The Basics of Building Muscle
Muscle Growth 101
Whether you’re trying to burn some fat, tone your body, or gain size, understanding how our bodies grow muscle tissue is critical information for anyone looking to increase their fitness level. The changes in the structure of our muscles can be explained by two factors, protein synthesis(muscle growth) and muscle break-down. Anytime protein synthesis levels exceed break-down levels, our muscles grow and we become stronger. This is called an anabolic state. When muscular break-down exceeds synthesis we lose muscle. This is called a catabolic state.
As we go throughout the day, our bodies experience anabolic and catabolic states. The key to quickly gaining muscle is simply to maximize the time our body is in anabolic states and minimize our time in catabolic states. Simple right? Well maybe not. Many factors, ranging from the quality of our sleep to daily stress levels, go into determining an anabolic or catabolic state; however, two factors have massive impacts on net protein balance and you can probably guess what they are, resistance exercise and nutrition.
In later articles, we will examine in depth as many of these protein balance factors that we can, but for now let’s focus on exercise and nutrition. Resistance exercise causes an incredible spike in muscle synthesis as our bodies try to meet the demand (Phillips et al. 1997). However, our bodies can’t have a positive net protein balance without the proper nutrition.
Amino acids are the building blocks for the proteins that make up our muscles. Without ingesting some form of amino acids, our bodies can’t build new muscle tissue and we will be in a catabolic state until our body has the building blocks it needs(Biolo et al. 1995b). The best sources of these building blocks are high protein foods such as chicken, beef, eggs, fish, nuts and dairy.
During resistance exercise, it is crucial our bodies have a surplus of these building blocks ready for use to maximize anabolic activity. The best way to make this happen is whey protein supplements immediately before or after a workout. Whey protein is fast digesting and extremely cheap for the amount of protein they provide. I highly recommend BSN Syntha-6 as it has 22 grams of protein and 10 grams of essential amino acids and can be purchased here. For people who struggle digesting whey protein, soy and other plant based protein are excellent alternatives.
Biolo, G., Maggi, S.P., Williams, B.D., Tipton, K.D., and Wolfe, R.R. 1995b. Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. Am. J. Physiol. 268: E514–E520. PMID:7900797.
Phillips, S.M., Tipton, K.D., Aarsland, A., Wolf, S.E., and Wolfe, R.R. 1997. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown following resistance exercise in humans.