Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
The health benefits of building muscle are numerous, and it is a worthwhile endeavour for people to undertake.
Building muscle can be done in a few ways, but weightlifting is the most popular method. Lifting weights has advantages for people who undertake this activity, from improving blood circulation to lowering the risk of heart attack.
First and foremost, weightlifting is a great way to maintain a healthy weight. Weightlifting increases your muscle mass and this in turn leads to an increase in your basal metabolic rate. It is this increase in metabolism that has the most significant impact on weight maintenance.
Secondly, it leads to an improvement in cardiovascular health, which also has a significant impact on your overall health. Improving the functioning of the heart leads to improved circulation and better oxygen flow throughout the body.
Thirdly, weightlifting has been linked with decreased risk of certain diseases such as cancer and diabetes due to increased production of insulin-like growth factors. Conversely, when we lose muscle mass, we produce more cortisol which can lead to inflammation and decrease our immune system's function (and therefore increase our risk for disease).
Let’s not also forget that weightlifting can help us develop superior strength which can help if you are an athlete, but it is particularly important for athletes that are in contact sports.
It has many benefits for athletes, including increased strength and power, improvement in athletic performance, prevention, or rehabilitation from injuries.
Weight training is an important part of the training process for many sports that involve running, jumping, or throwing.
The military is often regarded as a physically demanding profession. The physical fitness requirements are rigorous, and the job description involves carrying heavy equipment, running long distances under difficult conditions, and completing strength-building routines that may include any number of exercises.
The military has recognized that not all soldiers are born with the same fitness level. There is no single workout routine that will work for every situation. Some people will need to do more than others because of their age, lifestyle, or injury history. For this reason, many armed forces has implemented weightlifting in their workout routine.
Resistance training is a type of exercise that builds the strength and muscle in your body by using external forces such as weight or elastic bands. It is different from aerobic exercises like running and cycling, which build endurance and strengthen the heart and lungs.
Physical activity can also help to prevent falls among elderly people - it can increase their balance, flexibility, and strength, while reducing their risk of injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that adults in their 60s should do resistance training exercises for two days a week in order to maintain bone strength and muscle mass.
How Does Weightlifting Build Muscle?
Hypertrophy is the growth of muscle tissue in response to regular exercise. Increased size of muscles, increased number of cells, and increased production of protein cause hypertrophy.
Muscle hypertrophy is the process of muscle cells increasing in size due to an increase in protein synthesis. Muscle hypertrophy can result from a variety of factors including weightlifting, but it is a complicated process that involves a number of different factors.
Weightlifting is one way to help boost muscle growth and can be particularly helpful if combined with other forms of training. Weightlifting helps increase muscle mass by boosting levels of protein synthesis and decreasing levels of muscle protein degradation.
However, even if you are weightlifting regularly there are other factors that will influence whether or not you will experience muscle hypertrophy such as your age, gender, genetics, health conditions and hormone levels.
Key Exercises to build muscle
In this section, we will go through the different exercises that have been found to increase muscle hypertrophy.
Compound lifts, such as deadlifts and squats, require you to use more muscles at once than isolation exercises like bicep curls or lateral raises. This means that you're using more muscle fibers at once, which will increase your muscle size over time with consistent training.
Exercises for hypertrophy:
- - Squats
- - Deadlift
- - Leg press
- - Bench press
- - Pull ups
Repetitions for hypertrophy
Muscles grow in size and strength by breaking down the muscle fibers, the protein myofibrils, and building them back up.
The number of repetitions that you do will be determined by your fitness goals.
8-12 repetitions can be used for bodybuilding or general fitness.
20-30 reps are ideal for sports training like martial arts, boxing, or tennis.
You can break up your sets to achieve different goals - 3 sets of 10 reps with short rest periods is more suitable for endurance training.
Supplements Required to Increase Muscle Hypertrophy
Dietary supplements are used for a variety of reasons. They can be used to prevent nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D and magnesium.
We are increasingly living in a world where our food intake is not as good as it used to be. The nutritional value of food has decreased due to the industrialization of agriculture, lack of time to cook fresh food, and the rise in convenience foods. We are also much more sedentary now, leading to an increase in weight and obesity rates.
Therefore, dietary supplements provide an easy way to supplement your nutrient intake for those who don't want or can't change their habits.
The first benefit of dietary supplements is that they provide you with nutrients that your diet may not otherwise provide enough of. For example, if you do not eat meat or fish then supplements may be helpful for getting enough omega 3 fatty acids or iron which can affect those who train for endurance events.
However, if you are wanting to build muscle, you may need more of certain nutrients that the average person who isn’t specifically looking to gain more strength and muscle mass.
So, let’s look at the supplements that you should consider when looking to build more muscle.
We’ll start with the macronutrients and limit it to carbohydrates and protein.
Both protein and carbohydrates are available as supplements, however, we would recommend that you get these macronutrients from your dietary intake rather than a supplement, because after just one slice of bread can include 5g or protein and 6g of carbohydrate.
If you add another slice and 2 eggs, you’re looking at a total of 14g of carbohydrate and 22g of protein in total. That’s a nice hit of required macronutrients in a very cost-effective way. However, we know that you can’t just rustle up a small meal like that in the office or in your car on the way home from the gym, so we’ll be realistic.
Whether you get it from an egg, fish, or whey protein shake, to build muscle you need to consume more protein to support muscle protein synthesis.
If you don’t, you risk becoming catabolic which means your body will break down tissues to release energy to support your activity. If you do this too often this can lead to muscle mass loss.
Out of all the macronutrients, protein is the most important for building muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Amino acids are used to synthesize new proteins, which can be used to repair damaged muscle fibres or build new ones.
