Transform Your Physique - Part 2

An interview with Physique Clinic coach, Christian Thibaudeau


Miss Part 1? You can find it HERE.

Shugart: What causes the phenomenon of muscle memory?

Thibaudeau: Hard to pinpoint one cause. Fascia stretching is one thing. When a muscle is hypertrophied and stays large for a while, it does stretch its envelope (the fascia). When you stop training, muscle will atrophy (lose size) but fascia will take a much longer time to get back to its original tightness. As long as it's still slightly stretched, muscle growth is facilitated.

This is why if you've been muscular for a long time you'll regain the muscle faster (because the stretch is more significant). It also means that the longer you wait before re-training, the more of the "plasticity facilitation" you'll lose.

For example, if you stop training for 10 years, chances are that you'll regain the muscle at a much slower pace than if you stopped training for only 2 years: the fascia doesn't have time to tighten up completely with the shorter time period.

Some also believe that carrying extra muscle size for a while gets the body "used to" that state. The body comes to accept it as normal. It's much easier for the body to get back to a normal state than it is to go beyond it. So regaining muscle (going back to a once-normal state) is more "comfortable" than going to brand new levels of muscularity (exceeding what your body perceives as normal).

Shugart: What about the myostatin aspect? What's the theory behind that?

Thibaudeau: Myostatin is the gene that limits muscle growth. The more of it you have, the harder it is to grow muscle. It's been suggested that spending a lot of time in a muscular state lowers myostatin levels. When you stop training you lose some muscle, but myostatin levels stay low, which makes it easier to pile on muscle once you get back into it.

A "double-muscled" whippet with mutated myostatin gene.

Whatever the cause of muscle memory might be, we can say for sure that:

  1. The more muscle you had, the easier it'll be to become big again upon retraining.
  2. The longer you've been carrying extra muscle, the more pronounced and the longer lasting the "muscle memory" will be.
  3. The longer you wait before training again, the less of an effect on re-growth you'll have.

Shugart: Okay, how should a person measure and evaluate his progress? After all, scale weight doesn't matter all that much. If someone loses 10 pounds of fat and gains 10 pounds of muscle, the scale will show no change. Visually though, that's a dramatic improvement! So how should we measure progress?

Thibaudeau: Ideally we'd measure both fat tissue gain/loss and lean mass gain/loss. That's called body composition testing, and it consists of measuring your body fat percentage and your body weight. You then subtract your fat weight from your total weight and that allows you to establish how much of your "weight" is muscle and how much of it is fat.

Let's say that at your first evaluation you're 195 pounds with a body fat percentage of 18%. It means that your fat mass is 35 pounds, so your lean body mass is 160. Careful, it doesn't mean that your muscle mass is 160. Lean body mass includes muscle, fluids, bones, internal organs, and anything that isn't fat.

A few months later you get tested again and now you're 192 pounds at 10% body fat. You now have 19 pounds of fat and 173 pounds of lean body mass. It's likely that your bone and internal organs didn't change much so you basically gained 13 pounds of either muscle or water. (Normally we're talking about a 2:1 ratio between muscle and water.)

But one thing is for sure: You lost 16 pounds of fat and gained between 8 and 13 pounds of muscle. So although you weigh less, you should look much bigger!

Sebastien Cossette weighs about 20 pounds less in the second pic (around 190 to 195 pounds), yet he looks bigger even though he's "smaller." Body comp counts!

Shugart: So how do we get our body composition tested accurately?

Thibaudeau: You need to have your body fat measured. In an ideal world we'd use underwater weighing or DEXA evaluation, which are very accurate. But most people will have to settle for caliper measurements. If these are done properly, they're pretty accurate.

Understand that the more measuring sites the tester uses, the more reliable his calculations will be. So if someone says that he can evaluate your body fat percentage from three sites, understand that it might not be super accurate because we all store and lose fat differently. Much like Charles Poliquin, I recommend a formula based on 12 measurement sites.

Now, in an ideal world we'd judge our results from the mirror. But our own self-evaluation is seldom objective. And since we see ourselves everyday, it becomes very hard to see the small changes taking place on a regular basis.

Shugart: I find that taking photos is invaluable as well. The mirror lies, but pictures (one from the front, one from the side, and one from the back) can be brutally honest.

Now, let's talk more about diet. We run tons of training articles here at Testosterone, and quite a few diet/nutrition articles. But honestly, the diet articles seldom get the attention that the "Build Bigger Gunz!" articles get. How important is nutrition really?

Thibaudeau: If your nutrition sucks, it's the most important thing to you! Nutrition, training, recovery, supplementation... everything is important. The thing you're lacking is the thing that'll hold you back.

