Being anabolic and building muscle is hard and everyone wants to sell you a shortcut, but what you really need is knowledge you can put into action. Being in an anabolic state is being in a state of growth and adding muscle. It’s what you want to happen after you leave the gym.
This article is about getting anabolic, making progress, and saving you the time and money of trial and error!
There’s a lot of debate, but we can make a few simple rules about how to stay anabolic as much as possible:
- Eat small-moderate meals every 3 hours or so
- Always eat within 2 hours of intense exercise
- Be sure to consume protein and healthy plant-foods with every meal
- Eat before you become hungry or at scheduled times
A poor grasp of what the anabolic state is, and how to achieve it, is the fastest way to waste your hard work in training.
If you understand how the body works and how to stay anabolic, you’re going to see improved results and out-perform your competition – as well as your own expectations!
There’s a lot of low-quality information out there, so today we’re providing the definitive introduction guide to anabolism, how it affects your physique and performance, as well as what you need to do to stick with it.
If you’re looking for real knowledge, you’re in the right place: by the end of this article you’ll know the big secrets to keeping it anabolic!
What is the Anabolic State?
If you’ve been paying attention to the fitness industry, you’ll know that everyone and his mother is selling anabolic supplements or gimmicks.
What is anabolism and why is it worth so much effort?
If I were a chemistry teacher I might say something like;
Anabolism is the part of metabolism where simpler, lighter substances come together to build more complicated tissues.
But I’m not a Chemistry teacher and you’re not here for dusty textbooks.
You care about making the most of your body, so you can think of anabolism as the state when your body is building things and growing. It’s the opposite of catabolism, which is when the body breaks down tissues into their building blocks, so they can be used elsewhere.
Anabolism is a state defined by a huge number of different processes, but what you’re going to see a lot of is:
- Building new proteins;
- Stockpiling huge amounts of energy as carbohydrates and lipids (not a bad thing!);
- Creating new DNA.
Safe to say, you’re going to see some benefits from being anabolic.
The part we’re focusing on is that you’re putting your body in a place where it can build and capitalize on the fuel and raw materials from your diet.
Benefits of the Anabolic State
There are 4 key hormones that your body produces a lot of during anabolic periods:
- Human Growth Hormone
Everybody’s heard of testosterone and you have probably heard of the others, but do you know all their effects on the anabolic state.
When you’re in an anabolic state, you’re producing optimal amounts of these compounds, and they ensure that your body has everything it needs to grow!
Muscle Size and Strength
Who doesn’t love being big and strong?
No matter your sex, muscular strength and size are a great way to improve your physique and performance.
You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to gain these effects: the anabolic state is perfectly normal and is a great way of controlling your training if utilized properly.
Anabolic reactions, when you’re in this state, include the development of proteins – the building blocks of muscles. These contribute to adding muscle mass, gaining strength, and boosting your resting metabolism.
You’re going to see more positive results in your performance and physique if you stay anabolic – it is key to growth!
What you will also see is a boost in recovery from one training session to the next.
It won’t get rid of the pain in your abs when you sneeze after a tough core workout, but it will mean you’re better-prepared to go again and again, even when training is tough. To keep it simple, you perform better because you are recovering better.
Joint Health and Recovery
Being anabolic isn’t just about growing your muscles, it’s also repairing them after you’ve stressed them in training.
We all have gym sessions that left our muscles screaming, and in these times it’s good to have all the calories and nutrients you need to build them back up. In other words, so your muscles can grow!
The proteins we mentioned before aren’t just used in your muscles: they’re also key to keeping your tendons and ligaments healthy.
By staying anabolic when you’re recovering from hard training, you’ll also be contributing to the maintenance of healthy joints.
This is more important than you might think!
Did you know 80% of people will suffer from debilitating back pain, and even more will suffer from some form of joint pain, during their lives?
If you’re looking to enjoy life, train hard and age well, you’re going to need to take care of these tissues. This is much more likely when your body is giving your ligaments and tendons what they need.
Recovery for the joints and muscles is essential and the anabolic state is the best way to achieve it.
Putting yourself into this growth state, is the best way to recuperate between training sessions. We’re going to discuss how you can do that – no dubious substances or BS involved!
How to Achieve Maximum Anabolism
Lifestyle must come first when you’re chasing growth and recovery: the things that you do every day make up the biggest part of your success or failure. If you put time and effort into these simple factors, you’ll experience far greater results – which is why you’re still reading, isn’t it?
Start with Food
It’s simple: when you want to grow and recover, you need to eat enough of the right things to make that happen.
Anabolism requires energy and food is your fuel, so the things you put in your mouth will be key in deciding whether you’re anabolic or catabolic.
Calories are where it all starts – the amount you eat is the most important part of diet.
You can’t eat like a mouse and expect to achieve an anabolic state: your body is going to be too busy breaking itself down to achieve your goals! Eating slightly more calories than you use (a calorie surplus) is key. (No, we’re not trying to make you fat. Just stay with us here!)
