Creating an Environment for Muscle Gain

Expert Opinion

When we eat in a calorie deficit, we generally know that weight loss is likely to happen. If we're burning off more calories that we're consuming, naturally, our bodies will tap into their fat reserves to sustain us. So, the opposite must be true for muscle gain, right? Not quite.

In my experience in studying Sports Science and Nutrition (with a specialization in athletic performance and weight loss), I've learned that a 20% reduction of calories from total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) will generally bring about a decrease of 15% muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This presents a possibility of a maximum 5% calorie deficit to still maintain a good amount of MPS when at rest, but correct nutrition is still a major factor.

It is not necessary to have a giant surplus of up to 20% of TDEE, as this is dependent on a client’s training age. However, this will certainly make the job easier due to more raw materials being available.

Simply put: it's not simply a case of eating X number of calories to automatically achieve muscle hypertrophy.

For a calorie surplus (in conjunction with training) to achieve the muscle mass results you're looking for, you need to ensure that the process is fueled correctly:

  • Protein for structure & hormones.
  • Fat for energy & hormones.
  • Water for the transport of nutrients. Note: this is not the same as the similar process that carbohydrates help with.

The timing and portions of meals will make a difference to body composition, especially when it comes to pre and post-workout meals—specifically carbohydrates. Since the body uses any stored glycogen while performing an intense workout, the carbohydrates consumed immediately after will help significantly in replenishing these glycogen levels. I generally suggest that active individuals consume carbohydrates before a workout, as well as carbohydrates and protein post-workout.

I suggest that protein be consumed in meals 3-5 hours apart at a weight of 0.3g/KG per meal.

For an average 80kg (176 lb) client, this would equate to 0.3 X 80 = 24g protein per meal.

Remember, this is a bare minimum recommendation and the study also enforced that the protein source had to have a high biological value (BV) for this amount to be effective. Such examples would be flaky fish, egg whites, whey etc.

For more information on protein recommendations and other health and wellness tips, check out our other blogs!