Don’t be afraid to build muscle as an endurance athlete.
Muscle produces power. The more muscle tissue you have, the better your capacity to produce force you will have.
More force = More Speed
Making you a faster athlete.
In this blog post today I’m going to share with you exactly how to build muscle as an endurance athlete without sacrificing your performance, making you a more powerful athlete.
I’m going to show you how elite athletes do it and how you can implement exactly what they do into your current training & diet.
By the end of this blog, you will
• Understand why muscle is so important for performance
• Know why you need to be strong if you want to be fast
• Know the exact methods to building muscle as an endurance athlete
When it comes to building muscle, the primary goal is to produce more force relative to our body mass, known as our power-to-weight ratio. If you would like to learn more about how to test and improve your power-to-weight ratio check out the link below.
How to improve your power-to-weight ratio
Anyway, let’s continue with me showing you how I coach athletes to build muscle so they can increase their power output, making them faster athletes.
How to build muscle as an endurance athlete?
It all boils down to your ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. That is the driving force behind building muscle.
There are two areas that you, as an endurance athlete, need to tackle if you want to increase your muscle mass.
1. Your training
2. Your Protein intake
Strength training to build muscle
There is no other way around it if you want to build muscle, you have to lift heavy weights.
When training, 6 – 12 repetitions per set is the optimal range for muscle growth. Train towards contraction failure 9cant use the muscle anymore to lift). Take relatively short rest periods — 30 – 90 seconds. Rest-pause techniques can also be effective. Perform 12 – 20 sets per muscle group. Supersets can help add volume and improve efficiency. Be consistent with training (this is a massive one)
Alongside building muscle, strength training has to be part of your overall training program if you want to perform at your best for 2 other reasons;
- There is a direct link between strength and injury. The stronger you are, the less of a chance you will have of getting injured.
- The stronger you are, the more efficient you are. Which in turn improves your economy, optimizing your performance.
Muscles respond to protein.
The way our hormones respond to training, and how they affect our muscle growth, depends a lot on our nutritional status — not just how many calories we’re taking in.
In a rested state, muscle protein breakdown exceeds protein synthesis. This net balance can be improved with strength training, but still, normally, we’re breaking down more than we are building up.
When we want to increase muscle mass, we need the opposite to occur, we want to be building more than breaking down, hence we need adequate protein to do this.
What we need to do is switch on muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
MPS is essentially the building up of new muscle tissue. One bout of resistance training can stimulate MPS for at least 48 hours. During this time, is we consume enough calories (not in too large a deficit or slight surplus) and our protein intake is at least between 12-15% of the calories consumed that day, muscle growth can occur.
Note; if you’re an athlete restricting your calorie intake to cut body fat, protein needs for muscle recovery and growth need to be between 1.7 – 2.2 grams of protein/kg of body weight.
What helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis?
- Just 6 grams of essential amino acids can stimulate muscle protein synthesis after training.
- We don’t need nonessential amino acids for this stimulation to occur.
- Elevated levels of insulin can generate muscle growth when amino acid consumption is ample, which demonstrates the importance of carbohydrate consumption after exercise.
- Frequent amino acid consumption (from food or supplements) during waking hours may also play a role in muscle growth.
- And lastly, making sure to get in protein in ¾ meals a day evenly spread out.
Realistic Rates of Muscle gain per month
Your ability to gain muscle is dependent on a lot of factors like age, biological sex, genetics, and consistency with food intake, along with resistance training experience, intensity, frequency, style, volume, and more.
You must bear I mind that when you are trying to gain muscle as an endurance athlete, it’s not going to be a linear journey it will fluctuate across the season and time span of training.
It is not uncommon to see young males who are in their first year or two of training gain anywhere from 7 to 15kg of muscle mass or 15 to 25 pounds within their first year of dedicated training. However, as your training age increases, the progression seems to slow down, and the gain in muscle mass halts compared to that of an athlete starting out. Therefore, it’s seen to be harder for experienced athletes to gain muscle mass compared to a beginner within their first year.
Young women can see gains of anywhere from 4 to 6kg or 8 to 12 pounds of muscle in their first year of dedicated training as a beginner, along with another four to six pounds or 2 to 3kg gained in the second year of intermediate lifting. However, after three years plus of dedicated training or in the case of an advanced athlete, it often takes years of persistent effort to see incremental gains in muscle mass regardless of gender.
Over the course of an athlete’s training lifespan men have the potential to gain anywhere from 20 to 25kg or 40 to 50 pounds of muscle mass, and women have the potential to gain anywhere from 10 to 13kg or anywhere from 20 to 25 pounds of muscle mass.
Note; this is depending on height bone structure genetics training nutrition stress management, and without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.
See the table below for a summary of the potential gains of muscle mass for men and women per month.
When is the best time to build muscle as an athlete?
Typically speaking, the best time to focus on building muscle is in the off-season and pre-season in your Base phase of training. As with most base phase training plans focusing on lower intensity, longer duration aerobic training, is an ideal time to focus on lifting heavy for muscle gain as the load on the nervous system is low.
Building muscle in late pre-season or in season can be done however, you need to be dialed in with your training load and recovery as the load on the nervous system from peak phase training is high, and the load from strength training is always high on the nervous system. Therefore you will need more recovery to prevent burnout or injury.
Take home messages
Now that we have gone through the main strategies that I use to help athletes increase or maximize the returns of resistance training for you to build muscle mass.
These are my top tips to nail down in order to gain muscle this season.
- When training, 6 – 12 repetitions per set is the optimal range for muscle growth.
- Train towards contraction failure.
- Take relatively short rest periods — 30 – 90 seconds. Rest-pause techniques can also be effective.
- Perform 12 – 20 sets per muscle group. Supersets can help add volume and improve efficiency.
- Be consistent with training (a massive one )
- Consume enough energy (calories) 5-10% calorie surplus.
- If in a calories deficit to lose body fat and gain muscle mass no more than 500 kcal deficit with 2.0-2.2 grams of high quality protein per kg body weight.
- Sleep 7 – 9 hours per night.
- Maximise recovery to manage stress.
- Bazyler, C.D. et al. (2015) ‘Strength training for endurance athletes’, Strength &Conditioning Journal, 37(2), pp. 1–12. doi:10.1519/ssc.0000000000000131.
- Best, A.W. (2020) ‘Why does strength training improve endurance performance?’, American Journal of Human Biology, 33(6). doi:10.1002/ajhb.23526.
- Moore, D.R. et al. (2014) ‘Beyond muscle hypertrophy: Why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes’, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(9), pp. 987–997. doi:10.1139/apnm-2013-0591.
- Poortmans, J.R. et al. (2012) ‘Protein turnover, amino acid requirements and recommendations for athletes and active populations’, Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 45(10), pp. 875–890. doi:10.1590/s0100-879×2012007500096.
- Tarnopolsky, M. (2004) ‘Protein requirements for endurance athletes’, European Journal of Sport Science, 4(1), pp. 1–15. doi:10.1080/17461390400074102.