Senior Science Editor Michael J. Rudolph, Ph.D. lays out the fast way to get huge by way of the optimum Anabolic Diet.
Fast Track to Getting Huge
While there are many different anabolic pathways in the body, the one that has the greatest impact on muscle growth involves the buildup of complex muscle proteins from simpler building blocks known as amino acids, where the accumulation of muscle protein ultimately drives muscle growth. In terms of diet, muscle protein synthesis increases considerably after consuming the right type of protein, highlighting the need for high-quality protein for maximal muscle growth. Two other anabolic processes also influence muscle growth, yet in a more indirect fashion. The anabolic buildup of muscle glycogen polymers from the simpler sugar glucose is incredibly important for muscle growth, as glycogen functions as the primary energy source during muscular contraction, especially while lifting heavy weights. In addition, studies have shown that a lack of muscle glycogen promotes the catabolic breakdown of muscle protein.1,2
It is pretty straightforward that adequate muscle glycogen is important for optimal muscle growth, consuming simple sugars like sucrose (table sugar) or glucose can negatively influence muscle growth by rapidly increasing blood insulin levels— which surprisingly, tends to quickly desensitize the potency of a key biochemical process that promotes muscle growth. Therefore, even though carbohydrate consumption is essential for optimal muscle growth, simple sugars should be avoided as much as possible.
Finally, the anabolic process that converts fatty acids into triglycerides also vitally influences muscle growth. To start, too much fat, or fatty acids, in your diet will increase triglyceride production and increase body fat. Yet even more, studies have shown that increased body fat also decreases muscle protein synthesis, which will certainly have a negative impact on muscle growth.
The Right Protein at the Right Time
The net gain in muscle protein is the difference between muscle protein synthesis versus muscle protein breakdown, where greater protein synthesis represents an anabolic environment favoring muscle growth. This anabolic response can be increased by dietary protein consumption, stimulating muscle protein synthesis and decreasing muscle protein degradation.3
Protein consumption causes muscle protein accretion mainly by activating the extremely important nutrient-sensing molecule mTOR, which directly activates muscle protein synthesis in response to protein intake after exercise. Several scientific studies highlight mTOR activation by protein intake, especially the essential amino acid leucine. One study by Walker et al.4 showed that leucine consumption shortly after working out increased mTOR activity for several hours post-workout, leading to greater muscle protein synthesis as compared to an exercised group that was not fed leucine. Another scientific inquiry by Pasiakos et al.5 demonstrated that consumption of leucine immediately after exercise increased muscle protein synthesis by as much as 33 percent.
A study by Moore et al. looked for the optimal amount of protein for greatest anabolic effect on muscle protein. This study confirmed that protein intake of 20 grams immediately after lifting weights induces optimal muscle protein synthesis in novice weightlifters, with anything greater than 20 grams increasing protein oxidation with no additional muscle-building effect.6 Since this study used novice athletes, the optimal protein consumption for more advanced athletes should be slightly lower than recommended in this study. Taken together, adding high-quality protein at the correct time to your diet optimizes the anabolic processes in muscle tissue, ultimately driving muscle growth.
Optimal Carbohydrate Consumption Maximizes Anabolism
Building large muscles requires intense exercise that prefers carbohydrate as an energy source.8 This is because fast-twitch muscle fibers are preferentially activated during intense exercise, such as heavy weightlifting, because more power is needed to move the heavier weight. What’s more, fast-twitch fibers prefer to burn carbohydrates for energy, makingcarbohydrate consumption absolutely crucial for unsurpassed muscle growth.
In addition to their important role as an energy source, carbohydrates also increase muscle protein amounts by preventing protein degradation— as a previous scientific study by Roy et al.9 showed that increased carbohydrate levels improved protein balance by decreasing protein degradation. Carbohydrates influence protein degradation by increasing cellular energy levels, which turns off the protein degradation pathways turned on by the enzyme AMPK. AMPK is the muscle cell’s energy gauge that promotes the breakdown of protein into amino acids when cellular energy is too low, so the amino acids can be converted into energy to restore cellular energy. Altogether, carbohydrate consumption plays two vital roles as the energy source for muscular contraction during intense weightlifting while also mitigating muscle protein breakdown.
The Best Fats for Boosting Testosterone
While it may seem counterintuitive, fat consumption can improve your physique. That is, assuming you don’t consume a ton of it, which would increase body fat— and you consume the kind of fat that vigorously stimulates testosterone production, imparting greater muscle mass.
Fatty acids are carboxylic acids with long chains of carbon atoms bonded together. They come in three main forms: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fatty acids contain no double bonds within their carbon chain, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids contain either one or more than one double bond, respectively. The double bonds within the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids significantly alter their chemical structure. Fatty acids can be incorporated into cell membranes, including the cell membrane of testicular cells where testosterone is produced.
When different fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane, the difference in their respective chemical structures changes the behavior of the cell membrane. For example, previous reports have described the stimulating effect of certain fatty acids on cholesterol transport into testicular cells. Since cholesterol is converted into testosterone in testicular cells, greater levels of cholesterol within testicular cells generates greater testosterone production. A recent study by Hurtado de Catalfo et al.10 showed that consuming canola and olive oil, which primarily consist of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, altered the fatty acid composition within the testicular cell membranes— and this change in fatty acid composition within the cell membrane markedly stimulated cholesterol transport into the testicular cells, producing greater testosterone levels.
Too Much Fat Reduces Muscle Growth
While the consumption of certain fatty acids promotes muscle growth, too much fat in your diet will eventually lead to increased body fat levels. The increase in fat triggers the release of the hormone leptin from the fat cell13, which has been shown to activate the energy-sensing enzyme AMPK in muscle cells and elsewhere.14 As previously mentioned, AMPK is the cell’s master metabolic energy regulator that is typically inactivated when cellular energy levels are high. However, when too much fat is consumed, the overabundance of fat-energy stored in the fat cell overrides this regulatory principle and activates AMPK. An activated AMPK then potently inhibits mTOR-driven muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth.
For most of Michael Rudolph’s career he has been engrossed in the exercise world as either an athlete (he played college football at Hofstra University), personal trainer or as a Research Scientist (he earned a B.Sc. in Exercise Science at Hofstra University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Stony Brook University). After earning his Ph.D., Michael investigated the molecular biology of exercise as a fellow at Harvard Medical School and Columbia University for over eight years. That research contributed seminally to understanding the function of the incredibly important cellular energy sensor AMPK— leading to numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals including the journal Nature. Michael is currently a scientist working at the New York Structural Biology Center doing contract work for the Department of Defense on a project involving national security.
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