Muscles need stimulation, preferably in the form of resistance training, to grow alongside good nutrition (1). The goal should be increased muscle mass alongside strength gains, without an increase in body fat. For endurance sport you also want to reduce body fat whilst increasing muscle mass, so that total weight doesn’t increase. Enlist the help of a good strength coach who can set a training program for you to follow, over a realistic timeframe.
Changing your eating Patterns
It’s a good idea to seek the assistance of a nutritionist to determine your energy needs, so that you know what extra energy if any you need to be consuming during your increased training, as well as the quantities of carbohydrate, fat and protein for fat loss or muscle gain. The main goal is to increase the frequency of your meals, eat clean, and eat to build muscles.
Why protein alongside resistance training is important for Muscle Mass
At any point of time your body’s protein stores are in a negative or positive balance as your muscles are breaking down protein or building it up. There is a constant state of flux. When you engage in resistance training or other intense exercise, this exercise stimulates an adaptive response in the muscles (1). This is how muscles grow, through training, repair, adaption, and further training. Your muscles adapt through this repetitive training (1). Your body needs protein to assist in the repair and recovery of muscles and connective tissues after exercise. The protein that we eat is broken down into amino acids, which our body uses for various functions including this muscle building (1).
When you start strength training you will require more protein in these early stages of resistance exercise compared to later stages (1). This is due to the muscles adaption to resistance exercise. As a result, the protein required to maintain a positive protein balance of a trained athlete is only marginally higher than that of a normal untrained person (1). Adolescent athletes are different as they have higher protein needs due to growth demands.
Protein before during and after Exercise
If you plan on exercising in a fasted state without carbohydrate, for heightened fat loss or fat adaption, you will need to consume some protein before or during exercise to prevent your body breaking down your muscles protein stores for fuel (1). Resistance exercise in the fasted state is less effective than resistance exercise with amino acid digestion in promoting muscle growth (1). A protein drink during exercise, or a small amount of protein before your training is ideal.
Both the quality and timing of protein intake are important for building muscle mass. Recovery is really important for muscle building. Your muscles can’t rebuild without sufficient protein being available to them, so consumption of protein immediately after exercise will increase the muscle uptake of amino acids and encourage muscle rebuiding (1).
Studies have shown that in 20-25 grams of high quality protein consumed in the immediate post resistance exercise period, appears sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (1). This heightened state of protein building will last for up to 24 hours after exercise, so it’s recommended that you consume 30g of good quality protein at each meal to provide enough amino acids for your muscles to sufficiently rebuild. Research indicates that protein rebuilding is at it’s best when consumed alongside carbohydrate (1). So ensure that you eat a post workout meal of both protein and carbohydrate.
The following are the estimated daily protein requirements for athletes, from the AIS guidelines
|Athlete Group||Protein intake|
|Sedentary or recreational endurance athletes
(4-5 sessions per week at <55% VO2 max, for 30 minutes)
|Moderate intensity Endurance athlete
(4-5 sessions/week for 45-60 minutes)
|Elite Endurance Athlete Male||1.6 g/kg/day|
|Elite Endurance Athlete Female||1.3-1.4 g/kg/day|
|Early training resistance athlete||1.5-1.7 g/kg/day|
|Steady State Resistance athlete||1.0-1.2 g/kg/day|
|Football or team power sports||1.4-1.7 g/kg/day|
What sort of Protein?
Protein is determined by the protein digestibility Amino Acid Score. Proteins that rate the hightest are from animal based foods such as milk, eggs and meats. Leucine and other Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are very effective in muscle rebuilding. Whey protein isolate has the highest amounts of both amino acids compared to milk protein or soy protein isolate in that order.
Optimal Protein Timing
- Consume protein in doses around 20-30g of protein per meal to maximise muscle rebuilding
- Spread out protein across all 3 meals during the day
- Consumption of a good quality protein meal immediately after exercise
- Eating a protein rich meal before bedtime for extend muscle rebuilding overnight when there is typically a dip due to the prolonged fasted state
- Resistance exercise with a post training protein meal has the largest effect on muscle protein growth. This is followed by sufficient protein intake without exercise, then protein consumed before resistance exercise, followed by exercise without any protein intake. See diagram below.
Nutrition and resistance training strategy for Optimal muscle rebuilding (2)
(1) Phillips SM, Van Loon LJC. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Science 2011;29(Supp1):S29-38.
(2) Drummond MJ et. al. Current Opinion Clin Nutr Metabol Care 2008;11:222-6