“I want to increase muscle mass”
I would imagine at least 95% of the global population, men and women, if not more have had that thought at least once in their life. Possibly not in those exact words, women for example may wish to “get more toned”. Which essentially means increasing muscle mass while reducing body fat, to give a more defined look. Either way, I’m willing to bet at least 95% of the global population at some stage throughout their lives have wanted to increase muscle mass.
From an aesthetic perspective a well-muscled individual is generally considered to be fitter, and healthier. Research has actually demonstrated that muscle actually plays a key role in the prevention of a number of chronic diseases and is associated with long-term good health. If that isn’t a good enough reason to consider increasing muscle mass then I don’t know what is?
From a sporting perspective increasing muscle mass has a number of benefits. Increases in lean muscle mass are beneficial as muscle mass influences speed, power, and endurance, all key components of most, if not all sporting endeavours.
Now the process of increasing muscle mass is actually extremely inefficient, as the body regulates the amount of nitrogen within it at a given time. Nitrogen is associated with protein and muscle is built using protein, thus increasing muscle mass is relatively difficult, in comparison to gaining fat mass and increasing glycogen stores especially.
Significant gains in muscle mass are impossible without the use of metabolic interventions (ie. anabolic steroids). The table below was taken from Alan Aragon’s research, it details realistic rates of lean body mass gains in individuals of differing training experience, and is based on the current scientific evidence.
Notice that novice trainers experience fairly rapid gains in lean muscle mass, a process termed in the lay realm ‘newbie gains’. Its also worth highlighting for the female readers that they can expect to achieve the lower end of these ranges owing to the lower concentrations of naturally occurring anabolic hormones.
I’m not going to stray too far into the science behind increasing muscle mass, I’d rather keep it simple. Generally speaking, the simple stuff makes the biggest difference. Nailing the basics will get you 90% of the way there. Thus failing to nail the basics will significantly hinder your success, obviously.
I’m also not going to wander too far into the training element of muscle building, as that’s not really my area to comment. Although in my opinion, muscle gains are brought about by utilising progressive overload. Which essentially means training consistently, but increasing the weight of the resistance you use each time.
Anyway, enough of that boring stuff, back to the nutrition.
Increasing body mass, whether that be fat mass or lean mass, requires a positive energy balance. A positive energy balance is a state where the amount of energy coming into the body exceeds the amount of energy going out of the body. This excess is generally termed a surplus of energy, and this surplus drives body mass gain. This surplus can be created by increasing portion sizes, introducing another meal, or using an all-in-one supplement such as Synthesis, which provides 264 kcal/serving, more than enough to support increases in body mass.
In order to favourably increase lean muscle mass while minimising the amount of fat mass you gain a combination of things must be done. One, you must provide a stimulus to increase muscle mass. This stimulus comes in the form of resistance training. Two, slightly elevated protein intakes. Although the research actually suggests that muscle hypertrophy occurs at approximately 1.2 g protein/kg body weight/day in healthy young males, which I would consider fairly low, although as long as it does not restrict carbohydrate & essential fat no reason for not elevating protein intake.
This 3-way combination of an energy surplus, a stimulus provided by strength/resistance training and slightly elevated protein intakes will support lean mass gains.
The research suggests that muscle hypertrophy occurs at approximately 1.2 g protein/kg body weight/day and that between 0.25 – 0.3 g protein/kg body weight/meal is required to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. But in my opinion, and in my experience total protein intake should be significantly greater than that, in order to maximise muscle growth. I would suggest a protein intake in the region of 2 – 2.5 g protein/kg body weight/day is required to support successfully muscle mass gains. So for an average 70 kg male that would be 140 – 175 g protein/day.
HOW MANY MEALS A DAY?
The research suggests that 4 meals each day is optimal with regards to maximising muscle protein synthesis. Although preference dictates practice, so if you prefer to consume 3 meals then 3 is fine, if you prefer 5 or 6, then that’s fine too. But I wouldn’t go any higher than 6, simply because you’d spend half of your day cooking and eating food. There is more to life that that, I can assure you! Again, 4 is optimal, so split your daily intake over 4 meals.
