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Building muscle can seem like a confusing process.

Some people say you need to use high reps in your workouts, others say you should just focus on getting strong.

Some say you need to eat a high-protein diet, others say it doesn’t matter.

Some say you need to eat a meal immediately before and/or after your workout, others say you just have to eat enough calories throughout the day.

How are you supposed to know who’s right?

Well, one way to sift through this muddle of facts, opinions, and pap is to zero in on exactly what you’re going for.

And if your goal is to build muscle, then you need to understand that all of these strategies are really aimed at one thing: muscle protein synthesis.

What’s that, you wonder?

Well, that’s what you’re going to learn on this podcast.

You’re going to learn what muscle protein synthesis is, why it’s so important for building muscle, the six best ways to increase muscle protein synthesis, and how to avoid the things that decrease muscle protein synthesis.

Let’s get started.

Time Stamps:

3:41 – What is muscle protein synthesis?

10:31 – How do calories impair muscle protein synthesis?

14:43 – Why is protein so important to muscle protein synthesis?

23:06 – Which supplements help with muscle protein synthesis?

28:13 – How does sleep affect muscle protein synthesis?

Mentioned on the show: 

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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hello friends and welcome. Welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to talk about building muscles, which can seem confusing depending on who you listen to and which rabbit holes they take you down because you have people. Saying that you need to use high reps, and then you have people who are saying that you should really just be doing the opposite, just low rep stuff, just focus on getting strong.

And then you have people who are saying, Oh, you need to combine rep ranges. You have high protein diet. Advocates. You have people saying that you don’t really need to eat that much protein. Actually something in the middle’s fine. And then you have some people saying that you don’t really need to eat much protein at all.

You can just eat vegetables and fruits and nuts and stuff. And then of course there is meal timing and meal composition and so on and so forth. And I understand. Hand how perplexing and how frustrating it can be. Cuz I was once that person faced with all of these contradictory opinions on just about anything and everything related to eating, training and supplementing.

And I of course wondered who’s right, what works, and then. What works well, maybe even what works best, right? That’s really what we would like to get to. Now, in this episode, I am going to focus in on one specific and very important aspect of muscle building, and that is muscle protein synthesis. And I’m going to break down for you what it is and how it relates to muscle growth and also muscle loss and how to maximize it through diet and training.

Supplementation can help, but primarily it’s going to be diet and. Also, if you like what I am doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world, and we’re on top.

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Okay, first up, what is muscle protein synthesis? The simple explanation is this is the process your body uses to repair, grow, and strengthen muscle fibers, and it occurs when your body takes immuno acids. That it gets from the food you eat, or at least it gets some of them. It gets the essential amino acids from the food that you eat and it combines them with others that it produces, and then it creates new proteins.

And these new proteins are used to repair and to build new muscle tissue the body has in. Opposite mechanism as well called muscle protein breakdown, whereby it breaks muscle tissue down into amino acids that it can then use for its various needs. And when you look at muscle growth through this lens, it’s actually very simple.

What it is, It is muscle protein synthesis rates, outpacing muscle protein breakdown rates for extended periods of time, so you could look at that in terms of weeks or months or years, regardless if you’re going to gain. Muscle. Your muscle protein synthesis rates are going to have to exceed at your muscle protein breakdown rates over that period of time.

It’s similar to energy balance in this regard, right? If you are going to lose a bunch of fat over the course of, let’s say, six months, of course that is going to require a calorie deficit, and you could look at that deficit in terms of the day to day. That’s how most people look at it. Or you could zoom out and you could just look at, okay, over the course of.

Six months, you are going to have burned X calories and you are going to have eaten y calories, and Y is going to have to be smaller than X by a large amount if you are going to come out the other end of this much leaner than where you started. So similarly, when you’re looking at muscle growth, if you look at it in terms, let’s say six months, if you were to quantify all the muscle protein synthesis that is occurring during.

Period. It’s going to have to be considerably greater than the muscle protein breakdown that occurred if it were the other way around. If muscle breakdown rates were much higher when looked at in their totality, then synthesis rates, you will not have gained muscle, but you will have lost. Muscle. So to build muscle, then what you want to do is you want to increase your muscle protein synthesis rates as much as you can, as often as you can, and for as long as you can in each individual instance of increasing them, right?

And you also want to reduce muscle protein breakdown rates as much as you can. In terms of frequency and intensity and duration. Now when you lift weights, when you train, you are damaging cells in your muscle fibers, and this tells the body that it’s time to increase muscle protein synthesis rates because it needs to repair the damage.

