Gaining lean muscle mass can be a performance and aesthetic goal for athletes. Although genetics plays an important role, it is crucial to include a well-designed training program along with a nutrient-rich diet that includes adequate calories and protein, which are the main stimulants for muscle growth and improved exercise performance. The amount and timing of protein intake from the diet are important regulators of muscle growth.
It is important to remember that muscle growth is a gradual process; it requires a balanced diet with sufficient calories, and a consistent and progressive resistance-training program.
What You Eat Impacts Muscle Growth!
Eat enough calories: Athletes in training and competition season tend to need more calories than the general population. Think of it this way, you need fuel to burn fuel. What you put in nutritionally will determine what you get out of your workout physically. It is also equally as important to replenish the fuel that you burned in order to be able to train harder for the next session.
Get in enough protein: Quality food sources of protein are essential to build and repair muscle. Although the protein recommendation for the general population is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, experts agree that athletes should aim for more (1.2-1.7g/kg), especially when trying to increase muscle mass. Good sources of high quality protein include: meat, soy, fish, eggs, milk and milk products.
Fuel your workout with carbohydrates: Low carbohydrate intake can result in low calorie intake, reduced training intensity, early fatigue and loss of muscle mass. A mixed meal of carbohydrates and protein, especially after a workout, helps with maintaining or increasing muscle. The ingested carbohydrate stimulates the release of insulin, which drives protein and carbohydrates into the muscle cells, resulting in muscle building. Athletes should aim for 3-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. The amount of carbohydrate required will depend on the intensity and duration of the training session. Good sources of carbohydrates include fruit, plain and chocolate milk, yogurt, pasta, rice, potatoes, and oatmeal.
Nutrient Timing Optimizes Muscle Growth!
More protein than required does not mean faster and bigger muscle growth. It is important to spread your protein and carbohydrate intake throughout the day with balanced meals and snacks to provide your body with the fuel and protein it needs when it needs them:
- Do not skip meals or snacks.
- Base the timing of your meals and snacks around workouts. This will allow for adequate intake of protein and carbohydrate foods before and after exercise.
- Spread out your protein intake so that each meal contains 10-20 grams of protein, and include some protein with any snacks.
- Eat a meal or snack with carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes following exercise-especially if you have less than 24 hours to recover before your next training session.
- To help you achieve that positive balance between muscle building and muscle breakdown, aim for 20-30 grams of carbohydrates and 10-20 grams of protein in your post-workout meal.
Protein-packed snack ideas for muscle growth & recovery
- Canned tuna and crackers
- Scrambled egg wrap
- Low fat cottage cheese and berries
- Yogurt and low fat granola
- Chocolate milk
Just 500ml of chocolate milk has approximately 50 grams of carbohydrates and 16-18 grams of protein, which makes it an optimal recovery beverage for promoting muscle growth.
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