WHAT KIND OF PROTEIN?
Protein quality is assessed by analysing the branched-chain amino acid and leucine content of the protein. Whey, dairy, eggs, meat and fish are believed to be the highest quality protein, based on their BCAA and leucine concentrations. Focus on hitting your protein requirements with daily sources of each of those. Obviously from a practical perspective having a protein shake in place of a meal would be a great idea. So something like Probiotic Whey could be incorporated there.
The traditional anabolic window has been questioned in recent research, although for completeness, I would recommend consuming a meal containing protein around 2-hours before and then again within 2-hours following exercise. Whether that protein source be in the form of a normal mixed meal, a Probiotic Whey shake or a BCAA supplement such as Amino Edge it does not matter. Although again, from a practical perspective, the supplements would be the best.
Carbohydrate is the predominant fuel for high-intensity exercise performance. Thus carbohydrate-feeding pre-exercise will really benefit exercise performance, by increasing blood glucose concentrations and optimising glycogen stores, ultimately resulting in greater work capacity and adaptation. Although as with protein, hitting your total daily requirements within the waking hours is more important than the specific timing of carbohydrate intake, so focus on getting that right first.
The form of carbohydrate is again dictated by individual preference. My recommendations would be the naturally occurring, minimally processed starches such as potatoes, rice, oats or quinoa, and wholegrain bread. Fruits and vegetables should be a mainstay in any diet, muscle building or fat loss. Beans and pulses are also another good carbohydrate source, but again, the naturally occurring, minimally processed variety.
There is also evidence to suggest that muscle protein synthesis and net muscle protein balance following exercise maybe impaired in muscle with low glycogen availabilities. Highlighting the need to maintain adequate carbohydrate intakes and glycogen stores. So I wouldn’t recommend going low carb when aiming to increase lean mass.
Fat is the most energy dense macronutrient, so when looking to create a positive energy balance it maybe necessary to increase fat intake slightly. But generally speaking I would still favour low to moderate fat intakes, just to make room and free up extra calories for more carbohydrate and protein.
Aim to consume sources of saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats on a daily basis, while avoiding trans fats. Polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, or Omega-3 supplements are associated with increased insulin sensitivity and greater mTOR signalling, so this could be beneficial in regards increasing lean mass. So do try and meet the 2,000 mg/day requirement for the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, either through increased fatty fish consumption, or supplementing omega-3.
Creatine Monohydrate supplementation will increase body lean body mass by 2 – 5 lbs over a 4 – 12-weeks through increases in high-intensity exercise performance, strength, and power, which then leads to greater adaptation and gains in muscle mass.
Beta-alanine can indirectly increase lean mass by improving high-intensity performance, again resulting in a greater adaptive response and gains in muscle mass.
Beyond this, you have caffeine, which can improve exercise performance by stimulating the central nervous system and reducing perceived exertion, again possibly leading to greater adaptation. Omega-3 as mentioned above, can improve mTOR signalling and muscle protein synthesis.
In conclusion, when aiming to manipulate body composition or body weight, always focus on the simple things first.
When aiming to increase lean mass, first create a positive energy balance by adding another meal, or by having a MSC Nutrition Synthesis shake made with milk on top of your habitual daily diet. Then focus meeting your daily requirements for protein through good quality protein sources, over 4 meals each day. Consume a relatively high carbohydrate, moderate fat diet, with minimally processed, naturally occurring foods, and supplement creatine monohydrate, omega-3 and beta-alanine, on top of the whey or synthesis required to increase lean mass.
Simple as that.
About the author
MSC Nutrition’s Lead Performance Nutritionist and author of the above article Matt Jones has just set up a new nutrition programme aimed at people looking to seriously improve their body composition while gaining a better understanding about diet and nutrition in the process.