"No one in this world can you trust: not men, not women, not
beasts... this you can trust."

– Conan's

Two days ago I finally got my arse in the gym and under some
reasonable weights. The cold steel in my hands and the muffled
sound of clanging plates through my earphones were like a

Have you ever gone through a period of two or three months when
modern life took you away from your bodybuilding goals? I
don't mean a period when you were lazy and missed a few
sessions. I'm not talking about two weeks of sub-par efforts
or lack of progress. I mean months of atrophy.

I've been spending 70 to 84 hours per week in the office or the
classroom or in a modest lab. I've lost 13 pounds since August and
I've barely managed to lift twice weekly or eat more than twice per

Have you ever had soft, modern society do that to you? It's
no one's fault in particular; it's simply what my buddy
Fortress would lament as "the waning of medieval values." As
I've woken up these past few days, I feel somehow that I've
been wronged.

It's time for a change. My deprivation of the world that's
been a core part of me since 1982 leaves me hungry. In this way,
this article is for me. To hell with you.

I want to look forward to a leg workout two weeks in advance. I
want to sit down every two hours to big meaty meals. I want to plop
down, exhausted on a bench – before even leaving the gym
– and pound back a can of tuna with a pint of orange juice
while I scowl at the civilized folk who find that odd.

Do you know what I mean? I bet you have your own stories of
defiance and heroic effort.

How ironic it was that my recent lecture at the Staley Training
Summit dealt with bulking. But the talk did remind me of a
deep-seated primeval drive to be huge and powerful. And it helped
me solidify a plan with which to reach for new size.

Dr. Lowery hits the iron.

Nutritional Periodization and Planned Overeating

Aside from the underlying endocrinology, which was one focus of
the Summit talk, I spoke about nutritional periodization. It's
still a relatively new concept among legitimate nutrition
authorities. (Yes, nutritionists are a bit behind the
now-established policies of strength coaches with regard to
mesocycles, but I did just review an actual textbook that formally
addressed the topic.) I think this is one area in which I disagree
with T-Nation's Christian Thibaudeau.

I think a purposeful drive to overeat, in a strategic way, is
superior to a slow-and-steady approach to muscle mass. Beyond any
ludite focus on the nuances of nutritional periodization, my
personal experience has repeatedly revealed that guys who try to
stay lean while simultaneously gaining muscle end up small.

There are just too many factors in daily life competing with our
pursuit of size. But we can look at research as well. (In fact,
I'm going to bombard you with quotes today.) A scientist by
the name of Venkatraman echoed the well-established understanding
that life keeps athletes underfed:

"Athletes are competitive, train at very high levels with
inadequate rest, consume too few calories, avoid fats, and may be
at increased risk of infections."

Let me say that again: life keeps athletes underfed. We
can't rely on hunger, especially when embarking on a new lifting
regime. One researcher put it this way: "Increasing energy
expenditure did not lead to compensation of energy
intake... ". (31) This kind of free-living experiment is
hard to control, but you get the point.

When we couple the unreliability of hunger with the fact that
even the accepted 3000 kcal per day recommendation for college-age
men may be too low, (7, 28) you can see that we have to
purposefully and consistently overeat to gain size. Considering
that the synthesis of one pound of living muscle tissue costs about
2800 kcal above maintenance needs, a hard fact rings
true: it takes heroic effort to break new ground.

Now, I suppose there are a few of you fretting about the
necessity of anabolic hormones for partitioning the extra nutrients
into muscle tissue. This is a basic and true premise.
"Natural" men vary widely in Testosterone concentrations,
for example, from 300 ng/dl to 1000 ng/dl. (25) That means some
guys will gain lean mass easier than others.

