Last Updated on
If you have made the decision to become a natural bodybuilder – meaning that you intend to lift without using any illegal (or unnatural) substances, then you are probably wondering how you are ever going to manage to become as big as your bodybuilding idols.
Well truth is, you won’t. It’s impossible, if it were possible do you think anyone would bother with the drugs?
You are not capable of training as hard as they can, you won’t have the benefits of the super-high levels of testosterone that they have (which is responsible for faster recovery time, bigger muscles, stronger muscles, and decreased body fat).
You also won’t be taking Insulin (which has been described as the reason why bodybuilders are twice the size of Arnie in his prime), Clenbuterol, ephedrine or any other such drug. Meaning that your ability to build muscle and burn fat to the same degree will be impaired.
However, this does not mean that you can’t get in amazing shape. Nor does it mean you can’t win a natural bodybuilding competition.
The fact of the matter is that non-natural bodybuilders barely look recognizable to the regular person on the street, a lot of them have huge guts due to all the HGH they’ve been taking and many of them look awful when they eventually retire.
All that testosterone that they have taken over the years has stopped their body from producing it naturally.
A lot of them end up suffering from low testosterone and all of the complications that result from it. Gynecomastia becomes a real issue (enlarged breasts – think Meatloaf’s character in fight club) and other symptoms of low testosterone such as depression, weight gain, and muscle loss.
But you can avoid all of that just by training naturally and avoiding all the drugs. In this article we are going to look at how best to do that.
Tip #1: Naturally boost Testosterone
Whilst you are never going to naturally reach the levels of testosterone that a steroid user gets, you can still look at ways to boost your testosterone without drugs.
Most of these techniques work best on people who have lower than required levels of testosterone (which a large proportion of men do), but people with normal testosterone levels can still elevate them using the following techniques.
You can increase your sleep and improve the quality of it, a study by Luboshitzky et al (1999) found that REM sleep was when testosterone levels peaked in young men . So increasing your sleep quality should therefore lead to increased testosterone in the morning.
You can also increase testosterone by lifting free weights rather than machines (so long as the same amount of effort is used) . Increasing dietary fat or following a high-carb diet also seem to have a positive effect on testosterone levels.
Finally there are supplements such as ZMA that have been shown to be effective at boosting testosterone .
Tip #2: Increase Protein and Calories
If you are looking to increase size and strength then you are going to have to eat more, to build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus. This means that you have to be consuming more calories than you are burning.
Those extra calories can come from carbohydrates or fats, but mostly from extra protein. As Tipton & Wolfe pointed out in their 2001 study “Exercise has a profound effect on muscle growth, which can only occur if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein break down” .
For muscle protein synthesis (the process where protein is used to rebuild and repair muscle fibres damaged during exercise) to exceed muscle protein break down your diet will require more protein. Which is why studies estimate that a heavy lifter would require double the protein of a non-lifter .
So to get bigger you need more calories, and more protein. It’s not as simple as just stuffing your face though, you need to be using those extra calories to fuel your workout.
Tip #3: Train at the right intensity
Your first thought would be to train like your bodybuilding heroes did, but as we’ve mentioned before this isn’t a realistic goal for you.
So how should you train? Firstly you need to fill your workout will big compound lifts that work a lot of muscles – deadlifts, squats, pull ups etc … All exercises that will produce a huge growth hormone and testosterone response.
You also want to limit your workouts to around 45-60 minutes to prevent Cortisol being released and attacking your muscle tissue. Pick a few exercises (most natural lifters follow a push/pull protocol) and go for quality over quantity.
You should be following a hypertrophy protocol, so your rep ranges should be around 8-12 reps per set. But you can throw in a few lower rep sets (for deadlifts, squats, and similar exercises) and some very high rep sets too.
Don’t overdo it on the drop-sets etc … as too much volume will lead to excess muscle protein break down – meaning your muscles will not grow, but will actually get smaller.
This scenario may be unlikely, but it does happen. Ensure you rest adequately between sets and listen to your body. Training at a high intensity is fine, but training like a non-natural lifter will only hinder progress.
 Luboshitzky, R., Herer, P., Levi, M., Shen-Orr, Z., Lavie, P. 1999. Relationship between rapid eye movement sleep and testosterone secretion in normal men. Journal of Andrology 20(6): 731-737
 Shaner, A., Vingren, J., Hatfield, D., Budnar, R., Duplanty, A., Hill, D. 2014. The Acute Hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28(4): 1032-40
 Brilla, L., Conte, V. 2000. Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength. Official Journal of the American Society of Exercise Physiologists 3(4): 26-36
 Tipton, K., Wolfe, R. 2001. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism 11(1): 109-32
 Tarnopolsky, M., Atkinson, S., MacDougall, J., Chesley, A., Phillips, S., Schwarcz, H. 1992. Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes. Journal of Applied Physiology 73(5): 1986-95