Nutrition Tactics for Building Muscles
By Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Once you have a good training program, you can then integrate optimal fueling tactics into your sports diet. Keep in mind the benefits of adding muscle need to exceed any potential slow-down in speed related to the weight gain. Some athletes who perceive themselves as “under-muscled” are actually already very strong and effective.
Questions arise about the best ways to add muscle mass:
Protein needs. Based on research from 49 studies that included 1,863 healthy participants, about 0.7-gramprotein/lb. of body weight (1.6 g pro/kg)/day is associated with the greatest gains in muscle mass (1). Eating additional protein is unlikely to offer further benefit. That is, piling your plate with three chicken breasts at lunch and dinner is a needless way to spend your food budget.
Extra calories. Building muscle requires energy; you need added fuel to build new muscle mass. Yet, excessive calories (even excess calories from protein) can end up as body fat, not muscle. Studies with weight-trained subjects who lifted heavy weights for at least 6 weeks and ate extra protein (but not extra calories) suggests they gained only about 2.5 lbs. (1.1 kg) new muscle (2). Not much.
In a study with sedentary twins who overate by 1,000 calories a day for 100 days, the subjects gained, on average, about 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) of muscle and about 12 lbs.(5.4 kg) of fat. That means, for each one pound of muscle gained without lifting weights, they gained about two pounds of fat. Each twin-pair gained a similar amount of weight, but the results varied significantly between sets of twins. This suggests a strong genetic on one’s ability to add muscle (3).
For a 150-pound athlete, the standard advice is to add about 350 to 475 calories a day to build new muscle and minimize fat gain (1). Yet, more research is needed for more precise advice, given that many factors impact calorie needs: the amount of energy-rich fat and glycogen stored in the muscle; the number of calories burned during training; the magnitude of the post-workout rise in metabolism; the fate of the excess calories (turning carbohydrate or protein into body fat takes energy); the energy cost of building and maintaining new muscle tissue; the calories burned when you overeat and spontaneously fidget more. This is a complex calculation!
Source of the additional calories. Carbohydrate is the primary fuel used to lift weights, so eating additional calories from carb-based grains, fruits and veggies seems a wise choice to support a training program. A hard-liftingsession can deplete muscle glycogen by 30-40%. Given glycogen depletion is linked with fatigue, repeated days of low carb intake can impair the ability to train hard.
Best sources of protein. Protein is a source of the amino acid leucine. Leucine is an important trigger for building muscle. Hence, leucine-rich proteins can maximize muscle synthesis. Animal proteins have about double the leucine content of calorie-matched plant sources. For example, 8-ounces dairy milk has 1 g leucine; soymilk has only 0.5 g. The goal is about 2.5 to 3 g leucine per meal.
When to eat. To promote muscle mass and minimize fat gain, front-load your calories rather than eat most of your food towards the end of the day. Surround your work-outs with protein-carb combinations, particularly when doing long workouts. Examples: Yogurt & granola, turkey-cheese sandwich, beans & rice, chocolate milk.
Words of wisdom. You can slightly redesign (but not totally remodel) your body. Eat well and be realistic!
Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels sports-active people in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875). Her best–selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebookoffers additional fueling tips. Visit www.NancyClarkRD.com for more information.
Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD is a frequent contributor to the PBSCCS website. For more information on sports nutrition, check out the 6th edition of her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook at NancyClarkRD.com