build lean muscle

The two most important things you need to know to build lean muscle

Building lean muscle or “getting toned” as it is sometimes termed is often a goal when it comes to exercise but the type of exercise and what you eat really does make a difference. Growing lean muscle tissue is determined by the rate of muscle protein synthesis which is regulated by strength training and your protein intake. 

Let’s break this down – muscle protein synthesis is the process by which muscles grow. Everyday muscle tissue is both created and broken down and the amount created must be greater than the amount broken down to see muscle growth. Muscles are made up of protein-based fibres and so increasing the number and size of those fibres increases the muscle mass. 

Muscle protein synthesis is driven by strength training and protein intake but most importantly this is not an either or situation – both are needed for muscle growth. So how to optimise this? 

Firstly prioritise and monitor your protein intake. Protein from our diet gives the body the building blocks it needs to make up the proteins in our bodies, including muscle. These building blocks are called amino acids and there are 20 of them in total. 11 of these can be produced by the body itself and 9 that must be taken in via our diet. So not only do you need to get enough protein in, it needs to be protein that contains these 9 essential amino acids. 

Animal source proteins such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are termed complete proteins as they provide all 9 amino acids. Some plant sources such as quinoa, soy and buckwheat are also complete proteins but it’s important to double check other plant sources to ensure you’re getting all the amino acids you need.

In terms of the amount of protein you need…

The body actually needs more protein as you get older. As we age we become less efficient at handling and responding to protein so we need more of it to function optimally compared to when we are younger. It might not surprise you to find out that this increases further if you are a woman post menopause. The protein requirements officially change when we are over 65 however menopause has such a large hormone shift in a short period (resulting in body changes such as reduced muscle mass and increased body fat) that it might be wise to start upping your protein intake earlier than 65 as a woman. In addition combining that increase with a well-structured strength training plan can offset those menopause changes. 

The general protein recommendation for adults is to have 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight with more active women (especially those lifting weights) having 1-1.2 g per kg body weight which is 65-78 g of protein for a 65 kg woman. It has also been suggested that an additional 0.4 g per kg bodyweight in snacks throughout the day (an additional 26g of protein) for women in midlife and beyond is optimal. 

Finally on protein, timing is important as well. Protein should be a component of every meal and snack during the day but a high protein breakfast is very important to give the body a supply of amino acids to start the day and then again post workout to help you build lean muscle. 

Moving onto workouts… 

To build lean muscle you need to prioritise strength training. There are lots of benefits to cardio training such as heart health and blood pressure management but strength training is where it is at for so many additional benefits including bone health and building lean muscle. 

Strength training means using your muscles against a force – such as a dumbbell or band. The resistance creates damage in the muscles which then stimulates the repair and rebuild process to grow the muscle fibres back stronger. Remember you can just use bodyweight too.

Research has shown that 30-45 minutes three to four times a week is ideal to build lean muscle. Strength training three times a week gives your body enough time to recover between sessions whilst still being challenging enough to see the results. The key is to target different areas of the body on different days to allow time for the recovery.

If you’re new to fitness and training you may need to start more gently with very light weights and build up over time. I have long since been an advocate of strength training, particularly for women, and with this in mind I built my platform – Caroline’s Circuits. My workouts are 4 times a week for just 30 minutes. They are interval strength training circuits which work different muscle groups and challenge the body – they give the perfect mix of strength and cardio for the best results.

The online workouts are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (they are all recorded and available to you immediately after the session if you can’t make them live). Classes have been specifically designed to suit all fitness levels and create fitness habits which last & which produce results.

Any questions as always please do get in touch!

Caroline x

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