November 5, 2022

Gaining an Anabolic Advantage

As far as your muscles are concerned, your body is in one of two states; anabolism or catabolism.

Anabolism means that you are in an anabolic state where it is primed to repair and grow muscle tissue.

The opposite of this is a catabolic state, where you are in danger of losing muscle. Clearly, you need to be in an anabolic state as much as possible to build lean muscle.

That doesn’t just happen by chance.

In order to be in the ideal anabolic state, there are 10 steps you need to follow:

  1. Be protein positive
  2. Consume complex carbohydrates
  3. Be in a positive calorie balance
  4. Drink plenty of water
  5. Get sufficient recovery from your workouts
  6. Take the right supplements
  7. Avoid cardio
  8. Boost your testosterone levels
  9. Increase growth hormone levels
  10. Control Insulin and Glucagon Levels

Let’s drill down on these one at a time:

Be Protein Positive

Protein contains amino acids, which are the raw building materials of muscle. It is also rich in nitrogen, helping you to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, which is the ideal anabolic state.

To stay in positive protein balance, you should aim to consume between one and 1.5 g of protein per pound of body weight. Spread this out over five or six meals. As an example, a 180 pound guy should be consuming about 180 g of protein per day, or 30 g at each of his six meals, spread about three hours apart.

The best protein foods to keep you in positive protein balance are eggs, poultry, fish, beef, milk and whey protein powder.

you may also be interested in Vegan Protein Powder vs. Whey: Are They Equally Effective?

Consume Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, which is a powerful anabolic hormone that drives amino acids into your muscle cells. Carbs are also the body’s preferred source of energy. After your workout, however, your body store of carbohydrate energy, in the form of glycogen, will be depleted. Eating carbs after your workout will refill your muscles’ energy tanks, encouraging the body to hold onto protein to build new muscle.

You should aim to consume between 1.5 and 2 g of complex carbs out of body weight each day. So, our 180 pound guy will need around 275 g of complex carbs per day. They work out to about 45 g for every one of his six meals spread throughout the day.

Some excellent sources of complex carbs are oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, vegetables and yams.

Drink Plenty of Water

70% of your muscle is water. So, keeping up your water intake will ensure maximum muscle cell volume to keep you looking swole. On the other hand, skimping on water will have a negative effect on your muscle gains. When the body is dehydrated you are likely to be in a catabolic, muscle wasting state.

Start drinking water as soon as you get up in the morning, taking around half a liter of water first thing. Over the course of the day you should drink around a gallon, or close to 4 L, of water. You should also sip from your water bottle while you are working out.

Get Sufficient Recovery From Your Workouts

Your muscles don’t get bigger and stronger in the gym. It’s only when you allow them to rest and feed them properly that this takes place. During the workout, muscle protein breaks down. To restore protein balance, muscle protein synthesis is increased for at least 36 hours. It also takes about four days for the micro tears in the muscle fiber that have been caused by an intense weight training session to repair themselves.

So, when you are resting, your body is hard at work building new muscle tissue and restocking its energy stores. If you don’t get adequate rest between workouts, then your body will be in a catabolic state of negative protein balance and negative energy balance.

Sleep is critical to the workout recovery process. It is when we’re sleeping that most of our recovery and new muscle tissue building takes place. You should aim to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. Establish a regular sleep pattern and stick to it.

Take the Right Supplements

The right supplements can help you on your lean muscle daily journey. They can provide the extra nutrients to top off your dietary intake and stimulate muscle growth. Meal replacement formulas are a convenient substitute for whole food meals.

As we have already discovered, protein is a key anabolic ingredient. Consuming it in the form of a protein shake is a lot more convenient and cheaper than getting it through wholefood. After your workout, you should take a way to isolate protein powder, which also has about 30 g of complex carbohydrates per serving. Protein will stimulate protein synthesis, while the complex carbs will restore your muscle glycogen levels.

Another supplement you should seriously consider taking is creatine. This is an anabolic fuel to restock your energy levels, increase muscle cell volume, turn on protein synthesis and stimulate growth hormone release.

The final supplement I recommend is glutamine, which boosts muscle recovery, stimulates the synthesis of glycogen and boosts immune function. Take 5 to 10 mg a day for best results.

