Q: I have a few questions for you about bulking. My last bulking phase I gained about 36 pounds and 6.5 inches on my waist. I was consuming quality foods and lots of protein. What can I do to gain quality mass and not put inches on my waist? I eat 5-7 small meals a day and keep my bad fats low and my good fats high. I weigh 168lbs and require 2800 calories a day to maintain my weight. Is there any kind of eating plan you would reccomend?
Unless you just have really good genetics or take steroids the only real way to accomplish what you want is to take a 2 steps forward one step back approach. Building a significant amount of muscle without adding some fat is about impossible for most people.
Contrary to popular belief, providing your basic protein requirements are met and you're training, the "composition", "timing", and "frequency" of your diet are not as important as many think and are not as important as your total caloric intake. Let's run through a few myths right quick.
- Eating once a day is worse then eating 6 times a day but there's little if any difference between eating 3 times a day and 6 times a day.
-Whole food meals restore muscle glycogen just as well as postworkout carb drinks. If you have days between intense workouts for a certain bodypart it's not like your body needs to be in a hurry up mode to restore a couple of hundred calories worth of glycogen (energy) you burn up in a workout.
- The only major benefit of food combining is appetite control. How you combine your meals is of little relevance at the end of the day.
- Protein is protein. The majority of differences in quality (and price) can be made up for by quantity. Give me the guy getting his protein from steak and eggs everyday compared to the guy spending $1500 per month on fancy micro-ozone-filtered powders and I'll take the first guy every time.
- Carbs and fats are both sources of energy. Excess energy above and beyond your daily energy needs from either source leads to fat gain. Lack of energy from either source below your daily energy needs leads to fat loss. Whether you eat more calories from fat or more calories from carbohydrate, or less energy from fat or less energy from carbohydrate, energy is energy.
- The most important factor as to whether you gain or lose weight is your daily caloric intake.
- The amount of fat you gain on a bulking diet is primarily determined by your total caloric intake and your genetics.
- The amount of muscle you lose on a fat loss diet is primarily determined by the extent of your caloric deficit and your genetics.
- The body does not suddenly go "catabolic" when no protein is consumed over a few hour time span.
How Important is the Complicated Stuff?
For the most part, whatever complicated nutrition scheme you're on is not all that relevant as to what your body does with excess calories in regard to muscle gain as long as you're eating enough protein. Activity itself along with the total calories that you eat and the endocrine signals your body sends (genetics) are much more important. In order of importance the major factors would be:
1. Endocrine signaling (genetics, hormones, etc.)
2. Dietary totals
4. Dietary composition
5. Meal timing.
If we take 2 twins and they both train the same and eat 150 grams of protein and 3000 calories per day but one eats 6 meals per day and 500 grams of carbs consisting of potatoes and brown rice etc., while the other eats 3 meals per day and 500 grams of carbs consisting of cereal and bread, most would be very surprised of how little difference there would be as far as the amount of muscle and fat they gained.
The main difference between a diet consisting of whole foods and a diet consisting of processed crap is, it's a lot easier to consume more calories on the processed diet and, since excess calories are what make people fat, it's a lot easier to consume more calories and get fat on a junk food diet. Additionally, many people eating the processed diet are not getting the right amount of protien.
What are the minimums? Well, there is no minimum level of carbohydrate, - Carbs are just energy. If you wanted to get nitpicky you could say that 100 grams of carbohydrate would be required per day to maintain enough blood glucose to think straight, but that's not necessarily essential.
For protein the minimum generally runs anywhere from 1 gram per lb of bodyweight to 1.5 grams per lb of bodyweight, depending on the total caloric intake and activity. The less calories consumed and the greater the activity, the more protien you need.
For fat intake, fat is also just an energy source, the only fats required are essential fatty acids. You can get those by eating cold-water fish, or supplementing with 6-10 grams of fish oil per day. More essential fatty acids aren't going to do anything anabolically to magically transform your body.
Setting up a Diet Based On Minimums
Say I weigh 200 lbs and I want to set up a diet. Based on the minimums I'd be consuming:
200 grams of protein (1 gram per pound of bodyweight for 800 calories)
100 grams of carbohydrate (100 grams to fuel the brain 400 calories)
6 grams of fish oil caps (60 calories).
That means my baseline diet would be 1260 calories. I would obviously never go under that. From that point I would add additional carbs and fats to get my energy status where I wanted it.
Total calories refers to how much energy you need to take in to meet your daily energy demands. Take in less calories (energy) then you need and your body will either:
A: Burn fat
B: Burn muscle
Take in more calories then you need and your body will either:
A: Store the excess as fat
B: Use the excess to promote muscle growth.
You create the "stimulus" for muscle growth through training. You provide the raw material (food), for the growth. Once you've done those 2 things the rest is up to your body. How many calories can you direct into the "muscular" compartment and how many calories are directed into your "fat' compartment? We refer to that as nutrient partitioning.
