If you’re a guy in the gym working with weights, not only are you probably trying to lose some fat, but also gain some muscle.
This article discusses the mechanisms of how muscles grow, plus why most women won’t gain large amounts of muscle when working with weights.
Although there are different types of muscles, such as cardiac muscle (your heart), for our concerns, we will talk exclusively about skeletal muscles. Skeletal muscle is composed of thread-like myofibrils and sarcomeres that form a muscle fiber and are the basic units of contraction.
The 650 skeletal muscles in the human body contract when they receive signals from motor neurons, which are triggered from a part of the cell called the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Motor neurons tell your muscles to contract and the better you become at having those signals tell your muscles to contract, the stronger you can get.
When someone like a powerlifter is able to lift very heavy weight despite not looking very muscular, it’s due to their ability to activate those motor neurons and contract their muscles better. This is why some powerlifters can be relatively smaller compared to bodybuilders, but can lift significantly more weight. Motor Unit recruitment also helps to explain why, after practice, certain movements become easier to perform and most of the initial strength gains will be when you first start to lift weights. Muscle growth tends to occur more steadily after this initial period of strength gain because you are more easily able to activate the muscles.
The Physiology Of Muscle Growth
After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth). Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest.
So how do you actually add muscle to your muscle cells? This is where Satellite cells come in and act like stem cells for your muscles. When activated, they help to add more nuclie to the muscle cells and therefore contribute directly to the growth of myofibrils (muscle cells). Activating these satellite cells may be the difference between what allows certain “genetic freaks” to grow massive muscles and what makes other people “hard-gainers."
In one of the most interesting studies in the past 5 years, researchers showed that those who were “extreme responders” to muscle growth, with an incredible 58% myofiber hypertrophy from an exercise, had 23% activation of their satellite cells. Modest responders, who had a 28% growth, had 19% activation of their satellite cells. What is interesting to note, though, is that some people known as “non-responders” in the study had 0% growth and had a concurrent 0% activation of their satellite cells. Therefore, it seems the more you can activate these satellite cells, the more you’ll be able to grow. So then the question becomes, how do you activate these satellite cells to increase muscle growth?
3 Mechanisms That Make Muscles Grow
Underlying all progression of natural muscle growth is the ability to continually put more stress on the muscles. This stress is a major component involved in the growth of a muscle and disrupts homeostasis within your body. The stress and subsequent disruption in homeostasis causes three main mechanisms that spur on muscle growth.
Muscle Growth Mechanism #1: Muscle Tension
In order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load of stress greater than what your body or muscles had previously adapted too. How do you do this? The main way is to lift progressively heavier weights. This additional tension on the muscle helps to cause changes in the chemistry of the muscle, allowing for growth factors that include mTOR activation and satellite cell activation.
Muscular tension also most dramatically effects the connection of the motor units with the muscle cells. Two other factors help to explain why some people can be stronger, but not as big as other people.
Muscle Growth Mechanism #2: Muscle Damage
If you’ve ever felt sore after a workout, you have experienced the localized muscle damage from working out. This local muscle damage causes a release of inflammatory molecules and immune system cells that activate satellite cells to jump into action. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel sore in order for this to happen, but instead that the damage from the workout has to be present in your muscle cells. Typically soreness is attenuated over time by other mechanisms.
Muscle Growth Mechanism #3: Metabolic Stress
If you’ve ever felt the burn of an exercise or had the “pump” in the gym, then you’ve felt the effects of metabolic stress. Scientists used to question bodybuilders when they said the “pump” caused their muscles to become larger. After more investigation, it seems as though they were onto something.
Metabolic stress causes cell swelling around the muscle, which helps to contribute to muscle growth without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle cells. This is from the addition of muscle glycogen, which helps to swell the muscle along with connective tissue growth. This type of growth is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and is one of the ways that people can get the appearance of larger muscles without increases in strength.
So now that you know the three main mechanisms of muscle growth, the next question is: how do hormones affect muscle growth?
How Do Hormones Affect How Muscles Grow?
Hormones are another component largely responsible for muscle growth and repair because of their role in regulating satellite cell activity. Insulin Growth Factor (IGF)-1, in particular Mecho-Growth Factor (MGF) and testosterone are the two most vital mechanisms that promote muscle growth.
Testosterone is the main hormone that most people think about when working out with weights, and there seems to be some validity to the thought that testosterone increases protein synthesis, inhibits protein breakdown, activates satellite cells, and stimulates other anabolic hormones. Although most testosterone is bound in the body and therefore not available to use (up to 98%), strength training seems to help not only release more testosterone, but also make the receptors of your muscle cells more sensitive to your free testosterone. Testosterone can also stimulate growth hormone responses by increasing the presence of neurotransmitters at the damaged fiber site, which can help to activate tissue growth.
The IGF regulates the amount of muscle mass growth by enhancing protein synthesis, facilitating glucose uptake, repartitioning the uptake of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into skeletal muscles and once again, activates satellite cells to increase muscle growth.
Why Muscles Need Rest To Grow
If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state. The response of muscle protein metabolism to a resistance exercise bout lasts for 24-48 hours; thus, the interaction between protein metabolism and any meals consumed in this period will determine the impact of the diet on muscle hypertrophy. Keep in mind there is a certain limit on how much your muscles can actually grow dependent on gender, age, and genetics. For instance, men have more testosterone than women, which allows them to build bigger and stronger muscles.
