You know what you want and you're learning how to get it.
As a bodybuilding enthusiast, you've cultivated a love of heroic muscle mass and (hopefully) muscular performance as well. But almost paradoxically, you've probably also come to dig extreme leanness. Indeed, the desire to unveil your hard-won musculature seems natural, even if it wasn't what caused you to start weight training. A ripped physique approaching 5 percent body fat actually looks bigger – and certainly more impressive – than the same structure that's blurred by 12 or 15 percent fat.
Do you know how it feels to be ripped? Many of you do. It feels fantastic, even for those like myself who are content being a nice, full 10 percent fat most of the time. This article is about how to get ripped without getting small. It's about the differences and similarities among us regarding our metabolisms.
It's clear that we differ in muscle mass, training preferences, glucose tolerance, and so much more – yet the basic tenets of medicine and physiology still apply to us all, which allow for some universal temporal approaches to "dieting."
Still, I've never liked the word diet; it's so often confused with kcal restriction. Diet simply refers to food intake. That leaves room for plenty of manipulations – some that will work for nearly everyone and some that come only through personal discovery. Let's start by reviewing our differences as bodybuilders and how each suggests a tailored dietary approach. Then we can review how the 24-hour clock enters the picture, dictating biological rhythms that affect us all pretty much the same!
How We're Different
The amount of muscle tissue we carry alters our need for calories (kcal); researchers have clearly shown the correlation between fat free mass and resting energy expenditure (10). Bigger muscles need bigger meals. Due to the higher metabolic activity of muscle (although adipose tissue isn't as "inert" as many of us think), the correlation is even stronger than it is for gross body weight. See Figure 1 for an example from a group of weight trained athletes that were involved in some muscle recovery research I was undertaking about a year ago.
Figure 1. Correlation between Fat Free Mass and Energy Expenditure
You can see that guys with larger fat free mass (reading across the bottom of the graph from 58-88 kg) expend more and more calories per day than smaller guys. Taking into account that most athletes are reportedly underfed based upon gross body weight, we now see that they're even more underfed than is usually estimated due to their large relative muscle mass. A sports car with a huge engine that runs all the time guzzles more gas than a big station wagon with a little four-beater.
Bodybuilders are sports cars. Protein synthesis, tissue building/ maintenance and even moving around are energy costly endeavors. Thus, eating frequent meals becomes paramount – even if you're looking to stay in negative energy balance. Breaking up the traditional "three square meals" into several medium sized ones can reduce hunger and moderate insulin levels.(12)
If you're fearful of extra kcal – in which case you need deprogramming anyway – take heart that a focus upon protein (e.g. as nearly half of each meal) brings superior satiating and thermogenic results to your physiology.(6, 7, 14, 19) That sounds good for dieters. This latter effect also happens to occur regardless of one's glucose tolerance,(19) so whether you perceive yourself as a good "carb metabolizer" or a bad one, protein is a gram-per-pound mainstay. Even ingesting more than that isn't likely to hurt you and may offer further metabolic benefits to the struggling dieter.
Overall, our differences in muscle mass – not just body weight – create different needs for calories and protein. In fact, as larger muscle mass creeps up on you over time, you'll need to readjust your intakes; you're now a bigger boy.
A healthy dose of self-honesty is required when discerning just how big and muscular you are, however. Overdoing the "I'm a big bodybuilder so I can eat anything" mentality is dangerous to anyone interested in physique quality. We've all seen guys like this; their sloppy physiques usually exemplify that randomly eating a lot of garbage is not the same as eating a lot of "clean" well-timed food as described here.
But it doesn't stop there. Muscle creates other challenges to the hard training bodybuilder. As muscle tissue is a large percentage of body weight, it also becomes a contributing factor to reduced glucose tolerance, post-eccentric exercise.
Are you a heavy "negatives" loving bodybuilder? If so, some dietary re-timing may be called for. The link between muscle damage/ soreness and depressed muscle carb uptake is clear in the literature (4, 16, 17, 21). Doesn't it make sense, then, that individuals with large muscle mass and little body fat are at greater risk of becoming systemically glucose intolerant (to a point) after aggressively employing "negatives?"
And systemic or not, if our goal is to maximize muscle glucose delivery, why eat tons of carbs when glucose delivery isn't optimal? Below is a graph demonstrating the difficulty that some bodybuilders experience:
Figure 2. Serum Glucose Responses to 75 g Dextrose before- (blue) and 24 h-after Eccentric Whole-Body Bodybuilding Exercise (red)
Logical, eh? Of course, not all weight lifters will have this clear of an effect. But if you prefer heavy negatives in your training and carry a large amount of (traumatized) muscle on your frame with little body fat, what's the ultimate fate of the carbohydrates you ingest? Perhaps muscles that are sore and resistant allow glucose to hang out in the bloodstream longer because there isn't as much fatty tissue in which to deposit it. Of course, eventually higher insulin levels would force the glucose into adipocytes (fat cells) and other tissues, including the resistant muscles.
Despite considerable person-to-person variability, I've seen this difficulty in muscle carbohydrate uptake last for at least 24 hours after inducing whole-body delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). My hunch is that it could last for 48-72 hours (paralleling other blood markers of trauma). During this time, it would make little sense, from a skeletal muscle point of view, to consume a traditional high-carb diet. Timing, then, is critical.