Some people will gain 1 lb of fat for every pound of muscle they put on. Others will gain 3 lbs of fat per every 1 pound of muscle. Others will gain 4 lbs of muscle per every 1 pound of fat. The amount of muscle building in relation to fat building that goes on once you've provided excess raw materials is primarily determined by your genetics and how fast you attempt to gain weight (how much above maintenance you eat). If you don't believe me about the gentics all you have to do is hang around a group of division I athletes for a while - see who has the best physiques then watch those people eat.
Genetic expression is 1/2 DNA and 1/2 environment. It can be affected by many things including activity, psychology, nutrition, and drugs but for the most part genetics are genetics. Obviously, there are major differences between different individuals but the ability to cause physique alterations can even change in a given individual over time.
The main thing that changes genetic expression in a given individual more then anything else is not what type of diet they're on, how they combine their meals, or what supplements they take, it is their activity and their age. Activity is obvious and 100% controllable but the only thing that can come close to over-riding the effect of aging is drugs. Go look at the diet and physique of a 70 + yr old bodybuilder like Jack Lalanne and compare it to the diet and physique of a 22 yr old Jack Lalanne. At 22 Jack Lalanne could probably gain 3 lbs of muscle per every 1 pound of fat. At 70+ he probably gains 4 lbs of fat per every 1 lb of muscle. He's still Jack Lalanne, but the difference in response to his environment (training and nutrition) is night and day. Now, put Jack Lalanne on a cycle of testosterone and he could probably come fairly close to duplicating what he could do in his 30's or 40's.
What about fat loss?
Ok. Now, when it comes to losing weight, the example I gave above with the twins also holds true. Assuming one consumes the minimum levels of protein, the amount of fat vs muscle they lose is mainly determined by the caloric deficit and genetics, not nutrient timing or whether they consume eggs, chicken, low carb, high carb, or the $100 protein powder.
Therefore, if we again have two twins wanting to lose weight and they each weigh 150 lbs and require 3000 calories per day, - and we have one eat a 2500 calorie diet with 150 grams of protein and the rest made up of expensive supplements, specifically timed nutrients, and only "health" foods, while the other twin eats 2500 calories per day consisting of 150 grams of protein along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and crackers, once again there will be very little difference in the effectiveness of either plan since the primary determining factors are the genetics and daily totals, which are the same.
Now, if we take a person who consumes only 30 grams of protein per day and the rest sugar and compare that to a person consuming 150 grams of protein per day and a wholesome diet, then yes, we will see some differences because one guy is only consuming 30 grams of protein thus the minimums aren't being met.
If we take one person dieting on a 500 calorie deficit compared to another person dieting on a 1500 calorie deficit then yes, one will lose a lot more muscle then the other because one is trying to lose a pound per week while ther other is trying to lose about 5 lbs per week.
If we take one person trying to gain muscle on a 500 calorie excess while another person is trying to gain muscle on a 2000 calorie excess, obviously the 2nd person is likely going to gain a lot more fat in the process.
If person A does an Atkins diet while person B does a south beach diet while person C does a Pritikin diet they can all get the same results. The primary difference between them is that some diets make it easier to consume lower calories. A low carbohydrate diet, for example, tends to blunt appetite. A high carbohydrate diet tends to stimulate appetite for a lot of people.
The Real Anabolic Secret
Ok, now having said all that and getting back to your original question, if you're gonna build muscle without getting fat you can either manipulate your endocrine signaling or you can manipulate your dietary totals.
The first consists of taking steroids. The primary benefit of steroids isn't that they allow you to get big it's that they improve nutrient partitioning and allow a person to get big without turning into a fat piece of crap in the process.
Anybody can get big. If you wanna get 250 lbs of muscle all you need to do is train a few times per week with basic movements and eat yourself up to about 400 lbs of scale weight. You'll be fat as heck and look like crap but it's not that hard. Hell, sumo wrestlers carry more muscle then either bodybuilders or powerlifters and they don't even train much less take steroids.
Other options including manipulating your dietary totals. This might consist of:
1. Trying to gain weight very slowly.
Your body can only build muscle so fast. The faster you try to gain the more fat you're probably gonna gain. Eat maybe an extra 100 calories per day and you might gain a lb of muscle every couple of months. Honestly, most people who attempt to do this usually aren't able to build any muscle at all.
2. Take a 2 steps forward one step back approach
With this approach you eat and train to gain weight and muscle for a certain number of days and then eat and train to lose fat for a certain number of days. The weight gain phase obviously consists of high calories and the low calorie phase consists of low calories. This is the approach I prefer and is the only way short of drugs once can compete with superior genetics and aging.
The number of weight gain days and the number of weight loss days depends onyour metabolism and genetics. The basic tenet is that you put on muscle and accept some fat gain for a certain period of time and then you take off the fat that you gained. At the end of each phase you should be a bit heavier and just as lean.