Therefore, people who want to gain muscle mass or bulk up need to consume more protein than those who don't want to bulk up or build muscle mass.
The recommended intake varies depending on your body weight, activity levels and other factors. However, it’s generally accepted that 0.8g per kilogram (2.2lb) of bodyweight is enough for sedentary people trying to maintain their weight and 1.4-2.0g per kilogram of bodyweight is enough for active people trying to put on muscle mass.
It is also key to note that eating more protein doesn’t necessarily result in additional gains. Your muscles only need a certain amount for muscle repair and development, it is considered that 20-25g of high-quality protein is the optimum amount to consume in a single sitting.
Anything more is likely to be used as an (expensive when compared to carbohydrates) energy source.
Bear this in mind before you grab that expensive bottle of protein shake from the chiller, and also bear in mind that around 500ml (17oz) of milk (flavored if you wish) contains about 17g of high-quality protein.
Carbohydrates are classified into three main categories: simple, complex or fiber. Simple carbohydrates come from foods that are very sweet like candy, soda or "sweets." Complex carbs can be found in foods like pasta, rice & bread. Fiber is the last class of carbs and comes from foods such as veggies.
Carbohydrate supplements can come in the form of gels, bars or sports drinks which are popular with endurance athletes to maintain muscle and liver glycogen stores to fuel their activity.
Recent work has shown that in addition to its role as a muscle substrate, glycogen also plays important direct and indirect roles in regulating the muscle's adaptation to training.
Just like protein, carbohydrate intake requirements vary dependant on exercise frequency and intensity, however, for building muscle you may wish to consider consuming 5-10g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight daily based on the recommendations outlined by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Here we will outline the supplements that have evidence demonstrating that they can enhance muscle development.
One of the most renowned supplements is creatine. Studies have shown that three days of Creatine supplementation can lead to a significant increase in muscle volume and performance.
One week of supplementation has been shown to increase body weight by 1.4 kilograms. Weight training combined with creatine supplements led to a 6.3% increase in body weight and fat free mass. This occurred over a 12-week treatment period
Supplementation of Beta Alanine has proven to be effective at increasing power output when lifting heavy loads or when working at max power.
Participants in this study improved in their maximum weight lifted (1RM) when they took Beta Alanine alongside their training regime.
Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB)
HMB is claimed to help prevent muscle breakdown and increase protein synthesis, especially after intense exercise.
HMB is found to reduce muscle damage, provide muscle growth and strength, increase performance in aerobic tasks, resist fatigue and regenerate muscle tissue. HMB is most effective before, during and after periods of strenuous activity for those individuals who have little training experience or development as outlined by the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle published in 2017.
Branch Chained Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Animal sources of protein contain BCAAs, so if you consume a whey protein shake, drink milk or eat meat, you are consuming BCAAs. However, if you follow a plant-based diet you will have to consume food sources such as soy, beans, nuts and whole grains.
Alternatively, you could use a BCAA supplement. Branched-chain amino acids refer to the three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They're important for promoting protein synthesis and muscle growth by reducing protein oxidation.
Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs can be broken down in the muscle instead of in the liver. This makes them good for energy production when you are exercising.
They are also burned as fuel by your body when you are doing intense exercise to prevent it breaking down other sources of protein, which will eventually lead to fatigue.
However, research has found that taking just BCAAs alone does not stimulate anabolic effects, and as such should be consumed alongside a protein source.
In which case, you may just wish to consume a ‘complete’ protein such as milk or a whey protein supplement as we mentioned earlier. If you have dietary restrictions, BCAAs may bolster a different form of protein that isn’t considered a ‘complete’ protein or high in BCAAs itself.
We’ll now take a look at some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that can have a positive effect on muscle size, and other compounds that have clinical evidence justifying their use.
Vitamin D helps with a range of actions in your skeletal muscle, including growth and repair. Muscle wastage is associated with numerous deficiencies, but also including a lack of vitamin D. The lower limbs are particularly susceptible to decreases in muscle size which can lead to reduced physical function.
Improper zinc intake can lead to weaker tissues, especially in areas with high demand such as skeletal muscle.
Your workouts can cause oxidative stress, which leads to a mild zinc deficiency. This could have severe consequences on your health and often leads to a loss in athletic performance.
There is evidence that iron plays a critical role in our muscle tissue. Iron is needed to help produce the oxygen carrying protein, myoglobin, which can store more oxygen than haemoglobin. Myoglobin also has 10x the affinity for oxygen than hemoglobin does.
Skeletal muscle contains more iron than any other organ in the body. A deficiency in this nutrient can negatively affect production and fitness, as well as cause damage to the tissue.
Chlorophytum Borivilianum and Mucuna Pruriens
A study involving the consumption of the two nutrients found that it increased the levels of growth hormone in healthy, young, trained men leading to increased muscle mass.
The results from a 2015 study published by the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that the group treated with ashwagandha experienced significantly greater strength and muscle size increases on bench press and leg extension exercises.
A study of 2009 discovered that the participants who took fenugreek as a supplement shed more fat and developed more muscle mass than those taking a placebo.
The Military Muscle testosterone booster was developed by researchers in collaboration with athletes and military personnel to enhance physical and mental performance by utilizing proven nutrients to stimulate testosterone secretion.
The transparent formula includes the last 6 nutrients on the list as well as a further 5 natural ingredients that contribute towards improved lean muscle mass development.
Building muscle has numerous health benefits, it isn't just for bodybuilders or athletes, reseach has demonstrated that it can also benefit the elderly against falls and fractures.
Furthermore, weightlifting can also help prevent chronic diseases by reducing inflammation and cortisol.
If you are looking to build more muscle, be it for sport, overall health and fitness or just because you enjoy it, we have listed the key supplements that provide the most benefit.