Rest and its Importance in Muscle-building and Fat Loss

Introductory Note

After Diet and Supplementation, Rest is arguably the most important factor in amateur bodybuilding, and one that is often least understood and/or appreciated. Its importance is underlined by the fact that even if you get your workout, diet, and supplementation perfect, if you slip up on your Rest, you will find yourself worse off than when you began. The more experienced that one becomes at weight-training, the more important Rest becomes, since small changes in Rest Patterns, or even small increases in stress levels can be detrimental to muscle gains, and may even lead to unwanted fat gains! With this fair warning, let us get down to the meat of the matter without further ado.

Rest and its role in Muscle-Building

Even though I have stated at the very beginning of this blog series that it will be a strictly pragmatic approach to bodybuilding, I am quite tempted to include some theoretical material since this subject lends itself exceedingly well to scientific analysis. I will try to include only the necessary portions that will aid in appreciating the basic strategies outlined in this as well as the next section.

As briefly as possible, muscle fibers are composed of basic units called “sarcomeres”. These, in turn, are further comprised of two main components – “actins”, and “myosins”. Now, whenever a strenuous workout is performed in the gym, muscle fibers (i.e., the actins and myosins) are essentially damaged, or more correctly, torn. Now, this is a good thing insofar as the muscle damage is a controlled one. As 8 times Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, liked to say – “Stimulate;not annihilate!” with regards to workouts. These tears in the muscle fibers are what ultimately lead to stronger, and thereby thicker muscle fibers. For these muscle fibers to recuperate and become stronger, what is required is a good diet along with good supplementation, and even more importantly, sufficient rest to allow the muscle fibers to absorb the nutrients, and regrow as stronger fibers. This is the reason why there should be ideally around a minimum of a day’s rest before hitting the same body part twice in a week. This is also the reason why most workout routines are organized as – Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Legs. There is an alternating cycle between Push (such as Chest or Shoulders exercises), and Pull (such as Back exercises) routines. This allows the general area of a muscle group to recuperate while another part is being worked out. Makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Note: The last part of paragraph above applies to natural bodybuilders. When someone is on anabolic steroids (and associated chemicals), the chemistry is quite different – these good people can work out multiple sessions in a single day, and target the same body part multiple times in a week since these anabolic steroids allow their muscle fibers to recuperate at a much much faster rate, absorb nutrients substantially better, keep cortisol (the main stress hormone) at bay, and even provide tremendous energy during the workout itself. On an unrelated note, the reason why people on steroids can eat many thousands of Calories a day, and still gain very little fat is due to the nature of the steroids again. Do not try any of these if you intend to be a natural bodybuilder!

Finally, let us discuss the wonderful phenomenon of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). This is a wretched pain that strikes the body as a whole (and the body part that had been worked out specifically) anywhere between 24 hours to 72 hours after a certain body part has been worked out. This is one of the main reasons why a lot of people quit after just a couple of weeks in the gym. Never mind the pain – it’s just your actins and myosins tearing up after a strenuous workout. If you know that this pain is in fact good for your muscle gains, it might make it just a bit more palatable! If you are just starting out, you will feel definitely feel this pain because your body is yet to get adjusted to the stresses of weight-training. You can in fact use this pain as a gauge to see if your workout needs a bit of a shake-up. If you become kind of stagnant at a specific level, DOMS will entirely disappear. This is both good and bad – good since it means that you are regular enough to the gym (trust me, a small break, and you will encounter this pain all over again), and bad since it most probably means that you have reached a plateau in your workout regimen. You can mix it up by trying something different – increasing the sets, weights (recommended), or simply throwing in a burn set (explained in detail in the blog on workouts), or a Full-Body Workout every few weeks or so. Just a note of caution though – some people get addicted to the experience of DOMS, and get overly worried that they are not making progress if they experience little to no DOMS. Don’t worry about that – the best yardstick of your progress are your own eyes, and the weighing machine! Love the pain, but not too much.

Recommended Strategy

  • I recommend resting every major body part at least one whole day between workouts. As mentioned before, for the amateur bodybuilder, the time-tested workout routine of Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, and Legs for a 5-day workout routine will suffice.
  • Ensure that you stay away from weight-training during the weekends/rest days. A little bit of cardio is fine, especially if done the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) way.
  • DOMS, or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness is a natural part of weight-training. It means that your body is actively working to make your muscle fibers stronger, and thereby bigger. Use it as a gauge to monitor your workout routines, but judge your gains visually, and by using the weighing machine.
  • Try to get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Getting sleep in bits of a couple of hours each is not the same. If you can get only 5 hours of sleep each night, get those in a single stretch.
  • Try and go to sleep at more or less the same time each night – it helps regulate your Circadian Sleep Rhythm. Remember that HGH (Human Growth Hormone), which enhances your muscle gains, is released by your body during deep sleep.

Rest and its role in Fat Loss

You might be surprised to learn that sufficient rest also enhances your fat loss rate. Note that this information is in the context of weight-training, and its after-effects. When you put in a strenuous workout in the gym (I suggest no less than 30 minutes, no more than 60 minutes), in addition to your muscle fibers being torn, your body senses tremendous stress to itself. This stress causes the release of cortisol, a hormone that is detrimental to your muscle gains. On average, for a natural bodybuilder, cortisol gets generated in enough amounts after around 45 minutes of workout that the gains from weight-training are overshadowed by the loss due to cortisol. This is because cortisol’s main job is to start burning your muscle for energy, and start storing any excess Calories in your body as fat. This is the body’s Survival Mechanism at work.

