Muscle Building Q & A: 10 Fitness Industry Experts Tell All
Author: Eric Martinez
Do you want to build muscle & lose fat? Let’s ask the experts how it’s done…
Recently we interviewed 10 of the industry’s most authoritative training and nutrition experts the question that everybody wants to know the answer to. First and foremost, we want to say thank you to each and every one of these individuals for taking the time to answer these questions from their busy schedules.
Secondly, we want to thank all of these individuals for what they do day in and day out and we have the utmost respect for them and their work. Lastly, let’s get this party started with this Mount Rushmore lineup of experts in the fitness and nutrition industry!
Question: What advice would you give to a fitness enthusiast that wants to:
A. Build muscle?
B. Lose fat?
C. General Supplement recommendations?
Answers A & B:
For optimal muscle growth and fat loss the key is to maximize the metabolic activity of muscle, while minimizing the activity of adipose tissue. My colleagues and I have demonstrated that consuming 2.5-3 grams of leucine at each meal will maximize muscle protein synthesis and turn muscle into a fat burning “furnace” as they say.
In a separate line of research from my lab, it has also been demonstrated that insulin – as you well know – is the primary fat storage hormone, and that high levels of carbs will make fat the active tissue – not muscle. The amount of carbs you can handle will depend on your genetics, and physical activity. But generally our research has shown that a 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein is optimal for muscle growth and fat loss. Again, some individuals like endomorphs may require less; while ectomorphs may require more carbs.
Over the years my supplement list has gotten smaller and smaller. The ones you can take to the bank are beta alanine (for muscular endurance), whey protein (optimal protein quality), and BCAAs.
My colleagues and I have demonstrated that consuming 2.5-3 grams of leucine at each meal – or roughly 30-40 grams of high quality protein such as eggs, dairy, and meats – will maximize muscle protein synthesis and turn muscle into a fat burning “furnace” as they say.
Dr. Gabriel Wilson is a Post doctoral Scholar in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, at Indiana University School of Medicine. Gabriel is researching optimal protein requirements for muscle growth. Gabriel is also Vice President of the website abcbodybuilding.com.
In order to gain muscle I would recommend optimizing protein balance through diet. To do this, the individual should shoot for at least 30 grams of high quality (dairy, egg or meat based) proteins about 3-4 times a day, and intersperse this with a snack containing branched chain amino acids between meals.
So you may have a meal at 8, a snack at 10, a meal at 12 and keep repeating till bed. My second piece of advice is to vary your training and stick to the basics like squats, bench, deadlifts, and pullups. I generally recommend changing the rep scheme and rest period length each workout, and then cycle back around.
So for example you may have one heavy day (3-6 reps, and longer rest periods) with compound movements, and one hypertrophy day (8-12 reps, with both compound and isolation movements with only 60-90 s rest between sets). This will keep your body adapting over time instead of hitting a drastic plateau.
To lose fat, my advice is to again have high quality protein intake spread out throughout the day. My colleague Jeremy Loenneke and I just published a paper showing the more times you have high quality protein the leaner you are. That paper can be found here “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22284338”
I’d also recommend choosing low calorie, higher fiber density foods that fill you up. My good friend Layne Norton refers to this as volumetrics. Meaning the larger the volume and lower the calorie the fuller you will be.
Finally I recommend sticking with more high intensity interval style cardio as opposed to long duration cardio. We recently published a paper which showed that higher intensities lead to more fat loss! That can be found here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22002517
My top supplements would be HMB (at least 3-6 grams per day), creatine, whey protein, and branched chain amino acids.
Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS*D is a professor and director of the exercise & sports nutrition laboratory in the department of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa, Tampa Fl. Jacob has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers, and abstracts on sports nutrition, supplementation, and resistance training in athletic and clinical situations. His research has covered both the cellular and molecular responses to supplementation and nutrition, as well as the whole body changes in muscle size, strength, and power.
Dr. Wilson is also a proud member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and National Strength and Conditioning Association, and President of the website Abcbodybuilding.com Dr. Wilson is currently conducting a large scale study on a new form of HMB, which you can read about here: http://www.ut.edu/HMB-Research.aspx
Do ZERO aerobic training, eat constantly (calories are most important; then total protein and fat), eat at least 1 g of protein per pound of body weight, sleep a lot, and lift weights like crazy (i.e. periodized training plan).