Why Rapid Muscle Growth Is Unlikely
Muscle hypertrophy takes time and is relatively slow for the majority of people. People will generally not see visible growth for several weeks or months as most initial changes are due to the ability of your nervous system to activate your muscles.
In addition to that, different people have different genetics, which range from hormonal output, muscle fiber type and number, along with satellite cell activation, that can all limit muscle growth. To ensure you’re doing your best to grow muscle, muscle protein synthesis must exceed muscle protein breakdown. This requires that you take in an adequate source of protein (especially essential amino acids) and carbohydrates to help facilitate the cellular process of rebuilding broken down muscle tissue. Visible muscle growth and evident physical changes in your body’s muscle structure can be highly motivational which is why understanding the science behind how muscles actually grow is important.
How Muscles Grow: Conclusion
For muscle breakdown and growth to occur you must force your muscles to adapt by creating stress that is different than the previous threshold your body has already adapted to. This is can be done by lifting heavier weights, continually changing your exercises so that you can damage more total muscle fibers and pushing your muscles to fatigue while getting a “pump.” After the workout is completed, the most important part begins which is adequate rest and providing ample fuel to your muscles so they can regenerate and grow.
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We’ve all been there. Too tired, too busy, we skip the workout we planned. We know exercise is beneficial: it reduces stress, helps prevent chronic health conditions, manages weight, and increases energy levels. When excuses are all too handy, motivation is hard to come by.
Exercise doesn’t have to be something we dread or something we resign ourselves to do simply because we know we should. Here is a simple guide to help you get and stay on the exercise track so that you can reap the many benefits of physical activity.
Find a goal that excites you
What motivates one person may not necessarily work for someone else. The first step in switching to an active lifestyle is reflecting on what drives you personally. People commonly cite losing weight or staying in shape as motivators to exercise. Yet these goals are unspecific and uninspiring.
According to life coach Jey Wyder, a good way to motivate yourself to exercise is to tie exercise with a secondary goal—something that excites you and pulls you forward. To find out what kind of secondary goal might drive you, ask yourself: What do I enjoy doing? What am I passionate about?
Maybe you are passionate about giving back to the community. You could try signing up for a charity run and raising money for a cause you care about. Perhaps you enjoy socializing. You could start a walking club with like-minded friends or join an exercise class.
Are you a numbers person? Try using a heart-rate monitor. Competitive? Join a sports league or strive to beat your own fastest time. If you enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill try martial arts, ballroom dancing, or fencing.
Whatever goal you decide upon, make sure it is something you like. Be honest with yourself. If something doesn’t inspire you, it’s not worth pretending it does.
Create conditions for success
Becoming a regular exerciser is about changing habits. As we know, habits tend to stick. Yet change is possible.
“If you change all of the parts [of your life] you are less likely to go back to your old habits,” says Wyder. When you want to change your habits, you must take into account four components of your life: your thoughts and emotions, your physical environment, your physical actions, and your network of support.
To illustrate this, take the example of running. People who are trying to run regularly need to find a running goal that excites them (a change in thoughts and emotions); they need to find a running route they like (a change in physical environment); they need to get out and do the running (a change in physical actions); and they need to surround themselves with people who support their goal, for example, a running club (a network of support).
Whatever your goal is, find ways to integrate it with all areas of your life. ‰ In doing so, you’ll find it more difficult to return to your non-exercising ways.
Find something that works for you
Everyone is busy. Lack of time is a common excuse for skipping exercise. Take a look at your life and find something that works for you. Perhaps a workout right after work is best for you. Or maybe a short walk in the morning before the kids are awake is what gets you active.
Understand also that exercise will make you more effective in other areas of your life. Taking time out of work to go for a walk or take an aerobics, spinning, or yoga class might be just what you need to get your mind on track so you can meet that crushing deadline.
Be easy on yourself
Other common mistakes people make when starting an exercise program are going too fast too soon or being self-critical about slip-ups. Your goal is to become a regular exerciser, not to become the perfect exerciser. You may have bad days. You may have a whole week (or more) where you don’t do anything. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it. Adopt perseverance, not perfection as a motto.
“If you can just show up [to exercise], and keep showing up, one day at a time, change will happen,” says Wyder. “Don’t expect perfection—in the class or the run or the game, whatever it is. Keep showing up, and every time you do, you are that little bit healthier than you were before.” The key then is to keep showing up. Even if you only exercise a little each time, you are moving in the right direction.
Take advantage of community resources Starting an exercise plan does not necessarily mean laying down a ton of money. Local community centres are great resources for those looking for inexpensive ways to get active.
You may also want to talk to your local health practitioner or check out your local health food store for information about inexpensive exercise events happening in your community. Running stores often host free running clinics in the evenings. These events can be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and get involved in your community while exercising.
Yes, it is possible to overcome the inertia that stops you from getting out there. Once you get going you’ll find that exercising becomes a new habit that you enjoy and look forward to every day.
Quick tips to get yourself exercising
Make a date
Enlist a friend as an exercise buddy. It’ll be harder to skip a workout if you know someone else is counting on you to show up. This same principle works for sports teams: if you miss a game, you have a whole team of people annoyed at you.
Put down a bit of money
It’s amazing how motivated you can become when your money is involved. Even something as simple as paying a small race fee can help get you out training. If you are paying for something, you’re going to want to get your money’s worth.
Write it in your calendar
Set aside a particular time in the week to exercise and write it down. This helps you stay organized so that you can plan the rest of your life around your workouts and not the other way around.