Now if you perform strenuous activity within a short time after your workout, your cortisol levels will still be high, and any Calories that you consume during this time will be stored as fat instead of being directed to your starving muscle fibers! Thus, in addition to keeping your workout to around 45-60 minutes per session (i.e., once a day), ensure that you do not engage in any major physical activities for the rest of the day.

Note: In addition to physical stress, if you have high mental or emotional stress, your body will still respond to it as it does to any form of stress – by releasing huge amounts of cortisol. This is the reason why you might notice that when you are stressed out at work, you tend to gain fat, especially in the abdominal region (for men) leading to that ugly gut. So learn to regulate your mental stress levels as well.

Recommended Strategy

  • Keep your workout sessions under a hour at most. This helps prevent muscle loss due to cortisol being released by the body to counter the “stress” of the workout.
  • Cortisol is a hormone released by the body to counter stress experienced by it. The downside of cortisol is that it burns muscle tissue for energy, and stores any consumed/extra Calories as body fat.
  • Do not engage in any strenuous activities for at least a few hours (I would recommend the rest of day, if possible) following your workout session.
  • Mental or emotional stress is the same as physical stress as far as the body is concerned. It counters both by releasing insane amount of cortisol as a defense mechanism. Try and regulate your mental stress levels to ensure that you do not gain unwanted fat.

That’s as short as I could keep this important topic. In case any points need further clarification, I would be happy to do so in a future blog post. In the next blog, I will cover the important (and interesting) topic of “Diet”, and various strategies associated with it.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Rest and Muscle-Building

Supplementation

Supplementation is an important aspect of modern amateur bodybuilding. Protein supplements have come a long way from the earliest available supplements – the last half-a-century of improvements in protein extraction and refinement technologies have ensured that even a moderately priced protein supplement can give substantial results within a short period of time.

In this short blog post, I will discuss the various supplements available to the amateur bodybuilder, how to choose them based on contents rather than brand name or pricing (including the supplements that I have used and attained results with), and how to mix the various supplements together.

What supplements?

For the novice bodybuilder, the following supplements should suffice, in addition to a well-rounded diet (which I will cover in detail in an upcoming blog post):

  • Protein supplements
  • Creatine Monohydrate
  • Pre-workout mixes (Nitric Oxide based) (optional)
  • Testosterone Booster (optional)
  • Multi-vitamins

Let us discuss each one of these supplement types in greater detail in the following sub-sections.

Protein supplements

The most important supplement for any person interested in any level of weight training. Muscles (or more precisely, the musculo-skeletal system) are what generate the vast majority of one’s strength. I recall an amusing argument I had with a so-called “certified fitness instructor” who claimed that the CNS (Central Nervous System) was the most important factor contributing to strength. As an example, he presented to me the case of the humble ant, who can purportedly lift 20 times its own body weight. Yes, that is quite some feat indeed, but unfortunately that is not due to the CNS, or even due to super-strong muscles. That is just plain physics – at those scales, the surface area to volume ratio is extremely large, and as anybody with common sense can tell, muscle strength is proportional to cross-sectional area of the muscles. Humans, on the other hand, have very low surface area to volume ratios. Scale a human down to the size of an ant (keeping the same proportion of muscles), and he will lift well over 20 times his own body weight. He grumpily accepted the answer, and then presented forth another example as anecdotal evidence to support his premise: his very stout, short friend in the gym who could lift as much as his own body weight while some of the larger guys in the gym could barely lift a fraction of their own body weight. Sigh. He failed to realize that it was the same principle at work. I realized that if people can get certified, and yet have no innate understanding of the basic principles of their chosen field of specialization, that gives a good indication of the value of these certifications. That is why I place more credence on the opinions of people who have actually tried it out and achieved results rather than those who spout off grandiose terms without any inherent understanding whatsoever. Anyway, I digress.

In terms of protein supplements, there are only two things that you need to consider; 100% Whey Isolate proteins, and BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids). The former will form the bedrock of your protein supplementation, while the latter will be highly useful to maintain (and actually gain) lean muscle during the Cutting Phase (as mentioned in the previous blog). Forget Casein (leave that to professional bodybuilders who have the time, energy and motivation for that kind of experimentation), forget the highfalutin pre-mixed Mass Gainer concoctions (Muscle Milk. Extreme Mass Gainer etc.) that promise to bulk you up with their unique combination of carbs, proteins, and fats (avoid those like the plague, unless you want to end up a diabetic hypertensive obese schmuck), forget the protein concentrates that promise the best of both worlds (“there is no free lunch”). Stick with the basics, and stick with them good.

In order to give a good idea of what to look for when buying a 100% Whey protein supplement, let me show the contents of one of my favorite whey isolates, which has given me fantastic results: GNC Whey Isolate 28:

GNC_Isolate_28_Facts

(Note: Interesting bit about the last information line in the image – it says that we get 9 Calories, 4 Calories, and 4 Calories from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins respectively. This is factually true, and has interesting implications: ultimately what matter is the total Calorific intake. If you are counting Calories, and say that your optimum intake is around 3000 Calories per day, you could get those calories from any of the macro-nutrients. The advantage of 4 Calories per gram of protein is that it allows you to consume much more protein while still sticking to the total Calorific intake! In fact you can consume twice as much protein as fats for the same Calories. This means that weight trainers benefit by being able to consume much more protein as part of their daily diet, and still not overload on their Calories. This aids muscle building, and keeps fat gains at bay.

