The easiest experiment you will ever do, assuming you can feel and see your abs a bit, is to do a good possibly highly intense workout routine and drink 50g of dextrose with some lemon and maybe a tiny bit of salt afterwards. Your muscles will feel jacked and very full, total caloric cost 200g assuming calories. The reason why creatine and carbs absorb best post workout is because the goal of what you are doing is to bring the supplement and glucose into your cells (both fat and muscle, fat for later muscle for now). This is a pretty easy one to debunk folks and all you have to do is drink some lemonade. The harder one to figure out is protein, studies seem somewhat conflicted but the general rule seems to default to getting enough grams a day with an advantage towards getting some post workout. Once again it seems like the advantage has to do with the fact that post workout your cells have more of a capacity to absorb nutrients into the cell and thereby increasing the healing and creating new healthier cells. Pre-workout nutrition seems to fall in the category of overall nutrients, if you feel week and underpowered food helps energy and overall circulating nutrients but it’s not as acute as post workout. Similarly drinking a shake while working out is pretty close to drinking a shake post workout because most of the factors are the same and nutrients do not digest immediately. A couple of notable exceptions are football practices lasting say 2 hours compared to an HIIT set for 15 minutes. The first you should probably consider having some available nutrients the second can wait until you are done.
My experiments with bulking
For most of last year I was either dieting or super conscious of intake, that is how I went from 31.4% to 9.1% or 32.5 pounds of fat. I had already lost about 30 pounds before that by simply reigning in bad behavior. Everything that ever worked was some form of a ketogenic diet, basically very low carb with an emphasis on fats and proteins. This style of eating was a lot easier when I didn’t work out very often and got harder as I upped my training volume. The best way to describe it was very cyclical but when I was on I was typically disciplined. I learned a lot at that time and if I had to do it all again I would change a lot, one thing that is not negotiable though is that if you want to lose fat you have to eat at a deficit. Ketogenic diets work because you don’t get near as hungry as you would if you ate low fat and primarily carbohydrate. Also they work well for retaining muscle because they are typically high in protein and fats are said to be muscle preserving because they are a sustainable energy source during rest. This means that your glycogen stores are preserved and so your body doesn’t go after your muscle to turn those amino acids into energy. Dietary protein also serves as a bit of a buffer in this respect. The process in which the body turns protein into glucose is called glucogenesis.
I started my journey at 213 pounds and by December 17th of 2011 I was 149.5. I should note here that my athleticism was off the charts at the low weight, anything from a body weight perspective I was very good at but anything that involved lifting heavy things was tough. The goal was to get below 10% Body Fat and at that point start putting muscle on my frame. I didn’t start this just because I like experiments, I started it because even though I was 9% I didn’t look they way I wanted to look, I didn’t want to be a small 149.5. The way I initially started was to continue to eat about the same, mostly fats and proteins with whole food carbs post workout and some carbs after dinner. I checked it a few times and my typical carb intake was in the 100g to 200g range. For the month of January I basically tried an experiment eating mostly whole foods. On January 27th I took a body fat test and the results were not good, I had eaten a ribeye a day, lot’s of fats and protein, lot’s of whole foods and I gained less than a pound of muscle which is statistically insignificant. Even worse I did another one about a month later and not only did I lose muscle but I gained body fat. I also was not getting significantly stronger. Something needed to change that was clear.
On March 10th of 2012 I weighed 156 pounds, up 6.5 pounds from my lowest and virtually resigned to the fact that I was just too old to gain significant muscle even though I am quite far from my maximum muscle potential. Most people don’t know this but every person, with a few genetic exceptions, has a maximum muscle potential, mine is 156, on March 10th I had 134.5 (I know this is all data heavy but I do this to point out that I am making these conclusions off of real data). I had a choice, continue on my really super slow bulking or look for something different.
What got you here will not get you there
Being conscious of intake worked for fat loss, for me that answer was mostly fats and proteins while being conscious of carbs. That is roughly the same template I still use. I was stumped and definitely considered it possible that gaining muscle was just something that had passed me by and that maybe my focus should be on maintaining a low body fat percentage but something told me that wasn’t it. Couple that with the fact that I already knew how to lose fat and my search for muscle building, or at least maintaing continued on. Clearly whole foods got me here and health is always a concern but maybe there was something I was overlooking.