Set up small incentives
Decide on a small reward for yourself if you fit in all your planned workouts for a specific period of time—say a week or a month. Your reward might be something like new exercise socks, a pedicure, or a self-indulgent hour at the spa.
Set aside your exercise gear
Laying out your gear ahead of time will help you save time and eliminate yet one more excuse not to exercise.
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Here's what you need to know...
• Booze isn't so much a fat storer as it is a fat burning suppressor.
• Heavy drinking has several mechanisms that will smash muscle protein synthesis and recovery from training.
• Athletes who drink post-competition don't seem to be all that impacted by it, as long as they take a couple of days off.
• The effects of alcohol depends a lot on what you drink (beer, wine or mixed drinks), how much, when, and what you eat with it.
When you drink beer, wine, or spirits, the ethanol in those beverages is given priority by your body in metabolism. It stops pretty much everything else and goes to work in a four step process that looks like this:
Ethanol → Acetaldehyde → Acetate → Acetyl-CoA
Acetate and acetyl-CoA can be used for energy by the body but it's costly. One gram of alcohol is said to contain 7 calories, but like protein, its conversion into energy is inefficient and 17 to 20% of its energy is lost. In other words, like protein it has a very high thermogenic effect.
Also like protein, and contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not easily converted to fat. That process is too costly. But all that acetate and acetyl-CoA showing up in the cells does signal to the body that no sugar or fat needs to be burned. So rather than a fat storer, alcohol is more of a fat burning suppressor.
By now you're probably thinking, "Hold the hell up! Are you saying alcohol is not as bad as I thought?" What I'm saying is, there's way more to the alcohol story you don't know. And yes, if used intelligently, it probably isn't that bad.
Muscle, Body Fat and Performance
To build muscle and burn fat you need to manage calories and hormones. Alcohol impacts both. When you drink you consume calories. And under certain conditions it can impact the hormones that help your body build muscle and stay lean. Alcohol also has its own effects as a cellular messenger and as such impacts brain chemistry and muscle cell signaling. And all this has an impact on building muscle, burning fat and performing at top level in sports.
Here's the part that's going to blow your mind. You may be able to use alcohol and still be able to get great results. That is, if you know how to use it and what you're using it for. If you're gonna drink - and you probably are - the goal is to do it with minimal impact on your physique or your performance.
Does Alcohol Halt Muscle Building?
You've probably heard alcohol crushes muscle building. And in this area you are probably correct. My friend back in college may have stayed lean, but his alcohol habit may have been the reason he couldn't put on size. Alcohol has several mechanisms that will negatively impact muscle protein synthesis and recovery from exercise. However, as long as you keep it moderate you may be safe.
Alcohol has these effects on muscle metabolism: raises myostatin, decreases glycogen resynthesis, decreases post-exercise inflammation (yes, this is a bad thing), suppresses exercise induced mTOR (likely by reducing cellular phosphatidic acid) and it may impair insulin and IGF-1 signaling. If you're not a biochemistry buff, all this equals BAD for muscle.
However, there does seem to be some caveats. An excellent review by Matthew J. Barnes published in the June 2014 issue of Sports Medicine shows some very clear rules when it comes to alcohol and highlights several studies you'll want to know about. In one study, Barnes gave subjects 1g/kg alcohol or a equal volume of a non-alcoholic beverage. These drinks were consumed 30 minutes after having them complete 300 eccentric reps for the quads (ouch!). So, basically there was a group drinking the hell out of some booze and another group getting their swerve on with a jug of Tropicana (the control group drank orange juice).
Both groups were trashed 36 and 60 hours after the workout in terms of strength in isometric (holding), concentric (raising), eccentric (lowering) contractions. But the alcohol group's muscles had a much worse hangover. They performed 22%, 12% and 15% percent worse in those three measures compared to the OJ group.
To make this more tangible for you, and so you can understand how much booze was consumed, 1g/kg is 1g/2.2pounds. That equates to about 80g of alcohol for a 180-pound person. And since the average alcoholic drink (4-5oz wine, 12oz beer, 1.5oz spirits) has about 14g of alcohol in it, if my math is right, that's about six alcoholic drinks.
So the study results are about what you'd expect, right? But here's the part that you'll love if you like to drink. Barnes did a similar study where he pitted 1g/kg alcohol consumption against .5g/kg alcohol consumption. And that showed once again that the 1g/kg alcohol level torpedoed muscle recovery, but the .5g/kg alcohol consumption had no effect.
So for that same 180-pound dude, six drinks crushed him. But three drinks and he stayed in the clear. That's a pretty useful rule of thumb if you ask me. And this same threshold level of .5g/kg alcohol is backed up on other studies showing higher levels negatively impact rehydration metabolism.
How Does Drinking Affect Performance?
There are some general guidelines as it pertains to recovery from athletic events. It may shock you to learn that athletes who drink post-competition don't seem to be all that impacted by it. My favorite study on this was done on a bunch of rugby players. Rugby dudes just look like they can drink, don't they?
In this study, these guys drank on average 20 standard drinks. That's about 3g/kg or three times the amount we were talking about in the Barnes studies. In other words, these guys got trashed after their match. Guess what happened two days later when they showed up for practice? They performed at top level like nothing ever happened!
Based on this and a few other studies in the performance area, if your liver doesn't explode you'll probably be able to perform just fine after a few days. To be on the safe side though, I'd take those days off.
How Does Beer and Wine Affect Fat Loss?
When we get into alcohol and fat loss, things get a bit tricky. In this realm we have to look at calories, endocrine effects (which impact muscle too) and the context in which alcohol is consumed.
