What is muscular hypertrophy and why is it so important in our journey to optimizing our health? Muscular Hypertrophy is the process of enlarging our muscle cells, which is achieved through a process called “Muscle Protein Synthesis”. This leads us right into one of the most important aspects of building muscle, which is right in the name of the aforementioned process: adequate protein intake.
So, how much protein should we be eating per day for optimal muscle growth, you might ask? On the lower end, you should consume .8 grams per pound of bodyweight, and on the higher end, 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. The only exception are very overweight individuals, as their protein intake should be evaluated through their lean body mass instead. This amount of protein should be spread across the day, across anywhere between 4 to 6 servings per day. Spreading our protein intake throughout the day has a variety of benefits, some of which are:
1. Satiety: Feeling satisfied throughout the day and reducing cravings due to protein being the most satiating macro-nutrient. This will promote staying at a leaner and healthier physique.
2. Triggering muscle protein synthesis throughout the day and preventing muscle protein breakdown, this is essential in determining additional muscle mass in our resistance training journey.
3. Protein has the highest TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) compared with fats and carbs. TEF is the amount of energy needed to digest and absorb the food, our bodies burn about 20-30% of the calories from protein in order to absorb it, compared with 5-10% of carbs and 0-3% of fats.
4. High protein diets have been shown to decrease blood pressure, leading to a healthier heart and kidneys.
Now that we have covered the protein intake portion of building muscle, what else comes along with it in order to increase the effectiveness of the diet, coupled with a solid resistance training and cardio program? A few things on this list would be:
1. Adequate fiber intake: We should be consuming about 14g-16g of fiber per 1,000 calories. This will keep our digestive track healthy, and increase the rate of absorption of protein and other nutrients due to fiber’s aid in digestion.
2. Hydration: We should be consuming .5 to 1 oz of water per pound of bodyweight per day. We need to couple this with proper electrolyte intake so our muscles function at their highest capacity throughout the day, and during our training sessions. This can be done by: moderately salting meals, eating fruits and vegetables 4 to 6 times per day, and supplementing Magnesium Glycinate pre-workout and before bed.
3. Fat intake: Dietary fat intake is essential to keeping a healthy and optimized body with balanced hormones. Fat intake should be between .2-.3g per pound of bodyweight.
4. Carbohydrate intake: Carbohydrates are an essential component of increasing performance and fueling workouts. Once you have your protein and fat intake calculated, the rest of your calories should come from carbohydrates. Preferably lots of fruits, vegetable, and high satiety carbs such sweet potatoes and oats, which are also loaded with micronutrients.
Now, let’s cover how to actually augment muscle building while we are engaged in our lifting sessions! In order to maximize hypertrophy, we must increase the amount of Mechanical Tension that our muscles undergo. This is the amount of muscle fibers recruited and the amount of force exerted on them throughout different ranges of motion. This will be the main driver of hypertrophy, and the best techniques to increase Mechanical Tension are as follows:
1. Proper Form and Execution: learning the fundamentals of form and movement patterns is essential in order to optimally recruit the proper muscles during certain movements. The foundation of any great strength and muscle building journey is based around developing great form and execution. We must focus on every rep of every set and execute with absolute intent!
2. Time under Tension or Tempo Lifting: we want to SLOW the reps down, mainly speaking about the negative or eccentric portion of the reps (when you are resisting the weight). 3 second negatives on all movements is a good place to start!
3. Mind Muscle Connection: we want to really feel the targeted muscle working! If you are not feeling it the weight or form may need adjustment.
4. Stretch and Squeeze: we want to really feel the stretch portion of the movements in order to tear into as many fibers as possible, and squeeze the top range of the reps hard to force contractions, recruit more muscle fibers and increase blood flow and shuttle more nutrients to the area.
5. Failure: bringing a few sets to failure per workout is optimal, for beginners this will not be as necessary as it is for intermediate or advanced lifters. Introducing the concept of taking exercises to failure to beginners can be done through safe exercises such as bodyweight exercises or single joint exercises.
6. Rep variations: a variety of reps all the way from around 5 to 25-30 reps should be utilized and taken advantage. Different rep ranges can be beneficial for different outcomes, strength outcomes on the lower end, endurance outcome on the higher end. Both rep ranges will yield muscular hypertrophy, so do more of what you truly enjoy, but make sure to include a variety.
7. Full Range of Motion: We want to work towards moving in full ranges of motion, this might mean going lighter for a period of time until we are stronger in these positions!
8. Progressive Overload: We will want to progressively get stronger, develop better form, and be able to do more volume while applying the above concepts to our training.