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Muscle Building Nutrition: Part 1

All you need to know about protein

One of the main pursuits in the house of iron is amassing impressive slabs of meat that would make a butcher nod in approval. Or y’know, gain enough muscle to look like you lift. Of course it also improves your health, self confidence and makes you stronger and that’s pretty neat too. While training is the main driver for building muscle, nutrition plays a key role by providing energy and building blocks to train, build and recover. So what do you need to eat to pack on some hard muscle?

“Suprisingly, or maybe not, is that the bodybuilders of old weren’t far off with some of their recommendations.”

First up is protein. The magical macronutrient that is used for a bunch of stuff in your body. Think immune function, growth and repair, transport of nutrients, enzyme function, etc. It’s an essential nutrient, which means that we can’t make enough in our own bodies and have to get it through our diets. A huge amount has been written about protein and muscle building, but I’m just going to make it really easy for you guys and give you some of the conclusions.

You need dietary protein to build muscle, but it also battles muscle protein breakdown. Your body is in constant flux of building and breaking down all sorts of tissue. This is totally normal and necessary for the process, but at the end of the day we obviously want to build more muscle than we break down. Suprisingly, or maybe not, is that the bodybuilders of old weren’t far off with some of their recommendations. For maximal hypertrophy you do actually need regular protein feedings spaced out over the day. Research suggests that anywhere between 3 and 6 protein feedings per day is good. Of course some of the things the bodybuilders of old recommended are total BS as well. So no, you don’t have to sprint to your gym locker to down your protein shake ASAP or your training is wasted. If you get your protein in within 2 to 3 hours after training, you’re going to be A-okay.

How much daily protein should you consume, you ask? Well, anywhere between 0,3 and 0,6 grams per kilo bodyweight per meal. Frequency is partly personal preference, but we want to shoot for a total daily protein intake of somewhere between 1,6-2,4 grams kg/bw. The exact amount of protein you want to shoot for is a bit depended on your energy balance. When you’re restricting calories (that is: when you're trying to lose fat) you want to stay in the higher end of that recommendation. If you’re maintaining bodyweight, or are in a caloric surplus (trying to get bigger) then it is totally up to your personal preference.

”Theory is cool and all, but putting it into practice is much more important.”

Another thing that the bodybuilders of old probably had right is the effect of a large portion of slower digesting protein before bed (say 0,6 grams per kg/bw). Yes, that could also easily be your dinner, so you don’t have to slam down a protein shake right before bed. But you can if you want: no harm, no foul. Protein quality is an important factor as well. Protein is made up out of 20 amino acids, but the most important one regarding muscle building is leucine. You probably know this popular fellow as one of the BCAAs. Leucine acts as a sort of 'on switch' in the muscle building process. So if you don’t eat enough leucine, then your body can’t build all that muscle you so desperately crave.

Most animal products contain fair amounts of leucine, so if you consume those then you shouldn’t worry about it too much. For vegetarians and vegans it’s slightly harder to get in enough leucine. Recommendations are to get protein from a wide array of sources (soy products, legumes, whole grains, seitan, eggs and milk products if vegetarian, protein rich vegetables, etc). However total protein intake probably will still need to go up by around 16% if you’re vegan.

With all this been said. The most important thing is adherence. If you HATE eating a minimum of three times a day, you don’t actually have to. People who love intermittent fasting might for example only eat twice daily. The thing to remember is that a lot of this is theoretical information for maximal muscle protein synthesis. You probably don’t need maximal, you probably just need decent and consistent. Theory is cool and all, but putting it into practice is much more important.

In part two I’ll talk about other important stuff like the energy balance, carbohydrates and more, so stay tuned!

Nurdin Pattipilohy

Certified nutritionist and intimate lover of food. Coaches at the Vondelgym in Amsterdam.

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