The science of muscle growth

science of muscle growth

Most industry experts will tell you that great bodies aren’t built in the gym. While this may seem counterintuitive, the truth is that the body repairs and rebuilds itself in the hours after your weight training session has ended.

This can only be achieved through good nutrition and adequate rest.

How protein actually works to build muscle

By better understanding the mechanisms at play when your muscle tissue is repaired and rebuilt you’ll be able to maximise your recovery between exercise sessions to build the ultimate body or achieve peak sporting performance.

Tissue repair = Muscle Growth 

In the context of muscle growth, recovery is the process that repairs the structural damage that naturally occurs to muscles and connective tissue during a workout, and allows the physiological adaptations that are stimulated by exercise to occur.

This process is what initiates a compensatory response from the body that repairs the damaged tissue, and also creates and lays down new fibres to help deal with the impending stress of the next heavy lifting session.

What happens is a complicated and highly involved hormonally-driven response where growth factors, immune cells called cytokines and nutrients (ATP, amino acids, glycogen and fatty acids) activate cellular signalling pathways to initiate the rebuilding process known as anabolism.

Read more about the important role supplements play in the recovery process.

The science stuff

A form of biosynthesis, muscle growth relies on a sequence of metabolic reactions to create complex protein molecules from simple amino acids in a process called protein synthesis. It is through this mechanism that the body is able to repair muscle, ensuring that muscle cells are rebuilt bigger and stronger than they were before the workout. This muscle-building process is known as myofibrillar hypertrophy.

It’s about size, really….

It’s not just existing muscle fibres that are repaired. At the same time, gene expression is creating new muscle cells in response to the stressors imposed through training, through a process known as hyperplasia.

It’s during this phase when skeletal muscle satellite cells begin to appear along the periphery of damaged muscle fibres. These satellite cells are a form of stem cell that will eventually differentiate into new muscle tissue and create new muscle fibres. And more fibres mean bigger, stronger muscles.

This process continues until the damaged muscle fibres are completely regenerated, which is usually complete within 36–72 hours following a heavy training session.

However, studies show that this regeneration process seems to peak about 24 hours after a workout, which means that your nutrition and supplementation regimen needs to be strict following heavy bouts of exercise to ensure proper recovery.

Primal Whey Protein contains a rapid absorption blend of Whey Protein Isolate, Concentrate and Hydrolysate, with high levels of BCAA’s to assist with muscle tissue repair and maintenance.

More substance

The process also restores the energy-producing enzymes and substrates inside our muscle fibres, which are naturally broken down and utilised during training. This includes the restoration of ATP, glycogen and water stores within muscle cells, which directly affects muscle size by altering muscle cell volume.

When these substances are replenished, the subsequent increase in cell volume also helps to increase muscle size, but this is not considered functional growth. This is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, as the sarcoplasm surrounding the muscle fibres consists of non-contractile fluid containing capillaries, mitochondria and glycosomes (which store glycogen).

The sarcoplasm can make up as much as 25-35% of a muscle’s size, but there is no subsequent increase in strength. This effect is also transient as a loss of glycogen, a reduction in blood flow and even mild dehydration can significantly reduce the degree of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

There’s a better way to add significant muscle mass. Find out how

Ultimately it’s the type of training, and the combination of your approach to nutrition and recovery that will determine which type of muscle growth is most prolific. While neither form happens in isolation, those who focus on boosting functional muscle fibre growth through heavy training.