongmen of the 19th century, such as Eugene Sandow, who developed their bodies before the existence of synthetic testosterone.

Photos of Eugene Sandow taken in the late 19th century.

This physique is achievable naturally by almost any man with 3 to 6 years of consistent training and good nutrition. Developing this physique as a natural body builder will give you lifelong health and happiness with none of the side effects of steroid abuse and you will be able to maintain your gains on a normal diet and lifestyle, which enhanced athletes cannot do when they stop taking the steroids.

Primary Principles Necessary for Building Muscle as a Natural Body Builder

In order to build muscle mass as a natural body building you need to follow three primary principles to be at work in your life,

  1. Proper Training Intensity
  2. Proper Nutrition
  3. Proper Rest Periods Between Workouts

Without these three principles you will not put on muscle mass size.

Let’s dive into each of these principles and explain them in detail.

Proper Training Intensity

Your workouts must be designed to maximize time under tension ( TUT) or you will not see an increase in muscle size gain. This means that the time your muscles are held under strain (tension) during a lift is the most important factor for weight lifting. Of course, while holding a muscle in a contracted static movement can create tension, holding a position statically only works certain muscle fibers of any muscle group. So you cannot just hold your arms straight in front of you with a bicep bar for several minutes and expect to see huge gains; you need to do full range of motion for the muscle to work all of the fibers in that muscle group, so all of these fibers get to experience a state of high tension sufficiently to exhaust them.

To experience the most hypertrophy with the least amount of time in the gym, you want to focus on compound movements such as the bench press, the military press, the squat and the dead lift to work multiple muscle groups at the same time, and then follow up with some isolation exercises such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, leg extensions and so on, ensuring that you work out the most amount of fibers and have a high amount of time under tension (TUT) for each muscle group you are working out.

Having said this, there is a point where too much volume will put your body into a catabolic state, where it breaks down muscle tissue to use as energy — which is not what you want it to do. While your body will naturally transition between anabolic and catabolic states every day, the catabolic state should be avoided during a weight lifting workout if you want to see significant muscle size gains, especially as a natural body lifter not using steroids to force your body into a prolonged anabolic state.

As a natural weight lifter you should only do a weight lifting workout once a day, of around 4 to 9 sets per exercise with reps performed to muscle failure for each set. Many enhanced body builders do sets of only 3 or 4, but as a natural body builder you have to push your muscles a little harder to trigger muscle protein synthesis, so it can be ideal to do up to 9 sets per exercise. However you should avoid using a very heavy lift for these sets, sometimes called an ‘ego lift’ or a ‘max rep’ where you try to lift as much as you possibly can. Your ideal rep range should be around 12 reps with the weight. If you make your rep range less than 12 reps (such as if you go to 6 reps to reach muscle failure), you are lifting too heavy for the joints of your body and you will increase your risk of developing training injuries, particularly in the wrists, elbows and knees. You should always avoid doing ‘ego lifts’ or training like a powerlifter or CrossFit athlete if you want to reduce the chance of injury. It’s just not necessary to do that kind of one rep max lifting to put on muscle; in fact, it reduces the amount of time under tension, which means you’ll see less size gains working out in such a way.

Proper weightlifting training to develop a bodybuilder’s physique is not about maxing out your lifts; it’s about working muscles to exhaustion through several reps and sets, to work all the fibers out in a muscle group so your body can repair them. Damaging your ligaments and joints won’t help you develop a physique. Always work the muscles, not the joints. The sweet spot for repetitions each set is reaching muscle failure by 12 reps; this ensures the muscles are being challenged enough to trigger growth, and also helps ensure you are not over-straining your joints and ligaments with too much weight.

On the subject of catabolic states again, one thing you should know is that high intensity cardio exercise, such as running, will cause your body to enter a catabolic state. You should incorporate some cardio into your fitness program of course, but know that you should limit daily cardio to 30 minutes to an hour. If you do more cardio than this, your body may not put on as much muscle as it could because it started breaking down muscle tissue to use as fuel for your run. You should also not do cardio on an empty stomach for this reason as well.

Proper Nutrition

Proper nutrition in your diet for natural body building means seven important things,

