People exercise for a number of reasons, but more often than not it’s because they want to change their body composition and by this I mean burn body fat, increase lean muscle mass, or to shape and tone their body. When it comes to the basics, it’s possible for anyone to achieve.
In fact, I could give you every single tool you need to get into the best shape of your life in just 8 weeks. I could map everything out for you step by step and if you did exactly what I told you, you would transform both your body and lifestyle; however, it’s unfortunately not that easy, otherwise everyone would be walking around looking like Greek Gods and Goddesses, or Spartan Warriors chanting “Aruuu Aruuu Aruuu”. It takes persistence, turning up every day and putting the work in, determination to want to change and willpower to implement and see a structured programme through to the end. Most importantly, it takes a desire to want to learn and understand how and why the body changes as it does.
The “Demand & Supply” Theory of Muscle Growth
Effective muscle growth requires attention to three big categories of fitness; exercise, nutrition and recovery. With quality nutrition and optimal rest, your results will speak for themselves. As the saying goes, “you can’t out-train a bad diet” and equally, you won’t grow and repair muscle without sufficient rest.
I often refer to this concept as the “demand and supply” theory; it’s based on creating a demand on the body from an adequate external stimulus to create a reason to change and then supplying that demand with the right nutrition and rest to promote actual change. The word “change” here is in reference to a positive health-related outcome whether that be fat loss, lean muscle growth or improved performance; any of which will certainly influence your body composition and, if well balanced, will promote a shaped, toned and lean body.
When the body is exerted during high-intensity exercise, it will naturally aim to develop in order to deal with this stimulus better next time round. With reference to weights/resistance training and providing you fuel your workouts and recovery with the right amount of quality nutrition and rest, your body will often increase lean muscle mass to combat additional stress.
That doesn’t mean, however, any lean muscle you gain is there for life; the fact is that you have to “use it or lose it”. In addition, you need to at least hit your recommended calories each day to maintain your weight or you could be subject to catabolism where your muscle is broken down as an energy source. Now if your anything like me, you’re all about that “HULK” life; gaining and maintaining lean muscle mass whilst reducing body fat (but minus the green skin and bad temper, unless someone steals my food, of-course).
Exercise for Muscle Growth
So, how can we maximise the “demand” we put on our body and ensure we are getting the right amount of quality nutrition and rest to “supply” our body with everything it needs to change (without the use of gamma radiation). Let’s break down how exercising creates the demand we need for effective muscle growth.
It is actually quite simple; you pick up heavy objects, put them back down again in a controlled manner and repeat. Weights and resistance training is, in my opinion, the best way to promote physical change. We have to add enough external stimulus to the body to cause micro tears within the muscle fibres to force them to repair, grow and develop bigger and stronger fibres to better deal with that stimulus next time round. The key is to control each and every rep, and to force the targeted muscle to undergo optimal tension for the full ROM (range of motion) through both the concentric (shortening of the muscle) and eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) phases.
Recovery and Repair for Muscle Growth
Let’s look at why rest is so important. Ideally, we want to aim for 7-9 hours of “deep” sleep each night. During deep sleep, natural human growth hormone (HGH) levels peak and this increase in secreted HGH will aid lean muscle growth repair and recovery. Rest is vital to ensure we can perform equally as good and if not better than our last performance to ensure we always create a “demand” to change.
Food for Muscle Growth
It is important to not forget the basics of nutrition for muscle growth; calories, macronutrients and timing.
Now, this isn’t rocket science but I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. First, a calorie is a unit of energy and we gain this energy from consuming food; remember, food is fuel/energy. When it comes to calories it is as simple as calories in vs calories out.
- If you have more food (energy) going into your body than your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), you will GAIN weight.
- If you have less food (energy) going into your body than your total daily energy expenditure, you will LOSE weight.
The key is to find a balance with your nutrition and eat with your goal in mind. So if you’re trying to shift that layer of stubborn abdominal fat but are a regular connoisseur of a burger from FIVE GUYS, you need to play close attention to the below.
