Whether you’re just starting out on your muscle building journey or want tips to improve your muscle mass further, here’s our quick tips and advice, to ensure you reach your target.
We spoke to top sports nutritionist Liam Mahoney, from sports nutrition brand Grenade.
Many believe that building muscle mass is only something bodybuilders need to focus on, however evidence has shown that this is not the case. Building muscle mass has been shown to help improve an athlete’s sports performance.
“When our muscles are made bigger, they have a stronger potential to be more powerful, therefore making the athlete stronger,” says Mahoney.
As well as this, building muscle mass is incredibly important for all types of athletes, as it helps to prevent injury. Mahoney explains: “A stronger muscle mass helps to ensure stronger ligaments and tendons, which are better able to adapt to different kinds of training, as well as train almost every day, often a requirement of successful athletes.”
What’s happening in your muscles?
To produce muscle growth, you apply a load of stress greater than what your body or muscles had previously adapted too. The main way to do this is to lift progressively heavier weights. “This additional tension on the muscle helps to cause changes in the chemistry of the muscle, allowing for growth to occur,” states Mahoney.
After you work out, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibres through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibres together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth). “Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown,” says Mahoney. “This adaption doesn’t happen while you lift the weights, it occurs when you rest.”
Traditionally, building muscle mass was feared by many athletes as they believed it would make them slow and ‘muscle bound’. However, research shows that muscle mass is important to all athletes, including those we don’t associate with bulky physiques, such as tennis players, golfers and footballers.
There are two types of muscle building methods: bodybuilding and the athlete method. Athletes don’t use bodybuilding methods during their training programs, as this type of training focuses on increasing your body’s ability to store glycogen locally in the muscles. “This extra fluid storage cannot contract or produce force, so it is useless to athletes, especially endurance ones,” says Mahoney.
“However, this doesn’t mean athletes shouldn’t incorporate muscle building to their training programs. Rather, athletes need to focus on myofibrillar hypertrophy, without the increased ability to store glycogen, as this type of muscle building will not impact force.”
The importance of nutrition
Lifting heavy weights is one of the most important elements of gaining muscle mass, but it’s by no means the only way. “Nutrition is another huge contribution, and should go hand in hand with training,” believes Mahoney.
Mahoney even stresses that nutrition should be your number one priority, before lifting weights. “Improving your diet can create huge leaps in fat loss and contribute to the muscle building progress,” says Mahoney.
Without the right nutritional support, training becomes pointless. Processed fats and refined sugars need to be cut out of your diet, and replaced with good fats like the omega 3s found in fish and unrefined foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. If your diet is low in protein, simply adding a complete protein food like chicken breast, fish or egg whites at each meal will help add to your muscle mass fast. “To ensure you’re getting the adequate amounts to protein to reach your goal, I recommend high quality, performance protein powders such as Grenade’s Hydra 6, containing 24-25 grams of protein per serving.”
Quality v calories
Research has shown that a nutrient balanced diet always beats one which is based on calorie count. “If you are eating a sensible portion of protein, vegetables and healthy carbohydrates, you don’t need to worry about calories, especially if your energy levels are sufficient and you are able to lift heavy weights without feeling premature fatigue,” says Mahoney.
For those actively looking to build muscle mass, who find it difficult to track their diet, weighing your food will ensure you are getting the right number of calories from the right foods throughout the day. In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh, based on the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI).
“If you weigh 70kg (11 stone), you should eat about 52.5g of protein a day,” advises Mahoney. “On average, men should eat 55g and women 45g of protein daily. That’s about two palm-sized portions of meat, fish, tofu, nuts or pulses. But most people find it very easy to eat a lot more.”
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, British men and women eat about 45-55 per cent more protein than they need each day.
Protein is essential after a workout, particularly one involving heavy weights, as it helps to rebuild the muscles that will have been damaged.
“Aim to consume 20g of protein immediately after your workout to kick-start the recovery process effectively,” says Mahoney. “A protein shake or protein bar is a great way to ensure this is done. I recommend the Carb Killa range from Grenade. Each bar contains 20 grams of protein and they’re low in sugar.”
Pushed for time?
We can all identify with feeling too tired to cook healthily, despite good intentions. “In the Western world, there is an increasing availability of fast food and convenience items that make it even more difficult to stick to a healthy diet,” says Mahoney, “but healthy eating doesn’t need to be hard.”
For those who simply don’t have the time, meal prep is key. It’s more difficult to slip up and eat the nearest chocolate bar you can find if you have a healthy meal or snack with you. “Whilst there is an increase in unhealthy convenience items, there is also an increase in healthy ones too, and you should utilise this,” stresses Mahoney.
About Liam Mahoney
Liam Mahoney is the lead nutritionist at sports nutrition brand Grenade. He is a sports scientist and nutritionist. Liam was a competitive road cyclist who raced at amateur Team GB level, and has worked with professional athletes and teams to develop nutritional plans and strategies.
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