Strategies for Maximizing Muscle Growth, Strength, and Power
As an athlete engaging in strength and power training with short bouts of high intensity training, I’d like you to be able to eat in a way that optimizes your performance of those tasks. I want you to maximize your muscle mass, strength, power, and short duration endurance.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition released their position on nutrient timing on 8/29/2017. This is, sort of, a recap of that. With a twist. This post focuses on the role of specific nutrients and nutrient timing when it pertains to strength athletes. We’ll discuss endurance athletes in a future post.
First off, I can’t say enough about the importance of adequate daily nutrition. Making sure that you’re eating enough food, and enough of the right foods, is the most important factor for muscle growth, strength, power, and endurance. If you’re not doing that, then today’s tips won’t help you, and we need to be having a different talk.
Let’s start with protein intake.
Eating enough protein, especially within 2 hours of training, maximizes muscle protein synthesis, or the generation of protein that can be used to build muscle tissue. We’ll call that muscle growth.
1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight is a recommended average daily intake for muscle growth. In order to get muscle growth rolling, it’s recommended that you consume 10g of Essential Amino Acids (amino acids that can’t be made by the body) or 20-40g of protein within 2 hours of exercising, and every 3 hours after that in order to maximize continued muscle growth. No more, and no less.
Assuming that you’re sleeping 8 hours per night, that gives you 5.3 feeding windows. If you weigh 85 kilograms (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2), like me, then that puts you at 136g of protein per day, or about 25g/meal.
That means that, in order to maximize muscle growth, you should consume 1.6g/kg every 3 hours. Your post workout window is 2 hours, during which you should try to consume 20-40g of protein (or 10g of EAAs).
Glycogen is the term for stored sugar in the body.
Your body takes glucose, and stores it as glycogen in skeletal muscle and your liver. Your body is phenomenal at creating glycogen from food, muscle, and fat. Unless you’re an endurance athlete performing 12 hours of exercise per week at or above 70% of your VO2 max, total carbohydrate may not be that important.
It’s important to note that nearly all of the energy supplied during resistance training and metabolic conditioning (met-cons) is from glycogen, so it’s not entirely without importance.
With that being said, maintaining adequate glycogen stores within the body is important. More energy available means more potential for muscular contraction.
One particular strategy may allow for 49% greater muscle glycogen levels than doing nothing at all, meaning a potential 49% greater energy availability.
This strategy requires taking in 1g/kg of body weight in glucose pre-workout and .5g/kg every 10 minutes thereafter.
If you were 85 kilos, you’d be taking in 85g of glucose prior to your workout, and 42.5g of glucose every 10 minutes thereafter, resulting in a total intake of 340g of carbohydrates over the course of a workout.
This may be excessive, and can be reduced through using a slow-release carb supplement like UCAN. It may not be that bad, when taking into consideration the effects of exercise on the GLUT4 receptor that we’ll discuss later.
Pre-workout supplementation can help to maintain muscle glycogen levels, which can allow for improved performance and decreased muscle protein breakdown.
What’s the Best Post-Workout Strategy?
It’s worth noting that carbohydrate and protein post-workout supplementation together (cho+pro) lead to greater muscle growth and training adaptation than carbohydrates alone.
“1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight is a recommended average daily intake for muscle growth…it’s recommended that you consume 10g of Essential Amino Acids…or 20-40g of protein within 2 hours of exercising, and every 3 hours after that…”
Adequate protein intake may lead to greater muscle growth and training adaptation than cho+pro together, but more research is needed to determine exact amounts.
In short, adequate protein alone may be better at stimulating muscle growth than a cho+pro mix, but we’re not 100% sure yet. Figure out what feels the best for you.
How should I organize my meals?
Well, it may not necessarily matter. Remember that intake trumps timing, so if you’re struggling with that, then you know where you should start.
If you’ve got intake down, then we can talk about getting the majority of your calories earlier in the day, which would look something like this:
- Breakfast = Biggest meal.
- Lunch = Moderate meal.
- Dinner = Tiny meal.
This kind of eating pattern has been shown to lead to better appetite control and satiation, but not much after that. You should also know that your body is most responsive to insulin in the morning and least responsive to insulin in the evening.
Insulin is the guy who tells your body to stop and store instead of breaking down and burning tissue. We call this anabolism, and yes, you effectively stop burning fat during this period. If we’re building, we’re not tearing down. Conversely, if we’re burning, we’re not building.
As another side-note, one study showed that women who ate in this manner lost 2.5x more weight than those who did the opposite. Despite that, this style of eating seems to have limited impact on body composition and weight loss.
If you’re struggling to get all of your 135g of protein (if you’re 85k like me) in before dinner, you could add a casein supplement 30 minutes before bed, or even whey for that matter. Casein was found to have a minimal impact on sleeping RQ, meaning that you continue burning a high percentage of fat while sleeping, versus other supplements. You can get your protein and burn fat too!
