Natural bodybuilder

Natural Bodybuilding: An Essential Guide to Gaining Muscle Safely

15 min read


17 May 2024

Hack Beast Mode

  1. Understanding natural bodybuilding
  2. The science of building muscle naturally
  3. The key elements of natural bodybuilding
  4. Building a natural bodybuilding plan
  5. Supplements in natural bodybuilding
  6. Lifestyle considerations
  7. Success stories and inspirations
  8. The natural way is the best way

So you've decided to get into bodybuilding and craft that sculpted physique you've always dreamed about? 

Congratulations, you've made the right decision. Now you have a difficult choice to make: Will you build muscle traditionally or naturally?

For some, this might be an easy decision. For others, it can be a stumbling block, especially if you don’t know the pros and cons of each method.

Here, we’ll explain the methods of natural bodybuilding and the reasons why it's the best choice for grabbing those epic gains.

Ready? Let’s go.

Understanding natural bodybuilding

To properly understand what we mean by natural bodybuilding, let's go back to basics and see where it all began.

The evolution of natural bodybuilding

Natural bodybuilder doing push ups

Before the 1950s, all bodybuilding was considered to be natural. It was all down to hard work and living a healthy lifestyle as there were no performance-enhancing substances around to take dangerous shortcuts. At that time, there were some legendary superheroes in the bodybuilding scene.

In 1922, Charles Atlas (real name, Angelo Siciliano) was a celebrity bodybuilder who sold home workout instructions. His methods were based on healthy eating and resistance and dynamic tension exercises without the use of weights.

As time has progressed, so have the methods of resistance training, as bodybuilders started to use weights specifically made for building muscle. As more people started to take an interest in building the ‘perfect physique,’ their competitive nature also kicked in, and so did the opportunity to take risky shortcuts.

During the 1950s and 60s, it became apparent that some bodybuilders were building extremely bulky physiques very quickly and the rumors of substance abuse began. 

Even former Mr Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that during his prime, he was taking the steroid Dianabol to help enhance his physique.

In the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990, U.S. Congress placed anabolic steroids into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. 

This effectively meant that anyone who tested positive for steroids would be banned from competitions. Other drug testing practices included urinalysis and polygraph testing, with organizations specifying durations for being drug-free.

Natural bodybuilding vs. traditional bodybuilding

With bodybuilding becoming ever more competitive, the lure of the ‘perfect physique’ has been too much for some, and substance abuse is still rife in the industry. Those who choose to take the shortcut to bigger muscles have to battle with three important considerations…

  1. Ethical: Is it right to effectively ‘cheat’ to get bigger muscle gains? Would you feel satisfied at being praised for a physique that you knew was achieved mainly through substance abuse?
  2. Health: Do the health risks outweigh the advantages? The potential side effects of steroid use include heart attacks, strokes, liver and kidney failure, and depression.
  3. Regulatory: Is it worth the punishment if you get caught? The penalty is an unlimited fine, a ban from competitions, or even a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

These are huge risks to take, so it's no wonder that most decide to choose the option of natural bodybuilding. So how do you build the body you want without the aid of pharmaceuticals?

The science of building muscle naturally

Natural bodybuilder doing push ups

The natural bodybuilding movement is still going strong and appears to be growing at a rapid rate. The cons of taking unethical, unhealthy shortcuts are considered too big a risk for those who want to build a stronger body and retain their health. So how does it all work?

How muscles grow

Muscles grow when they are damaged through intense exercise. When this happens, cells fuse together to rebuild the muscles and make them stronger so they can withstand further trauma. 

This process is known as muscle hypertrophy. Hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin all help to activate cells and stimulate muscle growth.

Read: What is roid rage?

The role of genetics in natural bodybuilding

While hard work and determination are essential when it comes to natural bodybuilding, it's important to note that genetics play a key factor. 

Factors like bone structure, the size or shape of your skeletal frame—and the place where your muscles are attached to your bones—will all have an impact on your ability to get bulky. 

