Got muscle? Part I

Trying to gain weight can be just as frustrating as trying to lose it. If it were as simple as eating a lot of protein and lifting weights five days a week, everyone would have a body like those on the cover of Muscle & Fitness. So what’s a gym rat got to do to get those biceps bulging and that squishy chest hard as a rock? Diet and exercise. Just like love and marriage, you can’t have one with the other.

If the relationship between the two seems impossible, it is time to work through those diet and exercise differences in order to bring your body up to the next level in weight training.

A muscle-building diet must consist of enough protein to build and repair muscle, enough carbohydrates for fuel in the weight room and all the proper vitamins and nutrients to aid in protein synthesis and muscular repair. A common myth among supplement addicts is that you can never consume enough protein. The more the better, right? Wrong. Everything, even protein intake, must be done in moderation. Obviously protein is a major component in building muscle, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough, but keep in mind that too much protein can be converted to fat and stored in the body and can also be damaging to the kidneys. Anywhere from 0.8 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended for athletes, which includes weight trainers. (Body weight in pounds divided by 2.2 equals body weight in kilograms.)

Not so obvious is the importance of carbohydrates in building muscle.

When carbohydrate intake is low, proteins have to be recruited and used for energy instead of what they were designed for — muscular growth and repair. Adequate carbohydrate intake not only spares proteins for the body’s use, but also provides energy for the body so every minute in the weight room can count.

Like everything protein, carbohydrate intake needs to be regulated. About 50 percent of your diet should come from carbohydrate sources. Some aerobically trained athletes may need as much as 70 percent of their diet to come from carbohydrates. Now that your body is fueled and ready to build, it is time to throw on those gym clothes.

But before you pick up a set of dumbbells, first define your weight-training goal. Are you training for strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth) or muscular endurance? A few important things define a weight-training goal: how much weight is being lifted (the workload), how many times it is being lifted (repetitions and sets), and how long you rest between sets.

Workload can be measured subjectively on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being easy and 10 being a workload so heavy you could only lift it once. A better way to determine you workload is by basing it off of a 1- repetition max (1-RM). 1-RM is a great way to measure your training progress and objectively ensure you are working to your full ability.

To measure your 1-RM, first make sure you have warmed up your body. Next, estimate a conservative near-maximum weight that will allow you to complete 3 to 5 repetitions. Provide a two-minute rest period, and then slightly increase the load to one that could only be performed in 2 to 3 repetitions. Finally, rest for 2 to 4 minutes, slightly increase the workload again and attempt a 1-repetition max; if you can do more than one repetition, this is NOT your 1-RM; increase weight, rest, and repeat.

Once you find your 1-RM, apply it to your specific training goal. Use the chart below to determine how heavy a load to lift, how many times and sets to perform and, finally, how long to rest between sets.

With the basics to weight training now in your lap, try to apply some of the formulas to your own weight-training routine this week. Chart your protein intake or calculate your 1-RM on a bench press. Start to track the work that you are doing to ensure it is paying off. And, like love and marriage, diet and exercise can come together for a lifetime of fitness bliss.

Next week we’ll go a little more in-depth with each training goal. And can cardio actually hinder your strength training goals? All that and more in Part 2 of Got Muscles?