Category Archives: Basics

Back to the basics, Vol.3

Supplements

dietary-supplements

If you have made a training plan, you have the cycles that you would go through, you track your meals/nutrition, then you might understand what else is missing. If you are not a good eater (which is pretty often the case with beginners), then you would see by now, that you won’t be able to take in all the necessary daily calories from only ’clean food sources’. This is when a ’weight gainer’ can be handy. Weight gainers normally have plenty of carbs beside proteins. If you can take in enough calories but you struggle getting sufficient amount of protein from solid food, then you can use protein powders to complement your meal plan.

How much should you take? This is why you should keep track on all your meals and write a meal/nutrition diary. You will find the nutrition information label on every packs. You will see how much carbohydrate/protein/fat the powder contain and you can calculate the amount you need according to your meal plan. If you are to increase or decrease your calorie intake, then the simpliest way to do this is by supplements.

So, the basic supplements are:

  1. Supplements containing carbs – weight gainers, the protein content of these powders is 5-35% They can help to get those extra calories needed when trying to gain weight. As weight gainers mostly have simply sugars, consume them moderately and try to get the majority of your carbs from solid foods
  2. Supplements containing proteins – protein content is min.60%. They are suitable to complement either ’bulking’ or ’cutting’ diets. One of the most important properties of protein powders is biological value, which is a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of the body. Plant proteins are, in this regard, are poorer than animal protein sources. One of the highest biological value protein source is whey protein. When choosing a protein powder you should also consider the possible food allergies. If someone has soy, egg or milk allergy, then they have to choose other protein sources.

Other supplements:

  1. Vitamins, mineral supplements – micro nutrients which can’t be manufactured by our body (in most cases), so we need to take them in with our nutrition. While a bodybuilder’s diet can be pretty strict regarding the food choices, but at the same time, their body is under constant, huge stress from training, the application of these supplements is highly recommended
  2. Amino acids – proteins are actually chains of amino acids. Complex amino acids are, simply put, encapsulated/ tableted protein powders (sometimes altered a bit, like enzimatic pre-digestion). So, when do we need them? When it is convenient…when we can’t bring a freezer-bag with us, or when we can’t make a protein shake, we are still able to pop in some amino tablets. There are two types of individual amino acids which are more important from a body builder’s point of view: glutamine and bcaas (isoleucine, leucine, valine). Glutamine helps the faster recovery of muscles after training, and bcaas helps preserve muscle mass during training.
  3. Creatine – This is the safest and most effective supplement available today to build muscles (Naturally, creatine alone doesn’t build muscles, you need a proper diet and a training program)
  4. Other supplements such as plant extracts, individual amino acids, different other natural nutrients and molecules, in the form of tablets, caplets, liquids or powder These supplements can help provided you have your diet sorted and you follow a progressive training plan. I have to dissapoint you, there are no magic pills for fat loss or muscle gain. First you have to build a diet plan and also, a training plan which can support your goals. As long as you don’t have these sorted there is absolutely no point of using supplements. There are certain supplements, for example for joint health, skin care, which are beneficial (and maybe healthy too), but if you don’t have the basics, then these won’t make any difference towards reaching your goals.

Other factors:

There are two very important factors to mention: adequate fluid intake and sufficient sleep.

Fluid intake is extremely important for everyone, especially for athletes. In case of body builders, it is not only important because of sweating but also because of the by-products of the extra food and nutrient intake as water is needed for the detoxification process in the body. How much and what is the optimal fluid intake? At least 2-4 liters of water daily (even more for advanced athletes). For the novice trainees, who don’t drink water consciously, it can sound a lot.

Hint: do it gradually. Grab a bottle of water and bring it with you and drink it all. In 1-2 weeks you should get to a point where you drink two bottles of water a day. High intake of protein is necessary for muscle building but this high intake can also stress the kidneys hence you have to drink as much as possible. Remember, your body is trying to get back to the state of homeostasis and you are trying to divert it from it…so drink!

Rest. No, bodybuilding doesn’t get along with partying, drinking, smoking and drugs. These all work against homeostasis and your body will try compensate these by self-regulation, which needs energy and this energy will come from the energy that could be used for progression, musclebuilding and adaptation. If you are serious about this sport, then you will quit smoking, stop drinking and partying (or at least minimise the number of occasions). After an intense training session your muscles, your nervous system, your metabolism need time and energy to recover. Hence you need to rest/sleep. You need at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily and in an ideal world you could have a 1-1.5h nap during the day as well. Not everyone can cope with tough sessions every day. Take a day off from training and have a rest day. If you need more than one day, rest more days. Pay attention to the signs of ovetraining.

