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How to increase muscle mass in youth athletes?

How to increase muscle mass in youth athletes?



How to increase muscle mass in youth athletes?

We get a lot of questions from youth athletes, asking how to increase muscle mass?

Increasing muscle mass is often beneficial for athletes, as this links to increasing power and strength – both highly desired attributes in most sports. Through increasing muscle mass, there is also an increase in the resting metabolic rate, decreased body fat levels, improved muscle function, and improved bone strength to name a few! [1]

First, Protein. 

Athletes have utilised protein to aid muscle repair and growth for generations, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the complete function of this mighty nutrient was truly understood.

Protein from the food we eat is broken down into smaller molecules in the stomach by a digestive enzyme called pepsin, and then further broken down in the gut amino acids [2]Amino acids are often called the building blocks of protein and join to make chains known as peptides. Specific chains of peptides are fundamental for many physiological processes such as muscle cells, enzymes, and chemical reactions[3].

Protein is regarded as the building block of life. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein!

If you are training intensively the body will increase its rate of muscle breakdown and, demand more protein and amino acids to aid repair, growth, and strength; a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS) [4].

Overwhelming evidence proves that by ensuring the ‘right’ amount of quality protein to create a positive nutrient balance will provide the perfect environment for muscle growth and repair.

MPS is the driving force behind the body’s adaptive response to exercise and represents the efficacy of the short and long-term interventions used to manipulate muscle growth via intense training and optimal nutrition - in particular quantity protein intake and timing [5].

Whilst increased intake of quality protein is beneficial for all, it is of prime importance for those focusing on increasing muscle mass, recovery, strength, and power output. An increased requirement for protein during exercise is supported by an overwhelming amount of research, denoting that if optimal protein intakes are not met progress simply cannot occur [6].

How much protein do young athletes need to eat?  Youth Sport Nutrition protein intake calculator.



Carbohydrates (known as carbs) have gotten a negative reputation of late due to associations with sugar, and obesity. However starchy carbohydrates such as rice, potato and pasta are very beneficial to youth athletes in energy production and muscle recovery and growth and also provide fibre that is essential for gut health [7].

It is often protein that gains all the praise when it comes to MPS, but carbs are also fundamental in the process. Carbs are known as protein separating; meaning they can do the work of providing energy and enable nutrient uptake to allow protein to crack on and build muscle. 

There is a process in the muscle that forces MPS called the mTOR pathway. This pathway requires a few ingredients to ensure that the muscle can recover, growth and increase in strength [8]. The ingredients are protein and amino acids (in particular the amino acid leucine- we will touch on that in another blog), carbohydrates and water. A convenient means to achieve this is through a NUTRI-TEEN shake straight after training.

How much water should youth athletes drink every day?

Rest up!

It may sound counterintuitive that rest is essential for MPS- but it is!

While training, gym and practise is the required stimulus to command the body to adapt and increase muscle mass, rest is required to give the body time to recover.

It is recommended that there is at least 2 full days of rest per week - activity can still take place such as walking, steady cycling and stretching but intense workouts should be avoided [9].

On these rest days there is an increased need for quality nutritional intake, protein, amino acids, carbohydrates, and essential fats.  When time allows a meals containing these elements is the best option however if time is tight a NUTRI-TEEN shake is a perfect nutrient boost.

Naturally boosting recovery and muscle growth.

Intense training, optimal nutrition and rest are the key elements to enabling muscle growth. For those wanting to push MPS an increase in overall calories is needed and this can vary from person to person – dependant on their sport, metabolism, lifestyle and genetics. Yet a base calculation can be made by ensuring protein intakes are 1-1.4g per kg of body weight. Carbs 3-5g per kg and fats 0.5g per kg[10].


The word testosterone can often be accompanied with fear in sports due to the association of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Yet testosterone naturally occurs in both females and males. Testosterone is the key element to the reason why males recover quicker, have increased power and increased muscle mass to females[11]. Males have approx. 10x more testosterone than females[12].

Youth athletes can naturally boost their testosterone hormone levels by ensuring 7-9hrs of sleep, that rest days are factored in and that they eat a wide range of food to ensure nutrient needs are met [13]. Furthermore, high sugar intakes suppress testosterone production and should be avoided [14].

Youth athletes have naturally high levels of growth hormone (another word that is fears due to association with PED’s) as their bodies are rapidly growing and changing [15]. By ensuring that all the factors mentioned are met the body is at the most primed state in the whole life span to maximise muscle growth.


Natalie Rouse

First-Class Honours degree in Human Nutrition (BSc Hons), Master of Research in Performance Nutrition and Socio-culture (MRES), Registered and accredited Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition (ANutri), and Nutritional Consultant and Nutritional Research Scientist (RSci).  


[1] 734649.pdf (

[2] Absorption of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Lipids (

[3] Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins - ScienceDirect

[4] Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise (

[5] Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise (

[6] s40279-013-0137-7.pdf (

[7] Nutrition to Support Recovery from Endurance Exercise: Optim... : Current Sports Medicine Reports (

[8] mTOR pathway: A current, up-to-date mini-review (Review) (

[9] Comparison of Recovery Strategies on Muscle Performance Afte... : American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (

[10] International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise | Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition | Full Text (

[11] Recover from physical injuries faster (

[12] Measuring testosterone in women and men (

[13] A Review of foods and food supplements increasing testosterone levels (

[14] Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction (

[15] HGH and TeensHGH facts and review of Anti Aging Health Supplements (

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