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Dieting And Muscle Gain, The Whole Truth

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Baffled by bro science? Want to know the real deal? Dustin Elliott gives the muscle building truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Dustin ElliottYou’ve heard and seen it before in the gym, the common comments about diets and supplements that are commonly taken in as true. There’s always one guy with muscles who assumes he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to diets and training. So he has a few other “newbies” following him around in the gym following his workout and copycatting what he’s doing.

Attempting to match the training volume of an experienced lifter from square one will hurt your chances of making gains because of how long it will take your body to recover from workouts. Beginner lifters can experience progress during there first few weeks by lifting only 2-3 times a week with only 2 sets per muscle group. Here are some Bro Science fallacies that make up the bulk of gym talk in regards to diet.

More Whey Protein Is Better

Whey protein is actually the by product of cheese. The reason it has become popular as a protein powder for bodybuilders is because of its rapid digestion rates. When it comes to keeping your body in an anabolic state, this is ideal for stopping catabolism and introducing protein to your body post-workout for protein synthesis. While it is true that insulin sensitivity, cell permeability, and absorption rates are increased following exercise, the big question is: If whey protein is digested so fast, how much does your body actually absorb?

Common gym talk would lead you to believe that you can have 40+ grams of a whey protein shake at any time of the day. However the research does not support this. Current research suggests that outside of states where there may be room for increased protein absorption (post-workout), you can only absorb 15-20g of whey protein at a time (1). This is not to knock whey protein, it is still the ideal protein for pre and post-workout supplementation because of its speedy digestion time. But don’t fall for the gimmick that you can take in 40-50+ grams in one sitting as some labels would leave you to believe.

The key to whey protein supplementation is to stick to one serving at a time (most protein powders offer between 20-24g of protein per serving) for the sole purpose for preserving muscle mass (upon waking, pre and post workout). Otherwise, real food, casein, or a blended protein powder would be best.

You Can Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat

As someone who has been hands on training athletes and dealing with customers and supplements for years, probably the most common question I’m asked in regards to muscle gain is: “I want to gain muscle, but I don’t want to get cut at the same time” or “I want to gain muscle but I want to stay as lean as I am right now”.

To accomplish this, many weightlifters will not change their diet at all and they will turn to supplements or simply workout more in an attempt to gain muscle. The truth is that without drugs or amazing genetics, this is a feat that is pretty impossible to reach. The only real instance, in which you can gain pure muscle without fat, or gain muscle while losing fat, is when you are untrained. Untrained meaning either you have never lifted weights, or you haven’t lifted weights in at least 6 months.

The reason for this is that if you are at least a somewhat experienced weight lifter, you must be in caloric surplus, and keep your body in an anabolic state (a state in which your body has sufficient protein to prevent muscle wasting, this can be best achieved by consuming 5 to 6 small meals a day) from a diet standpoint to gain muscle mass. As I discussed in an earlier article, there are ways to manipulate the macronutrient composition of your diet as to prevent from consuming an excess number of carbohydrates and gaining more fat then necessary. The excess of calories needed to gain weight depend on body type; but as little as 200-300 extra calories a day (including those lost through exercise) is needed to gain muscle.

It should be noted that 2,500 calories of energy are needed for one pound of muscle, while 3,500 calories must be lost to lose a pound of fat (2). On the other end of the spectrum, there are bro lifters who are big fans of the “bulking stage” in their approach to gaining muscle. This can be a result of mis-information or an excuse to be unhealthy while not in preparation for any events that would require dieting. The truth is that no matter what the body type, when trying to lean up and show off your hard earned muscles, you will lose less muscle and look much better if you can be as lean as possible before you start dieting. The supplements you take for gaining muscle will be most effective once you get things with your diet and training squared away.

at 10% body fat I may appear to be leaner than an ectomorph who has 9% bodyfat

Fewer Meals Are The Best Way To Consume Fewer Calories

It may seem simple right? If the key to weight loss is consuming fewer calories than it makes sense to just eat fewer meals right? Well, let's take into consideration the typically dietary practices of a Sumo wrestler, who’s goal is to gain as much weight as quickly as possible:

  • Skip breakfast
  • Exercise on an empty stomach
  • Sleep after eating
  • Consume the majority of their calories late in the day and before bed.

Now with those things in mind, do you see any similarities between a sumo wrestlers diet and the average American? I hear it all the time from different people: “I don’t have the time to eat breakfast”, while your asleep your metabolism slows because you are going 6-8 hours without food. It returns to normal upon eating breakfast, if you skip that meal, your in for a fat gaining day.

Another common practice is to skip meals, or eat light during the day, then have a large dinner at night before bed. The problem with fewer meals has to do with insulin control. So often many people are told to consume more meals during the day to speed up there metabolism. But consuming breakfast and increasing muscle mass are the most effective ways (outside of supplementation) to speed up the metabolism. The reason for consuming the frequency of eating is to provide insulin control.

Insulin is responsible for taking nutrients out of the blood and storing them. The longer you go without food, the more insulin will spike the next time you have a meal. And unless you’ve just had a high intensity workout that has robbed your body of many nutrients, insulin will store a many of the calories you’ve just consumed as fat. Fat is the storage form of calories in your body, and if your body goes long periods of time without food, it will respond by storing more fat to cope with your dietary habits. Unfortunately fat storage from insulin is optimized right before sleep because your body burns the fewest amount of calories while your sleeping.

