Building lean muscle is one thing, but keeping it is a challenging art. If you’re not meeting your macros, lacking in protein, or sedentary from not training for too long, you could lose your gains in a hurry. In other words, if you don’t use it, you’ll eventually lose it. When you sum up all of your diet, training and supplementation on a daily basis, you have either achieved net Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) or Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB). Balancing MPS against MPB from day-to-day is the challenge. Here are a few basics to make sure are always in the positive when it comes to building and keeping muscle.
1. Always Be Active
Physical activity is one of the most powerful anabolic agents, specifically resistance training reaching towards +80% of your 1-rep max such as bench press, squats and deadlifts. Just as important as putting the time in the gym is upkeeping Non-Exercise Physical Activity (NEPA). I’m talking to the 9-to-5 office warriors, the truck drivers, taxi drivers, Uber drivers, software engineers, researchers, writers and anyone with a desk job. Sitting for too long uninterrupted can be detrimental to your metabolism and your gains. Breaking up these bouts of time with the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to make sure you are getting enough NEPA every day. Sometimes when I’m seated working for long stretches I will do quadricep and calf contractions in place, or if nobody is around move my legs in place with fast-paced steps.
2. Feed The Machine
At the 2016 International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference in Clearwater Beach, FL, Dr. Darryn Willoughby (PhD, FACSM, FISSN, FACN, FASEP) (Director of the Biochemical Nutrition Laboratory and Professor at Baylor University’s Robins Health and Human Sciences) reinforced the importance of “Feeding the Machine” when it comes to building lean mass. Although Dr. Willoughby focuses on the nutrient and training needs of collegiate and professional athletes, a lot of his teachings can be applied towards lean mass preservation. For starters, Dr Willoughby first suggests that energy intake must at least match energy expenditure. This doesn’t necessarily give a full-fledged green-light to If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) Dieting, but it does open the discussion to nutrient-timing strategies.
Dr. Willoughby recommends that athletes feed every 3 to 4 hours and rehydrate even more frequently for optimal maintenance of MPS. Your metabolic state plays a significant role in how productive and efficient your body partitions and utilizes nutrients, especially dietary protein. Long periods without protein on top of being sedentary can metabolically send you the wrong direction. If you are working a long shift that leaves more than 4 hours without a meal, don’t be afraid to break it up with a protein snack.
If you have the metabolic flexibility of a healthy metabolism you can get away with the snack having some simple sugars in the mix, but if you are working with a slower metabolism and/or insulin resistance, you may want to stick to a protein source whose carbohydrate profile is predominantly fiber. Nonetheless, breaking up long periods of rest and time in between meals with a protein snack goes a long way towards preserving your gains. The long and short of it is that consistent feeding (achieving at least 0.8mg/kg protein/day) throughout the day mitigates and hedges MPB.
3. Supplementing Life
Let’s not forget that supplements are designed to “supplement” diet and exercise efforts, not the other way around. Again, depending on your metabolic state, dietary mode and training strategies, there are several supplemental ingredients you can consider working into the mix to not only preserve your gains, but also promote significant enough MPS towards building appreciable gains.
If you are utilizing a diet for fat loss such as low-carb or ketogenic dieting in conjunction with a moderately demanding exercise program, preserving lean muscle can almost seem impossible. New research exploring the possibilities of building lean mass in a low-carb / ketogenic state + caloric restriction is expected to be published in the near future from Dr. Jacob Wilson (PhD, CSCS*D), CEO of the Applied Science and Performance Institute.
In anticipation to these findings, taking supplements such as Leucine and Leucine metabolites to mitigate drops in MPS between meals, and pre / post exercise to promote exercise-induced MPS. Two Leucine metabolites in the spotlight include HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) (calcium or free acid form), and HICA (alpha-hydroxyisocaproic acid). Although HMB has shown to be better at triggering MPS. Whether I’m going to the gym, or cranking out work at the office, I personal prefer popping any of these in capsule form.
Although this may be considered a meal replacement by some, drinking a protein shake into the diet into the diet is an extremely convenient way to supplement the diet with roughly 25g to 30g of protein per serving to break to upkeep MPS, fill in the blanks in long breaks between meals, and especially minimizing the catabolic (MPB) effects of fasting between your last meal of the day, and your first meal of the next day while you sleep.
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