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Calories Drive Muscle Growth

Posted Nov 17 2008 9:10pm

This post is a change from my recent thoughts on the subject, and honestly it's an improvement.  Since the issue of calories and msucle was often tied together with force-feeding, I overlooked the importance of total calories when trying to create new muscle mass.

Here's a study that really drives home the point.  I even drove to the local university library to access this study and make a copy.  Participants were split into three groups that performed resistance training: a control group, and two groups that each consumed a 2,000 supplement drink every day in addition to their normal food intake.  The two supplement groups had different drinks based on the protein/carbohydrate ratio.

The result?  The supplement groups built between 6 and 7 pounds of muscle in only eight weeks.  The control group built around 3 pounds of muscle.  There was no change in fat mass for the supplement groups either, so this means that they built muscle mass without gaining fat.

How does this fit into my recent feast/fast model of growth?  First, the subjects lifted 4 times per week, so they were in a post-workout window the majority of the time.  Second, they were younger subjects (average age 23) and there is some speculation the post-workout window is longer when a person is younger.  Third, they were all beginner weightlifters, which could affect the time course of things.

But overall, this shows to me that calories are really the driver behind muscle growth.  A workout can stimulate growth via protein breakdown, but calories are what's eventually needed for new muscle.

Also, the authors mentioned how "muscular strength gains are a consequence of central nervous system adaptations, muscular hypertrophy, or some combination of the two."  In the study, the control subjects actually gained as much strength as the supplement groups, they just didn't gain as much muscle.  To me, this means that when there aren't enough calories for muscle growth, the body looks to adapt and increase strength via a secondary path, neuromuscular improvements.   

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