Also note the ambiguity in popular media about the terms “calorie” and “Calorie”, and they mostly use the terms interchangeably. A “Calorie” (with a capital C represents a food calorie, and is equivalent to 1000 calories (with a small c). So, it can be said that a gram of protein is equivalent to 4 Calories, or 4000 calories. Even websites like http://www.livestrong.com get it completely wrong, and end up confusing the average layperson. Be aware of this difference as it can cause much confusion while counting Calorific content of food items. Always ask/check up if there is any confusion whatsoever whenever purchasing said items.)

So what do I see? I see that I get 28.00g of protein per scoop (this is excellent even though the scoop size is quite large). I also get only 0.5g of saturated fat (always go for a supplement that gives you the inevitably extra Calories through fat rather than sugar, of which only 2.00g is present, which is still better than most of the other supplements out there). The good bit is that there is zero trans-fats, which is the real killer. Moving on, I get no vitamins at all. This is not a problem since that is the job of the multi-vitamins. Most importantly, I get only 5.00mg of cholesterol (go for a supplement that has this value as low as possible). I also get 110.00mg of Sodium (which is a decently low value, try to keep this value minimally low as well), and then I have 280.00mg of Potassium (excellent! This more than balances out the already minimal Sodium. Potassium is extremely vital for your muscles, especially after a workout. Try to find a supplement which has a good high value for this metal). My conclusion? This is a good supplement since it gives you the core ingredient (protein isolate) in good quantities, while maintaining very low levels for other elements, which are essentially impurities present in any refinement procedure for whey protein. The other advantage of going for a good brand like GNC is that you can be more assured that they will have only trace elements of the heavy metals (such as copper, mercury etc.), which are extremely dangerous for your health, as compared to lesser known brands. It may seem trivial, but it is well worth the extra money, I assure you. You certainly do not want to wind up like the bloke who ended up in a hospital with a huge clogged heart from all the cholesterol from the cheap local brand of whey protein that he was using, do you?

(Note: Take all online reviews of supplements with a pinch of salt, even the ones posted on supposedly neutral supplement review websites. Many brands spam these sites with fake users posting good reviews of their own products as well as negative reviews of their competitors. Use your discretion!)

To summarize, keep these factors in mind while checking out any protein supplement:

  • Go for a good brand (GNC, Dymatize, Ultimate Nutrition, and Optimum Nutrition are the ones that I have tried out, of which I prefer GNC). Generally, the more expensive, the better. Just like in real life.
  • Check for the levels of these after checking the protein content per scoop, with desirable values in parentheses: Cholesterol (minimal), Sodium (minimal), Potassium (more than the Sodium content), Trans-fats (nil), Sugar (minimal), Fats(minimal, but better than sugar any day).
  • For the extra Calories present per scoop, prefer the one which gives it through fats (saturated) rather than sugar. It is the lesser of two evils.
  • Some supplements do give a breakdown of the protein itself (Leucine, Alanine, Arganine, etc.). Don’t worry too much about that. Protein Isolates are made up of tons of amino acids (and some BCAAs). The relative percentages of these contents do not really matter in terms of gains. Special note for BCAAs: BCAAs are simply special forms of amino acids (the base components of any protein). Some essential BCAAs are Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine, etc. These are called “essential” since they cannot be produced or synthesized in our body. From a weight training perspective, BCAAs have the wonderful advantage that they are the fastest absorbing proteins available – they are literally directly absorbed into the blood-stream within minutes of consumption. As such, as I have already posted in the previous blog on Weight training Strategies, they are best used during the Cutting phase to maintains lean muscle levels. Most decent brands will have good quantities of BCAAs mixed with their Whey Isolate, but you can still consume around 2-3g of BCAAs post-workout. Just ensure that you take the BCAAs immediately after workout, and then your whey isolate after about 10-15 minutes.(Note: I did an experiment one time for a few months where I took only BCAAs in relatively large quantities as my protein supplement. What resulted was the densest lean muscle that I ever gained. It would be amazing to get that lean fitness model or athletic swimmer look!)
  • Lastly, never underestimate the role of taste in choosing your protein supplement. It might seem laughable when you taste it for the first time, but try ingesting that stuff day in and day out for months, and you will literally feel like puking your guts out, if you didn’t like the taste to start off with. GNC Isolate 28 tastes extremely good (the chocolate one). I usually go for non-flavored ones (very hard to find), or for chocolate if I can help it. Somehow, I don’t like vanilla as much. There was this supplement from Ultimate Nutrition that I tried out once (Iso Xtreme Mass Gainer) that was flavored as “Cookies ‘n Cream”. It was delicious the first time I tasted it, and then I spent the rest of the month dry-heaving the whole day. Absolutely atrocious!

(Note: Aside from the taste, be aware that any new protein usually takes some time to get adjusted with your stomach. You might experience some irritable bowels for a couple of days. Don’t worry too much about it – it definitely gets easier).

