muscle mass


Question: “I want to bulk up, how do I do this?”


This is a common question in the fitness industry, especially from young men and adolescents.

A common answer to this question goes something like this: “Lift heavy weights to failure every set in the gym, take pre workout so you have energy to do more in the gym, and have a protein shake immediately after the session otherwise you will lose gains!”

Unfortunately this advice is misinformed and gives a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Body composition is specific to the individual, and everyone responds differently to an exercise or protein ingestion stimulus. Muscular size is determined by daily changes in “…rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown (MPB)” (Morton et al., 2015).

In a rested and fasted state, the rate of MPB is greater than MPS, which results in a negative protein balance. Muscle hypertrophy requires a positive protein balance (i.e. MPS > MPB) and this is achieved following protein ingestion and a repeated exercise stimulus.

This article will focus mainly on protein ingestion and it’s relationship to muscle hypertrophy in novices (untrained) and trained individuals and I will provide some practical recommendations that you can use based on the scientific evidence and literature.


Research has shown that novice individuals have higher rates of MPS and MPB compared to trained individuals and hence they have a greater protein turnover (Phillips et al., 1999). This study was performed using only unilateral training so it remains to be determined whether this effect would be the same for a whole body resistance training protocol. I personally believe the results would be the same and that MPS would be even higher in untrained individuals when more muscle groups are involved.

Morton et al., 2015 reports that in the post exercise period, strength trained individuals have a smaller rate of MPS and MPB resulting in less protein turnover. Therefore it may be beneficial for trained individuals to consume more protein/energy to increase MPS and subsequently enhance muscular size. They also report on the findings other research that shows no additional benefit when the dose of protein consumed is greater than 20g in trained vs untrained individuals following resistance training because above 20g of protein there seems to be a ceiling effect where ingestion of more protein is not utilised for MPS, but rather burned as fuel instead (oxidation).

Schoenfeld (2016) reported findings from a numerous studies in his book “Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy”. One such reported finding by Rozenek et al (2002) found that untrained individuals gained about 3kg weight (mostly all muscle mass) in 8 weeks when they combined a resistance training program and consumed an ENERGY surplus of about 2000 kcal / day compared to a control group who consumed a diet that was equal in energy expenditure.

Additionally, Schoenfeld (2016) reports that well-trained individuals can increase their muscle size when consuming an “energy surplus of 500-1000 kcal/day indicating that trained individuals should use less of an energy surplus (i.e. aim for a lower positive energy balance) for increased muscular size” Overall it is important to remember that untrained individuals have more potential for, and a faster rate of growth in muscular size compared to trained individuals so accommodating an increased energy intake for untrained individuals may be necessary (Schoenfeld, 2016).

In regards to protein consumption and muscle hypertrophy there are THREE important things that you should be aware of:


1. DOSE of protein
The dose of protein consumed is important with regard to muscle hypertrophy. Morton et al (2015) summarised findings of several research papers and found consuming a certain
amount of protein (approx. 20-25g) post strength session, that rates of MPS were no different and thus no more beneficial and actually plateau above a certain threshold. This is called the muscle full effect and basically suggests that when protein delivery is appropriate (approx. 20-25g), any more protein beyond this dose is insufficient to result in synthesis and instead is used for oxidation.

Therefore, more is not always better with regards to protein consumption. In the same review the authors recommend that the DOSE of protein feeding per meal should be 0.4 grams per kilogram of body mass per meal (0.4g/kg/meal) to increase skeletal muscle hypertrophy. For example, a 70kg athlete would need to consume 28g (0.4 x 70 = 28) per meal to maximally stimulate MPS. Additionally, there are other recommendations that suggest consuming 1.2-1.8 g/kg/day would be sufficient to increase muscle size in combination with an adequate training program (Phillips & van Loon, 2011; Schoenfeld, 2016)

2. TIMING of protein ingestion in relation to exercise
There is a common belief within the fitness community that if you don’t have protein within 30 minutes of finishing a workout that your gains will be diminished. A meta-analysis by Schoenfeld, Aragon and Krieger (2013) examined protein timing and its effect on hypertrophy. What they found is that it is the total intake of protein that is important for gains in muscle mass, not necessarily the timing. Furthermore, the same researchers conducted a randomized controlled study in 2017 that had 2 experimental groups (1 that consumed 25g of protein and 1g of carbohydrate right before a resistance training session; and 1 group that consumed the same straight after a resistance training session).

The subjects were strength trained men from a university population and they performed 3 days of strength training per week for 10 weeks. They concluded there were little changes in lean body mass between groups and that the group supplementing post exercise had a “modest” advantage in increased biceps brachii compared to the group supplementing prior to exercise.

