Here is part two of my article on what your muscles need to keep their mass up and running at high performance. (Read part one here).

-hgyCrpE5vtBtP1VOfMeCi7WuBWvuI-uS6W4wRXuDacProtein amounts and timing: studies show that protein intake is critical to preserve and to increase body mass. Your muscles need the right mix of amino-acids, the building blocks of protein, to repair and to get stronger. And it helps to take them in at the right time.

Your RX: Experts advise that in general, women should get between 20-30 g of protein per meal—the size of the palm of your hand—while men should aim for twice as much, 40-60 g per meal.

But not all proteins are created equal. Some proteins provide all nine essential amino-acids—making them complete proteins—while others are incomplete. Your muscles rely on the flow essential amino acids, particularly leucine. This is one of the three branchedchain amino acids and one of the most important for building muscle.

Whey protein, found in dairy, is considered one of the best muscle protein suppliers. However, do not limit your protein intake to one food. Consume lean meats, fish, eggs, low fat dairy, tofu, soy, milk protein blends, oats, quinoa, and millet, etc.  To amplify the leucine intake, pair any of the protein food sources with leucine-rich options like chickpeas, peanuts or lentils.

There are times in which your protein quota matters more than others though. These times are after working out and before going to bed. Studies show that protein net balance—the ratio between protein buildup and protein breakdown—is negative after an hour or so of recovery from a workout. So make sure that you have the right protein mix along with some carbohydrates after you exercise to nourish your muscles. If you are restricting carbs, have two proteins to one carb. But if you are into long workouts, increase the carbs to protein ratio to 3:1 or up to 4:1.

Likewise, you may consider a protein snack before hitting the sack. A study shows that having some protein – mostly casein found in dairy like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt—before going to bed supplies a slow amino-acid release that stimulates protein synthesis and balance, and muscle recovery. Throw in some strawberries, cherries or blueberries for good measure.

2. Relax and get plenty of zzzz:  even if you do all right in terms of exercise and diet, watch out for your stress and sleep departments. Research on the effects of these two important health indicators on muscle function is solid. Indeed, a study in which participants were put on a diet and either slept 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours lost the same weight. However, the ones that slept the most lost more body fat and less body mass than the group that slept 5.5 hours.

Muscle recovery,  leanness  and strength heavily relies on growth hormone release.  The popular saying that muscles grow at rest comes from the fact that this hormone peak level when you sleep.

Likewise, if you do not sleep well you may be under stress. Chronic stress impairs your immune system, glucose metabolism, blood PH, adrenal response, and other important processes as well.  This means that muscle strength, power, agility, and recovery will be compromised by too much stress. Even worse, a chronic stress state has been related to increase dangerous visceral body fat.

In fact, a study shows that when under stress, spine tissue loads increase significantly. The increased muscle activation augments the magnitude as well as the direction of the applied force on the spine. This, along with the rise of inflammatory chemicals due to the mental disturbances, may decrease pain tolerance. All this can increase the risk of injury, according to the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Your RX:  do not exercise if you are sleep deprived or have not slept well. Take notice of what upsets your sleep habits and tackle the problem right away.  A good sleep may be the first step to decrease stress. Check out how your diet may be affecting your sleep, and do not disregard the calming effects of meditation.

Exercise has been shown to improve both sleep and stress management. However, there are two things that you may consider when under sleep-deprived and chronic stress states: working out at low intensities, and leave two hours before going to bed after you finish your workout.  Particularly if you are under stress, doing some light cardio is the preferred exercise—walking, an easy dance class, restorative yoga, among other light intensity options. This is not the time to shoot for a tough weight workout or a cross fit class.  Your body should devote to recovery first.

Also, eat more foods that contain probiotics, the good gut bacteria, to decrease belly fat. Extra belly fat has been linked with a chronic stress state. Just make sure that the food product claims states that it contains “live cultures” or “active cultures.”