Supplements that I have tried:

Creatine Monohydrate

Arguably the most important supplement after isolate protein. It is a great pre-workout drink, and can also be mixed with your post-workout protein shake. Used as a pre-workout supplement, you should take it around an hour before your workout. It will give you much better results – great energy during the workout, and that wonderful “pump” in your muscles. Despite many people claiming that there needs to be a “loading phase” for creatine (as in, load up with 10-15g of creatine for a week, and the stabilize to 5g per day after that week), I find it to be utter nonsense. I would recommend the following mode of usage for your creatine supplement: use around 5g mixed with around 180ml of water for your pre-workout drink an hour before your workout. Mix around 5g along with your protein supplement for your post-workout drink. It will ensure a more sustained pump. The role of the pump is that it allows the nutrients (via your blood) to more easily reach your torn muscle fibers, and better replenish them. This, in turn, aids better muscle hypertrophy leading to more muscle gains in the long run. In addition, creatine gives you tremendous energy during your workout.

While protein supplements will need to be taken throughout the year (even during non-workout days, when you can take half as much protein as you take on a workout day), creatine can be cycled on and off. I usually like to cycle creatine throughout the year, and lay off it only if I need to get super ripped during my Cutting phase. The reason for this is that creatine can and does lead to some water retention in your muscles. This is the reason why your muscles will be pumped up as hell after a good workout (only for an hour or so though). Just make sure that you drink plenty of water (at least 2-3l of water spread out over the day).

Creatine also comes in Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) form in addition to Monohydrate form. I have tried out CEE, but was not impressed. I would suggest that you stick to a good brand of Creatine Monohydrate. To summarize:

  • Get a decent brand of Creatine Monohydrate. (I have tried out Ultimate Nutrition as well as GNC both with decent results. Brand name doesn’t really matter as much for creatine as it does for protein supplements. Neither of them worked half as well though as that creatine that my partner had introduced to me the first time around. That stuff was amazing, and when I say amazing, I mean it. If I can get hold of the product name, I will update this blog with its name).
  • Stick onto Creatine Monohydrate for some time (give it at least a year) before you experiment with esoteric stuff like Creatine Ethyl Ester (the stuff didn’t work as well for me as Monohydrate did).
  • Forget the loading phase, stick with 5g pre-workout, and 5g post-workout. Cycle on during Bulking, and off during Cutting if you want to, but it’s not required.
  • Creatine Monohydrate will give you good energy and muscle pump during workout, and a pump for some time post-workout.
  • Expect some stomach disturbances for the first week or two while using creatine.
  • For your kidney’s sake, drink enough water (2-3l per day, spread out), especially while taking creatine. And no, Gatorade is not water.
  • Creatine is also found in natural meat like beef, and that’s why you get a much better pump when taking beef as opposed to lean meat like chicken. Ditto for the strength gains. More on beef vs chicken in the blog on diet.

Pre-workout supplements (Nitric Oxide based)

Well, I am in two minds about posting information on this one. There is a lot of claim floating around that these drinks magically improve your workout performance. I severely beg to differ, but since I have tried them out, let me give you my experiences with them.

Most pre-workout supplements come branded as “Nitric Oxide” based supplements. However, I could find no evidence of the same by reading their contents. They mostly seem to contain an insane amount of caffeine (which would explain the energy boost) as well as large quantities of carbohydrates. Arguably though, carbohydrates is good during your workout since they supply the energy required for the workout to your muscles. Always remember – carbohydrates power your muscles during workout, protein rebuilds your muscles (specifically the torn muscle fibers) into thicker stronger muscles post-workout. That last bit is quite important – muscle hypertrophy when working out naturally is in the form of thicker muscle fibers. You never increase the total number of muscle fibers, unless you take anabolic steroids. This explains why bodybuilders on juice gain so much more muscle mass than any natural bodybuilder could ever dream of obtaining.

Some of the supplements in this category that I have tried out are listed below:

Instead of wasting your valuable money on these supplements, I will give you a free pre-workout energy booster (over and above Creatine Monohydrate): a cup of black coffee, and some simple carbohydrates (such as a chicken sandwich, or a granola bar) an hour before your workout. The coffee will give you the caffeine at virtually no cost, and the simple carbohydrates will give you the fuel required for your workout. Case closed.

Testosterone Boosters

Now we come to the most controversial supplement of them all – testosterone boosters or “t-boosters” as they are also known. A lot of people often have an inherent fear of them as soon as they hear the expression “testosterone booster”. Probably horrifying images of anabolic steroids, gynecomastia, and heart problems flash through their minds. Heh. Relax, that’s all complete and utter nonsense. T-boosters are anything but anabolic steroids. All this hype does is underline the importance of doing due research for yourself before believing “facts” either way.

I was initially skeptical about the efficacy of such t-boosters, and boy, was I surprised by my experience! Most decent t-boosters will contain extracts from the Tribulus terrestris plant. These are the t-boosters worth considering. Many other t-boosters that do not contain this extract are, well, worthless. They may contain tons of other acids and chemicals, but all they will do is give you a nice set of pimples on your face (Nutrex T-Up, for instance).

