Just because that guy at the gym who looks like a tank is drinking down 3 scoops of protein powder before he gets to his car, doesn’t mean that’s how you build muscle.

Like everything else that happens in your body, building muscle is a science as well.  Everyone is different, sure, but there are some basics to building muscle that I have found in the scientific literature, in addition to the intuition to connect all those dots.  Protein is protein.  It’s simply chains of amino acids that are bonded together.  When digested in your stomach, protein is broken apart into amino acids.

(Just) in case you didn’t know, humans have slow twitch and fast twitch muscles.  Fun fact: many animals have a different kind of fast twitch muscle which explains how they can react so much quicker that we do.  Generally, if you’re trying to add muscle to your body, it’s the fast twitch variety, so make sure you’re working out the right muscles and muscle groups.  Don’t see too many ripped marathoners do you?  Not too many olympic sprinters are skinny, right?

Hydration is the most important aspect of muscle growth in my opinion.  Proper hydration means cells can take in more of the protein you’re hoping to get there.  Just like with endurance, the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is highly important to that cell repair.  It signals your cells to repair and grow, so why interrupt that process?  Hydrate those first 30 minutes post-workout with a quality electrolyte drink such as Oxylent, and let your HGH do it’s thing.

Fastest way to get protein on site after a workout is to have quality protein before a workout.  It’s already in your system to work with that HGH and other androgenic hormones like the Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) hormones.

Hormones play a huge role in building more muscle.  Testosterone dominates this process, so whether you’re a man or a woman, make sure you are keeping your estrogen levels in check because higher than normal estrogen can throw the whole thing off.  Contrary to many myths out there, soy isn’t my concern.  Chemicals leeched from plastic bottles (even BPA free), pesticides on our food, and chemicals in the air all influence higher levels of estrogen.

I like to start from the beginning.  I try and keep those estrogen-like chemicals (google phyto-estrogen and xeno-estrogens) out of my body first and foremost.  I eat a lot of cruciferous veggies to try and detox as much estrogen as possible.  I use some natural herbal compounds to influence healthy hormone levels.  And finally, I focus on providing my body building blocks for creating healthy growth hormones.

Coconut oil provides the building blocks for many of the healthy hormones we need to gain muscle.  It’s cheap, it’s easy to eat off the spoon and incorporate into many tasty recipes.  A lot of people think that to gain muscle you should eat a lower fat diet and turn up the carbs and protein.  Good fats will provide much of what you need to build new muscle, so don’t rob your body of that.  Cell walls are comprised of omega 3 fats and cholesterol (however you don’t need to eat animal foods to get the cholesterol).  I’m vegan, but if you’re not, Fish Oil can be your best friend in building strong, healthy muscle.  I use a product called NutraVege if you’re a veggie like me.

  • If using herbs, definitely consult someone first.  There are herbs that are banned by the IOC, NCAA and some professional sports.  I have never put synthetic steroids in my body.  I would never recommend that.

I have gotten some excellent results from a few herbs that I’ve used through the years.  They include chaga and reishi mushrooms, turmeric extract (curcuminoids), he shou wu, pine pollen and rhemannia are some of my favorites.  What time in your life did you feel the most energetic, the most vibrant, and ready to take on the world?  In our late teenage years and early twenties, we have a tremendous amount of hormones circulating through our systems.

New theories of anti-aging revolve around stimulating hormonal balance to try and get back that youthful feeling.  Sex hormones are directly related to our feeling of vitality.  They also relate to our strength.  Just ask the serious body builder at the gym.  Restricting yourself from sex definitely drives up these hormones temporarily.  Long term health and hormonal balance actually involve a more consistent sex life.

Finally, I will end with the topic you probably thought my muscle building column was going to be about, protein.  If you eat meat, your safest bet is grass fed, free-range, organic meats.  Anything not labeled as such is going to have a dangerous cocktail of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, and stress hormones (from when they were killed).  Whey protein is actually by its nature inflammatory.  Chronic inflammation leads to many of the injuries we deal with like tendonitis, arthritis, weakened immune function, etc.

For all that and more, I recommend a smarter protein strategy.  Rice and pea protein mixed together actually form an amino acid profile much closer to human muscle composition than other supplements.  They are also easier to digest, assimilate, and are not inflammatory like whey.  Here are the two that I use:  Rice Protein and the Pea Protein.  If I only could use one, I would go with the pea protein because it actually has a bit of rice protein mixed in.

I typically put on about 15 pounds of muscle every year in the pre-season.  The grind of tournaments during the summer tends to melt it away by the end of the summer.  I have refined my routine to focus on endurance training, but include muscle building protocols to get the benefits of both.



Russ Marchewka’s commitment to better nutrition has earned him the nickname “Mr. Healthy” on the tour. He has spent the last eight years studying how nutrition affects his volleyball game. For more, visit his website, WorldHealthHub.com or connect with him on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/avpruss.

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