Here's what you need to know...
- What you eat will either be used by muscle or stored as fat. This process is called nutrient partitioning.
- If your body partitions nutrients well, they'll go to muscle. If it doesn't, count on gaining 2 to 3 pounds of fat for every pound of muscle you try to build.
- If you're a good nutrient partitioner, almost every calorie burned comes from stored body fat and not muscle. If you're not a good nutrient partitioner, you could lose a pound of muscle for every few pounds of fat you lose.
- The good news is, you can acquire the ability to partition nutrients effectively by using a few simple strategies.
Bad Genetics? Here's What You Can Change
Do you know anybody who's built? I mean really built? One of those rare people who's a mix of chiseled granite, flesh, and comic-book superhero?
Almost every calorie these gifted men and women eat goes straight to muscle. If, for some reason, they feel the need to diet, every calorie burned comes from fat and not muscle. No matter how they train or eat, they get better and better with rounded muscle bellies and low body fat levels.
You? Ha! When you eat for mass, you gain 2 to 3 pounds of fat for every pound of muscle. And when you cut calories, you lose a pound of muscle for every 2 to 3 pounds of fat you drop.
The difference between you and them is largely genetic. Testosterone levels and sensitivity play a role, as do cortisol levels. The gifted folks also have thyroids and nervous systems that operate with the efficiency of a German automobile engineer whose papa never gave him any approval.
Another hugely significant advantage possessed by the gifted has to do with how well they partition nutrients, which, luckily, is a gift you can acquire, too.
Not All Calories Are Treated the Same
Nutrient partitioning is the process by which the body decides what to do with the energy you get from your diet.
When you eat something, the nutrients are either burned or they're stored for future use. Ideally, you'd like all those storage nutrients to be partitioned to muscle as opposed to body fat.
That's why the old statement that "a calorie is a calorie" isn't really true, at least in the way that calorie is treated by the body.
If nutrients are partitioned to muscle, you can potentially fuel new muscle growth and build up muscle glycogen stores so that even more growth, along with increased work capacity and increased recovery rates, is possible.
Efficient nutrient partitioning has lots of fathers, among them an unexplained coordination between the gut, liver, brain, central nervous system, and muscles, most likely coordinated by hormones and certain secondary chemical messengers.
The main determinant of nutrient partitioning is insulin.
Now if you're diabetic or obese, your ability to partition nutrients is likely dysfunctional. And if you're just a bit insulin resistant, your nutrient partitioning is sluggish and inefficient.
Related: Control the Damage from Overeating
Insulin will still try to get into the muscle cells of insulin resistant people by making contact with a receptor on the cell, but its intents are ignored.
Normally, insulin would activate this particular protein called GLUT4, which allows glucose to enter the cell. But in insulin resistant people, GLUT4 doesn't take the call, so glucose (along with any branched-chain amino acids insulin might be carrying) doesn't get into the cell.
Insulin then has the unwanted glucose converted into fatty acids which are trundled off to fat storage centers like your belly or love handles where they're stacked on the existing pile of fat.
But if you're insulin sensitive, carbs and branched chain amino acids are delivered Fed-Ex style to the muscle cell, where a beautiful GLUT4 lady of the house signs for them and ushers them inside where they're greedily taken up by the machinery of the cell and forged into brand-spanking new muscle – provided you actually work out correctly.
Gifted People Vs. Angry Skinny-Fat People
You get the picture of the haves and have nots. On one hand we have genetically perfect guys with idealized nutrient partitioning abilities and on the other, skinny-fat guys who war against the genetically perfect guys.
The truth is, everybody's nutrient partitioning abilities lie somewhere along a huge spectrum. Even the hypothetically perfect nutrient-partitioning people can suffer a setback if they eat too many carbs.
Related: The Eat as Much as You Want Diet
If that happens, they'll experience some of what insulin resistant folks experience every day in that all the extra glucose will be converted to fatty acids and stored as triglycerides in fatty tissue.
Regardless of which part of the spectrum you're on, you can do things to improve your nutrient partitioning capabilities.
Become a Gifted Nutrient Partitioner
The traditional remedy to poor nutrient partitioning abilities is to pay attention to the type of carbohydrate you're ingesting and when you're ingesting it. You've heard it many times: eat fast-absorbing carbs during the peri-workout phase. Eat small amounts of complex carbs the rest of the time.
Likewise, you've always been told to limit your overall carb intake, because even in gifted people with exquisite insulin sensitivity, excess carb intake can decrease insulin sensitivity and make their body behave, metabolically, more like a fat person's.
That stuff is all true, but taking cyanidin 3-glucoside (C3G), a nutrient-partitioning supplement, turns those rules on their carb-crunchy heads.
The supplement, a compound found in various berries, profoundly increases the insulin sensitivity of muscle cells while decreasing the insulin sensitivity of fat cells.
That means the glucose uptake in muscle cells increases, and glucose, nutrients, and BCAA's are partitioned into these same muscle cells while fat storage in general is hindered and fatty acid oxidation is increased.
Related: The Insulin Advantage
With C3G, you're actually better off eating more carbs, particularly during the workout period, but also during other times of the day. The C3G makes your body react more like the gifted nutrient partitioner's. The calories you eat get partitioned preferentially into muscle and thus your weight gain comes from muscle and not fat.
If you diet while on C3G, or even if you don't, fat is burned preferentially while muscle is retained. By virtue of a chemical tweak, courtesy of C3G, your body suddenly starts to react like that of a genetically-gifted nutrient partitioner.
And pardon me if I don't cite a bunch of studies. You can do that by yourself. Just type "cyanidin 3-glucoside" into Google Scholar.
The Fatty Acid Fix
Another way to improve how you partition nutrients is to mind your fatty acid ratios. As you've probably read, the typical Western diet is heavy on omega-6 fatty acids and light on omega-3 fatty acids.
It's been reported that Americans have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20 to 1, when it should be closer to 4 to 1.
This huge imbalance leads to a chronic inflammatory state, and chronic inflammation is a common denominator for poor insulin sensitivity, not to mention diabetes and obesity in general.
As such, you gotta' eat more fish, or at least take more fish oil to balance out the ratio.
Two Roads to Take
You've got two choices if you want to improve the way you partition nutrients:
You can be careful about carb intake, restricting the bulk of it to around the workout period (eating roughly 70% of your carbs before, during, and immediately after your workout) and eating most of the rest of your carbs in a post-workout meal.
That will help take advantage of whatever nutrient partitioning powers you might have, however meager.
You can also limit your total carb intake, but this is largely a two-steps forward, one-step back approach. You eat fewer carbs to sensitize your nutrient partitioning system, but provide fewer carbs to the muscle cells. So there's nothing for that enhanced nutrient partitioning ability to take advantage of!
Or you can use C3G (sold as Indigo-3G) to fix or augment your nutrient partitioning powers so that you can actually eat more carbs – workout nutrition and otherwise – and ensure that the bulk of it is going to muscle instead of fat storage.
Similarly, you can supplement your intake of omega-3 fatty acids to stomp chronic fat cell inflammation, which will also improve insulin sensitivity.
Choice number 2 will give much more impressive results than just following choice number 1, but what matters is that you at least follow one of them... that is, if you want to gain muscle like the gifted.