Monday, March 12, 2012

Gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time: A more customized approach based on strength training and calorie intake variation

In the two last posts I discussed the idea of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time () (). This post outlines one approach to make that happen, based on my own experience and that of several HCE () users. This approach may well be the most natural from an evolutionary perspective.

But first let us address one important question: Why would anyone want to reach a certain body weight and keep it constant, resorting to the more difficult and slow strategy of “turning fat into muscle”, so to speak? One could simply keep on losing fat, without losing or gaining muscle, until he or she reaches a very low body fat percentage (e.g., a single-digit body fat percentage, for men). Then he or she could go up from there, slowly putting on muscle.

The reason why it is advisable to reach a certain body weight and keep it constant is that, below a certain weight, one is likely to run into nutrient deficiencies. Non-exercise energy expenditure is proportional to body weight. As you keep on losing body weight, calorie intake may become too low to allow you to have a nutrient intake that is the minimum for your body structure. Unfortunately eating highly nutritious vegetables or consuming copious amounts of vitamin and mineral supplements will not work very well, because the nutritional needs of your body include both micro- and macro-nutrients that need co-factors to be properly absorbed and/or metabolized. One example is dietary fat, which is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

If you place yourself into a state of nutrient deficiency, your body will compensate by mounting a multipronged defense, resorting to psychological and physiological mechanisms. Your body will do that because it is hardwired for self-preservation; as noted below, being in a state of nutrient deficiency for too long is very dangerous for one's health. Most people cannot oppose this body reaction by willpower alone. That is where binge-eating often starts. This is one of the key reasons why looking for a common denominator of most diets leads to the conclusion that all succeed at first, and eventually fail ().

If you are one of the few who can oppose the body’s reaction, and maintain a very low calorie intake even in the face of nutrient deficiencies, chances are you will become much more vulnerable to diseases caused by pathogens. Individually you will be placing yourself in a state that is similar to that of populations that have faced famine in the past. Historically speaking, famines are associated with decreases in degenerative diseases, and increases in diseases caused by pathogens. Pandemics, like the Black Death (), have historically been preceded by periods of food scarcity.

The approach to gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, outlined here, relies mainly on the following elements: (a) regularly conducting strength training; (b) varying calorie intake based on exercise; and (c) eating protein regularly. To that, I would add becoming more active, which does not necessarily mean exercising but does mean doing things that involve physical motion of some kind (e.g., walking, climbing stairs, moving things around), to the tune of 1 hour or more every day. These increase calorie expenditure, enabling a slightly higher calorie intake while maintaining the same weight, and thus more nutrients on a diet of unprocessed foods. In fact, even things like fidgeting count (). These activities should not cause muscle damage to the point of preventing recovery from strength training.

As far as strength training goes, the main idea, as discussed in the previous post, is to regularly hit the supercompensation window, with progressive overload, and maintain your current body weight. In fact, over time, as muscle gain progresses, you will probably want to increase your calorie intake to increase your body weight, but very slowly to keep any fat gain from happening. This way your body fat percentage will go down, even as your weight goes up slowly. The first element, regularly hitting the supercompensation window, was discussed in a previous post ().

Varying calorie intake based on exercise. Here one approach that seems to work well is to eat more in the hours after a strength training session, and less in the hours preceding the next strength training session, keeping the calorie intake at maintenance over a week. Individual customization here is very important. Many people will respond quite well to a calorie surplus window of 8 – 24 h after exercise, and a calorie deficit in the following 40 – 24 h. This assumes that strength training sessions take place every other day. The weekend break in routine is a good one, as well as other random variations (e.g., random fasts), as the body tends to adapt to anything over time ().

One example would be someone following a two-day cycle where on the first day he or she would do strength training, and eat the following to satisfaction: muscle meats, fatty seafood (e.g., salmon), cheese, eggs, fruits, and starchy tubers (e.g., sweet potato). On the second day, a rest day, the person would eat the following, to near satisfaction, limiting portions a bit to offset the calorie surplus of the previous day: organ meats (e.g., heart and liver), lean seafood (e.g., shrimp and mussels), and non-starchy nutritious vegetables (e.g., spinach and cabbage). This would lead to periodic glycogen depletion, and also to unsettling water-weight variations; these can softened a bit, if they are bothering, by adding a small amount of fruit and/or starchy foods on rest days.

