In recent years, the science of how to build muscle hasn’t made big advances; it’s made friggin’ quantum leaps!

If you want to build more muscle then listen up, I’m going to share with some critical breakthroughs in how to do it. This information will save you years of wasted effort. Armed with this knowledge virtually anyone should be able to make tremendous gains and add pounds of muscle to their physique.

Great strides in the application of stable isotope tracer technology, immunohistochemical muscle fiber typing, more accurate body composition assessments and powerful microarray methods (that can measure genetic responses to training and diet) are all contributing enormously to a better understanding of the factors that ultimately control the size of human muscle mass.

Okay, all that may sound a little geeky, but hey I’m a scientist……It’s the geeky stuff that gets me going! Especially if it’s got anything to do with muscle.

The best part about my job is that I can pass on this information to others so that more people understand exactly what is required to build muscle, reduce body fat and achieve the physique they’ve always wanted.

It is now clear (about as clear as it gets in research) that stimulating muscle protein synthesis is THE facilitating process that underlines changes in the size of muscle mass [1,2]. In essence, a high stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (let’s just shorten that to MPS) is essential to gaining muscle. Now to some of you, this may not sound like an incredible, scientific revelation. However, rest assured this information is an incredibly important piece in the overall picture of how to improve your physique with diet and exercise. I’ll explain why.

Without a doubt, the mechanisms that regulate the size of human muscle mass are complex. I sure as hell don’t profess to know all the answers about how to build muscle, but I’m getting there! Seriously, there are many, many factors that influence the muscle growth process including, but not limited to, physical activity, hormones, disease, age, genetic factors as well as the quality and quantity of nutrition.

In reality, scientists have only just begun to scratch the surface on how these aspects influence our ability to build muscle. However, don’t despair, armed with our new, exciting information, I’m going to show you how to utilize it to your advantage. Best of all, it’s going to save you months or even years of wasted time, particularly if you’re one of those guys or gals that have to work their butt off just to add a molecule of muscle to their frame.

Building Muscle Mass 101

If building muscle were a subject at college, then there would be three fundamentally important rules you would need to learn to pass. We’ll get to these in a moment. First, we’ve got to cover some basic ground work. If we get right down to the scientific nuts and bolts of it, an ultra-high stimulation of MPS, 24:7 is the name of the game if you want to build muscle and transform your physique. Stimulating MPS simply means that muscle proteins are being synthesized. As Paul Delia has told you many times, muscle is protein and protein is muscle. It’s true. However, there are factors that work against your ability to build muscle.

The quality and quantity of protein within your muscles is essentially maintained through a continuous remodeling process that involves constant synthesis and breakdown – anabolic and catabolic processes[3]. It is a process that never stops. Even without the influence of exercise, muscle proteins are constantly being broken down and regenerated. Even when you’re doing nothing physical except tapping on a keyboard or just kickin’ back watching the tube, muscle protein synthesis and breakdown is always occurring. Scientists call this process “protein turnover.”

As I said, this process never stops, but it can speed up or slow down in response to various circumstances. For example, dieting (calorie restriction) slows down this process. Aging also slows down protein turnover and the rate at which new muscle proteins are regenerated. Alternatively, after you’ve hit the gym for your Max-OT workout, protein turnover is accelerated – enormously.

Because muscle tissue is the body’s largest reservoir of bound and unbound proteins (amino acids that constitute 50-75% of all proteins in the human body), this means that muscle protein turnover is synonymous with whole body protein turnover.[3] What’s happening within your muscles has an enormous impact on the entire body. In fact, muscle’s huge impact on whole body protein turnover is a clear reflection of the key role this tissue plays in the regulation of protein metabolism. In other words, muscle is drawn upon constantly to supply the amino acids that are required for a vast array of physiological demands. This occurs every single day, day in and day out.

See Also:
Increase Muscle Growth by Not Training: The Important Role of Recovery

For example, muscle mass is the main reservoir of fuel that powers immune function and the development of every new cell [4]. Cells are important. They make up all tissues and organs within the body (we go through several thousand gut cells every day alone!) Just like your bank account, muscle tissue is constantly being tapped into by these regular withdrawals. If you don’t make some rather substantial deposits, the balance just keeps diminishing. A clear example of this is the muscle loss that is common in aging. Now if you haven’t been gaining muscle the way you’d like to, are you starting to understand at least one reason why?

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite clear that any change in muscles mass such as growth (or hypertrophy is the technical term), is a result of an increase in protein turnover. Particularly, the stimulation of MPS. Hypertrophy can only occur by increasing the synthesis rate of muscle proteins faster than they are broken down [2]. Since the stimulation of MPS is the critical regulatory event that leads to muscle growth, let’s look specifically at how to stimulate an increase in this vital process.

Science has confirmed that weight lifting exercise is a most potent stimulus for increasing MPS. A single bout of weight lifting exercise stimulates an increase in MPS by 100% for at least 24 hours and maybe up to 48 hours [1]. In people who don’t train with weights, any old training protocol should create this effect. Obviously, if a person has never lifted a weight before, no matter what exercise, sets, and reps they perform is going to be a “stimulus” their muscles have never experienced before. However, if there is one thing we do know about human physiology is that it adapts to stimuli very quickly.

If you want to build muscle; there are two rules that you must understand. The first is, the stimulation of MPS is the critical regulatory event that leads to muscle growth. The second is that the degree of overload placed on muscle determines the magnitude of stimulation of MPS.

For example, as a result of regular weight training, less muscle mass is recruited to lift a given load[5], and the stimuli to increase MPS for a given load is diminished [6]. Therefore, if lifting weights has the potential to cause a tremendous increase in MPS, but regular training diminishes this response, then the most important question is, what type of weight training program is most effective at providing a high stimulation of MPS?

What the science tells us . . .

Recent work in molecular physiology has provided some very important clues as to how we should train to build muscle. Recent research has confirmed earlier work (and that’s a good thing in science) that gains in muscle mass observed in response to loading, correlate with the magnitude of stimulation of MPS. Greater overload to the muscle results in greater muscle protein synthesis.

For you, muscle research buffs, seminal work completed by Baar & Esser [7] confirmed that the degree of overload placed on muscle correlates with the magnitude of stimulation of MPS and the subsequent increase in muscle mass. In other words, muscle mass gains are directly proportional to the stimulation of MPS which, in turn, is proportional to the amount of overload placed on muscle.

The greater the overload (amount of weight used), the higher the stimulation of MPS, this sets the stage for gains in muscle mass!

If you want to build muscle, there are two rules that you must understand.

  • The stimulation of MPS is the critical regulatory event that leads to muscle growth.
  • The amount of overload placed on muscle determines the magnitude of stimulation of MPS. Think Max-OT.

Kind of straight forward isn’t it? However, think about this for one second; how many weight training programs and techniques deviate from this fundamental rule?

The science is crystal clear – high overload equals high stimulation of MPS equals more muscle.

In Part-2 we’ll take a look at the specifics of weight training program design that maximize MPS and muscle mass gains.

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Research Update: Optimize Protein Synthesis and Maximize Muscle Mass! Part-1

by Paul Cribb Ph.D. CSCS. time to read: 8 min