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Benefits of Lean Muscle Mass in Team Sports

Research suggests that additional muscle mass can improve the predicted success in some team sports such as rugby. Building muscle is a multi-faceted approach and the following 3 tips will help you maximise those gains and improve performance.

Tip #1 – Engage in resistance training

Resistance Training (RT) is the single most important factor in building muscle.  During RT muscle fibres are broken down and muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is increased. However, although MPS is increased, supporting nutrition in the form of protein is needed in order to ensure MPS is greater than muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle grows. There is no change in muscle growth after one RT session but instead, muscle hypertrophy is due to the accumulation of muscle protein in response to each individual bout of RT training plus protein that occurs over time.

Ensuring that players are on a programme that is specific to their goal combined with great technique is key to making those gains. The technique is something often overlooked, where players sole aim is to increase the weight they lift. Not only does this increase their chance of injury but research suggests that time under tension, which would be increased with correct technique, is essential for increasing muscle mass2

Most team sports athletes will have 2-4 collective sessions per week, so it can often be hard to find the time to fit in gym sessions. The good news is that 3 gym sessions per week seem to be just as effective as 6 sessions per week, so where possible, you should aim to complete 3 full body gym sessions each week to maximise your muscle-building potential3.

Tip #2 – Consume adequate protein

When it comes to protein, the main consideration when building muscle is the players’ daily protein intake. Something most players are unaware of is that building muscle is the net balance of the muscle-building or synthesis less muscle breakdown. As previously mentioned, MPS is the process of building muscle while MPB is the process of muscle breakdown.

MPS > MPB = Positive Protein balance (muscle gain)

MPS < MPB = Negative protein balance (muscle loss)

Throughout the day, we go through periods of MPS and MPB depending on what training we are taking part in but also whether we are fed or fasted.  As illustrated below, the best combination for building muscle is combining RT with a protein feeding.

If players do not consume adequate protein, it will lead to an increase in muscle breakdown and may lead to muscle loss in the long–term. A daily protein intake of 1.6-2.2g per kg body weight is required for team sport athletes4. This means that a player weighing 80kg needs to consume between 128g and 176g of protein per day. For some balanced meal examples, check out England Rugby’s matchday meals for some inspiration.

Tip #3 – Ensure protein is evenly spread across the day

Further to consuming adequate daily protein, it is important that players evenly distribute protein across the day, aiming for protein servings of 20-30g or 0.4g/kg body weight every 3 hours. MPS can be initiated every 3 hours when an adequate amount of protein and/or leucine is consumed5.  The amino acid “leucine” plays a crucial role in initiating the MPS response so it is important players choose sources of protein that are high in leucine.  Aiming to get approximately 3g of leucine per serving appears to be the optimal dose5 to ensure the muscle building process is maximised. Total intake should be spread across a minimum of 3 meals per day of equal protein servings6.

Animal protein sources are considered superior for muscle growth due to their leucine content. The table below sets out some good sources of protein that are high in leucine and fall between the required 20-30g of protein.

When it comes to optimising your performance on the field or in the gym, nutrition and resistance training plays a crucial role. Focusing on a diet with sufficient daily protein, spread evenly across the day in feedings of 20-30g of high quality protein combined with resistance training is crucial to performance and muscle building! Are you a PT, coach or fitness professional and haven't already signed up to our online nutrition course yet? Sign up to the course today! The course consists of ten online modules and on completion of these, you will receive an accredited certificate in Nutrition by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and earn CPD points from your professional body.

NOTE: The following information is for educational purposes only and does not reflect the opinion of Glanbia Performance Nutrition, nor is it intended for product marketing purpose


  1. Till, Kb et al., 201 Using anthropometric and performance characteristics to predict selection in junior UK Rugby League players.
  2. Burd, N.A et al., 201 Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of physiology, 590(2), pp.351-362
  3. Saric, J et al., 2019. Resistance training frequencies of 3 and 6 times per week produce similar muscular adaptations in resistance-trained men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33, pp.S122-S129
  4. Campbell, B et al., 2007. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), p.8
  5. Jäger, R et al., 2017. International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), p.20
  6. Areta, J.L et al ., 2013. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of physiology, 591(9), pp.2319-2331