So in that way, training is anabolic. It leads to the creation of more complex tissues from simpler substances, right? It takes these simpler immuno acids and it turns them into the more complex proteins. And after you do a workout, there is a rapid and a prolonged. Increase in muscle protein synthesis that lasts anywhere from a couple of days, three days or so to less than 24 hours, depending on what you did in the workout.

If you did a couple of sets, that’s not gonna be as anabolic as, let’s say, nine sets. And also how trained you are, how close you are to your genetic potential for muscle and strength. Because as you get more jacked, your body becomes more resistant to the training stimulus, and it takes a lot more to get a lot less muscle protein synthesis.

Unfortunately, but that’s one of the reasons why newbie gains is a thing, why it’s real. Your body in the beginning is hyper responsive to the training, and it only takes a moderate amount of training stimulus to maximize muscle protein synthesis rates. Whereas when you are more experienced and your nubi gains are well behind you, it takes a lot more training to get a lot less muscle protein synthesis out of the.

Now as far as the relationship between the amount of training you are doing in an individual workout and the amount of muscle protein synthesis that occurs because of it, a good rule of thumb is something between probably three and nine. Maybe as many as 12 hard sets, which would be sets taken close to technical failure with heavy weights for an individual muscle group in a session is the effective range.

So if you want to get the maximum training stimulus for an individual muscle group, In an individual session, somewhere between nine and 12 sets for that muscle group is the most that I would recommend. When you go beyond that, it starts to turn into what some people refer to as junk volume, like you’re gonna burn more calories, and there is going to be an additional training stimulus, but it’s going to drop.

Precipitously. That really is the point of diminishing returns. Now, of course, that is not to say that you have to do nine to 12 hard sets for an individual muscle group or for each individual muscle group in a workout. There are good reasons for why you may wanna do fewer sets than that. For example, if you are doing full body training, if you are doing several full body workouts per week, you can’t do nine to 12.

Heavy sets for four or five major muscle groups in a session. So you’re going to do three to maybe five and that’s totally fine. So long as you are doing enough good volume every week, so long as you are getting, let’s say 15 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week. If you are an experienced weightlifter and something probably around nine to 12 hard sets per major mouse group per week, if you are new, you’re gonna do.

So to reiterate here, effective training greatly increases muscle protein, synthesis rates, and effective training mostly comes down to doing effective exercises that you can load with heavy weights. Let’s say anything, maybe 65% of one rep max and up and where you are doing enough hard sets in each workout.

To total enough hard sets each week for the major most groups you want to train with a hard set being defined as a set that ends with one or two good reps still left in the tank. So one or two reps shy of technical failure where your form starts breaking down. Okay, let’s flip this coin over now and talk about something related.

To nutrition to how you eat, and that is simply calories because we’ll get to protein of course, and eating protein is important, and anybody into building muscle has heard that and probably at least tried to high protein diet. But many people don’t understand how important calories alone are because a calorie deficit is great and needed to lose.

But it also impairs your body’s ability to create new muscle proteins. It impairs muscle protein synthesis, and that then slows down or can even halt muscle growth. Now again, in newbies, the effect is not great enough to stop muscle gain, and that’s why newbies can reamp. That’s why newbies can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.

But as you become more experienced and as your body becomes more resistant to the training stimulus and. Muscle protein synthesis rates do not rise as high as they once did. After you work out for as long as they once did. The hindrance of the calorie deficit becomes great enough to more or less eliminate the possibility of gaining muscle.

Another related downside to. Restricting calories is when you are in a calorie deficit, and especially as time goes on, anabolic hormone levels like testosterone go down and catabolic hormone levels like cortisol go up. And that of course is not conducive to muscle gain. And so really the key takeaway here then is when you want to maximize muscle and strength gain, you have to make sure you are not in a calorie deficit.

Now, how do you do that? The only reliable way to do that is to consistently. Be in a calorie surplus and enough of a calorie surplus on paper to actually be in a calorie surplus, I recommend 10%. I think that’s a sweet spot that ensures that you are going to be consistently eating at least a little bit more than you are burning without eating so much that you just get fat way too fast.

I’ve seen many guys and gals over the years fail in their lean. Because of eating too little and too much. Many people think, Oh, it’s just too much. But too little can ultimately mean that you are in a calorie deficit too often to consistently make gains. So when people try to maintain very small surpluses, like 5% for example, the margin of error is just way too small.

Also, remember that our total daily energy expenditure is a moving. And it is a guesstimate. We don’t know exactly how many calories we are burning every day, and unless we are really carefully weighing and measuring everything we’re eating, we don’t know exactly how many calories we are eating either.