Do LSD cardio (i.e. low intensity), alternate with HIIT training; take a stimulant pre cardio; cut back on all processed carbs. Consume protein only post workout. And in general, focus on eating mostly protein and fat….
Everyone should take fish oil, creatine, a multivitamin (esp. Vit D) and a post workout protein!
Answer A, B, & C:
Really, it’s more about attitude than the details. You can do a ton of things wrong, but if you work hard for a long period of time, you are going to get results. I see too many people get paralysis by analysis, they believe that if everything isn’t perfect it’s not even worth getting started, whereas in reality a terrible plan executed today is better than the best laid plan executed too late.
Work hard, be dedicated, and stay mentally tough and you will have results, far better than anyone who is on the latest and greatest training/diet fad, but doesn’t have the mental fortitude to be ‘in’ for the long term.
Dr. Layne Norton, PhD Nutritional Sciences
IFPA Pro Natural Bodybuilder
Muscular Development Columnist
Also: See his interview with Directlyfitness.com here!
If you want to build muscle it is important to make sure you have a sound training program. If you aren’t getting an appropriate training stimulus it will be nearly impossible to build muscle. This does not necessarily mean that you have to train 2 hours, 5 times per week. It could be as little as 1 hour 3 day per week.
Focus on squats, deadlifts, and bench press.
Second, make sure you are distributing your protein throughout the day in adequate doses to maximize the muscle protein synthesis response (minimum of ~20-30g/meal every 4-5 hours). This does not mean that you should consume 400g of protein, it is important to make sure you are still taking in adequate levels of dietary fat and carbohydrate. Also, realize that you will NOT gain 10-15 pounds of actual contractile protein every year. Gaining significant muscle takes years of hard work.
If you want to lose fat, once again it is important to make sure you have a sound training program and more importantly a metabolism capable of shedding fat. If you have consistently crash dieted yourself into the ground, I would recommend working your calories up to adequate levels before you take on a long duration diet. It’s very hard to lose fat if you are 25% body fat at 210 pounds and only consume 1200 kcals per day.
This does not mean consuming mass amounts of food to get there; it means tracking your diet every single day and slowly increasing your calories (I’d suggest carbohydrate) every couple of weeks without gaining too much extra fat. You will be surprised at how well this will work. Once you have your kcals at an appropriate level for a diet, I would continue training hard and as heavy as you possibly can to maintain muscle.
As with muscle mass, slow progress is the only real progress. If you are gaining or losing too quickly, bad things are just over the horizon.
I would recommend that you first intake a sufficient diet. If that means you need to take a protein shake to meet your protein intake for the day, that’s fine but taking one just to be taking one doesn’t make any sense. If you are dieting I would recommend taking a multi-vitamin and if you can afford it maybe a BCAA supplement to help increase your quality protein intake at each meal.
Research also indicates that this might also be beneficial if taken in between protein meals.
Supplementing with creatine monohydrate has also shown to be beneficial for skeletal muscle, but it is certainly not necessary.
Other than that, my recommendation would be to supplement with more squats and deadlifts.
Jeremy Loenneke is a PhD student in Exercise Physiology at the University of Oklahoma. He has previously earned a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Southeast Missouri State University. He is also a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter and proud member of Team Norton.
I would first and foremost recommend a trainee to research topics and be open to educating themselves. Close mindedness can be a far greater inhibitor of progress than most undesirable physical or genetic characteristics will ever be. I can truly say in my own experience, knowledge has and continues to be power. This applies to all three instances; A, B and C.
Answers A & B:
In the physical realm, for building muscle; one must be willing to train long and hard but smart, especially if they generally have difficulty putting on muscle mass. I believe too often trainees are guilty of focusing on one specific facet of inducing progressive overload (most notably training too heavy too often), while forgetting that volume and frequency are two of the strongest factors in producing gains in LBM and strength.
Additionally, the principle of specificity must always be considered, meaning you must first consider the metabolic and physiological demands of your sport before devising an appropriate routine to maximize adaptation. A good example and transition into the topic of fat loss is; slaving away on a treadmill or elliptical for hours at the same slow pace throughout the week.
Not only have studies shown this decreases BMR, but the activity is not specific to the physiological needs of the athlete (i.e. stimulation of type II muscle fibers). The sprinter vs. marathon runner analogy exemplifies this best. Their soma types are not the result of solely genetic factors.