The Bricklayer's Gas

For years I've used the very bricklayer analogy that has
resurfaced here on the site recently. But it's worth focusing
on the "gas" in the bricklayer's equipment. Ample
energy (kcal) is that gas, and it's a long-recognized
necessity. Here are several quotes:

• "... studies show that insulin stimulates androgen
production in the ovary. Recent data [JCEM 1995;80:654-658]
suggests that insulin stimulates Testosterone production and
suppresses SHBG production in normal and obese men." (Haffner,
Horm Res 1996)

• "N balance increased from 7.2 to 23.8 to 33.3 mg
N.kg-1.d-1 in the ascending calorie series (0, 15, 30% above kcal
"needs") and decreased from 27.8 to 17.6 to 4.8 mg
N.kg-1.d-1 in the descending calorie series." (Chiang &
Huang, Am J Clin Nutr 1988)

• "Specific amino acids (e.g., leucine) stimulate protein
synthesis and inhibit (autophagic) protein degradation...
because they stimulate mTOR, which is one of the components of a
signal transduction pathway used by insulin. When the cellular
energy state is low, stimulation of mTOR by amino acids is
prevented." (Meijer, J Nutr 2003)

• "Protein requirement studies in man generally avoid
deficient dietary energy intakes because they decrease the
efficiency of nitrogen utilization." (Garza, Am J Clin Nutr

• "There is net protein catabolism in the fasted state and
net protein synthesis in the fed state, when the rate of synthesis
increases by 20-25%." (Murray, Harper's Illustrated
Biochem 2006)

• "At high intensity activities, energy balance becomes
even more critical in the utilization of protein: when energy
balance is negative, an intake of protein as high as 2 g [per] kg
body weight per day may be inadequate." (Butterfield, Med Sci
Sports Exerc 1987)

• "A positive energy balance is required for
anabolism." (Phillips, S., Nutr 2004)

Even guys who overeat a thousand kcal per day on a (pretty
lousy) average diet and don't bother to exercise gain 13% of
the weight gain as muscle. (29) In no way am I suggesting
that an 87% fat gain is preferable; I'm merely pointing out
that even a worse-case scenario of overfeeding stimulates protein

The physics and physiology of this fact alone offers some hope
to desperate ectomorphs who may otherwise concede that they're just
"hardgainers." And with a number of training and
macronutrient adjustments we can vastly improve the partitioning
toward muscle. How far? Good question.

Studies vary, but all things considered, a 70/30 muscle-to-fat
gain seems realistic. I'll certainly take that ratio right
now, particularly as I remember several local guys who've remained
lean over the years but whom I've long since blown past in
strength and muscle size.

Hormone Manipulation

In the first quote above you see something that was imprinted on
me in endocrinology class as a grad student: hormones don't
operate in a vacuum
. They interact. In the case of purposeful,
strategic overeating, anabolic hormones even work in concert to
help us grow. For those of us who aren't self-administering
anabolic drugs, fortunately there are ways to leverage hormones
like insulin, Testosterone, and perhaps even growth hormone to our

Of all the hormones we can manipulate, insulin is under our most
immediate and substantial control. But as our most anabolic
hormone, insulin demands respect. It's an indiscriminate
"Jekyll and Hyde" hormone. We want it to build muscle
without lending its power to adipose tissue. This is where some
dietary discipline comes in.

The hormone insulin

Frequent, moderately-sized meals help keep insulin from running
wild on us. (31, 14) Since muscle tissue is roughly ten times less
capable of responding to screaming insulin levels, we can attempt
to glean insulin's benefits without suffering
"overspill" toward adipose storage.

One approach to partitioning is a kind of micro-periodization
(same-day periodization) in which we minimize potential fat gain
during one hormonal state (e.g. low insulin), then maximize muscle
gain while in another (e.g. high insulin). Some guys fuss over the
seeming fruitlessness of non-intense cardio, but it works. Here are
some more quotes that illustrate what I mean...

Pre-Breakfast Aerobic Exercise

•  "An understanding of the factors that increase or
decrease fat oxidation is important. Exercise intensity and
duration are important determinants of fat oxidation. Fat oxidation
rates increase from low to moderate intensities and then decrease
when the intensity becomes high. Maximal rates of fat oxidation
have been shown to be reached at intensities between 59% and 64% of
maximum oxygen consumption in trained individuals and between 47%
and 52% of maximum oxygen consumption in a large sample of the
general population." (Achten and Jeukendrup, Nutrition

• "FFA availability can increase two- to four-fold with
moderate intensity exercise." (Jensen, Acta Physiol Scand.

