Have you ever noticed how powerlifters don’t look as muscular as bodybuilders but can still lift very heavy weights? This is because powerlifters have trained their muscle fibres, by simultaneous contraction of their motor neurons. This is an example of Dense muscle vs big muscle. To find out “How do muscles grow and recover” we have to figure out their anatomy and physiology.

How do muscles grow and recover?

Structure of a muscle

When training it’s common to concentrate on our visible muscles, i.e. skeletal muscles we’ll, therefore, leave out the cardiac & smooth muscles for now. The bicep is an example of a skeletal muscle. It is composed of several muscle fascicles inside which you can find many muscle fibres, that are closely packed together.

Each muscle fibre is again a collection of numerous muscle cells called myocytes. A myocyte has a complex network of myofibrils (contractile elements), proteins, blood vessels; motor end plate (junction of myocyte and neuron) and sarcoplasmic reticulum (organelle that provides ions for muscular contraction). Now that we have an understanding of the structure of muscles, let’s move on to how they grow and repair.

How do muscles grow and repair?

Muscle either grows in size or in number, the former mechanism is called hypertrophy while the latter comes under the heading of hyperplasia. There is another term called “muscular dystrophy” that means a decrease in muscle mass and is often associated with bedridden patients due to their restricted activity. Whether the body is in the hypertrophic or dystrophic state, depends upon the protein cycle i.e. positive protein cycle means protein synthesis is more than protein degradation/elimination and vice versa. Thus, any exercise or diet that shifts the cycle towards positive will eventually result in increased muscle mass.

Muscular growth, however, depends on several factors including age, gender (men are more muscular than women), hormone (testosterone in men), body adaptations and genetics. Depending upon heavy workout, muscle growth is further divided into three phases

Anabolic phase

The first 40-45 minutes after your workout. During this phase, we often experience pain due to muscle damage, breakdown products of proteins and also because of the accumulation of lactic acid. In this time period, there is greatly reduced muscular growth because our body is busy compensating muscle damage from weight lifting. Thus trainers recommend a post workout shake or meat to stimulate hormone release and protein synthesis.

Growth phase

In this phase; lactic acid levels drop down to normal, body recovers damage and replenish its protein content. It is a period of rapid and sustained muscular growth which starts after one hour and may last from 5 to 24 hours. An appropriate diet can help body accumulate extra protein, glycogen, and amino acids; all are contributory nutrients towards muscular growth.

Rest phase

Sleep is a critical time period for body repair and recovery, that’s why physicians recommend 8-10 hours of sound sleep. Adequate rest is also necessary for proper muscular growth; otherwise, your body will again go into a destructive phase.