Your size and shape can also have an effect on how muscular you appear. If you have a small frame and a narrow waist, for example, you'll appear more muscular.

Your muscle fiber type will also be a factor. If you have a high proportion of fast-twitch fibers, you'll have an advantage when it comes to building bulkier muscles. 

Genes such as myostatin can also have a say in whether you can build muscle easily. Some genetic profiles can make it more difficult to lose fat and gain muscle when you train.

Read: Training for your body type: What should you do? 


The key elements of natural bodybuilding

Going the natural bodybuilding route simply means looking after your body. Working with it, rather than against it, will work wonders.

Training for natural bodybuilding

As with all workout plans, it's always best to go with the one that works for you. This can be down to trial and error, but it doesn't mean you should go with one that feels most comfortable. If you want to make gains, you must push yourself out of your comfort zone regularly to rip your muscle fibers to grow stronger.

Resistance exercise is perfect for building muscle strength, endurance, and size as it challenges the muscles to work against the resistance. Resistance training will improve your muscle strength and bone density.

Progressive overload is the backbone of any successful exercise plan. Gradually increasing the weight, and reps, or decreasing the rest time, will help you to work harder each time.

Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows are perfect for working multiple muscle groups and building muscle mass. It's important to give each muscle group adequate rest to allow the torn fibers to recover and grow. So a workout once a week for each muscle group should be the focus.

You must work hard, but avoid overtraining at all costs. Listen to your body at all times

Nutrition fundamentals

Fuelling your workout properly is essential if you're going to push harder for those extra gains. It's important to get the right balance of nutrients. The perfect macronutrient ratios are considered to be:

Protein: 30 to 40% to help muscle growth and repair.

Carbohydrates: 40 to 50% for fuelling your workouts.

Fat: 20 to 30% to help support hormone production.

This ratio of macronutrients will help to ensure adequate support for your muscle-building efforts during exercise and recovery.

It's important to plan your meals around your workouts and recovery periods. Make sure you're eating at least one hour prior to exercise to allow your food to digest. 

Hydrate regularly—it's a great idea to carry around a water bottle with you to ensure you're drinking plenty of water. Dehydration will cause you to flag during your workout, so it's important to keep adequately topped up.

Read: How to increase your protein intake for building muscle

Recovery strategies

Rest doesn't sound like a proactive thing to do if you want to build muscle. But without it, there will be no muscle growth. 

Your muscles need enough time to grow and repair after each workout. Training different muscle groups once a week means that there will be adequate time for each set of muscles to recover.

Try to get at least eight hours of quality sleep per night to optimize recovery and muscle growth. Sleep is essential for your mental health and focus, and will also assist in recovery.

Warming up and cooling down before and after workouts will also help to fast-track muscle recovery. Relaxing in a cold bath after exercise is a great way to rest and recover.

Your nutritional intake will also play a big part in your recovery, and you might want to consider a natural supplement to help things further.

Read: 9 post-workout recovery stretches to help you bounce back faster...with Chris Tripp

Common bodybuilding myths and misconceptions

Tired bodybuilder

Unsurprisingly, there are some common misconceptions when it comes to natural bodybuilding. This possibly comes from misinformation which stems from those going the traditional route toward gains. 

Let's have a look at some of the most popular rumors and see if we can put them to bed.

You have to train every day

This rumor no doubt comes from the idea that you have to put in more work to get the same gains as you would through the traditional method. 

The fact is that strength training, dedication, the correct nutrition, and rest are the key components to building muscle bulk.

There's a limit to how much you can bulk up

True, but this applies to traditional bodybuilding, too. As already mentioned, your limitations will be dependent on several factors, including your genes and body shape.

Applying the natural methods of bodybuilding will enable you to fulfill the same potential as the traditional method, but with fewer risks.

You need to work extra hard

Again, this is the misconception that you can't work hard to make those gargantuan gains. It's just not true. 

