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Science behind muscle growth and powerful role of proteins
Lots of us want to get those Instagram worthy ripped muscles, so we lift weights, do crunches, bench press, and gulf down that delicious whey shake to help muscle growth. But do we understand what is going on behind the scenes, how that bench press and hammer curls are helping our muscles grow, how that protein in the shake works? I hope that understanding the science behind these processes will help you to see the picture clearly and appreciate the hard work you are putting in.
In this article we will see how our muscles grow, what is the physiology behind their growth, and the role of proteins in their growth. The whole process is very technical, but I will try to keep it simple so it can be easy to understand for a layman.
“There is a tendency to think that there is a magic powder or supplement that will give you the physique of your dreams, but there is no substitute for hard work and commitment,”
“Building strength takes years, not weeks or months. It is an act of discipline and must be earned through commitment to hard training and a good diet.”
– Chris Gibbons, Powerlifter.
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How muscles grow?
When exposed to stress the muscles get damaged. Muscles grow when damaged muscle fibers are repaired by our repair mechanism. This repair results in increase in the size of muscle fibers which leads to muscle growth.
Let’s go in little detail about muscle building and resistance exercise. The exercise which involves lifting/ pulling weights is known as resistance exercise. This exercise causes our muscles to contract and stretch. It causes something known as muscle trauma in clinical language or damage of muscle fibers.
When our muscles are subjected to stress, this stress produces microtears in our muscles, our muscles suffer an injury that needs to be fixed. Since our muscle fibers are not replaced a robust repair mechanism is required and our body has the best repair mechanism.
Physiology of muscle growth
This repair mechanism sets off a cascade of events to repair those microtears. Cells known as satellite cells move to the damaged area, they fuse to each other and to the damaged fiber which increases the cross-sectional area of the muscle fiber resulting in the bigger fiber which ultimately leads to increased strength and size of the muscle fiber.
It’s like when you are trying to repair a crack on your wall, you take some cement and use the cement to fill the gap, which strengthens the wall.
The resistance exercise stimulates various pathways in the body which further stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Resistance exercise also increases the level of growth hormones and testosterone in the body. Off-course the levels of increase is dependent on the intensity of exercise.
Exercise also triggers fat metabolism where fat is used as an energy source, both testosterone and exercise increases uptake and incorporation of amino acids into skeletal muscles.
The process of the increasing size of muscles through exercise is known as muscle hypertrophy and the process of producing proteins to repair damaged muscles that result in muscle growth is known as muscle protein synthesis.
When this process is repeated again and again we get those picture-worthy muscles. Resistance exercise is a powerful stimulator of muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. In an untrained individual, the gains are not evident in the early days. It takes weeks to months for resistance exercise to show its full effect on muscle growth, so if you don’t get big muscles in the early days of your workout, don’t be disheartened, the process is underway, have patience.
Some of the other factors which determine your muscle gains are your age, gender, and genetic background, your hormones, and more than this your willpower, discipline, and willingness to sacrifice!
Role of proteins in muscle growth:
Proteins provide building blocks which are required for muscle growth.We all know that proteins play a very important role in muscle building beside performing other functions in the body. But how all this works, let’s take a look.An equation plays a crucial role in determining whether you will grow the muscles or not, and that is the nitrogen balance of the body.
Nitrogen balance = nitrogen intake- nitrogen loss
Nitrogen balance = Muscle protein synthesis- muscle protein breakdown
Muscle protein synthesis and breakdown are dynamic processes, it is always ongoing in our body to repair muscles.
To gain muscles or build muscles the balance needs to be on the positive side, in other words, the rate of muscle protein synthesis needs to be higher than muscle protein breakdown.Again, going back to that wall-building metaphor, we can build a wall only if we have enough raw material required to build a wall.
Consuming enough proteins helps maintain higher levels of amino acids in circulation, this keeps nitrogen balance positive and the muscles protein synthesis at a higher level.Muscles are made from amino acids which are obtained from proteins, which makes protein building blocks of our muscles, and only consuming enough protein help us to build good muscles. (since the essential amino acids can’t be synthesized in the body, we need to consume via our diet).When we have excess amino acids in blood circulation the balance remains positive, and when we have a lower amount of amino acids the balance shifts to negative
The negative balance causes the body enter catabolic phase, meaning the body will break down the existing muscles to obtain amino acids required for this repair work resulting in loss of muscle mass.
The amino acids are obtained from the breakdown of protein, and consuming enough proteins helps to have a higher amount of amino acids in circulation.
During exercise or with a higher level of activity the demand for protein is significantly increased, which makes it necessary to consume more proteins. These proteins can be obtained through our regular diet with protein rich food or through supplements.
Protein supplements such as whey proteins help us easily fulfill our increased protein requirements in a very convenient and effective way. Thus whey proteins helps build muscle by helping us fulfill our daily required protein intake. Products such as Whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey hydrolysate are some of the best sources of proteins.
So, to conclude, Our muscles grow through repairing the damage caused due to exercise and to repair this damage enough proteins are required to be present in blood circulation. Having enough proteins in circulation helps muscle grow and become larger and stronger.
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- 1. Regulation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle Flück M
- 2. Muscle Protein Synthesis and Whole-Body Protein Turnover Responses to Ingesting Essential Amino Acids, Intact Protein, and Protein-Containing Mixed Meals with Considerations for Energy Deficit Jess A. Gwin 1,2, David D. Church 3 , Robert R. Wolfe 3, Arny A. Ferrando 3
- 3. Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise Vinod Kumar, Philip Atherton, Kenneth Smith, and Michael J. Rennie
- 4. Anabolic and catabolic pathways regulating skeletal muscle mass John J. McCarthy and Karyn A. Esser*
- 5. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training Brad J. Schoenfeld.
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