Nutritional Strategies To Promote Muscle Growth
It’s no secret that muscle gain, improved athletic performance and looking good naked is the goal for many people that walk into a gym. For many, these attributes represent hours of hard work, their unwavering dedication, their peak health status and their badge of identity letting everyone who lays eyes on them know what type of person they are.
Whether you’re an experienced lifter or you're just starting in the game, the three points below are what I believe to be the 90% of muscle gain from a nutritional standpoint. If you can nail these, everything else you do to aid your goal is a bonus.
A Caloric Surplus
Just like losing weight, putting on lean muscle mass requires you to track your calories if you want the best results. A great place to start is with a 5 - 15% caloric increase on top of your daily need. This is enough of a surplus to ensure your muscles have the raw materials, macronutrients and micronutrients to grow. A weekly weigh-in (done at the same time each week under the same circumstances) is a great way to assess your bodies adaption to additional calories. It is also a great indicator of when your caloric intake needs to be reassessed.
Reassessment of this number on a regular basis (weekly is ideal as suggested above) is crucial to muscle gain endeavours. This is the point where I see most peoples muscle gain grind to a halt. This halt comes from ignoring the fact that your body is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. By increasing your caloric intake in the first place, you are expecting your body to respond accordingly with growth. When this muscle growth takes place, it is important to adjust your caloric intake accordingly. Simply put, when you get bigger, it takes more calories to fuel your body. Staying on top of your weight changes and increasing your caloric intake in line with your mass gains IS A MUST!
Protein is a macronutrient group that is largely responsible for muscle growth. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, of which 9 are classed as essential and 11 are classed as non-essential. An essential amino acid is one that the body requires to be apart of the diet. Unlike non-essential amino acid, the body cannot synthesis essential amino acid internally. When consumed, proteins are broken down into amino acids and are used to build body structures (such as muscle tissue) under the instruction of DNA, are stored in an amino acid pool until required or, on rare occasions, protein can even be converted into energy.
For muscle building, I would suggest between 1.8 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mess per day. This number can be altered based on your bodies feedback both muscle growth-wise and comfort-wise.
For some, this number may seem high and that’s okay! To make this less daunting, you can slowly build your way up to this protein intake level. Start by keeping a food diary to figure out what your daily protein intake is currently. Express this number as a % of your lean body mass and add 0.1 grams of protein to your daily intake every 1 to 2 weeks until you’re at the suggested intake.
It is also important to ensure that you are getting your protein from a wide variety of healthy sources. As we established earlier, there are essential and non-essential amino acids. Not every protein source contains a full amino acid profile. Eating a wide variety of quality lean meats, poultry, seafood, nuts, seed, beans, legumes, tofu and quality dairy products is a great way to ensure you are consuming a full profile of amino acids.
Sleep and Recovery
Muscle growth, contrary to popular belief, happens outside of the gym while you are sleeping, resting and thus recovering. The training undertaken provides your body with the stimulus to change, whilst the rest provides you with the time and internal environment for change.
The most important part of recovery is sleep! Sleep is the most underutilised, free and legal steroid on the market. Published in 2015 by the Sleep Health Foundation (based on a report formulated by an expert panel convened at the US-based National Sleep Foundation) the average adult needs 7 - 9 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers and developing adolescents require EVEN MORE and are advised to sleep between 8 and 10 hours each night.
It has been reported in recent years that mobile phones and screen time is reducing the average sleep time (as well as sleep quality) among Australians. In 2016, the University of Adelaide prepared a report for to the Sleep Health Foundation that found more than one-third of Australian adults sleep less than 7 hours per night.
Sleep provides the internal environment for many muscle growth factors including (but not limited to):
Increased rate of protein synthesis
The production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and other muscle-building hormones
Increased blood flow/nutrient delivery to muscles aiding in repair and growth
REM sleep promotes the release of muscle tension and can aid in the severity of DOMS
Bottom line… If you’re not sleeping, you’re not growing.
If you’re just starting on your muscle-building journey, start with these three nutritional habits to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance of growth. If you’re further along your journey and you’ve recently hit a roadblock, nail the basics!