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Lots of times I will open my e-mails and find tons of questions from people who want to know what supplements work as good or nearly as good as steroids. If there was such a supplement, there is no way the FDA would approve it. There is something you can take though that is more anabolic than the strongest steroid. Most people call it food. Nothing packs on lean mass like a load of food.
So why don't the pros just eat more? Well, unlike steroids, food can only take you to your natural limits and that is not enough to make it in the pro leagues. But for you and me, steroids shouldn't even cross our minds. First of all, most of us have no intention of becoming a pro, or even becoming that big. First and foremost because we don't have the genetics to make it big and secondly because that look may be good from a fan's point of view, but you can't call it aesthetic.
Most people in this society shun that monster-look. Heck, some of us naturals get funny looks sometimes. And the last and best reason for me: Steroids take the fun out of training and they seriously endanger your health. Food does none of those things. You have to work as hard or harder than a pro (and trust me those guys earn their living) and take care of things in the kitchen.
Most people love to train, but they are too lazy to secure the other aspects of the sport. Excuses like "I don't have time to eat", or "I can't eat that much" don't fly. If you can put something between two slices of bread and stuff it in your mouth, you have time to eat. And eating a lot is something you teach yourself by gradually increasing your calories. It's all about effort, in the gym and in the kitchen. What it comes down to is "How bad do you want it?"
First of all, make sure you eat enough. I will give you one way of knowing. Are you growing? Or is your scale getting rusty because the arrow hasn't moved in the last month? If the latter is the case, I assure you, you aren't eating enough.
Growth is the result of eating, not training. If your scale moves but it's not muscle your gaining, it's most likely a bad division of nutrients or you aren't training hard enough, but your calories are ok. What you should be consuming is at least 500 calories more than 10 calories per pound of lean bodyweight. 10 calories per pound is your maintenance line that stretches for 500 calories? If you eat less than that you will lose weight, if you eat 500 calories more you will grow.
If you happen to be very active and/or have a racy metabolism you'll need even more. Again, I refer you to your good old scale as the best judge. The more work you put in, the more food you need. That's the thing. So you want to gradually increase calories before you start adding sets to your workouts, so your nutrition doesn't have to play catch-up to your energy expenditure.
The more you eat, the more you can handle in work output, and that way you prevent over-training. In most cases you aren't over-training at all, you are under-eating. So get at least a minimum of calories for growth, and as long as you are using them, the more the better.
Division Of Nutrients
Getting the proper amount of the right nutrients is also necessary for growth. If all you eat is lard, chances are you won't grow anything but fat, but a similar statement holds true for eating only carbs. And eating only protein is a great way to screw up your liver. So what is the best diet for growth? Well I recommend 50 percent carbs, 35 percent protein and 15 percent clean fats, but the less calories you eat the more you should change the majority of them to protein and fat.
So that when you reach maintenance or below you are eating 35 percent of carbohydrates with 45 percent protein and 20 percent fats. Next to that you also need your daily requirements of vitamins, minerals and water. Proper functioning depends on it and increasing the level of a few of them in the body increases the functioning of other nutrients and is more beneficial than just taking in the macronutrients. But lets have a look at why these nutrients individually are so important.
Carbs are basically sugar. You have simple sugars or saccharides, double sugars or di-saccharides and multiple sugars like oligo-saccharides. Then there are complex carbs and starches that contain even more of these sugars, but in return free them much slower into the blood. So what do we need these sugars for? Well, once in the blood the sugar invariably converts to glucose.
It doesn't matter whether you ingested glucose, dextrose, fructose or sucrose or any combination of these and other sugars, the end product in the bloodstream is glucose. Glucose or blood-sugar. So the intent of ingesting carbs is to get a higher blood-sugar level. Once that happens one of two things can happen. The first is that the higher blood-sugar level stimulates the pancreas to create insulin.
Insulin, when it gets to certain receptors on a cell, can stimulate that cell to absorb more nutrients like protein and fat and micronutrients. The entire goal of bodybuilding nutrition is after all to get the building blocks, amino acids, into the muscle cells to build extra mass.
The second thing that can happen is that the body feels that blood-sugar is too high. In first instance that means insulin decreases and the receptors downgrade at which point extra carbs turn to fat. Not really what you want, but that just means you shouldn't eat high carb meals within a certain time of each other. What it also does is absorb the carbs into the cell and turns them to glycogen. Glycogen is the building block of the body's energy source Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP).
