G-Flux: Building the Ultimate Body
by Dr John M Berardi
I remember the first time I saw those legs.
I was walking down the stairs at the Olympic Oval in Calgary Alberta – and with about three stairs to go, I looked up and saw the legendary quads, the peaked hamstrings, and the rock-hard glutes.
Of course, describing body parts that way might make them sound less sexy. So don't get the wrong idea, this woman was 100% babe.
But back to those legs. They had shape, they had definition, they had muscle. Even more, that shapely, defined muscle had carried her to countless Olympic medals, world championships, and world records.
That's right, Catriona Lemay-Doan was not only the fastest woman on ice, but she also looked the part. She was lean, muscular, and, of course, it didn't hurt that she was a super babe.
So I stalked her.
No, no, I didn't stalk her.
But since I was just starting out as a nutritional consultant to the Calgary Olympic centre at the time, I did resolve to find how she got that smokin' body, especially those legs – legs that most T-Nation readers wouldn't mind calling their own (easy boys, that's not what I mean).
Come to find out, no one told Catriona that her muscles would catabolize themselves if she exercised for more than 45 minutes at a time. And no one told her that she'd overtrain if she lifted weights more than 3-4 times per week.
No, she wasn't cautioned that if she did any aerobic work, she'd lose all her muscle mass. Nor was she told that eating more than 100g of carbs would make her fat. And she certainly wasn't provided kettlebells, bosu balls, gymnastics rings, or any of the latest faddy equipment to help her reach her training and body comp goals.
Nope, Catriona simply trained 2-3 times per day, accumulating about 15-20 hours of physical activity per week. She worked on multiple physiological qualities during each training phase, including: speed strength, maximal strength, elastic strength, muscular endurance, anaerobic power, and aerobic power. She skated, biked, and ran at different intensities and durations. She did Olympic lifts. She did max effort lifts. She did plyometrics. And she ate a high calorie, mixed macronutrient diet that included liquid recovery supplements.
And thank God!
If she would have bought into any of the current fitness nonsense or weird fitness trends; if she would have learned to be deathly afraid of overtraining, or if she would have been scared of any particular macronutrient, she would never have become a world and Olympic champion, never would have become one of the most recognizable speed skaters of all time, and likely never would have had such fine, fine legs.
How Much Can You Bench?
"How much can he bench?" I asked incredulously when I first saw Pavle Jovanovic, the world's top brakeman and US gold medal hopeful (with Todd Hays) in this year's Olympic games. Someone had just whispered some of his stats and I instantly felt small and weak, very small and weak.
After all, how many of you have ever seen a guy who is 6' tall, 220lbs, under 6% body fat, can run 30m in 3.54 sec, can clean 167.5kg (368.5lbs), and can squat 260kg (572lbs)?
I've seen a few. But trust me when I say it's still a novelty watching a guy like this sprint, push a bobsled, or lift weights.
But so what, a guy like this is nothing but a genetic freak, right? Sure he's a genetic freak.
However, we can take a few pages out of his workout journal to learn something about being big strong, functional, while still looking the part.
You bet your scrawny butt we can.
For starters, Pavle trains about 20-25 hours a week, split over 2 x 2 hour daily sessions. His sessions include maximum strength, speed strength, and elastic strength workouts as well as higher repetition general strength work. He sprints often and, of course, he spends quite a bit of time pushing a bobsled. In addition to his training week, he spends about 10 hours a week performing yoga, Jiao Dai, and stretching for recovery and regeneration.
Like Catriona, he's not afraid of overtraining, high reps, low reps, conditioning work, or any particular macronutrient. This guy simply trains a lot of hours each week, trains a lot of different muscle qualities each week, eats a lot of clean, organic calories each week (Pavel is an organic food junkie and ingests in excess of 6,000 calories per day), and is one of the best and most complete strength and power athletes in the world.
How Much Body Fat Did You Lose?
When 19-year-old Alice Graham came to me, she and her ice dancing partner Andrew Poje were reining bronze medalists from the Canadian Jr. National Skating Championships.
However, since she was 17 years old, Alice had been gradually gaining weight. Her coaches and competitors were starting to notice. And in skating, this is the kiss of death.
You see, when most young girls in skating hit 17 or so, their girlish figures disappear as they begin to carry more "womanly" body fat. Since very, very few individuals in skating know anything about proper off-ice training or nutrition, when a girl starts gaining, she's either pressured into an eating disorder or she gains weight and she's out.
So, going into this year's Canadian Senior National Championships, Alice and Andrew were a write-off. They were destined to place out of the top 10 spots, never to climb the skating ranks.
Well, that was until she sought me out.
With three months left till Nationals and the 5'6" Alice at an all-time body weight and fat high (135lbs and 22% fat), we began a 3 month experiment in G-Flux.
