Anabolism is a set of metabolic pathways in the body that synthesize complex molecules from simpler ones. While there are many different anabolic pathways in the body, the one that has the greatest impact on muscle growth involves the buildup of complex muscle proteins from simpler building blocks known as amino acids, where the accumulation of muscle protein ultimately drives muscle growth. In terms of diet, it is well established that muscle protein synthesis increases considerably after consuming the right type of protein, highlighting the need for high-quality protein for maximal muscle growth. On the other hand, two other anabolic processes also influence muscle growth, yet in a more indirect fashion. The anabolic buildup of muscle glycogen polymers from the simpler sugar glucose is incredibly important for muscle growth, as glycogen functions as the primary energy source during muscular contraction, especially while lifting heavy weights. In addition, studies have shown that a lack of muscle glycogen promotes the catabolic breakdown of muscle protein.
While it is pretty straightforward that adequate muscle glycogen is important for optimal muscle growth, consuming simple sugars like sucrose (table sugar) or glucose can deleteriously influence muscle growth by rapidly increasing blood insulin levels – which surprisingly, tends to quickly desensitize the potency of a key biochemical process that promotes muscle growth. Therefore, even though carbohydrate consumption is essential for optimal muscle growth, simple sugars should be avoided as much as possible.
Finally, the anabolic process that converts fatty acids into triglycerides also vitally influences muscle growth. To start, too much fat, or fatty acids, in your diet will increase triglyceride production and increase body fat. Of course, you don’t want to increase body fat for obvious reasons. Yet even more, studies have shown that increased body fat also decreases muscle protein synthesis, which will certainly have a negative impact on muscle growth. On the other hand, certain fatty acids have been shown to stimulate testosterone production for greater muscle growth. Taken together, ingesting the right amount and type of fatty acids promotes greater muscle growth, making them a critical part of the optimal anabolic diet.
The Right Protein at the Right Time
The net gain in muscle protein is the difference between muscle protein synthesis versus muscle protein breakdown, where greater protein synthesis represents an anabolic environment favoring muscle growth. This anabolic response can be increased by dietary protein consumption, stimulating muscle protein synthesis and decreasing muscle protein degradation.
Protein consumption causes muscle protein accretion mainly by activating the extremely important nutrient-sensing molecule mTOR, which directly activates muscle protein synthesis in response to protein intake after exercise. Several scientific studies highlight mTOR activation by protein intake, especially the essential amino acid leucine. One study by Walker et al. 4 showed that leucine consumption shortly after working out increased mTOR activity for several hours post-workout, leading to greater muscle protein synthesis as compared to an exercised group that was not fed leucine. Another scientific inquiry by Pasiakos et al. 5 demonstrated that consumption of leucine immediately after exercise increased muscle protein synthesis by as much as 33 percent.
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