Once you’re eating enough, you must make sure what you are eating is the right stuff.
You can still grow while eating junk food, but you’re going to be less healthy and see far fewer results than the guy doing his diet, recovery, and, supplements right.
Focus on getting plenty of protein and enough healthy fats (think coconut oil, salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds, and olive oil) to keep your hormones levels healthy.
You should be eating carbs in proportion to how much exercise you’re doing: if you don’t have enough energy from high-quality carbs (like beans and wholegrains), you’re going to need to break down muscle and fat to make up the deficit.
Eat more carbohydrates on training days, prior to working out and for recovery, and less when resting, but always make sure you’re eating enough for the work you do in the gym/on the field.
Don’t forget that your resting days are your anabolic growing days so don’t forget about your protein intake on those days!
How are You Eating?
Food is such a big part of your metabolism that the way you eat – the timings and choices – can play a large role in your overall well-being.
Food timing for keeping your metabolism in the anabolic state is all about eating often and keeping your body fueled.
You’re not going to start shrinking and wasting away if you don’t eat every few hours, but remaining fed means remaining fuelled.
Despite different approaches to diet for muscle growth, these are the 4 most important principles (it’s why we put them at the start!):
- Eat a small or moderate meal every 3 hours if you can (1)
- Always eat within 2 hours of intense exercise (2)
- Be sure to consume protein and healthy plant-foods with every meal
- Eat before you become hungry or at scheduled times
Sleep Is Anabolic
There’s nothing more anabolic than good sleep. When you’re asleep, your body is set to improve your recovery and secretes huge amounts of healthy growth hormones – particularly the 4 we mentioned earlier.
Whether you’re an elite athlete looking for maximum performance, a physique enthusiast wanting to grow, or an average joe looking to get into shape, sleep is key.
If you want to achieve the best growth and keep your body in an anabolic state, you need to sleep at least 8 hours a night – but 10 is probably better.
You can maximise your growth by improving your sleep quantity and quality.
Sleeping well for 8 hours is better than 10 hours of frustrated, unrestful sleep. You should make sure you’re well fed and watered before you sleep, work some casein protein into your night time diet before bed and make sure that you sleep in a dark, cool room without any loud noises.
You should also reduce your screen time before bed – blue light at night is awful for your sleep quality (3).
It might sound romantic but reading a good book by candlelight and drinking an herbal tea can be a great way of boosting your anabolic response, improving your recovery and you’ll feel far better for it when you wake up!
Hydration Combats Catabolism
Everyone knows you need to drink water for health benefits – it’s also important for things like not-dying.
However, you probably don’t pay enough attention to how important it is in staving off catabolism and keeping you in a state of maximum growth.
Hydration isn’t just a way of staying cool at the gym; getting enough water is a great way to fight stress, keep your energy levels up, improve your mental performance and loads more.
Almost all the best elite athletes have a hydration quota for the day because hydration boosts recovery and stops you going catabolic. This is even more true when you’re stressed, busy, or working out.
We’d wager you probably don’t drink enough of the wet stuff – which is silly when it’s so easy!
Keep a water bottle with you always and never let it stay empty for more than an hour – you’ll find yourself drinking water when you’re concentrating or when you’re bored. You can even reuse a shaker bottle you might have used for your supplements. This means less junk food, more hydration, and it also keeps your mind focused and sharp.
Relax to Grow
You’re stressed out, I’m stressed out – we’re all stressed out in the 21st century. Life is constant “go go go” and it’s easy to get yourself wound up, stressed out, and constantly on the go.
This might be great for your bank account or business but taking time to relax means giving yourself chance to grow and improve.
You might not think Yoga has much to do with muscle growth and sport performance but taking time to relax and make sure your mind and body switch off is a huge deal. Have you ever noticed how Yoga focuses on quiet and tranquility?
The anabolic state is a relaxed state: it’s a time when your body knows it doesn’t need to do anything urgent and it can focus on growth. Yoga is one example, but if you don’t feel like “ohm”ing your way to results, you can take any form of mindful relaxation.
You probably think it sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but the science is solid on relaxation being one of the biggest factors for progress. When you’re stressed, you produce a lot of cortisol and other catabolic compounds that regulate the breakdown of muscle tissue (4).
Relaxing isn’t just for your head – it puts you in control of your hormones.
Wannabe anabolic supplements are everywhere.
Everyone and his mother is trying to sell you the new, best anabolic test booster mega-shred nonsense. You’re smarter than that (or you’d not be reading this), so we’re going to bust some myths.
First thing, there are very few supplements that work and boosting your levels of anabolic hormones isn’t easy.
There’s a reason that people take anabolic steroids: because they work. We’re not saying you should rush out to get yourself some Tren-Ace (please do not), but legal supplements are only legal because they don’t change your hormones as effectively or as dangerously.
Supplements can help you produce more of the beneficial hormones but none of that matters if you don’t have the basics of the anabolic state down; proper nutrition and rest.
