Guest post by Winthrop University nutrition student, Zachary Scott
Picture a stereotypical healthy physique. What comes to mind? Healthy is a very subjective term, but the majority of us would envision an athletic, muscular physique. You may be asking “what factors play into a muscular physique?” Well, an individual’s physique is a result of multidimensional and complex factors that are all interrelated. Some of these factors include genetics, nutrition, training regimen, and overall lifestyle. While not all of us are physically and genetically capable of resembling professional bodybuilders, we can all strive to maximize our potential through modifiable factors. This blog will dive into one of the most important of these modifiable factors for maximizing muscle growth: nutrition.
Before we get into the nutritional aspects of muscle building, it is important that we understand the health benefits of having a desirable body composition or a healthy ratio of lean tissue to fat tissue. I like to think of muscle building as a double win when it comes to improving body composition. Not only does muscle building obviously build muscle, but after the muscle is built, it requires much more calories than fat tissue. This raises an individual’s metabolism and makes it easier for an individual to create a caloric deficit, which is how fat tissue can be lost. Reducing fat tissue in obese individuals has been found to reduce the chance of many chronic diseases such as cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and many others. Muscle, especially lower body muscle, has also been correlated to extend quality and length of life in the older population. The muscles in the lower body allow older individuals to remain ambulatory or walking longer into their life, which not only grants them independence, but allows them to remain active. Remaining active is vital for promoting cardiovascular health, which is a major concern for this population.
Now that we understand how building muscle can help us look better and be healthier, let’s dive into how nutrition can help us achieve this goal.
Protein. Protein. Protein. It’s the most important of the macronutrients in building muscle, after considering total calorie intake. Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles. You cannot build a brick house without the bricks. It is important to consume adequate amounts of protein in order to build muscle. But read on – because as always with nutrition, the crux is in the details. And the answer isn’t just “more”!
There is a lot of misinformation regarding protein dosage. You may have seen on protein supplement advertisements that you need to flood your system with ridiculous amounts of protein. This is a common tactic by these companies to get you to buy and keep buying their product. Do not fall for this. Studies have shown that a healthy individual training to build muscle does not need more than 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily or around 0.3 – 0.4 g / kg / meal (for a 150 pound individual this equates roughly to 80 – 95 g daily and 20 – 28 g per meal) . Any excess protein simply gets excreted as urine or can ultimately get converted to fat.
The timing of protein consumption is also important, but not in the way you might think. The body is very efficient in storing fats and carbohydrates, but the body does not store protein very well. For this reason, it is important that protein consumption is spread out throughout the day to maintain a positive protein balance throughout your day.
Ideally, consume your protein evenly across your three meals (with smaller protein intake at snacks), which for most people means paying extra attention to breakfast. This tends to be a low-protein meal for most people.
Consuming a protein snack in between meals is a great way of sustaining a positive protein balance. Great protein snack options can include jerky, trail mix, protein bars, low-fat cheese, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, and protein shakes.
When it comes to protein around workouts, the good news is that the window for protein uptake seems to be much bigger than previously thought, and experts now believe that we have a much longer time after resistance training than we previously thought. It’s important to have adequate protein in the first meal after training to optimize muscle building, but the specific timing of that meal doesn’t seem to be nearly as important as previously thought.
Carbs are well known as our body’s main fuel source, but they also play a huge part in muscle building. Carbs are stored in the muscle as glycogen and serve as an energy source to optimize training. Consuming carbs causes the body to release insulin, which, with the addition of training and protein consumption, triggers pathways that are responsible for muscle building. Co-ingesting carbs with proteins has also been found to maximize the utilization of proteins for muscle building as less proteins are needed to be converted to energy. Carbs, then, are known to be protein-sparing. Daily requirements of carbohydrate consumption for an individual training for muscle building should be at least 7-8 grams per kg.
Fats have been demonized in the past and many diets have emphasized greatly reducing their intake. However, in terms of muscle building, fats are very important. Fats, especially omega-3’s, provide lubrication for our joints which can reduce pain and inflammation that may arise from training sessions. Fats are also important to hormone production. Without ingesting fats, the production of our anabolic (building) hormones (ex: testosterone) will be reduced. This will ultimately lead to reduced muscle building as well as a multitude of other negative effects. Fat ingestion is also important to the absorption of our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins play a role in various processes throughout the body and without them in required amounts, our bodies will not function as effectively. Fat consumption should be about 20-30% of our daily calories.
Børsheim, Elisabet, et al. “Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Net Muscle Protein Synthesis during Recovery from Resistance Exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 96, no. 2, 2004, pp. 674–678., doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00333.2003.
Karpinski, C., & Rosenbloom, C. (2017). Sports nutrition: A handbook for professionals. Chicago: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Morton, Robert W., et al. “Nutritional Interventions to Augment Resistance Training-Induced Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy.” Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 6, 2015, doi:10.3389/fphys.2015.00245.
Tarnopolsky, Mark A. “Building Muscle: Nutrition to Maximize Bulk and Strength Adaptations to Resistance Exercise Training.” European Journal of Sport Science, vol. 8, no. 2, 2008, pp. 67–76., doi:10.1080/17461390801919128.