Well, G-Flux, otherwise known as energy flux (or energy turnover) is the relationship between energy intake and expenditure. It's the balance between the two. Put another way, it's the amount of calories you "turn over".
And as you'll learn in this article, having a high G-Flux is 100%, without a doubt, absolutely critical to building your ultimate body – which I'm assuming includes strong, functional, well-adapted muscle, low body fat, and great health.
After all, if that's not your goal – what the hell are you doing here at Testosterone?
And, speaking of a great body, just ask Alice, who showed up at Nationals at 122lbs and 14% body fat, what G-Flux can do.
That's right; in 3 months she lost about 13lbs of fat while preserving all her lean mass, accomplishing this with large increases in energy flux. Specifically, we increased her energy intake in a fairly huge way (by over 50% - and that wasn't arbitrary, folks) while re-prioritizing her training time (which was already about 5 hours per day) so that she would still be able to complete her skill work, but would also be able to work different energy systems, burning more total energy day in and day out.
And, by the way, these manipulations helped her and her partner place 9th overall, an impressive senior National debut.
How Much Muscle Did You Gain?
You could also ask CFL football athlete and Toronto-based speed and strength coach, Kris Aiken, what impact optimizing energy flux can have on the body.
Kris came to me as a 10% fat, 160lb, under-sized University of Western Ontario cornerback and after 18 months of applying the principles you'll learn in this article, he showed up at his CFL tryouts at the same exact body fat percentage (10%) yet 35lbs heavier (195lbs), running a 4.4s 40, with between 30-40% improvements in each of his lifts including his bench press, his squat, his deadlift, his cleans, and his snatch.
As I trained side-by-side with Kris during this time, I know exactly how he trained and ate. In fact, as roommates, we did the same exact workouts and ate the same exact meals. We trained about 10-12 hours per week, mixing max and dynamic effort days with speed work on the field, on the track, and even on a cycle ergometer. We also ate about 5000 calories per day.
Dr. Berardi, hoofin' it.
What's The Point?
So what's the point of these four examples? Why discuss the routines of 4 elite athletes and one washed up ol' nutrition coach?
Well, there are a few important points that I'd like you to take away.
1. Whether you're an athlete or not, whether you're a national level ice dancer or professional football player, an Olympic speed skater or recreational weight lifter, the steps to achieving your ideal body are surprisingly similar. Now, when I say this, I want to be clear – each of these athletes may have different methods, but the basic principles of their training, nutrition, and recovery are surprisingly similar. To steal a line from strength coach Alwyn Cosgrove, "methods change, principles stay the same."
2. Speaking of principles, the best principles associated with maximizing your muscle mass while minimizing your fat mass focus on finding the right balance between energy intake and expenditure – albeit, finding that balance at a high level of G-Flux.
Sure, you think you already know this. But do you? After all, this goes way beyond most people's conception of energy balance. You see, most people think there is one point of energy balance for each individual and that energy balance point doesn't change.
But that's not true. Energy balance is a roving parameter and as you'll learn, finding your highest energy balance point leads to the highest metabolic rate and the best body.
3. To speak specifically to that last point, most of those individuals who have the best bodies in the world have built those bodies at high levels of G-Flux. Sure, if you're not an elite athlete, you might not be able to put in Pavle-like workout durations. However, if you're expecting to have a body like any of the individuals pictured above, your puny 45-min workouts and 3-hour a week efforts ain't gonna cut it. So, if you want to have a really great body and you just aren't getting there, you'd better be fluxing it up!
4. Of course, high levels of G-Flux require very high energy-intakes and very high levels of energy expenditure.
Now, keep this in mind. High expenditure can be accomplished one of three ways. First, you can do a large amount of weekly physical activity (as all the athletes discussed above are doing).
Secondly, you can be born with a genetically screaming metabolic rate (like many of the ectomorphs out there who put on a little size and can look sorta' muscular and lean without really high levels of weekly exercise).
Third, you can force an average metabolic rate to scream along with the help of metabolic drugs or high doses of stimulants (witness the results of some of our bodybuilder friends – they're big, they're ripped, they spend only a few hours per week in the gym – and, oh yea, they've got more drugs than Kobe's got shots from the field).
5. So, if you're not gifted with a screaming metabolic rate or you don't have a polypharmacy of metabolic enhancement drugs coursing through your veins, it should be obvious that building a fantastic body means eating a lot and exercising a lot. Perhaps more than you're doing now.
Ok, here comes the caution. With lots of exercise, it's important to focus on finding the right balance of exercise modalities to get your high dose of weekly exercise without overtraining. Overtraining comes from stressing one system too heavily — not from simply exercising "too many hours" each week or by spending more than 1 hour exercising.
Despite what you've heard...
And that study on Testosterone levels...
I know, it blows away your preconceived notions. Good. That's what I'm here to do.