So you need a high glycogen storage to function to optimal extents and deliver good work in the gym. But every time you expend energy, like with exercising, you lower glycogen storage by burning ATP. So you need to replenish those sources if you want to keep doing well.
The interesting thing about glycogen replenishment, and the reason I have kept advocating high carbs for bulking even in the face of much disapproval, is that 1 gram of glycogen in the cell also increases the water inside the cell by 2.7 grams. What are the benefits of this? First of all this means that for every gram of glycogen absorbed in a muscle cell you gained 3.7 grams of muscle-weight. Not too shabby huh, because you just increased food efficiency by 370 percent. What more water in a cell also does is increase the volume, and it allows more other nutrients in the muscle.
Transport becomes easier and that allows things like protein and micronutrients to enter the cell in large amounts, and that combination improves your chances of making that 2.7 extra grams you gained a permanent thing. More water in a cell is anabolic. That is the same reasoning behind supplementing creatine which recycles ATP and increases water inside the cell. So that's why we need carbs.
The Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a term you'll hear very often in relation to carbohydrates and especially sugars. Since you will no doubt be confronted with it in your quest for a great diet and good supplements, it may help to know something about it. It is an arbitrary index that ranks carbohydrates by their ability to spike insulin, the pancreatic hormone responsible for the storage of nutrients in cells. All carbs in the body eventually turn to blood glucose, in dietary terms dextrose is the closest to glucose (in fact it is glucose, physiologically), the blood sugar. Glucose spikes insulin, so the more efficient the conversion is to glucose, the better the efficiency of the sugar at doing so.
A sugar high on the index will very likely be stored as glycogen and will also probably, for a small duration and in the right amount, be capable of absorbing a great deal of other nutrients including protein and creatine. That is the only purpose of the index. If it has a low ranking, its not always a bad thing, it may have a slow conversion, it may have almost no conversion but for a particular reason and so on. A di-saccharide (made of two sugar molecules) such as lactose for instance is not good at raising insulin. But on the other hand there is no fear of fattening, since it is not readily stored as fat, and it doesn't have stimulatory effects, so unlike sugars high on the GI, lactose will not keep you up at night. Be very weary of companies throwing around numbers like this.
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The Glycemic Index Is Used To Rank Carbohydrates
By Their Ability To Spike Insulin.
I may encourage the use of more carbs than protein, but don't ever let anyone tell you that a nutrient is more important than protein to the bodybuilder. After all the word protein means most important. Carbs and fats can do a lot, but what would they do without protein? Carbs may build muscle, but what do you think they build it with? Almost all tissue and a lot of hormonal substances in the body are made up from proteinacious substances.
Dietary protein, when it is digested, enters the blood as amino acids, which make up every protein. There are 8 essential, 1 conditionally essential and 13 non-essential amino acids, and a whole heap of metabolites derived from them. The non-essentials are nutritionally not relevant to a bulking bodybuilder because they aren't used unless you have a shortage, and if there is a shortage they can be made from essentials. And the bulking bodybuilder should get more than his share of essential amino acids.
Your diet should include a minimum of 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. That much you need, and that should be 35 to 45 percent of your diet, and everything else should be in relation to that. The protein is the center of any diet to a bodybuilder.
What do amino acids do in the body? Well, they can function in many different ways. Some work as neurotransmitters to allow nerve functioning, some help with fatty acid transport, other help keep the body clean, and so forth. They fulfill so many actions in the body it's hard to keep track. But they all have one thing in common: They can be used for the manufacture of new protein.
And new protein in the body is used for the making and repairing of tissue, including muscle tissue. So these are the bricks you build your body with. Even the sources of life, DNA and RNA, are based on amino acids. So you can't do without them. You need to get a daily minimum of each, but provided you get 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound or mostly essentials, you should get as much as 4 or 5 times the daily minimum.
The BV Index
Or biological value index, being an arbitrary score given to a protein in order to specify its absorption rate and bio-availability within the body. The highest number was given to egg-protein, which is the highest natural protein. Different forms of whey protein have a higher BV since they were added later. Whey is a derivative of milk protein. As with the GI-index, the BV-index has a function and purpose, but is not necessarily the determining factor in which protein is best for you.
