Saturday, October 6, 2012

How to Build Muscle and Strength, Part 4: Nutrient Timing

In the last post I talked about how important proper nutrition is for building muscle and strength. While researching the topic of nutrition I happened across an interesting theory that argues that you could build extra muscle from your workouts by simply timing your intake of certain nutrients before and after your workouts.

After toying around with nutrient timing for a few months I have found that it will help you grow several pounds of muscle in just a couple of weeks (so long as your workouts are intense enough)!

What is Nutrient Timing?
Essentially, nutrient timing is a 24-hour eating schedule that is started by an intense 30- to 45-minute workout. By eating a few easily-digestible nutrients before and after each workout, as well as eating highly-nutritious meals in-between each workout, you can enhance how much muscle you can grow. More specifically, by correctly timing your nutrient intake you can elevate a hormone that accelerates muscle synthesis while suppressing a hormone that breaks down muscle.

Recap on Building Muscle
Before I talk about this technique, I want to recap how muscle is grown so that I can better explain why nutrient timing works so well. As I talked about in the introduction of this series, building or losing muscle can be reduced to a very simple formula:

Muscle Synthesis - Muscle Degradation =  Muscle Growth, Maintenance, or Loss

Another way of putting this is to say that if you experience:
  • More muscle synthesis than muscle degradation then you grow muscle overall.
  • More muscle degradation than muscle synthesis then you lose muscle overall.
  • The same amount of muscle synthesis and degradation then you maintain the muscle you have. 
So, if you want to build muscle very quickly then you have to both minimize muscle degradation and enhance muscle synthesis.

Cortisol and Muscle Degradation
Of course, for you to grow muscle of any kind you have to signal a need for this additional muscle. This need can be simulated by 30-45 minutes of intense exercise 5-6 days a week. If these exercise sessions are intense enough, then hormones will be released that can enhance muscle growth.

However, the big problem with intense exercise is that the abuse that signals a need for muscle growth also creates physical stress and depletes sugar stores, both of which results in the additional release of the stress hormone cortisol. (1,2,3)

Why should you care about elevated levels of cortisol? It works against your ability to build muscle. While cortisol is dealing with stress and maintaining blood sugar levels it also does its other jobs: Mobilizing amino acids from muscle cells and slowing down immune cells as they try to fix exercise-damaged muscle cells. Taken together, cortisol can cause muscle degradation and inhibit muscle synthesis. (1,2,3)

Insulin and Muscle Synthesis
Earlier, I mentioned that muscle growth happens when there is more muscle synthesis than muscle degradation. This muscle synthesis is facilitated by anabolic hormones. While testosterone and growth hormone are the better known anabolic hormones, insulin is the muscle-growing hero of nutrient timing.

Insulin is a storage hormone that can store sugar, fat, and protein. When protein is stored in muscle (as amino acids), these muscles will grow.

Insulin not only shoves more protein and sugar into muscle cells, it also extends the life of the potent anabolic hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). The longer IGF-1 remains active, the more muscle cells proliferate and grow. (4)

Finally, insulin increases blood flow to and from muscles. This speeds nutrients into exercised muscles and quickly gets rid of metabolic waste that can hinder performance, recovery, or growth. (2)

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