You're familiar with scales -- many of us stand on one in our bathrooms every morning and grimace because the needle hasn't moved up (or down). And we weigh our food to make sure that we're taking in the precise macronutrients we need each day. In simple terms, scales measure the weight of objects. In scientific terminology, weight is the gravitational force on an object as well as a synonym for mass. Scientists use a balance scale to measure the mass of an object. You've seen these before, no doubt - there's a weight pan on each side, and each pan is suspended by a beam. Objects are measured by putting them on one side of the scale while weights are added to the other side until both pans are balanced. Equilibrium is reached.
This is all very interesting, you say, but what the hell does it have to do with anything? Well, if you're looking to add mass, muscle growth requires a delicate balance - or equilibrium, if you will - of muscle buildup and muscle breakdown.
Muscle buildup is technically known as muscle protein synthesis. This involves the assembling of amino acids into the proteins that make up muscle fibers. Muscle breakdown involves the removal of amino acids from these proteins.
Most bodybuilders make the mistake of focusing only on muscle buildup (synthesis) by using supplements that primarily boost protein synthesis. Yet impeding muscle breakdown, technically known as catabolism, is just as important as increasing muscle protein synthesis. That's because muscle growth occurs only when muscle protein buildup increases at a greater rate than muscle protein breakdown. To mix our metaphors a bit, a good analogy is a brick wall, where the bricks symbolize amino acids. If you add three bricks to the wall (protein synthesis) but five bricks fall off (catabolism), the wall gets smaller.
If you add five bricks and only three bricks fall off, the wall gets bigger.
Supplements that increase protein synthesis act like a mason adding bricks to a wall - they help to add more bricks (amino acids) to your muscles and build them up. Supplements that prevent muscle breakdown act like mortar that's added to the wall to keep bricks from falling off. So by preventing amino acids from being taken away from your muscles, these supplements help your muscles grow by allowing synthesis (buildup) to prevail and muscle growth to occur.
To maximize your muscle growth, you need to know which supplements increase protein synthesis, which ones decrease muscle breakdown and which ones do both. Here is your definitive guide to maintaining this delicate balance so you stay in positive muscle-growth mode.