You need to work hard, you need to rest, and you need to eat the right nutrients to make big gains. Working extra hard means fewer rest periods and more injury setbacks. Don't try it. Stick to the plan.

You need to use heavier weights

Using heavier weights to try to ‘compensate’ for not using performance-enhancing substances is not the way to go. 

You don't need to work harder—just smarter. Lifting heavier weights than you're ready for will cause additional stress that your muscles aren't ready for, and you'll be lucky not to injure yourself.

Building a natural bodybuilding plan

Natural bodybuilding plan

The key to any successful bodybuilding campaign is planning. Scheduling your workouts, nutrition, and rest days is important to ensure you keep the momentum going.

 So let's put the pieces together and start to build a plan.

Setting realistic goals

There are two goals you should be setting: A short-term goal, and a long-term goal.

Your short-term goals should focus on how many sets, reps, and weights you can do over a period of time. 

Your long-term goals will be where you hope to be at the end of the exercise plan. Don't be afraid to adjust the plan, especially if you're new to bodybuilding. 

Sometimes it can take a bit longer for your muscles to adapt to a tougher routine, and it's essential that you don't rush ahead when you're not ready.

Developing a workout plan

It's important to build a workout plan to incorporate your daily and weekly routines. Trying to build a plan and reschedule your life is a much harder way to do it! 

Start off slowly, even if you feel you can lift heavier or perform more reps. Going in too hard at the start is a sure way to derail the process right from the start.

A typical natural bodybuilding plan would be something like this…

Bench Press: Four sets of five reps.

Rows: Four sets of five reps.

Shoulder Press: Three sets of five reps.

Pull-Ups/ Pull Downs: Three sets of six to eight reps.

Bicep Curls: Two sets of 10 reps.

Tricep Extensions: Two sets of 10 reps.

Lateral Raises: Two sets of 12 reps.

Use the method of progressive overload to gain strength and muscle mass. Add more reps, sets and heavier weights gradually, once you feel you're becoming stronger and too accustomed to the current workload.

Make sure you work specific areas of the body at intervals to ensure the muscle groups get an adequate recovery time.

Nutrition planning

Planning your food intake is an essential part of your schedule and planning in advance will mean you'll be properly fuelled through your whole journey. 

Problems often crop up when meals aren't planned early. Going into a workout after grabbing something ‘on the go’ can lead to a lack of energy and nutrients, which will help your body to repair properly after exercise. 

Sometimes, when things don't go to plan, it's all too easy to get back on the junk food bandwagon, so it's essential to stay strong if this happens.

A sample meal plan for bodybuilding…

Getting the most out of each workout means high-quality nutrition. Plenty of protein for growth and recovery, carbs for energy, healthy fats for hormone regulation, and adequate hydration.

Good protein sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, and soy.

Carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all great, high-quality energy sources.

Olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish are high in unsaturated fats and should be featured regularly.

A muscle-boosting sample meal for one day might be…

Breakfast: Porridge oats and skimmed or soy milk, plus two eggs.

Snacks: Fruit and nuts.

Lunch: Chicken breast and green vegetables.

Dinner: Salmon with brown rice.

You should be aiming for at least 20 grams of protein per meal to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Your exact macronutrient needs will depend on the amount of activity you do, your body weight, and your personal goals.

natural supplements

Supplements in natural bodybuilding

A natural supplement is made from natural ingredients such as plants, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in nature. 

This means that, unlike performance-enhancing substances, there are no health risks or side effects. Using a supplement means that you'll top up any shortfall of essential nutrients to ensure you have enough to push you through for bigger gains. 

Examples of high-quality supplements include…

MagnesiumStudies have shown that magnesium is essential for muscle function and recovery. It helps to regulate muscle contractions, and promote muscle relaxation and repair.

Vitamins: A top-up of essential vitamins will help to ensure you're looking after your body and that it can cope with the additional stress of tough workouts. Research has shown that B vitamins in particular play an essential role in muscle growth.

