Happy Saturday! Let me be the first to highlight your accomplishment of surviving the long work week and making it to the weekend. They say that the first five days after the weekend are the hardest, and I agree. Making it to the finish line is no easy task in and of itself, so please be sure to give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, or celebratory glute slap, or whatever it is you would do in this situation. Given the above two options I know which one I’d choose, but this is not the time for me to wander off topic as I have something good to share with you today.
Before I get into that though, I’m sure the regulars reading here have noticed the small changes I’ve been making around here. Really I’m just trying to add some structure to the week so you know what to expect as opposed to my random system of posting. Also you have made it clear through your page views what it is that you value so training, nutriton, and fat loss with a pinch of motivation sprinkled in will be what I will be serving to you on a regular basis. The Saturday Post is going to be all of the above rolled into one, with an element of human interest as well as my own experiences thrown into the above list of ingredients. Now that I have said all that, let’s see what we can cook up here today on a subject that has received surprisingly little attention here, yet I know is of interest to the vast majority of those of you that read here. So let’s see what we can learn about Growing Our Muscles.
As I just stated and really to my own surprise, there has been nothing to do with muscle growth specifically on this site. That is going to change I assure you. If you work out with weights on a regular basis then chances are you are trying to either get bigger or stronger. The reality is that the greatest likelihood is that both are equally desired. We all train for reasons of health, strength, endurance, keeping father time at bay and a whole host of other reasons. The side effect of having some bigger muscles to fill out that t-shirt is a nice benefit too, so I’ll try to figure out if there are some things we can be doing to enhance that effect. Sound like a plan?
There are of course the obvious factors to look at regarding the growth of our muscles. In order to make our muscles grow we are going to have to put them in a situation where they are going to be stressed enough that when it comes time to recuperate and rebuild the damaged muscle tissue as the result of the training stimulus, our body will decide that because of what happened recently it might be a good idea to add a little more tissue to the damaged muscle fibers in an attempt to prepare them should that situation arise again. If we do this a whole bunch of times our muscles will start to visibly increase in size. This is not a revelation and I’m sure you you all are aware the principle of progressive tension overload, and our body’s compensatory actions which result in larger muscles. For the sake of thoroughness I had to at least give this principle a cursory mention in this article.
Delving a little deeper science has taught us that muscle has around 220 to 250 grams of protein per kilogram. The rest of the bulk of our muscles are made up of water. After those two it’s stored glycogen, some connective tissues and stored minerals. So contrary to popular belief, our muscle aren’t rock hard protein deposits. Less than half is actual protein, but that is still a large amount. The protein in our muscles is a long-chain of amino acids that are attached to one another in the structure that makes up the various fibers of our skeletal muscle.
How this happens is where it gets interesting, and ultimately decides whether our muscles grow through protein synthesis, or shrink due to protein breakdown. These are the two competing processes that occur in our muscles constantly. One the positive side of the equation, protein synthesis is the act of amino acids attaching themselves to one another and the result of this is the formation of muscle. This is a difficult process for our bodies to undertake and is very costly regarding energy. That of course is a good thing when the desired result is to build muscle as well as shedding unwanted body fat.
Then there is the opposite effect to the building of muscle with the breaking down of muscle tissue. There are many enzymes that are working against our muscle building efforts, cleaving off amino acids from the already built skeletal muscle. This occurs under the influence of hormones and other factors such as catecholamines like adrenaline. The breaking down of muscle is not an entirely negative process either somewhat surprisingly. By doing so, your body can take from one place and add to another based on what is needed under the particular circumstances of the moment. This is really an amazing ability. Essentially, our body can reshape itself from its own structure to be more effective in any given situation.
These dueling processes will determine what happens to to our muscles, depending on the balance between the two as both are happening at any given moment in time. Obviously if the amount of protein synthesis is the same as the amount of protein breakdown, then the amount of muscle we have will remain unchanged. If either side is greater than the other than we will either gain muscle, or our muscle size will decrease. Not exactly a startling formula there.
If building larger muscles is the goal, then it makes sense that we need to increase protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown, as this will provide the biggest impact on overall growth. Heavy resistance training will encourage both protein synthesis as well as protein breakdown, so it is with nutrition that the greatest effect on body composition will occur. This is the same in the case of fat loss as well. All the training in the world can’t cause fat loss with a poor diet. The same applies to muscle growth because unless the stimulus provided during training is supported nutritionally, then no amount of training will build bigger muscles.