• "In order for this TG to be used as a substrate for
oxidative metabolism, it has to be exported from adipose tissue and
transported to the tissues where it will be used... Adipose
tissue blood flow (ATBF) is also important. ATBF is increased in
states of fat mobilization and fat deposition, although there is
evidence that during strenuous exercise the increase in ATBF
is not sufficient for export of all the NEFA made available from
lipolysis." (Frayn, Adv Exp Med Biol. 1998)

• "Tests were performed after an overnight fast. Maximal
fat oxidation rates of 0.52 +/- 0.15 g x min(-1) were reached at
62.5 +/- 9.8 % VO(2)max, while Fat(min) was located at 86.1 +/- 6.8
% VO(2)max. (Achten and Jeukendrup, Int J Sports Med.

• "At basal [lowest] plasma insulin concentrations,
epinephrine increased oxygen consumption, heart rate... and the
arterial plasma concentrations of glucose, lactate, and free fatty
acids." (Muller, Metabolism 1992)

• "A cortisol threshold of 60% VO2 max has been
proposed." (Kanaley, Clin Endocrinol Metab

• "No significant differences in cortisol concentration
were noted among resting, low, and moderate-intensity [cycling]
exercise. (Jacks, J Strength Cond Res. 2002)

Weight Lifting Exercise

• "Insulin vasodilates skeletal muscle vasculature via an
endothelium-derived nitric oxide-dependent mechanism." (Baron,
Annu Rev Nutr 1997)

•  Recent data suggest that insulin stimulates Testosterone
production and suppresses SHBG production in normal and obese men.
(Haffner, Horm Res 1996)

• The SHBG levels showed a negative and significant correlation
with the plasma insulin concentrations at the end of the clamp
study. These findings suggest that, in the hyperinsulinemic state,
plasma insulin has a direct effect on the SHBG levels. (Katsuki, J
Clin Endo Metab 1996)

• "Physiologic hyperinsulinemia stimulates protein
synthesis and enhances transport of selected amino acids in human
skeletal muscle." [actual title of article] (Biolo, J Clin
Invest 1995)

• Do we really need to supply evidence that peri-workout
feedings are helpful?

Unapologetic Physique Training

In this "micro-periodization" sense, I'm an
unapologetic bodybuilder. I'm not a cross-trainer. I'm not a field
or court athlete. God knows I'm no runner. My "cardio" (I
still think this is a misnomer for many of us) is meant to
assassinate triacylglycerols stored in adipose tissue. That's
pretty much it.

Being huge and muscular is paramount most of the time. Sure, I
dig performance and have no intention to become a quivering mass of
useless twitching muscle mass. Heck, in the past I've admittedly
enjoyed smugly looking over at a previously-cocky "tough
guy" in the gym after I squat 495 for reps or push up
120-pound dumbbells a dozen times. But such things are a by-product
of my bodybuilding. A welcome one, to be sure (I don't like to
"false advertise" with my physique), but a by-product

Dr. Lowery flexes both mind and muscle!

During serious physique training, I thus live each day in a
strategic way that takes advantage of hormonal realities. This kind
of plan (separating fat-focused exercise from muscle-focused
exercise) may be less vogue, but I really couldn't care any

Bodybuilding isn't necessarily about HIIT or any intense
cardio for that matter. When "bulking" I say leave that
stuff for another day (i.e. a different mesocycle). Unlike brisk
walks that are hardly exercise at all (and aren't meant to
be), intense cardio is exercise that takes its toll on energy
that's meant for the weights and taxes recovery
resources that are meant for muscle growth and strength.

Again, body building, such as an autumn mass phase, can
be done for one mesocycle while other training (team sports,
martial arts, etc.) can be the focus during other mesocycles.

