For as many people that I have worked with that are trying to lose weight, I have as many students who are trying to gain weight – healthy weight, of course. By that I mean building lean muscle mass. Most of these people are young and healthy. I haven’t met too many 30 year olds that just “can’t put on weight”. I’m sure there are some of them out there.
As usual, this common discussion with students has inspired me to bring the topic here to my blog to go over some basic concepts that are really important to consider for those who are trying to build muscle mass and put on some weight. Of course muscular strengthening exercises are key to building muscle. I am going to focus here on some basic nutritional considerations.
- If you want to gain weight, you have to be in a positive caloric state. That means you need to be consuming more calories than you are burning off every day. If you are spending 2 hours a day in the weight room or on the basketball court and burning TONS of calories, this is going to make it difficult to put on weight. That is why you have to be very smart about the frequency, intensity, time and type of training that you are doing on a regular basis. This seems like a very basic math equation, but I see people making this mistake all of the time. They love to workout, spend hours in the gym, and are generally very active but they fail to realize they may be hijacking the ultimate result that they are looking for – building muscle!
- How many calories do you need to be in in an excess caloric state? Besides your activity level, you also have to consider your metabolism (this varies greatly), age, gender, growth status, and any medical conditions. You need to keep all of these things in mind when you determine your caloric needs. It might be worth consulting with a registered dietitian to help you figure out how many calories you really need in order to start putting on mass.
- What about protein? The National Strength and Conditioning Association has recommendations for protein consumption based on the variables already listed. General recommendations for healthy individuals include .8-1.0 grams per kilogram each day for general fitness. For healthy individuals who are weight training more aggressively, the range is 1.0-1.7 grams per kilogram each day. Many people are exceeding the recommended amount of protein, which can be quite dangerous and lead to health problems. As of late, research is indicating that there are different types/sources of protein that may be more beneficial than others. (Future blog on protein coming soon!)
- Carbohydrates are key for building muscle! Many people mistakenly believe that excessive protein is the key for putting on muscle mass, which is not the whole picture. Our body can only metabolize and utilize so much protein at a time. Carbohydrates are as important as protein in the process of providing energy and putting on lean mass. Healthy carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables are also packed with vitamins, fiber, and nutrients that are vital for good health in general.
- It takes 2,500 calories to build 1 pound of muscle. In order to add extra calories to your diet, you want to do it gradually to minimize fat gain. This can be done safely by being in excess of your daily calories in increments of 200-300 calories each day. You can use the following guidelines to determine how much carbohydrate you might need: 4.5 – 7g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for those who do strength training and 5 – 10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for those participating in cross training (cardiovascular exercise in addition to just resistance training activities). The frequency, intensity, type, and time of training should be considering where you should be in the range of recommended quantities.
- Timing is everything. Protein meals consumed before and after exercise can result in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than with training alone. Eating protein with carbohydrate also increases insulin release which aids in glycogen building. This is great because it speeds up moving glucose and amino acids into cells and it activates an enzyme crucial to glycogen synthesis. Eating protein and carbohydrate together also increases growth hormone release and keeps you in an anabolic state (tissue building, fat burning).
I plan to be back – hopefully soon – to talk a little more specifically about protein with guidelines and recommendations as well as some of the benefits of the various sources of protein.