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The Teen Guy's Guide to Gaining Muscle

What to do -- and not do -- to build up your muscles.
By Eric Metcalf, MPH
WebMD Feature

The football players, pro wrestlers, and MMA fighters you see on television may be packing serious muscle. But if you’re a guy in your teens, you have some body-building advantages they would love to have.

During your teen years, you’re in a phase of your life when your body wants to grow. You’re churning out hormones that are specially designed to help you get bigger. And right now you may be able to take in a huge amount of food and use it to build a strong body.

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But it's easy to make mistakes in your quest for muscle. Here's how to avoid those errors.

Do These 5 Things Now

Following these steps will help you give your muscles the exercise and the fuel they need to get bigger.

1. Get a checkup. If you’re new to exercise or you have any health issues -- especially heart problems or conditions that affect your muscles or joints -- get a physical exam by your doctor or other health care provider before you start a muscle-building program.

2. Skip the shortcuts. As you’re starting on your path to bigger muscles, focus on the basics, says Shawn Arent, PhD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and associate professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Spend your energy working out and eating right -- not chasing fancy supplements. And don’t even think about using steroids, he says. They can do serious damage to your body now and in the long run.You don't need steroids to build better muscles. During puberty, your body naturally pumps out testosterone. This hormone encourages your muscles to grow, says William Roberts, MD, a professor of family medicine and a youth fitness expert at the University of Minnesota.

3. Build a solid program. When you're starting out, avoid tossing together bits and pieces of different weight-lifting programs you see in magazines, Arent says. Instead, build a basic core program that includes the bench press (for your chest), squats (legs), deadlift (legs and back), and shoulder press (shoulders and upper back). As you master these, or you start playing a sport that requires specific strengths, you can add more complex lifts.

4. Get enough calories. Do your parents give you a hard time about eating so much? If you’re training hard, politely ask them to give it a rest, says Roberta Anding, RD, a dietitian who works with athletes ranging from high schoolers to the Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. You need calories for growth and performance!

As a growing, active guy, you may need about 3,000 calories or more each day. Anding's tips:

  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Get plenty of carbohydrates (carbs) from foods such as whole-grain bread, fruits, and milk. This way, your body has carbs to burn for fuel so it can save the protein you eat for muscle-building.
  • If you’re hungry late in the evening, have a snack. But…
  • Set your sights higher than fast food and candy. “You don’t create a Lamborghini body and put regular gas in it," Anding says. "You’re going to go with the high-octane stuff. Your body is no different.” Choose real food, not junk food.

5. Feed your muscles when they’re hungry. Another muscle-building hormone your body makes is insulin, Anding says. It makes your muscles soak up sugar, proteins, and other things that make them bigger and stronger.

Insulin is extra-effective right after a workout. So within 30 minutes after a workout, eat a blend of carbs and protein. Some options:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Turkey sandwich
  • Trail mix
  • Smoothie made with yogurt and fruit
  • A carbs-and-protein bar

But too much protein can harm the body and have serious effects on your kidneys. So don’t eat too much of it.

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