The following is going to be based on a weights and resistance-based exercise programme, with the goal of reducing body fat, maintaining/increasing lean muscle mass, and shaping and toning a lean body. First, I would calculate how many calories you need each day by using a BMR (basal metabolic rate) and TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator and then subtracting 15-20% of your recommended daily calories intake to promote REDUCING weight (body fat). Now you can workout your macronutrient breakdown.
Daily Protein Intake for Muscle Growth
Macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) are required in large amounts by the body for growth and basic function. When you have a good balance of macronutrients, you will promote achieving a healthy lean body, improved brain function, skin, hair and nail quality, improved physical performance, and a better mental well-being.
Again, we want to be conscious of our end goal as mentioned above (fat loss and maintenance/growth of lean muscle), so the first thing to consider is how much protein you want to consume, bearing in mind that protein is the building block of our bodies and is essential for growth, development and repair. Furthermore, an increase in lean muscle will consequently improve your metabolic efficiency and thus promote natural fat burn from increased calorie burn.
I would recommend keeping your protein and carbohydrate intake high and I would aim for 1 to 1.5g of protein and carbohydrates per lb of bodyweight. You can make up your additional calories in healthy fats.
Muscle Growth Meal Plan Idea
Remember, food is fuel and carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source, so when it comes to carbohydrates it is all about timing. We want to provide our body with the right amount of carbohydrates it needs to promote healthy brain, liver and muscle function as well as restoring muscle and liver glycogen stores to maximise performance and promote fat loss, lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. I would recommend a variety of balanced carbohydrates at the following times throughout the day:
A bowl of protein oats with a portion of fruit is a great way to start the day. You will benefit from a slow release of energy from your oats, top up liver glycogen stores from your fruit and prepare your brain and muscles for an energy efficient day.
Fruit is a great natural energy source to eat prior to a workout, bananas being my top choice as they contain both fructose and glucose which will support liver glycogen stores that deplete very quickly during intense exercise as well as muscle glycogen stores. Bananas are a great source of food for fuelling your workout and have relatively few calories, therefore if you are training hard enough you will likely use all the energy you receive from your banana to either fuel your workout or aid replenishing glycogen stores. Again, I would combine your banana with a source of low gi carbohydrates such as oats to offer a stable source of energy, as well as Impact Whey Isolate for a biologically high source of protein.
A protein shake with maltodextrin and some blueberries is a great way to replenish muscle glycogen, promote an insulin spike to drive proteins and carbohydrates into the muscle cells for repair and recovery and to reduce inflammation. The great thing about maltodextrin is that it’s a complex carbohydrate that rates highly on the gi scale, so will replenish muscle glycogen very quickly, but it’s low in sugars that can contribute to fat gains.
The “Muscle Sponge” Theory of Muscle Growth
This brings me on to the “muscle sponge” theory. The reason that timing of carbohydrates is so important is purely for the fact that a calorie surplus alone will cause weight gain, and excess glucose in the body that hasn’t been used to fuel your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) or to replenish glycogen stores will be converted and stored as fat. Carbohydrates at breakfast will provide your brain and muscles with a good source of fuel to carry out your daily activities (not exercise); this is why we will then aim to consume a variety of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, both pre and post workout.
I want you to imagine your bicep is a sponge, prior to your workout your bicep (sponge) will be saturated with glycogen. You then do a really intense workout, taking your bicep to muscle failure and your bicep (sponge) is now dry. You now have created a window of opportunity to “supply” your “demand” with liquid nutrition to replenish muscle glycogen and provide a source of quality protein; your bicep (sponge) is dry from your workout and will soak up any liquid nutrition that you metaphorically pour onto it.
Therefore, when you follow the carbohydrate timings above, based around when you require energy to fuel and recover, you will leave little if any surplus of glucose that will prevent additional fat storage. However; should you consume more carbohydrates than necessary and there be an excess in blood sugar (glucose), it doesn’t matter how dry your sponge is, it can only absorb so much and if both excess glucose isn’t used as energy and muscle glycogen stores are maxed out, then it will be converted and stored as body fat.
This is why it is so important to understand your individual calorie requirements based on your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), as well as your macronutrient breakdown. Create the demand, supply that demand, and let the results talk for themselves.