Back To Basics : The Basics Of Muscle Building

Today CSN is going back to basics and showing you the basics of muscle building. Many of us who train in the gym do so to develop good, quality muscle tissue. This article hopes to give you the basic science behind muscle building, including the two key ingredients for muscle building that are equally as important as each other. Training and nutrition.

There are many different training methodologies out there, but the key goal of all of these programs is to create enough stimuli for the muscle to grow. Muscle growth is initiated by creating micro-trauma within the muscle which is a catabolic (breaking down) process, which when combined with adequate nutrition and recovery allows the muscle to adapt and grow. It is through weight training that other growth factors are also released in response to this trauma, such as growth hormone and IGF-1, these that tell metabolic pathways in the muscle to up-regulate protein synthesis to grow new muscle tissue. 

So what is muscle tissue?

Well without getting into a biology lesson the two key areas we are interested in are the myofibrils and sarcoplasm. In brief, myofibrils are long chains of cells that contain proteins that are responsible for muscle contraction, such as myosin and actin. These, when stimulated by biological signals and in combination with a few other clever proteins, cause a cross-bridging between these fibres causing the muscle to shorten, or contract.

Training with heavier weights in lower rep ranges causes these contractile tissues to adapt and grow, like increasing the thickness of the cables on a winch, allowing it to withstand more load. This is called myofibrillar hypertrophy. The sarcoplasm relates to the nutrient storing region that surrounds the myofibrils. The sarcoplasm contains the fuel with which the myofibrils need to contract, such as glycogen and the vital chemicals for cell signalling. The size of these storage containers can also be influenced by our training with higher rep ranges which deplete glycogen, in the 15+ rep range, being cited as important for creating this adaptation, giving the muscle a full, round look.

What repetition range should you use?

In truth training in any of these repetition ranges will stimulate growth in both of these pathways. But by targeting each we can ensure the best of both worlds and also put a little variety into our training. One important factor to note is that for muscle hypertrophy to be sustained (after initial adaptations in beginners) that the recommended repetition range should be between 60-90% of your 1 repetition max to ensure muscle protein synthesis pathways, that are anabolic (muscle building), are optimally stimulated.

Many training protocols play with these variables, alternating between heavy and light weeks, such as the Y3T system promoted by Neil ‘Yoda’ Hill. Other systems such as DC (Dog Crapp) use heavier compound movements throughout the programme, but with limited rest, 5-10 seconds only between sets, ensuring both strength and glycogen usage are stimulated. Other may incorporate heavy and light days within the same week or even the same session. The key here is to try these systems and see which best suits you and your genetics. Keep an eye out for our future articles reviewing these training principles with a more in-depth discussion of their principles and the science behind them.

Nutrition matters too!

Whatever training style you desire, it will all be put to waste without adequate nutrition. Nutrition is massively important to provide the fuel to train and grow (carbohydrate), as well as supporting muscle building hormones (fats and proteins) and providing the body with the building blocks to grow new muscle tissue (protein in the digested form amino acids). Consuming enough of these in the right amounts is important, alongside vitamins and minerals to ensure cell signalling, amongst many other things, are optimal for muscle growth. However, that will be discussed in greater depth in other blogs. What I want to concentrate on here is the science of muscle building and digressing back to the concept of muscle protein synthesis and what we can do nutritionally to manipulate this.

Why is MPS important?

As I said earlier weight training breaks down muscle tissue and up-regulates hormones that tell the body to rebuild it bigger and stronger using our food intake, in short, to increase muscle protein synthesis. It is within amino acids that we find a key regulator of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), Leucine. In the presence of leucine, a pathway in muscle cells responsible for MPS, the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is activated to do its thing, fortunately for us, its thing is to tell or muscle cells to adapt and grow.

Preliminary studies have shown that ingestion of leucine every 3 to 4 hours at around 4g is optimal to maintain MPS and keep your body’s muscle building capacity at its highest. This is why many intra workout drinks contain around this amount of leucine, to ensure that when MPS is required to be at its highest, this key player is going to be present to keep you in a more anabolic state. Read this article If you want to know more? Read this article on  muscle protein synthesis.

Metabolites of Leucine have been shown to potentially stop muscle protein breakdown altogether, when supplemented around training keeping you in an even more anabolic state, allowing you to recover faster, train more often and grow even quicker. To maintain a regular flow of this awesome amino acid, eating around 180-200g of meat or fish, 30-40g of whey protein or 8 large eggs should keep you adequately supplied and MPS ramped up to the max!

So there you have it, a brief little meander through the science of muscle building. Hopefully, this will serve as a little reminder next time you’re in the gym, or at the dinner table, to focus on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, keeping your eyes firmly on that muscle building prize. 

As always Team CSN are here to help, call or email us today and we can give you professional, unbiased advice on all your nutrition and supplement needs.