I think many bodybuilders are also very guilty of relatively stale routines, thinking they need to remain within the 8-12 rep range all the time to maximize hypertrophy or unfortunately many females avoiding heavy training because they want to “tone”. Though training leads to mixed ratios of both, muscle can hypertrophy through two different intracellular components; the myofibrils as well as the sarcoplasm.
Powerlifting type training is associated with greater increases in myofibrillar hypertrophy (known as muscle density to many trainers/trainees), while bodybuilding is associated with greater increases in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (a.k.a muscle fullness). Training like a powerlifter and bodybuilder can be referred to as undulating as the intensity of training must be wave like due to heavier loads in powerlifting and lighter ones in bodybuilding.
This type of training is currently supported to be the most advantageous type of loading for strength and muscle gains. De loading or tapering also appears to be absent in the routines of many trainees which, I feel, is responsible for the plateaus and burn out that many experience, especially when they are overzealous individuals. It is almost like they are their own worst enemies.
In regards to supplements, we all must remember that it is an industry and if something sounds too good to be true it likely is. There are definitely supplements that work, such as those that have withstood the test of time (caffeine, creatine, amino acids or amino metabolites), but if you are looking to supplements to be your primary stimulus on the path to results you are missing the boat.
This may sound strange as I formulate supplements, but I am simply not a fan of the way the majority of the industry operates because I was once a young consumer as well…and it is misleading, and allows many perpetuated myths to survive. We need to not only be stronger, but also smarter. Challenges are the precursors to innovation!
Ben Esgro is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) through the International Society of Sports Nutrition and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition with a minor in Exercise Science from West Chester University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Sports Nutrition as well as his Registered Dietitian (RD) credential. Ben is the owner of De Novo Nutrition (www.denovonutrition.com) and is also a competitive Natural Bodybuilder and Powerlifter.
He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
To build muscle, training has to be sensible & progressive. This means that over time, you have to be progressing in the amount of reps &/or weight you’re moving. It’s really just that simple. Books have been written on the details of training programs and such, but if I were to put it all into a nutshell, that’s what I would say. If you’re continually getting stronger in the 6-12 rep range, it’s inevitable that muscle growth will occur progressively as well.
In addition to training, you gotta make sure your nutrition is supporting muscle growth. To maximize the rate of growth, you have to be at a caloric surplus (300-600 kcals above maintenance, some may need to push the surplus higher if gains are really stubborn), and protein needs to be sufficient as well (right around a gram per pound of goal weight). It’s better to overdo protein a little then underdo it at all.
To lose fat, first and foremost, you have to sustain a net caloric deficit. Fat loss can’t occur if you’re eating more than you’re burning. This deficit does not have to linear day-to-day, but your calories burned by the end of the week need to exceed your calories ingested. Personal preference should decide whether you to maintain a daily regular deficit, or whether you include days of maintenance or surplus (while still coming out at a net deficit by the end of the week).
When dieting, it helps to keep protein high, at least a gram per pound of goal weight. When cutting, the tendency for a lot of people is to do as much cardio as they can stand. On the contrary, they should be doing as little as necessary to keep progress humming along. It can always be incrementally increased as needed to get past plateaus.
General supplement recommendations boil down to a cheap multi, fish oil, & vitamin D3. There are cases where people need to get more specialized, but those 3 will benefit the majority.
Answer A & B:
For the average lifter, those goals are not that far apart. If you are on the extreme ends and want to really gain a lot more mass or drop a ton of fat to step on stage, you will need a much more specialized plan; but increasing your Metabolic Flexibility is the big key.
Metabolic flexibility is the ability to use the right fuel at the right time. You want to use fat during low intensity work, but yet switch to using carbs for high intensity work such as weight training and sprints.
Here are 3 things you can do to increase your metabolic flexibility and gain lean muscles while losing some body fat.
1) More Protein
I am sure you are bored out of your skull now about me yammering on about protein needs. The short action item: Get more! How much more?
In studies where they were hypocaloric (calories were below maintenance levels, so a fat loss diet), clock in around a MINIMUM of 0.75 grams per lb of body weight.
A 200 lb person would want to get 150 grams of protein per day on the low end.
Some may go as high as 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day; so our 200 lb friend would be at 300 grams per day. Most of the time this is not needed though. You want to do the minimal Effective Amount (mEA).
