The type of foods you eat and when you eat them have just as much to do with building lean body mass as your workout routine. Increasing the number of calories you eat is mandatory for building muscles, but when you eat the wrong foods at the wrong times, your body converts the calories to fat instead. Most people have heard they need to avoid carbohydrates if they want to lose weight. The fact is, carbohydrates are vital to muscle growth as long as they are available when the body needs them most.
Timing your meals properly ensures that the extra calories you consume are used to build muscle instead of being stored as fat tissue. Your body needs extra carbohydrates after a workout to aid in recovery. When you are training, your body relies on glycogen stores in the muscles for fuel. Breaking down the glycogen releases the glucose needed to generate ATP, which is necessary for muscle contraction.
After a workout, the body needs to replenish the glycogen, and the quicker, the better. Consuming foods containing high-glycemic carbohydrates immediately following a workout is the most effective way to restore glycogen to the muscles. If you fail to replenish the glycogen, you are preventing your muscles from receiving the nutrients they need to recover quickly. Delaying your carbohydrate intake after a workout reduces the rate of replenishment, which is why it is important to eat fast-digesting carbs as soon as possible after your training session.
In addition to restoring glycogen levels, consuming carbohydrates after a workout helps you feel rejuvenated. You will not feel as wiped out after a session, which will make you look forward to your next workout instead of dreading the way you will feel after it.
Consuming fast digesting carbs after a workout triggers specific chemical reactions in the body that encourage muscle recovery and growth. After consuming carbohydrates, there is an increase in insulin circulating in the blood. Insulin is important because it binds to receptors on the muscle cells and facilitates the uptake of glucose and amino acids. The muscles need these nutrients for recovery and growth. Carnitine and creatine, in particular, depend on insulin to gain access to the muscles.
When selecting your post-workout carbs, you want to choose those that digest fast. Dextrose is pure glucose so the body does not even need to waste time digesting it before it is available to the muscles. You should avoid foods sweetened with fructose because the body cannot take advantage of it in the same way it does dextrose. Fructose must be converted to glycogen by the liver, but it stays there for release during times when blood glucose levels are low. Fructose is found in fruit, honey, sodas and most types of candy.
When you eat is just as important as what you eat if your goal is to build lean muscle mass. On days that you rest, you should decrease your carbohydrate intake because the body will convert it to fat since it does not need it for muscle recovery. Failing to limit carb intake on rest days can end up in excess fat gain, especially in the lower back area and the abdomen. Loading up on carbs on workout days and cutting back on carbs during the days that you rest provides your body with the building blocks it needs to build muscles.
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Roberto A. Giraldo is a fitness, bodybuilding enthusiast, doctor, and nutrition expert. He loves everything that makes people move and live a healthy life. Roberto wrote hundreds of articles in the health and fitness industry. His mission is to help as many people as he can to build lean muscle mass or burn fat.