So you started an exercise program and lowered your overall body fat. Great job!
The positive change in your body composition is proof that your efforts have finally paid off! You see it in the mirror, you feel it in your step (and in your now loose jeans), but keeping the weight off and maintaining what you worked so hard to achieve is the real test.
So where do you go from here?
If you’re like most people, you'll most likely want more...
I just want to get stronger.
I want to look more lean and athletic.
I’d like to tone up, without looking too bulky.
Whether your goal is gaining strength or sculpting your body to a desired physique, the approach boils down to the same thing — gaining muscle.
The three influencers of muscle growth are: nutrition, exercise, and hormones. All three are equally as important and need each other to reach your desired results, but this article will focus on nutrition.
Is the hype about protein justified when it comes to bigger muscle gains?
Yes, to an extent. It’s an established fact that consumption of high quality protein within close temporal proximity (immediately before and within 24 hours after) of resistance exercise is recommended to maximize muscle growth potential. The strain of repetition when you perform resistance exercise tears the muscle fibers, and the protein intake (although carbs and fat play a role, too) provides the resources to rebuild the newly torn muscles into something bigger and stronger. Further, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and your muscle is made up of protein. So, eating amino acids builds/makes protein, which builds/makes lean skeletal muscle, which increases the size of your skeletal muscle, which makes you more defined and "cut" looking. The good news is that your body can manufacture a huge chunk of these amino acids. They are called non-essential amino acids (NEAA). The not-so-good news is that some of them, also known as essential amino acids (EAA), can’t be made by the body. You have to get them from food sources.
In short, you need to ensure that your diet contains mixed amounts of these EAAs to help maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or muscle growth, through protein consumption.
How do I know if I have enough protein intake to promote MPS?
It's recommended that an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is optimal for building and maintaining muscle mass. Remember, your specific needs depend on the amount of muscle mass you have as well as the type and intensity of your physical activity. Below is a rough estimate of the recommended daily protein intake based on activity level:
· 0.8-1.2 g/kg for regular activity
· 1.2-1.5 g/kg for endurance athletes
· 1.5-1.8 g/kg for strength/power athletes
This may sound like a lot, but it’s not. A cup (140 grams) of chicken contains 43 grams of protein. Meanwhile, a can of tuna can contain as much as 49 grams. With a cup of chicken and a can of tuna, you’d almost entirely meet your protein needs. If you add in a glass of 2% milk (another 9-10 grams of protein), you’ve already hit your goal.
To promote greater muscle recovery, aim for an intake of about 20-40 grams of whey protein (drink your favorite Power Blendz protein shake) following strenuous whole body resistance exercise. Shoot for the higher end, especially if you're male and looking to gain, not just maintain. I want to add, that eating over the recommended amount doesn't translate to bigger gains. Your muscles will use what they need to grow, and the rest is processed by the body as waste. So, figure out what you need and follow a predetermined plan.
Conclusion: Eating more protein makes you feel fuller longer, can help curb overeating, and is essential for muscle recovery and growth, but don't forget your body still needs carbs and fats (badly).
So we know meat is considered an excellent source of protein. But what if you're on a plant-based diet?
It's a fact that vegetarians might have a harder time getting adequate, high quality protein. As a result, they may not be receiving the same quality of amino acid variety to support muscle maintenance/growth as meat-eaters. This issue can be addressed by adding more variety in the diet or through supplementation. By making sure they are combining a vast variety of EAAs, they should be able to meet the requirements needed for skeletal muscle growth and maintenance.
What about carbs and fat?
If you want to build muscle, increasing your dietary protein intake seems obvious. However, this doesn’t mean that you should disregard carbs and fats.
For one, carbohydrates help replace muscle glycogen (aka muscle fuel) and aids in enhancing the role of insulin when it comes to transporting nutrients into the cells, including your muscles. Combining protein and carbs also has the added advantage of limiting post-exercise muscle damage and promoting muscle growth. Fats help to maintain the cell integrity and supply energy.
In a nutshell, a diet balanced in protein, carbs, fats, and fiber is the most effective way to build muscle.
Will eating a Ketogenic Diet be beneficial?
Yes, most likely. The main premise of a ketogenic diet is to opt for high fat, high protein, and a very low carb diet. The Keto diet is great for quick weight loss, but is harder to maintain for the long haul. I recommend the "tride and true" balanced, healthy diet and exercise lifestyle.
Is there any proof that Nutrient Timing makes a difference?
For decades, the idea of nutrient timing (eating certain macronutrients at specific times like before, during, or after exercise) and meal scheduling has sparked a lot of interest, excitement, and confusion.
A good example of nutrient timing is the idea of the anabolic window, also known as a period of time after exercise where our body is supposedly primed for nutrients to help muscle recovery and growth. Some research revealed that while protein intake after a workout helps muscle growth, it may persist long after the actual training event. Meaning, as long as you get in a high protein (20-40g), balanced meal, at lease 3-4 hours after your workout, your body will show improved body composition and performance outcomes.
In summary, here’s what you need to remember when it comes to eating in order to gain muscle:
Muscle gains are hard to come by if you don’t complement your exercise training with the right nutrition. Besides acting as fuel for physical activity, eating right helps in muscle recovery and development of new muscle tissue.
Pay special attention to your protein intake in order to build muscle. Helpful figures to remember are 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) depending on your body composition, activity type and activity intensity.
There’s been a lot of talk about a specific amino acids and anabolic (muscle-building) superpowers. However, it’s still important to consume different sources of protein when you can and not just focus on a single protein source. Plus, remember that your body needs carbs and fat too.
Do not worry about when is the best time to eat your steak. Eating a portion of lean protein with some fiber-rich carbs and fat every meal is a good way to help your body repair and rebuild muscle after resistance exercise.
If you’re on a plant-based diet, make sure you're incorporating a wide variety of protein-rich plants to ensure that you’re getting the full range of amino acids. You may need to consider plant-based protein powder supplementation.
Remember, people have different goals for gaining muscle — from aesthetics to improved sports performance to feeling better about yourself. That means there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Whatever your goal, it all begins with one small step at a time. What changes are you going to make today? Well if you'd like to stop stressing over the details and find a way to get control of your food choices while creating a healthier lifestyle, you can check us out at Power 3 Fitness Coaching.