Let's review what we already know. The biochemistry of alcohol metabolism says that it has a very high thermic effect, just like protein. It's also costly energetically for alcohol to be stored. When acetate and acetyl-coA build up, this shuts down burning of other fuels like carbs and fats. Studies support this. When carbs or fat are replaced calorie-for-calorie with alcohol, there's no fat storing effect. Some of the research even hints there may be a weight loss effect in the same way that subbing protein in place of fat and carbs might have.
Another thing we have to look at is how alcohol impacts food intake. This seems to be individualized with some suffering from a "disinhibition effect" and others not. By disinhibition I mean that people's natural control mechanisms to regulate the amount of food they eat is reduced. So, just as people become uninhibited when they drink and say all types of crazy stuff they wouldn't say sober, others can eat all kinds of food they may not eat when they're sober.
This impact on appetite may vary with the type of alcohol consumed too. There are a few rules here to know. Beer is bitter and bitter compounds release GLP-1, which is a hunger suppressing compound. Beer also seems to lower cortisol in the short run and in lower doses. Higher doses may have the reverse effect. This is important because we now know cortisol is involved in hunger and cravings, and switches off the motivation centers in the brain while amping up the reward centers. This may also be related to the hops in beer which, as an herb, has a sedating quality.
Red wine contains histamine which raises cortisol. So we assume this would mean increased appetite. Spirits and white wine have neither the bitter compounds or the histamine content of beer and red wine, so it would be difficult to speculate the effects.
A study out of the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior by Dr. Anna Kokavec shows exactly what we'd predict. Beer lowers cortisol and has a short-term appetite suppressing effect. Red wine raises cortisol fairly quickly and stimulates the appetite faster too. White wine was similar to beer. Spirits were not looked at in this study.
It does seem to be clear that any alcohol will raise cortisol eventually. The effects just seem to be time dependent in the case of beer, and impacted by amount as well. We now know cortisol has some impact on appetite, but it also plays a role in workout recovery. You don't want cortisol high in either scenario.
Alcohol also seems to impact brain chemistry which is known to impact hunger and cravings. It raises dopamine and lowers serotonin. Dopamine is associated with desire and reward. It raises adrenaline and also lowers melatonin. This can negatively impact sleep, which is highly correlated with increased hunger and cravings.
A research report out of the journal Appetite gives us the following points related to alcohol intake taken before meals. All alcohol increases food intake but the strength of this effect depended on the drink consumed. The breakdown from this study, plus my extrapolation of a few others, goes like this:
Beer & White Wine < Red Wine < Mixed Drinks
Testosterone and Other Hormones
And what about the reported effects alcohol has on testosterone, estrogen and other hormones. This seems to depend on the amount and context in which the alcohol is consumed . Again, the threshold level of .5g/kg comes up in the research. Alcohol intake at this level seems to have little impact on testosterone at all.
Alcohol may impact you differently depending on what you do. Consuming alcohol after exhaustive endurance exercise definitely exaggerates the lowered testosterone levels typically seen in this type of activity. The study showing this used 1.5g/kg. That's about eight or nine drinks for our theoretical 180 pound man.
But when drinking occurs after weight training at levels of 1.09gkg (about five or six drinks), both free and total testosterone levels are actually elevated. Could my college buddy have been correct about his post-workout beer habit?
By the way, most research on women seems to suggest alcohol may raise testosterone levels a bit. And if you understand female physiology, this is not a great thing, especially for their midsections.
When it comes to testosterone, the rules seem to be:
1. Keep alcohol consumption light (less than three drinks).
2. If you're going to drink more, do it after weight training.
3. Alcohol after cardio is not a great idea.
HGH and Estrogen
Alcohol also lowers HGH, but it really doesn't seem to impact estrogen the way we once thought. A three week intervention on men and post-menopausal women showed once again that the .5g/kg alcohol level (about 30-40g alcohol in this study) had no impact on circulating estrogen. And two other studies I looked at using 1.5g/kg alcohol and 1.75g of alcohol didn't seem to impact estrogen either. Surprised? So was I. It seems that if anyone is going to be impacted by increased estrogen as it relates to alcohol it's women and not men.
Obviously an entire book could be written on this subject. The research is confusing and contradictory at times, and more studies need to be done. But we can make some general points.
• When including alcohol at meals, avoid carbs and fat. Stick to protein and veggies. You'll ramp up the thermic effect of the meal and avoid storing those fat and carb cals.
• When choosing your alcohol, go with beer and white wine. They seem to have a better impact on appetite.
• Avoid mixed drinks. The alcohol plus sugar means you're likely to store that sugar plus you'll drink more.
• Alcohol intake under .5g/kg may be the threshold to keep you safe from any negative effects related to muscle wasting, fat gain, endocrine dysfunction and performance issues. (Yes, both types of performance issues!)
• Alcohol after cardio may not be a great idea.
• Alcohol after weight training may be the best time to drink, but keep your intake under 1g/kg.
• As long as you're doing most other things right and not drinking yourself into a stupor nightly, your worries of man-boobs and shriveled testicles are likely overblown.
Final point: Alcohol is a non-nutritive calorie source. It'll drain your levels of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium and others. This can put you at risk for what's known as long-latency diseases or issues. This is when the metabolism suffers slowly over time due to poor nutrition. So make sure you supplement with a good quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement any time you drink.
One thing that I can’t stress enough for maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to MEAL PREP! No matter what your goals are, whether it’s strictly to look as bad ass as you can or if it’s just to feel healthier, meal prep is essential!
