The Importance of Muscle Growth For The Athlete
A number of years ago, building significant muscle size was something only done by bodybuilders and a large divide existed between strength and physique athletes.
Many didn’t believe strength and size could co-exist and the understanding was that while physique athletes could certainly build impressive size, they did not have the strength to match.
Thankfully nowadays, the health and fitness industry has come to truly understand the relationship between muscular hypertrophy and strength.
There are a number of studies to indicate that building muscle size enhances strength capacity while developing strength facilitates muscle growth.
If there is one thing that both strength and physique athletes know, it is that they will have to build muscle – whether that be to facilitate a better performance or to improve body composition.
When it comes to muscle growth, of course strength training is important. Without it, the body will fail to adapt and improve.
Although, there is one condition that must be met on a daily basis otherwise all the hard work in the gym will be wasted.
A calorie surplus must be maintained in order to drive muscle growth. A calorie surplus is simply where you consume more calories per day than your body requires.
This means that a greater quantity of food must be consumed every day.
It is important to recognize that this is not an excuse to start eating anything and everything. Wise nutritional choices will help to accelerate muscle growth and minimize fat gain.
In addition a calorie surplus, there are a number of other considerations in regards to nutrition that must be made to bring about effective muscle development.
This article will cover 10 top nutrition tips to apply to your daily nutrition and help to facilitate a lean bulk.
10 Nutrition Tips For Mass
By reading through and applying these 10 tips, you will make optimal progress and significantly build muscle size.
1) Avoid the “Dirty Bulk”
Probably the most common error that is made when looking to build muscle size is to use unhealthy, calorie dense but nutrient sparse foods to hit your daily calorie goal.
Junk foods such as pizza, ice cream, and candy can become even more appealing as you recognize the need for calories.
While these foods can certainly help towards hitting a high calorie target, they fail to nourish the body with micronutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals – all which are required for muscle growth.
The ideal bulk will concentrate on healthy, nutrient dense foods. Many of these foods are lower in calories but contain essential chemicals and substances.
As a result of strength training, individual muscle fibers begin to break down and must be repaired. As a result, the body must generate new muscle cells in order to fully recover.
The body must also synthesize DNA and increase the number of mitochondria within the cells.
Without these key vitamins, minerals and hormones, these processes cannot effectively take place.
Furthermore, due to the degree of stress placed on the body during resistance training, the body reacts with an inflammatory response.
To minimize the effect of this response, reduce joint pain and, once again, accelerate recovery, good nutrition must be established.
It is imperative that a bulking diet is founded on proper nutrition. However, as alluded to, junk food can help to boost daily calorie intake.
Setting a limit of 10% of your total calories coming from junk food can be beneficial. This way you ensure you are not consuming too much low quality food.
2) Ensure A Calorie Surplus Is Established
As mentioned, a calorie surplus is critical to all muscle building endeavours. However, many can be put off or skeptical of the amount of calories that they have calculated.
This seems to be particularly true for those who are new to bulking and have never attempted it previously.
The first step towards creating a calorie surplus is to calculate how many calories you require each day.
Calculating both calories and macronutrients is not complicated providing you take into account physical attributes (weight and height) and activity levels.
The number you end up with may seem incredibly high at first glance and you may doubt the accuracy of the calculation. However, it is not a mistake.
One of the best methods for ensuring that a calorie surplus is established is to track your calories.
If you’ve never tracked your calories before, you may initially be in for a shock in regards to the quantity of food that you now have to eat and the calories contained within specific meals.
For example, 2 pounds of oatmeal does not even equate to a quarter of your daily calorie target (based on a 2500 calorie target).
Providing you are consistently hitting your calculated calorie and macro targets, you are on the right path.
Do remind yourself however that change takes time. It is easy to become frustrated when progress is slow but transformation will not occur overnight. Trust the process.
3) Eat Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the macronutrient primarily responsible for providing and nourishing the body with energy.
Some individuals prefer high fat diets during a bulk as they believe that they perform better with high fat rather than high carb.
However, those looking to add significant mass should look to consume carbs regularly as they can serve to build muscle while preventing excessive fat storage.
Carbs are especially useful after a workout as they will cause a spike in insulin levels which will consequently drive glycogen into the muscles and enhance recovery.
Research has shown that when high levels of glycogen are stored within muscles, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin which may cause it to store less fat (1).
As a result, if carbs are severely limited in your diet, then it is possible that fat will accumulate at a greater rate.
4) Consume Fiber Moderately
Fiber is a plant-based nutrient which is vital for maintaining digestive health and reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Following on from the previous point, if you increase the amount of healthy carbohydrates that you eat, it is likely that you will be consuming a greater amount of fiber.
Foods such as oatmeal, potatoes, beans, and brown rice are all excellent sources of healthy carbs but are high in fiber.
If you try to consume 300 – 500 grams of carbs per day, it is likely that you will be too full and therefore fail to hit your calorie target.
Fiber is satiating and takes a long time to digest which means that it keeps the body fuller for longer. This makes is fantastic for weight loss but less so for weight gain.
Fiber has been found to help with insulin sensitivity and may boost immunity by increasing the number of healthy bacteria in the gut (2).
Therefore, based on the vast number of fiber related benefits, it is essential that we consume it regularly. However, it should be a moderate intake to allow you to continually reach your daily calorie target.
There are a number of high carb, low fiber foods that you can use if you are finding yourself full very quickly.
Strategically consuming produce like fruit juices, white rice or even carb supplements can make a high carb diet much more manageable.