The one that did work wonderfully for me was Ultimate Nutrition’s TestostroGrow2Hp (http://www.ultimatenutrition.com/catalog/sports_nutrition/testostrogrow2hp.html). Despite its fucked up name, it was really potent. After a week of usage, I could feel the tightness and denseness in my muscles, and my lifts increased by anywhere between 20-30%. A side-effect of this was increased libido, but hey, I am not complaining! There are some supplements going by the generic name of “horny goat weed” (supposedly based on extracts from the Epimedium plant), but I haven’t tried them out so I had best not comment on their efficacy or results. My recommendation? If your t-booster contains Tribulus terrestris, give it a shot. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle regarding the cycling of the product. This bit is really important.

Multi-vitamins

After that controversial supplement, it’s wise to end on a positive note. Finally we come to the most neglected supplement of them all – multi-vitamins. I must confess that I myself have been a major skeptic of the usefulness of this mini-supplement. Multi-vitamins are important for our health since even our normal diets barely give us a handful of the micro-nutrients that we really require, and when we move on to a bodybuilding diet, these figures drop down even more. From a weight training perspective, the double advantage of taking multi-vitamins is that they enhance the body’s ability to recuperate from a punishing workout. They help the muscles absorb vital protein and other nutrients much more efficiently, thereby enhancing their growth. Even more importantly, they take care of your kidneys and liver, which is crucial in the long run.

While multi-vitamins can easily be obtained from the local pharmacist and combined together, the mathematics involved is best left to people with far more time and purpose than the amateur bodybuilder. I would highly recommend going for a good brand and sticking to the recommended dosage. Personally, I take two caplets of GNC’s Mega Men Sport (http://www.gnc.com/product/index.jsp?productId=4033435) – one with lunch, and one with dinner. The differences can be felt in subtle ways – better sense of wellbeing, good energy throughout the day, and no health issues related to weight training whatsoever. They are pricey, but for me personally, my health is worth much more than the small price that I pay for these supplements!

(Note: Multi-vitamins can, and should, be taken throughout the year.)

In the next blog post, I will cover the topic of rest, and its role in muscle-building and fat loss.

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

Overall Strategies

In this second blog post of the series, I will discuss the following strategies:

  • Weight-gaining (as in mass building) .
  • Getting ripped (as in losing body fat while maintaining muscle mass).
  • Long-term vs Short-term strategies.
  1. Background

    Bodybuilding usually comprises of the following two basic stages: Bulking, and Cutting. The exact duration of each stage depends on the specific needs of the person, and as such, will vary from individual to individual.

    Bulking usually refers to the stage where one aims to gain as much muscle mass as possible while gaining minimal; body fat. The idea is to increase the overall mass of the body considerably beyond one’s target body mass, so that during the Cutting stage, the final body mass can be brought to around the initial target mass. For instance, a person who currently weighs, say, 65Kg might have a target of around 80Kg at a specific percentage of body fat. I personally do not believe in the body fat nonsense since it is hardly an accurate parameter, but especially because what matters in the end is the visual appeal of the body. One’s eyes are the best judge of where the body is at! So, during the bulking phase, the said person might eventually go to around 90Kg of body mass by the end of the phase.  This is important since during the bulking phase, one will inevitably gain a substantial amount of body fat in addition to pure muscle mass.

    Cutting refers to the stage after the Bulking stage, where the idea is to get rid of the excess fat gained during Bulking whilst maintaining as much of the muscle mass as possible. This ensures that the muscles appear more prominent and striated due to the reduced body fat around them (sub-cutaneous fat). An important point to discuss here is the difference between sub-cutaneous fat and visceral fat. Sub-cutaneous fat refers to the fat lodged between the skin and the muscles whereas visceral fat is the fat that is found around the internal organs, i.e., between the muscles and the surface of the internal organs. During Cutting, the aim is to reduce sub-cutaneous fat to the maximum possible extent. Unfortunately, we do not have much control over visceral fat. While visceral fat does not detract from the visual aspect of the muscles, it can be detrimental to overall health is present in large quantities. This is the reason why body fat calculation is complete bullshit – they cannot measure visceral fat. Proper diet can mitigate the problem of visceral fat to a certain extent if one is careful with one’s diet, especially during the Bulking phase. So during this phase, the aforementioned person will aim to drop from 90Kg to his target mass of around 80Kg. The aim is to ensure that the 10Kg lost during this phase is primarily sub-cutaneous fat.

  2. Weight-gaining / Bulking Stage Strategy

    As mentioned before, the length of this stage will depend on multiple factors – the current conditioning of the person, his overall target, and his diet patterns. Overall, the common idea is to gain as much muscle mass as possible with minimal fat gain. For a person in moderate conditioning (low to medium body fat content), I would recommend setting a Bulking phase of around 3-6 months (ideally the latter). If a person has considerable body fat content, I would suggest that he reduce his fat content first by starting off with the Cutting phase instead. Remember: Bulking and Cutting always cycle together in alternate stages/phases.

    • Diet:

      The person should eat around 3-4 small or mid-sized meals per day. A lot of people count calories, but I prefer to count the protein content instead. This makes the job much easier, and ensures similar (if not better) results. Meals should be roughly in this proportion: 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates, and 20% good fats. I will cover the diet aspect in a separate detailed blog post.  I would recommend pushing the simple carbohydrates (rice, breads, etc) toward the first half of the day while consuming complex carbohydrates (vegetables) in the second half of the day. In addition to these 3-4 meals, he should also consume his protein shakes.

