Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Anika Rouf, shows us how when it comes to a bulking, it's all about smart nutrition (not supplements).
With more and more fitness junkies hitting the gym to gain muscle, body building and supplements have become the talk of the town. Many choose to load on supplements as it is easy to get caught up in the hype associated with sports supplements, but it’s important to remember that supplements on their own will not provide a magical solution.
Sometimes people only focus on the training and taking supplements and the real foods are left out of the picture. Nutrition is equally as important as training so we should pay careful attention to what we are eating to get the results. Here are five simple tips to improve your bulking.
1. Time your protein
While the total amount of protein is important, our body can only process small amounts of protein at any one time. Hence, it is important to include protein at every meal and snacks. Spreading protein across the day will produce multiple spikes in muscle synthesis in our body.
Research suggests that a maximal response is received around 20-25g of protein (i.e. high biological value), and quantities exceeding this amount don’t provide you with any additional benefit.
It is best to get your protein from natural sources unless advised otherwise by an Accredited Sports Dietitian.
Some examples of protein rich-sources include 200g low-fat Greek yoghurt, 150g raw (120g cooked) meat/poultry/seafood, 60g low-fat cheese, 90g tin tuna, low-fat cheese with crackers, two eggs, fresh or canned lentils/ legumes and a handful of nuts.
2. Get your carb right
Many people avoid carbohydrates, seeing them as a ‘villain’ in our diets. However, carbohydrates are essential for fuelling our muscles and are like the ‘petrol to our engine’. What we need to do is use them strategically to our benefit, which means eating more carbs around our training sessions (i.e. pre and post-training).
We also need to focus on eating quality carbohydrates because they provide us with more nutrients and keep us feeling fuller for longer as they are broken down slowly in our body (also known as low GI foods). Some examples of quality carbohydrates are wholegrains (oats), legumes (chickpeas), fruits (apple), vegetables (corn) and dairy (milk).
The trick is to eat more on heavy training days and less on rest days.
Since carbohydrates are the main fuel used during training, it is important to adjust your energy intake accordingly. The easiest way to do this is by varying the ratio of veggies to carbs on your plate, i.e. eating more veggies on rest days and more carbs when training. Using carbohydrates strategically around training will help you ‘get petrol’ to the muscles when they need it most.
3. Plan ahead: aim for three meals and include pre-post training snacks
Frequent meals will help your metabolism and are beneficial for active individuals. Organising your meals and snacks from home will increase your chance of being successful as you will have more control over what goes in your mouth (rather than impulsively buying something from the corner store when you are super hungry).
Make sure to plan ahead so you can be organised with your pre and post training snacks each week.
In the recovery phase after your training, your muscles are particularly sensitive to carbohydrates and protein. Protein helps to turn on muscle protein building and repair while the carbohydrates help fast-track restoration and replenish energy levels which help you get fuel to the muscles when they need it most.
Also, don't forget about the post-workout importance of probiotics. Studies show that having the right balance of probiotics in your intestinal system improves digestion and increases absorption. That means nutrients travel faster through the body, hastening recovery and rehab. You can purchase powerful post-workout probiotics here.
4. Occasional use of protein powder or supplements is okay
It is okay to rely on supplements from time to time (when your appetite is down or when you don’t have ready access to food). Some people (i.e. athletes doing strenuous training) may find it helpful to include protein supplements as they have higher requirements; however, they certainly aren’t essential for everyone.
It is always best to get your protein from real foods because we don’t know the potential long-term impact on kidney function having to get rid of the extra waste from eating excess protein.
Recent research suggests that people on high protein diets have a lower life expectancy. However, protein supplements may be beneficial for some individuals if used in a safe manner. It is best to always consult with an Accredited Sports Dietitian if you intend on using supplements.
5. Be realistic with your goals
Another mistake many of us tend to make is expecting quick results. Most of us are overambitious when it comes to getting results from our workouts. But we need to keep in mind that changing shape is a longer-term goal and expecting quick results will bring disappointment.
Gaining muscle is even slower, especially if you are trying to drop fat at the same time. Unfortunately, there is no direct conversion mechanism in our body to convert fat to muscle. A realistic goal could be to aim for a small gain of 1-2 kg over the course of 12 weeks.
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Anika Rouf APD
Anika Rouf is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and a PhD Candidate. Her area of research investigates the use of social media to improve eating habits of young adults. She is passionate about healthy home cooking and working towards small sustainable behaviour changes.
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