Mention the word “anabolic” and most people immediately think: steroids! Anabolic steroid use has skyrocketed in recent years, particularly among young males. Alarmingly, almost six percent of middle school and high school students report having used these drugs.12 This behavior is largely fueled by the desire to attain a muscular physique, one that fills out a tight-fitting T-shirt and turns heads at the beach. Problem is, steroids have numerous side effects including acne, hair loss, mood swings and testicular shrinkage, amongst others. Not necessarily a desirable trade-off.
Fortunately, you can enhance your natural anabolic advantage by proper attention to diet and training. “The Anabolic Diet and Workout” is designed to enhance anabolic drive, maximizing gains in muscular development. If this sounds appealing, read on.
The Anabolic Diet
Packing on muscle is not just about what you do in the gym; it requires staunch attention to nutrition, as well. Both the types and quantity of nutrients that you consume will have a profound effect on your muscular gains. In other words, you must eat to grow! The following is an overview of each of these nutritional aspects relevant to muscle building.
No two ways about it: A caloric surplus is necessary if you want to build muscle. This is consistent with the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another. But unless you aspire to look like a sumo wrestler, the key here is to maintain calories in a range that promotes the development of lean mass rather than body fat. Depending on training experience, you can expect to gain a maximum of about one-half to one pound of muscle per week. Any increases in bodyweight over this amount will inevitably be in the form of unsightly fat.
To enhance lean muscle gains, aim to consume between 18 and 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. For instance, if you weigh 175 pounds, your target caloric intake should be approximately 3,150 to 3,500 calories a day. Understand, though, that this figure simply provides an estimate of calories needed; you must then experiment to find out what works best for you. Those who gain fat easily typically do better with a slightly lower caloric intake while “hard gainers” who have difficulty packing on muscle may need to consume significantly more— perhaps as much 25 calories per pound of bodyweight.
The best way to ensure that you’re consuming the proper amount of calories is to follow the “rule of 100.” Start off by consuming 18 to 20 calories per pound of bodyweight for a month or so. If you aren’t gaining enough mass, increase intake by an additional 100 calories a day; if, on the other hand, you are gaining too much fat, cut back intake by 100 calories a day. Evaluate your progress after a few weeks and continue tweaking in 100-calorie increments as necessary. Making these adjustments in a systematized fashion will allow you to fine-tune your diet so that gains in the muscle/fat ratio are optimized.
You probably know that muscle, like all bodily tissues, is comprised of protein. In fact, muscle makes up more than 60 percent of the body’s protein mass.14 Protein status in the body is determined by nitrogen balance (nitrogen is the compound that makes protein unique): A negative nitrogen balance means your body is breaking down proteins at a greater rate than it’s synthesizing them; a positive nitrogen balance means your body is creating new proteins faster than it is breaking them down; and a stable nitrogen balance means protein degradation and protein synthesis are in equilibrium. Based on this information, it should be apparent that a protein-rich diet is essential for optimizing body composition. If your intake of protein is not sufficient to make up for what is excreted, cellular function is comprised and your appearance, as well as overall health, inevitably suffers. Only by consuming protein in excess of losses (i.e., positive nitrogen balance) can you promote anabolism and enhance the quality of your physique.
Research clearly shows that serious lifters need substantially more protein than the average couch potato. No surprise here. Additional protein is critical to repair and remodel muscle tissue damaged by resistance training. How much do you need? Studies indicate that an intake of 0.7 to 0.9 g/lb is required to support anabolic processes in those who lift weights.6,18 This may actually be understating protein requirements if you train hard and heavy as amino acids— the building blocks of protein— can supply up to 10 percent of the body’s energy needs during intense, high-volume exercise. Taking all factors into account, protein intake should correspond to approximately one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This provides a margin of safety, ensuring you never fall into negative nitrogen balance. There really is no downside to the approach: Taking in a little extra protein won’t hurt; not getting enough surely will.
The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine have been shown to drive anabolic processes. Leucine, in particular, is believed to be a key metabolic regulator of muscle-protein synthesis.4 It is therefore important that your diet is rich in the essential amino acids, especially BCAAs. The good news is that all animal-based proteins (meats, dairy products, eggs, etc.) are complete proteins and contain ample amounts of BCAAs. So assuming you eat a variety of animal-based foods and consume the recommended amount of protein (~1 g/lb) protein quality is really not an issue; you are assured of getting all the amino acids you need for optimal development.
If you’re worried that consuming high levels of protein might damage your kidneys, rest easy. The belief that high-protein diets are detrimental to kidney function is based on studies carried out on those with renal disease. In otherwise healthy individuals, protein intakes well in excess of 1 g/lb have shown no adverse effects on kidney function.20, 25 Bottom line: unless you have existing kidney issues, a high-protein intake should not pose any problems to your health.
