A Special Recipe for Muscle Mass: Genetics & Recovery
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market
For the final portion of our muscle building series we have the often-overlooked factors of recovery and genetics. The fact is, not every person has the same genetic makeup and therefore every individual will respond to diet and exercise in their own individual way. Recovery will also be different for individuals based on their training level. This is why beginners require 2 or 3 days between workouts, whereas athletes can train twice a day for several hours.
Before we get too far it is important to mention that although genetics can make putting on size easier for some, and more difficult for others, hard work always pays off. So if you are genetically designed to be an ectomorph (long and lean), put in the work and you will put on size.
In our muscles there are actually 3 types of muscle fiber types. Your baseline concentration of these is pre-determined by your genetic makeup. There are slow-twitch fibers, which contract slowly but can continue to contract for a long time. For athletes who are trained in endurance sports, they typically have more slow-twitch fibers in their muscles that support that type of exercise.
Then we have the fast-twitch fibers A. These muscle fibers can use both oxygen and glucose to contract. This makes them optimal for exercises in the 8-12 rep range, or mid-range events like the 400m sprint.
The final muscle fiber type is fast-twitch B. These are used in our explosive movements. So if you are doing a single clean and snatch, or the 100m sprint, then your are likely using these muscle fibers.
We are all born with different amounts of each of these muscle fiber types in our bodies. This will influence the body’s ability to put on size. Type 1 fibers, the endurance muscle fibers, don’t want to grow because that would add bulk to the muscle. If you are going to be running for a long period of time, you want efficient muscles, not bulky muscles that will weigh you down.
On the flip side, if you look at 100m sprinters, their muscles are typically larger than their marathoning friends because they need as many of those explosive muscle fiber types to propel them forward the fastest.
If you have always found that you stayed lean no matter how hard you trained, you likely have a greater concentration of the slow-twitch fibers. If you are the kind of person who puts on muscle with minimal effort, chances are you have a larger concentration of the fast-twitch B fibers. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then you probably fall under the fast-twitch A category.
Again – this does not condemn you to one body type for the rest of your life. The human body is built to adapt, so if you are constantly giving your body the right stimulus to build muscle, you will eventually put on muscle no matter what muscle fiber type you have more of.
All this to say, if you know you how your body has been responding to exercise up to this point, use this information to clarify how you will progress.
Recovery is so critical to progress. If you look at the graph below, every training stimulus puts us into a declined state of fitness. When we take time to recover, the body adapts and actually super compensates in order to be ready for the next bout of training.
So if we train without allowing for time to recover, we can never get into the supercompensation area of the graph and will actually see a decline in fitness.
The actual time you take to recover will vary depending on your fitness level. If you are a beginner, then the general guidelines are to take at least 48 hours before working the same muscle group again.
For people who have been training for a while, one of the adaptations their body has made is that the time it takes to recover is much shorter. This is why athletes can train twice a day for hours. It is typically 2 different types of training stimuli, but they have the energy for it.
The above graph includes a very important aspect of recovery. It isn’t just about not exercising. If you want to get the most out of your recovery, and therefore experience the most muscle gains, then your recovery plan needs to include hydration, sleep, and supportive nutrition.
With our 3-part series on hypertrophy coming to a close, we should summarize:
For exercise, your fitness level will dictate how specific your training needs to be. If you are new, you will likely experience hypertrophic adaptations no matter what your rep and set scheme looks like. As long as you are challenging yourself. The more advanced you are, the more advanced the programming should be. Combine a mixture of power, hypertrophy, and strength training to get the most out of your training.
For nutrition, protein will be critical. Your body needs protein to help rebuild the muscles. You should also have carbohydrates to give the body the energy it needs to complete the workouts.
And finally, for genetics and recovery. Although we are all born with a set number of the different muscle fiber types, this does not mean you will only ever respond to certain types of exercise. Work hard and the body will adapt accordingly, it just may take more time.
Your recovery is the final piece of the hypertrophy puzzle. Recognize where your fitness level is, and adjust your recovery accordingly. Don’t over-work the muscles without giving them ample time to recover. And of course, remember to include nutrition, sleep, and hydration in your recovery plan.