The goal of many bodybuilders is to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. Unfortunately, for most who've been training for any amount of time, training with this goal in mind is typically a surefire way to stand in one place spinning your wheels for months—if not years—on end. It's often noted that bodybuilders tend to be extremists. Whether this is just a natural personality tendency among us, or it is a result of the habits requisite to induce noticeable and lasting physical changes in our physique, it rings true for a large majority. Even when taking training out of the equation, what other group of people or athletes puts itself through the dietary rigors of a bodybuilder? You eat enough to feed a small country while on a bulking phase, yet turn around and barely subsist on enough calories to feed a bird while on a cutting phase.
Anyone who's ever truly been on a real bulking phase or a cutting phase will know exactly what extremes I'm talking about. In order to gain muscle, the body needs food—and lots of it—coupled with a reduction of all extraneous activities. In order to shed fat after building this muscle, the body needs fewer calories and more tedious cardiovascular-type exercise. To try and embark on a mutual compromise between bulking and cutting typically brings compromising results in either direction.
However, with science, information, and understanding of how the various systems of the body function, we can better understand and apply correct exercise and nutritional timing to better enable us to achieve the goal of increasing muscle mass and losing fat simultaneously. The plan I am about to unfold here is, as only a bodybuilder would have it, a bit extreme. However, with dediction and hard work, it will enable you to achieve these two goals simultaneously by taking advantage of nutrients and exercise timing.
What we are going to do is take advantage of the body's hormonal state as it pertains to day-to-day circadian rhythms, exercise and nutrient timing. The plan involves periods of both extreme underfeeding for fat loss, and extreme overfeeding for muscle gain coupled with both training for fat loss (cardio, HIT) and training for muscle gain (heavy weights). Basically you'll be in a fat-burning mode the majority of the time, eating lower carbs and calories, and performing fat-burning activities like regular cardio and HIIT cardio to help in this aspect.
The rest of the time you'll either be sleeping, hitting the iron heavy and hard, or eating like a madman to drive protein synthesis, build muscle, and take advantage of the anabolic hormones induced by the weight training and feeding schedule. So let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of the program.
Some form of cardio should be done 3-6 days per week, and alternated between longer, slow-duration cardio and HIIT cardio. Walking on a slightly inclined treadmill for 45 minutes is an ideal form of the longer-duration cardio which should be performed on weight-training days (up to 3 times per week). Sprinting outdoors or on a treadmill and cycling are ideal forms of HIIT cardio which should be done on weight-training off-days (2-3 times per week). For the HIIT portion, there are many different methods of implementing this.
I like to keep the work:rest intervals a little longer than most at 1:2.
As an example, after a 4-minute slow jog/cycle warm-up perform 20 seconds of all-out sprints followed by 40 seconds of jogging, repeated for 8-12 sets with a 4-minute cool-down of slow jogging at the end. If there is one key to HIIT cardio, it is to keep it creative. Basically, the more you struggle with fat gain and/or loss, the more cardio and HIIT sessions you'll need to perform, with three cardio and three HIIT cardio sessions being the max. Those somewhere in the middle of the metabolic continuum should perform three HIIT sessions and ditch the regular cardio sessions. Those with excellent metabolisms might find they need only one or two HIIT sessions per week.
The actual content of your weight-training sessions is not nearly as important as the timing. It is important for this program that your weight-training sessions be done sometime in the late afternoon/early evening, to allow you to burn fat throughout the day. This is the time when you eat a lower calorie/low carb diet. Also make sure you schedule the weight training early enough in the evening so you are allowed a minimum of six hours between your weight-training session and bedtime.
This is the time you will overfeed to drive protein synthesis and replenish glycogen stores. Doing so too early in the day would halt fat-burning for the rest of the day and put a damper on your training and fat-burning economy.
The weight training should be done 3 times per week on alternate days, M/W/F or Tu/Thu/Sat being ideal. The training sessions should consist of heavy, basic compound movements with some overlap. In other words, don't make any sessions arms-only. You want workouts that stimulate a lot of anabolic hormones and muscle mass. As an example, here is how I currently have my 3 times per week routine set up.
My training is usually done with mixed goals of performance and vanity, so it tends to be a bit unconventional for many. Keep in mind it is just an example.
I normally like to keep sets per exercise around 4-6 and reps between 4-8 and use antagonistic supersets when possible.
In my case, I do smaller muscle groups such as forearms, abs, calves, and rotator cuff on my weight-training off-days; however, this is definitely not something that needs to be done. Do abs and calves whenever you want, just make sure your workouts are hard, heavy, intense, and cover your entire body.
Now for the really interesting part, the diet! The diet is divided up into two separate phases: the low calorie low/carbohydrate portion and the high calorie/high carb portion. Here are the guidelines:
Low-calorie/low carb portion
- Duration: All day on weight-training off-days and 1/2-day on weight-training days.
- Caloric intake: 10-12 times body weight
- Macronutrient ratio: 50% protein, 30% fat, and 20% carbohydrate
High-calorie/high carb portion
- Duration: On weight training days only. From the beginning of the weight-training session until bedtime.
- Caloric intake: The same amount as you would take in during a normal low-calorie day, but these calories are to be consumed in a time span of 6-8 hours. ( 10-12 x body weight or 1600-1900 calories for a 160-pound individual)
- Macronutrient ratio - 20% protein 5% fat and 75% carbohydrate
Maintenance calorie/carb portion
- Duration: Weekends
- Caloric intake: 15 times body weight
- Macronutrient ratio: 50% protein, 30% fat, and 20% carbohydrate
- Monday - a.m. cardio, p.m. weight training*
- Tuesday - HIIT cardio performed anytime
- Wednesday - a.m. cardio, p.m. weight training*
- Thursday - HIIT cardio performed anytime
- Friday - a.m. cardio, p.m. weight training *
- Saturday - HIIT Cardio done anytime, maintenance calories
- Sunday - no training/maintenance calories
*Morning cardio optional, depending on individual
So let's take a trial run through the program. At a bodyweight of 160 pounds our hypothetical trainee needs 1600-1920 calories on the low-carb/low-calorie day. At a 50p/30f/20c ratio this will mean 200 grams of protein/80 grams of carbs and 53 grams of fat. Let's first use and illustrate a weight training off day, Tuesday as an example.
Preferably sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, perform HIIT cardio or sprinting. The timing for the HIIT on weight-training off-days is not terribly important, but keep in mind that the evening is usually a time when the metabolism begins to slow. By performing intense exercise at this time, we stimulate the metabolism so the metabolic rate over the course of 24 hours is greater. After this, have a protein drink along with some liquid carbs which would be equivalent to about half of the total 80-gram allotment of carbs for the day.
Since the body is most responsive to carbohydrate consumption following activity, try to get more carbs in post-workout, regardless of when you perform it. Throughout the rest of the day, the body would be in a hard-core fat-burning state. Diet would consist of mostly lean meats, fibrous veggies and quality fats about every three hours throughout the day.
Again, our hypothetical trainee gets up and this time does the optional slower, longer-duration cardio for 40 minutes, such as walking on a slightly inclined treadmill at a pace not so fast that it leaves him out of breath, but just fast enough so it would be a little difficult to carry on a conversation. After this, have a protein-carb drink. The amount of carbs would be less than the preceding days of HIIT cardio post-workout consumption, maybe 20 grams since the longer-duration slower cardio is less taxing on the glycogen system.
Another important thing to remember is, since this is a weight-training day and this training session is around 3 p.m. he'll only be eating the low-cal/low-carb portion for approximately half day, so the macronutrient total needs to be adjusted since those numbers are based on a full day's total. Instead of 1600 calories, 200 grams of protein, 80 grams of carbs, and 53 grams of fat, we need to cut those in half and eat about 800 calories, 100 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, and 26 grams of fat from breakfast until 3 p.m.
Once 3 p.m. hits, the anabolism (and fun) begins! Just prior to the workout we'd have a serving of some type of stimulant and begin sipping on a carb/protein drink. (dextrose/maltodextrin/whey) or (BCAAs, dextrose, malto). After the workout we would have another high-carb/protein drink of dextrose/maltodextrin and whey and head home for more great FOOD and CARBS! The macronutrient total from 3 p.m. until bedtime will total approximately 1600 calories /300 grams of carbs/80 grams protein/and 9 grams fat for a 160 pounder, so this pretty much means any low-fat carbohydrate sources are fair game.
Although complex carbs such as white potatoes, rice, oatmeal etc. are ideal due to their effects on replenishing muscle glycogen, it's OK to have some cereal, low-fat pastries, etc. during this time as well. Keep fruit and fructose consumption to a minimum, and definitely make sure you stay away from fat. Having high insulin levels coupled with fat intake will drive fat directly into storage. Continue to pig out on carbs until bedtime and then wake up the next morning for another 1.5 days of dieting before hitting the workout and overfeed all over again.
Why It Works?
