Article - Protein and Carb balance to build muscle by Jennifer Bateman

Protein and Carbohydrate balance to Build Muscle Strength

As any rock climber knows, the sport places high demands on you, requiring the use of numerous muscle groups in the upper and lower body. The strength of the muscles in the arms, chest, abdomen, back and legs can be increased through participation in climbing itself, but ideally taking part in resistance training to build muscle size and strength will see you achieve quicker results, which will be reflected in your performance when you climb. However, exercise is only part of the equation; to increase your muscle mass you need to pay attention to what you eat. Here we take a look at two of the key dietary factors that influence muscle building.

Meeting protein requirements

Muscles are predominantly formed from protein, so an adequate supply of protein is needed to maintain your current muscle mass and extra to promote muscle growth; additionally strenuous activity can cause damage to muscle fibres, so protein also helps to promote healing of these injuries. Participating in rock climbing you therefore need more protein than someone who does little exercise. It is suggested that the general population requires around 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, but those who take part in sport that requires strength training require up to 1.7g of protein per kilogram. Consuming much more protein than this is unnecessary, as there is a limit to how much protein your body can use to form new tissues; it is also unwise, as excess protein is excreted by the kidneys and causing them to work harder for long periods of time could pave the way for kidney problems in the future.

While lean meat is undoubtedly a good source of protein, there are many others, so adequate can be provided in the diet even when little or no meat is eaten. Fish, eggs, low fat dairy produce, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), tofu, nuts and seeds all provide protein and we should aim to include a range of different protein rich foods in our diet each day. This relates to the fact that proteins are made from amino acids and each type of protein includes a different mix of these; eating a varied diet ensures we can obtain a good intake of each one. While fat is a useful source of energy to meet increased calorie requirements during intense activity, try to avoid protein foods that are high in fat, such as the likes of sausages, burgers and hard cheese, which tend to contain a lot of saturated fat - this can be detrimental to cholesterol levels and heart health.

We should aim to include protein with each meal, as a regular supply throughout the day is the best way to meet our protein requirements. Snacks in between meals can be a good way to top up your protein intake if you struggle to obtain sufficient from breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. Good snack ideas might be a small sandwich, crackers with cottage cheese, a pot of yogurt or a small handful of nuts. Even if you don’t normally have a snack during the day, after a climbing or alternative training session a protein rich snack is strongly advised. After you have been working your muscles not only do you need to repair damaged tissue, but this is the ideal time for muscle building to take place, which obviously requires a supply of protein to incorporate into the new tissues. If you struggle to eat a snack after training, post workout supplements that contain protein are an ideal solution to the problem. While in theory you could just have a glass of milk, these supplements are formulated to contain the perfect balance of nutrients to aid recovery and strength of muscles.

Don’t forget carbohydrates

While a lot of emphasis is placed on eating enough protein each day, without sufficient carbohydrates your attempts to increase muscle mass and strength will be futile. Not only are carbohydrates needed to fuel the exercise you complete to stimulate muscle growth, but they also provide the energy needed to create new muscle tissue. Without adequate carbohydrate, the body may also look to the muscles for energy, leading to their breakdown, which is the exact opposite of what you are looking to achieve. For these reasons carbohydrates should be consumed at each meal and appear with snacks, particularly those eaten after training; post workout supplements usually contain carbohydrate as well.

As far as the type of carbohydrates goes, choose whole grains, as these are richest in nutrients; as well as more fibre, they contain a range of vitamins and minerals important to health and muscle building. Whole grains include oats and cereals such as bran flakes and Weetabix; wholemeal, granary or rye bread; oatcakes and crackers such as Ryvita; brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. They also have the advantage that they tend to release their energy more slowly – especially oats, rye and granary bread – so allow energy levels to be sustained till the next meal. This means that blood glucose levels and therefore insulin levels are kept more constant, which can additionally help with the creation of new muscle. While fruit is a good inclusion in the diet owing to its micronutrient content, other sugary foods such as chocolate, cakes, desserts and full sugar soft drinks should be limited, as they provide little nutritional value besides energy.

A balanced diet is vital to provide the full complement of nutrients needed to maintain your body in good health and condition. However, paying attention to your protein and carbohydrate intake when you are aiming to increase muscle strength will see your rock climbing performance benefit.

- Jennifer Bateman.

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Comment by Ruud on April 8, 2013 at 21:17

Interesting article, I'd like to add a few aspects around nutrition (having a nutrition background);

- a Western diet has typically sufficient protein levels, if you consider an increase in protein intake a visit to a dietitian might be useful to support you in that

- variation in your food pattern is in my opinion the most important one

- a 80/20 rule regarding healthy eating and indulgence can be a good reference when you look at your food pattern

- @vegetarians, there are protein rich foods that you might not know of, search the internet for it e.g. quinoa

Comment by Daniel on April 8, 2013 at 17:10

I think milk is a good source of protein. Tho many people are saying it's actually not so healthy. 

Comment by Jen Harvey on April 8, 2013 at 17:07

I've also read that drinking milk and beetroot juice also helps muscles recover (far better than a sports drink apparently).

I'm vegetarian so I always have to watch this and make sure I get enough protein down me. You do feel weaker if you are low.

So it's lentil soup for me tonight then :-)

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