This is where post training nutrition becomes an important factor in supporting our muscle gains. Specifically for our purposes the two macro nutrients protein and carbohydrate will elicit the desired response. It will come as no surprise to you that protein can stimulate protein synthesis. Somewhat surprising however, is protein does little to prevent protein breakdown. Carbohydrates however, stimulate the release of insulin which is effective in preventing protein breakdown. This is where the idea of quick digesting protein and carbohydrates following training is a sound nutritional principle.
The argument that protein alone is enough following training ignores the fact that protein doesn’t prevent muscle breakdown. Protein synthesis is the more important of the two following resistance training, as the demands of the body will be to get protein to the affected muscle to begin repair. If there is none available,then protein breakdown will increase to begin the process of repair. It can be argued that protein is needed for the building of new tissue which is the whole point of resistance training in the first place making it the more valuable of the two nutrients for the simple reason that carbohydrate will help to prevent the breakdown of muscle, but not the actual building of it.
All of the evidence I have seen points to the muscle building benefit of waiting an hour post training before consuming a protein and carbohydrate meal or liquid meal. Immediately following training there is an inflammatory response in the muscles used during the training session. Inflammation is the bodies way of getting nutrients to the site of the muscle trauma quickly to begin the healing process. Drinking a protein shake immediately will interfere with this process, and it is my understanding that it is best to wait an hour to allow the inflammation to begin rebuilding the damaged tissue.
This information leads me to believe that it is the pre training consumption of protein that may be the more valuable of the two servings. By having plenty of protein available before training, there will be a generous pool of amino acids available post training that will be used during this period of post training inflammation. By priming our body in advance of training, the breakdown of protein both during and post training will certainly be lessened, and what breakdown does occur will have the necessary replacement amino acids available.
I like to have an adequate amount of protein mixed with a small amount of carbohydrate an hour before training, and then an the same mixture an hour following training. Those of you familiar with the Ketosis Series(under the diet header) know that pre and post is all the carbs I consume for the day, and for my goals and purposes it is plenty. Enough to provide energy to fuel the training, and enough to replenish the stores somewhat and to prevent protein breakdown post training. This works very well for me and I see no reason to deviate from this method as I enjoy the balance of muscle building, muscle retention and fat loss.
As you can see the formula for growing our muscles is fairly simple, on paper at least. You need to overload them with weight, and work them under the tension that the weight provides to cause muscle stress or trauma. Following this, the body produces inflammation at the site of the muscle trauma to help repair the damaged tissue quickly. We can help this process by consuming a decent serving of protein an hour prior to training, as well as an hour post training. This ensures the body will be full of amino acids to promote protein synthesis. By adding carbohydrate to both our pre and post training protein serving, we have the added benefit of the presence of insulin which prevents protein breakdown. The body will then will adapt to the stress by building the muscles larger in preparation for the next round of training.
If you are curious about my pre and post training nutritional protocol, it’s pretty simple. 50 grams of whey mixed in water with one tablespoon of molasses or real Canadian maple syrup, one hour prior to training, and the same thing one hour following training. The reason I choose molasses and maple syrup is because of their vitamin and mineral content. It’s pretty impressive, but that’s information better saved for another day. Not to mention that in Canada, maple syrup flows from our taps instead of water. This makes our clothes and dishes very sticky, but we like it that way!
Back to reality, I would also like to add that I intentionally use whey concentrate for its vastly superior vitamin, mineral and immune enhancing effects. The isolates and hydrolysates are faster digesting, but at the expense of most all of the nutrients except for the protein. I also think the speed at which these proteins digest can be too quick to be of much use. You want protein to absorb at a rate that is usable. 50 grams immediately rushing into the bloodstream is about 38 grams too much to be useable, and the rest will be excreted.
Whatever your method is of fueling yourself before and after you train, I hope the information that has been provided to you here today helps you to understand the importance of pre and post nutrition from a muscle building perspective. With this information you can better arm yourself to make the gains that you seek in the arena of muscle mass. This is a bit of a departure from the the ideal approach used to elicit fat loss, but today is devoted to the almighty muscle!
I want to take a moment to thank you for reading here as it is your interest and passion in training and nutrition that fuels me to keep bringing you the best information available to further our health, goals, experiences and desires. In the short time that MattToronto.com has been in existence, you have made it a popular resource site for training and nutrition information. I’d like it if you took the time to let me know in the comments section about any subjects that you would like covered or explained further. I aim to help you all in some way, shape, or form, so the more you can guide me in your interests the better I will be able to provide what it is that you most want to learn about. We are all in this together after all. I hope to see you all here tomorrow for The Sunday Quickie, so until then,
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