      The rule of thumb is to consume around 1.5g-2.0g of protein per pound of body mass. That is, if a person wants to have an ideal weight of around 80Kg, that would translate to around 240g of protein per day. I would suggest consuming 100g of this from protein shakes, while obtaining the remaining 140g from meat. That should translate to, say, one protein shake of 400g in the morning, and 60g of protein shake post workout. The reason for this division of protein consumption is the fact that the body cannot absorb more than around 50g of protein at a sitting. We compensate for the body’s less-than-perfect protein absorption rate by consuming slightly more post-workout since this is the most crucial time for protein intake for the body.

      All in all, one has to remember a simple fact – to gain muscle mass, you have to consume more calories than you expend during the day. You cannot grow if there is a calorific deficiency – it’s just plain common sense. The idea is to make sure that most of those calories come from protein than the other macro nutrients. The workout provides that very stimulus – it creates a severe protein deficiency in the body. This ensures that the body can consume more protein and thereby grow more muscle mass than under normal circumstances.

    • Supplementation: 

      I would recommend 100% Whey Isolate protein supplements, multi-vitamins, and Creatine Monohydrate. I will cover these supplements in a later blog post, but at this stage, I would like to emphasize one important bit - never scrimp on supplements. Usually, the more expensive the better. Also, always check the contents of the supplement scrupulously. You might be getting more sugar, saturated fat, cholesterol, or Sodium than you bargained for.

      100% Whey Isolate is the bread-and-butter of the amateur bodybuilder’s supplementation. This is the fastest absorbing protein that money can buy! Forget all those people who imagine protein is all the same. Absolute bullshit. The most crucial part of the workout is the period after the workout (I would say 20 mins). You must feed your body the protein it craves during this window. Whey Isolate works extremely quickly and gets digested well within the 20 mins post-workout period. Normal meat protein will take up to an hour or more to get digested, and so it is practically useless for post-workout.

      Creatine Monohydrate has a mixed reputation in the bodybuilding world. In my experience though, it is extremely useful. Go for a good brand, forget any other creatine apart from Monohydrate, forget the “loading phase” bullshit, take around 5g pre-workout, and 5g post-workout (mixed with your protein shake). Make sure that if you do take Creatine, you drink at least 2-3l of water spread out over the day. Your kidneys will thank you for it. Creatine is amazing because it gives the required energy for the workout. And you will get a pump like you never have in your life!

      Multi-vitamins are useful in many subtle ways. A lot of people think that they don’t work because they cannot see any obvious results of taking multi-vitamins. However, they are crucial to bodybuilding. They help repair your body, give you essential nutrients especially when you are on a strict diet (and surprisingly, even otherwise), they facilitate the body’s ability to absorb and use the nutrients from your food and supplementation. I suggest going for a very good brand (you can get the same combination much much cheaper by buying separate pills from the pharmacy, but I suggest that you leave that to the professional bodybuilders), and consuming 2-3 caplets/tablets/capsules per day, or as recommended on the cover.

    • Workout: 

      The workout regimen can be arranged in the following cyclic pattern: Chest, Back, Shoulders and Neck, Arms, and Legs. That makes for a 5 day workout routine. The most important thing to remember during Bulking is to aim for muscle hypertrophy and strength-building. To this end, the workouts should comprise primarily of free weights (dumbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc.) rather than machines.

      Also, the idea if to workout with as heavy a weight as possible. I would suggest 6-8 different exercises per body part, and 4 sets per exercise. Try to aim to 6-8 reps during strength-building, and 8-12 reps during mass-building (hypertrophy). The important part to remember is that the rep count should be the guide for the weight used – you should not be able to physically do more than a couple of reps beyond the 6-8 or 8-12 rep count for the given set. To make better sense of it, remember, for instance, that you can start off the first set with 12 reps, the second set with 10 reps, the third with 8 reps, and the fourth with 8 reps.

      Aim for around 1 minute rest between exercises. In between sets, you should aim for a rest period equivalent to that of the set itself. For instance, if a set takes 15 seconds to complete, rest for 15 seconds before the next set. Here is where having a partner becomes advantageous – you can basically rest while your partner is doing his set, and vice-versa.  Finally, try to mix it up with a burn-set routine every few weeks. The importance of this cannot be overstated. More details in the blog post on workouts.

      (Note: I am not a big fan of cardio personally, but if I had to choose, I would suggest HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio to LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio. That is to say, I would rather do 6-8 minutes of high intensity sprints on the treadmill (or a full body workout of similar duration) rather than spend 40-60 minutes trundling on the treadmill. Swimming, hiking in a hilly terrain, rock-climbing etc. are all good cardio workouts too. Cardio is recommended once or twice per week during Bulking phase, just to keep the body fat gains under control.)

  3. Getting ripped/Cutting phase Strategy

    The Cutting phase immediately follows the Bulking phase. Again, as in the case of the Bulking phase, the duration of this phase depends on multiple factors. A good rule of thumb is to have the Cutting phase to be around a third of the duration of the Bulking phase. For instance, if the Bulking phase is 3 months, the Cutting phase can be around a month or less. If the Bulking phase is chosen to be 6 months, I would recommend keeping the Cutting phase at around 1.5 months to 2 months at most.