A high BV signifies that a large percentage of it is actual protein and protein that can be absorbed and used easily. Unfortunately it mostly signifies that a protein has a short half-life in the body and is rendered useless long term. That means taking in large doses of a whey protein makes little or no sense. If large doses are a concern you may want to look into a blend of proteins that embody the characteristics of different dietary proteins, or you may wish to opt for a protein lower on the BV scale, even if that means the amino acid profile isn't so anabolic in nature.
The important factor here is that you try to get the best percentage of protein by weight without sacrificing functionality. Again, BV is often used as a sales pitch, when most often a high BV means it's not a protein to be used in large quantities at once.
In a meal that contains both proteins and carbs, you should take care to make sure that most of the carb sources, if not all of them, are simple carbs like mono- and di- saccharides. The reason is that when you digest a protein or a fat you use acids to degrade to the nutrients that finally enter the blood. But carbohydrates use alkalines to be digested and if alkalines and acids are present at the same time they neutralize each other. Through insulin stimulation and water retention we have shown that carbs are beneficial to protein absorption, and rightly so. That is why you can add carbs, as long as they are simple sugars.
They don't require much digesting and thus they don't add much alkaline to the mix. Glucose (natural blood-sugar) and sucrose and so don't even need any digestion they just enter the blood, as does most of the fructose and dextrose (corn-sugar, similar in structure to glucose). Lactose breaks down immediately into the two simple counterparts and is absorbed. So these sugars will not hinder the absorption of large amounts of protein, but complex carbs take a while to digest, some as long as three hours, during which alkalines are gushing into the stomach. Not only do you not disallow protein to be absorbed, but also the carbs, because the acid cancels out the alkaline needed to digest them.
How do you include complex carbs? Easy, by themselves. Usually a good way to replenish lost glycogen and assure enough energy for the entire day is to eat an all complex carb meal in the mid-morning. Nowhere near your times of rest or post-workout nutrition. That can fuel you for the entire day and it should be all digested by the time you get to lunch.
That means 150 grams of spaghetti with a baked potato and a few slices of bread would make a great midmorning snack. And it really fills you up. This also means that when you eat meat, an important compound of healthy fat and protein, you can't eat potatoes or bread with it. And you should avoid as much complex carbs in post-workout nutrition as well since this is the time you need more protein.
If you do take complex carbs, use maltodextrin because it is broken down easier and much more efficiently, but the best mix is still your protein requirement (35-50) with an equal amount or higher in simple carbs and some clean fats. So if you are looking for a quality weight gainer, you know what to watch. Protein and sugar.
Most people forget the importance of fat. These days there is such an emphasis on high cholesterol and people start equating dietary fat with body-fat and that is simply not the case. People shy away from fat, as if it were a bad thing. Well lets rectify the situation, there are clean fats and rancid fats. Obviously you need to avoid rancid fats because they raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and turn to tri- and di-glycerides that increase chances of coronary mishaps.
Rancid fats are anything that has been overly processed or stored for excessive amounts of time (bags of chips, canned foods, etc.). The clean ones are found in fresh meats, nuts and oils. The best and cleanest way of getting more fat in your diet is by taking a few tablespoons of some oils like flaxseed oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil and olive oil. You don't need a whole lot because unlike protein and carbohydrates, which are 4 calories per gram, fats are 9 calories per gram so you need less than half the amount to get the same amount of calories. And since they only make up 15 to 25 percent of a diet, you don't need all that much. This way 10 or 20 grams extra can make a huge difference.
Fats contain EFA's, or essential fatty acids. These substances, if I still haven't convinced you of their benefit, are also known as Vitamin F. Some EFA's are alpha-linolic acid and linoleic acid. Fat turns to cholesterol. Rancid fats turn to LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and clean fats to HDL (high-density lipoproteins).
As long as you have more HDL than LDL, you are actually improving your cholesterol rate and decreasing chances of arterial deficiencies. Cholesterol is a very important substance in the body and even more so to the bodybuilder. In the Leydig cells, under the influence of Luteinizing hormone (LH) secreted from the anterior pituitary, cholesterol can be turned into DHEA and will eventually turn to testosterone or estrogen in men and women respectively. Hormones made from cholesterol are known as steroid-hormones. That is what the name steroids, given to chemically manufactured hormonal substances, is derived from.