Fueled by performance
Right about this same time started the Crossfit Open workouts and that’s where everything started to become clear. I had only 2 ways to go, I was gaining fat but not gaining muscle but I knew that if I cut back to 149.5 that wasn’t going to do a lot for my muscle. The Crossfit Open workouts woke me up because it was clear I just was not strong enough to compete competently, by competent I just mean to my satisfaction not in comparison to other athletes that may or may not have trained their whole life. The second workout was all snatches starting at 75 pounds and going higher from there. It didn’t matter, 75 pounds was all I could do, the next step up was 135 and I could barely move the bar, in a snatch you basically jerk the weighted bar from the ground to overhead with a squatting motion in between. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t close. I needed to get stronger to become the athlete I wanted to be. Within days I bought bumper weights for my garage and I started researching weight training plans. In the beginning I just really liked getting out there and lifting weights slow and working on form. I toyed with a lot of programs sometimes working out twice a day but I eventually settled into working out on days I didn’t Crossfit and if I didn’t feel up to Crossfitting for whatever reason I used those days as workout days too. I was told by a lot of people that I would not get stronger this way and for all I knew they were right but something told me to stay on the path I was on and keep refining my program. I am still doing that really but my workouts now are versions of the same rather than complete and total changes.
Changes to workout nutrition
In the beginning of March I had not really established a great routine in terms of eating yet. I was still skipping breakfast and eating around noon. I typically ate about 3000 calories a day. The funny thing was that while I was bigger and weighed around 160 pounds most of the time I didn’t look any different really than when I was 149.5, that would change later. I wasn’t really keeping track of calories but with the added volume I did do one thing. In an attempt to keep my fat levels in check on rest days I was eating just chicken and vegetables twice a day with a probiotic drink and a coconut milk smoothie. I ended up dropping that when I noticed I could get a similar result with a small workout on those rest days and thus my rest day protocol of alternating squats (I now do snatches) and deadlifts was born. The other thing I did was I ate breakfast earlier, typically around 10am and I started to go to the noon class for Crossfit. I still eat basically two real food meals (both are pretty big) but I added another meal that ended up being pretty important.
Could it be as simple as just adding more carbs?
Around early April there started to be a lot of buzz about this new concept called Carb Back Loading (www.carbbackloading.com) or CBL. Similar to when I started doing a version of the Leangains (www.leangains.com) protocol the concepts made a lot of sense. Like all things you learn it changes your filter and doing leangains I learned that eating carbs later in the day was beneficial. Basically doing leangains I would wait to eat until noon but I typically had sweet potatoes. As I mentioned earlier my carbs were roughly 100g to 200g on my most aggressive days, standard leangains is more aggressive on carbs on workout days and more reliant on fats for rest days, basically working out 1 day and then resting 2 but I was working out every single day. My change was pretty simple I just ate more balanced, even the most avid leangains supporters probably realize that it is a great cutting system but for bulking it has some challenges, the priority is to be lean and retain muscle. When all of the articles surrounding CBL started to come out it seemed like leangains improved for bulking. The one thing that you have to realize about all of these protocols is that they rarely introduce something completely new and leangains and CBL follow this path.
How CBL works and why that isn’t magic
You can check all of my writings going back for two years, when people would ask what do I eat for breakfast I have always suggested an emphasis on fats and proteins. Similarly since about September of last year I ate the majority of my carbs at night excluding my sweet potatoes that I ate mostly at noon and maybe a probiotic drink. CBL basically just had me move my sweet potatoes to the evening assuming I worked out at 4pm or 5pm. Cool, that was easy, the only problem is that working out in the evening was inconvenient and I didn’t always like it. The main idea of CBL is that GLUT4 proteins which basically are like glucose straws activate without the presence of insulin after intense muscle contractions. Then when you have a post workout carbohydrate drink your muscles are more receptive to uptake. Another part of the basis for CBL is that the body is less prone to storage in the evening making that the best time to consume the majority of your calories.
Similar to Leangains I think I can tweak it for my level of activity
First let’s focus on the parts of CBL I think are correct, I agree that post workout GLUT4’s are more available and more prone to bring glucose into the cells, both muscle and fat (fat is less of a priority post workout). I don’t however agree that 4pm to 6pm is more optimal than say 5:30 am or noon. In fact you could really make a strong argument that 5:30 am is the most optimal and this is why, GLUT4’s are also very prone to storage in the morning. So let’s look at a scenario that I think would be more optimal than Kiefer’s (the author of CBL). Fasted workouts at 9am (personally I don’t believe any of this matters all that much, if it does it is only degrees or percentages). So working out fasted you get the advantage of nutrient uptake partially because GLUT4’s are more sensitive, throw in a couple cups of coffee pre-workout to hold back the mTor pathway for muscle synthesis and bingo, you have a pretty optimal situation. Here is the supposed problem, which I don’t think is a problem at all. You are going to be eating a lot of fats post workout (egads, with all those GLUT4’s storing I will get fat). That isn’t my experience. Basically the way that Kiefer has drawn up CBL assumes that dietary fats post workout leads to increase fat storage, he is right for body builders that are relatively inactive but what about active crossfitter types or HIIT trainers, basically anyone building muscle with a high energy output. Said simply fat does not store around maintenance, to use the most extreme example let’s say that you ate nothing but protein powder and Omega 3’s and Olive Oil for 2000 calories (yuck) but your activity was 2500 calories you would not store fat. So let’s be clear fat timing is not say more important than overall fat intake. A notable exception might be that fat timing in the morning might lead to a larger energy output. Similarly while insulin is an antagonist to HGH or growth hormone so is fat, so eating fats during the day might blunt insulin but the net affect to HGH likely isn’t very different at all.
