How to increase skeletal muscle?

skeletal muscles

The is no shortcut to increasing skeletal muscle. The most effective way to increase skeletal muscle is by focusing on the three main variables involved in muscle growth training, diet and rest. 

What are skeletal muscles?

Skeletal muscles are one of 3 types of muscles in the human body. Skeletal muscle accounts for approximately 30 to 40 percent of your total body mass. Skeletal muscle is named because it attaches to the bones of the human skeleton via connective tissue bands called tendons. They attach to the body’s bones and are responsible for moving the bones and the body. The attachment points on the bones are called the origin and the insertion. The muscle, when it contracts, always pulls the insertion towards the origin. Below is a list of functions that skeletal muscle performs.

  • Maintaining posture
  • Moving the body
  • Supporting and protecting the joints
  • Expanding the chest and diaphragm to allow respiration
  • Generating heat
  • Protection of vital structures and organs 
Skeleton moving
Skeleton moving

There are two other types of muscles in the human body, and they are:

Cardiac Muscle

You can only find cardiac muscle in the heart. It helps your heart pump blood throughout your body. The cardiac muscle is an involuntary muscle that your autonomic nervous system controls. This autonomic control means that it works without your conscious awareness.

Smooth muscle

Smooth muscles are involuntary, like cardiac muscles. They, too, are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Smooth muscle is found in the digestive system, blood vessels, and organs. Passing food through your intestines or bowel would be an example of smooth muscles working. 

How to stimulate skeletal muscle growth

The key to stimulating new muscle growth is multifaceted and focuses on three main areas.

  1. Stimulus or damage
  2. Nutrition or diet
  3. Rest and sleep

To increase muscle mass optimally, you must pay attention to each of the three categories and ensure that you are optimizing your efforts in each of them. You will often see focusing mainly on just one of the categories, such as the training or stimulus portion and neglecting the other two areas. This singular focus ultimately leads to subpar results and frustration.

You can train harder than anyone else in the gym and neglect your nutrition or sleep, and you will not put on as much muscle mass as someone who works out half as hard as you but eats appropriately gets enough protein and sleep.

Growth stimulus

The stimulus for muscular growth comes from working the muscles beyond what it is used to. You have to go to the point of muscular failure when working out or training. This exertion beyond its norm creates the growth stimulus within the muscle. Exercise and training to failure generate a cascade of signalling and biological processes within the body. Anabolic hormones get secreted and are elevated during and after training, such as testosterone and growth hormone.[1] it also creates a build-up of lactic acid (lactate), which is a signalling molecule for some anabolic processes and muscle repair and growth. Lactic acid can stimulate testosterone release by Leydig cells[2][3]

Lactic acid can stimulate muscle cell myogenesis, which is the process of new muscle cell creation.[4] MTOR is another critical signal that lactic acid build-up within the working muscle can activate. One study showed that skeletal muscle cells exposed to lactic acid and caffeine showed an increased stimulation of mTOR. mTOR is a crucial regulator of protein synthesis and muscle growth and repair.[5]

Suppose you can stimulate new muscle cell development while simultaneously stimulating protein synthesis through mTOR activation and increased anabolic hormones. In that case, you have a potent anabolic cocktail or environment for optimal muscular rapid and growth. This anabolic environment is what you will get if you train to failure.

Nutrition and diet

Proper nutrition is just as important as training and exercise in increasing skeletal muscle. Once you have put in the hard work in the gym and have trained to failure, you have to provide the body with the proper nutrition to fuel the recovery and muscle-building process. Proper nutrition can have many different meanings to many different people, but for those with a goal of optimal muscular development, proper nutrition means eating sufficient amounts of high-quality protein.

You can eat as many carbohydrates and as much fat as you want, but if you fail to meet the suitable protein and amino acid level, protein synthesis will be impaired or non-existent. If you were to follow the RDA for protein from governments, you would be told to eat approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This amount of protein might be acceptable for the average person who does not train hard, but if you are active and looking to build muscle, your protein requirements will be significantly higher than this. 

One study found that young bodybuilders’ protein requirements were 1.7 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight on their rest days. This amount of protein is over 2.5 times higher than the government recommendation. This study also only looked at how much protein they needed on their rest days, so their protein needs are probably higher on their training days.[6]

The most common objection you will hear from dieticians and others about consuming such high amounts of protein is that it will damage your kidneys. A study carried out by nutritionists at the Australian research organization CSIRO found that test subjects who consumed a high protein and low carbohydrate diet for a year had no clinical markers of renal impairment or damage.[7]

Certain amino acids must be supplied in sufficient amounts to trigger anabolic signalling and turn on optimal protein synthesis and muscle building and repair. One of these essential amino acids is leucine, one of the branched-chain amino acids. Check out our article on leucine and muscle growth for more detailed information about leucine’s role in protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Try not to overthink the nutritional component of skeletal muscle growth. Please keep it simple and focus on eating lots of protein, and you should be fine. Don’t get caught up counting calories, worrying about vitamins and minerals etc.

Sleep and Rest

Today, this aspect of recovery and growth is forgotten and almost always overlooked. People stay up too late and do not get restful and restorative sleep. Sleep is paramount to the growth and recovery process of skeletal muscles. First and foremost, the bulk of your daily growth hormone secretions occurs during the first phase of slow-wave sleep.[8] As we all know, growth hormone is a potent anabolic hormone and is critical in muscle recovery, repair and growth. So, if you are cutting corners on your 8 or 9 hours of quality sleep, you are missing out on potent muscle-building time. To maximize your growth hormone secretions during sleep, try not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates before bed. When insulin is secreted or elevated, it inhibits growth hormone secretion.[9]

Summary of how to increase skeletal muscle

Now you have the basics of how to grow skeletal muscle effectively. By focusing on the three main areas that affect skeletal muscle’s ability to grow, you will be appropriately positioned to see maximum lean mass gains.


The information within this article should not be taken as medical or health advice. For proper and accurate health and medical advice please always consult your doctor.