By Dominick Walsh
To get bigger muscles, you need bigger muscle cells, and that means increasing muscle-cell “volume.” That’s why cell-volumizing supplements are so popular these days among athletes.
Muscle-cell volume is naturally sustained by creatine, muscle glycogen and water. Studies tell us that by packing more water into muscles, test subjects have been able to gain several pounds of muscle water within days, which sound like only a short-term benefit since it’s not muscle protein. But scientists believe that boosting muscle-cell volume can switch on anabolic processes for longer-lasting gains in muscle mass. In other words, these temporary gains can lead to long-term gains, which are the goal of every athlete.
How do you increase the volume of your muscle cells? Below are four cell-volumizing strategies that will help you make some of the fastest possible gains in lean body mass.
1) Creatine has the ability to enlarge and stretch muscle cell membranes; scientists suspect that if creatine is taken consistently, that it also results in improvements in the rate at which you gain muscle-protein mass itself. Apparently, the stretching effect of cell-volumizing ingredients in general leads to faster synthesis and slower destruction of muscle protein–which should produce a net anabolic effect over time.
2) Inside muscles is a fluid syrup called glycogen. Although glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates, it is mostly water (the alternative to having dry starch or gritty sugar in your body). The fact that glycogen is only one part carbohydrate to a whopping three parts water makes it useful to bodybuilders as a major contributor to muscle size. In fact, next to water and muscle protein itself, muscle glycogen is one of the largest contributors to muscle mass in the body.
Adding to the value of glycogen in increasing cell volume is the fact that the water inside muscle cells doesn’t mix much with glycogen, as if each were stored in separate compartments. This means that the cell-volumizing effect of glycogen is additional to that of creatine, in the same way that carbs and creatine have their own effects on muscle-cell volumization (another reason for taking them together).
The best time to consume carbs is post workout. After exercise, the sugar you eat is whisked into your muscles at a faster clip and converted to glycogen at a higher than normal rate, reducing the likelihood that those carbs will be stored in less desirable places.
3) Another supplement that can rapidly increase lean body mass is called glycerol. Unlike creatine and glycogen, glycerol does not contribute to muscle, but goes to a third lean body compartment of blood vessels called plasma. Although bodybuilders are most interested in increasing muscle mass (rather than plasma mass), glycerol increases vascularization for super freaky veins. For instance, judicious supplementation with glycerol at least 90 minutes before a contest can increase vascular appearance.
4) Water needs no introduction, of course, but its importance to athletes bears repeating. Most athletes refer to water in the pejorative, fingering it as the cause for water retention or a puffy and bloated appearance. “I’m holding water” is the usual refrain, but the reason is often misunderstood.
Too little water in your diet–not too much–will blur what ripples beneath. That’s because “holding water” is the body’s way of resisting dehydration; it just happens to store the extra reservoir under the skin, where it looks like fat. If you’re tired of camouflaged muscles, it is necessary to lose your fear of water. All other cell-volumizing nutrients need water in order to work.