Gaining Muscle is Hard, Optimum Nutrition Can Help
Whether you want to build a slightly more muscular look to create a toned physique or start the long journey to building Schwarzenegger-sized muscles, gaining muscle mass is a secondary fitness goal that can support just about every other fitness goal.
We like to frame it this way because focusing on the muscle mass tends to help people stop obsessing over the scale, whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight. The problem? Gaining muscle is challenging! Especially if you’re not sure where to begin.
Let’s talk about how to build muscle size, featuring optional (but helpful) supplements from Optimum Nutrition.
Why Use Optimum Nutrition?
Optimum Nutrition is one of the oldest supplement companies in the game, and its Gold Standard line has some of the most widely recognized products. The company’s signature style is no-frills, just basic products made with quality ingredients. The best part? It’s got the receipts to put its money where its mouth is—as a whole, Optimum Nutrition uses:
- State-of-the-art manufacturing
- GMP-certified facilities
- in-house testing and re-testing of product batches
- integrity as a cornerstone to everything it does
On top of that, Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey Protein is the best-selling, most-reviewed, most-awarded protein powder in the world. So, really, why not Optimum Nutrition?
Define “Gaining Muscle”
Gaining muscle is straightforward in theory: build muscle mass. But, in reality, it’s a little more complex.
Growth in muscle size can happen in 3 ways within the human body:
- increase in muscle cell (fibre) numbers
- increase in fibre length
- increase in fibre diameter
However, increasing the number of muscle fibres in your body only happens to the human body when it’s in prenatal development or immediately after birth. That means, for us, the only options are to grow the fibres we already have both in length and diameter.
Not much is known about the specific stimuli required to increase the length of muscle fibres, but we have plenty of research on how to increase the fibres’ diameter.
The 3 Basics of Gaining Muscle
To “gain muscle,” we’re really focusing on increasing the girth or diameter of muscle fibres. There are three main factors to consider when gaining muscle is the goal. They are:
1. Nutrition for Muscle Gain
The quickest way to gain muscle is to increase your net calories, taking in more than you can use. This is the inverse of our advice when the goal is to lose weight. Increasing the net-calorie input is why you see people frequently talking about “bulking.” They intend to eat significantly more calories while strength training to build muscle.
Inevitably, even with the cleanest of clean bulks, you will put on excess body fat. How much fat depends on the number of calories, your exercise intensity, genetics, and more. However, the gain in fat is typically what turns people off from a traditional bulk, even though people tend to follow their bulks by a cut, where they shed the fat and level out to a maintenance nutrition and strength program.
Fortunately, it is possible to increase your muscle mass without going through a bulk. However, body recomposition (adding more muscle to your frame) in this context is a much slower process where consistency is key.
The Protein Piece of Gains
Whether you’re bulking or taking the long road, protein is the most critical piece of your nutrition when you intend to gain muscle. So, it’s necessary to ensure you’re hitting the 1.2-2.0 grams of protein/kg of body weight every day.
You can certainly do this without a protein supplement; however, most people find a daily whey protein shake makes achieving this goal much more convenient and sustainable.
2. Progressive Overload to Break Down
Next, progressive overload is absolutely essential for building more muscle mass. This process tells your body, “Hey! We need more muscle to support our workload!” Naturally, the body responds by using the nutrition mentioned above to thicken up the muscle fibres.
Progressively overloading the muscles means increasing the stress placed upon the musculoskeletal system.
You can do this is in 4 ways:
- Increasing the intensity of your workout by adding more weight.
- Increasing the volume of work by adding more sets, reps, or both.
- Increasing the frequency at which you’re applying stress by adding an extra workout session.
- Increasing the time under tension by increasing the range of motion or slowing down the eccentric (lengthening or lowering) phase of an exercise.
3. Rest to Rebuild
Lastly, the most underrated piece of gaining muscle mass is the rest. Rest is critical to achieving any fitness goal for a multitude of reasons, but the ones most specific to gaining muscle mass are:
The rest period is the time in which growth actually happens
During the workout, muscle tissue is damaged because of progressive overload. During the rest periods, the tissues are repaired, and the body beefs up those fibres to avoid being damaged again.
Adequate rest reduces the risk of injury
Anyone who has been injured in the process of trying to meet a fitness goal will tell you how devastating it is. Not only is an injury painful, but it completely halts your progress because it forces you to stop, rest, and recover. You can decrease the likelihood of injury by working the necessary rest periods into your workout schedule.
Now that we’re clear on the three main pieces of the puzzle, it’s time to talk about how supplements can support your efforts. First, we’ll talk about the basic Optimum Nutrition supplements that are super beneficial, including whey protein and creatine. Then we’ll touch on an extra supplement option for added support, amino acid supplements.
As always, our stance remains you almost never need supplements (unless otherwise noted by a medical professional), but they are an excellent way to support your nutrition as you adjust your diet and exercise program to fit your goals. Most professionals in the fitness industry take advantage of supplements.
Basic Optimum Nutrition Supplements to Support Gaining Muscle
At the very least, consider using whey protein and creatine monohydrate to support your body while going through progressive overload.
How Does Whey Protein Support Gaining Muscle Mass?
