Anyone who has spent much time in the gym knows that building up new muscle mass, reducing body fat and improving performance is not just a question of trying to lift more or wanting it harder. It’s also about taking care of your body outside the times you’re actually training.
Whenever a new eating hack is discovered – rather, when somebody figures out to package it and sell it – the whole world seems to go all gaga about its possibilities, only to realize three months later that magic is rarely real. Let’s try to filter out some of the over-hyped products and focus on what natural supplements can form as a part of a healthy diet focused on muscle gain, how they work and what are their limitations.
Most people who take training seriously are very careful to limit their fat intake. On the other hand, it’s a proven fact that new muscle just can’t be created without eating some amount of fat, nor are all fats unhealthy.
One way to classify different fats is based on how long their molecular chains are. Most animal fats have long chains, unlike with coconut oil’s being much shorter. This means that coconut oil is digested faster, making food energy more easily available and helps in increasing your metabolism. This does not mean that coconut oil is “a fat that burns fat” as is sometimes claimed; rather, replacing an equivalent number of calories from some other fat with coconut oil will show a slight (50 to 100 calories per day) improvement in metabolic rate. Simply, eating coconut oil in addition to your normal diet will not have this effect.
Note that coconut oil also has applications in cosmetics. Therefore, all grades are not suitable to use as food. This is one example where paying extra for the good stuff, namely organic, virgin coconut oil, is a good way to spend money.
A number of things happen when muscles get tired — their first-line energy reserves are depleted, a while later your blood sugar can drop while blood lactic acid levels rise, and also the amino acid, glutamine, is used up. Glutamine levels can take several days to be restored to normal. Meanwhile, protein synthesis will be slower, less nitrogen will be available to build new muscle tissue, and you’ll continue to feel weaker than you have to.
Whether cutting fat, trying to increase the intensity of a training schedule or simply maintaining gains already achieved, L-glutamine plays a key role. It also helps to increase growth hormone levels in the body without resorting to steroids or other dangerous tricks.
Some amount of glutamine is often included in whey powders and other supplements. While this is a substance that naturally occurs in the body and won’t cause any serious side effects, check the labels and aim for an appropriate dosage.
Although collagen can be obtained through foods such as bone broth, dedicated bodybuilders (and vegetarians) might find some significant benefits by taking it in the form of a good-quality supplement.
Collagen is not only an important component of connective tissues – ligaments, tendons, other stuff that can be strained and needs to be repaired – but is also a source of the amino acid glycine, which is poorly synthesized by our own bodies. Eating only a ton of skinless chicken breasts will mean that the balance between the various kinds of amino acids is less than optimum. This means that muscle growth and repair won’t be as efficient as it could be. Collagen also plays a major role in skin health, keeping it elastic and possibly helping with stretch marks.
Vegan Protein Powder
Getting 100g of protein a day can be done by eating around twenty eggs or a pound of steak…but this isn’t always kind to the stomach, nor the best source of calories. A large number of myths surround plant-based protein supplements, and some products are indeed better than others. Whey powder is unlikely to ever go away, but vegan options are also worth considering.
Eating meat does indeed stimulate muscle growth by causing hormonal changes. Although, too much really is bad for you, especially over the longer term. Protein powders manufactured from plant sources, by contrast, can help reduce cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health in general. Reducing the amount of meat and dairy in a diet, including whey derivatives, can reduce the incidence of inflammation in the joints. Especially in the form of a well-designed supplement, vegan protein can indeed contain all the amino acids a body needs. In fact, a number of high performing athletes follow a vegetarian or vegan diet without any apparent problems.