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Fri, March 26, 2021 | Fitness

STRENGTH SERIES | Nutrition for building strength and lean muscle

Nutrition for building strength and lean muscle

Anabolic Vs Catabolic

Your metabolism involves a set of processes that all living things use to maintain their bodies. These processes include both anabolism and catabolism. Both help organize molecules by freeing and capturing energy to keep the body running strong. These phases of metabolism happen simultaneously.

Anabolism centres around growth and building. In this process, small, simple molecules are built up into larger, more complex ones. An example of anabolism is gluconeogenesis. This is when the liver and kidneys produce glucose from noncarbohydrate sources such as pyruvate and lactate. 

Catabolism is what happens when you digest food and the molecules break down in the body for use as energy. Large, complex molecules in the body are broken down into smaller, simple ones. An example of catabolism is glycolysis. This process is almost the reverse of gluconeogenesis. 

Glycolysis occurs when the demands of our exercise intensity is long enough to deplete glycogen stores but also high enough to remain anaerobic (oxygen not present).  An example of this might be HIIT (high-intensity interval training) without adequate rest/recovery between sets/reps. 

Understanding anabolism and catabolism can help you train more effectively to lose fat and gain muscle. Rest is also a part of the equation. Your metabolism is at work even when you’re sleeping.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Your daily calorie requirements are based on your (TDEE ) Total Daily Energy Expenditure – in other words, how many calories you burn each day. 

TDEE consists of multiple types of measurements that assess the amount of energy your body uses each day. For simplicity sake, this includes your: 

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
  • Activity Level 

BMR is the number of calories your body needs to thrive and function each day. It is directly related to your body weight and makes up the bulk of your daily energy needs. Your physical activity and daily movements make up a majority of the remaining calories burned.  Together, these two can account for more than 90% of your TDEE.

If you are in a deficit of energy, your body is likely to be in a catabolic state breaking itself down in order to provide you with energy.

If building muscle and retaining strength is the goal, it is more favourable for you to be in an anabolic state, consuming an adequate amount of calories to supplement your energy demands. 

Protein Synthesis

Protein is the building block of muscles. Muscle protein synthesis is a naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise. 

It is an opposing force to muscle protein breakdown (MPB) in which protein is lost as a result of exercise.


The ratio of muscle protein synthesis to muscle protein breakdown determines whether muscle tissues are built or lost. If muscle protein synthesis outpaces muscle protein breakdown, muscle growth is achieved. If muscle protein breakdown outpaces muscle protein synthesis, the opposite occurs.

Muscle protein synthesis can be enhanced by increasing your protein intake immediately following exercise. The amino acids derived from protein will then be shuttled to your muscles, replacing any lost to exercise. 

Learning how to stimulate muscle protein synthesis through exercise and diet can help accelerate muscle growth, improve recovery and athletic performance, and increase overall endurance.


Glucose and Glycogen

Carbs break down into smaller units of sugar, such as glucose and fructose which then enter the bloodstream and travel to the liver. The liver converts all of these sugars into glucose, which is carried through the bloodstream — accompanied by insulin — and converted into energy for basic body functioning and physical activity.

If the glucose is not immediately needed for energy, the body can store up to 2,000 calories of it in the liver and skeletal muscles in the form of glycogen, once glycogen stores are full, carbs are converted into triglycerides and stored as fat. 

Carbohydrates are what we would call ‘protein sparing’ If you have insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores and the demand for carbohydrates as a fuel source remains, the body will consume protein for fuel. 

This is problematic because the body needs protein to rebuild muscles and cells.

Where should you start?

If your goal is to increase strength and build muscle, do your current habits/routines, training program and caloric intake match? 

Ask yourself these questions…

  1. Are you practising better habits around sleeping and digesting food?
  2. Do you have a regular training schedule or do you yo-yo up and down?
  3. Does your diet contain mostly whole food sources and a consistent calorie intake?
  4. Are you training too much / not eating enough?
  5. Is the type of exercise you’re doing moving you towards or away from your goal?

Once you have aligned your goals, training and caloric intake… the next steps to success are as follows…

  1. Manage stress levels (good and bad stress)
  2. Prioritise sleep (aiming for 8+ unbroken hours of sleep)
  3. Improve digestion (practice better habits around eating food)
  4. Follow a structured training program (targeted towards building strength and lean muscle)

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