Building new muscle tissue requires a lot of time and effort! It’s not something that is going to happen overnight and almost definitely won’t happen ‘on accident’. Building muscle takes dedication and commitment, both to your training (exercise) and to your nutrition (diet). There isn't one specific way you need to train or eat to achieve muscle growth, but there are a few important principles that are necessary for you to reach your goals.
The first thing to consider when you are aiming to build muscle is the type of exercise or training you are doing. In order for muscles to grow, they need the physical stimulus of resistance/strength training to ‘damage’ the muscle fibres and initiate muscle protein synthesis. Working out creates tiny tears in the muscle fibres that are repaired by your body when you recover. Without the physical stimulus of exercise, you are unlikely to be gaining or building new muscle tissue.
The second thing to consider (and the thing we can help you with!) is your nutrition. Your diet is the key when it comes to building lean muscle tissue, and ensuring your muscles are able to recover and repair themselves effectively. There are two main areas of your diet you need to pay particular attention to when aiming to build muscle; your daily energy intake, and your daily protein intake. To build new muscle tissue, you need to be eating above your daily requirements for both calories (energy) and protein. You need excess fuel for your body to be able to gain muscle and to recover from your workouts, new muscle tissue isn't built out of thin air!
Breaking Down Your Nutritional Requirements:
Every person requires a certain amount of energy each day to fuel their body and their activity. Humans get energy from food and drinks and burn/use energy through basic bodily functions (breathing, thinking, digestion etc), and any additional activity/exercise we complete. Energy can be measured in a few different units, generally either kilojoule (kJ) or calories.
To build muscle, you need to be consuming more energy than you are burning in a day, i.e. energy in > energy out. Consuming more calories (a unit of energy) than your daily requirement is called being in a 'caloric surplus'. There are a few rare circumstances where some people may be able to achieve muscle gain while also losing weight (aka while being in a 'caloric deficit'), but for the majority of people, you will need to be consuming more calories than you are burning. You need these extra calories to build the new tissue. While in a caloric surplus, chances are you will gain some fat mass alongside the gains in muscle mass. But if you plan your diet and exercise regime well, you should be able to minimise the amount of fat that you gain, and maximise the muscle you gain.
Working out your individual daily energy requirements (otherwise known as your maintenance calories) can be somewhat confusing, and can often require a bit of trial and error before you get it exactly right. You can find the approximate daily energy requirements for your body based on sex, age, height, weight and activity level in the 'Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand' document, available online here. (click link).
Once you have determined your approximate daily energy requirements (maintenance calories) using the Nutrient Reference Values, you can work out your optimal calorie intake to put you in a sensible and sustainable surplus for building muscle. You want to have a caloric surplus that is large enough for you to gain muscle at the maximum rate (there is a physiological limit on how quickly the body can gain muscle), but you don't want too much of a surplus since this will result in excess fat gain. For males, a caloric surplus of 250 calories per day is generally considered to be the most effective amount, and 125 for women. Of course, these amounts will vary slightly between each individual, but they are a good place to start. Add either 250 or 125 calories to your maintenance number (e.g. 2000 + 125 = 2125). This number should be what you aim for each day to achieve optimal muscle gain while also minimising fat gain. If after a few weeks/months you find you are gaining too much or not enough for your liking, you can adjust your energy intake up or down accordingly and try again.
Once you have determined your approximate energy requirements for muscle building, it's time to think about the other important aspect of your diet, protein.
Our muscles are made up of proteins, so it makes sense that to build new muscle tissue, we need to be eating enough protein! When you consume and digest protein, your body breaks it down into either individual amino acids or short chains of amino acids. These amino acids are then absorbed by the body and used to build and repair muscle tissue. There are many other functions of and requirements for protein in the body too. Protein (i.e. amino acids) is required to make and replace important molecules such as hormones, enzymes and antibodies, as well as for tissues such as skin, hair and nails. If there is excess protein/energy consumption in the diet (above the requirements for muscle building), protein can be converted into glucose or fatty acids and stored in the body for fuel. So while it is very important for you to get enough protein to build muscle, you also need to be aware that there is a limit to how much your body can actually utilise. Eating more than your body needs doesn't mean you will see further benefits.
It is possible to eat too much protein (even when trying to gain muscle), but most people tend to have the opposite struggle. Not getting enough protein from your diet can render your efforts to build muscle completely useless! Without the protein building blocks (aka amino acids), your body is unable to create new muscle tissue. Each person has their own individual protein requirements, similar to the individual energy requirements we all have. Your specific requirements will depend on your sex, age, height, weight, exercise volume, and individual goals. Making sure you are meeting your daily protein target is absolutely key if you want to see progress and results in your muscle building mission!
The 'optimal protein intake' for muscle gain has been widely studied for decades. The evidence is highly variable and there doesn't seem to be a 'one size fits all' answer to this dilemma. The optimal protein intake for one person will not necessarily result in the same effects for another person. You can look at the scientific literature and determine the most widely recommended range of intakes, but the exact amount will take some experimenting to get perfect.
Most of the scientific evidence suggests that daily protein intake should aim to be between 1.4 - 1.8g of protein per kg of body weight each day (e.g. if you weigh 70kg, 70 x 1.4 - 1.8).
A person who weighs ~70kg should be aiming to eat between 98 and 126g of protein per day, for optimal muscle growth (finding your perfect amount for your own body will take some experimenting). For some people this is easy enough to get from their food intake alone, however for many people, protein supplements are a great addition to their diet to help increase protein intake without needing to add a lot of extra food (i.e. calories) to their diet. Our Lean Protein contains 24g of protein per serving, so approximately a quarter of your daily protein requirement, for only 117 calories! Adding a protein shake into your diet can be a great way to increase protein intake and therefore increase your muscle mass!