The value of periodized training and nutrition like this is
evidenced when I compare myself and my lifting partners to those
local guys who've stayed super-lean but weigh all of a
buck-fifty-five after 15 years of freaking effort!

A Note for 40-Somethings

We are no longer kids biologically. We can't get away with
semi-reckless overfeeding the way many 20-year-olds can.

Indeed, it's common knowledge in the scientific and medical
communities that our glucose tolerance is reduced. Dietary carbs
don't enter muscle tissue (the primary healthy recipient of
blood-borne glucose) as well. An article from this large body of
evidence comes from a scientist by the name of Preuss (27) who

"Among changes associated with aging is a decline in
glucose tolerance. Also, perturbations in glucose/insulin
metabolism are associated with enhanced lipid peroxidation
secondary to greater free radical formation. Free radicals of
oxygen are important known causes of tissue damage... Ingestion of
sugars, fats, and sodium have been linked to decreased insulin

Further, those who've gained body fat since their twenties also
run the risk of aromatizing more of their precious Testosterone
(adipose tissue being the primary site for Test-to-estrogen
conversion in men). Fortunately, both of these phenomena are
largely correctable with training.

But forgetting the science for a second and getting back to old
school, obvious things, I'll bet you 40-somethings can
identify. You have eyes. You can feel your joints. It's
plainly obvious to many middle-aged guys that they don't
recover quite as quickly or partition every calorie toward muscle

Injuries that lead to less physical activity and drinking-down
overly frequent "weight gain" shakes can result in the kind of
nutrient partitioning nobody wants. (33) Some of us have even grown
strong enough to hurt ourselves in the gym. (Do you know what I
mean?) We must be more cautious.

Spreading out a purposeful 300 kcal daily surplus (about a
half-dozen 500-600 kcal meals, with more surrounding the lifting
bout) is reasonable for many. Limiting carbs to perhaps 75g per
resting meal or fat to 50g per meal is a good starter idea. (That
is, even for the younger set, getting a fairly large 475 g carbs
daily produces 150g of new "body fat" when glycogen
stores are full [1] while 50 grams of fat seems to approach the
"store it vs. burn it" limit. [30]) After three to four
weeks, upward or downward tweaks can be made.


In the end, I have no desire to start a debate nor to tell
anyone that there's only one way to add mass to a cat. But a
revival of bodybuilding as a legitimate endeavor – in itself –
could help some of us. The principles of specificity and
periodization are real. And beyond that, some old school experience
can bring new passion and success.

So, Crom, I've never prayed to you before. I have no tongue
for it. But what matters is that the few here at T-Nation stood
against many. The softness of the world cannot be tolerated; the
need for heroic effort is at hand. So grant us one wish: grant us revenge!

And if you do not listen...

References and Further Reading

1. Acheson, k., et al. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo
lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. Am J
Clin Nutr 1988 Aug;48(2):240-7.

2. Achten, J. and Jeukendrup, A. Optimizing fat oxidation
through exercise and diet. Nutrition. 2004

3. Achten, J. and Jeukendrup, A. Maximal fat oxidation during
exercise in trained men. Int J Sports Med. 2003 Nov;24(8):603-8.

4. Baron, A. and Clark, M. Role of blood flow in the regulation
of muscle glucose uptake. Annu Rev Nutr

5. Biolo, G., et al. Physiologic hyperinsulinemia stimulates
protein synthesis and enhances transport of selected amino acids in
human skeletal muscle. J Clin Invest. 1995

6. Booth, A. Endogenous testosterone and competition: the effect
of "fasting". Steroids. 1993 Aug;58(8):348-50.

7. Borel, M., et al. Estimation of energy expenditure and
maintenance energy requirements of college-age men and women. Am J
Clin Nutr 1984 Dec;40(6):1264-72.

