Saturday, September 7, 2013

Get Big: Stay Lean?


Is  possible to get bigger while maintaining leanness?

I think, yes, but it's not easy.

This post assumes you are generally eating right,  doing generally the right training work and getting adequate rest.

Historically the strategy for gaining mass was to go through a gain phase followed by a cutting phase. This generally can work well but at a cost of being out of optimal shape for several months of the year.   For athletes and, say, Crossfitters who want to maintain a steady level of performance this doesn't work so well.

Can we gain mass while not gaining excess levels of fat?  To do so counting calories and running a slight surplus isn't going to be enough.  The key to doing this is to maintain the surplus and tightly manage hormonal response 

Hormonal Baseline
If you are serious,  get your hormone levels checked by a doctor or qualified medical lab. Also be sure and get thyroid function checked as this can have a huge impact on metabolism.

Hormonal response.
Avoid training too long. Lengthy training sessions will cause the body to go into stress response mode.  This will release a cavalcade of mostly undesirable hormones (for our stated goal) including catecholamine and  cortisol,  whose primary function is to increase the breakdown of tissue to aid the fight or flight response.

Avoid especially too long cardio, especially long slow distance running.  While you need to maintain your cardiovascular fitness, opt for shorter more intense Tabata or HIIT type work. Limit your cardio sessions to 30 minutes or less sprints, 400's. 5k may be the perfect distance to combine with the goal of getting big while maintaining leanness and baseline cardiovascular fitness levels.

Testosterone, clearly the most anabolic and well known hormone must be optimized to put on more muscle and recover faster from workouts
Other hormones such as growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), and hCG need to be optimized. These are also heavily involved in recovery, increasing size and strength as well as sexual health and mood.

Eating
To gain mass and minimize fat gain we have to eat with hormone response in mind.  Calories in - calories out will not suffice.  we have to eat to elicit the hormone responses we are after.
generally Testosterone levels are the highest in the morning.  This is the time we want to minimize insulin response and the blood sugar spike-insulin response-blood sugar deficit cycle.  To do this focus on eating whole proteins, particularly eggs.

Eggs - Contain protein, nutrients and cholesterol which are important for hormonal response.  Cholesterol (despite the bad rep it has gotten in the past) is a precursor to testosterone.  Additional you want to maximize the slow proteins (albumin) while your testosterone is high.  These proteins will also leave you more satiated through out the day and help avoid the blood sugar roller coaster that a high carb breakfast would cause.

Maximize the intake of whole meats(not processed meats due to the nitrates).

Eat nuts,  Almonds and Cashews for vitamin E which is important for maximizing testosterone production. Especially eat Brazil Nuts for selenium which is critical for the body to produce testosterone. 

Carb Back-Loading
Assuming you are training in the early evening eat your carbs after your workout, particularly slow carbs combined with protein or whey to lower the glycemic index and provide a steady anabolic insulin release.  These evening carbs will also help maximize growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), and hCG which tend to reach their highest blood concentration at night.  These carbs, necessary for the calorie surplus needed to gain, will also cause an insulin response driving glucose into the muscle, and drive protein and other nutrients in into the muscle for the rebuilding response and protein synthesis to occur based on the earlier training stimulus.

We will cover carb backloading in detail in a future post.  For now it can be as simple as eating your carbs between the workout and going to sleep.  The preference for our goals is still slow carbs, sweet potatoes, maybe rice and vegetable based carbs.  I am not ready to recommend processed carbs or fast glycemic carbs at this point.  

While I am personally mostly Paleo - Whole foods, I do not have a problem with dairy and do include it for both the carb and protein content.  Paleo does not include grains but I find it extremely hard to gain muscle on a pure Paleo diet.  It is absolutely fantastic for weight loss while minimizing muscle loss but I find some grains need to be added to gain lean muscle.  After all the insulin response is highly anabolic and carbs are the best instigator of this response.  Still I would stick with slow carbs.  Not while rice itself is a fairly high glycemic carb, when mixed with vegetables and particularly protein in say a stir fry (done with coconut oil) the insulin response is dramatically slowed.