Making food at home takes time. Without a plan, it’s hard to stay consistent throughout the week. Learning how to effectively meal prep is a necessity if you want to stick to a clean eating diet.
Having a schedule or having everything written down what you are going to eat will not only help you stick to your plan, it’ll make everything so much simpler.
First, you’ll want to set yourself up with a system. I like to plan ahead and meal prep for a whole week, sometimes it’s hard enough trying to plan two days in advance, so set yourself up with a schedule that will work for you. I will typically go to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, and again on Wednesday evenings. I pick up everything I need for that week.
I am a creature of habit, so I do well with general guidelines that I can repeat one week to the next.
Next, you’ll want to pick out a variety of food, based on your goals for each meal of the day. Come up with four to five different options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I try and use ingredients that I already have in the fridge/pantry to limit the amount of food that gets wasted. Choose different types of grains, produce, and protein sources to cover your meals for the length of your schedule.
Whichever was is easiest for you, make sure you are writing down your meal plan. A chalkboard in the kitchen, or calendar on the fridge is always a good option. If you are a little more tech savvy like me, something like www.myfitnesspal.com might be a better more fun option for you. A lot of times, I will just copy an old meal plan on the weeks that are a little busier. Just remember, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to switch out the foods you are eating. If you eat the same meals every single day, your body starts to deprive itself of nutrients that exist in other type of foods that you may be cutting out.
A goal that I set for myself is to try one new recipe per week. I really love making a clean version of “regular” foods.
Here is a template that I tend to go by, insert your own variations of foods and eat smaller meals more times a day.
Meal 1: Breakfast
Meal 2: Snack
Meal 3: Lunch
Meal 4: Mid-Day Snack
Meal 5: Dinner
Meal 6: Snack (optional)
Once you have four to five different choice for each category, create several different meal plans and switch them out as the days/weeks pass.
Next, get in the kitchen! Plan one or two nights per week that are dedicated to being in the kitchen. Mine are Wednesdays and Sundays. A good tip for measuring portion control is well, measuring! Measure and weigh all your food! Now when you are preparing meals for an entire family, I understand how that may be a little difficult, and you aren’t going to necessarily weigh out your kids foods! So just keep your overall goals in mind when preparing your meals.
I have an array of Tupperware. It’s my best friend in meal prepping. Put all of your meals in “to go” Tupperware and you’re set!
I’m writing about protein because I receive many e-mails asking about my diet; people wonder if I only eat protein, if I eat just fish, how much protein to include in the daily diet, etc.
First I want to be very clear about the quantity of protein, because over-eating protein or other macronutrients will result in fat and weight gain. It’s also important to know that the calories are very important when you design a diet. To know the exact grams that a person has to eat is impossible, but some research can help to find a good formula for a balanced diet.
So how do you calculate your protein needs? It depends on multiple factors, including height, weight, activity (sedentary, active, elite athlete).
Usually the formula is:
• Average healthy sedentary adult: 0.5-.7 grams of protein per pound bodyweight
• Average healthy active adult: 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight
You’ll also find this proportion in some bodybuilding and fitness articles: 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. To do this, you’ll need to know how many calories your body needs each day.
To factor protein into your total daily calorie intake, you just need to know that 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories. Multiply the grams of protein you’re going to eat each day by 4 to figure out exactly how many calories your protein intake will account for. For example, my weight is 130 pounds. I eat 130 grams of protein per day, and 130X4= 520 calories from protein per day.
Here are some protein facts:
• The American Heart Association recommends that 10 to 15 percent of your daily calorie intake come from a source of protein.
• Protein is a vital part of every tissue, cell and organ in your body. Protein is in a constant process of being broken down and replaced by the essential amino acids in your diet. Proteins are composed of chains of 20 different kinds of amino acids.
• Hair and nails are mostly made of protein.
• Your body uses protein to make enzymes, antibodies, hormones and other body chemicals.
Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, teeth and blood.
• The smallest units of proteins (amino acids) fall in either of the following types:
• Non-essential amino acids: alanine, cysteine, glycine, serine, histidine, tyrosine, cystine, proline, arginine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid and glutamine.
• Essential amino acids: Valine, threonine, leucine, lysine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine and tryptophan.
The most common high-protein foods are:
• Chicken (skinless)
• Turkey (skinless)
• Fish (all kinds)
• Beef (leaner cuts)
• Pork (leaner cuts)
• Whole eggs, egg whites
• Protein supplements (whey protein powder, casein protein powder, etc.)
• Beans (all kinds)
• Nuts (all kinds)
I hope this article helps you to understand that the quality, calories and quantity are important for achieving a balanced diet. If you eat more than your body needs, you will gain fat. Balance is the key!
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Check with your doctor before following a sodium-depletion regimen.
• Choose a target date for looking your most shredded. This can be the date of a physique contest, photo shoot or wedding.
• Starting about two weeks before this date, keep sodium content on the moderate to high side. Consume at least 2,500 milligrams of sodium a day for the next week, allowing your body to adjust.
• Reduce sodium five days before this event. Take in only about 1,500 milligrams of sodium for the next two days. Be conscious that many condiments and salad dressings are high in sodium. Drink at least a gallon of water each day.
• Eliminate sodium three days before your target day. Prepare your own food and avoid processed foods, which may have more sodium than labels indicate. Drink at least a gallon of water, emphasizing spring water for its lower sodium content.