So what about some other advanced eating strategies?
It’s thought that your body is metabolizing the highest percentage of fat while you’re sleeping, which is cut short by your first meal. So, what if we extended that fat burn window?
Reasonably, we could assume that we would burn more fat, not to mention giving your bowels and body a break in order to do some maintenance. I’ve discussed the benefits of fasting here.
This strategy is called intermittent fasting or time-restricted-eating, and while its not an exercise performance enhancing strategy, it can be a potent weight loss and cognitive performance enhancing strategy.
Most follow a 16-hour fasting, 8-hour feeding schedule. Pairing this with our protein guidelines from earlier, this would give you 2.6 feeding opportunities where you’d need to consume around 52.3g/protein per meal.
This may be inadvisable, as the maximum beneficial protein intake is currently estimated to be around 45 grams and varies from one individual to another.
We may then conclude that this style of intermittent fasting, while beneficial for health, longevity, body fat reduction, and cognitive performance, may not be the best strategy for maximizing muscle growth, strength, and power.
As we said earlier, insulin tells your body to become anabolic, to build tissue and to stop breaking it down. Insulin sensitivity – your bodies willingness to listen to insulin – is best in the morning and worst in the evening. Reasonably, we’d want to maximize this effect by front-loading our calories and carbs, so as to maximize the anabolic response and minimize the amount of glucose stranded in the blood.
Excessive glucose in the blood can lead to damage, inflammation, insulin resistance (the cell’s inability to listen to insulin), and Type 2 Diabetes (T2D).
For some, it’s just not possible to eat your biggest meal in the morning, and smallest in the evening. Fortunately, resistance training allows for your body to utilize that glucose without as much insulin present, increasing glycogen replenishment and muscle protein synthesis without making insulin resistance worse. This is called Carb Back-Loading, and is characterized by consuming the majority of your daily carbohydrates post-workout. So, there’s a silver lining to eating a bigger evening meal after all.
How do we think this works?
Resistance training allows your GLUT4 receptor – the gate that lets glucose into skeletal muscle and adipose tissue when cued by insulin – to open up without the presence of insulin.
If T2D and obesity are issues of a GLUT4 receptor needing a bigger hit of insulin, then this strategy not only maximizes muscle growth and training adaptations, but also glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity.
Your grip strength and hormones are optimized for strength training around 6pm, making it your ideal training time, placing your back-load during the time of your worst insulin sensitivity.
CBL may help mitigate this poor insulin sensitivity, leading to less body fat gain.
Unfortunately, CBL is not a magic approach, and has not been found to lead to significant changes, and you may be better off consuming your carbs when your body is most able to use them, earlier in the day.
What should I take away from this?
- Total food intake is paramount.
- 3-hour feedings of protein maximize muscle growth, and strength and power adaptations.
- Carbohydrate intake before and during exercises conserves more fuel and muscle.
- Your meals should get lighter as the day goes on.
- You can save your carbs for after your 6pm workout, allowing for better glucose management, decreased fat storage, and greater gains.
I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. I’m just a nerd who likes to read research, and I figured I’d be productive by sharing it with you.
I’m a nerd, I know.
I read it so you don’t have to.
ps. If there’s anything you’re curious about, and don’t have the time, patience, or know-how to learn about it, let me know. I’ll be sure to post on it if it’s worth-while, or I’ll answer you directly!
Your Intake Guide
- Your weight ________ / 2.2 = your weight in kilograms ______.
- Your weight in kg x 1.6 = your daily protein intake in grams _________.
- Your average waking hours _____ / 3 = your feeding opportunities ______.
- If you’re practicing intermittent fasting, change waking hours to feeding hours (8 / 3 = 2.67).
- Your daily protein intake _____ / your feeding opportunities _______ = your suggested protein intake per meal _______ (not to exceed 45g, and even that amount may be excessive).
- Consume 10g of Essential Amino Acids or 20-40g of protein within. 2 hours of your workout.
- Consider a delayed release carbohydrate supplement pre-workout in order to reduce total carbohydrate intake.
- If you’re not worried about total carb intake:
- 1 x your weight in kg ______ = your pre-workout carb intake ______.
- .5 x your weight in kg _____ = your intra-workout carb intake every 10 minutes _____.
- If you’re not worried about total carb intake:
- Chad M. Kerksick, Shawn Arent, Brad J. Schoenfeld, Jeffrey R. Stout, Bill Campbell, Colin D. Wilborn, Lem Taylor, Doug Kalman, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Richard B. Kreider, Darryn Willoughby, Paul J. Arciero, Trisha A. VanDusseldorp, Michael J. Ormsbee, Robert Wildman, Mike Greenwood, Tim N. Ziegenfuss, Alan A. Aragon and Jose Antonio. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition201714:33.