Efforts to expand the limits of human strength and endurance have kept the scientist and the athlete occupied for centuries. The quest for another pound of muscle, or to lift next couple of kilos has been relentlessly pursued in the gym and the laboratory alike.
As the questions and conquests became more challenging, the answers have become more elusive and complicated. Few concepts and conclusions have withstood the test of time in exercise physiology. Even as we tackle the metabolic and genetic basis of skeletal muscle response to strength training, there are only some things that we know for sure.
Strength is the cumulative expression of the innumerable myofibrils orderly arranged to form the muscle. Strength training attempts to boost these protein motors and the biological machinery that supports them.
Resistance exercises create a biochemical environment in the body wherein the turnover of proteins is optimized and the protein synthetic machinery is primed for growth. All that is needed to trigger a spurt of growth is a protein rich meal. This response occurs in all age groups, although it is less efficient in the elderly.
The muscle is receptive to protein and amino acids for 48 hours after a workout. The only limiting factor for the hypertrophy of skeletal muscles during this period is the availability of high quality proteins.
A few tricks can amplify the growth response to strength training. The synthetic machinery has a ceiling. It can only handle a certain amount of amino acids at a time (specifically, six grams of protein).
However, repeated supplementation with three to six grams of high quality protein during the 48 hours after a workout can optimize the protein synthetic response without topping out the protein synthetic enzyme systems.
Combining protein supplements with adequate carbohydrate (35g of sucrose with every 6g of protein) is also helpful. The carbohydrate acts as fuel for the muscle fibers sparing the protein for growth.
Research into the response of untrained strength athletes has come up with surprising results. The demand for proteins increases in both the trained and the untrained states. However, the relative protein requirement of an untrained athlete per kg per day often exceeds the trained counterpart.
The initial phase of resistance training is exemplified by rapid growth and hypertrophy of skeletal muscles, before it hits the plateau. Another factor is the relative inefficiency of the protein synthetic machinery in the untrained state. Well-formulated protein supplements are thus necessary to sustain even the early phases of resistance training.
This is not to say that the protein requirements of the trained strength athlete are comparable to the sedentary population. By the time the maintenance phase of resistance training is reached, the lean body mass would have expanded exponentially.
The total quantity of proteins that are broken down and reformed during protein turnover in a trained strength athlete is still many times higher than normal levels. This requirement may be as high as 1.5 times baseline levels.
The hunt then is for a high quality protein diet that would supply all the essential amino acids required. Considering the various biochemical principles discussed, this protein supplementation should be rapidly absorbable so that amino acids delivery can be accurately timed to the post-workout period.
Rapid absorption would also enable multiple doses of the protein supplement to be taken during this period. The protein supplement also needs to be in small quantities (3 to 6g) to prevent saturating protein synthesis pathways and to minimize protein waste through excretion.
Protein supplements that meet all of these requirements are used widely across weightlifting communities. The unique constitution of supplements enables it to provide not only all the essential amino acids, but also the specific amino acids used in muscle fiber synthesis.
Supplements promote the synthesis of Glutathione, an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals. These free radicals, produced during anaerobic workouts like resistance training, injure the cell membranes.
Short term insults like muscle sprains to long term effects like aging and cancer have been attributed to free radicals. Supplementing the diet can boost the normal levels of the free radical scavenger, Glutathione and help avert free radical damage.
Undeniably, protein reigns as the supreme building block for strength training. The difference between you and your next pound of muscle can oftentimes be a measurement of the type of protein formula you use in your diet.