So when you are creating a meal plan and you are trying to figure out. A very small surplus, like 5% in actual practice. What almost always happens is some days it’s actually a 5% deficit or a 2% deficit. Some days it is a five ish percent surplus. Some days it’s maybe even a little bit more, but as being in a calorie deficit any days really is undesirable if you’re trying to maximize muscle and strength gain.

If over the course of several months, let’s say half of your days are in a deficit, or even a third of your days are in a deficit, and the remaining days are in a surplus, that is not going to be nearly as effective as all of your days, or 90% plus of your days being in a surplus, and you can ensure that you.

In a surplus consistently by just taking that surplus from 5% again to 10%, now you have a bit more wiggle room. You don’t have to try to be as exactly on target with your estimations of calorie burning and calorie eating, and as far as fat. Gain goes, there’s not gonna be much of a difference between if you really were to just be consistently at a 5% surplus every day or a 10% surplus every day, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gonna gain fat twice as quickly.

Okay. Now let’s talk about protein. Why is eating protein so important to muscle protein synthesis? It directly stimulate. There is an immuno acid in protein called leucine that is most responsible. That is the immuno acid is most responsible for this mechanism. So you eat protein, muscle protein, synthesis rates go up and muscle protein breakdown rates go down.

And then of course, protein gives your body the raw materials, the building blocks. It needs the acids to then build the new muscle tissue to create the. Muscle tissue. Now, if we are talking protein intake, we might as well quickly comment on protein timing and particularly on protein around your workouts, pre-workout protein, post-workout protein, and I’ll start with post-workout protein because that is the most popular.

Many people think that is very important to eat protein after your workouts, and that’s not true. It’s not a bad idea. If you haven’t had protein in the couple of hours preceding your. Then yes, it’s a good idea. Have some protein, Have a serving of protein within maybe 60 minutes of finishing your workout, because research does show that muscle protein breakdown rates spike after training.

So if you haven’t eaten protein in several hours and you train and you’re gonna see then after the workout, a rapid increase in muscle protein breakdown. But if you have some protein, you can suppress the breakdown rates and you can jack up the synthesis rates. Now, if you had some protein right before your workout, you are not going to benefit much, if at all, from having protein, just maybe an hour and a half later, maybe even two hours later.

In that case, I would say have your protein before your workout if you want to. And then have another serving of protein, probably three or four hours after that. Now, you should also know that eating enough protein every day is far more important than when you eat it. So if for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to have protein before or after your workouts, that’s totally fine.

Just make sure that you eat enough. Protein every day. Something around one gram per pound of body weight per day can be a bit less, can be a bit more if you are overweight, and that would mean eating an obscene amount of protein. Then look at it more in terms of percentage of calories, and just go for 40% of your daily calories, 30 to 40% of your daily calories from protein, and you will be getting 80% of the benefits.

The muscle building benefits by doing. And then you can optimize things a little bit more with protein timing. But that’s that gives you an idea of the relative importance. Now, as far as optimizing your protein intake goes, the timing is one tool you can use. And research shows that eating. More frequently, eating protein more frequently is probably superior for muscle gain over time than eating protein infrequently.

So for example, having one or two large meals with a lot of protein is probably inferior for muscle gain and especially for, we’re talking experienced like intermediate or advanced weightlifters. Then eating four to six servings of protein. Per day, which of course would be smaller. One example of this is a study that was conducted by researchers at R M I T University in Australia that had 24 healthy young men do strength training, workouts, and eat protein in one of a few different ways.

So Group one had four servings of 20 grams of protein with three hours in between each group. Two. Two servings of 40 grams of protein with six hours in between each. And group three had eight servings of 10 grams of protein with one and a half hours in between each. And what these scientists found is that the muscle protein synthesis was much higher in the first group, which had the four 20 gram servings throughout the day than in the other groups.

Another relevant study was conducted by scientists at the University of Texas, and they found that protein synthesis was. 23% higher in people who ate three large meals containing 23 grams of protein, plus three smaller meals that contained 15 grams of essential amino acids, which is not the same as protein, of course, but it is a study worth considering.

I think the evidence is, Relevant. And so those people did better in terms of muscle protein synthesis than the group of people who just had the three large meals alone and findings like these and others. Those aren’t the only studies on the matter are not surprising when you consider what we know about how protein absorption affects protein metabolism.

For example, studies show that. Is a limit to the amount of protein that your body can digest, process, and then use for actual protein synthesis to actually create new proteins. And in most people, in the average person, it’s gonna be about six to seven grams of protein per hour. And in people who are more muscular than average, just bigger people, it’s probably slightly higher.

