There’s no denying, that more often than not more muscle mass is beneficial for performance.
So how do we go about accruing size and growth without gaining the unwanted weight in fat at the same time? It’s no secret that gaining muscle whilst not gaining fat, or decreasing fat mass is the dream for any athlete, however, it’s extremely hard to achieve (doesn’t mean it’s not possible though!).
So how do you facilitate muscle growth?
Throughout the day our muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and breakdown (MPB) is constantly fluctuating due to the foods we eat and the exercise we undertake. It is down to the extent of this MPS:MPB that determines how muscle mass we can accrue/lose. Net protein balance is primarily negative. If we can increase MPS throughout the day and decrease the gap we have more chance of building muscle.
Consuming protein has an anabolic effect, it increases MPS. The proteins we eat are
comprised of amino acids, some of which are classed as essential amino acids (EAA’s). The EAA crucial to this is Leucine. Leucine stimulates the muscle anabolic signalling pathways more so than any other amino acid. Once you consume enough leucine, it will initiate these pathways by activating an enzyme call mTOR which, in turn, switches on MPS. This is known as the ‘leucine trigger’.
Foods with higher leucine content include chicken, beef, fish; and dairy products such as
milk, cheese and eggs. Whey protein has the highest leucine content.
If leucine is absent post-exercise, MPS rates are blunted, which means protein balance is
more negative (less gains!).
The primary thought process should be protein intake; which should be around 2-2.5g.kg.bw, or 0.4-0.5g.kg.bw in each meal (4-6 meals a day).
The other significant part of gaining muscle mass is being in a calorie surplus. It is very hard to build muscle optimally whilst being in a calorie deficit. Some of this surplus will come from a higher protein intake, for the reasons detailed above. The larger part of the surplus will come from an increase carbohydrate (CHO) intake. Typically, training for hypertrophy will mean higher volume and a progressive training plan. In order to meet the higher demands of this training, a higher CHO intake will be needed to fuel and refuel for these sessions.
This is not a licence to eat everything under the sun! That is when the when the unwanted gains of body fat creep in. It is important to find a balance between enough calories to support higher training volumes and facilitate tissue growth, without consuming so much that you gain fat. Recent papers have shown approx. 350-450 kcals, or a 10-20% kcal increase is recommended when trying to build muscle.
CHO intake will typically sit around 3-5g.kg.bw in a calorie surplus. However, if training
volume and intensity is particularly high, it may need to be up to 6-7g.kg.bw.
What do you need to consider when trying to eat in a calorie surplus?
- Higher training volume and cost greater breakdown/synthesis of building new tissue.
- Your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). The movement that isn’t
considered exercise (walking around the office, fidgeting, standing at the printer etc)
- Increases in dietary induced thermogenesis (due to eating more food!)
And this pretty much wraps us up.
So have a good look at your protein content first and foremost, ensure it has high contents of EAAs, then top up your calorie intake with carbohydrates and fats to ensure a surplus.
Put these points in to action and you will start to see those desired gains in no time.