5) Use Supplements Wisely
With so many supplements to choose from nowadays, it can all become a little confusing.
It doesn’t have to be. In reality, there are two supplements that are worthwhile considering which are protein and creatine.
Protein to help with the repair process from stresses of strength training and creatine to facilitate a greater performance in the gym.
Multivitamins may be of benefit too, specifically for recovery, however, they are not always foolproof.
6) Consider Liquid Calories
If you find it very challenging to get enough calories through food alone and are constantly finding yourself full, it may be wise to consume more calories through liquid instead.
Meal replacement shakes and smoothies can be particularly useful. The great thing about the blender is you can use recipes to fit your macro and micro requirements.
Liquids can also be a lot easier to digest than solid foods and as a result, a high number of calories can more comfortably be consumed.
Some believe that blending actually causes a decrease in the overall nutrients of the food. Apart from a small reduction in vitamin C levels, this appears to be unfounded (3).
7) Avoid Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been the topic of many a scientific study over the years. Findings indicate that long breaks between meals may lead to an increase fat burn and insulin sensitivity (4).
Other research into the topic has found that eating less frequently may even reduce the feelings of hunger which is great for fat loss but less than ideal when trying to bulk.
While it is undoubtedly a complicated topic, those looking to add size should avoid prolonged fasted periods as far as possible and look to eat at regular intervals.
8) Set Achievable Goals
One of the main reasons people fail to attain their goals is that they set themselves unrealistic targets and give up when they fail to see expected progress.
The general consensus is that fat can be lost at a rate of a pound per week. As a result, many presume that it is possible to build muscle at a similar rate.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Providing that training and nutrition are being tracked and are consistent, a more accurate estimation would be anything between 0.2 – 0.5 pounds of muscle per week.
For many, this means expectations must be tempered. It takes time to build quality muscle.
9) Utilize Calorie Cycling
There are many individuals who will argue that as long as you are providing the body with enough calories each week, it doesn’t matter when you consume them.
Research has indicated otherwise. For optimal improvements in mass and strength, consider eating more calories and carbohydrates on training days.
While research into calorie cycling or “overfeeding” is limited, the few studies that exist have found that both strength and endurance athletes performed better by using it.
Eating more carbohydrates on training days will ensure that glycogen stores are maintained at a high level.
Maintaining high levels of glycogen means that you have more stored energy that is ready to use instantaneously.
This will allow you to train with really intensity and will therefore have a major impact on muscle and strength gains.
In addition to this, overfeeding in combination with exercise has been found to bolster thyroid and hormonal health (5).
10) Reduce Body Fat First
Finally, it may be necessary to reconsider your decision to bulk in the first place as it is always recommended to start from the leanest point possible.
If you already have a lot of body fat, it can be difficult to quantify progress and understand if mass is truly increasing or whether fat stores are simply increasing.
Furthermore, if you start a bulk from this position, it will make the consequent cut a lot longer and more grueling.
Therefore, if necessary, cut first and then bulk – this will let you build a solid foundation and set you up for long term success.
There are other benefits associated with dropping body fat first including greater insulin sensitivity which occurs due to a lower body fat percentage.
As a consequence, the body may be more efficient at absorbing nutrients and building muscle.
Remember that every person is different and a nutritional method that works for one individual may not work with another.
With that being said, the main nutritional principles for muscle gain that need to be put in place are universal for every individual.
Establishing a calorie surplus, monitoring macro intake, and consuming a broad range of micronutrients are all essential for efficient muscle growth.
No matter what methods you use, providing these principles are in place, you will successfully begin to pack on muscle.
1-Jensen, Jørgen; Rustad, Per Inge; Kolnes, Anders Jensen; Lai, Yu-Chiang (2011). “The role of skeletal muscle glycogen breakdown for regulation of insulin sensitivity by exercise”. Frontiers in Physiology. 2: 112. doi:10.3389/fphys.2011.00112. ISSN 1664-042X. PMC 3248697. PMID 22232606.
2-Fukagawa, N. K.; Anderson, J. W.; Hageman, G.; Young, V. R.; Minaker, K. L. (1990-9). “High-carbohydrate, high-fiber diets increase peripheral insulin sensitivity in healthy young and old adults”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 52 (3): 524–528. doi:10.1093/ajcn/52.3.524. ISSN 0002-9165. PMID 2168124.
3-Gil, María I.; Aguayo, Encarna; Kader, Adel A. (June 14, 2006). “Quality changes and nutrient retention in fresh-cut versus whole fruits during storage”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 54 (12): 4284–4296. doi:10.1021/jf060303y. ISSN 0021-8561. PMID 16756358.
4-Salgin, B.; Marcovecchio, M. L.; Humphreys, S. M.; Hill, N.; Chassin, L. J.; Lunn, D. J.; Hovorka, R.; Dunger, D. B. (2009-3). “Effects of prolonged fasting and sustained lipolysis on insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity in normal subjects”. American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 296 (3): E454–461. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.90613.2008. ISSN 0193-1849. PMC 2660143. PMID 19106250.
5-Poehlman, E. T.; Tremblay, A.; Fontaine, E.; Després, J. P.; Nadeau, A.; Dussault, J.; Bouchard, C. (1986-1). “Genotype dependency of the thermic effect of a meal and associated hormonal changes following short-term overfeeding”. Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental. 35 (1): 30–36. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(86)90092-2. ISSN 0026-0495. PMID 3510362.