    How conditioned you want to get dictates the length of the Cutting phase. This is especially germane to the discussion since you will not gain any muscle mass during Cutting. Your primary aim is to get rid of the excess fat gained during Bulking, while maintaining as much of the lean muscle mass as possible. The only reason why the muscles appear more prominent and shapely, and more striated is the fact that the overlying layers of sub-cutaneous fat are being rid off during this phase. This is the crucial phase for getting that six-pack that everybody is after! The general pattern of the Cutting phase is broken down into the following sections, just as in the case of the Bulking phase:

    • Diet:

      A good diet is absolutely vital during this phase, even more so than the Bulking phase. While you can get away with a few slippages in your diet during bulking, you cannot afford the same during the Cutting phase. The interesting bit about diet during the Cutting phase is that you can choose a radical approach (low/no carb) or a conservative approach (medium to low carb intake).

      If you go for the low/no carb approach (arguably the best results that you can get), make sure that you drink plenty of water, and perhaps some yoghurt, to ensure that your stomach does not too acidic. This can lead to digestive system problems later on, so be careful right from the onset. Eat around 3-4 meals as before, with smaller portions. Keep your protein intake the same (using the 1.5g to 2g per pound of body weight calculation). The logical bit here is that to lose weight (fat in this case), your net calorific input (food/supplementation) should be lower than your calorific output (in the form of your workouts). The idea is to ensure that most of the weight loss is due to fat, and a minimal amount due to muscle mass. And again, as in the case of Bulking, your workouts will create that calorific deficiency. Now, in this specific diet, you eschew carbohydrates completely, and consume a minimal amount of good fats(required for testosterone production, and thereby body fat burning). A sample breakdown per meal could be: 70%-90% protein, 0%-20% complex carbohydrates, and 10% good fats. Eating at least 4 meals per day will further boost your metabolism and help burn further body fat.

      The medium to low carb approach follows much of the same rules as the low/no carb approach, except that the breakdown of each meal might look something like this: 60%-70% protein, 10%-20% complex carbohydrates, and 10% good fats. This approach is recommended for the novice bodybuilder. In both approaches, target for 2-3l of water spread out over the day.

      (Note: Be prepared for a massive drop in energy levels during this phase due to the lower intake of carbohydrates. This is normal, and to be expected. Your body usually gets used to it within a couple of weeks.)

    • Supplementation:

      Supplementation remains more or less the same as during the Bulking phase. Again, aim to consume around 40% of your protein intake from 100% Whey isolates, and the remaining from lean meats. Continue with Creatine Monohydrate for the first few weeks of Cutting, and then eliminate it completely for the last couple of weeks or so. This is important since Creatine does tend to give a bit of bloat to the body, and you don’t want that if you are aiming for a six-pack, do you? Continue with multi-vitamins as before, and this phase requires this even more than the Bulking phase.

      (Note: For fitness models, if they have a photo shoot coming up, they follow an interesting strategy.  They follow all the rules mentioned above, and in addition, a week before the photo shoot, they drop water consumption down to a couple of cups a day. The logic behind this is that when a person is imbibing 2-3l of water a day, his body figures that it does not need to retain much water, and thus leads to frequent trips to the toilet. By the time the person has cut off the supply of water to just a couple of cups a day, the body is still in the same mode, and keep water from the body at the same rate as before. This leads to super-striated muscles, and the typical Health Magazine cover look with extreme shredding.)

      Finally, one additional supplement that can be considered during the Cutting phase is Amino acids, or BCAAs (Branch Chained Amino acids). These are present in minute quantities in normal Whey Isolates, but the main difference is that these are the fastest absorbing proteins, even more so than 100% Whey Isolate. Additionally, they have the added benefit of creating dense, lean muscle. My personal experience has been quite positive, and I would suggest taking them immediately post-workout (usually you just need 2-5g of it), and then consuming the Whey Isolate after 15 minutes or so (well within the 20 minute post-workout window).

    • Workout:

      The exercise regimen remains more or less the same as during the Bulking phase with some major differences:

      • Use more machines (Smith machine, cables etc.) during this time rather than free weights.
      • Have around 8 exercises per body part.
      • Target around 4 sets per exercise, 12-15 reps at moderate weight.
      • Plan for a fifth set (a burn set) with 15-20 reps at light weight (you can use the same weight as the first set).
      • You can mix it up with supersets (combination of two body parts), reverse-pyramid (reducing the weight, upping the reps) etc.
      • Aim for around 45 seconds break between exercises. This should be fine since only moderate weights are used.

      (Note: Cardio takes a more important role during this time than in the Bulking phase. Even so, I would recommend 3-4 sessions of cardio per week at most, and then completely stopping it in the last week of Cutting. Also, remember to separate the cardio and weight-training sessions by a minimum of 4-6 hours. This is absolutely vital in ensuring minimal loss of muscle mass. I will discuss on the best time and form of cardio when I discuss the actual workouts in a later post.)

  4. Long-term vs Short-term Strategies

    Personally, I believe that weight-training in any form is a life-changing and life-long process. The aim is to gain esthetic appeal while attaining, and maintaining good health throughout. A long-term strategy is best suited for this, and is also helpful in getting used to the whole weight-training, dieting,, and supplementation regimen. To that end, I would recommend following a 6 month Bulking phase, followed by a 1.5 month Cutting phase, and then cycling it all over again. I don’t believe in any “maintenance phase”, and I would club that with the Bulking phase itself. Professional bodybuilders do have an off-season where they may allow themselves to get out of shape. For amateur bodybuilders, this is an absolute waste of time and effort.

    Some people would, however, like to see some results in a relatively short time. Perhaps to get ready for the beach, a photo shoot, or a sports event etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, even though it is clearly inferior to the long-term strategy approach. In fact, this can even be incorporated into the long-term strategy without any substantial conflict of interests. Most fitness models do follow this approach since they have to be ready and ripped for a photo shoot any time during the year. What this approach does require, however, is that the person be in relatively good shape (medium to low body fat, a little bit of weight-training history), and also a massive desire for the short-term goal. I would recommend following a 2-3 month Bulking phase (if needed), followed by a month of Cutting (definitely needed). All other parameters and rules remain the same for both.

So, that’s it for general weight-training strategies. In the next blog post, I will discuss the various forms of available supplements, how to choose the right ones, their role in weight-training, and how to properly use them for maximum benefits, whatever your personal weight-training goal might be.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Strategies

Starting out

Background

Let me give a brief summary of my own bodybuilding experience thus far. It might help give some perspective of where I am coming from, and also some insight into the routine of an amateur bodybuilder who holds a day job! Feel free to skip this section if you want to get right down to it. I will also chart out the format that I want to follow in this series of initial blogs. There is a tremendous amount of condensed material, which, ultimately when one becomes familiar with, will feel disingenuously simple. After that, I can post customized blogs based on user feedback, if any.

I got my first introduction to amateur bodybuilding when a friend in office introduced me to it by sheer coincidence. It was early in 2007, and my friend had just joined my workplace. He had some experience with the basics of bodybuilding, and he was looking for a partner. I had always been interested in weight training, but had had no real experience in it till then. My whole experience was limited to calisthenics, simple dynamic exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, plain squats, bicep curls with dumb-bells, etc.). And as far as diet, rest patterns, supplementation, workout strategies, workout phases et al were concerned, I was a blank slate! One trait that my gym partner and I did have in common was our indefatigable interest in the whole sport, as well as a positive attitude about the whole process. This, I feel, is the single most important characteristic for succeeding in this, or any other enterprise.

My first workout was a total revelation for me – I was flabbergasted by the gamut of available exercises, overwhelmed by the available weights and machines, exhausted by the strenuous series of exercises, and completely befuddled by the inexplicable body pains two days later (this is known as DOMS, which I’ll cover in detail in a later post). It seemed much easier to give up rather than continue with this grueling schedule! However, my partner (thanks, mate!) persisted in following the 5-day workout routine rather than the 3-day workout (with rest days in between) that I proposed with my limited knowledge of workout patterns. The first month was absolutely crucial in ensuring that I have continued working out, more or less continuously, for the past 6 odd years. This basically leads me to the take-out from this whole section – have realistic expectations of the effort involved, be prepared to stake it out for the first month no matter the pain, and have a positive attitude toward weight-training, and a genuine desire to have a complete lifestyle change. It will be well worth it in the long run, and the sooner one starts out, the better.

Overview

I plan to follow the following rough plan to cover all the salient aspects of amateur bodybuilding in a series of blog posts that will occur (hopefully) with enough regularity:

  • Introduction (this post) to weight-training.
  • Overall strategies (weight gaining, getting ripped, long-term vs short-term targets).
  • Supplementation (Protein supplements, Creatine and other pre-workout aids, multi-vitamins etc.).
  • Rest and its importance in muscle-building and fat loss.
  • Diet (bulking diets, cutting diets, maintaining diets).
  • Workouts (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms (biceps, triceps, forearms), and legs).
  • Workout strategies (Drop-sets, Supersets, Pyramind, Reverse pyramid, Burn sets, Two bodyparts per workout, Full body workout, specialized equipment etc.).

It might seem a bit strange that instead of starting out with the workouts themselves and then moving onto the perceived ancillary topics such as rest and diet, I am going to do the exact opposite. I assure you that this order is well-chosen. In my experience, success in any weight-training program is contributed to roughly in the following proportion by these factors: 70% Rest, Diet and Supplementation, 20% Weight-training, and 10% genetics. Well, one cannot do much about the last part, but at least one can control 90% of the whole process!

So well, there it is. If there are any specific parts that you would like me to discuss, I’d be glad to incorporate those in this planned series. I choose not to overload this blog with information and theory that can be gleaned from hundreds of articles and sites. I plan to include those as side-notes in the blogs wherever I feel they are applicable.  I will conclude this first blog with links to some resources that I have personally found useful. I would suggest using them as references once you are comfortable with the whole weight-training regimen. The second disclaimer is that not all the information in there is accurate. Caveat emptor! Of course, you can always ask me about those bits that you find interesting, and I will try my best to give my experience on it. The bottom-line is this: in the end, one has to experiment and experience it all to find out what works well, and what does not. Our bodies are all the same, and yet they are different in subtle ways. These blogs should, however, ensure good results nevertheless since they have been tried and tested!

Resources

Posted in Uncategorized
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 47 other followers