As we start to approach the summer months again many of us are starting to think about swim suit season.
We all know that increasing muscle mass requires spending some time actually working our muscles but is that all that it takes, or is there more to it?
Whether you are wanting to increase muscle tone for aesthetic reasons or to improve your strength and performance, we are going to be sharing with you all the details to start seeing results from your efforts!
Optimize your protein intake
For many athletes or individuals who are working on increasing muscle mass, protein is usually the first thing that comes to mind. And for good reason!
Protein is essential for increasing and maintaining muscle mass as it is involved in muscle repair and growth.
The RDA for the average person is about 1.1g of protein per kg of body weight however your need will increase if you are more active. This is where a quality protein powder might be a good option if you find you aren’t meeting your required daily intake through food alone, though food should always come first!
When coupled with resistance training, increased protein intake has been shown to contribute to greater strength and muscle gain (1).
Whey protein is one of the most popular dietary protein supplements for increasing muscle mass as it is fast digesting, promotes the release of anabolic hormones like insulin while being less allergenic than casein (2)(3).
Though protein is extremely important for gaining and preserving muscle, the other macronutrients cannot be neglected either. Remember consuming too much of anything, including protein, can also be harmful so be mindful of how much you are consuming. You can determine your macronutrient requirements with any online calculator.
This goes without saying, you will need to show up if you want results! By continually making your muscles work a little bit harder you will be able to make increased progress on muscle size and strength and your overall performance.
Avoid doing the same thing over and over again because this can just lead to a plateau, which no one likes! Mix it up with different workouts while progressively increasing the intensity, weight, or number of repetitions to ensure you improve and reach the results you are after. The best way to do this and ensure you avoid the plateau is by hiring a personal trainer who can keep challenging you to reach new levels of potential.
Macronutrients as well as micronutrients are both essential parts of health but also fitness. So what does an optimal diet look like? Though bio-individuality will need to be factored in of course to fit each individual’s specific needs, we always recommend a whole foods approach with an emphasis on variety from organic origins whenever possible.
We already talked about the importance of protein but what about carbohydrates and fats? Carbohydrates are the body’s principle and preferred source of fuel and by pairing carbs alongside protein you can stimulate the uptake of amino acids into the muscle cell.
Carbohydrates provide energy to the brain and muscles but also allow muscle recovery post activity. If your carbohydrate intake is too low this can result in fatigue, decreased muscle mass, low mood, and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
Omega 3 fats in particular are especially beneficial when it comes to body composition. Known for their anti-inflammatory properties, omega 3’s may also stimulate muscle anabolism by increasing sensitivity to amino acids and insulin and counteracting muscle atrophy by promoting recovery and repair (4).
Important to note, you will also need to be eating enough calories. For women in particular, this can be a challenging notion because of the continual messaging around eating less and exercising more. However muscle synthesis requires sufficient calories! So if you are active but are also restricting your calories this may be sabotaging your fitness and body composition goals by risking muscle loss and a slowed metabolism.
For those who are looking to significantly increase their overall mass, such as athletes and body builders, mass gainers can help to increase overall calories in order to perform and recover at a high level.
Make recovery a priority
Okay so by now you must be realizing it’s not just about exercise! We’ve already looked at how nutrition is associated with body composition so what about sleep?
Turns out sleep is really one of the missing pieces so many of us tend to overlook. Sleep is a critical time for the brain and body to undergo important repair processes for maintenance of health.
Supplement where needed
Of course there are also many supplements that can be added to your regimen to support and enhance your fitness journey and performance:
Though a dietary fat, this fat is different as it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can be utilized as an immediate source of energy.
Particularly beneficial pre-workout, caffeine can help to improve not only your cognitive focus but also energy and performance.
A dietary supplement known to promote fat loss and enhance both aerobic and anaerobic performance, it may also increase muscle mass by enhancing oxygen supply to the muscles and reducing cellular damage (10).
A popular supplement used to promote gut healing, glutamine can also be beneficial for fitness uses as it has been shown to decrease muscle tissue breakdown and increase growth hormone to support muscle protein synthesis (11)(12).
As with most herbal supplements longer term supplementation is typically required for increased results.
Try intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting doesn’t mean eat less, it means eat during specific windows of time. Intermittent fasting has many beneficial effects on health such as reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, improving cellular repair processes, increasing BDNF which improves cognitive function, normalizing hunger hormones, improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, and reducing the risk of chronic disease while improving longevity (14)(15)(16)(17).
“Once you eat, or break the fast, the body goes into the fed state once again. After a long fast, growth hormone is high and because amino acids are now plentiful after the meal, our body rebuilds all the necessary proteins to replace those that were broken down. Insulin stimulates protein synthesis. So, now, in the refed state, the body has high insulin, high growth hormone, amino acids, and glucose for energy – all the components it needs to build or rebuild protein. This process, just as with autophagy, represents a renewal process, as the body breaks down unnecessary protein preferentially, and rebuilds the most necessary ones. Fasting in this sense, rejuvenates the lean tissues.” – Dr. Jason Fung (4)
There are many different forms of intermittent fasting and it might be worthwhile to experiment with whichever schedule works for you as it should be done strategically, but is not recommended for everyone.
This could simply look like an early dinner or late breakfast a few times per week. It doesn’t have to be complicated! Intermittent fasting must always be combined with the proper nutrition and adequate caloric intake to avoid loss of nutrients.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women’s hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence’s mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.