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Rest, Recovery & Nutrition: How Muscle Growth Works

You probably know that muscle growth doesn’t happen while you train, it happens while you rest. Hard weight training actually has the opposite effect, it is catabolic, your muscles are actually being damaged and broken down by hard training. It’s the important 1 – 2 days after you train when your body overcompensates for the damage and stress you put it through that results in bigger, stronger muscle. However there is a catch! To build new muscle you must supply quality building blocks – which means you have to eat enough high quality protein food or you just won’t grow.So when does muscle growth actually occur? The short answer is, almost all the rest of the time that you aren’t training. It’s a bit like a healing cut. It will heal 24 hours a day. But the really important thing to know is –

WHEN DOES THE MOST MUSCLE GROWTH OCCUR?

And the answer you may have guessed is – WHILE YOU SLEEP!

Various studies have looked at muscle growth during sleep and concluded that somewhere between 40 – 60% of all muscle recovery and growth occurs while you sleep. You probably have felt this yourself. After a really hard weights session, you can sit around and rest for many hours and still feel stuffed. But have a 60 or 90 minute nap and you feel a million dollars!

The most important sleep however is your regular night’s sleep where muscle growth really goes into overdrive. This is the most anabolic period of your day. But the funny thing is that most of us don’t devote anywhere near the nutritional attention to our night time nutrition that we spend during the day. Most serious trainers cram in 6 or 7 meals during the day but their before sleep meal is often just an after-thought. Even worse, many trainers don’t even bother eating anything before bed! If you are not in the habit of a before bed meal, you are short changing your muscles on significant growth potential.

 

Understanding the different phases of sleep

How can you put the situation right? First of all you need to understand that there are several different phases of sleep and muscle growth potential peaks at a certain time during sleep. The first proper sleep phase is known as phase 1 sleep. During phase 1 sleep, our brain exhibits a combination of alpha and theta brain waves, and our bodies begin to relax and prepare for sleep. This sleep phase is commonly experienced while we are daydreaming, ‘zoning out’ or feeling drowsy during the day.

The second of the proper sleep phases is very interesting; it is where our brain exhibits sudden bursts of activity. Like the phase 1 sleep, people in the second proper sleep phase are still considered awake, and phase 2 is also a transitional phase into proper sleep. The brain is attempting to ‘switch off’ in preparation for proper sleep. If someone is awoken during the second sleep phase, then they often don’t remember having fallen ‘asleep’.

The third and fourth proper sleep phases are considered ‘deep sleep’ – this is when you’re asleep and if you’re woken up, you know you’ve been asleep. It is at this phase that the brain exhibits a combination of delta and theta brain waves. Our bodies physiologically adapt to sleeping conditions – we experience drops in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. This is also the time when muscle repair really fires up and muscle growth peaks.

The final and fifth of the proper sleep phases is REM sleep. REM is an acronym for Rapid Eye Movement, and very little is known by the scientific community regarding the purpose or activity that occurs during this fifth proper sleep phase. REM sleep is also known as dream sleep. The brain exhibits extraordinary activity during this final proper sleep phase – in fact, it is the most active of the proper sleep phases. Muscle growth continues at a high rate through REM sleep, virtually until you wake up.

Now the key thing to understand here is that maximum muscle growth occurs later during sleep, up to 4 hours or so after you actually go to sleep. If you want to maximise growth, your body must have a ready supply of protein and amino acids. So that means you must have consumed a quality protein that will digest slowly enough to provide the muscle building nutrients when you need during this important phase.

 

Slow digesting proteins

For many years serious trainers would swear by setting their alarms mid way through the night and have a protein shake. Are there other suitable alternatives? Well first of all you need a slower digesting protein. Most of the protein shakes we trainers take during the day are digested and absorbed too quickly to be of best value during 8 hours of sleep. Whey Protein Isolate for example is digested and assimilated within 1 – 2 hours, leaving you short for of vital muscle building nutrients when you need them most. You can try eating slower digesting protein foods. Red meat, chicken, eggs or perhaps a tin of tuna is worth trying. These proteins are relatively slower digesting and will provide 4 – 5 hours of nutrition.

It’s understandable not everybody wants to sit down to a steak before bed, so this is where we take a look at Casein.

Casein exists in milk in the form of a micelle, which is a large colloidal particle. One of the benefits of the casein micelle is its ability to form a gel or clot in the stomach. The ability to form this clot makes it very efficient in nutrient supply. The clot is able to provide a sustained slow release of amino acids into the blood stream, sometimes lasting up to seven hours. This provides better nitrogen retention and utilization by the body.

Taking a serve of Micellar Casein or protein blend with Micellar Casein being the principal ingredient just before bed you can be assured to get maximum muscle growth every night. The cumulative effects of this extra growth can mean big gains over months of hard training. If this is an area of nutrition you have neglected, take a serious approach to your night time nutrition and we guarantee you will see noticeable gains.

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