February 18th, 2013

// Guest Blogger Christine Redpath – Looking Beyond Protein to Increase Muscle Mass – the Role of Carbohydrates

Looking Beyond Protein to Increase Muscle Mass – the Role of Carbohydrates

Alicia Bell

Increasing muscle mass is often the aim of training regimes and particularly a goal for men who participate in them. Whether looking to improve their performance in sports, their fitness or physique, many taking part in training programs either supervised or in their own home will be seeking to bulk up their muscles. Larger muscles can lead to greater strength and power, but a body that contains a greater proportion of muscle has a higher metabolic rate aiding weight loss; someone with a lower percentage body fat also tends to have fewer health problems. While resistance training is vital to stimulate the growth of new muscle, this needs to be combined with an optimal dietary intake to achieve the desired results. Although many engaging in sport and fitness regimes will usually already be following a balanced diet, when the goal shifts towards building more muscle, they may start to emphasise their protein intake. Yes, taking part in resistance training increases your body’s protein requirement, but your body is only able to use a finite amount of protein for muscle growth; consuming protein beyond this will simply result in its excretion and doing so for prolonged periods may damage the kidneys. On top of this is the fact that without including adequate and appropriate carbohydrates in the diet, your ability to gain lean body mass will be limited. Here we consider the importance that carbohydrates play in the diet for building muscle.

Which carbohydrates to eat

Complex carbohydrates should provide the biggest proportion of calories in your diet. These carbohydrates are present in bread, cereals, potato, pasta, rice and similar foods. Following digestion and absorption your body uses the glucose they release for energy; excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles, which provides you with the fuel you need for intense training sessions. Complex carbohydrate, particularly if you choose wholegrain varieties, tends to give a slower energy release than their sugary counterparts. Wholegrains are also advisable, as they have a higher content of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, some of which play a role in the formation of new tissue such as thiamine, biotin and calcium. The nutrients in wholegrains are as well essential for good health in men and women; a diet rich in wholegrains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Although sugary foods and drinks are not off-limits, they should still be limited, as they do not provide the same stability for blood glucose levels as complex carbohydrates do. Their erratic impact on blood sugar levels can hinder new muscle formation, not to mention the fact that sugary foods tend to be sparse in other nutrients; the exception are fruits, which are rich in vitamins and minerals and their fiber content allows a more stable release of sugars.

Change your eating patterns

Including carbohydrates with every meal keeps blood glucose levels stable, so not only do you feel that you have the energy for training, but this stimulates the release of insulin, the hormone that helps to promote muscle growth. However, be sure to also include protein though, as this mix not only provides the amino acids that act as building blocks for muscle fibers, but fat storage is also less likely. Although you may have been used to eating three big meals daily, when training to build muscle you need to adjust your eating patterns. The focus needs to switch to eating more frequently, including a moderate portion of carbohydrate at each occasion; if big carbohydrate portions at taken at a time, insulin will stimulate some of this to be stored of fat, which will hinder your aim. Reminding yourself that your body can only use so much of a nutrient at a time will help you to train yourself to adopt this new approach to eating.

Refuel with carbohydrates

After a hard training session your blood glucose levels falls, so a carbohydrate-rich snack afterwards is vital; good examples include a sandwich, cereal with milk or an oat and nut bar, as these contain both carbohydrate and protein. The rise in blood glucose that this allows will trigger the production of insulin and hence encourages your body to build muscle. Failing to have this post-workout snack could place you at risk of your body entering what is known as a catabolic state, where rather than tissue formation occurring, the converse happens and your body will begin to breakdown its muscles. This shows just why it is so important to provide your body with the essential nutrition that it requires after a training session.

When resistance training, if you are able to follow these rules regarding which type of carbohydrate should be included and when they should be eaten, in combination with an appropriate protein intake, you will be providing your body with the best chance to build muscle.


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