  1. A Daily Calorie Surplus: You must eat more calories than your body needs for functioning during the day. Without a surplus your body will instead break down muscle tissue to use for energy, instead of using calories to add more tissue. Generally you need 250 to 500 calories above your normal healthy calorie intake, as determined by daily calorie intake calculators. This will vary based on your age, gender, height and current body weight so use a calculator to find out what your calorie intake should be, then add an additional 250 to 500 calories to it (ideally, in the form of protein sources).
  2. Lean Protein: Most of your extra calories should come in the form of protein. Ideally you want protein from meat such as chicken, fish and beef. Protein supplementation from whey protein (which is made from dairy) can also work, although this isn’t necessary if you have access to fresh meat. In order to pack on muscle size, your body requires around 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of current body weight. So if you weigh 150 lbs then you need to eat 120 to 180 grams of protein per day, or you will not see an increase in muscle mass size. While some internet fitness gurus claim you must consume this protein during a workout, science says you actually only need to consume the protein within 4 to 5 hours after the workout.
  3. Carbohydrates: Your body needs carbs in order to break down protein into muscle tissue. Without eating sufficient carbs your body will not be able to break protein down and you will not grow muscle size. You need 100 grams of carbs or more per day. Another thing to mention here is that you must never lift weights or work out on an empty stomach without enough carbs in your system, as your body will enter a catabolic state where it breaks down tissue to use as energy. While a catabolic state is necessary to break down body fat and lose weight, your body always wants to break down muscle tissue before it wants to break down fat reserves, and so by placing your body into a catabolic state it will stop growing muscle mass size.
  4. Dietary Fats: Despite common misconceptions, fats are good for you in proper amounts, especially when living an active lifestyle. Fats are necessary for your body to create testosterone and growth hormones. Because body builders using steroids are getting testosterone and growth hormones unnaturally, they can afford to do low fat, high protein diets while weight lifting and still see gains, since they do not have to rely on their own body producing these things made from fats. Basically you need cholesterol in order to produce testosterone, so eating a low fat diet as a natural body builder will not work. Natural body builders must produce their own testosterone and growth hormones, so you must eat fats so your body can do this. Ideally you want your fats from  monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, and to avoid trans fats. Your body needs at least 0.35 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day in order to produce sufficient testosterone and other growth hormones. 
  5. Dietary Fibers: Your body also needs around 35 to 40 grams of fiber per day. While humans lack the enzymes to digest dietary fibers, we need fiber to aid in digestion by producing stools that are solid. So eating a protein rich diet without also consuming enough fibers will cause you to become constipated.
  6. Creatine and other Vitamin Supplementation: Your body needs certain vitamins to function correctly and create an environment for optimal muscle protein synthesis to occur. While you can gain most vitamins during the regular course of eating, one thing you cannot normally get is creatine monohydrate. Supplementing with powdered creatine monohydrate will increase your recovery time, allowing you to have more intense workouts. This is because creatine is a necessary thing for your body to convert ATP into energy and without a supplement of creatine your body is limited by how much ATP it can convert per day. If you want to work the most amount of muscle fibers, you need to be depleting them of as much ATP as you can so you need a creatine supplement to do this, otherwise you will need a much longer rest period for your body to build up creatine again. Another good thing for supplementation is glutamine, which your body uses to convert nitrogen into muscle cells. You should eat around 5 grams of glutamine per day, too — most people will get their necessary daily intake of glutamine from chicken meat, eggs, dairy and other sources of protein.
  7. Water: Water is often overlooked when discussing nutrition for body builders, but is of critical importance. Your body needs water in order to transport nutrients through your bloodstream, to perform protein muscle synthesis, to produce sweat for maintaining your body’s temperature and to clear toxins from your organs and muscles. You therefore need to be drinking a lot of water throughout the day. If you take creatine supplements, you need even more water since creatine causes water retention. Ideally you should avoid drinking sugary caffeinated soft drinks as a natural body builder and only drink water; this will not only prevent you from eating bad calories but will ensure you are drinking sufficient water throughout the day so your body can make the most of things to increase your muscle size. Remember, sugar increase insulin levels and too high of insulin levels reduces the release of growth hormones. So you must avoid bad sources of sugar, such as from sugary soft drinks, as much as possible.

For creatine monohydrate supplementation, I suggest the brand Six Star. This is the brand I use. It can be difficult to find reliable producers of creatine powder as the nutrition industry is largely unregulated in the United States, and this powder is often cut with rice flour — shady manufacturers use too much rice flour and give you far too little creatine monohydrate. Six Star has a good ratio and I find it works very well for me. Six Star also has a whey protein powder as well, which I personally do not use as I get my protein from meat but if your lifestyle makes protein powder better for you then I recommend this brand.

As mentioned briefly in the subject of discussing carbohydrates, you want to avoid working out in a catabolic state while trying to gain muscle mass size. This will cancel your gains as a natural body builder. If you want to lose weight, you should read my article on how to lose weight as a man. This guide shows how to enter a catabolic state for quick fat loss, but doing so will make it very difficult to put on muscle mass size.

What most bodybuilders do is a ‘bulking’ phase where they focus on providing a surplus of calories to the body for building muscle, which will result in some fat tissue gain. After they have reached their muscle size goals they will do a ‘cutting’ phase where calorie intake is reduced and they increase the amount of cardio they perform to shed the fat. With enhanced athletes they can workout while ‘cutting’ and still see some muscle size gain, but as mention before it causes long term health problems doing this. As a natural weight lifter you must understand you will gain some fat for a few years while bulking up, which you can later easily lose with cardio and dieting after you gain muscle size. It’ll only take a month or two to shed the body fat of your bulking phase; it takes years to gain the muscle mass size of a classic bodybuilder.

