Lean Muscle: What is it And Why is it Important For Athletes?
Muscle — while many people desire it, not everyone has the education, resources or patience to efficiently build it.
What is muscle, exactly?
Lean muscle, or lean “mass”, refers to the weight of your body minus your overall body fat. Building muscle isn’t just for bodybuilders. Everyone can benefit from having some muscle, but especially athletes. While some individuals lift weights to increase the size of their muscles and improve their physical appearance, athletes need muscle in order to improve their overall performance in their respective sport. Increasing lean muscle mass can lead to optimal physical performance as well as improving overall health as well.
Supplementing an athlete’s training with weight lifting is important for many reasons.
In most cases, the larger the muscle is, the more likely it is to be stronger. This can lead to an overall increase in both power and explosiveness. Building lean muscle through hypertrophy (the increase of size of cells in muscle tissue) is also important due to the positive effect it has on tendons and ligaments, helping the body adapt to the different stressors of training. Increased lean muscle mass will ultimately lead to greater muscular strength. Greater muscular strength in return leads to improved force-time that contributes to the overall performance of an athlete.
Besides supplementing with hypertrophic strength training, what is another key element in building lean muscle mass?
Yep, you guessed it — nutrition.
More specifically, protein intake.
The Importance of Protein Intake
What makes protein so important? While athletes may get their fuel from carbs and fats, protein provides many elements. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 all together. Ten of them are considered essential amino acids and the other ten are non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are compounds that your body can’t produce on its own, so you need to obtain them via a healthy diet.
Essential Amino Acids
Some of the essential amino acids are considered branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s). These particular amino acids are important for muscle protein synthesis as well as preventing muscle breakdown. These BCAA’s include leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Leucine in particular is an amino acid that promotes muscle protein synthesis (the process that is used by all cells to make proteins). It’s one of the key components in the start of the anabolic response in the muscle. While you can find it in the majority of protein-rich foods, it’s minimal in plant proteins — requiring athletes who are getting their protein from plants alone to eat more to get the same “bang for their buck”.
While protein is a key player in maintaining and building muscle and repairing tissue, it also serves as a component in supporting the immune system, improving bone density, maintaining homeostasis and more.
When it comes to protein and building muscle, the quality of the source of the protein is an important factor to keep in mind. Depending on whether you’re following a particular diet or have certain restrictions, there are an abundant amount of different options to choose from.
Know the Source
Animal and plant-based proteins both provide essential and non-essential amino acids in order to meet the body’s protein needs. A protein source can be considered complete or incomplete. This is determined by whether or not they contain all of the necessary essential amino acids or not.
Why is it Important for Athletes?
Building muscle and managing recovery are two of the top components for any successful athletic career. You really can’t have one without the other. Building muscle not only promotes an athlete’s ability to reach their full potential both on and off the court or field, but it allows them to maintain and build strength in the off-season as well.
However, most athletes know that rest and recovery are just important as pushing themselves in the weight room. Recovery includes getting enough sleep and food — especially protein. These components will serve as the building blocks of muscle repair as well as promoting a healthy environment for the central nervous system to adequately recover from the hard days.
About The Author:
Steph is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods. Find her on instagram @stephrlo or at https://www.TheAthletesKitchen.com