If you’re eating well and you’re sleeping enough, there are a few things that can give you a small edge (if you’re willing to shell out for them):
- Vitamin supplements
Vitamins and minerals come first – they should be in your diet as fruits and veg, but there are some you might need to supplement: Vitamin D, Iron and the B vitamins are all great choices (5).
- Fish Oil
You need to take fish oil: it reduces inflammation, improves brain health, keeps your joints healthy and reduces your risk of painful heart-related death (6).
- Creatine and Alanine
Creatine boosts strength-endurance (how long you stay strong for)(7) and beta-alanine boosts your endurance (8). Both are effective and cheap, so you need to get on board.
- Nitrogen Boosters
Arginine is a bit of a con since it doesn’t get absorbed/used very effectively (9, 10), but citrulline is a great replacement and can boost your muscular endurance (11). If you’re not a tired wimp in the gym, you’ll get better results and recovery.
If you’re an athlete or participate in sports, it’s going to be even more important to take your supplements seriously.
Things to Remember about Supplements
Supplements are an advantage but they’re not everything – diet comes first.
Don’t take supplements to try and short-cut diet and exercise, and don’t expect them to change the world. The best athletes take supplements that compliment diet and cover weaknesses – this is the approach you need to take.
Supplements are meant to “supplement” a good diet
Supplements are meant to “supplement” a good diet: A supplement should be a compliment to your diet and not a replacement for discipline or good food!
Outside of the supplements we’ve mentioned, there are some great products, but you’re going to see a lot of useless junk too. You need to stay educated and make sure that you’re getting the very best.
Remember that there are no miraculous wonder-pills for muscle growth and, if there are, they’re unhealthy and will probably rot your liver.
This is because supplements are healthy in inverse proportion to their effectiveness over time– the only things that deliver huge results, quickly, are probably illegal and unhealthy like steroids and other PEDs.
You’re a grown adult and your body is your business but remember that huge effects can have huge consequences.
Aim for simple and science backed boosts like fish oil, creatine, and other proven over-the-counter supplements rather than the flashiest new product or prohormone.
Limitations and Practical Advice
Remember that you don’t need to fear being catabolic and that your body is going to fluctuate over time. Nobody can maintain an anabolic state forever. We just need to focus and get back into an anabolic state as soon as we can.
You can stay anabolic by following these tips, but recovery and growth are complicated and are hard to fit into modern life consistently.
Metabolism: Balancing Growth and Breakdown
Catabolism and Anabolism are important concerns and you want to tailor your training and recovery to ensure that you’re in the right state at the right time.
If you’re experiencing catabolism during your rest and recovery time, you need to change your diet and sleep patterns fast. You don’t want to work hard for gains, only to have them turn into losses.
You’re going to experience a catabolic state at some point – it’s a part of the living process occurs whenever you move.
What you’re looking for – for the very best muscle growth and strength – is tipping the balance in your favour.
If you scale up your time in the anabolic vs catabolic state, you’re simply increasing the ratio!
Your goals and values are the key here: if you’re looking for the best results you’re going to need to manage the way you live; the foods you eat and the quality of your supplements.
Limitations and Scope
Building muscle and losing fat are complicated processes.
You can’t just flick a switch between anabolic and catabolic: improving your balance to meet your goals takes time – you are investing food, sleep and conscious effort to control your hormones and growth.
Being anabolic doesn’t guarantee muscle growth or complete recovery – having a well put-together recovery routine is a great choice but it needs to match your goals and training.
Anabolic rest days are the best way to improve this, however – they’ll provide you with the best chances if you’ve optimized your workouts, diet and supplements to match.
Getting into an anabolic state is one of the best ways to improve your training and the results you’re going to see.
In this article we’ve discussed what it is to be anabolic and how to achieve it; giving you the tools that you need to control your body, keep it in a growth-state, and push your natural limits.
Putting your time into the basics – sleep, diet, hydration and good-quality supplements – is a guaranteed way to stay anabolic.
Avoid the marketing hype and stick with these underrated, underappreciated secrets to living out your maximum potential.
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2 Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10:5 https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
3 Burkhart Kimberly & Phelps James R. (2009) AMBER LENSES TO BLOCK BLUE LIGHT AND IMPROVE SLEEP: A RANDOMIZED TRIAL, Chronobiology International, 26:8, 1602-1612, DOI: 10.3109/07420520903523719
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7 Chrusch MJ, Chilibeck PD, Chad KE , Davison KS, Burke DG (2001). Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(12):2111-2117 DOI: 10.1097/00005768-200112000-00021
8 Jeffrey R StoutEmail author, B Sue Graves, Abbie E Smith, Michael J Hartman, Joel T Cramer, Travis W Beck and Roger C Harris (2008). The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55–92 Years): a double-blind randomized study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-21
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11 Curis E, Crenn P, Cynober L (2007). Citrulline and the gut. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care; 10(5):620-6.