Organ meats, lean seafood, and non-starchy nutritious vegetables are all low-calorie foods. So restricting calories with them is relatively easy, without the need to reduce the volume of food eaten that much. If maintenance is achieved at around 2,000 calories per day, a possible calorie intake pattern would be 3,000 calories on one day, mostly after strength training, and 1,000 calories the next. This of course would depend on a number of factors including body size and nonexercise thermogenesis. A few calories could be added or removed here and there to make up for a different calorie intake during the weekend.

Some people believe that, if you vary your calorie intake in this way, the calorie deficit period will lead to muscle loss. This is the rationale behind the multiple balanced meals a day approach; which also works, and is successfully used by many bodybuilders, such as Doug Miller () and Scooby (). However, it seems that the positive nitrogen balance stimulus caused by strength training leads to a variation in nitrogen balance that is nonlinear and also different from the stimulus to muscle gain. Being in positive or neutral nitrogen balance is not the same as gaining muscle mass, although the two should be very highly correlated. While the muscle gain window may close relatively quickly after the strength training session, the window in which nitrogen balance is positive or neutral may remain open for much longer, even in the face of a calorie deficit during part of it. This difference in nonlinear response is illustrated through the schematic graph below.

Eating protein regularly. Here what seems to be the most advisable approach is to eat protein throughout, in amounts that make you feel good. (Yes, you should rely on sense of well being as a measure as well.) There is no need for overconsumption of protein, as one does not need much to be in nitrogen balance when doing strength training. For someone weighing 200 lbs (91 kg) about 109 g/d of high-quality protein would be an overestimation () because strength training itself pushes one’s nitrogen balance into positive territory (). The amount of carbohydrate needed depends on the amount of glycogen depleted through exercise and the amount of protein consumed. The two chief sources for glycogen replenishment, in muscle and liver, are protein and carbohydrate – with the latter being much more efficient if you are not insulin resistant.

How much dietary protein can you store in muscle? About 15 g/d if you are a gifted bodybuilder (). Still, consumption of protein stimulates muscle growth through complex processes. And protein does not usually become fat if one is in calorie deficit, particularly if consumption of carbohydrates is limited ().

The above is probably much easier to understand than to implement in practice, because it requires a lot of customization. It seems natural because our Paleolithic ancestors probably consumed more calories after hunting-gathering activities (i.e., exercise), and fewer calories before those activities. Our body seems to respond quite well to alternate day calorie restriction (). Moreover, the break in routine every other day, and the delayed but certain satisfaction provided by the higher calorie intake on exercise days, can serve as powerful motivators.

The temptation to set rigid rules, or a generic formula, always exists. But each person is unique (). For some people, adopting various windows of fasting (usually in the 8 – 24 h range) seems to be a very good strategy to achieve calorie deficits while maintaining a positive or neutral nitrogen balance.

For others, fasting has the opposite effect, perhaps due to an abnormal increase in cortisol levels. This is particularly true for fasting windows of 12 – 24 h or more. If regularly fasting within this range stresses you out, as opposed to “liberating” you (), you may be in the category that does better with more frequently meals.


john said...

Hi Ned,

Depending on the starting point, I would guess it's of similar difficulty to build muscle without gaining fat than it is to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. That is, the plan to cut fat, then build muscle, is flawed because of old bodybuilding myths. One can make it sound good in theory, but to someone informed, it is obviously false.

I never understood the purpose of "calorie cycling." Changing hormonal balance will predispose someone to partition calories in a desirable way [to muscle, away from fat]. Micro-managing calorie intake between training and non-training days is probably only necessary for someone looking to achieve extremely low levels of bodyfat, like bodybuilder levels.

Protein level is often a hotly debated topic. I think beginners can get away with less, but for people near elite status, you need more--maybe like 1g/lb. There's a big difference in body stress between my squat (2.5x bw) and my sister's, so I could only imagine people with 4x bw or so. My strength levels decrease if I don't consciously eat protein above appetite (I don't use protein powder--sometimes gelatin).

