Over the past few weeks, we’ve been focused on the Laws of Muscle Growth. In week 1 we covered the importance of calories, week 2 was all about protein and in week 3 we learned about HARD vs SMART training.
Now, picking up heavy objects and putting them down repeatedly in the pursuit of more muscle comes with a cost. It causes fatigue, specifically fatigue of the muscular system and nervous system. If you don’t recover from your training, sooner or later your body will negatively respond in a few ways: loss of muscle, decreased performance, increased risk of illness, and increased risk of injury.
To recover optimally so you can grow muscle as fast as humanly possible, the most important factors are sleep, hydration and nutrition. Let’s cover these in more detail:
Get Enough Sleep
Getting optimal sleep has a ton of amazing benefits, including:
- Achieving optimal body composition (more muscle, less fat)
- Accelerating recovery from hard training so you can grow
- Optimizing hormone production & function
- Reducing inflammation throughout the body
- Managing stress levels
- Improving happiness
While it’s important to get enough hours of sleep each night, the quality of sleep is also vital. Improving sleep quality starts with a bed time routine. As humans, we thrive best on routine. Babies are a great example of the importance of routine. For an infant or toddler, having consistent activities pre-bed (i.e. bath time, story time, a bottle of milk, etc.) generally leads to a more peaceful sleeping experience that night.
If this routine is disrupted too often, problems arise. As adults, we can learn from this. For you it may be a shower followed by 15-20 minutes of non-work related reading (preferably with a book or magazine, not a tablet). Consistently following this routine can help to improve the quality of your sleep over time.
Another helpful strategy is to ensure the room is as dark as possible. Exposure to light during sleep (from a window or from electronics like your TV, tablet or phone) can really disrupt sleep. Try to make sure your room is as dark as possible by investing in a sleep mask or black out curtains. And keep your electronic devices in another room to eliminate the impact of blue light on your sleep.
As basic as this strategy seems, it’s often the one overlooked the most by athletes. The reality is that being just slightly dehydrated can cause a decline in performance. When you lose as little as 1.5 -2% (3-4 lbs. for a 200lb athlete) of your bodyweight in water from dehydration, your strength levels can plummet. Dehydration can also negatively impact proper function of hormones, some of which play a key role in muscle growth.
When you are properly hydrated, your body has an easier time regulating your body temperature. The body can deliver nutrients more easily to areas that need it most, such as your muscles. Your body can also more easily remove metabolic waste by-products caused from intense training.
Generally, we recommend our athletes to consume at least 3 litres of natural spring water between meals and during training sessions per day (often much more for larger athletes and/or for those training at higher volumes). And while tea and coffee are great at the right times, we don’t factor these into our overall water consumption. Go ahead and have a morning cup of java or green tea, but make sure that you are properly hydrated at all times, especially when training.
Fuel the Machine to Recover & Grow
To maximize muscle growth, it’s critical to consume adequate amounts of protein, dietary fats and carbs each day. In fact, when we are working with new athletes this is one of the most common areas for improvement. Increasing protein intake to an average of 1 gram/lb. of bodyweight (See Law #2) from quality sources (i.e. grass fed beef, wild caught fish, free range poultry) helps to create the right environment for muscle to grow as fast as possible.
Dietary fats are critical for health, including optimal hormone function, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and immune function. Most North Americans are consuming way too much of the wrong fats because of fast foods and an over reliance on processed foods. Make sure your fat intake is balanced between saturated (coconut oil, fats from animal protein, cacao) polyunsaturated (fish oil, flaxseed) and monounsaturated (olive oil, avocado) fats.
Carbs (yes, CARBS) are king when it comes to speeding up recovery and supporting muscle growth. Carbs are the preferred energy source for muscle.High intensity sports such as football, hockey, mixed martial arts, bodybuilding and powerlifting rely on a stored form of carbohydrate known as glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscle as well as the liver. When glycogen levels get too low, performance suffers.
Carbs also provide energy to the brain and nervous system. Carbs (in this case, blood glucose) are without question the preferred energy source for the brain and nervous system. Optimal carb intake ensures proper functioning of the nervous system and ensures better muscle fibre recruitment and resistance to fatigue. For strength and power oriented athletes, you want your nervous system (and obviously, your brain) firing on all cylinders to be at your best. Athletes who consume enough carbs also experience higher levels of motivation to train hard.
The last piece of the nutrition puzzle for recovery centers around the workout. What are you eating before, during and after your workout? For athletes of all levels, getting this question right can be a game changer. An optimal peri-workout strategy ensures that you have a great training session and facilitates recovery between sessions so that you can recover and grow. As far as guidelines, here are a few simple rules to keep in mind:
Pre-Workout: About 90 minutes to 2 hours before your training session, consume a protein-rich meal (i.e. chicken, fish, eggs), slower digesting carbs (sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice) and a small amount of fat (olive oil, coconut oil) to help fuel your session.
During your Workout: Sip water mixed with Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and fast digesting carbs (dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy maize) during your session. The water ensures you are properly hydrated and the BCAAs/carbs serve to support performance and prevent muscle breakdown.
Post-Workout: Post-workout nutrition is absolutely critical. Post-workout nutrition provides the fuel your body needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, restore glycogen levels and speed up recovery so you can train harder. This is the ideal time to consume a protein supplement like New Zealand whey and carbohydrates like rice cakes and fruit.
So there you have it. Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep, stay hydrated and fuel your body consistently throughout the day. If you follow these principles consistently, you’ll be able to recover from the most demanding training sessions and build muscle faster. Your key takeaway for today is:
LAW #4: Sleep, Hydrate and Fuel to Optimize Muscle Growth
P.S. A few weeks back, we launched our Bigger Arms in 28 Days Program! If you’re looking to add more muscle to your arms, this is the program for you. The Bigger Arms in 28 Days program is based on science and our decades of experience training elite athletes. And did I mention we’d like to give it to you for FREE? Just click on the image below to access your free Bigger Arms in 28 Days program!