And we all know how anabolic testosterone is, just look at the pro ranks. Another beneficial and popular steroid hormone made in several tissues is Vitamin D, which improves the use and absorption of calcium, whose importance we will discuss later on. These things make EFA's great to stack with LH secreting products such as tribulus or ZMA.
Fats also transport and absorb all fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin D, Vitamin A and Vitamin E. That makes them very important in obtaining and maintaining good levels of these micronutrients that are not without use to us.
Perhaps the main use for fat is that it increases the digestion and use of protein. It can increase the bio-availability of the protein, make sure you get more in your blood and muscle and take the risk out of taking too much protein. Too much protein can damage the liver if there isn't enough fat to process all of it. If you have more fat with your protein, you can use more protein, so they help one another.
Take eggs for instance. And egg white, which contains all the protein, has a biological value of 91. And a whole egg, though the yolk contains only fats and micronutrients, has a biological value (BV) of 100. These are arbitrary scores with 100 being the highest natural available source. Now there are proteins that are higher.
But the BV is calculated by matching the percentage of protein by weight of a product (for eggs only 12 percent) and how much of it is actually used (for eggs that is 94 percent). That is why whey isolates have such a high BV, they have a better utilization (up to 97 percent) and they are almost pure protein (80 to 98 percent of the weight is protein). So fat increases the use of proteins in the diet.
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A Whole Egg Has A Higher Biological Value Than
Just An Egg White Due To Its Fat Content.
Like amino acids, micronutrients have a heap of different functions depending on the places in the body they are used or stored, what fluid they are absorbed in (fat or water) and the longevity and presence of the nutrient. Likewise, too many to name. I suggest you read my articles on micronutrients in the supplements section if you want to know the specifics. But there are some of them that are necessary to the bodybuilder. Lets leave fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) out of it because they reside in the body long enough to avoid deficiency over a long period of time.
Though I know that Vitamin E is very popular as an anti-oxidant, and that optimal levels of Vitamin D improve the use of calcium and could be wise for supplementation. In Vitamins its mainly the water-solubles that we need. They don't stay in the body long and we need a lot of them. This includes the entire B-complex and the C-vitamin. The mains sources for these are in vegetables and fruits.
Both sources are limited in a bodybuilding diet because they aren't very calorie-dense and the point is after all to get in as much calories as you can use. So its always wise to supplement these two. All B-vitamins improve the use of macronutrients, and individually they can give energy, speed up digestion and a zillion other useful things. The C-vitamin is both anabolic and anti-catabolic. It functions as an important enzyme in many anabolic processes and acts like an anti-oxidant as well as support the action of other anti-oxidants.
You can use plenty of both, sometimes thousands of percentages. Vitamin C is usually dosed in 1000 to 3000 mg in 2 or 3 doses daily and B-complex vitamins are usually stacked, so some may be 100 percent of daily value and others 3000 or more. You don't need to worry about negative effects from high doses because water-soluble vitamins that are in excess are easily excreted from the body, sometimes within the hour.
That's not all there is to micronutrients of course, there are also minerals. Things like chromium are usually supplemented under unusual circumstances because unless you are severely deficient such things don't work anyway. Sodium is out of the question because the western diet with all its salt is already too high in sodium anyway. So lets look at the essentials that need to be maximized in the diet and supplemented if need be: Calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Iron rarely needs to be supplemented, except in women who are having their period. You don't need much and it stores very well in the body. Very high levels can be toxic. If you feel you are deficient in iron, and it does happen (symptoms usually are depression and lack of energy, looking pale), you can increase dietary intake by eating more chocolate. Preferably the dark kind.
Cacao beans are without a doubt the richest source of iron, about twice as high as the other options with less calories: spinach and broccoli. Zinc is another story, you need about as much as iron and it stores rather well and all that, but the difference is you expend a lot of it as an athlete and most bodybuilders are severely deficient in this mineral. Getting more is not hard, except if you are a vegetarian, since the best sources are meat, poultry and fish. Magnesium is in the same class.
You need a lot more of it and it doesn't store as well, but it's a mineral most are equally deficient in since it is used so readily by the body. Magnesium is needed in the formation of bone, protein and fatty acid, so you can see why you'd need a lot of it. Good sources are pretty much the same as for zinc. If you feel you need to supplement any of these three, take them at a time when no calcium is present in the stomach because calcium inhibits all three of them.