Proper Rest Periods Between Workouts

Your body does not build muscle during the actual act of weight lifting itself. When you lift weights you are breaking down the muscles and forcing the body to need to repair them to make them stronger. So what actually builds muscle size is the rest period after a workout.

Specifically, muscle size cannot be put on until after you sleep, because for a natural weight lifter not using steroids your body will not release growth hormones into your blood stream until you enter a sleep phase. It is only during a sleep phase that your body will release a substantial amount of growth hormones. This means that, ideally, after a workout you want to take a nap and trigger this dump of growth hormones so that muscle protein synthesis can begin. However this is often difficult to do, since having a workout releases adrenaline, which makes you more alert. But don’t stress too much about this, because eating a protein rich diet will temporarily increase insulin levels, so sleeping immediately after a meal and workout is not the best thing to do, since your body needs a balanced insulin level to release the most amount of growth hormones during a sleep phase.

As such, generally speaking you should try to sleep at least 3 or 4 hours after you workout and have your post-workout meal in order to maximize your goals. So if you normally work out in the morning, this may be difficult to do with a normal nine to five job. Yet many men have been able to naturally build great looking physiques without necessarily needing to take a nap after every workout, but this is something you should be aware of in order to maximize your time and energy usage. One thing you can do is workout in the afternoon on your lunch break instead of the early morning, and then eat a protein and carb rich dinner, then go to bed. This will maximize your time usage for those who work a nine to five job.

The ideal scenario obviously is someone who works from home and can control their daily schedule, since you can workout in the morning after a small breakfast, then take a nap by noon and be up to do another workout on a different body part in the evening, triggering another protein muscle synthesis state in your body. Then you can have another protein and carb rich dinner, and go to bed 3 or 4 hours later to trigger yet another release of growth hormones. This allows you to trigger two releases of growth hormones during a single 24 hour period, instead of just one period as you would if you worked a normal nine to five job. Keep in mind, however, that this is only with you working out different muscle groups in a single day; you don’t want to over-train a muscle group by working it out intensely twice a day. As a natural body builder, a muscle group needs somewhere between 24 to 48 hours to fully recover after you have worked the muscles to exhaustion for 4 to 9 sets. If you don’t give your muscles time to recuperate, you may cause a major tear in them which could require surgery to repair so don’t over-train.

Create a Home Gym for Weight Lifting

By now you should have realized that covid-19 has changed the world, especially for those who want to weight lift as a hobby and healthy lifestyle. Even though we are now into 2021, fitness gyms in some states have not re-opened since they closed at the start of 2020. This means you’ll need to purchase your own equipment if you want to be able to do natural body building, and it’s probably even more important that you have the consistency in your schedule. Owning your own weight lifting equipment and having a home gym in your garage, basement or backyard is therefore critical in order to become a body builder naturally.

Luckily for you, I have taken the time to put together a guide on how to create a home gym, which you can find embedded into this article below.

With a home gym you can always ensure you work out when you want to, and never need to worry about crowding or state imposed lockdowns on fitness centers. Consistently is necessary to see increases in muscle mass and having a home gym allows you to have this consistency in your training schedule.

Last Pieces of Advice for Developing a Bodybuilding Physique as a Natural Bodybuilder

Developing a bodybuilding physique as a natural bodybuilder is a more challenging process than being an ‘enhanced’ bodybuilder, but will lead to more lasting results. The majority of enhanced bodybuilders cannot maintain their size gains once they come off their steroids, which forces them to continue abusing them and inevitably develop serious health problems. It may be a slower process to make gains naturally, but making these gains as a natural body builder will prevent you from experiencing the negative health effects such as enlargement of the hearts, becoming sterile due to low natural testosterone production, and other issues.

The main thing to do as a natural bodybuilder is practice consistency. You must train regularly, eat correctly and get sufficient rest for recovery. You must be committed to this lifestyle to see results.

The goal of the Millennial Gentlemen is to encourage men to live healthy lifestyles and make good choices for long term success and happiness. Dying in your fifties from a heart attack because you abused steroids in your 20s and 30s, or becoming sterile so you cannot have children is not a healthy lifestyle. I hope you will follow the advice of this article and make the right decisions in your weight lifting.


Carey Martell is Editor in Chief for The Millennial Gentleman. A thirty something modern man who is politically independent, non-religious but a firm believer in ideals of chivalry and traditional family values. Carey lives his life as a vagabond digital nomad traveling and living life to the fullest while managing his businesses remotely with a laptop and internet hotspot connection.