Overall the major finding was that an anabolic window of opportunity was not shown as both groups showed similar little changes in muscle mass and body composition. I am not saying that this window doesn’t exist because other research has shown consuming protein within 30 minutes following exercise increased rates of MPS. What I am saying is that unless your goal is to get massive biceps (bodybuilders for example), then you should consume protein before OR after your workout, it literally depends on your preference, tolerance, convenience and availability. T

he effect of a resistance-training bout can last up to 48 hours post session so the need to continually supply the muscles with fuel is indeed important when looking to increase muscle size. The belief that protein must be consumed within 30 minutes, as this is the proposed window of opportunity for protein ingestion to increase size can therefore be refuted. However, as a practical option if you know that you are not going to be able to eat any time soon for the rest of the day, then a protein shake can be a viable option post workout.

3. QUALITY (type) of protein
The type of protein is a hot topic when it comes to muscular size and supplementation. The most common types of protein sources used to supplement a strength-training program include whey, casein and soy. Whey and soy protein are highly soluble / fast proteins meaning that after ingestion the appearance in the blood stream is fast, high and transient. In other words they induce a larger and short rise in MPS rates than the protein casein (which is a slow-releasing protein). Taking a casein protein shake before sleeping could have the potential to help increase rates of protein synthesis whilst asleep when the rate of MPS is quite low (Snijders et al 2015; Trommelen & Luc J. C. van Loon, 2016) You cannot discuss protein without a discussion on amino acids.

The science of amino acids and their purpose is beyond on the scope of this article however I will briefly discuss them here and how they relate to muscular hypertrophy. Amino acids are “…nitrogenous substances and building blocks of bodily proteins” (Schoenfeld, 2016). Whey protein contains a large content of leucine. Leucine is one of the essential amino acids (i.e. body cannot synthesize them so they MUST come from the diet) and has been shown to be very important in skeletal muscle growth and is often referred to as a trigger for MPS. Therefore consumption of high quality protein such as leucine is strongly recommended due its increasing muscular size effects within muscle tissue.


To conclude this article, here are my practical recommendations to help increase muscle mass:

  • Smart nutrition in combination with structured resistance training is a must!
    • Based on current literature and evidence consuming THREE to FIVE meals per day with each meal containing approx. 0.4–0.5 grams per kg of body mass per meal per day seems most appropriate to assist the effects on MPS due to the stimulus of resistance training. This ranges between 1.2–2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day (1.2-2.4 g/kg/day).
  • Trained individuals may need to increase their protein intake as they have less potential for muscular growth compared to untrained individuals
  • Consume HIGH QUALITY PROTEINS (e.g. whey) as they have a large content of leucine that is needed for maximising muscular size. Examples of dietary sources of mfoods that contain high quality protein include: Meat, chicken, eggs, seafood, milk, cheese, yoghurt
    • Your body’s main fuel is glycogen (stored form of glucose)
    • Hypertrophy programs such as high volume protocols require lots of energy demand and if you are not eating enough to perform in your training session then you will not provide the correct stimulus to your muscles due to premature fatigue.
    • After training you need to replenish your body’s tissues. Glycogen stores will be low. It is recommended to consume 3g/kg/day of carbohydrates in order to help with maximal muscular development.
    • Total volume (sets x reps) is important for muscular hypertrophy. There no perfect rep range for increased size. Increases in muscle size can occur anywhere between 1-35 reps per set. Find your preference based on your current situation.
    • There is a clear dose-response between volume of muscle hypertrophy when employing 10 or more sets per muscle group per week (Schoenfeld, Ogborn and Krieger, 2016).


An Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Accredited Sports Scientist can help you reach your individual training goals. You can find your local exercise expert here.


Author: David Maiolo, Accredited Exercise Physiologist


  • Morton, R., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. (2015). Nutritional interventions to augment resistance traininginduced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Frontiers in Physiology, 6 doi:10.3389/fphys.20115.00245
  • Phillips, S. M., Tipton, K. D., Ferrando, A. A., & Wolfe, R. R. (1999). Resistance training reduces the acute exercise-induced increase in muscle protein turnover. American Journal of Physiology -Endocrinology and Metabolism, 276(1), 118-124.
  • Schoenfeld, B., Aragon, A., & Krieger, J. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: A meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53-53.doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-53
  • Schoenfeld, B., Aragon, A., Wilborn, C., Urbina, S., Hayward, S., & Krieger, J. (2017). Pre- versus postexercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations. Peerj, 5(1), e2825.doi:10.7717/peerj.2825
  • Schoenfeld, B (2016). Nutrition For Hypertrophy. In Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (1st ed., pp. 139-154). Champaign, United States: Human Kinetics Publishers.
  • Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and metaanalysis.
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  • Trommelen, J. and van Loon, L. (2016). Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal MuscleAdaptive Response to Exercise Training. Nutrients, 8(12), p.763.