Work by Devkota S et al. 2011 showed that replacing carbs with protein was beneficial in shifting molecular activity in muscle vs. fat; which should improve body composition (more muscle, less fat).
Most people (myself included) tend to eat the same things day in and day out.
When I get stressed and my schedule goes nuts (which happens a lot lately), I will fall back to the same routine, without much variety.
Variety is the spice of life and allows you to feed your body a huge array of powerful micronutrients which are critical for health and performance. It also helps prevent OVER exposure to any one particular item or toxin too! A double whammy.
Less exposure to bad stuff
Fills you up (automatically eat fewer calories)
3) Add In a Fast
Lots of BS to be sorted here regarding fasting. The definition I am using of fasting is zero calorie containing items during a set period of time. Non caloric items only!
None of this lemon juice, hot pepper and maple syrup crap style fasting. The same guy who promotes that horrible idea also says that since we inhale nitrogen in the air, we can pull nitrogen in by breathing and we don’t need nitrogen containing macronutrients like protein. I almost spit my tea out when I read it! Stanely Burroughs (the author of this Master Cleanse) can shove his ebook where the sun doesn’t shine.
Now you got my so fired up I lost my place! Oh ya, fasting and metabolic flexibility.
Bare with me here as the physiology gets a bit messy. Mention the words “intermittent fasting” and people then assume they need to do all of their cardio fasted to burn more fat.
It is true that fasted cardio will result in a burning more fat DURING the exercise session and this has been confirmed by measuring by the Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER) during a fasted vs. a fed state (after eating).
It is also true that during a fasting condition, insulin levels are low, pushing the body towards more direct fat utilization (burning).
Sounds great so far, but hold the Master Cleanse ebook my fasted cardio bunny friend.
If we look past the ACUTE effects over 24 hours, it appears the fed state (after eating) increases the EPOC (aka after burn) effect; resulting in burning of more fat calories TOTAL. This was shown in a great study by Paoli A et al. out of Italy recently.
Work on these 3 items to increase your Metabolic Flexibility to burn more fat and add some lean muscle.
For general supplements my list is pretty simple. Protein powder (I rotate between 3-4 types if possible), fish oil, creatine monohydrate, multi vitamin, and Vit D3 (most people are deficient). After that you can get a bit fancier with a greens drink (most suck though), astaxanthin, BCAAs and possibly beta alanine (depending on your goals)
For over 18 years, Mike Nelson has dedicated his life to researching human performance, which is why the world’s top organizations call on him to help their members perform at their best. Organizations like: DARPA – the military’s elite research group, The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and many others.
The tactics Mike teaches in his seminars, boot camps, and videos are designed to drastically improve the results you’re getting from your currently workout – or could be used to build a new workout from scratch without injuring your lower back, or destroying your knees, or overstressing your joints. Mike is a PhD Candidate in Exercise Physiology at the University of Minnesota, in addition to holding a MS in Mechanical Engineering. Find out more and get a cool gift for free at: www.miketnelson.com
Michael T. Nelson MS, CSCS
PhD Candidate, Exercise Science
I honestly don’t believe that most fitness solutions are nearly as complex as most would have us believe. There are no magic diets, exercise programs, or supplements.
If you want to gain muscle mass you will likely need to consume more calories than you burn, consume adequate protein, and resistance train. I believe that the “bulking” method used by many results in excess fat gain which isn’t inherently bad in the short term, but makes it harder to diet off later.
It also alters physiology so that our bodies are more susceptible to regaining fat in the long term so I tend to advise a more moderate surplus and a slower rate of gain (2-4 pounds per month as a maximum). I would monitor waist measurements at the belly button during this time and if there are large increases you can be assured that the extra weight is not muscle.
At the end of the day, if you want to lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. You also have to consume an adequate amount of protein (about 1 gram per pound of body mass per day) and resistance train to maintain the muscle mass you have. Long term studies have shown very little difference between high and low carb diets in terms of weight loss.
In fact, consistency on ANY diet appears to be the biggest determinant of success. As a result, I believe that rapid fat loss diets ultimately don’t result in any form of consistency that can be maintained in the long term so I typically advise a slower rate of loss.
As far as supplements go, there aren’t many that have much support at all when it comes to body composition changes. Obviously protein powders can be used as a substitute for food protein, but I don’t think there is any tremendous benefit of using these over eating meat or anything. There is some evidence to suggest creatine will increase weight and performance. But if you’re a meat eater I think the impact is less than stellar.