Anonymous said...

Hello Ned,

Great post. I know this one was all about the food, but I hope you don't mind me asking two exercise questions.

One, is there any way HIIT can fit into this? Before reading about the theory of supercompensation, I thought that brief, but intense, "aerobic" exercise (to the point of becoming anaerobic) was the one exercise proven to reduce fat, while also proving just as successful with strength gains (in less time = efficiency). So this would seem to achieve both "weight loss" and "muscle gain".

Two, on a related note, say one were to include running sprints on top of the strength training you mention. Would there be two different supercomposition windows, one for sprints and one for weights? Or would these exercises need to be alternated?

Thanks! And sorry if you answered these in the past. I've only recently discovered this excellent blog, and I'm making my way through the archives!


Ned Kock said...

Hi John. Definitely the perception among elite BBs is that a lot of protein must be eaten. The odd thing about this is that even an elite BB will not store more than 15 g/d of protein in muscle:

Ned Kock said...

Hi Angela. Sprints tend to lead to some muscle gain, but not as much as weight training. The reason may be that it is difficult to achieve progressive overload beyond a certain point.

Once you can do a 100 m sprint at a certain speed, it is difficult to keep on decreasing the speed. And if you keep on increasing the distance, you’ll soon be leaving the anabolic range.

This a general problem that applies to many bodyweight exercises as well. You can make them more difficult, but only up to a point.

Many people achieve a level of muscularity with sprint-like exercises that they are happy with, and then focus only on keeping it that way.

Anonymous said...

Very similar to "Lyle McDonald - The Ketogenic Diet". Maybe interesting to you, as he goes quite into detail about this.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Anon. I am not sure the approach described in this post would be really ketogenic. See below:

john said...

You make the case one can store about 15g/day...

...What about daily potential protein loss/turnover? I would imagine it would be higher with higher muscle mass?

I have been fortunate to train with two powerlifting world record holders [Joe McAuliffe, Tony Conyers] and both have told me about failures on a higher carb, low protein diet; I have read the same from others--Dan John, Mark Felix, Kai Greene--online. Of course things can be a little distorted when we're talking about someone like Kai Greene, being at the extreme in terms of muscle mass and anabolic drug use [probably--heh].

Ned Kock said...

Hi John. Not stuffing oneself with protein is not the same as going on a low protein diet.

Now, I’d be interested to know about details. It’d be great if I could get my hands on actual numbers of calories, macros, micros, exercise etc. employed.

I hear all sorts of things from people. Once the numbers are entered into HCE, and a careful correlation/graph analysis is done, as in the post below, the picture is a lot different:

Ned Kock said...

Sorry, I got the link wrong in my previous comment:

Ned Kock said...

That is a good question Sean. Studies of continuous IV administration of amino-acids suggest that the effectiveness of this approach is similar to that of 3-6 meals a day. That is, continuous IV administration of amino-acids doesn’t work better than eating 3-6 meals a day.

There is also evidence that one can fast for 16 h or so, prior to weight training sessions, and still gain muscle as long as one breaks the fast (often with a protein supplement) immediately before each weight training session. This post discusses a more natural alternative:

I suspect, based on what I’ve seen so far, that more frequent meals work better, up to about 6 per day or so. I am referring to meals with some protein in them. This should work better, but not by far, and not for everybody.

For those who do intermittent fasting, two key factors are: (a) liver glycogen capacity; and (b) glucose consumption rate while fasting. These factors are likely to present a lot of variation across of individuals, and also respond (in CA fashion) to diet and lifestyle changes:

Ned Kock said...

Sorry, Sean’s question was under a different post:

Sean said...

Ned - Thanks for the detailed response!

I'm currently doing IF with 8/16 split. Like LeanGains. I workout in the morning with only BCAA (similar to your egg white approach) and don't eat (other than BCAAs) until lunch 3-4 hours later. This is most convenient for me as I have to workout in mornings. But will stop the IF if I don't see continued progression in gains as my current focus is muscle mass.