Whey protein supplements are the most popular option for supplementing protein content. This is because whey protein is easily digested and absorbed. The speed at which the body can break down the protein and put it to use is important because, if you recall earlier, we mentioned that strength training damages muscle tissues. This damage, also known as the catabolic process, can continue long after exercise has ceased, meaning the excessive breakdown of the muscles is possible.
When trying to gain muscle, the last thing we want to do is let the catabolic process run on and on. The body requires the essential amino acids from a complete protein source to switch out of the catabolic process and into the anabolic process. This is the phase in which repair and rebuilding occur.
Ideally, you’re consuming these amino acids within 90 minutes of completing your workout, and while the length and even the existence of the 90-minute anabolic window are questioned, the necessity of meeting protein requirements daily to gain muscle mass is not.
Anabolic window aside, most Canadian adults don’t consume enough protein to support their activity levels. This is one reason whey protein is so popular, as the average whey protein shake serving contains about 20 grams of protein.
Optimum Nutrition’s Whey Protein supplement is the Gold Standard. It contains 24 grams of protein per serving. Another reason people love whey protein is that it is very pure and lean, meaning it is low in calories, fats, and carbs.
Gold Standard Whey Protein has:
- 120 calories
- 1.5 grams of fat
- 3 grams of carbohydrates
While there are many other reasons to love whey protein, another important thing to note is the natural content of branched-chain amino acids. These amino acids are named for their chemical structure that bypasses the liver and heads directly to hungry muscles via the bloodstream. There, they help switch into that vital anabolic state and build and repair damaged tissue.
How Does Creatine Help Gain Muscle?
After whey protein, creatine is our next-most-recommended supplement. Why? It’s actually pretty simple—it works. Creatine naturally occurs in the body. It’s stored in the highest concentrations in the muscles and within the brain. The body uses creatine as an energy source.
The process goes something like this:
- Cells use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy.
- The byproduct is adenosine diphosphate (ADP).
- Creatine donates a phosphate molecule to regenerate the ADP into ATP, so it can be used again for cellular energy.
Unfortunately, for people who don’t eat a lot of red meat, their diets lack creatine. Thankfully, creatine supplements fill the creatine stores in the brain and body and provide various benefits including, but not limited to:
- improved endurance, strength, and performance
- improved cognitive performance and mental health
- supported heart health
Creatine has many health and fitness benefits and very few adverse side effects. It’s widely considered the safest supplement out there, and some research suggests creatine use can improve body composition even in sedentary people. So, imagine what it can do for you, as someone who frequents the gym?
While there are tons of forms of creatine supplements from which to choose, we tend to stick with the most thoroughly researched form, creatine monohydrate.
Optimum Nutrition extends its simple and effective approach to its creatine products. Each serving of two capsules includes 2.5 grams of micronized creatine monohydrate for optimal absorption.
There are 2 approaches to starting a creatine supplement:
- Loading phase followed by a maintenance phase.
- Skipping the loading phase and starting at the maintenance dose.
The suggested maintenance dose is 3-5 grams of creatine per day. In addition, Optimum Nutrition suggests one serving of two capsules twice a day to reduce the chance of digestive upset that can accompany larger doses.
Additional Helpful Optimum Nutrition Supplements to Help Gain Muscle
Now that we’ve talked about the most influential supplements to gaining muscle, whey protein, and creatine, let’s talk about another supplement option from Optimum Nutrition that can make achieving your goal feel within reach.
Amino Acid Supplements for Muscle Gain
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. So, when we refer to proteins as “complete,” we’re saying they contain the nine essential amino acids required for the muscle-building process (and more).
While it’s true that your whey protein supplement is a complete protein (and thus contains all nine essential amino acids), amino acid supplements have gained popularity in recent years. This is because they can benefit the body when overall protein goals aren’t consistently met.
We’ve talked about how critical rest is to the recovery and rebuilding process of the muscles. Amino acid supplements effectively supply those vital amino acids to ensure that even on rest days, your muscles have the required building blocks.
Optimum Nutrition Amino Acid Supplements: Amino Energy and Amino Energy + Electrolytes
Each amino acid product by Optimum Nutrition contains 5 grams of all nine essential amino acids and a few nonessential amino acids for good measure.
These products also contain 100 mg of stimulating caffeine to complement the muscular energy you get from the natural amino acids. In this way, these products make great pre-workout supplements. Pre-workout supplements are great because the importance of pushing yourself in the gym can’t be overstated for this ambitious goal.
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy + Electrolytes has the added benefits of an electrolyte blend, which can replenish thirsty cells in the middle of or after a workout. This is important because research shows that as small as a 2% water loss negatively impacts athletic performance.
Lastly, aside from the obvious benefits from increased hydration and energy, amino acid supplements have been shown to improve the muscle recovery process, and as you know by now, this is vital to the gaining process.
Gaining muscle is a fitness goal that can benefit just about everybody. While it can be realized without the use of supplements, fitness experts agree that using whey protein and creatine makes the goal much more achievable. In addition to whey protein and creatine, amino acid supplements also have proven benefits and may rightfully deserve a place in your supplement lineup. Optimum Nutrition has a wide range of excellent products to support you, including the most highly rated whey protein supplement globally.