'Muscles aren't cool.’

Said no one ever.

Everyone wants a little more muscle.

It’s great to see more people take an interest in adding some quality muscle tissue to their frames, even if it’s only a little.

Whether you’re looking to increase muscle growth to look better, be stronger or for your long-term health, this article will point you in the direction of some 'easy action' nutrition strategies.

Just to set the record straight though, you do need some form of stimulus on the muscle to make it grow. Now depending on who you are and what you do, this could range from some very basic resistance exercises as a form of recreation, all the way up to skilled weightlifters and powerlifters.

Even without training, the following strategies are generally good advice that anyone can and should introduce.

Phew! Let’s begin…

1/Aim to hit the 'leucine threshold' at each feeding

Leucine is an essential amino acid. It’s one among three, with isoleucine and valine being the other essential amino acids.

In order for muscle to growth to reach its full potential, we need to turn on muscle protein synthesis. One great way to do this is to make sure that you eat enough protein in a sitting to reach the ‘leucine threshold’.

This is wise information for maintenance of the muscle tissue that you currently carry.

From a muscle growth perspective, many forms of training that we do, although activators of MPS, can result in a negative protein balance. So in order to kickstart the growth process and maintain it, adequate protein feedings with enough leucine present are needed. This helps to re-establish a positive protein balance and subsequent muscle protein synthesis. Once you do this at each feeding, you are maximising your chances of getting some growth on1.

This is what I would call an 'intentional and habitual practice for growing muscle’.

Even if you’re not overly concerned with muscle growth as an outcome, I would recommend that this become a practise for both

As an aside, I’m a big proponent for looking at muscle tissue as a healthy thing. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength2. Considering that we are likely to live longer than any other previous generation, the question begs, ‘what kind of health will we be in for those extra years?’
With that in mind, quality muscle tissue is seen as a marker for better health outcomes as we age - ranging from quality of life to reduced risk of metabolic diseases.

One other thing to note is that you can’t just keep bashing back protein continually in the hope that you’ll keep growing. You need to give the body at little break from time to time, due to something called the ‘muscle full effect’. Sometimes too much of a good thing turns off the signal that delivers the goods, so to speak3.

2/ Consume Adequate Fat

Wait? Fat?

Yep, a little dietary fat can go a long way to facilitating your entry in to the ‘hall of gains’ (sorry, I’ll get my coat).

Research into saturated fat components have shown that adequate fat intakes are needed for muscle tissue maintenance, strength performance and ideal hormonal profiles required for growth potential4,5.

Meaning?

Going too low fat hinder your potential from a health perspective (as we already know) but also from a healthy muscle tissue perspective.

What are the applications of this?

Just don’t forgo fat. Roughly around 25-30% of total energy requirements is a good spot for health and likely performance.

3/ The Pre-Bed Bolus6

This one is such a great strategy. It’s one that I make sure I do on a daily basis and encourage clients to do as well. It’s a fairly basic idea and within most people's reach.

The idea for this stems from the fact that the muscle growth response to a bout of exercise extends over a 24 hour period. When we sleep, we are obviously not eating anything and may create an inadequate ‘growth environment’.

A simple step to mitigate this?

Have a hefty pre-bed serving of protein and reap the rewards.

From a practical point of view, a ‘night cap’ in the form of a type of dairy is usually recommended. This may be a low fat source to keep energy intake where it needs be but something like Greek yoghurt can suffice.

Current recommendations for this acute strategy fall around a 40g serving of protein so the practical implications of shooting for a low-fat, high protein option here seems like great advice.

/Bonus: Don’t Forget About Training Times…

You may have heard about this thing called the ‘anabolic window’.

Internet folk have become to dismiss it’s importance but if you want to be as intentional as possible about building more muscle, it is definitely something that you should pay attention to.

Why?

During that euphoric post-exercise period, there an increased sensitivity to protein for around 24 hours, as mentioned above. This gradually diminishes or a 48 hour period. If we want to ride that wave of gains, then it would be prudent to consume something protein based at a time that is most convenient within that 24 hour period.

Now, I assume no one reading this will think, ‘grand, I’ll just hold out a few hours’.

Why would you?

Protein shakes make it easy to get quality protein in without thinking too much.

So why not just chug one back as soon as you can after finishing training? It’s such a low hanging fruit for getting the most out of your muscle growth potential that it would be criminal to not take advantage of it.

How much do I need? One hefty scoop should do the trick. This is around 20g to 30g of whey which is perfect as an intentional post training muscle growth tonic.

There you have it. The secrets of the gains made available to you.

Just to recap...

  • 1
    Think ‘enough protein to hit the leucine threshold at every meal/snack’. Spread them out enough to allow the ‘muscle full effect’ to run its course.
  • 2
    Don’t drop fat too much. Remember, it’s needed for some important stuff to do with muscle growth.
  • 3
     Pre-bed is a good time to get in a big protein feeding. Why? You aren’t eating anything while you sleep but your muscles may be crying out for some sustenance.

Want to perform better and win more?

Why not get some download the nutrition guide to better performance nutrition?

References:

1.Atherton & Smith (2012) Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. J Physiol. 590(Pt 5): 1049–1057

2.Bauer et al. (2013) Evidence-Based Recommendations for Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People: A Position Paper From the PROT-AGE Study Group. JAMDA 14: 542-569

3.Bohé et al. (2001) Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. J Physiol. 532(Pt 2): 575–579

4.Hamalainen et al. (1984) Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men. J Steroid Biochem. 20(1):459-64

5.Reichman et al. (2008) Dietary Cholesterol and Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Training: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 62(10):1164-71

6.Trommelen J & van Loon LJC (2016). Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training. Nutrients; 8(12): 763.

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