Supplementation
Note: I am not a nutritionist, the following are simply my opinions based on my experience and observations in practice.

While I am not a fan of supplementation, I much prefer whole food sources, in our case because of the difficulty of what we are trying to do, I do think it is worthwhile to consider a reasonable amount of supplementation.  Please don't think you have to get the latest and most highly marketed supplement here.  What I am recommending can all be obtained reasonably inexpensively at your local Target or drug store.  Personally I find Nature Made supplements(mostly all letter vitamins and mercury-less, odorless and burpless Fish Oil). 

Zinc, Calcium and Magnesium, often marketed as ZMA.  Readily available (Nature Made - Not an affiliate or sponsor of this blog in any way) combined into one pill and very inexpensive.  These minerals are important in the production of testosterone and maintaining muscular strength, bone health and many other functions.   

Consider BCAA's prior to your workout, particularly leucine.  These aminos will act as a sacrificial source of aminos to preserve muscle and help to start the rebuilding process as soon as possible after the workout has begun.  Of the supplements recommended here these are purely optional but I have seen many people benefit.

Vitamin D - Do supplement Vitamin D.  This is one supplement I would recommend whole
heartidly for our goal.  Please check back I will be doing an in depth post on why Vitamin D is important for our goal.

Consider whey protein after your workout. It is generally a very fast absorbing and biologically active protein just when your body is prepared for maximum absorption.

Weight Training
To gain mass consider that we want myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the increase in the strength of the myofibrils themselves,  This hypertrophy is generally associated with strength gain and contributes minimally to actual muscle size.  What it does do is make you stronger and to gain the most amount of mass you have to lift heavy weights.  This type of hypertrophy is best brought about by lifting heavy weights, typically for low reps (strength protocol - which we will cover in depth in a future post) 3-5, but hold on we're not done yet.


Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy is growth of the sarcoplasm, the fluidic inside of the muscle containing the mitochondria and enzymatic activity.  This kind of hypertrophy (which we will again cover in much more detail in a future post) is responsible for most of the muscle size growth.  Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is typically trained at more moderate weights for more reps.

To optimize the two types of hypertrophy i would recommend the typical Bodybuilder protocol, with one modification.  We're talking about using as heavy a weight as possible wherein you fall in the 6-12 rep range.  The one modification is that periodically you need to work in the heavier weight/lower rep range and periodically you need to work in higher rep ranges with more moderate weight to increase enzymatic activity(which agan, we'll cover in detail in another post).  

Every Day Life
  • Avoid too much stress in your every day life to the greatest extent possible.
  • Engage in active recovery on your off days.   Walking, biking, yoga and swimming  re great for this purpose.
  • Get enough protein, at least 1g per pound of body weight.
  • Eat your carbs at night to replenish  muscles glycogen and more importantly for our purposes trigger a post workout insulin and IGF1 response during the night.
  • Have regular sex, yep, studies have shown that having regular sex helps to increase testosterone levels.
  • Get plenty of rest, granted this may run counter to the last mentioned advice, but yes sleep well. 
  • Drink plenty of water.  In addition to all of the other benefits proper hydration makes nutrient distribution much more efficient.
  • Recover from your workouts properly.
  • Eat broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.  Some studies have shown they contain compounds with can block the muscle downregulation of myostatin. 


Final Thoughts
Be patient.  Gaining lean muscle mass without additional fat is not the traditional bulk and cut cycle.  Bulk and cut can build muscle faster but at a cost.  Building lean muscle with =out fat gain is a slow process, it will take time, BE PATIENT and stick with it.

Additional Sources

Gain Muscle & Lose Fat By Raising Testosterone: Tips To Take You Beyond The Basics
http://functionalandperformancefitness.blogspot.com/2013/09/gain-muscle-lose-fat-by-raising.html

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