Free Shipping on orders over $99

Muscle Building Nutrition

Men's Health, Women's Health | October 26, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

men, Muscles

Muscle Building Nutrition

What is the first nutrient that comes to mind when you want to build muscle? Protein, of course! But what happens when all the essential amino acids don't seem to be doing the job? Maybe you've been smashing protein shakes and pumping iron but you're not seeing any serious gains. Don't worry...You're not alone, and there's an easy fix.

The nutrition needed for beefing up and maintaining muscle tone is way more nuanced than just getting all of your essential amino acids. Only 20% of the muscle is composed of proteins – the remaining 80% is mostly water, phosphates and minerals. It makes sense that other nutrients are required to build muscle mass too.

Adjusting your diet to include six key nutrients will support muscle growth. (Not just for bodybuilders – everyone needs good muscle mass to maintain health and these nutrients will help you too!)

​How we build muscleHow we build muscle

You might have heard that we have a set number of muscle cells, so what is muscle growth exactly? 

Muscle growth is defined by an increased number of fibres within skeletal muscle cells, an influx of water into the muscle, and an expansion of connective tissue in and around the muscle. All of this makes the muscle look bigger and feel stronger. 

Most theories say that muscle growth happens in response to muscle cells encountering physical stress. After resistance training, the body rebuilds muscles to be stronger (and usually bigger) to meet the resistance they just encountered.

But there's a fine line between enough stress, and too much.

Oxidative stress (specifically “exercise induced oxidative stress” or EIOS) is important for muscle homeostasis – it stimulates growth, proliferation and adaptation of muscle cells (i.e. promotes muscle growth), but too much oxidation leads to damage and muscle loss. To keep the balance moving towards growth, there must be adequate circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle. 

Keeping it simple, muscle growth needs movement (and resistance), energy, nerve stimulation, and oxygen. And all of these require nutrients!

Nutrients for building muscle


That's right – eating a low carbohydrate diet may not be the way to get swoll. Carbs are the body's first choice of energy source. Without carbohydrates, proteins are metabolised instead, leaving fewer amino acids available for muscle growth. Insulin stimulates proliferation of muscle fibres, and is only released after the consumption of carbs. Armchair experts (and even the experts themselves) have divisive ideas on exactly how much of the diet should be carbohydrates for optimal muscle growth, but the general rule is somewhere between 35 – 40%.

B Vitamins

Hailed as the energy-makers, B vitamins work together as coenzymes in the metabolism of the macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) to make energy.

Muscles need a lot of energy to grow, and B vitamins are key to making that happen. But the benefit of B vitamins for muscle growth doesn't end with energy – vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate are needed for red blood cell formation, and to get oxygen to muscles.

Physical activity burns through B vitamins, and people who exercise have a higher daily requirement.

B vitamin deficiencies are rare in athletes, but suboptimal levels are common. Even slightly slightly inadequate levels of B vitamins can result in fatigue and a build -up of lactic acid and subsequent muscle soreness, which can put a real bummer on maintaining a regular exercise program or holding correct form. While evidence is lacking to suggest that supplementation can directly improve athletic performance and muscle bulk, taking a B vitamin complex can certainly improve energy levels, mood and focus.


Magnesium is one of the most popular supplements among active people, and for good reason. Although it is considered a “micronutrient”, magnesium is a major mineral in bone (that very important supporting structure of the muscles) and is necessary for:

  • Protein synthesis (hello, muscle mass!)
  • Energy metabolism
  • Electrolyte balance
  • Nerve impulse transmissions and muscle movement
  • Oxygen uptake by muscles

All essential for building muscle

While magnesium is available in an abundance of foods (think green leafy vegetables, nuts, and whole grains), levels in the body are easily depleted through sweat, with athletes losing 10 – 20% more magnesium than untrained individuals. Even a mild deficiency or insufficiency of magnesium can reduce performance, due to its essential role in oxygen uptake.

Magnesium is also popular for athletic recovery. It's known as the relaxation mineral, and is used to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, tightness, and fatigue so you can easily stay committed to your workout regime. Try topical magnesium by having a Magnesium soak after work- out, or apply topical magnesium directly to sore muscles.

Anyone with suboptimal magnesium levels, will likely benefit from supplementation particularly during high intensity workouts, when magnesium requirements are highest.


Iron plays a key in exercise and building muscle:

  • Carries oxygen in red blood cells and diffuses it into the muscle cells
  • Used in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fats into energy
  • Needed for red blood cell production

Iron is the most commonly deficient nutrient in the world, and anaemia or even a mild iron deficiency can deflate muscle mass, reduce endurance and aerobic performance, minimise work capacity, and squash energy efficiency.
The risk of deficiency is increased in sports people and athletes who eat little or no red meat, or who “carbohydrate load” on cereal grains, nuts and soy – while we need carbs to build muscle, these particular foods contain compounds that inhibit iron absorption. 

During exercise, iron is lost in sweat, and used up rapidly during strenuous training.

Supplementation may be required in some people, but it is essential to have a blood test before starting an iron supplement – too much iron is dangerous, and contributes to oxidative stress.


These include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids. Vitamin C is especially important for building muscle, and not just because of its antioxidant properties – it's a building block of collagen, which is used to form connective tissue and is required for optimal muscle mass.

The faster your muscles recover, the quicker they grow.

Heavy training results in Exercise-induced oxidative stress (EIOS) – this high level of oxidative stress has the potential to damage cells and cause muscle atrophy.

Antioxidants are powerful protectors against muscle loss and they help cell membranes to recover from oxidation damage. 

While there are plenty of supplements boasting antioxidant activity, eating a wide range of fresh fruit and veg is still the best way to boost your antioxidant levels.

Building muscle takes more than protein. Keep your nutrition in check with a diet full of fresh whole foods to support your muscles during training, and see a nutritionist or naturopath for advice on nutrient supplementation.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Musaro, A., Fulle, S. & Fano, G. (2010) Oxidative stress and muscle homeostasis. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care., 13:3, 236 – 242.

Sylow, L., Kleinert, M., Richter, E. A. & Jensen, T. E. (2016) Exercise-stimulated glucose uptake - regulation and implications for glycaemic control. Nat Rev Endocrinol., 14.

Williams, M. H. (2004) Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Introduction and Vitamins. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 1:1.

Woolf, K. & Manore, M. M. (2006) B-vitamins and exercise: does exercise alter requirement? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 16:5, 453 – 584.

Volpe, S. L. (2015) Magnesium and the athlete. Curr Sports Med Rep., 14:4, 279 – 283.         

Grams, L., Garrido, G., Villacieros, J. & Ferro, A. (2016) Marginal micronutrient intake in high-performance male wheelchair basketball players: a dietary evaluation and effects of nutritional advice. PLoS One, 11:7.

Burkhart, S. J. & Pelly, F. E. (2016) Dietary intake of athletes seeking nutrition advice at major international competition. Nutrients, 14:8. ttps://

Damirchi, A., Zareei, S. & Sariri, R. (2015) Salivary antioxidants of male athletes after aerobic exercise and garlic supplementation on: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. J Oral Biol Craniofac Res., 5:3, 146 – 152.


backBack to Blog Home