So, by training multiple muscle qualities in the same training cycle, it's easy to accumulate a lot of total exercise volume while recovering like an Olympian.
6. To give you a few examples of what I'm talking about with respect to "training multiple muscle qualities", your workouts might include 3 weight training sessions per week, 3 high intensity interval sessions per week, and 3 low intensity aerobic sessions per week. Or you could do 2 max effort (heavy loading) sessions per week, 2 dynamic effort (speed lifting) sessions per week, and 3 GPP sessions per week. And, all the while, making sure you're taking in enough calories to accommodate this increased activity level.
7. Now, I could waste your entire day showing you how to get your high energy expenditure while working multiple muscle qualities without overtraining – but I'll stop here – for now. Besides, there are probably quite a few coaches right here at T-Nation that would do a better job at this than I could. (That's right Cosgrove, Cressey, John, Poliquin, Robertson, Staley, Tate, Thib, Waterbury, et al – I'm calling you all out!)
Just remember, there are lots of methods out there but the principles are the same. On the training side of things, if you want that ultimate body — the strong, muscular, functional, lean, healthy physique I can only imagine you're looking for — then you'd better be training frequently, training multiple qualities, and using different training tools (whether those tools are weights, track lanes, med balls, big-ass tires, sledgehammers, ergometers, yoga mats, or just your plain ol' Nikes). Just get your damn G-Flux!
8. And the most important point of all of these is the following — while building the ultimate body will include a lot of exercise and eating, neither should be done without specific attention to your goals and without some sort of plan. While you need a high volume, that volume had better prioritize your goals. And that program had better contain balance and be designed for progression. Of course, on the eating side, your eating needs to be targeted, focusing on the right amounts, the right selections, and the right timing.
At this point I'm gonna let you chew on those concepts for a while. After all, I don't want to rock your world too much with a single article! So hang tight, start to think about how these principles can work for you, discuss them here on the T-Nation forums, and in future articles, I'll delve into the specifics of G-Flux including both the science and the application of this critical concept.
However, in the meantime, lest you start thinking that G-Flux is only for elite athletes, I want to share one more client story with you.
No Longer Scrawny!
Fennell, as we call him around here, is a landscape architect and a front man/keyboardist for Wonderjack, a rock band (coming out with a new EP in Feb). Read that – he's a full time architect AND a musician in his free time. So I don't want to hear no lip about how you just don't have the time to do more exercise!
When Fennell first got motivated to do something about his body, he stood in front of the mirror at 5'8" and 127lbs and about 10% body fat. When he turned sideways, he disappeared. When he took a shower, he had to jump around to get wet. In short, Fennell needed to put on some size – and badly!
After using some of the nutrition and training advice he found here at T-Nation and after working with my coaching team for the last year, Fennell now tips the scales at 167lbs and 10% body fat.
How did he accomplish this? How did he gain 40lbs, while remaining relatively lean throughout (his body fat never once went above 12% throughout this entire process)?
Through the principles of G-Flux.
Fennell devoted between 6-8 hours a week to training. Although different training phases required different training modalities, Fennell usually mixed max effort work, speed strength work, more conventional bodybuilding work, and even interval work. And Fennell ate a TON of food.
When asked about the routine, Fennell tells me: "I just feel so great exercising and eating as much as I am right now."
And when pressed about the changes: "It's especially fun to go to events and see friends that I haven't seen for years. At one of my band's gigs, an old friend who I used to "gig with" did an opening set for us. He started his set by saying "Yep, I used to play in a band with Fennell way back in the day. Since that time, I've gotten fat, and Fennell's gotten jacked."
And while Fennell doesn't consider himself "jacked" quite yet, he's a far cry from the 127lbs he started at. Plus, he's still getting better!
So, over the next few weeks, think about this concept of G-Flux. Brainstorm ways to find a higher energy balance point through the use of good training principles, good nutrition principles, and good supplementation principles. Start to apply the concept of G-Flux and watch as your path to the ultimate body gets shorter and shorter.
Special thanks to 3 great strength coaches - Matt Jordan of The Olympic Oval in Calgary and Jordan Strength (www.jordanstrength.com) - Stu McMillan, Strength and Speed Coach for the US Bobsled Team - and Carter Schoffer, Science Link Head Strength and Nutrition Coach. These guys are at the top of this field and I appreciate their valuable contributions to this article.
John M. Berardi, PhD, CSCS, is one of the world's foremost experts in the field of human performance and nutrition. John is a prolific author, a sought-after speaker and a consultant to Olympic, professional and elite athletes, as well as executives and recreational weightlifters serious about achieving optimal results. For more information about John, his team and the services he offers, visit www.johnberardi.com, his author site or www.precisionnutrition.com for information about his comprehensive nutrition program – Precision Nutrition.
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