Welcome to a new year!! Time for new beginnings and smart goals. Let’s start the year with a foundation goal; building muscle. Gaining and maintaining muscle is fundamental to sport performance and injury prevention. We know this fact but where do we begin? Follow these smart steps to gain muscle and lose fat.
Step 1: Set Your Goal to Gain Muscle
Check Your Baseline Body Composition
Set smart and achievable goals for muscle gain. Your best bet is to know your baseline and get your body composition checked. You may find your percentage of fat is good and does not require change.
For some of you, your goal is to gain muscle, lose fat and lose weight. These body composition changes can be challenging and require that you eat fewer calories than you burn. If this is your goal, aim to lose no more than 0.5-1.0 kg (or 1 to 2 lbs.) per week. Any faster and you will lose muscle.
Also, know that individual results depend on training, nutrition and even your genes. At the start of your program, you may gain muscle and lose fat relatively quickly. These changes will slow down as your body adapts.
Check Your Baseline Diet
Many of us zero in on what we are eating and don’t think enough about what we’re not eating. Sure, loads of cookies and cakes and chips are not a good idea, but let’s change things up. Let’s focus on good habits instead of dwelling on less healthy habits:
- Do you eat regular meals?
- Do you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full?
- Do you turn off screens during mealtimes?
- Do you eat at least four servings of vegetables and at least 7-8 servings of fruit and veggies combined?
- Do you drink water throughout the day?
- Do you choose whole grain bread and cereals (and yes, I mean brown pasta and brown rice too)?
You may find that once you’ve ticked these boxes, you don’t have much room to eat large portions of less healthy foods.
Step 2: Get Moving
Consult your doctor before starting a physical activity plan. Ensure that you include some physical activity on most days. To attain and maintain body weight change experts recommend a total of 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Resistance training is integral to any muscle growth plan. Your workout should change over time as your body adapts. Initially, your session might include a couple of sessions a week. If you are new to the gym, enlist the help of a trainer to get you started. Expert advice will go a long way to pointing you in the right direction to achieve your goals, AND it will limit your chance of injury.
Consider adding some interval training to your regime. Research has shown that people who engage in high-intensity training (HIT) lose more fat than those who do not. HIT involves completing short bursts of anaerobic exercise followed by slightly longer amounts of aerobic exercise. You can do this at the track, on an ergometer or on your bike. Get creative or again, enlist the help of a trainer!
Step 3: Amp up Your Diet
Calories and Carbohydrate
- Eating enough calories is important for muscle gain. If you are eating too little calories the protein you need for muscle growth will be used for energy instead. For long, hard workouts or when you are engaging in multiple workouts in a day carbohydrates can also be important. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods before and after exercise provides energy for the workout and replaces glycogen stores (this is your storage form of carbs). This strategy will help fuel your future workouts.
- Protein is important for building muscle. Most of us get more than enough protein in our usual diet and don’t need to add more of this macronutrient. Even so, a quick audit of your diet for protein may be helpful.
- Include a good source of protein in all of your meals and snacks. Regularly spaced protein has been shown to help build muscle. Be sure to include protein in your post-workout refuelling plan. Consider a protein source that is high in leucine (an essential amino acid). Leucine has been found to potentially optimize muscle gain. Also, if you want to lose weight while gaining muscle ensure you add a modest amount of additional protein to your diet.
- There are ample supplements on the market. You can choose powders, gels, bars or even drinks. While these can provide the nutrients you need, they are expensive. Fresh food provides the same benefits as supplements at a fraction of the cost.
Daily Nutrition Tips
- Plan your nutrition ahead.
- Have healthy snacks available for on-the-go refuelling.
- Eat at regularly spaced intervals (e.g. every 3 hours).
- After exercise aim for 0.25 g- 0.4 g protein per kg of body weight. This means 20 g of protein for a person weighing 80 kg. 2 cups of milk has approximately 20 g of protein.
- Aim for 2-3 g of leucine after a workout. Good sources of leucine include animal foods like milk, chicken, beef and pork and plant foods such as beans and nuts.
- Consider enlisting the help of a sports dietitian for an individualized diet.
Step 4: Rest Does the Body Good
Rest days are essential to a healthy exercise regime. Incorporate one or two days off in your weekly fitness routine. This allows your body to recuperate and prevents injury.
Get enough sleep. While individual needs may vary the National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults sleep for 7-9 hours every day. Sleep allows you to recover from day-to-day stresses, has been linked to achieving a healthy weight, and sets you up for an energetic next workout!
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!
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- Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, Salacinski A. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012, 9:54. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-54
- Phillips SM. A Brief Review of Critical Processes in Exercise-Induced Muscular Hypertrophy. Sports Med 2014, 44 (Suppl 1):S71–S77.
- Longland TM, Oikawa CJ, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes. Am J Clin Nutr 2016, 103(3):738-46.