Beware of products that combine calcium with one of these and always check ingredients to see if calcium wasn't used to bind the stuff together in the tab. If you feel you need supplementation in Zinc and magnesium, it may be wise to invest in a pure ZMA product, which provides both and vitamin B6 in a chelated form (no calcium). Its very effective and in just the right dosage.
While we are talking about it, calcium is perhaps the most important micronutrient to the bodybuilder. The calcium ion in the blood is the transport ion for both protein and creatine. So after you've done your hardest to eat correctly and get all that stuff in your blood, the last thing you want to do is mess it up by not being able to get that stuff to the muscle-cells. Increasing calcium is not just beneficial to nutrients transport, but also nutrients delivery. Calcium gets in the cell rather easily.
And on top of that the high concentration of calcium in the cell increases the absorption of potassium in the cell. That is beneficial to the potassium/Sodium pump for energy and nutrient delivery. So calcium does all that to help us reach our goals. Calcium is also the largest proponent of the bone structure. Every day approximately 3 grams of calcium is replaced in the skeleton.
With some overlapping that means you renew all your bones in around a year. So a high calcium uptake and its proper use are extremely important. The best way of getting a lot of calcium is drinking milk and mineral water. Supplementation is not a bad idea however.
The last micronutrient of such great importance is potassium itself. As we hinted at, it is part of the potassium (K+) / Sodium (Na+) ATPase pump of supplying energy. It does this by changing the electric potential of a membrane forcing an action, such as for example a muscle contraction. Its called the action potential and it does this by letting K flow out of the cell and Na into the cell and when the desired potential is reached, it uses ATP to reverse the effect. To get an optimal effect here you need twice as much potassium as Sodium.
Unfortunately we athletes use a lot of potassium and our diet is too rich in sodium. So we need more potassium. The best way for me to get more of it is by eating a banana in between, they are very high in potassium. But citrus fruits, leafy vegetables, fish and unprocessed meats supply a good source of potassium as well. If you supplement any mineral religiously it should be this one.
Vitamins, minerals, fats, protein and carbohydrates... That's all of the nutrients isn't it? Wrong! People always forget that water is a nutrient too and that hydration is one of the most important factors in nutrition. Especially if you are doing hard work that causes you to sweat and so on.
Don't get me wrong, it's not because somebody told you that you need like a gallon or more a day that you should drink a gallon of pure water everyday, anything liquid contains water as well. Just be careful though. The first problem is that people don't drink enough. They drink three times a day at meals and don't even bother with getting a few sips in between just to stay hydrated. Even when working out most don't drink enough, and those are times when you should be getting more.
When they do drink they do it at the wrong time, like in the middle of a meal. Instead of drinking after the meal and letting the food and then the water absorb, you are letting the water wash the food away for both to be excreted due to lack of digestion. The second problem is what people drink. Popular soda drinks contain carbon dioxide and some of them caffeine or a likewise substance.
The carbon dioxide makes you think something has more water than it really does, and the caffeine acts as a diuretic so you may not just be losing out on the water in your drink, you may be excreting more water than you took in on your next trip to the bathroom. So most people shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to proper hydration.
And yet, over 60 percent of the body is water. So you need more. Beer and soda aren't the answer however. In my opinion the best solution is to drink a lot of milk. It's 90 percent water, it's rich in protein and clean fats, calcium and Vitamin D. That's two birds with one stone. Or more.
I drink 1 or 2 gallons of the stuff every day. Of course pure water and fruit juices work just as well to meet your hydration demand. Try to pay attention to this too, if you want to stay healthy and get big.
All of the dietary factors are important, protein takes the prize in this case, but without fats, carbohydrates and micronutrients, not to mention water, what use would that protein have? Not much is the answer. So proper nutritional habits are a must for anyone, but especially you who are trying to create a huge, muscular physique. If your calories are not the problem, but all you are gaining is fat, it's time to get your stuff together and start re-arranging where you get your calories from. And pretty soon you too will be on the road to muscular growth.
After all nutrition is 80 percent of the game in this sport, so forsaking your duties in the area would be shortchanging yourself. If all else is perfect, but you do a half-assed job on nutrition, you are only operating on 60 percent of your potential capacity. So don't sell yourself short and pull your own weight in the kitchen too.
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