Avoid Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise is an effective way to improve the efficiency of your heart and lungs and burn calories for fat loss. However, if your goal is to build lean muscle tissue then you need to limit your cardio. If you don’t, you won’t have enough calorie energy left for muscle building. Remember, you need to end up in a calorie surplus in order to add muscle tissue. So, extra exercise that burns up more calories is working against your goal.

As well as limiting your cardio you should keep your workouts short and intense. If you train for more than an hour, you will lose a lot of your power and be getting close to a state of catabolism. So, your goal should be to do only what you need to do to stimulate muscle growth and then get out of the gym and allow rest and recuperation to take over.

you may also want to read Best Muscle Gain Workouts For Skinny Guys (Ultimate Guide)

Boost Your Testosterone Levels

Testosterone is the main sex hormone. It is also responsible for muscle growth. You produce testosterone in the testes, at the rate of about 7 mg per day. Testosterone levels peak in our 20s, after which we slowly start to deplete our levels.

In terms of achieving your muscle building goals, testosterone will do the following:

  • Increase lean muscle mass and bone density and reduce body fat.
  • Put you in positive nitrogen balance by stimulating protein synthesis and improve protein utilization.
  • Increase energy levels.
  • Stimulate red blood cell production to expand blood volume and improve oxygen delivery.

You can stimulate your body’s natural production of testosterone by doing short bouts of intense exercise and making sure that you get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Consuming at least a gram of protein per pound of body weight every day will also promote a higher natural testosterone production.

Prohormone supplements that contain steroid precursors such as androstenedione can also boost natural testosterone levels. Certain herbs, including tribulus and fenugreek, contain plant sterols called saponins that may stimulate the release of luteinising hormone (LH), causing more testosterone production.

Too much cardio has been seen to negatively affect testosterone production. So, this is another reason to curtail your cardio when you’re trying to build lean muscle mass. Testosterone levels also increase when people follow a more meat-based protein diet than a dairy based one. Keeping your body fat level below 15% also encourages higher testosterone levels.

Increase Growth Hormone Levels

Your body produces growth hormone (GH) on the pituitary gland. This is an anabolic hormone that stimulates growth of bone, cartilage and other tissues, including muscle. GH also promotes protein synthesis, nitrogen balance, amino acid uptake, and fat loss.

The body’s GH production peaks during the night, about two hours after the onset of sleep. It is stimulated by such things as exercise, sleep, low blood sugar, creatine supplementation, fasting and certain amino acids. These include our arginine, lysine, ornithine and tryptophan.

Weight training will boost your body’s GH release. So will getting plenty of sleep, maintaining low body fat levels and staying away from sugar laden foods.

Control Insulin and Glucagon Levels

Insulin is a hormone that is released when blood sugar levels rise after a meal of carbohydrates. The hormone transports glucose into the cells to be used for energy or stored as glycogen.

Simple sugars with a high glycaemic index are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, causing a rapid release of insulin. Overproduction of insulin causes some of the carbohydrate to be deposited as fat instead of being stored as glycogen.

Insulin is also involved in muscle growth because it transports amino acids into muscle cells. For this to happen unique to consumer carbohydrates. But the key is to eat the right kinds of complex carbs in the right amount.

Glucagon is a hormone that is released when blood sugar levels are low. It converts a stored glycogen into glucose and stimulates the body to start burning fat for energy.

The ratio of insulin to glycogen in your body determines whether you gain or lose weight.

You can control this ratio by dusting the relative proportions of protein and carbohydrate in your diet. Gain muscular weight, you’ll need a higher ratio of insulin. As a result, your daily nutrient intake should contain a higher proportion of calves and protein.

I recommend getting about 50% of your nutrient intake from cards, 40% from protein and 10% percent from fat. Each meal should contain 40 g of protein and 50 to 60 g of carbs depending on your daily caloric allowance.

Wrap Up

Each of the 10 elements that we considered in this article will give you an anabolic advantage. But it’s only when you implement all 10 of them together, that you’ll be putting yourself on the fast track to achieving your lean muscle gain goals. I recommend working on one of them  every day over the next two weeks, getting it firmly in place and then moving on to the next one.

In the next article in the series, we will focus on how to select the best exercises to work each muscle group, starting with those of the upper body.

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Steve (Qualfied Personal Trainer and Nutritionist)


Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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