Building Muscle: Do You Need Supplements?
article by Clare Wood
There are many components to gaining muscle mass; a good training program, the right nutrition, adequate energy and protein intake, genetics, and patience! These factors will all influence your size and shape. Whether you want to bulk up to look good, to increase strength, or improve your sporting performance … here are some important tips that will help you achieve your goals in the most sensible way.
Let's start with Nutrition and Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient to gain muscle mass, but not the only nutrient needed! Enough total energy in the diet is more important. Energy comes from protein, carbohydrate and fats. Having enough food day-in and day-out is essential and can be tricky especially when you're active and busy. You may need extra energy every day to lay down muscle, and the quantity needs to align with your training goals.
It is important for athletes trying to gain muscle mass to meet increased protein needs, but huge protein intakes are not required. The amount you need is related to the stage of training, age and fitness level.
Get the basics right first then look for the extras!
Protein can be found in every day foods you eat, as well as in powdered and solid-food supplements. Nutrition is the best way to get your protein and energy requirements, due to the added benefits of antioxidants and fibre, but supplements can help to 'supplement' your needs.
Are You Meeting Your Nutrition Needs?
Energy requirements vary depending on size and activity level. Protein recommendations for strength training are 1-1.5g per kilogram per day. They may be more than this if you have just started doing a training program or have increased your exercise level from previously. Adolescents, 12-18y/o's who are growing rapidly, also need some additional protein. Animal proteins are particularly good at stimulating muscle growth.
the building blocks to lay down muscle
the fuel for the muscle to do the work required to stimulate growth.
Main meals should include a protein source like; Meat, Chicken, Fish , Eggs, Cheese, Yoghurt, Nuts and Legumes.
Also have high energy snacks throughout the day. Great high protein snack options include:
- Fruit smoothie; low fat milk, yoghurt, honey & fruit
- 250ml tetra pack of flavoured milk
- Tub of low fat yoghurt & fruit
- Bowl of cereal and low fat milk
- Grainy sandwich with meat & salad
- Fruit muffin with a glass of low fat milk
- Cereal bar with a glass of low fat milk
- Pasta with pasta sauce & low fat cheese
- 2 eggs with 2 slices of toast
These options all contain around 10g of protein and 30-40g of carbohydrate, and are excellent for before exercise or for recovery to help build muscle during and after exercise.
Including carbohydrate with protein enhances muscle growth due to the insulin response.
It's all about the Timing:
Stimulating muscle growth is best when protein is eaten regularly across the whole day, and especially including pre-exercise and recovery snacks that include protein.
The post-training 'Window of Opportunity' for more rapid recovery of muscles is about 30-60 minutes.
Try and eat as soon as you can after exercise to help stimulate muscle growth!
What About Supplements?
Athletes should be able to get all the protein and energy they need from their diet. "Boring" I hear you say! It can be difficult to always eat the right amount of food and energy every day to achieve your body weight goals. If you're super organized, you can get adequate protein and energy from the diet. But there are times where supplements can be useful:
Do you have a really busy lifestyle
Do you race straight from morning training to school without a snack
Do you travel from school straight to a sports game or gym work out
Are you a 'fussy eater' or have a poor appetite after exercise?
Do you get home for dinner really late?
Which types should you choose?
Supplements come in many forms including bars, powders, drinks and tablets. They can be thrown in your bag and convenient for on-the-go eating. A suitable supplement should provide both protein and carbohydrate; a liquid meal replacement is a better option rather than a protein powder. Check the label of anything you think might be suitable.
Other things to consider:
There are real risks related to muscle growth supplements;
- Contamination with unknown illegal extras
- Most are not scientifically proven to work, even though it is often stated on the label
- Some make outrageous claims that probably aren't true
- Many are very expensive
If you get 'drug tested' in your particular sport or at your level you need to be very careful what goes into your mouth! If you feel you need to take something, you must weigh up the RISK versus the BENEFIT, and seek advice.
The Key Strategies to Optimize Your Hard Work
- Start with a good training program
- Eat more than enough total food energy every day
- Timing is everything…remember the 30 minute window
- Do not skip snacks or meals
- Use energy-dense drinks to increase intake, like flavoured milk, juice, cordial and sports drinks
- Be organized, plan your days intake, don't rely on mum and dad
- Be prepared to maintain weight sometimes when you're out of routine, then start again
- Weigh yourself, and monitor your progress
- Get advice before taking a supplement
- Be patient, it won't happen overnight, but will happen with time
- And…choose the right parents – genetics does play a role!
If you want a more detailed plan, or advice about specific supplements, seek advice from professional sports dietitian.
- Guide to Athletic Supplements
- Amino Acid Supplements — are they necessary?
- Go Shopping in the Supplement Store
- Choosing a Protein Bar
- The Truth About Eating Too Much Protein