Since nutrition is a 24/7 thing and because it requires so much sacrifice and discipline, it is, for most, our Waterloo. I mean, training is fun, and even if we're stressed out and tired it's still fairly easy to get psyched for four weekly workouts.

However, nutrition is something that you have to be serious about all the time, and that is hard! Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Following an optimal nutrition program is a pain the arse.

Now, some people are blessed in that they can eat like crap and still get results. Face it though, most of you don't belong in that category. Others take "products" that aren't necessarily legal that also allow them to iron-out a few imperfections in their diet. Again, this is not you. The average Joe who wants to truly transform his physique will need to follow a strict and optimal diet, and that requires careful planning, sacrifice, and a lot of balls.

Shugart: Most people are animals in the gym and wusses in the kitchen. I see it all the time. Now, what supplements do you consider to be essential for anyone looking to make a huge body transformation?

Thibaudeau: A high quality fish oil like Flameout would be first on my list. Sadly, most people disregard fish oil because it isn't sexy; it doesn't claim to "burn" or "melt away" fat. But the fact is that fish oil will have a profound impact on how your body handles food and utilizes fat.

I wouldn't recommend dieting without using a good fish oil. For maximal results I recommend at least 12 grams per day, and I've dosed it as high as 40 grams per day in fatter individuals or those with poor insulin sensitivity.

A quality whey and casein protein blend is also very useful, albeit not as essential as a good fish oil. It's mostly for convenience purposes. When you slash calories you need to increase your protein intake to prevent muscle loss. In fact, the lower your calories are, the higher your proteins need to be. It can be impractical to cook six to eight protein meals per day, so a good protein blend becomes a lifevest.

People will ask me if any whey protein will do. No, it won't! Pure whey protein, isolate or concentrate, is absorbed too fast. Speed of absorption is a plus after a workout, but during the day we want a slower absorption rate. This has been shown to be much more effective at preventing muscle catabolism (muscle loss). So for maximum results you need something like Metabolic Drive.

Energy supplements can also be useful when dieting because eventually, regardless of the quality of your diet, your energy levels will dip down. A stimulant can be used from time to time as a pick-me-up, but you shouldn't become dependant on it as it puts a large burden on your adrenal glands which can lead to adrenal burnout/chronic fatigue. A nootropic supplement like Power Drive or another one high in tyrosine is a better day-to-day choice as it'll give you a mental boost without overexerting the adrenals.

Creatine and beta-alanine can also be of some use by increasing work capacity. They won't reduce fatigue, but they will allow you to be able to perform more physical work without bonking.

Shugart: Okay, what role does age play in making major physical changes? Teens and those in their early 20's seem to have it easy. Is there hope for the 40-plus guys?

Thibaudeau: Nope, no hope!

I'm kidding of course. Everyone can make positive changes to their appearance, but it's true that older folks will have a harder time. For one thing, they've been in "bad shape" for longer. They might have been carrying that extra 30 or 40 pounds of fat for 10 years or more. The body eventually accepts that little extra package as part of you.

Losing fat will be harder because of that fact. If a guy in his 20's suddenly gains 30 or 40 pounds of fat over a short period of time and decides to lose it, he'll have an easier time because the body hasn't yet had time to accept it as part of its normal physiology.

Understand that what holds true for muscle memory holds true for "fat memory" as well. The longer you have "something" the less likely you'll be to lose it fast and the more likely you'll be to regain it easily.

Shugart: What about metabolism issues and aging?

Thibaudeau: There seems to be a trend toward a decrease in metabolic rate with age, which would make it slightly more difficult to lose the fat. However, it's been suggested that this decrease in metabolic rate is in fact due to a loss of muscle mass that comes with inactivity. Individuals tend to become less and less active as they age and as a result they lose some muscle.

Since muscle is the tissue that uses up the most energy, a decrease in muscle mass will lead to a decrease in daily energy expenditure. In that sense the best way to prevent or reverse the metabolic decline that comes with age is to build more muscle, and that means regular weight lifting.

Finally, hormonal changes that come with aging might also account for a more difficult time changing your body as you get older. In general, Testosterone and growth hormone production tend to decrease with age. Lower Testosterone and hGH levels have been linked to lower lean body mass (less muscle) and more fat mass.

While in some cases this decline is natural, it's often accelerated by environmental and nutritional factors. Going back to a natural way of eating – sticking to whole, natural food and focusing on fat intake instead of carbs – can indeed lead to an increase in both anabolic hormones.

