There's no grand secret to success in bodybuilding. There's no miracle drug, no wondrous plant potion, no pie-in-the-sky, miraculous 1-2 sets to brutal throw-up failure, or any special chromosomal pattern. Instead - it really takes 3 things:
- Disciplined correct and regular workouts, progressive in nature.
- Proper sleep and mental attitude.
- Great nutrition.
However, far too many hard-training individuals short-circuit themselves with inconsistent and improper protein intake, both in quantity and how they ingest their dietary nitrogen. Believe me, I have trained and observed thousands of athletes and bodybuilders, at varying levels and have seen major changes when better attention is paid to the dietary components for success. As I see it, there are 5 fundamental, critical steps to ensure muscle gains via optimum nutrition.
1 Ample Quality Proteins
Body size and overall activity must guide protein intakes. However, a good rule of thumb for the hungry young male bodybuilder is to eat a minimum of 1.5 grams of quality, complete proteins per pound of bodyweight. Some very hard-training individuals, lab measured to be in negative nitrogen balance over a 72-hour period at 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, have overcome plateaus in muscle mass gains and strength by increasing their protein intake to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight!
Additionally, some individuals seem to have a high level of carbohydrate intolerance (meaning they can not produce effective insulin responses to metabolize the carbohydrates), and for these individuals. I actually recommend up to 2.25 grams per pound of bodyweight. In these cases, a hard training, lean, 200-lb. male would normally shoot for at least 300 grams of protein a day. If he has difficulty with carbohydrates, he should move his protein to as high as 450 grams per day.
Believe it or not, with all we know about medicines today, frequent small doses of protein are the most effective blood sugar balancing agent!
2 Eat Small And Nutrient Dense - But Often
Theoretically, you should ingest quality protein 5 to 7 times a day for a few reasons. As I alluded earlier, protein feedings all but stop yo-yo patterns in blood sugar levels. You will not experience the intense hunger pains, weakness, irritability, headaches, muscle weakness, sweats and dizziness some people get associated with low blood sugar.
Frequent feedings prevent overeating at any one time and can modulate the storing of more body fat. Also, digestion is much easier, and it keeps the flow of flood throughout the digestive tract at an even pace. Finally, frequent feedings elevate the metabolic rate so that your body fat levels remain lower!
3 Absorb, Absorb, Absorb!
As Dr. Eric Serrano, the developer of NitroMine, GlutaCene, Ultra Size and his new Alpha Omega M3, has emphatically pointed out (and I agree), while there are a lot of good commercial, high-protein supplements, a high intake of any of them does not mean much, unless you have maximum digestion and cell assimilation.
While most individuals do produce an abundance of friendly bacteria and supportive digestion enzymes beginning in the mouth and on though the entire gut, many individuals have a documented increase in nitrogen balance when they use varying, digestive enzymes. This could be due to several factors including prescription drugs that they may be taking for medical conditions, the acid-base balance of their foods and plain old genetics.
For optimal protein digestion before the intestine, you might try probiotics (I like Jarrow formulas), betaine HCL and pepsin, and even a few herbal preparations can be of assistance. These include gentian root, fennel seeds and cardamom. My weightlifting colleagues from China recommend something called Conodopsis root a.k.a. Tang Shen root to help utilize more protein.
At least three commercial protein purveyors, (PRD, Optimum and Beverly) think the aspects of digestion and absorption are so critical that they have developed patented enzyme or other deliveries within their protein products!
4 The Miracle Of BCAA's
I strongly recommend that all of you use additional branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), especially if your goal is to increase your lean body mass. I have learned several nutritional facts about the BCAA group from Eric Serrano, M.D., and Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D., and I have been using BCAAs with athletes who have difficulty gaining size.
It is not uncommon for individuals to gain 10 lbs. of muscle in 3-5 weeks of copious branched chain amino acid supplementation. Why does BCAA supplementation work so well? Consider:
- Leucine is an important regulator of protein synthesis by reducing protein degradation in humans. Leucine spares glucose as fuel.
- BCAAs promote protein synthesis.
- BCAAs consumed during training raise growth hormone and insulin, hence the increased anti-catabolism and anabolism from BCAAs.
- The BCAAs, unlike the other amino acids, can be used as a form of energy by muscle cells.
- Carli et al.  showed that supplementing with branched chain amino acids prior to a workout not only prevented a decrease in post-workout testosterone levels, but actually seemed to facilitate an increase in testosterone levels following exercise.
- BCAA administration has a growth effect by enhancing the testosterone/cortisol ratio.
- BCAA administration reduces exercise-induced increases in the muscle concentration of tyrosine and phenylalanine. This indicates that there is a decreased net rate of protein degradation during exercise.
- Post workout soreness is reduced when you use BCAAs during training.
- An Italian study on natural bodybuilders revealed that 0.2 g of BCAA per kg of bodyweight 30 minutes before workouts and 30 minutes after workouts led to greater increases in lean body mass, and strength gains in the bench press and squat.
- BCAAs will decrease body fat (especially visceral fat, the fat that accumulates inside the abdomen and results in that beer gut look).
I recommend taking 0.44 gram of BCAAs per kilogram of bodyweight. If you weigh 90 kilograms (198 lbs.), that is about 40 grams of branched chain amino acids/day. If you are on a restricted budget, ingest 20 grams, or don't bother.
Over the years I have experimented with varying BCAA protocols - using them before, during and after workouts. My observations are that it is best to ingest them throughout the workout. This is as simple as taking 2-3 tablets between sets.
It was with this type of dosage, that we observed gains of up to 10 lbs. of lean body mass in just 3-4 weeks using this protocol!
5 Protein Rotation
Most bodybuilders know of only 5 solid protein sources: beef, non-fat milk, eggs, chicken and tuna. The problem with this is that when you consume the same protein foods over and over, you are limited by the weakest amino acid in any one protein. Some bodybuilders actually develop relative states of allergies to these repeated proteins. That's right! All athletes who train under my guidance at the Poliquin Performance Center are tested for food allergies - and it turns out that a lot of them have some relative state of allergic reaction to beef, eggs, chicken, and milk proteins.
Therefore, I rotate and substitute other protein foods such as shrimp, scallops, turkey etc. and use supplements to rebuild the integrity of the digestive track. I do not advise that my athletes eat the same protein source 2 days in a row. Usually, within 2 to 6 weeks, any allergy to a given protein is gone and the protein can be reintroduced. In my own case, I got rid of my signs of beef allergy in two weeks but it took 4 weeks to get rid of my egg allergies.
For anabolic purposes, I suggest you rotate your supplemental proteins over 3 days. For example:
Athletes, who vary their protein intake more often than the norm, report increased energy levels and lessened requirements for sleep.
In summary, you CAN accelerate anabolism if your protein intake is high in quality and high in frequency of ingestion; if your digestion and absorption are maximized; if you use BCAAs before, during and after your workouts; and, finally, if you rotate your proteins.