Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Lessons Learnt: by Bruce Maidment
1. FAT CONVERTS TO MUSCLE
In my youth I believed that to grow muscle you had to gain weight and that through gaining weight your body would use these extra stores to convert into muscle….how naive! To this day this myth is alive and well. For me this manifested itself in a solid gym routine (3 times per week), robust exercise tracking and progression all followed by a double order of a McDonald’s extra value meal, kebab, or some other high fat fast food! Many months later (the commitment was there), 15kg of weight added and visible stretchmarks I realised my dire mistake!
“Protein is the main building material.”
The takeaway, excuse the pun, is simply that fat does not convert into muscle, it is used as an energy store when your body requires it. Protein is the main building material for muscle and without adequate intake the best bodybuilding programme will amount to nothing if the body cannot repair and build muscle in response.
How much protein should I consume then? Well this is a matter of contention, however I like to follow a rule of thumb of 1.5-2g of protein for every kilo of bodyweight per day. More detailed and thorough guidance is offered here by Jeff Nippard in his interview with researcher Jorn Trommelen who together present a thorough analysis of muscle protein synthesis and how this translates to the daily protein demands from your diet.
2. EATING MY DAILY PROTEIN ALLOWANCE IN ONE MEAL
So I had gotten as far as realising that protein should be a nutrition focus when seeking to gain muscle mass and I had calculated my daily intake at 2.2g per kg; all I needed to do now then was hit this number and I’d be on the road to that muscular physique in no time…...not quite!
“Inability to store protein"
You see, whilst the body is adept at storing fat it has an inability to store protein in anything other than small quantities. Therefore, my idea to simply consume 500g, yes 500g, of minced beef in a bolognese at dinner, really wasn’t helping, most of the protein was wasted. As a person who hates the idea of food waste this was a huge ironic slap in the face.
I finally understood, the body is constantly repairing and growing and it is our responsibility through our nutrition to ensure the materials for growth are readily available. When it comes to protein this has to be in regular amounts spread throughout the day. Personally I consume protein with every meal and have on hand some overnight oaks soaked in a flavoured protein shake to consume in between main meals (twice daily). You can find a great recipe from Joe Delaney here.
3. FAILING TO MEASURE
This was a big one for me. It was clear I needed to change the types of food I was eating and certainly increase my protein intake but it wasn’t clear how much I should be eating and in what proportions?
"Keeping it simple and keeping it consistent"
As I have found with many things in life, keeping it simple and keeping it consistent reaps the best reward over the long-term. So I took what I knew and used some simple tools available freely online to help me answer these questions:
TDEE Calculation: Firstly how much should I be eating and in what quantities? For this I turned to the simple measure of the calorie and using an online calculator worked out the total number of calories needed per day to maintain my body, bulk or cut weight. Now I knew my calorie target for bulking and the proportions of food I should be eating e.g. 40% carbs, 40% protein, 20% fat.
MyFitnessPal: Then I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app over a few days to see how what I was eating compared to these targets; the mobile app is great as you can scan the barcodes of products you eat to save time with inputting the data.
After several days of tracking I could see where there were gaps (I was still consuming too much fat and too many carbs) and through a bit of trial and error I made some switches to what I was eating to close them.
Keeping it simple I would then revisit this process in the app every few months and make changes where necessary.
4. FAILING TO PREPARE
Cooking is a passion and I love spending time in the kitchen to try out new recipes. Despite this, there are always those days for whatever reason where I didn’t have the ingredients or the time to prepare and ended up buying something ready made. This was a problem when trying to stick to my diet plan. Especially living in Zurich and at the time on a strict budget, cheap often meant not good. Athlean X has a perfect video which sums up the result, using the parameters good, fast and cheap; in most cases a meal is rarely cheap, fast and good, only a pre-boiled egg comes to mind.
Therefore my quick and cheap takeaway options were definitely not good and definitely not on plan!
The solution was to either purchase healthy ready made meals just for these occasions, these would be more expensive but at least I knew they would fit into my plan: eatbyAlex is a good example here in Zurich, or take an evening to prepare several meals in bulk which could last several days in the fridge or even longer in the freezer to have each day. What was great about this option is that I could input the recipes into MyFitnessPal to see clearly how they contributed to my daily targets.
5. NOT SLEEPING ON IT
So I was eating better, consuming a balanced diet, primarily of wholefoods, ensuring my protein and water intake was regular and following a progressive workout plan. This brings me to my last realisation and whilst not nutrition related I feel it is important to add on as a 5th tip. That is the importance of sleep and how it was as important to muscle growth as nutrition and exercise.
" too little [sleep] would actively work against muscle gain"
I decided to read a fantastic, eye-opening book on the topic, entitled why we sleep by Michael Walker, in it he explains the benefits of consistent and, importantly, adequate sleep periods and how in doing so many common ailments seen in society could be alleviated.
The realisation was that diet and exercise were important however it must be combined with adequate sleep for the body to rest and use this time to repair and grow. Linking back to the diet, ensuring a proper diet during the day would therefore provide the building blocks for the body to use during repair during the night also.
An everyday game changer was the books' reference to 11 sleep hygiene habits from the National Sleep Foundation which I turn to every now and again to remind me of ways to keep sleep consistent.
Top 5 Summarised
In summary I hope these tips may inspire you and to save you scrolling back up the page here they are again in short-form:
Protein is an essential building block for muscle growth.
The body cannot store protein easily so it should be consumed regularly.
Set targets and measure periodically.
Prepared meals keep you on target.
Sleep is as much a priority as exercise.
Please note: These nutrition tips are based on what I have personally experienced throughout my training career. I am not a qualified nutritionist and simply share these tips to serve as a guide. Always consult a nutritionist before making any major change to your diet.