I'll be honest, as you get older the fight will become harder and you'll have to be more disciplined in your efforts, but you can definitely achieve your goals with the proper strategy.

Shugart: Let's talk motivation. I notice that many people will get about halfway to their goals and lose motivation. They need to lose 40 pounds of fat; they lose 20 and quit. Any tips?

Thibaudeau: Are they really losing motivation or are they becoming complacent? I'll give you a personal example: Recently my eating habits have been less than stellar. I won't try to make excuses as to why they've been this way, they just have been.

The problem is that despite eating a less than adequate diet, I'm still holding 215-220 pounds at less than 10% body fat and still look better than 99% of the population. I can have a total junk day and still look great.

Okay, I'm not trying to rub it in, I'm simply saying that maintaining what I have is now easy. If I feel that it's easy I don't feel the need to be super strict with my diet since I'll look decent.

I'm not saying that the guy who needs to lose 40 pounds and loses 20 pounds will look as good as I do. What I mean is that at first, when the overweight guy decides to lose fat, he knows it will take some effort. He prepare himself mentally for it; he expects it to be super hard.

But the thing is that with proper discipline that first 20 pounds will actually fly off of him! Most people have such bad eating habits that when they first switch to a brutal diet it's not unheard of to lose 10 pounds in the first week and 20 pounds of scale weight within three to four weeks.

Now, the guy looks at his progress and thinks, "Wow, that was so much easier than I thought!" Now subconsciously he'll assume that he doesn't need to work as hard or be as disciplined to lose those last 20 pounds. So he starts to give himself progressively more leeway in his diet; a small piece of dessert soon becomes the whole cake!

The weight comes crawling back, but now it becomes harder and harder to cut off those new pleasures he's allowing himself. So soon enough it's not worth it anymore and he stops even trying.

The thing is that those first pounds are the easy part! The real hard work begins when you get leaner and leaner. Convincing yourself otherwise is a recipe for disaster.

For some it's simpler than that. The further away you are from what your body considers normal, the more distress signals it sends (hunger, cravings, drops in energy levels, mood swings, etc.). At that point it becomes increasingly hard to stick to the plan because every physiological signal is telling you to do otherwise. Even the most disciplined can struggle at that point.

Finally, you have another type of animal which I call the size king. This is the guy who enjoys having a large physical presence. These guys are normally over 250 pounds, pretty darn strong, and 18-20% body fat or more. They pride themselves on being big. While they might want to become ripped, giving away even a small percentage of their size is often too much to ask.

The fact is that, at first, when you begin to drop the fat you'll look smaller and you won't yet look defined. For size kings this is often reason enough to stop the diet.

Dave Tate could be described as a former "size king" before he made his amazing transformation.

I had a friend who wanted to do a bodybuilding contest. The guy was 270 at 5'6'' with around 25% body fat. Under the best circumstances we're talking about a stage weight of 210. The thing was that he could accept going from a husky 270 pound guy to a peeled 210 pound bodybuilder, but everything in-between was notacceptable!

He dieted for six weeks, dropped down to 250 and started to feel smaller so he stopped the diet. This type of story is actually much more common than you'd think.

The sad fact is that the deck is stacked against us. This physical transformation thing is hard. Under the best possible guidance it's still hard, but at least you're putting every thing you can in your favor. With proper support and dedication, everybody can do it.

Shugart: What are your thoughts about the upcoming T-Nation Physique Clinic?

Thibaudeau: I'm psyched about it and can't wait for it to start, but I also have some mixed feelings. On one hand I see this as probably the best opportunity to help people achieve their goals. And as this thing grows, I truly believe that it'll become a nation-wide craze. I think that the good we can do with the Physique Clinic is immense.

On the other hand, I put my reputation as a coach on the line with this one! Trust me, I have absolutely no doubt about what I can bring to these guys and gals. I know that everyone who'll follow the plan will get amazing results. That I'm sure of.

However, since this is an online clinic, it'll be hard for me to monitor the amount of effort put into the training sessions and diets. To quote Vince Gironda, "My programs work, but sometimes my clients don't!"

That's why I expect the chosen ones to respect the plan. If they're truly serious about changing their body, they'll have to. I have a big ego; I like to look good. If somebody makes me look bad, he'll hear about it!

Shugart: As it should be! As director of the Clinic, I'm right there with you. It's put up or shut up time for anyone who wants to be part of the Physique Clinic.

If they accomplish their goals, then we'll give them their props and set them up as examples of what hard work and discipline can achieve. And if they fail, we'll use them as examples of what not to do. Either way, Testosterone readers are going to learn a ton!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram