The Science of Building Muscle Part 1: Introduction

3 September 2020

The Science of Building Muscle Part 1: Introduction

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Building Muscle was once the preserve of bodybuilders and strength athletes, but a significant body of scientific evidence has highlighted the many benefits that increasing muscle mass can provide beyond developing an individual’s physique.

These include:

  • Increasing Strength

A muscle’s strength is proportional to its cross-sectional area. Therefore, by increasing a muscle’s size we increase its force producing capability (1).

  • Reducing the Risk of Injury

Increasing the strength and size of the muscles around our joints can help to reduce the risk of injury by enhancing the stability, support and protective layer they provide (2).

  • Reducing Body Fat

Increasing our muscle mass helps to keep us leaner. This is because muscle expends approximately 7 to 10 kcal/day per 0.5kg in comparison to fat, which expends approximately just 2 kcal/day per 0.5kg (1).  So, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy you expend, leaving less excess energy to be stored as body fat. In one study, just ten weeks of resistance training was shown to increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg (3).

  • Helping to Prevent and Treat Type 2 Diabetes

The body’s sensitivity to insulin is directly proportional to its muscle mass and a decrease in insulin resistance is related to an increase in lean body mass, allowing more glucose to be cleared from the blood (4). Increasing muscle mass may also assist in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing the amount of body fat stored within the abdominal cavity (3).

  • Enhancing Immune Function

Increasing muscle mass can boost our immunity in a number of ways: Firstly, skeletal muscle provides a source of protection and proliferation for immune cells known as T- cells, which can become impaired or ‘exhausted during chronic infections, accompanied by an unwanted reduction in body weight and a loss of muscle mass. Secondly, muscle tissue is the only place that the body can store amino acids. A number of these, such as glutamine, arginine and cysteine, play an important role in our immune system, helping us to combat pathogens and other toxic compounds in the body.

While the benefits of increasing muscle mass are clear, the best ways of achieving this are less so. Arguably, more myths and misunderstandings surround building muscle than any other fitness goal, such as developing cardiorespiratory endurance or flexibility.

For example, what is the optimal number of sets and reps to build muscle? What should you eat and when, to optimise muscle growth? Are there any supplements that have been shown scientifically to help increase muscle mass? How much muscle can I realistically hope to gain and over what period of time?

A common mistake many beginners make is to try to emulate their bodybuilding heroes by attempting to perform their training programme. This tends to be doomed to failure because the beginner does not have the base of conditioning, training experience, diet and lifestyle to accommodate the demands a top professional bodybuilder’s programme will place on their body, nor are they likely to have the genetics needed to perform at this level. Typically, the beginner fails to make their desired gains and often ends up injured and/or over-trained.

So, in this series we are going to dispel many of the common myths and misunderstandings surrounding building muscle and answer many of the questions that lead to confusion by looking at what the science tells us are the most effective strategies we can employ to increase our muscle mass.

In Part 2 of this series, we are going to look at the scientific approach to designing an effective muscle building resistance training programme.