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Cover model, author and fitness expert Justin Woltering explains the science behind muscle growth.
Want the nitty-gritty details on muscle growth? Are you one of those lifters who's just got to know how things work? The day-to-day practice of training and eating may seem simple enough, but there's a hell of a lot of complexity in the ways it all works. If you want to know WHY certain diets and workouts are effective and how you can tweak your own routine for maximum results read on!
Anabolic and Catabolic What They Really Mean
Bodybuilders and trainers talk about 'anabolic' and 'catabolic' processes all the time. You're anabolic while you sleep, and you're catabolic when you wake up. You're anabolic when you eat, but you're catabolic when you fast. These generalities are true, but they only tell half the story. Most lifters assume anabolism is always good, and catabolism is always bad but that's not the case!
In truth, an anabolic process is any bodily function which involves building something new. Ideally, this means new muscle tissue but it can also mean new body fat. In contrast, catabolic processes are those which involve breakdown and degradation. You don't want catabolism in your muscles, but you definitely want it in your fat stores!
So, your goal shouldn't be to limit catabolic processes entirely, but to take advantage of the ones that target your fat cells. Things like morning cardio, low-carb diets, and even intermittent fasting are perfect examples. When it comes to muscle growth, you want to take advantage of anabolic processes with post-workout carbs, a high protein intake, and plenty of sleep. Eating junk all day is technically 'anabolic,' but the only thing that'll grow is your gut! (Read: 6 secret tips for insane muscle growth)
Carbs How They Work and How Many You Need
Low-carb vs high-carb diets: bodybuilders have been debating them for decades, and they're still not any closer to a consensus. One thing that most lifters agree on, however, is that you do need to consume carbs at some point in the week to fuel heavy training. Strong muscle contractions require glycogen, which your body can only make out of starches and sugars.
How many carbs you eat and how often you eat them should ultimately depend on your goals. Eating any kind of carbs (other than vegetables) will spike your insulin, making fat loss all but impossible. If you're trying to get lean, you'll need to limit them to the post-workout period. If you're really trying to drop fat fast, you may even want to limit your carbs to one HUGE feeding per week more of a feast or 're-feed' than a single meal.
If mass is your main goal, however, you can add more carbs in. Pre-workout is another good time, as is breakfast. Remember, though, that the more carbs you eat the less fat you'll burn. Eating them all the time may even cause a bit of fat gain, which is often necessary in building tons of muscle. (Read: Kris Gethin's Body By Design workout plan)
High Reps vs Low Reps What Actually Works?
Here's another age-old debate: should you lift heavy weights for low reps, or lighter weights for higher reps? If I HAD to give a simple answer, I'd say stick with the heavy lifting. Nothing builds muscle better than heavy weights on squats, deadlifts, presses, and other compound lifts. Heavy lifting has built the best physiques in the business, and nobody gets bigger without getting stronger.
That said, there's no reason to avoid light weights altogether, and high-rep training has a number of benefits you won't find from heavy lifting. While maximal weights will stimulate testosterone production, for instance, high-rep training will stimulate growth hormone another crucial piece of the muscle-building puzzle. And, while high reps won't 'tone' your muscles, they will give you a better cardio workout. If I have to choose between extra treadmill sessions or extra sets in the weight room, I'll choose the latter every time.
Supplements Which Ones Make a Difference?
There are a lot of junk supplements on the market, but you shouldn't write off the industry altogether. Ignore products that make claims that are too good to be true increasing your bench in one workout, instant muscle gains, etc. Focus on the stuff that's been proven to work with years of research AND first hand accounts from lifters themselves. My favourites include:
-Protein Powder: Not a miracle by any means, but a good protein powder will help you meet your daily requirements. Plus, several studies have shown that whey protein is one of the most bioavailable, easily digested proteins out there perfect for post-workout.
-Creatine: This age-old supplement helps your muscles to rapidly produce ATP, the main form of cellular energy. Take it consistently, and you might notice you're able to eke out an extra rep or two on your heaviest sets. Over time, those reps WILL add up to extra gains.
-Leucine: One of the three 'branched-chain' amino acids, leucine is like an anabolic 'switch' in your body. It's already present in small amounts in meat, but big doses will send a powerful muscle-building signal to your cells. Take a few grams post-workout along with your protein.
Want to know what other supplements can help you build muscle fast? Need cutting-edge advice on muscle growth, fat loss, and strength? If so, check out Bigger, Better, Faster Now the most comprehensive guide for building the physique of your dreams. (Read: How necessary are bodybuilding supplements for results?)
Justin Woltering is a fitness expert, author, and Dymatize sponsored athlete. He is also a cover model who has helped thousands of skinny guys transform their physiques. For more you can check out his website.
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