The weight training and preceding dieting phase not only burns fat but also puts the body into a glycogen-depleted state which heightens insulin sensitivity so the body is ready to suck up on all the nutrients delivered during the short-term carbohydrate overfeed. In addition to increasing cellular hydration, which is important for protein synthesis, the body responds to this overfeeding by increasing levels of the anabolic hormone insulin.
Having high insulin levels all the time could be a bad thing and lead to fat gain, but for such a short period of time after an intense workout we're able to maximize the anabolic power of insulin for anabolism and muscle building with little danger of spillover into fat storage. Studies have shown that carbohydrates consumed during massive short-term carbohydrate overfeeding have a small effect on de novo lipogenesis, or conversion to fat from carbohydate.
Also, during this time and after, the body will respond to this short-term overfeed with larger amounts of the hormones testosterone, thyroid and leptin. Leptin is the hormone which normally drops during a diet and causes our fat loss efforts to reach a stand-still and causes our body to begin cannibalizing muscle tissue. By boosting leptin through over-feeding, we also ensure that our fat loss efforts continue unhindered throughout the plan while all the other hormones are optimized for muscle gain. Regular cardio is done earlier in the day not only to burn more calories and fat but, more importantly, to give a big metabolic stimulus throughout the day. Diet is optimized to allow fat burning during these times.
Likewise, the timing of the weight training sessions coincides with the time when the body would normally begin to go from an anabolic to a catabolic state. By doing our weight training and HIIT in the afternoon/early evening we are able to boost anabolic hormones and sensitivity to these hormones at a time when they naturally begin to decline while also stimulating the metabolism at a time when it begins to slow down. Following the weight-training workout with a high carbohydrate overfeed gives solid, around-the-clock hormonal and dietary management of both muscle gain and fat loss.
Although supplements are not absolutely necessary there definitely are certain supplements worth considering. It is also important that certain supplements be taken and/or avoided at certain times.
- Protein: Whey hydrolysate after cardio/weight training and ideally whey/casein mix to be used during the rest of the time.
- Carb drink blend: Ideally a mix of dextrose and maltodextrin before and after weight training workouts.
- BCAAs/Glutamine: Can be used prior, during and after cardio and HIIT, cardio or weight training.
- Fish oil/Flax oil/other good fats: Quite essential. Should be consumed for the majority of your daily fat consumption.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: Preferable R-ALA. Can be used in large dosages during the carbohydrate overfeed phase.
- Non-Ephedra based energizers, fat burners: Can be used anytime during the program. Tyrosine, DMAE, green tea extract, 7-keto, ginseng etc.
- Creatine monohydrate: Used during overfeeding phase.
- Caffeine: Use as needed.
Tweaking The Program
The program as outlined works well for those whose muscle building/fat burning metabolism is average and who are not at either extreme of their personal leanness or upper end of a bulking cycle. Someone who just came off a hard-core bulking diet eating 6000 calories per day will have a hard time putting on any additional muscle mass following this program, however, it will allow better retention of muscle while dieting. Likewise, someone who already dieted down to 5% body-fat likely won't lose any fat with this program but will be able to build some muscle while keeping body-fat stable. Success on the program will typically manifest itself with bodyweight staying constant and the physique taking on a harder, more dense, leaner look.
This is a sign that the body is shedding fat while building muscle. Typically if bodyweight on the scale drops, this is a sign that the caloric deficit is too low and either energy system training (cardio and HIIT) needs to be dropped or caloric intake during the low calorie/low carb portion needs to be increased. Some may find they can get away with little to no cardio and just follow the diet, but most will need at least 3 sessions per week. If cardio and HIIT sessions are to be scaled back it is best to eliminate those sessions on the weight training days (regular cardio) rather than eliminating those done on the off days (HIIT).
When it comes to adding muscle keep in mind, if one were to hold fat levels constant yet add muscle mass their relative body fat percentages would go down, which is an ideal state. For those who find themselves putting on fat yet following the program to the letter, the high calorie re-feed may need to be examined and possibly toned down. People tend to vary on their response to high calorie re-feeds. It is also important to note that after a high calorie re-feed some water will be retained which will likely make measurements such as the waist increase in size.
For this reason it is important to compare measurements after a refeed to those after the previous refeed and not after a day of eating low calories/low carbs as those numbers will be different. Also realize that, no matter how successful the program is, there will come a point where the mutual task of building fat can no longer be accomplished on this program and a more specialized program will have to be undertaken.
However, most people who maintain a 10-15% body-fat percentage can likely get to around 8% body-fat using this program while still being able to build muscle in the process and not using any hormonal type supplements. Fill me in on your results and feel free to contact me with any questions!