When we talk about building muscle, getting the physique we want, we usually talk about exercising and diet. Those are the two things we have to actually do in order to get fitness results. But we rarely talk about what’s going on behind the scenes, so to speak. What’s going on in your body as you exercise and eat. However, that’s very important to understand so we can work on our goals effectively.
So today I want to talk about the biochemistry of muscle building, i.e. how your body reacts to training and dieting, what makes the muscles grow and the fat to trim down.
“Muscle Growth” Hormones
For your muscles to grow your body must produce certain hormones in order to stimulate the growth. The three “muscle growth” hormones are testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) that all work together.
You know how important testosterone is in male body, but it’s as much as important in females too when it comes to muscle growth, albeit it is in significantly lower levels. When working out and making your diet you have to take into account how the levels of these hormones are influenced in your body.
Testosterone can be boosted by the way you workout and by your diet in the following ways.
High intensity training and strength training increases the level of testosterone in your body. So you should make your workouts shorter and increase the weights while lowering the number of repetitions. Long non-intense workouts can actually have a negative impact.
Lower body fat also influences testosterone level in a positive way. So be generous when you do your cuts.
When it comes to nutrition, that’s where you can do really well as far as testosterone goes. Having more zinc and vitamin D in your diet will help you with that, as well as eating more healthy saturated fats. So include more fish and dairy (if you’re lactose tolerant) in your diet. And finally, and I should not have to say this, avoid sugar because killing testosterone level is only one of the bad things that it does to your body.
Human growth hormone (HGH) is hard to affect. It’s most active during puberty and really comes down as you age (about 14% per 10 years after it plateaus in your 20s). But you still have it and its production is the highest when you rest and especially when you sleep (tops an hour in after you fall asleep). That’s why the importance of sleep is so big.
High intensity training is also known to boost the production of HGH in your body just as testosterone. In dieting, any foods rich in amino acids, i.e. high protein foods like meat and dairy will help too. There are, of course, amino acid supplements to help you as well.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), the third hormone we’re interested in is boosted in a similar way by intense exercising and strength training as well as high protein food and healthy fat choices in your diet. High carb intake results in lower IGF-1 level so you have to watch out for eating too much of that.
As a general recommendation, eat 0.5 grams of healthy fats per pound of your weight every day – foods such as salmon, nuts, eggs, olive oil, as well as dairy.
Hydration is crucial but that’s not all that water does for your muscle growth. Simply speaking, muscle growth processes are going on “under water”. That is, while the hormones stimulate the synthesis of muscle protein, it’s done along with transferring water to muscle cells from blood. That’s how you get the “pump” and you can see it as nutrients required to build muscle being distributed to them.
The adverse happens when water is being drawn from the muscles when you dehydrate. Therefore, staying hydrated is the most crucial thing there is.
Growth Happens When You Rest
When you train, you only break the muscles, stimulate them to grow, force your body to release the required chemicals. But the actual growth happens when you rest, not when you train. It’s important to understand that and not make the mistake of thinking that the more time you spend at the gym, the more your muscles grow. The opposite may be true if you train too long, not intensively enough or you don’t get enough of rest.
The Formula for Rapid Muscle Growth
Here’s what I recommend you do:
- Make your workouts intense and short (up to 30 minutes)
- Use heavier weights and lower reps
- Eat more protein and less carbs
- Eat enough healthy fats (0.5 grams per body weight pound as a general recommendation)
- Drink a lot of water
- Supplement with zinc and vitamin D
- Rest enough and sleep alot