Fortunately for aggressive dieters, a high-protein diet (45% PRO, 35% CHO, 20% FAT) has been shown to reduce markers of muscle catabolism and improve insulin sensitivity compared to a calorie-matched high carb diet (20% PRO, 60% CHO, 20% FAT), which fails to preserve muscle and can even worsen insulin sensitivity. (15)
Just as TC has checked his response to different foods with a glucometer in the past, I suspect an athlete could do the same with a standard meal before and 24-hours after getting crushed in the gym to see how susceptible he is. Of course, the gross whole-body nature of testing finger pricked blood samples every 30 minutes tells us little about where the glucose is (or isn't) going, so it's employment may reveal little for many individuals.
Random daily, pre-breakfast tests are often required to get a handle on an individual's varying baseline (non-damaged) responses to a given (simple) meal. Self monitoring to check for susceptibility to hampered glucose tolerance would take conscientious logging. Of course, there are far more elegant techniques. Researchers can use tracers and biopsies as a muscle-specific recourse.
Detectable on oneself or not, the relative glucose intolerance doesn't "take hold" immediately post-workout, so typical carb-and-protein post workout nutrition still applies. Those who don't take advantage of this 2-3 hour window of opportunity will be left with reduced glycogen replenishment, poorer protein synthetic rates, and flatter muscles. The message to take home here? Eat protein and carbs at about 30, 90 and even 180 minutes post-exercise. One post-workout meal probably isn't enough.
During days of general recovery (read as "low soreness and damage"), I'd be eating a much higher carbohydrate diet compared to my recent 1:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein. Personally, I'd go with 2:1 or even 3:1. In fact, I'm taking a week off soon and I'll do just this, even though I'm currently "dieting!" And beyond this, I suspect ectomorphs (thin, angular types) who have known excellent glucose tolerance (or are less-affected by exercise-induced muscle damage) would also do well closer to 3:1.
As we all know, however, not everyone gravitates toward super heavy, damaging weights and negatives. Higher rep, more concentric exercisers (who don't focus on slow lowering movements) enjoy improved glucose tolerance (18) without as much temporary damage from their training. These persons would actually have increased carbohydrate needs across the board.
Using lighter weights, say 70-80% of maximum strength, with more repetitions and less rest between sets is more metabolically and calorically demanding during the workout. Carbs can be 30% depleted during bodybuilding exercise (5) and much more during 1-2 hours of continuous or repeated intense exercise.(9) Hence, carbs are a great pre- and post-exercise food for these guys thanks to optimized enzymatic and hormonal changes. Did you know that simply contracting a muscle can induce maximal glucose uptake without the need for insulin?(11) The effect lasts for hours. Amazing.
Genetic Insulin Sensitivity
Here's another way in which we all differ. There's obviously a familial link with diabetes. Even those who don't exhibit the disease, but have relatives who do, can have problems handling dietary carbs.(1,8) This may manifest as clinical glucose intolerance (fasting blood glucose between 110 and 125 mg/dl or a glucose tolerance test with any value over 200 or a two-hour value of 140 mg/dl).
A similar condition manifests as normal glucose levels but with hyper-insulinemia. With an estimated 11% (and growing) of American men suffering from glucose intolerance,(8) there are many out there who are at risk. Are you? One of the healthcare facilities where I work is having great success with fat loss just by prescribing metformin (Glucophage) for certain patients. Fascinating.
If you have a family history of diabetes or Syndrome X (a triad of hypertension/ cardiovascular risk, central-fatness and glucose intolerance), or just have a higher body fat percentage than you'd like, carbohydrate control is in order.
It's tough but do-able; I've ditched refined carbs and starches like white bread and pasta nearly altogether and I'm losing fat from this alone. I do try to stay mindful of data that about 200g of carbs are necessary for normal brain and muscle function.(13) With this low-moderate carb approach (and a focus on morning-only carbs; more on this later), I'm stripping off fat while maintaining a daily energy intake close to 3000 kcal.
Response to Stimulants
Congenital predispositions also affect our body's response to coffee/ caffeine/ stimulants. The variation is huge both in inter-individual sensitivity to stimulants and in "natural" secretion of adrenalin and noradrenalin.(2,3) Perhaps this is linked with "Type A" versus "Type B" personalities. There are well known differences in the rate of caffeine metabolism (breakdown) among humans, too.
High-strung/ caffeine sensitive guys can get their metabolisms really cranking with stimulants, which sounds good for fat loss. But again timing is critical. Do you want to do this on days when your body is recuperating? It stands to reason that since adrenalin is the mechanism behind caffeine-hampered glucose tolerance (20), then large doses of coffee and most stimulants will be detrimental to recovery. And perhaps more ironic is the hypothesis that since glucose intolerance is related to central fat accumulation, a stimulant junky could actually end up fatter through the belly over long periods of time due to self-induced glucose intolerance!
One alternative to daily blitzing of oneself with harsh stimulants that screw with your muscle recovery/ fullness is to avoid them altogether on "off days" and during scheduled layoffs. Another approach is the use of green tea. It appears that drinking several cups a day only improves glucose handling and other aspects of health. Try replacing half of your coffee intake with green – or even black – tea if you're a major "pot head." You may find yourself more muscular and even leaner over time.
Okay, so we bodybuilders differ in at least four ways that make the application of a singular diet difficult. Hence, the trial and error of what "works" for you should not be discounted – so long as you're sure that you're not deluding yourself as to your progress. Honesty with oneself is a rare gift. On the other hand, we cannot conclude that wide person-to-person variability prevents any effective strategy for dieting/ bodybuilding progress. Science and medicine hold some fairly universal facts that can be applied with large, measurable success!
Check back for Part II of this composition to see how we can embrace our differences and our similarities to forge a bodybuilder-specific diet–and to compare it with diets that have been presented in the past. It'll be a refresher course for all as we see how the swinging pendulum that is "nutrition theory" has evolved, in my opinion, toward the "Temporal Diet."
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