Catabolism is a process in the body in which complex molecules break down into simpler ones, releasing energy.
Together with anabolism (which is the opposite process), catabolism forms a whole known as metabolism. This implies a multitude of processes that take place incessantly in our bodies.
Although catabolism refers to the breakdown of any substance in the body (with the release of energy), when we talk about muscle catabolism, we mean loss, ie. protein breakdown (proteolysis). Proteins are, as you know, the main building block of muscles, and by breaking them down the body converts them into energy.
If this condition lasts for a long time in a row, muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) occurs.
Influence of catabolism in building muscle mass
In order for a muscle enthusiast to achieve his goal (increase in muscle mass), he must coordinate the 4 essential components that make up his daily routine.
These are training, nutrition, rest, and supplementation. If one or more components are neglected and do not form a whole with the rest, there is a shift in metabolic balance in favor of catabolic processes. When we add the ubiquitous stress, the line between anabolism and catabolism becomes even thinner.
Let us now see how each of these components affects catabolism.
The term overtraining is often mentioned. Overtraining occurs when individuals over a long period expose the body to strenuous training with a lack of adequate rest (muscle recovery), nutrition, and supplementation.
In the gym, it’s not hard to spot candidates for overtraining. These are guys who relentlessly pump for hours (most often with a technique that is below any criticism) in search of perfection they rarely find. They are guided by the wrong motto: more is better!
If the training with the load is inadequate (read lukewarm), we will not achieve the necessary muscle stimulation, and thus not the growth of muscle mass. If they are too long or too intense, the effect will be the same. The problem increases if we add to this the endless aerobic training that many individuals are prone to.
The key to success is finding the middle ground between those two extremes.
One of the proven methods is high-intensity weight training (intensity is manifested in high weights, not as is often thought by the number of repetitions or series). Breaks between sets should be short, at most a minute and a half (at submaximal loads up to 2 minutes), and the whole training should not last more than 60 minutes. Furthermore, the body should be given plenty of rest between 2 workouts, so it would be optimal to train 4 times a week (e.g. Mon-Tue workout; Wed rest; Thu, Five workouts; Weekend break).
If there is the most important link in building muscle mass, then it is certainly nutrition. 70-80% of success is made by a properly arranged (and without exception implemented) diet!
Consuming 6 or more meals a day is of the utmost importance. In this way we maintain a high rate of metabolism, and even more important for this topic is that the body is constantly available with the nutrients it needs to recover from strenuous training.
If the body’s supply of quality nutrients is lacking, the body will turn on its defense mechanisms and meet its energy needs. But, as is usually the case (Murphy’s Law!), It will not take the substance for energy that we would like (therefore fat), but exactly the one that is precious to us – muscle tissue.
It is very ungrateful to single out any meal as the most important of the day, but I will single out two here nonetheless. These are also the meals that follow the period in which muscle catabolism is most likely.
The first of them is breakfast (or a meal after a night’s sleep). During sleep, the body does not have a constant supply of nutrients, so in the morning the hormonal balance is shifted in favor of catabolic hormones in the body. So we need to supply it with fast-digesting proteins. Egg whites and whey protein are good choices. Also, in order to stimulate digestion and at the same time fill the cells with energy substances, it is necessary to eat a source of carbohydrates that contains a sufficient amount of fiber. Cereals come into consideration here, e.g. oat meal.
A special place is occupied by a meal that is known in muscle building circles as PWM (postworkout meal). It is a meal that follows immediately after weight training. It consists of whey protein, glucose (synonyms: dextrose, grape sugar) and supplements, the most important of which is glutamine.
In an ideal situation, 8 hours should be set aside for rest, ie. sleep. A short break in the middle of the day will also be useful. In this way, we enable the central nervous system to recover, and at the same time minimize the activity of hormones that are responsible for catabolism.
During intensive training, we expose the body to increased effort, so with a regular diet, it is often not possible to meet the body’s need for quality nutrients. This is where supplementation jumps in, which, if used at the right time throughout the day, helps prevent catabolism.
I have already mentioned in the diet PWM whose ingredient is whey protein. It is also the basis of supplementation for anyone involved in any sport, especially if a large part is training with a load. Of the other supplements, glutamine, B-complex vitamins, essential fatty acids, zinc, and magnesium should be singled out.
The list of supplements nowadays is endless and everything is sold, so it is always a good idea to consult someone who is a little more knowledgeable.
Thus, the absence of one or more of these factors leads our muscles in the direction of catabolism. But the culprits that are directly responsible for the breakdown, and ultimately muscle atrophy, are hormones. Although more hormones have a catabolic effect (cortisol, glucagon, adrenaline, and other catecholamines, melatonin, ….) by far the greatest role and effect when it comes to muscles, cortisol has. If cortisol is overcome by anabolic hormones in the body (testosterone, insulin), the conditions for muscle growth are created.
What is cortisol?
It is a hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex in response to stress, and the effect it has on the muscle is exclusively destructive. To make matters worse, cortisol raises blood sugar, and thus the body “stores” adipose tissue. Of course, where you would least like to see it – around the waist, on the thighs, and the like.
If we look at the circadian rhythm of cortisol secretion, then its concentration is regularly highest when waking up, at 10:00, at 15:00, and at the beginning of a night’s sleep. Therefore, it is very important to get quality nutrients during these times.
In a person who trains, cortisol is also at a very high level after training and there is a catabolic environment. To minimize this effect of training, high glycemic index carbohydrates (glucose, maltodextrin) should be consumed after training to secrete insulin. This is important for two reasons: insulin acts against cortisol (lowers blood sugar), and glucose that enters the cell opens the “door” on the cell membrane to make building blocks (amino acids from whey protein consumed along with carbohydrates). ) could supply the station.
However, the period in which we have the opportunity to suppress catabolism and provide the muscle with a rapid supply of amino acids and the restoration of energy resources (carbohydrates) is very short and covers a maximum of one hour from the end of training.
Catabolism leads to the breakdown and reduction of muscle mass.
To avoid catabolism, it is crucial to have cortisol under control. We will do this by balancing 4 important components: diet, training, rest, and supplementation.