The Biggest Contributors to Muscle Gain
We are all fairly familiar with muscle growth. Even gym bros understand the basics:
- Eat big
- Train hard
- Get big
But how does our nutrition drive muscle growth, and what factors make the most significant impact? Understanding these things is vital for optimizing your approach and building as much muscle as possible in the long run. So, let’s review.
The Four Pillars of Muscle-Building Nutrition
A calorie surplus means consuming more calories than you burn each day. Your body stores the excess energy in the form of muscle and fat, resulting in steady weight gain.
Numerous studies show that muscle growth can occur without a calorie surplus, but most of that research is done on untrained individuals who are often overweight or obese.
Trained people with an average body fat percentage would struggle to gain muscle without a surplus.
Eating enough protein is also crucial for muscle gain. Proteins are organic molecules that consist of amino acids––the building blocks of life. Once ingested, your body breaks down proteins, absorbing their amino acids, contributing to the plasma amino acid pool.
Some of protein’s most notable functions relate to sustaining protein turnover rates (replacing old and worn-out proteins with new ones), repairing damaged muscle fibers, and causing them to grow and get stronger.
While many people consider carbs unnecessary or harmful to our health, the nutrient serves numerous essential fitness and muscle gain functions. Most notably, carbs are the primary fuel source during workouts. Carbs fill the body’s glycogen stores (a complex carb form), support healthy blood sugar levels, and promote ATP synthesis.
Carbohydrates are also the most insulinogenic nutrient. Once consumed, glucose forces the pancreas to release insulin, which absorbs the molecules, shuttling them to various body cells. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, and causing a release by eating carbs can promote hypertrophy.
Similar to carbs, dietary fats are a nutrient with a mixed reputation. Still, good fats from sources like eggs and fatty fish are crucial for brain health, hormone production, absorption of certain nutrients, and more.
Of all the nutrients, dietary fats have the smallest short-term impact on our fitness. Still, we must consume enough of them because an inadequate intake can contribute to vitamin deficiencies, chronic fatigue, impaired cognition, etc.
So, Which of The Above Is Most Important for Muscle Gain?
As you can see, each of the four ‘pillars’ contributes to muscle growth. Among the points discussed above, an adequate protein intake is likely the most important because the nutrient provides the raw materials your body needs to repair and grow muscle. Not getting enough protein would be like trying to build a house without bricks.
A caloric surplus comes second to that. While it’s certainly possible to build muscle without a surplus, it becomes increasingly difficult and slow as you become more advanced.
Your carbohydrate is also important, though not as much as the first two, because research finds that people on a ketogenic diet can also build muscle. Still, the nutrient is beneficial because it fuels demanding training sessions, replenishes our glycogen stores, and promotes muscle protein synthesis.
Finally, we have fats, which are essential for the overall functioning of your body and your health. But, as mentioned above, dietary fats have the smallest acute impact on muscle hypertrophy.
The Bottom Line
In other words, you must take care of your nutrition as a whole. A diet solely based on protein won’t get you far because you’d be missing several other essential components.