8. Butterfield, G. Whole-body protein utilization in humans. Med
Sci Sports Exerc. 1987 Oct;19(5 Suppl):S157-65.

9. Chiang, A. and Huang, P. Excess energy and nitrogen balance
at protein intakes above the requirement level in young men. Am J
Clin Nutr 1988 Oct;48(4):1015-22.

10. Frayn, K. Regulation of fatty acid delivery in vivo. Adv Exp
Med Biol. 1998; 441: 171-9.

11. Garza, C., et al. Human protein requirements: the effect of
variations in energy intake within the maintenance range. Am J Clin
Nutr 1976 Mar;29(3):280-7.

12. Haffner, S. Sex hormone-binding protein, hyperinsulinemia,
insulin resistance and noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Horm Res

13. Jacks, D., et al. Effect of exercise at three exercise
intensities on salivary cortisol. J Strength Cond Res. 2002.

14. Jenkins, D., et al. Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic
advantages of increased meal frequency. N Engl J Med 1989 Oct

15. Jensen, M. Fate of fatty acids at rest and during exercise:
regulatory mechanisms. Acta Physiol Scand. 2003

16. Kanaley, J., et al. Cortisol and Growth Hormone Responses to
Exercise at Different Times of Day. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001.
86(6): 2881-2889.

17. Katsuki, A., et al. Acute and chronic regulation of serum
sex hormone-binding globulin levels by plasma insulin
concentrations in male noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
patients. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol
81, 2515-2519.

18. Lowery, L., et al. Nah, I'm only joking. Journal of the
Jest. Nov;1(1): 1-1. (Glad you check your references! Bravo!)

19. Lowery, L. and Forsythe, C. Protein and Overtraining:
Potential Applications for Free-living Athletes. JISSN. 2006

20. Lowery, L. Dietary fat and sports nutrition: A primer.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2004) 3, 106-117.

21. Mader, U., et al. Influence of continuous and discontinuous
training protocols on subcutaneous adipose tissue and plasma
substrates. Int J Sports Med. 2001 Jul;22(5):344-9.

22. Meijer, A. Amino acids as regulators and components of
nonproteinogenic pathways. J Nutr. 2003 Jun;133(6 Suppl

23. Muller, M. et al. Thermic effect of epinephrine: a role for
endogenous insulin. Metabolism 1992

24. Murray, R., et al. Harper's Illustrated Biochemistry.
2006 New York: Lange Medical Books/ McGraw-Hill, p.140.

25. Pagana, K. and Pagana, T. Mosby's Diagnostic and
Laboratory Test Reference. 1997. St Louis: Mosby, p.

26. Phillips, S. Protein requirements and supplementation in
strength sports. Nutrition. 2004

27. Preuss, H. Effects of glucose/insulin perturbations on aging
and chronic disorders of aging: the evidence. J Am Coll Nutr 1997

28. Roberts, S., et al. Dietary energy requirements of young
adult men, determined by using the doubly labeled water method. Am
J Clin Nutr. 1991 Sep;54(3):499-505.

29. Roberts, S., et al. Energy expenditure and subsequent
nutrient intakes in overfed young men. Am J Physiol 1990 Sep;259(3
Pt 2):R461-9.

30. Sonko, B., et al. Dose-response relationship between fat
ingestion and oxidation: quantitative estimation using whole-body
calorimetry and 13C isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Eur J Clin
Nutr. 2001 Jan;55(1):10-8.

31. Speechly, D. and Buffenstein, R. Greater appetite control
associated with an increased frequency of eating in lean males.
Appetite 1999 Dec;33(3):285-97.

32. Stubbs, R., et al. The effect of graded levels of exercise
on energy intake and balance in free-living men, consuming their
normal diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Feb;56(2):129-40.

33. Tournier, A. and Louis-Sylvestre, J. Effect of the physical
state of a food on subsequent intake in human subjects. Appetite.
1991 Feb;16(1):17-24.

34. Turcotte, L. Role of fats in exercise. Types and quality.
Clin Sports Med 1999 Jul;18(3):485-98.

35. Venkatraman, J. Dietary fats and immune status in athletes:
clinical implications. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7