Muscle growth occurs when your body deposits more protein than it removes. The best way to do this is by eating protein-rich whole foods. There are also a few other things you can do to boost muscle growth. These mostly fall under the category of living a generally healthy lifestyle.
Protein, comprised of amino acids, is the building block of muscle tissue. It helps repair muscles after a workout as well as build them up.1 The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight for adults.2 but consuming more protein may help increase strength and lean muscle mass, especially when combined with resistance training. Research suggests that protein, specifically the amino acid leucine, stimulates muscle protein synthesis.3 It also prevents the breakdown of existing muscle protein to use for energy during exercise.
Ideally, you want to consume a combination of protein-rich foods throughout the day to hit your protein intake goals. Eating more than 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight may cause health issues over time, so check in with your physician or registered dietitian before increasing your protein intake.
When building muscle, it is often a good idea to focus on protein, but carbohydrates are also an essential nutrient that can promote muscle growth by boosting protein synthesis and decreasing protein breakdown. Carbohydrates are found in whole food sources such as vegetables, starchy foods (potatoes, sweet potatoes), fruit, and dairy. It is important to note that the type of carbohydrate is also important, as highly refined simple sugars should be avoided and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and cereals are recommended.
Carbohydrates are consumed and stored in the muscles as glycogen, providing a ready energy source for training. Having enough glycogen in the muscles allows you to train harder and force more micro-tears, allowing for greater protein synthesis and thus muscle growth. Ideally, a carbohydrate should be eaten shortly after training to replenish glycogen stores quickly. Carbohydrates should make up 40-65% of your total daily calories. The body is best able to use complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and starchy vegetables, legumes, and soy products.
Protein and carbohydrates are muscle-building fuels, but fats also play a crucial role. Without the right amount of healthy fats, your body won’t be able to absorb certain vitamins and minerals that are critical for health and muscle building. Good fats help control blood sugar levels and provide the essential fatty acids your body needs to function. These fatty acids include omega-3 and omega-6 (the substructures are excused pentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). Omega 3’s are found in fish oils, walnuts, sunflower seeds, canola oil, flax seeds, and soybean oil.
A gram of fat provides nine calories, so it is important to eat the right types of healthy fats to gain muscle. Try swapping out butter for olive or avocado oil and choosing plant sterol-enriched spreads to avoid too many saturated fats. Aim for about 20 percent of your daily calories to come from fat. This can be achieved by eating a variety of lean proteins such as fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, and beans/legumes along with a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
If you’re serious about muscle building, you have probably developed a set of routines and disciplines in order to make it happen – a strict workout schedule, regular meals, a certain intake of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and so on. Among these healthy habits, one often overlooked is drinking enough water. This vital fluid not only helps you perform better at the gym but also plays a direct role in muscle growth.
Muscles contain 70 to 80 percent water, so it’s no wonder that dehydration can significantly hinder your ability to gain muscle. In fact, a study in the ‘Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research’ found that passive dehydration caused a 1.5% decrease in the one-rep max bench press. A good supply of water is necessary to transport oxygen, fat, and glucose into muscles. It also removes performance-inhibiting waste products, such as lactic acid. In addition, the hydration provided by water improves digestion and absorption of macronutrients.
The sensitivity of skeletal muscle to amino acid-stimulated protein synthesis is diminished with aging. A simple strategy to partially offset this deficit is increasing daily habitual physical activity, which has been shown to increase postprandial muscle protein synthetic responses. Low-intensity high-volume resistance exercise can stimulate a robust muscle protein synthetic response, which may assist the elderly to combat sarcopenia provided adequate protein is ingested following exercise. However, the endocrine and physiological responses to this exercise during caloric restriction need further investigation.