Imagine living in a house that’s constantly under construction. That’s what it’s like inside your body, where three shifts of molecular labourers tear down and build up muscle tissue all day, every day. After strength training, your body’s construction crew wants to work overtime, but it needs the right building materials. “Consume protein as soon as possible after strength exercise,” says Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology. If you eat nothing, your muscle growth will be seriously hampered. You could even lose muscle, in fact.
Whey Protein Offers The Most Benefits
When it comes to muscle growth, one protein source stands out. “Whey protein offers the biggest benefit,” Phillips says. You digest it more quickly than other types of protein, so it hits your muscles faster. Whey protein also has the highest concentration of the amino acid leucine, giving it more muscle-building power than anything in the supermarket. Phillips recommends 25g of whey protein post-workout.
Remember Your Carbs
Together, protein and carbs achieve more than either does on its own. Carbs may help protein reach your muscles faster, speeding growth. Meanwhile, some research suggests protein accelerates the build up of glycogen. Even if you’re on a low-carb diet, you should take in some carbs with your post-workout protein. Use a protein supplement that contains carbs, or add your own with whole fruit. Mix some in a blender with water and ice for the perfect postworkout treat. You can use skim milk instead of a protein supplement – 680g (3 cups) provide 25g of protein, 35g of carbs and a generous dose of muscle-building leucine.
The Best Carbs-To-Protein Ratio?
For men who run, lift or play sports a few hours a week, no post-workout combination of carbs and protein has been shown to work better than any other. But if you’re a serious athlete who trains hard for over an hour every day, some research has shown that your best results will come with a ratio of carbs-to-protein that’s at least two to one.
Soak Some Vitamin D
Back in the day, fitness buffs were really into the benefits of sunlight: Charles Atlas (founder of Atlas gym), for example, included daily sun baths in his famous Dynamic Tension programme. Today, science is starting to figure out what old-school bodybuilders understood intuitively: Vitamin D, created by your body through direct sun exposure without sunscreen protection, has an important role in muscle health and function. (Are you lacking in vitamin D?)
Nobody can say for certain whether vitamin D boosts performance in healthy, fit men; the strongest research involves only the very young and the very old. But giving your body more D (through supplements and/or sun exposure) can’t hurt, and it could very well help you grow stronger and avoid injury. US researchers say most people would benefit from taking a supplement with 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day.
Hydrate To Lift Better
If you’re dehydrated before a lifting session, you could do more harm than good. A 2008 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that dehydrated lifters produced more stress hormones, including cortisol, while reducing the release of testosterone, the body’s best muscle builder. If you lift first thing in the morning, have a glass of water first. This is especially important if you’ve had alcohol the night before.
Can’t Go Wrong With Creatine
If you’re looking to increase your strength and workout capacity by as much as 10 per cent and add muscle size over time, you can’t go wrong with the one supplement shown to do both in numerous studies: creatine monohydrate. For the fastest results, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends loading with 0.14g per 0.5kg of body weight a day (about 25g for an 80kg man) for at least three days, and then maintaining with 3g to 5g a day. If you’re not in a hurry, taking 2g to 3g a day for a month will achieve the same result. Skip the nitric oxide supplements, though. “They’re a waste of money,” Phillips says. “I’m stunned they’ve stuck around for as long as they have.”
Fend Off Fatigue
Beta-alanine is another supplement with solid science behind it. It’s an amino acid your body uses to form a compound called carnosine. “It’s found in skeletal muscle and helps you delay fatigue,” says Jay Hoffman, a professor of sports and fitness at the University of Central Florida in the US. Early research suggests it could help improve strength and endurance. There’s no firm dosage recommendation yet, but University of Oklahoma researchers in the US suggest taking 6.4g a day, spread over four doses. To see results, however, you need to be patient. It takes two to four weeks to build up enough carnosine in your muscles to have an effect. The good news: Levels stay elevated for weeks after you stop supplementing. (In fact, here are some instant cure for fatigue!)
Mix And Match
Combining creatine with beta-alanine can also be a smart move. One of Hoffman’s College of New Jersey studies in the US found that university football players who took both supplements (10.5g a day of creatine and 3.2g a day of beta-alanine) had more productive workouts and less fatigue, and built more muscle than those who took only creatine.
Eat To Fuel Your Muscles
If you’re following a daily training regimen, don’t eat like a guy who’s trying to drop kilos. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that athletes who trained to exhaustion after two days of low-carb eating slowed down the process of building muscle. “The lower you drive carbohydrates down, the more you need other fuel for energy,” Phillips says. “Drop carbs below 40 per cent of total calories at that activity level and you’re going to sacrifice performance.”