• Emphasize diuretic foods and supplements at this point. Diuretic foods include asparagus, cranberries, lemons, oats, ginger and Brussels sprouts. Diuretic supplements include caffeine, dandelion root and horsetail. You can seek out a multi-ingredient supplement designed for this purpose, often included as part of a fat-loss supplement.
• Cut water intake the day before your target. Continue on your no-salt regimen, but reduce water to no more than a half gallon a day. Only sip water or take in ice chips during the latter part of the day.
• On your target day. Admire your physique, and only take in sips of water.
• After your target day. Re-introduce sodium gradually, only increasing by about 500 milligrams per day. You will naturally increase fluid retention by adding more salt, and this can be uncomfortable if you do it too quickly. Also take in more water, but keep it to about a gallon for the first few days as your body re-accommodates to normal hydration and electrolyte intake.
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Our butt (or, in technical terms, our gluteal area) is comprised of three muscles. The first and outermost layer is our gluteus maximus muscle. This muscle is the largest of the gluteal area (some peoples’ being much larger than others, much to their chagrin).
One of the most powerful muscles in the body, its function is to extend and outwardly rotate the hip and extend the trunk. Contrary to popular usage, it is not meant to be sat on all day long.
The other two muscles located around our rear end are the gluteus medius muscle, responsible for rotating and abducting the leg, and the gluteus minimus, the smallest glute muscle located deep within the hip joint.
Strong Butt, Strong Back
A strong rear end strengthens the lower back. This is a necessity for anyone who suffers with lower back pain as well as for those who play sports. The glutes play a major role in running, kicking, lunging, and squatting–movements used in many commonly played sports.
In 2006 the American Council on Exercise commissioned and released a study to determine the best exercises for our gluteus maximus muscle. Using electromyographic (EMG) analysis, researchers compared the muscle recruitment patterns of eight gluteal exercises.
They tested the squat, single-leg squat, vertical leg press, horizontal leg press, quadruped hip extension, step-up, lunge, and four-way hip extension. As the squat elicited the most gluteal involvement, it was used by researchers as a baseline to compare the results of the other exercises.
The good news is that all eight worked the glute muscles, proving that these are easy muscles to target. However, of the eight, the vertical and horizontal leg press fired up the least amount of glute muscle and the quadruped hip extension, four-way hip extension, and squat fired up the most gluteal muscle.
The Best Exercises for Our Gluteus Maximus Muscle
- Step forward with one foot and drop your back knee down toward the floor.
- Make sure that you keep the front knee directly over the centre of the foot.
- Push down and forward through your back heel to return to the start position.
- Repeat on the other leg, alternating 10 to 15 reps per side.
- Stand with good posture behind a tall bench, step, or sturdy chair.
- Place your left foot on the top and transfer your weight to that leg as you step up.
- Keep the right leg passive, especially as you step up, tap the top of the bench with your right foot and then slowly lower yourself using the left leg only.
- Perform 10 to 15 reps with one leg and then switch.
- Stand with good posture on top of a tall bench, step, or sturdy chair.
- Allow your left leg to dangle and slowly bend the right leg pushing your bum rearward as you squat down.
- Come down as low as you feel comfortable and then come back so your leg is fully extended.
- Be sure that your right knee tracks with the second toe and stays behind your laces.
- Steady yourself by staring at something stationary; this will help maintain your balance.
- Perform 10 to 15 reps with the right leg and then switch legs.
Quadruped Hip Extensions
- On your hands and knees, slightly contract your abdominals to stabilize your torso and spine.
- Lift one leg up behind you, keeping the knee bent at 90 degrees.
- Lift the leg until the bottom of the foot is pointing toward the ceiling and the upper thigh is lined up with the body. Repeat 10 to 15 times and change legs.
As a trainer, I recommend that you try performing the squat on an unbalanced surface (such as a wobble board or BOSU) to fire up even more muscles.
- To squat, make sure that you press your bum rearward, as if you were going to sit in a chair.
- Maintain a neutral spine and lower yourself as low as you feel comfortable.
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Forget the human condition—knee pain is the one unifying force that most of us have experienced on some level. A sprain, a twist, a dislocation, a bruise; certain acute injuries are unavoidable. Many chronic injuries are avoidable, however, but there’s no need to put up with persistent pain.
For the love of knees
If you’ve ever been injured, chances are you’ve heard of rehabilitation or rehab: repairing and strengthening an injured muscle, joint, or bone, and nursing it back to health. For a few decades now, athletic trainers and strength and condition coaches of elite-level athletes have been employing something called “prehab.”
Prehab exercises strengthen and stretch the muscles that support the joints in an effort to avoid injury altogether. You may not be a professional athlete, but your legs are the key to your mobility, and your knee health is paramount to an active, healthy lifestyle.
The bane of your existence
How many times have sore knees or the threat of pain stopped you from participating? You wake up, they’re sore. You go to sleep, they’re sore. You sit, you stand, they’re sore—but they don’t have to be. Many knee problems are caused by weakness or tightness in surrounding muscles, which means they can be fixed.
Other problems, such as bursitis (inflamed fluid-filled pads at the joint) and tendinitis (inflamed tendons from overuse) can be healed with sufficient rest and inflammation control through the use of ice and anti-inflammatories.
Go low impact
If you suffer from tendinitis, osteoarthritis, or patellofemoral pain syndrome (characterized by a dull ache under the kneecap when squatting or walking down stairs), avoid exercises or activities that involve jumping, hopping, running, or sporadic and random lateral movement. Instead, opt for low-impact activities on predictable surfaces.
