Our bodies have more than 600 muscles. What does it take to make them grow? Obviously, exercise plays a role but other things we may not think about, like diet and sleep patterns, are also a factor. Wondering what you can do to build tone or bulk? Here’s what you need to know.

According to a PubMed article titled, Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth, “Exercise has a profound effect on muscle growth, which can occur only if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown…” The bottom line is exercise is necessary for muscle growth. However, without appropriate diet, protein synthesis cannot exceed protein breakdown.

Exercise leads to muscle growth (also called muscle hypertrophy) by placing stress or increasing the workload on the muscle. Compound exercise, which works muscles at more than one joint, is particularly helpful for building muscle. Examples of compound exercises include squats and deadlifts.

How exercise builds muscle
During exercise, muscle fibers experience small tears. After exercise the body goes to work repairing those tears through a cellular process that fuses fibers together forming myofibrils, or new protein strands. But there are limits. In time muscles adapt and experience less damage or tearing during exercise. Subsequently, growth slows. You can avoid this plateau phase by mixing it up. Remember, it is the increased workload that eventually leads to growth. As you build strength your muscle will not have to work as hard. You will need to increase the workload to continue building more muscle. You can do this by increasing reps, increasing weight, and changing exercise order or time to promote muscle fatigue

SleepingRecovery counts
Sleep impacts muscle growth. That’s because it is during recovery that the cellular changes that support muscle growth occur. Aim for 7 to 8 hours sleep each night and avoid working the same muscle growth two days in a row. It is possible to make great gains with a minimum weekly workout of 3 days. If you opt to exercise more, keep at least one (and ideally two) complete rest days each week.

Feed muscle growth
The nutritional keys to muscle growth are protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. Protein is the building block of muscle growth. It also helps you feel fuller, longer and burn more fat. Good sources include lean meats, eggs, dairy and whey. Carbs are important for sustainable energy. Skip the white stuff and reach for quinoa, oatmeal and other whole grains. Include some fat, too. Contrary to what you may have heard you don’t have to avoid all fat to develop a lean, mean physique. Healthy fats, like omega3’s promote heart health and satiety.

Stay hydrated
Dehydration impairs the muscle recovery process.

Women…don’t worry. You need testosterone for Sylvester Stallone type bulk, so make room for weight training in your routine. Lifting improves functional fitness and will help you look lean and toned.

If your trying to build muscle the keys are exercise, diet and sleep. Your exercise should be vigorous enough to stress the muscle and create tears in the fiber. Sleep long enough to ignite the cellular changes that build muscle. Eat food that feeds muscle growth, protein, healthy fats and complex carbs are key.