Continuous training and permanent attention to diet is exhausting mentally as well. It is essential to be able to recover mentally. The success of a bodybuilder is not decied in the gym, nor in the kitchen but in the head. Make the decisions you need for your success, in the gym: weights, form, progression and in the kitchen: no junk food, no garbage, whole, nutritious food coupled with good timing but at the same time you need the ability to relax, to have a break and fill your life with other things too. There is life beyond your body (and the love of your body)…

Possible scenarios

The question of the amount of muscles gained in a week, in a month or in a year is always asked. Nobody can tell the answer to this question. Reading this short summary it should be obvious, there is no exact solution or formula to calculate it. Genetical factors such as training (technique, quantity, training system, level of the trainee, etc.), nutrition, supplements, timing, psychological factors, rest (mostly sleep), illnesses can all influence the extent of your potential for progression.

In reality, an absolute beginner who starts eating properly and trains hard can achieve 0,5-1kg gains/week for months, in case of superb genetics. An average-built person can be satisfied enough with 0,5-1kg gains monthly in the first year. If someone is not so lucky genetically, then they may struggle to gain 1-2kg a year.

Back to the basics, vol.2

Nutrition

Nutrition

What does muscle consist of? Mostly water (75-80%), protein (15-20%) and a small amount of sugar (glycogen – 1%), lipids (1%) and mineral salts (1%). Part of the water content is bound to glycogen (four grams of water is bound to each gram of glycogen) but still, the most important component is protein. Without adequate protein intake there can be no muscle.  Also, without adequate carbohydrate intake then hydration will be poor, and there will not be sufficient gylcogen for the working muscles.

I will cover protein and carbohydrate requirements for body building in one of my next posts, but for now, in general:

5g or more carbs / body weight kg and 1.5-2g protein / body weight kg. In other words, a bodybuilder, who weighs 80kg needs 400g (1600 kCal) carbs and 120-160g protein (480-640 kCal), with a small amount of `good fat´.

Even with the best training plan, if these basic requirements are not met then the body won’t be able to build muscle because there is simply not enough building material for growth.

Protein sources: meats (preferably lean meats like chicken breast, turkey breast, lean cuts of beef, lean pork), fish, eggs, dairy (cheese, yoghurt, cottage cheese, ricotta, etc.)

Carbohydrate sources: rice (preferably brown or black rice), sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats, beans, wholemeal bread and pasta, quinoa, buckwheat

Fat sources: olives and olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, flax seed oil, oily seeds (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, etc.), oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackarel, etc.)

It can be beneficial if you eat at least 5-6 smaller meals a day. Smaller meals make it is easier to consume the required amount,  they are easier to digest, and they prevent insulin spikes during the day which helps us to build muscle and lose weight. This tweak in your diet (more frequent but smaller portions instead of 1-3 big meals) can work wonders, especially for novice exercisers.

How do I know how much to consume? The best option is to keep track of your meals by using a kitchen scale and a calorie table (or even an application like MyFitnessPal which you can download to your smartphone). After measuring your food intake for 1-2 weeks it will become a habit and you will learn the calorie content (or even macronutrient ratio) of your favourite meals. Without keeping track of your intake, you will not know why you aren’t improving or which supplements to use in order to reach your full potential.

There is one basic rule: everyone is different, everyone is an individual, and everyone has to find their own meal plan according to their goals, taste, and religious, ethical and health preferences. The most important is to monitor yourself, check the changes in your body, and try to find the amount of food that allows you to maintain your current weight. When you know this amount, then your first step towards weight gain is to increase this amount by 500 Kcal/week and see what happens. If you start gaining weight you are on the right path. If not, then increase your intake by a further 500 kCal/week…and so on. With a little experimentation you can find your perfect individual meal plan. For weight loss, it is the opposite process. After finding out the maintenance calorie amount, start decreasing your intake by 500 kCal/week (you should mostly reduce your carb intake) and try to find your ideal amount. There is no simple, universal equation for this as it depends on a lot of different variables like your rate of digestion, the quality of your food, your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day), your daily physical activity, and of course your training regime (frequency, intensity, duration, etc.)