Warm up properly
To properly rehabilitate your knees, you will experience some discomfort when doing exercises. Make sure to have a good warm-up, such as a five- or 10-minute walk, to get synovial fluid flowing in your joints, and perform all exercises with control and appropriate resistance. Afterward apply ice to reduce swelling.
If you’ve spent a lifetime abusing your knees, you may be looking for a little added support. While surgery and expensive braces may ultimately be the answer, it’s possible that supplements may help alleviate some discomfort. Visit your local health and nutrition store or a natural health practitioner for recommendations.
A quick lesson in leg anatomy
When talking about knee strengthening exercises and muscles that affect knee movement health, the focus is on the four muscles of the quadriceps:
|sartorius||runs across the thigh, from the outside of the hip to the inside of the knee||kicking a soccer ball with the inside of the foot|
|vastus intermedius||muscle in the top middle of the thigh||walking|
|vastus lateralis||big muscle on the outside of the thigh||getting up from a squat position|
|vastus medialis||big muscle on the inside of the thigh||walking|
Need to succeed
Whether you’re hoping to avoid future knee injuries or currently suffer from knee pain and want to be rid of it, consistently performing the following exercises should start to provide noticeable relief.
Complete 3 sets of each exercise for 20 repetitions, or as directed. This circuit may be done at home and is performed every other day to allow muscles to recover. It’s best to do this workout wearing shorts or clothing that lets you see your leg muscles clearly.
Muscles targeted: vastus medialis, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, gastrocnemius
- Begin by standing on your toes with your feet together and your arms relaxed by your sides.
- As you hop your feet out to shoulder-width apart, drop down into a seated position, allowing your arms to swing forward while keeping your weight in your heels.
- As you drop down to chair seat height, be sure to have your knees and toes turn outward at a 45-degree angle.
- Pop up to starting position, ensuring your knees still track outward over your toes.
- You should finish on your toes as tall as possible.
Muscles targeted: vastus medialis
- Sit on the ground with legs outstretched in front of you, feet roughly hip-width apart.
- While actively pointing toes toward you, rotate them out to the sides as far as possible, keeping your heels on the ground.
- With your left side, flex your inner thigh muscle as tightly as possible and lift your entire leg off the ground.
- After a brief pause, lower your left leg and relax the muscle.
- Do 20 lifts and then switch sides for 20 more lifts.
Note: it is important to contract your inner thigh muscle before your outer thigh muscle, as this exercise trains the timing of muscular activation.
Single-leg High Squat
Muscles targeted: vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, sartorius, gluteus medius
- Use a chair with a seat height 2 in (5 cm) above the back of your knee.
- With your back to the chair seat, stand on your left foot with your toe pointed forward and your right foot raised 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm) off the ground in front of you.
- While maintaining a tall upper body, slowly lower your bum to lightly touch the top of the seat. While you may use your arms to assist at first, the goal is to be hands free!
- When you feel the touch, slowly stand back up to starting position, making sure to push your hips all the way forward.
- It’s critical to watch your knee track directly over your toes while lowering and raising yourself, being careful not to let your knee cave inward.
- Perform 20 reps on the left leg and then 20 on the right.
Note: to adjust difficulty, raise or lower seat height.
Standing Quadricep Extensions
Muscles targeted: vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, sartorius
- Place one end of a resistance band on the other side of the top of a door and close the door. The resistance band handle will be anchored on the other side.
- Loop the handle of the resistance band around the arch of your right foot, adjusting it so that the tubing extends under your foot.
- Situate yourself about 6 1/2 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m) from the door, facing the opposite direction while holding onto a chair in front of you for balance.
- Keeping your left foot on the ground and your knees touching, raise your right heel toward your glutes. Ensuring your inside quadricep muscle fires first, slowly return your foot as if kicking a ball, so that your leg finishes completely straight, flexing your muscle as much as possible.
- Do 20 reps on your right side and then perform 20 on the left.
Progression: stand farther from the door to increase the tension.
Ball Squeeze Toe Squat
Muscles targeted: vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius
- Find a slightly underinflated ball roughly the size of a soccer ball.
- Place the ball between your legs, slightly above your knees.
- Squeeze your knees together as tightly as possible and align your feet so that if you look down, your toes are directly below your knees.
- When you have found the proper width, put a 1 1/2 to 2 in (4 to 5 cm) high object under each of your heels. A sturdy book or a door jamb will do nicely!
- While squeezing the ball tightly and keeping toes pointed straight forward, squat down to chair seat height, while maintaining equal weight distribution throughout your feet.
- Still squeezing the ball, stand all the way up to starting position.
Progression: add weight by holding a dumbbell at your chest.
Rock and Roller
Muscles targeted: tensor fasciae latae, iliotibial band (IT band), sartorius
- Use a foam roller or a tennis ball.
- Lie on your side on top of the roller so that it’s lined up horizontal to your body.
- Situate yourself so that the roller is putting direct pressure on your tensor fasciae latae, (located below and behind your hip bone); it will be tender.
- Lie on the roller, applying as much weight as you can bear while still relaxing your leg muscles.
- After holding for 60 seconds twice, slowly roll your body, allowing the roller to go all the way down the side of your leg to your knee.
- Carefully roll it back up your leg to your hip.
- Repeat this 15 times.
- Turn over so you are face down on the floor. Move your body to the side of the roller and deliberately roll from your hip down to your knee and back again 15 more times.
- Do the same circuit with your other leg.