Fish oils have positive health benefits for most people although I’m not completely sold on the idea that they have a meaningful effect on body composition (especially in those who are not obese). I sometimes advise a multivitamin as “insurance”, but ultimately, if your diet is rich with a variety of whole foods this probably isn’t necessary either. Most fat loss and muscle gain claims for the majority of supplements are bunk.
First off, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share some of my knowledge with the fitness community. To answer your first question, gaining muscle is a matter of two factors: training and diet. Training must facilitate the adaptations necessary to promote muscle tissue growth and diet must be there to complement the physiologic needs of the body in order to support growth and recovery. Without one or the other the equation falls apart. Since I am a nutrition major, I will address the diet side of the equation.
A diet which promotes recovery and growth is one which first and foremost meets the caloric requirements of the athlete. Without adequate calories (above maintenance levels) growth cannot occur. Secondly, adequate protein and carbohydrate must be consumed in order to A) sustain energy for training sessions and B) adequately recover and grow during the post-training period. I am not a stickler with numbers and ratios, as one diet is not universal for everyone, but as a general rule of thumb, 1g/lb lean body mass of protein and anywhere from 3-4g/lb body weight of carbohydrate is a good start.
Obviously your caloric requirements will dictate the overall amount of macronutrients in the diet, but these are good jump off points. Fat should constitute the remainder of your diet without being too low and without hindering the intake of the other macronutrients.
Some of the same dietary principles which apply to muscle gain also apply to fat loss. For instance, calories dictate overall fat loss just as they dictate muscle gain. Without an adequate drop in calories (through either diet and/or exercise) fat will not be used for energy and your weight will remain stable (or elevated). Since carbohydrates make up the majority of most athletes’ diets, they are the first to get reduced alongside fats.
The only thing I would suggest not decreasing is protein. Maintaining adequate protein intakes (1-1.25g/lb lean mass) when dieting is more than enough to hedge your bets for any muscle loss without taking away too much from the other macros. If you’re more of an endurance athlete, you could probably get away with the lower end of the range due to increased needs for carbohydrate. In terms of weight loss, anything over a 2lb loss (after the first week) should be a sign that calories were cut too drastically and more carbs should be introduced to attenuate any further losses.
Losing over 2lbs during the first week of a diet is not uncommon, especially in bigger athletes. This is normal due to glycogen stores being depleted as well as the water associated with the stored glycogen. Remember, water follows solutes, and carbs are a solute. Less carbs means less glycogen and less water in the cell. Once your body exhausts dietary fuels for energy it draws upon its own stored fuel sources, and glycogen is one of the first to go (most notably during exercise).
As far as supplement recommendations go, I would highly suggest focusing on training and diet protocols well before thinking about supplements – especially for the novice athlete/weightlifter. Training and diet alone will account for nearly 100% of any gains seen in the weight room and mirror for any beginner.
Once a firm foundation has been built, and training and diet have been maximized, only then should supplements be considered. That being said, in terms of scientific literature, creatine monohydrate would be the first to choose. If it’s not monohydrate, it’s bull$h!t. Creatine monohydrate has been shown time and time again to be an effective ergogenic aid. Other forms of creatine (Ethyl ester, krealkalyn, etc.) are not stable in the acidic environment of the stomach and get converted to creatinine and are excreted in the urine instead of taken up into the cells (no wonder there’s no water weight.
You’re pissing it all out!). Furthermore, I don’t consider whey protein or fish oils to be supplements per se, only because they are actual food items and do provide calories. I would suggest taking both at any stage of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced), unless your wallet says otherwise. You can perfectly and effectively train and grow without the help of supplements. In closing:
In the hierarchy of things – Calories > Macronutrient Composition > Timing > Supplements
Dylan Klein is 22 years old and is a senior nutritional sciences, dietetics student at Rutgers University with aspirations to become a Registered Dietitian. He has nutrition experience as the Nutritionist for the Rutgers University Army ROTC as well as the Assistant Nutritionist for the Rutgers Football Team. He was a competitive swimmer for 12 years before completing 4 sprint distance triathlons and finally moving on to strength training. Dylan has intentions to compete in Powerlifting after attaining his RD status. Dylan also operates his own Blog at nutridylan.blogspot.com where he frequently reviews current scientific literature on nutrition.
If you would like to get in touch with him, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Live a Dynamic Lifestyle”
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