Nutrition and workout advice for toning and building.
Getting stronger or staying strong is an important part of overall health. Muscles support joints and bones, and allow you to do the activities you want to do. Here, a personal trainer and registered dietician weigh in on how to build muscle mass with the right balance of exercise and foods.
The Exercise Basics
“The basic principle of getting stronger is muscle overload, or making muscles work harder than they’re used to,” says Dan Horras, owner of personal training gym E5Fit in Buckhead. “Stimulate muscles, then give them time to rest and recover, and repeat the process.” It’s in the recovery state when everything from abs to biceps become stronger.
The average person should do a strength-training workout for 30-45 minutes, three days per week, says Horras. If you have time, you can do another two days of cardio, but he maintains that if you must choose because of a busy schedule, go for the strength training. “Cardio does not help you lose weight. Eighty percent of weight loss comes from diet, and the rest comes from muscle.”
To get stronger, he suggests focusing on compound exercises that involve a lot of muscles and making sure to work the entire body. Here are a few of his recommended exercises:
- Squats and lunges for core, back, glute and leg strength.
- Chest presses using dumbbells, a machine or pushups.
- A pulling exercise with bands or a machine to work the front of the body.
- Bracing moves that use the core to brace your body, such as planks.
Horras also encourages his clients not to focus on the scale since muscle weighs more than fat. “A pound of muscle is much denser and smaller than a pound of fat. Fat requires more space. You might gain pounds on the scale yet drop two dress sizes.”
The Nutrition Basics
Many people mistakenly think that protein is the key to building muscle, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. “Protein is important. However, if you are in a calorie deficit or not eating enough macronutrients, such as fats, carbs and proteins, to put the body in an anabolic state, it doesn’t matter how much protein you take in. Your body won’t have enough energy to create muscle,” says Lauren Barkan, registered dietician with Sheryl Westerman Nutrition in Sandy Springs.
To build muscle, eat more calories than you’re burning and have healthy sources of carbohydrates in your diet. “If your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates—its preferred energy source—it will use protein for energy, which is what is needed to build new muscle tissue,” says Barkan.
According to Barkan, good sources of carbohydrates that offer the most fiber and vitamins and minerals include whole grains, such as whole wheat breads, whole wheat pasta and brown rice; starchy plantbased foods, such as corn, beans and sweet and white potatoes; and fruit. And the best protein comes from lean sources of animal-based proteins. If you are a vegetarian or simply don’t like meat and seafood, the highest-protein, plant-based source is tofu.
While she’s not opposed to protein shakes and bars, Barkan suggests consuming those as snacks if you need to up your protein intake versus meal replacements so that meals remain more well-rounded.
So how many calories and how much protein, fat and carbs should you consume if you’re looking to put on muscle mass? It varies depending on your individual constitution, age, exercise routine and even genetics. A dietician can help determine what your body needs.
IS CREATINE GOOD FOR MUSCLE-BUILDING?
Creatine, an amino acid found in muscles, can be taken as a supplement if you feel you need more energy to complete a workout. “The purpose of creatine supplements, which have been proven safe and effective, is not to build muscle but to give muscles more energy so they take longer to fatigue, and you can work harder in the gym,” Barkan says.
SHERYL WESTERMAN NUTRITION
Managing Editor and Wellness Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Blogger at Badass + Healthy.