Some people do well with a 5 day high calorie phase and a 2 day low calorie phase. Others do well with a 7 day high calorie phase and a 2 day low calorie phase. Others do well with a 13 day high calorie phase a 3 day low calorie phase. Others do well with a 2-3 week high calories phase and a 1-2 weeks low calorie phase. How you set it up doesn't really matter.
Here's an example of a 14 day 11 days high/3 days low split:
Mon- full body workout - high calories (maintenance + 500)
Wed- lower body workout - high calories
Fri- upper body workout- high calories
Mon - upper body workout- high calories
Wed - lower body workout - high calories
Fri- low calories + light full body workout
Sat- low calories (maintenance minus 500) interval sprints/cardio
Sun- low calories/ treadmill walking
Mon- Start over with day one
Hopefully that gives you some ideas.
Q: After reading some of the material, I must say I am impressed. I am a bodybuilder and am planning to gain a lot of lean mass. please help me answer the below:
1. Do your theories apply in body building?
2. Besides competition, how would I benifit from planned over-reaching? I mean, I understand and agree that if you have a hard 3 week cycle and a slower 4th week you will be in top shape for the 5th.. but how would that apply anywhere outside competition.. i mean if you wanna make constant gains of muscle mass.. should you continue with this approach?
A: Strength and performance training "can" work for bodybuilding but not as effectively. Bodybuilding is a non performance based sport. You basically want to be able to grow from the least amount of work possible not see how much work you can tolerate. The problem is your muscles adapt to protect themselves from the training you're throwing at them. An increase in work capacity in bodybuilding just increases the volume and tension necessary to stimulate growth. Would you rather grow from doing 3 sets of an exercise or have to do 20 sets?
The stress responses to training that are hindrances in other sports (inflammation, muscle damage, etc.), are the exact things you're trying to create and take advantage of in bodybuilding. Planned over-reaching and similar "sterngth and performance" training approaches make your body more adept at handling the stress of training.
Another problem for a bodybuilder is the amount of volume that is optimal for muscular hypertrophy tends to be too much to fully optimize strength and causes chronic fatigue of the nervous system. The amount of volume necessary to fully optimize strength tends not to be enough to optimize hypertrophy. That doesn't mean you can't get big and strong at the same time but the 2 are not one and the same.
For a bodybuilder I would set up a schedule as follows:
Train a bodypart twice per week once where you try to set strength records and once where you hit the muscle while allowing the nervous system to recover. Pick 2 movements per bodypart. One compound movement and one isolation movement. On the compound movement in the heavy workout try to break PRs for whatever rep range you're training in. Follow that up with some "pump" sets of whatever isolation exercise you desire. On the light workout don't try to set PRs - Either maintain the existing weight or back off slightly and reduce the weight by 10-20% and keep the reps the same. Follow a linear based periodization scheme where you start at 10-12 reps and drop the reps every couple of weeks. Keep the total number of reps fairly constant as the reps decrease.
week 1 and 2
compound movement - 2 sets of 10-12 reps with long rest intervals (try to set PRs)
isolation movement- 3-5 sets of 5-12 reps with short rest intervals (15-45 seconds)
compound movement- 2 sets of 10-12 reps with long rest intervals (take it easy on the load)
isolation movement- 3-5 sets of 5-12 reps with short rest intervals (15-45 seconds)
week 3 and 4
3 sets of 8
week 5 and 6
4 sets of 5-6
week 7 and 8
5-6 sets of 3-5
After you complete that scheme, take a week or 2 of very easy training and then start over at week 1.
Q: I've recently incorporated the dot drill you suggested in your Q&A at the end of my workout. I've quickly improved, going down from 1:18 when I first started to 57secs just the other day. However, it has been quite clear to me that the limiting factor which is stopping me from improving is the strength of my ankles. Whenever I do the drill with one foot, I find myself having having to almost come to a stop instead of reflexively bouncing to the next dot. I've sprained both my ankles in the past, and have sprained my left ankle within the last couple of months, and this ankle is definately alot worse than my right. The weakness becomes even more prominent when I perform this drill in bare feet, in fact, doing it bare foot sort of makes my ankle hurt. How would I go about improving this type of strength in my ankles?
A: Actually the drill that drill itself on grass will go a long way in strengthening your ankles and plantar flexors. Here are a few more exercises you can try:
Ankle strengthening exercises.
Additionally, all those stabilization exercises you see people doing on bosu balls and the like are good for ankle stability in people recovering from those injuries. If you take a trip to any popular commercial health club nowadays and look around you shouldn't have a hard time finding enough of those exercises to keep things creative for you for the next 5 years.
One thing about sprained ankles and basketball players that makes the 2 go hand in hand is the feet actually function better the less covered up they are and shoes cause more stress to be absorbed into the entire foot and ankle complex not less. So you have more stress being transmitted into the foot and weaker muscles. Therefore, when you're always wearing big 'ol high tops and shoes that weigh a ton, the feet never learn to function normally. I suggest people do similar drills on grass in bare feet and wear lighter and tighter form fitting shoes when you play the game. If necessary tape your ankles up for support.