For anyone wanting to gain lean muscle mass, reaching the goal takes a bit more than just having a protein shake post-workout. And the process of gaining lean mass can be different for everyone. We all eat different foods and we all respond to food and exercise differently. We’ve put together and answered 7 commonly asked questions to help.
There are many reasons why you might want to improve your muscle mass. It could be to increase strength or reduce risk of injury. For others it might be about the aesthetics of bulking up. We also know that as we age lean muscle mass declines and fat mass increases. Older adults have improved health outcomes when they have a higher lean muscle mass. Muscle can also be described as active tissue – higher lean muscle mass mass b(not fat mass) burns more energy than low lean muscle mass.
To improve muscle mass there are a few things that need to happen at the same time. Firstly, you need to stimulate the muscles with some sort of resistance or weight training. The more our muscles are exposed to the correct form of training the more likely the muscle fibre’s will increase in length and diameter. This is referred to as hypertrophy. However, hypertrophy doesn’t happen on its own. The second consideration is more food, not just more protein. Growing muscle requires extra energy but only eating more protein doesn’t mean muscles grow bigger.
And finally, you need to get the timing of eating right. If you decide to eat all the extra food at the end of the day but you have done all your training in the morning, you have a miss-match between training and fueling. This creates a greater potential to store the extra energy as fat mass.
The quality of what you eat is really important. Quality in = quality out. The general rule-of-thumb is if you increase your total energy intake by 500 calories (or ~2,000 kilojoules) per day you now have additional energy that can be utilized for lean muscle mass growth. Generally speaking it makes sense to eat more protein foods since the goal is to increase muscle which is built from protein building blocks, however protein is not the only nutrient you need to consider. You may need to look at your total food intake across the day and
consider additional energy from quality carbohydrates and fats, as well as protein, depending on the adequacy of your current eating plan.
Depending on how your food intake is spread throughout the day will then help determine where you need to add in the additional calories. If you are a poor breakfast eater but train in the morning, then this would be an ideal time to add in the extra energy. If you train after work but your last meal was lunch, then it makes sense to build some extra energy in the afternoon as a pre-workout snack or mini-meal. Carbohydrates should be incorporated into pre and post-training nutrition strategies. Protein should be distributed evenly throughout the day, at all meals and snacks.
The key to preventing fat mass gains has to do with the quality of the food in your daily meal plan and the timing. Carbohydrates based on grains and fibre take preference over highly processed carbohydrate options like sugary foods and drinks, cakes and biscuits etc. Boost your carbohydrate intake in and around training times. This way you optimise your training and recovery. Keep your proteins lean; include fats from healthy sources like avocado, nuts and seeds, salmon and olive oil.
Supplements that are commonly used for muscle growth are protein powders and creatine. Whether you are a weekend warrior or an Olympian athlete, using supplements is dependent on a whole range of factors but supplements are not essential to your success. Most often, once you have got your training, eating and timing sorted the gains come quickly.
Protein Powder: is the most common and popular protein supplement. Most protein powders are derived from a dairy source but there are more vegan alternatives appearing on the market. Most powders are high in branched-chain amino acids but hold few advantages over protein food sources. They do have an attractive convenience factor and be sure to check the ingredients for suitability (and safety).
Creatine: a non-essential nutrient that our body manufactures but we can also find creatine from animal sources. Creatine is involved in the energy cycle within the cells of muscle to support short, high intensity bouts of exercise thereby improving performance. Creatine is sometimes added to an athlete’s plan to support lean muscle gains.
If you are struggling to achieve your nutrition goals and/or your lean mass gains, or you are needing more advice around nutrition for your performance, look for an Accredited Sports Dietitian in your local area to help.