There continues to be a prevailing sentiment that carbs are inherently detrimental to body composition. As such, many lifters continue to adopt a ketogenic approach to nutrition, cutting carbs to a bare minimum. Don’t let carbophobia sabotage muscular development. If your goal is to pack on lean muscle, carbs can and should have a place in your diet.
Understand that glycogen availability is essential to resistance training performance, particularly when training is carried out for the purposes of maximizing muscular development. Specifically, training with low glycogen reduces the ability to train at high intensities and increases the perception of effort while decreasing power output.5, 9 Over 80 percent of energy demands during a 12 RM set to failure are derived from the breakdown of stored carbohydrate.19 Studies show that a single set of biceps curls to muscular failure performed at 80 percent of 1 RM causes a 12 percent reduction in mixed-muscle glycogen concentration; three sets at this intensity doubles this decrease.19 So if you’re glycogen depleted at the start of a workout, your capacity to train intensely will necessarily be severely compromised.
Glycogen levels also have been shown to play an important role in anabolic signaling. Protein synthesis, the driving force behind muscle growth, is dependent on a cascade of enzymes that communicate with one another inside the cell. Studies indicate that pre-exercise muscle glycogen content mediates activity of Akt and S6K 7, 10— enzymes critical to muscle anabolism. When glycogen levels are low, activation of these processes are blunted, hampering muscle growth. Moreover, an inverse relationship exists between glycogen availability and muscle-protein breakdown, with lower glycogen levels causing greater protein degradation.3 In fact, nitrogen losses— a marker of muscle protein breakdown— have been found to more than double following a bout of exercise in a glycogen-depleted versus glycogen-loaded state.17 All things considered, maintaining a high intramuscular glycogen content at the onset of training is important to muscle development.
Now this shouldn’t be taken to mean that you need to load up on carbs. Quite the contrary. Evidence shows that eating a high-carbohydrate diet does not have any greater effects on strength or lean mass accretion compared to a moderate-carbohydrate diet.21
The “fat free” craze of late 20th century has come and gone, and most people now realize that dietary fat is an important component in a diet. If nothing else, fats are an essential nutrient and play a vital role in many bodily functions. They are involved in cushioning your internal organs for protection, aiding in the absorption of vitamins and facilitating the production of cell membranes, hormones and prostaglandins. Physiologically, it would be impossible to survive without the inclusion of fats in your diet.
What is less known is that dietary fat helps to promote anabolism. Specifically, the fats you consume impact testosterone levels. The importance of testosterone in building muscle is incontrovertible. There is clear evidence that testosterone increases protein synthesis and attenuates protein breakdown,32, 37 as well as potentiating the release of other anabolic factors such as growth hormone33 and IGF-1.30 Interestingly, studies show that testosterone levels are suppressed with the consumption of low-fat diets.11 Polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular, have been found to enhance testosterone function.15 Here’s the kicker: lifting weights appears to heighten these testosterone-boosting effects27; in other words, fat intake and resistance training have synergistic effects on anabolism. All things considered, at least 20 percent of your calories should come from dietary fat.
It is particularly important that you consume adequate amounts of omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in cold-water fish and to a lesser extent in various seeds and nuts. It has been well documented that n-3s are vital to numerous bodily processes, including anabolism. Numerous studies show that n-3 supplementation results in greater lean mass accumulation in both animals2,13 and humans.23, 26, 31 This is believed to be due, at least in part, to n-3 regulated increases in cell membrane fluidity.1 Cell membranes are vital for regulating the passage of nutrients, hormones and chemical signals into and out of cells. When cell membranes are fluid they become more permeable, allowing substances and secondary messenger molecules associated with protein synthesis to readily penetrate the inside of the cell.2,13 N-3s also may enhance signaling of mTOR31— an anabolic pathway widely considered to be a master network regulating skeletal muscle growth. In addition, there is evidence that n-3 supplementation decreases protein breakdown,35 which in conjunction with heightened protein synthesis would result in an even greater muscle hypertrophy. Best of all, n-3s are less efficiently utilized for body fat deposition due to their ability to regulate various thermogenic fat-burning pathways.8 Taking all factors into account, anywhere from five percent to 10 percent of your calories should come from n-3 sources.8
It is best to get your n-3s from cold-water fish rather than vegetable sources such as flax. Whereas fish contains preformed n-3 derivatives (i.e., EPA and DHA) that regulate the aforementioned bodily processes, n-3s from vegetables must undergo conversion to produce these derivatives. Problem is, research shows that this conversion process is inefficient, with only about only five percent converted to EPA and less than 0.5 percent converted to DHA.24 If you don’t like fish, consider taking fish oil supplements; they are easy to digest and provide the same benefits as fish consumption.