Ashwagandha: Has been shown to have a positive effect on muscle growth and physical performance.

L-tyrosineStudies have shown that l-tyrosine can help both physical and cognitive performance.

Zinc: Research has discovered that a zine deficiency can have a serious effect on athletic performance

Fenugreek: A 2023 study showed that fenugreek extract positively reduced body fat, increased lean body mass, improved muscle strength and endurance, and accelerated the rate of glycogen resynthesis during post-exercise recovery.

Getting a boost of natural supplements will help to accelerate your muscle-building journey.

Lifestyle considerations

If you want to get the best out of your body, you must show it the respect it deserves. This means ditching bad habits which are likely to hinder your progress. You might not like some of these ideas, but sacrifices need to be made if you're going to make the gains you want.

Ditch the smoking

If you can cut down, great. If you can quit, even better. Smoking can lead to many serious health problems like cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, and will hinder your exercise.

Reduce stress

An abundance of stress in your life can be seriously disruptive, and can be highly damaging to your health. It can cause you to lose focus too. 

Try to manage your time better, take time out each day to put the brakes on, and get a better sleep to control stress as much as you can.

Sleep better

Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Manage your sleep routine to make sure you get a decent 8 hours each night. Make the room darker, cooler, and free from distractions to help you get a decent rest each night.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

Don't panic! The good news is you don't have to give up entirely, but it's a good idea to limit the amount you drink. 

Even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which will have a negative effect on your training. If you're a heavy drinker, it's important to cut down to avoid any health issues.

Success stories and inspiration

Successful natural bodybuilder

If there was any doubt that natural bodybuilding is the way to go, the success stories speak volumes. Maximizing your potential through dedicated training and safe, natural nutrition methods can get you the gains you're looking for, and these guys have proved it. 

They are all natural bodybuilders who have been through rigorous drug testing protocols, to prove that they only use natural methods.

Ron Williams

Ron has won over 250 bodybuilding competitions, and has been inducted into the International Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. 

He has 7 Mr. Natural Oympia titles to his name, seven Mr. Natural Universe Titles, and seven Mr. Natural World Titles.

Rob Terry

Before becoming a bodybuilder, Rob Terry was a WWE fighter. Rob's use of natural bodybuilding methods has helped home to win the Natural Olympia two years running.

John Hansen

He won the first Natural Olympia and the Mr. Natural Universe title three times. He set the bar for natural bodybuilders worldwide.

Paul Krueger

A legend in natural bodybuilding. He was an amateur bodybuilder for two decades before winning the 2021 Natural Olympia just weeks after turning pro.

Meshack Ochieng

Meshack surely has one of the best natural physiques in the world and is a prime example of just what you can do with hard work and dedication. 

He won the Mr America competition in 2022, and his advice afterwards to new bodybuilders was to train clean and smart all the time, and not with ego.

Competing clean means no worries about drug testing or health issues due to illegal substances. The Natural Bodybuilding World community is one of many groups that welcomes and encourages bodybuilding in a safe and natural way. Competing the natural way is better for your health, and you'll know you did it the right way.

The natural way is the best way…

Woman lifting weights

There's little doubt that natural bodybuilding is a much healthier and satisfying route to take to a bigger, better body. The advantages are clear…

  • No worries about health risks from performance-enhancing drugs
  • No issues with competing
  • No failed drug tests and bans from competitions
  • A more satisfying sense of achievement

You should take on your bodybuilding journey with a positive mindset, and armed with the knowledge on how to do it clean. 

You can build the physique you want by applying the tried-and-tested principles of bodybuilding: dedication and hard work coupled with adequate recovery and proper nutrition.

CrazyBulk is the perfect solution to support your natural bodybuilding journey. They’re packed with natural nutrients to help give you the edge for bigger and better gains. Find the right supplement for you with our epic product finder.

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