Unlock Your Muscle Growth: Nutrition Strategies for Optimal Protein Intake

Maximising your opportunities to build: triggering muscle growth

By Performance Physique founder Arj Thiruchelvam

“There is a nutritional strategy to maximise your opportunities to build muscle that a large number of us get wrong and those who don’t, very often get there by accident.”

During my time working within a world leading nutrition consultancy and qualification provider, I was taught a number of groundbreaking nutrition protocols.

One of the most exciting strategies is how to maximise how to build muscle. Let’s state the obvious: you need to be training regularly and consistently working towards muscular overload. There is advice around training and supplementation but today, we’re here to focus on protein and leucine.

There is a hierarchy when it comes to developing muscle mass. Forget about the noise on this subject, the point which has the most general impact is the total protein content of your diet and the least important is protein quality and micronutrients. There, I said it, you don’t need to focus on whey hydro-isolate. However, I will come back to the key term, leucine threshold, shortly.

One thing I see most commonly is the need to be in a substantial calorie surplus in order to gain muscle mass.

This is not true.

Inadequate energy intake (calories) doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle. Inadequate protein, however, does impede your ability to increase muscle mass. It’s reasonable to say that if you take in a calorie surplus, you will find it easier to put on muscle mass because of the ‘accidental’ increase in your protein intake, but most importantly because it helps minimise protein breakdown in the ‘post absorptive’ state – this is that fasting situation that is often referred to within weight loss literature.

Eating endlessly will result in substantial fat gain and for some of us, this isn’t fun, rewarding or very efficient. It’s definitely unnecessary too.

How many calories should you be eating then? I’d suggest a 200-300 kcal surplus which you monitor and tweak depending on your individual needs. Some of us will find that we’re still quite active and therefore can get away with increasing those calories a little bit further!

There was an interesting, randomised study conducted by Longland et al. (2016) in which a control group consumed 1.2g/kg protein versus a high protein group who consumed 2.4g/kg. Both groups had an approximate 40% reduction in calorie intake during the 4 week-long study. Those in the high protein group lost a significantly greater amount of fat, but what’s really relevant here is that both groups increased lean body mass. This shows that protein over just calories is important.

Earlier I said total protein was the most important element – it’s actually an indirect consequence of protein frequency and leucine threshold. When we’re looking to create maximum opportunities to build muscle, the frequency, amount and source of protein becomes quite important as these components help stimulate muscle protein synthesis (anabolism / muscle building).

Keep these terms in mind; muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown (MPB). We want as many opportunities to trigger MPS and at all costs, limit the time spent in MPB.

Some practical tips you can put in place, right now!

First, let’s talk frequency. I am not advising you to eat chicken every hour but rather some research from Atherton & Smith (2012) suggests that every 3-4 hours is possibly more beneficial due to something called the ‘Muscle Full’ effect. This effect demonstrates that we can stimulate MPS by working through peaks and troughs of protein feeding as opposed to keeping them constantly elevated. Research identified that the muscle seems to respond better to these triggers as opposed to being surrounded by amino acids at all times. Sounds a little familiar to those old school post workout shake rules, right? Secondly, leucine threshold. Leucine is present in some supplements and in a large number of foods. Leucine is however the Hercules of the muscle building properties. You want to repeatedly trigger MPS and to work alongside this, we want to hit leucine threshold multiple times per day. This is something that is often overlooked. To do this you want to consume 0.3-0.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight or 2.5-3g of leucine per kg of bodyweight via a number of different feedings throughout the day. Don’t ‘drip-feed’ small amounts of protein throughout the day but instead, a larger amount that achieves the above 4 – 6 times per day to really, really make the biggest difference. This should make you question that ‘handful’ of nuts as a snack to get some protein and fats in. It would actually be better to consume enough protein to trigger muscle protein synthesis.

Thirdly, the source of protein does matter if you’re really trying to maximise your gains, you can get away with consuming large volumes of other foods but realistically dairy and meat may be the best options to go for. For instance >10% of whey is leucine, whilst for soy it’s 6% and almonds 1%…it’s not an even playing field. Who is consuming meals formed of whey protein though? Give yourself the target of 0.4g/kg of bodyweight for your mixed meal: that means an 80kg person consumes 32g of protein per meal, rather than the previously recommended 24g.

The anabolic window doesn’t exist, does it? In a study by Burd et al (2009), it was identified that although the anabolic window of 30 minutes doesn’t exist and that it’s only vital to consume protein within 24 hours, there is a significant benefit to consuming whey protein within 3 hours of training to enhance muscle building potential. On top of that, there is increased sensitivity to consuming protein for the next 24 hours after training, so don’t just focus on training day protein and do have a larger bedtime feeding of protein! Plus, we know that you don’t need to consume carbohydrates post-training if you’re already hitting those higher doses of protein. That said, if you like some jelly babies afterwards, why not and you’ll ensure you prevent MPB.

As a little bonus, whole milk beat skimmed in a study by Elliot et al (2006) as it was found to further enhance recovery and increase resting serum testosterone concentration, so add that to your weekly plan.

With everything stated above, will this be the difference between you becoming jacked or not? No, it won’t and for the majority of us, we don’t really care enough to spike our leucine threshold at regular intervals. However, if you want to achieve your absolute potential, then put these three simple steps into your nutrition strategy today. If you’re like me, just aim to hit your daily protein amount when you can and don’t lose sleep over the days you’re shy of it because ironically, that loss of sleep will actually hinder your growth hormone release.

I’d love to hear how you go about achieving your muscle gain, DM or even Tweet me!
IG: @Performance_Physique

YT: www.youtube.com/performancephysique

T: @PerformPhys

About Arj Thiruchelvam

Performance Physique founder Arj Thiruchelvam has a Bsc Hons in Applied Sports Science from Loughborough University & has co-designed two Sports Science Degrees for Oxford Brookes University.

Arj has 19 years’ experience of performance mentoring, including working as a UK Athletics Sprints & Jumps Coach. Providing clear fitness & nutrition guidance utilising the latest scientific research, Arj coaches novices of all ages to Team GB Olympians to consistently improve their personal bests.

For more information about Arj Thiruchelvam, please visit www.performancephysique.co.uk  

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