What Is the Role of Nutrition in Muscle Building?
We largely associate muscle building with the gym, heavy weights, and protein shakes. Little do we know that muscles are built not just in the gym, but in the kitchen as well. When it comes to building muscles, consuming the right kind of foods is as important as lifting weights. If you don’t eat macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) in the required proportions, you might end up losing muscle tissue even if you are strength training properly. To grasp how muscles are built and strengthened, let us first understand what muscles are.
What are muscles?
Muscles are tissues that help us move our body and perform different tasks. They contain protein filaments (actin and myosin) and are like engines when it comes to consuming energy. Muscle mass plays a crucial role in fitness. As your muscle mass increases, your body is able to burn more energy. A high muscle mass increases the basal metabolic rate (BMR) that may aid in weight loss and fat burning.
How does food help in gaining muscles?
Good nutrition helps in building muscle strength. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats primarily provide energy and other nutrients, and therefore play a major role here. Strength training breaks down muscle tissue, and when you rest, your body recovers.
During this recovery phase, the body’s metabolism increases and leads to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC can be termed as a type of metabolic boost that the body gets during exercise and considered to be a major contributor to the body’s energy expenditure. High-intensity exercises cause a greater EPOC effect than low-intensity ones. The muscles built during this recovery are stronger and bigger. This is where nutrition plays a huge role because your body needs a balanced diet at this point to build stronger muscles during recovery.
The right balance of nutrients is important because if you consume more protein but very few overall calories through other macronutrients, you may struggle to work out.
Apart from macronutrients, even micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) help you gain lean muscles and allow your muscles to recover and grow faster after you’ve exercised. For example, magnesium (present mainly in nuts and oilseeds – crops from which oil can be extracted, e.g., groundnut, cottonseed, coconut, safflower, sunflower, olive, palm, corn, etc.) helps your muscles contract, boosts energy levels, and reduces muscle cramps and fatigue. Vitamin B6 (present in poultry, fish, banana, oats) helps physical performance. The best way to get your required dose of micronutrients is to eat foods rich in these nutrients.
What should you eat for building muscles?
While you are building muscles, you need more calories than your recommended daily allowance because your body needs more fuel to build muscles. To gain muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn, which is known as calorie surplus. A calorie surplus of 200kcal-300kcal, which is about 10% to 15% of additional calories for a 2,000kcal diet, should be good to begin with. Adequate macronutrients, especially protein, and the right exercise with the correct weights and methods will ensure that you meet your goal.
Here are general macronutrient intake recommendations:
They are the dietary building blocks for muscle gain because muscles are largely made up of proteins. For a person just starting out, 1g/kg body weight protein is a good start. This is equal to about 70g of protein per day. Someone with a body weight of 70kg, who is working to build muscles and follows a consistent workout routine (3-4 times a week of resistance training), should take 1.2g/kg–2.2g/kg body weight of protein, depending on their work out plan (type and intensity of training) and body fat content. This equals to 84g–154g of protein every day.
Carbohydrates are an important group of foods that fuel your muscles. They are partially converted to glycogen, the stored form of energy in muscles. This energy helps in powering your workouts. For a person just starting out, 2.5g/kg-3.5g/kg body weight of carbohydrate is recommended.
The recommendation is 4g/kg-7g/kg body weight for those trying to build muscles and follows a consistent workout routine (3-4 times a week of resistance training), equivalent to 250g/day-470g/day for someone who weighs 70kg (Cleveland Clinic Health Bulletin, 2021). It is also important to fuel up with good quality carbohydrates that have enough fiber, eg, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Along with carbohydrates, fats also act as energy sources that help fuel your workouts. How much fat a person needs can vary, based on several factors such as the percent body fat, workout intensity, and training frequency. As a general guideline, fat should make up 20% to 35% of your total calories, equal to 40g to 70g fats. Heart-healthy fats like olive oil, groundnut oil, nuts and seeds, and fatty fishes are great sources of quality fats.
Which foods help build muscles?
Choosing the right food for building muscle mass is very important; you need lean protein or foods that are high in protein but not loaded on fats or calories. Here are a few examples of high-quality protein-rich foods that must be included in your diet to build muscles and ensure long-lasting energy to your muscles.
In addition, adequate water consumption is an important part of a healthy regime. You need to drink enough water to replace the fluids that are lost because of sweating during workouts. A 70kg individual, who performs training for muscle building, needs to drink at least 3.5 liters of water each day apart from the consumption of fluids during a workout.
Muscle building is a long-term goal, and a healthy diet plan is crucial for achieving this goal. It is important to exercise well under proper supervision, and complement your gym workout with the appropriate pre- and post-workout meals.
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