Taking your goals to the express lane

Published on 18 October 2021

Person lifting weights in the gym with determined face

Maybe you’ve got a comp or an event coming up, or you just want to fast-track your results. Bottom line is, you want to look good, and fast. But how achievable is it?

We asked Aquanation and Aquahub personal trainer and dietitian Byron Manning how you can take your goals to the express lane. 

Dialling up or dialling down your diet

Don’t go crazy. That’s the top tip from our nutrition guru, especially if you’re wanting to gain muscle super quick and wondering whether you should increase your calorie intake.

“A lot of people overestimate how much they actually need and then accrue a lot of fat mass that they otherwise wouldn’t have needed to,” Manning explains.

When faced with the question of whether to increase or decrease your calorie intake, it’s important to consider several factors, most notably your weight goal (whether you’re wanting to lose, gain or maintain), the frequency and duration of your exercise, and your overall level of hunger.

According to Manning, the best method to follow is eating enough calories to roughly make up your overall calorie burn or output, and ensuring you stick to a variety of foods for a well-balanced diet.

“Varying your diet helps you cover a wider range of nutrition which can help ensure you’re not lacking in any areas.”

Remember, don’t try and go out of your way to eat back every calorie you expend during exercise, as you may unintentionally undermine any efforts to lose or maintain your weight. Additionally, you could be overriding your body’s hunger cues, especially if you don’t feel particularly keen for those exercise calories but eat (and drink) them back anyway.

While sticking to a routine eating plan may not always be possible due to life’s busy demands, adapting your diet to suit your lifestyle is key if you want to keep hitting your goals.

If you’re aiming for hypertrophy (a science-y way of referring to increasing muscle growth) and you’re doing more taxing full-body resistance training to achieve this quickly, Manning reveals protein is your pal – even right before bedtime.

“It’s different for every individual, as what each individual has may influence their sleep differently, but I see benefit in consuming protein to help stimulate muscle growth one last time before I go to sleep,” the personal trainer advises.

Studies have shown that if you consume an ample amount of protein right before bed, you’ll take advantage of this spike in growth hormone and maximise muscle gains. This is because you’re providing the amino acids that are needed for repair and growth.

Researchers at McMaster University conducted a study in 2018 on achieving muscle growth and weight loss simultaneously, quickly. The researchers studied 40 young men undergoing high intensity exercise and split them into two groups: one with a high protein diet and the other with a lower protein diet. In a nutshell, it takes a lot of hard work to achieve weight loss and muscle gain quickly, however the findings revealed that a high protein diet was ideal for this goal.

And if you’re on the move at work, it might be worth upping your carbohydrate intake.

“If your workplace requires you to be on the move for the majority of the day and then you’re coming to the gym to do cardio, it might be an idea to increase the carbohydrates you’re having,” suggests Manning.

Training for success

Want to gain muscle fast? Train smarter, not harder. According to Manning, compound exercises – any movement that involves using multiple joints and muscle groups at a time – should fast-track results.

“Compound exercises that stress multiple muscles simultaneous are a great idea because they are efficient. You can hit lots of different muscles in a short amount of time and they’re quite applicable to sports as well, which is a bonus.”

In short, compound exercises are an effective way to maximise your time in the gym.

In addition to improving strength, burning more calories, improving intramuscular coordination and elevating your heart rate, Manning says compound exercises “essentially provide stimulus to or damage many different muscles which then translates to greater amounts of repair or growth”.

The ‘damage’ Manning refers to is a good thing! It signals a hormonal response that kicks in during the recovery period of your workout.

Manning further explains that if muscle growth is your end-game then it’s wise going for a more efficient movement.

He uses the squat as an example for growing lower body muscle mass; it uses many muscles in the legs and lower body, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes as well as engaging the core and lower back.

By comparison, he says squats also provide “a greater amount of muscular growth than calf raises or leg extensions following the same protocol”.

And you needn’t have to spend hours working out or making more frequent trips to the gym. Again, it all comes back to smarter training.

“Workout duration influences all sorts of things – longer workouts will tap into your energy stores in a different way to short workouts and you are able to fit more volume in, but if you’re doing shorter workouts you could do the same amount of moves just with more reps or weight,” explains Manning.

Let’s face it, many of us feel a bit time-crunched these days. So, for those who struggle to fit in an hour-long gym sesh, Manning recommends HIIT, otherwise known as high-intensity interval training.

High-intensity interval training involves performing an all-out, exhaustive physical effort for a short time followed by a short, sometimes active, recovery. An effective HIIT workout (20 to 30-minute sessions 3-4 times a week) will help you torch calories, build lean muscle, improve heart health, lose fat, push your limits, and increase efficiency.

The personal trainer suggests progressive overloading (making your workouts slightly harder).

“Intensity and volume can be increased, shorter rest, and depending on how these are structured, it may or may not lead to longer workouts.”

Don’t forget to chillax

It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-training taking motivation over rest, especially when you’ve got a goal date in mind. Manning says resting both in-between sets as well post-workouts is essential for muscle growth.

“Rest is important to ensure that we are getting the same quality of work done in the gym. If we reduce rest we will increase the fatigue we experience which will eventually compromise our form from rep to rep,” warns Manning.

As a broad rule, the amount of time you should rest between exercises or sets depends on the amount of weight you’re lifting and what your overall goal is.

For most people looking to improve their muscular fitness, it’s best to rest for 30 to 90 seconds between sets of an exercise. You should feel energised enough to start your next set, but not so relaxed that your heart rate drops and your body starts to cool down.

Also, allowing your body to rest and recover between training days enables your muscles to rebuild and grow. And when you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories at rest. That’s because muscle burns more energy than flat. Additionally, when you feel refreshed, you’ll be more likely to stick to your exercise routine.

Byron Manning is a personal trainer at Aquanation and Aquahub with a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Science and a Masters of Dietetics from Deakin University. 

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