Getting ready to build muscle – back to nature.

At the end of each school year young athletes and team sport players especially seek to build muscle mass. Some are aiming to get physically bigger and stronger for their return to school or college so that they can play and perform better. Some feel that by adding muscle mass they will be better placed to make the school, club or college team. Some again just want to get bigger so as to look better. Regardless of the reason for this interest in gaining muscle mass most young athletes and players seem to get most of their information on how to gain muscle from internet sites that promote supplements and from sport and exercise magazines that also promote supplements. Unfortunately, there is a common perception at large that in order to gain muscle mass then supplements must be consumed regularly.

The information carried in these magazines and on the supplement promoting internet sites is most often inaccurate and misleading. Here are some points that all young athletes and players need to be aware of when they read or discuss the information gained from these sources.

• Supplement companies want to make the product attractive for you to buy. • Their science backup may not be credible or may not even exist. • Testimonials from well-known athletes and players do not guarantee they will work for you. A lot of training and work goes into getting bigger and stronger. • Taking supplements may be a costly pursuit. Finally, a recent study showed that supplement products that were freely available over the internet and indeed in sports nutrition stores within Europe contained substances that would lead to a positive drug test. This indeed is very worrying for any athlete, player, coach or parent. So great care and caution is needed if any athlete or player is considering taking any sport supplement.

A sport or nutritional supplement has been defined as any food, drink, powder or related substance that is purported to affect body structure, function or nutritional status in such a way as to be of value to physically active people. This broad definition excludes any product that is on the banned list of substances and in France this definition would exclude the popular sports supplement Creatine!

The most commonly used sports supplements for muscle building include creatine and protein powders. While creatine is not a banned substance in Ireland or the Uk and while there is reasonable scientific evidence showing that it is an effective aid for sport performance and muscle mass gains, there is still clear concern over its potential long-term health effects. It is still unknown if creatine does or does not cause health problems. For this very reason and others relating to its possible side effects some sport governing bodies have strongly recommended against its use in young sports players.

As for protein powders, there is still an issue regarding their purity and possible contamination with banned substances. Unfortunately, these are real issues that no player, athlete, coach or parent can avoid.

So what can the young athlete or player do to ensure that he gains muscle mass? The answer is actually simple. The athlete or player needs to eat a balanced diet that ensures there are enough calories and nutrients available for repair, recovery and growth over and above the normal daily requirements. In addition and this is something we will address next week, the athlete or player must be on a well planned progressive strength and muscle building training programme.

For now back to the practical nutritional guidelines. Muscle gain will occur with a normal diet that is supported with sensible nutritional strategies. Here are two pointers to ensuring that the diet is ready to facilitate muscle gains.

Eat three main meals and 3 power snacks each training day

Always have a power snack immediately after training. This is when the muscle is most receptive to nutrients and energy to assist in the repair, recovery and growth process.

The main meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner. They should be the mainstay of all energy and nutrients. All top class athletes and players ensure that they start the day with a balanced meal. This may consist of cereal with milk, bread, eggs or other protein sources such as lean bacon, and fruit and fluids. Getting this balance in terms of protein, carbohydrates and fats (yes fats are important for gaining muscle!) and the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) should be continued throughout the day with each main meal. However, when it comes to the power snacks what should the athlete or player eat or drink if sport supplements are a problem?

Some examples of common power snacks include: a banana with a nut cereal bar, a chicken, ham, turkey or tuna roll, yoghurt and fruit. All these are easily prepared and washed down with water will likely take care of all the repair and recovery needs within the exercised muscle. But here is an interesting and a relatively inexpensive power snack that is conveniently available throughout the country. Milk has been shown to be an excellent post-training recovery beverage. Recently some well controlled studies have actually shown that fat free milk can help to promote more muscle mass gain in the explosive muscle fibres compared to other protein or carbohydrate supplements. The effects of milk have also been shown to be effective in rehydration after strenuous exercise. Based on these recent studies milk is an effective post-training power snack. Every athlete and player has this invaluable post-training nutritional food available in their homes. The carbohydrate to protein mix found in low fat milk can easily meet the immediate post-training needs of virtually all athletes and players whose aim it is to add muscle mass. Simply have a 500ml carton of fat free milk in your kit bag and drink it when your session is finished. The window of opportunity to speed up repair and recovery has now started in a convenient and inexpensive way.

Remember, the main meals of the day are the most critical elements in ensuring that the energy and nutrients required in building muscle are gained. Simple and inexpensive power snacks such as milk are ideal to support this process. Therefore no young athlete or player should ever need to purchase an internet supplement or even any sport or muscle-building magazine promoted supplement when the nutritional ingredients to ensure muscle recovery and growth are easily prepared and sourced. And above all, there is no worry about contamination or adverse health effects.

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