The other point we agree on, energy dense carbs at night is optimal for a number of reasons. As a general rule carbs make you feel full (think pasta dinner or for clean eaters a couple of sweet potatoes) it doesn’t always last but I will get to that in a few sentences. Going to bed full is optimal for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is difficult to sleep when you are hungry or even stay asleep. When you go to bed full it is optimal from a hormone perspective, so growth hormone and testosterone are affected positively. Where we MIGHT not agree is on fats, namely eating less fat at night. This is why. As I mentioned earlier carbs make you feel full in the short term (think chinese food), as a general rule protein also makes you feel full in the short term and often accompanies fat (which makes you feel full in the long term). This is the argument I make for eating all macro nutrients in the evening and eating mostly fats and proteins throughout the day (other than post workout). While eating carbs and proteins might do the trick there is no reason to ignore a good amount of because they act as hunger insurance. This of course assumes that you can handle the added calories without adding a lot of fat.
I also don’t believe you need to stay under 50g of carbs throughout the day even if you exclude a post workout drink in the morning, this is why. Firstly let’s assume we aren’t talking about a cinnamon roll filled with sugar, that one might be tough to overcome but lets say that you had a breakfast with 3 eggs a couple of pork chops and took some fish oil, a banana is not going to compromise your fat burning goals and will likely provide you with a level of satiety. Nor will 3 bananas to get me over the 50g of carbs example. Why is that, because you ate a diet high in fats and those fats make your insulin response more balanced. What a lot of these diets tiptoe around is that they think that your HGH response is more or less profound related to activity and nutrition. I don’t believe this is the case, my belief if that your overall HGH response and mTor are positively affected by activity and nutrition as a whole. You might be able to affect them marginally but that will not make a big difference. If you want to build muscle lift heavy stuff and have a good recovery protocol post workout. Want to lose fat, eat less. Everything else is just degrees of optimization.
Lastly I think Kiefer is wrong about post workout caffeine intake. I think fats are better and this is why. When GLUT4’s are active muscle can convert glucose without the presence of insulin. Fats blunt the insulin response and slow digestion. This is Kiefer’s shake 150g of dextrose with 60g of protein. Here is mine 50g dextrose, 30g of protein, 8 ounces of coconut milk and a tablespoon of MCT oil. You could really make a strong argument for your fish oil here too. In Kiefers scenario he is trying to overload his system to get the nutrients in as quickly as possible which is why he needs to use three times as many as I would suggest (by the way my suggestion is more in line with someone like Alan Aragon’s, though I doubt he would be a fan of the fats). The problem with his scenario is that glucose is a toxin, he suggests using caffeine to blunt insulin but you would need a hell of a lot of caffeine to do that and I think fats are a better option assuming you can budget the calories.
Oh damn, this can’t be right
My current pattern looks something like this:
Eat breakfast about 2 hours before I workout
Drink a recovery drink with 50g of dextrose and 30g of protein
eat mostly fats during the day and eat the majority of my calories at night
Wait a second, this sounds an awful lot like the standard advice of just lifting heavy, have a good recovery protocol, eating enough protein and fit your fats and carbs towards your level of activity. That’s the advice people have given for years and there is a reason for that. It works for building muscle. If it didn’t it wouldn’t have stood the test of time. Leangains or CBL or anything I can draw up always has some element that is pretty similar to the tried and true. For leangains it’s mostly about cutting because there aren’t a lot of stories of guys getting jacked doing it. CBL is for bulking, want to get big, you are going to need carbs to do so. Or you can do something pretty similar to what has been recommended for years. Want to cut, eat less, want to bulk, eat more. The devil is in the details but the details haven’t changed all that much, they have just been packaged differently.
From March 10th to May 5th after months of no gains at all I added five pounds of muscle to my frame, so it appears that I am moving in the right direction. I am currently at 13% BF. The biggest change was my workout nutrition and lifting heavy.