Muscle building is truly an art. There’s no exact or concise blueprint as to how you can precisely build muscle. However there are some general proven guidelines which have stood the test of time, and remained after gimmicks and fads have been and gone. Here are some of them:
Amount of protein needed. Most of us know that protein is primarily used for growth and repair of our tissues. When you want to build muscle, you need more of this macronutrient.
Muscle building aside, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein among adult males aged 19 to 70 years old is 0.84 grams per kilogram per day. This is equivalent to 64 grams per day.
For adult females aged 19 to 70 years old, the RDI for protein is 0.75 grams per kilogram per day. This is equivalent to 46 grams per day.
Both of these sets of values are considered adequate for normal day to day function and physiology. They don’t include extra protein required for muscle building purposes. So how much more is needed?
For obvious reasons, your minimum protein intake should be above the two values stated above (0.84g/kg/day for males and 0.75g/kg/day for females). According to a recent study, to put your muscles in the optimal muscle building zone, you need to ingest anywhere between 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Timing of protein intake. When is the best time to take your protein? Before or after training?
Simply put, you don’t repair and build muscle during training. Muscle is actually broken down during that time. Muscle repair and muscle building begins after your training while you rest and recuperate. For this reason it makes the most sense that you take the bulk of your protein after training.
Some studies state you should consume a small amount of protein before training. Although the exact amount not quantified, small amounts of protein before training may ensure there are adequate amounts of energy left to sustain a workout. Some even argue that recovery is faster if you consume a little protein before training. To date, the best scenario seems to be to take a small amount before and then complete your protein requirements after your training.
Protein powders versus protein rich foods. Protein powders have come a long way from making you run to the toilet on occasion. Protein powders nowadays have passed through rigorous testing and absorption assays before they’re put on the shelves. Aim for powders made up of whey and branched chain amino acids to maximise absorption and repair.
Unfortunately, no matter how far advanced protein powders are in the supplement business, they will never match the exact amino acid composition and form of naturally protein rich foods. Nothing compares to the digestibility and bioavailability of protein rich foods like eggs, milk, steak, mince, chicken breast etc.
Sadly, in today’s fast paced world, consuming enough protein can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t have adequate time to prepare meals. Your solution? Protein powders.
You only build muscle when you sleep and rest. That’s true. All your anabolic (bulking up) hormones are secreted while you sleep and rest. Muscle mass is built when the net protein balance is positive, that is when muscle protein synthesis (anabolism) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (catabolism). Rest is the best time for your muscles to respond by repairing what has been broken down during training. Most beginner bodybuilders are required to take as much as 48 hours, maybe more, to rest and recuperate from a training workout. Don’t go back to training with sore muscles, you’re only making the situation worse. Lift weights intelligently and learn to listen to your body.
Here come the supplements. With all the available supplements out there claiming to build muscle and increase your strength, you can get lost in the chaos. Here are some of them which really matter:
1. Acetyl-L-carnitine. There is some evidence to show that acetyl-L-carnitine improves athletic performance. Carnitine helps with the delivery of fatty acids into the mitochondria of the cells for energy production.
2. Testosterone boosters. Apart from boosting your sex drive, supplementing with testosterone boosters can add more protein to your muscle.
3. Creatine. This compound supplies more energy to your cells. Research has demonstrated that creatine is best for short workouts and high intensity routines.
4. ZMA. This one’s a synergistic blend of two minerals (zinc and magnesium) and Vitamin B6. The precise formulation of these three nutrients has led nutrition experts to believe and partially demonstrate its ability to increase testosterone levels in your blood.
As hopefully demonstrated within this article, ‘the art of muscle building’ is rather a personalised process. It comes down to the quantity of protein you consume, the time at which you consume it, and the type of protein. Whether you choose to compliment your training with powders and/or other supplements is up to you. As with anything in life you have to make it work for your individual needs.
McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2015). Exercise physiology: nutrition, energy, and human performance (eighth ed.). Exercise Physiology (McArdle). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.