Ned Kock said...

How it the IF approach working for you Sean?

Sean said...

Ned - Apologies for the long reply. It would be rude to answer with a short answer since I'm far from typical.

I did IF in the past and found it beneficial but wasn't focusing (as I should have been) on putting weight on. 6'1" and 68kg (150lbs).

I'm not typical in that I'm a male around 30 without a gallbladder. So I'm balancing health issues with the need to put on muscle. Health issues include a slowed digestion due to lack of a gallbladder which results in skin issues (acne on neck) and some times yellowing of skin. Also, fat on the belly always even if nothing anywhere else. (Likely higher cortisol due to no gallbladder and very low body fat overall so body doesn't want to get rid of anything else). And the fact that I rapidly lose muscle mass.

So focus now is to forget about having abs. Build muscle around it so I'm not skinny-fat!

I find the IF helpful to my digestion and at least for the past month I've been increasing in strength while doing it. For example: Hit 2xbodyweight on deadlifts today (140kg in 3 sets of 3reps,3reps,2reps).


Ned Kock said...

I am glad that it is working for you Sean.

Deadlifts in those ranges may not be optimal for muscle gain, but each person is different. This post may be of interest, if you haven’t seen it already:

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Sean said...

Ned - Yeah. Normally don't do the low rep stuff. But sometimes you want to know how much you can lift, and I had never done 2x bodyweight. I'm easily distracted :)

LeonRover said...

Great beard, Ned, it suit you.

I resumed mine a year ago, 25 years after my previous one.

Oh, and thanks for the recent posts on gaining muscle. My own own interest is avoiding age-related sarcopenia as long as possible. My father had little such until his 86th year, but still survived until his 91st.


M & M said...

In this context Pellot et al. (as cited in Milward [34]) analyzed the effects of varying caloric intake from 2,100 to 4,200 calories in a number of studies examining daily protein requirements. They found that protein requirements for zero nitrogen balance at daily energy intakes of 30, 45, and 60 kcal/kg were 1.42, 0.87, and 0.32 g/kg/d,respectively.

Nutritional value of proteins depends on:

• The contents of amino acids and endogenous

• the relative proportions of individual amino acids, which should be similar to the proportions present in the system,

• adequate transport for the energy required for processes of body protein synthesis pozabiałkowych sources,

• digestibility of protein products. (dietary fiber reduces the efficiency of protein ~ 10%)

The rate of protein synthesis depends mainly on the amount of bio synthesizing enzymes and their activity.
Stryer page 775

M & M said...

Vince Gironda ward
Arnold recommended 2g of protein per 1 kg weight and 60-100g of carbohydrates. Many world bodybuilders cut carbs to 0 which I think is an error, but says:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ned, first time commenting. First thanks for all the great info, I love reading your blog.
What a great transformation, do you think this will work well for female to?
I am close to my goal weight, but am not happy with my body composition. I have lost about 60lb and definitely gained some muscle, lifting heavy weights (starting strength). I do seem to have good genetics for building muscle, but I am not clear of how far can it go. The data online is very limited for females. Any ideas? Thanks, Iris

Unknown said...

Hello and the you for the excellent post. I myself have lost 75 pounds cutting my body fat from the 40% range to the mid teens.

I did it through a kind of random combination of walking, hiking, home based resistance training and calorie counting. That is until I started doing more reading and analyzing what worked for me. Now I am firmly in the LC lifestyle working on lowering my body fat to the 8% - 9% range.

One question I have is if one is eating adequate protein consistently how important is caloric cycling if you are (1) walking and hiking regularly and (2) consistently strength training?

Thanks again for the excellent blog.

Anonymous said...

"Many people will respond quite well to a calorie surplus window of 8 – 24 h after exercise, and a calorie deficit in the following 40 – 24 h."


I was wondering if you might be able to help me understand a bit more... does this mean we should only begin to eat 8 hours after the workout? Or that potentially the body will handle a great calorie load up to 8 hours or more depending on the individual? Ideally how soon should one eat after a strength training workout?

I'm also confused about the last time frame. Is that supposed to be 40-48?

Thanks!! Great article.

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