Whether you have just started at the gym or you are a seasoned gym junkie, one of the top three goals for training has got to be lean muscle growth.
And while there are decades of gym-bro advice out there on how to get large or tone up, there is now a decent body of research that has uncovered what the key factors for building lean are.
The first thing to point out is that building ‘tone’ and building muscle are pretty much the same ventures.
The appearance of 'tone' occurs when lean muscle mass is developed, and fat mass is reduced. From here, we need to look at just what is required to gain muscle, and there are three main aspects to cover off on.
The first is an adequate training program - this is what triggers the body to change. If the training is not challenging enough, you may be burning energy to achieve weight loss, but you may not be putting your muscles under enough load to trigger the muscle cells to adapt and grow.
Secondly, protein intake needs to be optimised. What do we mean by optimised? Well, it’s one thing to be consuming enough protein, but just as important is how that protein is distributed across the day.
Providing regular ‘pulses’ of protein in meals across the day is key to maximising the muscle protein growth process.
Finally, there need to be enough calories consumed to cover the energy cost of training, recovery and subsequent repair and growth of muscle tissue. This means your daily energy intake and diet are important.
So, is this an invitation to get on the bulk train and eat anything and everything?
Simply put, no. While adequate energy is definitely a requirement, excess energy well beyond daily needs and training requirement (i.e the dirty bulk) is more likely to end up as excess body fat you probably don’t want. This is unlikely to fast track your muscle gain beyond a certain point.
An increase in calories should be factored in for those who are serious about hitting a mass gain phase, though while we don’t know and exact caloric amount for this process, it is probably not as much as many would hope.
Further, it is important to not totally disregard healthy eating principles. Macros and calories will help provide the framework for your diet, but the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from a variety of healthy whole foods will help keep you free from illness, recover faster and keep your body running efficiently.
For this reason, it is important to get advice on what your energy requirements and protein needs are.
The range for optimal protein intake is easy to calculate. Take your body weight and multiply it by 1.6-2.2g of protein per kilo of body weight. From here, you can split up your daily total into 4-5 'pulses' which you spread across the day, perhaps in main meals and the period after training.
This approach means you are keeping amino acids levels high in the blood, ready for use by muscle tissue in need of repair and remodelling.
Building lean muscle mass is both a science and an art. While there are many opinions on what training should be done to maximise lean muscle growth, through the powers of science, we can now take out most of the guesswork from a nutrition standpoint and build an approach that will have you efficiently reaching your body composition goals sooner.
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