Back to the basics

The Human body

The human body is a system which is constantly pursuing homeostasis to ensure that  internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant.

Throughout evolution, th11e human race has always had one main goal; survival. All of the biochemical reactions in the human body work to support this goal by operating in a self-controlled way to achieve equilibrium. In other words, the human race has developed in such a way that has allowed us to react to our environment – whether that be a lion or the changing of the seasons. When a lion would chase our ancestors, their bodies automatically increased their level of adrenalin so that they could multiply their efforts and climb up a tree or run away. Evolution has created a system which can quickly activate our reserves (e.g. running away from the lion) but then automatically and involuntarily restore the body back to a level of basic maintenance, which requires minimal energy, thereafter. Over time our reactions get better and better. This is how we learn, we become better runners, and this is how we can gain extra muscle mass.

Our genes define the size of our muscles. Muscle is an organ which is victim to the endeavours of homeostasis. Larger muscles would enable us to react more quickly to the danger, but the maintenance of the increased muscle mass would not necesarily be economical. This is why our bodies regulate the size of our muscles so that they will never be bigger than the optimal size suited to our environment, not even marginally. Even when at rest, our muscles require energy, fresh blood, oxygen, nutrients and tone maintenance. If we had bigger muscles we would need to eat all day just  to be able to maintain that mass. A few meals a day, intermittent fasting (seasons, migration, hunter-gatherer lifestyle) determined the size of our muscles.

Although the basic genetic heritage of all humans is identical,  everyone is different. Just like variations in height, hair colour, or the length of our fingers; the natural size of our muscles is also individual. Some of us inherited genes which allow us to gain more muscle mass and, unfortunately, there are people whose heritage is not so lucky. We cannot change that. Those with the ’not so lucky genes’ will always have a disadvantage as compared with the lucky ones. It’s the same with every other skill (reading, writing, singing or languages skills) we have; if someone has a talent for learning languages then it will be much easier for them to learn a dozen of languages than for those without that skill. Of course, it doesn’t mean that ’the unlucky ones’ are not capable of learning a dozen languages, but they have to work much harder and spend more time and energy to achieve the same result.

Muscle building

The purpose of muscle: exertion of force and, with the help of the force exertion, movement. Our system, restricted by genetic limits, creates  and maintains a muscle mass which is necessary for survival. If we constantly load up our body then our system will be forced to react to that and will make our muscles bigger. The bigger and more regular the load, the greater the muscular response. Therefore, without a training stimulus there will be no muscle gain because our automatic self-regulatory mechanism will only maintain the amount of muscle we really need. Without training there is no need for bigger muscles. At the moment our system reaches homeostasis, in this case when we have big enough muscles for our regular training regime, it will stop gaining further  muscle mass. What does this mean? It means, that our body is adapting to the training load and is relatively quickly reaching a state where further muscle gain is unnecessary. We have no other option but to increase the load. Unfortunately, there are limits to this as well. Our system defends itself by automatic self-regulation. If the training load is constantly too high without adequate rest periods then over-training syndrome can occur; which involves a collection of emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms including persistent fatigue, depression, immune supression, insomnia, etc. There is no way to avoid it; we must accept that our system will always persue homeostasis. If we strain a function, it will react by weakening another function.

What is the solution?

  1. Patience
  2. Cycles of progressive overload – in other words, we need to deceive our self-regulatory mechanisms

The only method of muscle development that is scientificaly proven and accepted is the cyclisation of progressive overload. In practice: we gradually increase the load for 4-8 weeks and, after reaching a plateau where we simply cannot increase it any further, we decrease it for 2-5 weeks by 15-25%, and start all over again. Every cycle can be started from a slightly higher level than the previous one and, in an ideal scenario, we can push a bit further as well. Furthermore, by applying a different type of load in each cycle we make it more difficult for our muscles to adapt to the load; thereby effectively tricking them into stretching the period before they return our system to homeostasis.

For this, we need endless patience. Sports, and especially body building, need a ton of perseverance and patience.

Why doesn’t everybody have huge muscles? On the one hand, because everyone has a different genetic heritage, and on the other hand, because not everyone has the perseverance.