Now, research also shows that there is a limit to how high protein synthesis rates can rise. From a single dose of proteins, so your body can only process so much protein per hour. And muscle protein synthesis rates will only rise so much from a single meal, from a single dose of protein. In one study conducted by scientists at McMaster University, the researchers had young men eat varying amounts of egg protein after a workout, and then they measured the protein.

Synthesis rates. And what the scientists found is that eating 20 grams of protein resulted in 89% of the protein synthesis as eating 40 grams. Now, a quick side note here, other studies have shown greater benefits, significantly greater benefits of muscle protein synthesis with larger amounts of protein than 20 grams.

And based on my understanding of the literature, my general recommendation, 30 to 40 grams is probably an optimal amount of protein in one sitting. It doesn’t mean you have to eat that much. Many women, for example, prefer to eat closer to 20 grams in a meal and just do that four or five times per day, depending on how much they weigh and what they’re doing.

And that’s totally fine. But if we are talking, trying to get the most muscle growth out of every gram of protein we eat, 30 or 40 grams per sitting is probably ideal. Another component of the muscle protein response to eating protein is duration. How long do muscle protein synthesis rates rise when we eat protein?

We do have some insight here. Research shows that muscle protein synthesis rates. Remain elevated for no longer than three hours. And here’s the interesting part, regardless of how long amino acids remain in your bloodstream, so let’s put these parts together. We have the body that can only process about seven grams of protein per hour for muscle protein synthesis, and we have something.

30 grams maximally stimulating muscle protein synthesis rates, and we have that stimulation occurring, that elevation occurring for no more than three hours. Then we can see why eating 30 ish grams of protein every three, four hours or so makes a lot of sense. And why? Can result in more muscle gain over time than eating fewer larger servings.

And that’s one of those old body building eating techniques and principles really, that has been with us for a long time. And that has been vindicated by science. Bodybuilders have been doing that for a long time, and it turns out it’s a pretty good idea if you want to get really jacked.

If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world. Okay, let’s move on to the final part of this discussion, and that’s gonna be supplementation and particularly BCAAs branched chain amino acids.

The most popular muscle building supplement out there that does not work. Creatine is the most popular and it does work. Now in the case of branched chain immune. If I were trying to sell you some, and people ask me and ask Legion to make BCAs all the time, we get requests every week and we almost certainly never will because there is just no reason to take BCAs unless you just like tasty water.

And I understand tasty water’s tasty, but there are cheaper ways to make tasty water. But if I were to. Try to sell you on BCAs. I would say that these are essential immuno acids and your body requires them to be able to build muscle tissue, and I would probably point to loose in particular, which is one of these immuno acids that I mentioned earlier that directly stimulates muscle protein synthesis rates.

And I probably would reference a couple of studies that if you just skimmed them or if you just read the abstracts, might lead you to believe that adding some bca. To your normal routine of working out and eating enough protein and eating enough calories is going to enhance muscle growth, and then I would take your money and laugh all the way to the bank.

Here’s the reality. Yes, BCAs are needed for muscle growth. They are essential immuno acids. But if you are eating enough protein, You are getting enough BCAs, and as your body cannot create muscle proteins from just BCAs, it needs many more acid than that. Taking more BCAs is not going to help you build muscle faster.

And as far as research, that would seem to contradict what I just said. What you have to know. To the studies that are often bandi about to promote BCAs, we’re done on subjects who are not eating enough protein. And of course then that changes everything because of how important adequate protein intake is to building muscle.

This is similar to the deficiencies in many studies that have been used to try to sell a low carb. As inherently better for fat loss than a high carb diet one for one. When you look into the studies that seem to show that, what you find is that protein intake was not matched, that really what you were looking at is a high protein, low carb.

High fat diet versus a low protein, high carb and lower moderate fat diet. And in that case, yes, the high protein diet wins every time because of the high protein content, not because of the low carb, high fat content. So similarly, if you have someone who is. Not eating enough protein and supplementing with BCAs, they will likely do better in terms of muscle growth than somebody who is not eating enough protein and not supplementing with BCAs.

Fine. I will concede that. However, if you take someone who is eating enough protein, they are not going to gain more muscle. If they also take BCAs, then someone who is just eating enough protein. So to make sure that your body gets enough BCAs, you just need to eat enough protein. Now, one other common use for BCAs is with fasted training to help mitigate some of the additional protein breakdown that occurs when you train in a fastest state, and particularly after the workout.

