No matter the season, the ultimate goal for many athletes is to lean out and bulk up by losing body fat and building muscle. But with all the supplements and gimmicks out there, what does it really take to achieve that goal in a healthy way? Here are the five steps all athletes need to follow:
Step One: To build muscle, you must add calories
Often, the underlying problem is that the body is not being given enough energy (calories) to build new muscles. To compensate, the body breaks down protein (muscle) for fuel. Add about 500 Kcal (a regular meal or a large snack) from all three macronutrient sources: carbohydrate, protein and fat. Providing your body with sufficient energy facilitates muscle building and loss of body fat. Remember that it's not just about protein, because although it's important to build muscle, growth won't occur without proper carbohydrate intake—so don't cut out pasta and rice; you need it too!
Step Two: To build muscle, you must time your intake properly
Research indicates that the two most important times for fueling are immediately following a workout and right before bed. (See Using Nutrient Timing to Build Muscle and Lose Fat.) Within first 30 to 60 minutes after a workout, catabolic hormones work to destroy muscle, so eating about 500 Kcal from carbohydrate, protein and a little fat is imperative. Try these great options: a large bagel with peanut butter, a nut butter and jelly sandwich, or two cups of low-fat chocolate milk. In addition, make sure you have a sufficient nighttime snack, because the second critical time for building muscle and losing fat is overnight, when your body is recovering, repairing and preparing. Additional options include cereal and milk, frozen yogurt paired with a banana, and cheese & crackers.
Step Three: To build muscle, you must sleep
With all the recovering and repairing your body does overnight, sleep is the single most important thing an athlete can do. Studies show that athletes who get adequate sleep are better able to lose fat and to build new muscle. Bottom line: make sleep a priority.
Step Four: To build muscle, you must train
The three pillars of muscle building are appropriate nutrition, adequate sleep and proper training. Work with a trainer who can implement the right program for you. (Get started with these tips: How to Start a Training Program and Five Variables to Consider When Developing a Training Program.)
Step Five: To build muscle, you must skip the supplements
That's right. There is no magic pill or drink that will turn you into the Hulk overnight. Get rid of the powders, pills and shakes. Eat well, sleep well and train hard. That is the only proven way to get the results you want.