Building muscle mass and increases in lean muscle tissue happens through an exchange of muscle breakdown during an appropriate training program which promotes muscle turnover, and protein ingestion through diet.

Consuming protein isn’t just for the purpose of ‘bulking up.’ A diet containing an effective distribution of protein, which compliments specific training, can facilitate muscle repair and recovery after training, to aid adaptation and get the most out of your training.


1. Muscle growth takes time

To gain good weight from muscle mass, you need to remain in a neutral or positive energy balance and have adequate energy availability from the right types of food. This way there is appropriate fuel present for the body to build, replenish and repair muscle as well as having enough fuel to be used for daily living, training and recovery.


2. More protein does not mean more muscles

Having twice the required amount of protein won’t mean your muscles become twice as big, twice as fast! All protein consumed does not all turn directly into muscle. Like any macronutrient, if consumed in excess of what is required it will be oxidized as an energy source or it can be stored as fat if not used. Expect weight gains from muscle mass in the range of up to 0.25 – 0.5kg per week, anything more than this and its likely to be an increase in fluid or fat.


3. Amount of protein you need

Directly after training, 20g of protein is the target amount to prevent further muscle breakdown and initiate muscle growth. Amount, timing and delivery of regular protein is paramount for best results in muscle growth, more so than excessively large quantities of protein all at once. Protein consumption in excess of 2g/kg body weight/day has shown to have no further contribution to muscle growth.


4. Carbohydrates and muscle growth

To enhance post training protein uptake carbohydrates should also be consumed. Carbs encourage the muscle to absorb amino acids from dietary protein. Carbohydrates also replenish fuel stores to prevent further muscle breakdown. Including carbohydrate AND protein in the pre and post training snacks is as important as consuming the protein itself.


5. Protein and fat

Some foods which provide good sources of protein also have high levels of fat and saturated fat; which if eaten in excess can add excess kilojoules and increase skinfolds. Further to this, high fat intake directly after training will slow down digestion and absorption of nutrients and can delay protein delivery to the muscles for repair. To receive the benefits of proteins without additional fats choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat and skin from meat and chicken. Choose low fat dairy which has a greater amount of protein in comparison to its full fat alternative.


6. Increase meal frequency over meal size

The post training meal is one of the most important times to eat for recovery. However, one meal alone directly after training cannot provide all the fuel requirements for the growth and recovery process.

The body requires a constant supply of energy over the day when active to avoid a negative energy availability which can result in muscle mass losses.

To keep the body using fuel efficiently, aim to consume meals and snacks containing a protein and carb source every 2–3 hours. Planning and preparation will be important so you have food with you to avoid skipping a meal, eating the wrong things or over consumption to make up for what you have missed.


7. Protein shakes

Commercial protein shakes provide a quick and readily available source of protein after a workout or training session. Protein shakes don’t necessarily contain protein with an ability beyond food to help muscle growth. The benefit of protein shakes is timing – because they are easy and quick to prepare they can be available ASAP after training and this is the most important aspect of consuming protein for recovery. Protein shakes may be included in diets with high energy requirements but should only be considered when all other dietary habits are adequate. Check any supplements are suitable first.


Sources of protein

Animal products Dairy Plant proteins
Red meat Light /skim Milk Legumes / Tofu
Chicken breast Natural yoghurt Nuts/ nut spread
Premium mince Fruit yoghurt Quinoa
Lamb or pork steak Low fat tasty cheese Pea and rice protein
Egg Low fat cottage cheese
Fish – tinned or fresh Custard
Shaved ham or turkey Fortified soy milk

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