Many people who use BCAs with faster training or training. Earlier in the morning, and they’re usually often following an intermittent fasting type of diet. So they’re not gonna be eating until quite a bit later. So they might train, might be very early in the morning, but they’re not gonna eat their first meal.

Their first real calories are not gonna come until, let’s say 12 or one. And so they’ll have some BCAs, particularly for the losing, just to try to spike muscle protein synthesis rates a little. And again, counterbalance some of the additional muscle protein breakdown that they are going to experience, particularly after their workout in the couple of hours in between finishing training and eating.

And that’s perfectly fine. I think that’s a valid use of BCAs, but I prefer another molecule for that called beta hydrox. Beta methyl berate or hmb, you’ve probably heard of hmb. It is a metabolite, so it’s a substance that your body produces when it breaks down the amino acid leucine. And I like HMB because it’s even more effective at preventing muscle protein breakdown than losing.

That is the key amino acid in BCAs. The ising and the valine are not very important in terms of muscle protein synthesis. So HMB is not only better at preventing muscle protein breakdown. Than the losing is, it has no effect whatsoever on insulin levels because BCAs do, There are some calories and then they do affect insulin, whereas hmb does not whatsoever.

So it doesn’t interfere with your fasted state at all. Now, one final component I should actually talk about in terms of muscle protein synthesis, it has occurred to me is sleep will end on this one. And this is extremely important because. If you want to immediately make every aspect of your physiology better, just get better sleep.

If you are not getting enough high quality sleep, start doing that and everything gets better. Now, as far as muscle building goes, not getting enough sleep is associated with a decrease in anabolic hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and I. One, And these are hormones that play a key role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and reducing muscle protein breakdown.

So by not getting enough sleep, you are basically producing an environment in the body that is much less conducive to muscle gain. It is a systemic. Effect. And the only way to prevent that or to fix that if you are experiencing it, and to create the opposite, to create a hormonal environment that is maximally conducive to muscle gain, the only way to do it is to get enough sleep.

Unfortunately, I wish that were not. The case, but it is, if only I didn’t have to sleep, I could live a secret double life. What might that be? What do you think my secret double life would be? This is a good question. Email me [email protected]. Tell me what you think my secret double life would be.

But anyway, get enough sleep and get enough high quality sleep. That’s key. You wanna make sure that you are not just spending enough time in bed, but that your. Is effective, and that means that your body is getting enough light sleep, REM sleep, deep sleep. They’re all important, not just deep sleep. A lot of people focus only on deep sleep.

REM sleep and light sleep are very important too. And if you are not sure how you are sleeping, then you can get something like. A whoop band, for example. That’s what I use to start tracking your sleep. And you can see how many disturbances you are experiencing, which is not necessarily wakings. Those are different things.

It shows you when you are awake, but it also shows you disturbances and it shows you how much light sleep, how much REM sleep, how much deep sleep, and as you feed it, more data over time, you can start looking at trends and. Option is the Aura Ring. But I recommend Whoop because they were willing to send me a band to use.

I’ve heard good things about the Aura Ring, but I contacted them, or one of the people who works with me contacted them basically just asking, Hey, could you send Mike a ring? And he’d like to, Use it and then maybe we could line up podcast even to talk about the importance of sleeping well and how you can use a sleep tracker to determine how well you are sleeping and then what you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.

And they weren’t very interested. And in the end, the CEO wanted to speak with me. Personally about becoming an affiliate to promote their ring before they would send me one. Yeah, no thanks. Whoop was cool. They just sent me one. Yeah, man. Here you go. Try it. Let us know what you think. So go whoop. I recommend whoop over Aura for that reason alone.

Anyway, let’s quickly summarize here. Let’s quickly wrap up. Elevating muscle protein synthesis rates enough to gain muscle. Mostly comes down to providing the proper stimulus in the gym. So you gotta do effective strength training, really, and you gotta do enough of it in each session and each week in each major muscle group that you want to develop to get the response that you want.

And then you have to eat enough calories. You have to make sure you are not consistently in a calorie deficit. And the easiest way to do that is to consistently be in a calorie surplus. And then of course, you wanna make sure eating. Protein every day and protein timing is worth considering. It’s worth paying attention to, I think.

And the best way to go about that is to eat around 30 grams of protein several times per day. Separate those meals by several hours and make sure you get enough sleep. And that’s really most of the recipe for maximum muscle growth. It really is that simple. All right. That’s it for today’s episode.

I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from? Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibil.

And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast, and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using. To listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming.

And last, If you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback. All right, Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.

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