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July 20, 2009

How to Build More Muscle

Get the most out of your strength training.

woman doing cross over lunge and bicep curl with hand weights in front of window with view of new york city


Photo Credit: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

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Muscle strength peaks at age 25 and hits a plateau before falling sometime in your mid-to-late 30s. The more shapely, strong muscle you can bank now, the stronger you’ll stay for life. Research shows that strength training can replace about five years’ worth of lost muscle in as few as eight weeks. Use these strategies to exercise to your full potential.

Age affects how quickly you bounce back from a hard workout: The younger you are, the easier it is. But at any age, you can get more from your workout and trim recovery time by knowing what to eat and drink before, during, and after exercise.

Have a high-carb snack. “Carbs can help you feel more physically and mentally energized during exercise,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. In one study, cyclists who ate carbs before riding were able to pedal 18 percent longer before fatiguing. Make the energy last by adding a small amount of protein: Try a bowl of Cheerios and boost the carb count with some fruit, or half of a turkey sandwich (stay fairly light on the turkey to keep it moving through your system) and a banana. For a turbo charge, add coffee. A British review of 21 caffeine studies found that caffeinated people said that exercise felt easier, and they were able to run, swim, bike, and row 11 percent faster and/or longer before tiring out. Just 250 milligrams — one 16-ounce coffee — does the trick.

Have a sports drink if a strenuous workout lasts longer than 60 minutes. That’s when the fuel (glycogen) in your muscles tends to start running out. The carbs in sports drinks will replace it. In one study, cyclists who drank a sports drink before and during a two-hour test were happier and felt the exercise was easier than those who guzzled water. Play with amounts — you may not need the whole drink to gain the energy you want.

Eat a blend of carbs and protein to beat fatigue and help your body bounce back. After a strenuous workout lasting longer than an hour, your muscles are depleted of glycogen, which they need for post-exercise recovery. The right foods can triple the rate at which your muscles restock glycogen. In fact, low-fat chocolate milk may work wonders: A recent study found that cyclists who drank it after an exhausting ride were able to bike about 50 percent longer during a second ride (four hours later) than those who downed a pricey, protein-filled “recovery” drink.

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