Training plays an important part in the building of muscle. To make sure that our body remains healthy as we increase our muscle mass, however, the right food is also required.
Those wanting to build muscle optimally not only have to do sport. They also need to eat healthily. Each and every day, we consume three main nutrients as part of our diet. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. They provide our body with energy as well as important building materials. Each one has different functions.
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Guidelines are available that outline how much of these individual nutrients we should generally consume on a daily basis. But what should be the exact nutritional make-up of our diet? This depends on what activities we perform. For strength training, we require more protein depending on the level of intensity. In the case of endurance training, on the other hand, we need more carbohydrates.
Irrespective of this, it is important that the foods we eat are as high quality and natural as possible. Only in this way is it possible to optimally build and maintain muscle. Vitamins and minerals are also involved in our metabolic processes. In particular, vitamins C, B6 and E are essential. These so-called micronutrients are used by the body for building and maintenance purposes. And they play a supporting role during the energy synthesis process. Last but not least, our muscles require adequate liquid. After all, they comprise 75% water.
Proteins are one of the most important materials for building muscle. This doesn’t mean, however, that we will automatically become more muscular if we eat more protein. Our average diet is normally completely adequate to cover our protein needs. What is important is that we take in healthy, biologically high-grade proteins. These can be found, for example, in low-fat meat or fish. There are also other important foods with proteins such as legumes, soya, eggs and dairy products.
Nowadays, as soon as we start going to the gym, we already diligently start to stock up on protein shakes. We could save a lot of money here, namely because recreational athletes don’t need an extra portion of protein at all. They can cover their body’s protein requirements without difficulty via their normal diet. Make sure to incorporate sufficient protein-rich food in your daily nutritional plan. This will allow you to safely save on high-protein nutritional supplements.
Vegetarians can also adequately cover their protein needs. They can consume dairy products, eggs and plant-based foods in the form of legumes (e.g. beans and lentils) or soya. Our body doesn't always need meat. The quality of protein found in plant-based protein sources is, however, normally not as high. You therefore need to make sure to take in a wider variety of foods and possibly eat a slightly higher volume of protein.
The most important task of carbohydrates is to provide our muscles with quickly available energy. What is decisive is which carbohydrates we consume. Simple carbohydrates (e.g. those found in sugar) provide us with energy more quickly during training. They therefore also allow you to top up your energy reserves faster following a session. Between training, however, preference should be given to complex carbohydrates. They make you feel full for longer and are also healthier. Whole grains are especially healthy, for example.
Fats provide our muscles with energy when they are exerted for longer periods (> 30 minutes). What is important is that we enjoy them in moderation and that they are of a high quality. Polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids are especially healthy. They can be found in walnuts and fish, for instance. Monounsaturated fatty acids are also important (e.g. in olive oil). A further valuable provider of energy are polyunsaturated omega 6 fatty acids (e.g. in dairy products). On the other hand, saturated fatty acids (e.g. in butter) should be consumed with caution. Trans fatty acids should be avoided completely (e.g. in ready-made cakes).
Define your muscle-building goal
Most athletes would like to be stronger. However, you need to keep individual goals in mind. In contrast to athletes who are training for competitions, recreational athletes do not need ultra-strict training programmes or sophisticated nutritional plans. Nevertheless, these individuals should likewise know how they can optimally increase their strength and performance.
Mechanical stimulation is important
Muscles can only grow if they are provided with sufficiently strong stimulation. This comes from training. However, they also require sufficient nutrients from the individual’s diet. Do you want to build your muscles quickly? Be patient. Building muscle takes time. Furthermore, not everybody develops muscle at the same rate. You should thus set yourself realistic goals. What is important is the relationship between nutrition, fitness as well as strength and endurance training. All of these factors should be combined in a sensible manner. Only in this way will it be possible to become more muscular over the long term.
Starting a diet and building muscle are not compatible
Those wanting to additionally support their muscle-building goals should make sure that they do not simultaneously have a negative energy balance. In other words, take in fewer calories than they are burning.
This can be the case, for example, if somebody is pursuing two goals at the same time: building muscle and reducing fat. These two objectives are contrary to one another. This is because a negative energy balance – i.e. as a result of keeping to a diet – leads to a loss of muscle mass.
How many calories do I need?
Everybody who is looking to build more muscle should know their personal calorie requirements. Only in this way can they ensure that they take in the right amount of calories as part of their daily nutrition. You can work out your personal energy balance in a simple manner using the “My calorie requirements” function of the Swiss Society for Nutrition (SGE). Your daily calorie requirements of course depend on many factors. The level of your training and the question of how many kilograms you weigh play an important role.
Basal metabolic rate and active metabolic rate
Your energy requirements are calculated on the basis of your basal metabolic rate and active metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) determines the energy that your body requires during a day (24 hours). This means that it can maintain functions such as breathing, blood circulation, heat regulation and digestion. Our BMR depends on our age, gender, height, weight and muscle mass. Men have a higher BMR than women. The reason for this is that they have a greater muscle mass. The average BMR of a women weighing 60 kilograms thus gives rise to a daily requirement of around 1,500 kcal, while on average men weighing the same will need more.
Our BMR falls as we age. All of our metabolic processes become slower. Furthermore, our muscle mass also tends to decline. Our BMR is very stable. The situation is different with our active metabolic rate (AMR). It depends on how much we move over 24 hours. The more we move as part of our daily routine and the more sport we do, the higher our AMR.
Recovery phases are important
You train daily? If so, you should make sure to rest sufficiently after your training sessions. This will allow you to optimally support the growth of your muscles. And you will be fit to go for your next session.
During recovery, your energy stores need to be restocked. This is especially true for the carbohydrate reserves in your muscle and liver (glycogen). You should also replace the liquid that you have lost via sweating. Always drink slightly more than you have lost from sweating. Some of what you drink will be lost again via urination. Depending on the intensity of your training, it might be appropriate to take in isotonic drinks. These contain electrolytes which boost the uptake of liquid in the body. They also regulate your body’s water and salt levels. This is important because when you sweat your body loses a very large quantity of electrolytes and salt.
Making sure your nutrition is right during recovery not only helps the muscle-building process. It also helps your muscles and other tissues to repair. During an intensive training session, your muscles are actually also invariably damaged to some extent. This is normal. In order to repair this damage, some protein is required, among other things.
Tips for eating before and after training
Would you like to optimally adjust your nutritional plan for the phase before and after training or a sports event? You can find many tips and information on sports nutrition prepared by the Swiss Sports Nutrition Society here.
Prior to a workout (two to three hours in advance), a healthy meal is appropriate. Ideally, this should be primarily made up of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t consume too much protein before training. This is because it takes the body several hours to digest protein. And it isn’t good to train with a full stomach. The following foods, for example, are therefore recommended:
- A fresh fruit or berry smoothie
- Wholegrain bread
- Boiled egg
- Hard cheese
- Muesli bar
- After training
You should also focus on carbohydrates and proteins after your workout. The following meals are appropriate:
- Scrambled eggs with herbs and a slice of wholegrain bread
- Salmon fillet with beans
- Avocado on bread with cream cheese and egg