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You've probably done an elbow plank so many times by now that you know the drill by heart: straight back, belly button pulled in, and palms flat on your mat (trying not to clasp them in a prayer pose if possible). But I, recommend my clients do a slight modification that's a little more challenging: when in elbow plank, flip your hands over so your palms are facing up.
Pressing through an elbow plank with palms facing down will help keep back muscles engaged and clasping hands together in a fist will enlist your chest muscles to help stabilize you, but flipping your hands over will make your plank even more about the core. "Performing a plank with palms up [will] disengage some of the support from the muscles of the hand and forearm," she says. In other words, simply moving your hands will help you get on the fast track to bikini-ready abs.
Another reason to go palms up? You'll help unround those hunched-over shoulders. "It takes the pronator teres (one of the major forearm muscles) and positions it in what is called the 'anatomical position' (palms forward when standing, palms up when prone in a plank), which is the most desirable position in which to function," "We are all busy typing on keyboards these days, encouraging a particular position of the forearm: palms down. Simply repositioning the forearms in your plank helps to create a balance."
Sculpted abs and looking taller are two great Spring-ready reasons to try the "palms up" modification the next time you're in an elbow plank, but don't worry if making this change has you collapsing into Child's pose sooner than you're used to. "When you perform a plank, perform it to the best of your ability in the moment you're in — palms in prayer, palms flat, or palms up, it's probably one more plank than you did yesterday, right? Keep it up!"
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Experienced exercisers know the importance of protein, and while physiques are fine-tuned in the gym, they’re really assembled at mealtime. But adequate protein is more than the ticket to a sleeker, fitter physique. It turns out chowing down on those aminos could be even more important for women when it comes to appearance and long-term health. And an increasing amount of research is highlighting the importance of protein to the female diet, especially among active women.
We’ve got 10 reasons why protein is the macro-nutrient (aka a big category of nutrients like protein, carbs, or fat) that deserves your love this month — and all months moving forward.
(Think you might be slacking in the protein category? Don’t worry, we’ve included tons of great options for upping healthy protein intake throughout!)
1. Protein Is Better at Keeping Women Lean
The Atkins Diet made bacon-lovers rejoice, but not all of us are ravenous carnivores (can’t we all just get along?). But there was definitely something to the trend: Cutting back on carbs and replacing those calories with protein contributes to a decrease in fat tissue.
And research suggests that effect is significantly more pronounced in women (who typically have a higher percentage of body fat) than in men1. Perhaps another reason to celebrate the power of cheesecake.
2. Protein Controls Hunger All Day
Quick! What was your go-to breakfast as a kid? If a basically-candy cereal is the first answer that pops into your head, chances are it’s time to recalibrate the morning routine.
Eating a high-protein meal early in the day — Greek Yogurt with fresh fruit, for example — triggers a hormonal response that helps keep hunger at bay all day2. Chow down early to control eating often.
3. And It Will Keep You Fuller, Longer
Protein’s magic formula for satiety really works in two ways: It controls appetite later on and promotes a greater feeling of fullness than carbs or fat3. Basically, that means a food high in protein takes less to get you feeling full.
4. Protein Makes Your Body Burn More Calories
When compared to a higher-carb diet, higher-protein diets tend to trigger more thermogenesis (say that five times fast)4. Greater thermogenesis is generally what’s referred to when someone talks about a “faster metabloism,” and more protein can signal the body to burn more calories before, during, and after meals.
5. It’s Good for Bone Health
Women are at an especially high risk of bone degeneration So while protein often gets a bad rep as being bad-for-the-bones, it turns out this macronutrient is actually vital to proper calcium absorption and bone growth5. For the lactose-tolerant, that means dairy gives a great one-two punch of calcium and a full protein, all in one food. Many tasty protein supplements are also high in calcium and great on the go!
6. Protein Fights Off Aging
As we age, our bodies tend to lose muscle mass. Eating more protein — along with regular exercise, including resistance training — can help our bodies maintain and build muscles to keep us going strong well into the golden years6. Make sure to grab a protein shake or other high-protein snack post-workout to promote muscle repair!
7. Protein Protects from Stress
When we get stressed, all sorts of things go haywire on the inside: oxidative damage wreaks havoc on cells as our internal systems struggle to contain hormone influxes. But a diet high in protein — think between 0.8 and 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight, up to 50% over the “normal” recommendations for sedentary folks — can act as a buffer against this damage7. All systems go for protein!
8. It’s Great for Your Skin
Our skin takes a beating 24/7, and it’s especially under siege when the sun’s shining bright. UV damage takes a toll on our birthday suits and is a leading contributor to skin’s aging. Diets high in certain amino acids — the building blocks of protein — can help reduce the aging effect of outside elements like UV light (along with a quality sunscreen, of course)8. And BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) supplements can be an especially potent way to get those aminos conveniently.
9. It’s Also Great for Your Hair!
In order to keep growing to its fullest, hair needs a well-balanced diet — including lots of protein9. Experiencing slowed or no hair growth? Stress and/or a protein deficiency could be to blame.
10. It’s Delicious
Okay, so this one might be cheating, but let’s be real: Protein is a delicious part of any balanced diet. Chomping down on veggies and grains all day might seem great to a few of us, but you’re really cutting yourself off from countless great food options ranging from sweet to savory. And upping your protein intake isn’t just for the meat-eaters among us: When prepared in the right combinations, non-meat or dairy protein sources can give you all the amino acids necessary for everything from lean muscle to great hair.
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