The Fallacies Behind Getting Ripped For Those With Low Muscle Mass

For the ectomorph body types (those with smaller bone structures, with low muscle mass, they usually have a hard time gaining weight when they are in there teens/early twenties) being lean is not so much of a challenge. Gaining muscle mass however is. For these body types, showing muscle definition (chest, abs etc) can prove to be most difficult because of a lack of muscle.

When I’m approached by this body type, and I’m asked questions on how they can get ripped, they usually begin to tell me about how they are cutting calories and hitting the treadmill in an attempt to get ripped. The problem is that they may not even have much weight there body is willing to lose because they are fairly skinny by bodybuilding standards to begin with. My answer for this body type in regards to showing muscle definition is to focus on gaining muscle.

Body fat may not be the issue, at 10% body fat I may appear to be leaner than an ectomorph who has 9% bodyfat but it is only because of the muscle mass beneath my body fat that allows me to appear as if I have more definition. So if you are an ectomorph, and you want six pack abs and a defined chest and arms for spring break. Do not focus on dieting and hitting the treadmill. Focus on hitting those weights.

High Rep Workouts Are The Best Way To Burn Fat

If you haven’t heard it before, lifting weights is one of the essential keys to fat loss right behind diet and sleep in my opinion. The reason for this is because the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest. It is often thought that the type of weightlifting that should be done for weight loss is one that employs a large number of repetitions. The thought behind this is that the increased reps lead to increased calories burned.

The first problem with this is that the rep ranged accepted for gaining muscle mass is between 8-12 reps. The major problem is that the caloric expenditure from exercise is based on exercise intensity, and to debunk this fallacy even more, high intensity exercise leads to an increase in anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone that lead to the metabolization of fat.

Hopefully some of these points clear things up for you when it comes to what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the training and diet talk of your fellow gym rats. There is tons of misinformation out there that continues to circulate (as evidence by those who are in the gym who fail to improve from one year to the next). While it is true that not all of us have the genetics to be professional bodybuilders or professional athletes; the one thing we can all do regardless of body type is improve.

  1. Oben J, Kothari SC & Anderson; ML. An open label study to determine the effects of an oral proteolytic enzyme on whey protein concentrate metabolism in healthy males JISSN 2008 5(10).
  2. 2.Grandjean, Ann C. EdD, Director. Dietary Strategies for Modifying Weight or Body Composition. Strength & Conditioning Journal: June 1995 - Volume 17 - Issue 3 - ppg 7-10

Dustin Elliott is the Head Formulator for Betancourt Nutrition.

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    Dustin Elliott has a Bachelors in Exercise Physiology, and is a member of the Betancourt Nutrition team.
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Comments (18)

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Nick
Posted Tue, 08/10/2010 - 14:37

What supplements would you recommend for an ectomorph like me? I eat 6x a day and mainly it's meat,fish and Carbs.
I workout 3 times a week and I am looking to move that up to 4 when I join my local gym next week. I was looking at amino acids and some Multivitamins is this a good idea?

I have a protein shake before a workout with 2 tbsp of whey powder and a 1tsp of mass gainer then I just have a meal containing beef or chicken.

Thanks

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Dustin (author)
Posted Thu, 08/12/2010 - 13:31

whats your age, height weight, and time period of training experience?

your looking to increase muscle mass i'm assuming, correct? If this is so, then your caloric intake should be relatively high and you can go without a mulit for now since it is not an erogenic aid, i would start with a weight gainer and creatine monohydrate to start...

pre-workout it is best to have a meal containing complex carbs and protein 60-90minutes before lifting, post-workout is the best time to have your whey protein along with simple sugars...

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Josh
Posted Mon, 08/16/2010 - 22:57

Hey Dustin,

I was wondering; what's your opinion on before-bed casein shakes (or extended release protein complex)? I have heard some say that they help, while others claim they don't do anything. Would it be better to just eat a small meal with complex carbs and protein (maybe some natural casein from low-fat cottage cheese) an hour or so before bed, or to just have casein shake before sleep, or both?

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Dustin (author)
Posted Tue, 08/17/2010 - 11:16

The purpose behind having casein before bed was to promote a positive nitrogen balance since you are going to go 6-8 hours without food during sleep. While i myself prefer to have Casein before bed; it is not a necessity. Some bodybuilders who wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom to prefer to have a whey shake then, and further still there are those who wake up and have a shake first thing in the morning. The idea is to promote nitrogen retention whether it be before, during or after the sleeping period. Whichever one you prefer is up to you.

I personally do not have carbs before bed, when dieting, it is the total carbohydrates you have for the day that matters the most, but while my carbohydrates are relatively high during the offseason, i prefer not to stimulate insulin before bed

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Josh
Posted Tue, 08/17/2010 - 18:48

Thanks for the input; I have been using a casein protein before bed for a while now, so I think I will definitely continue that practice.

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justin
Posted Tue, 08/17/2010 - 21:58

great article, i have only been working out and visiting this site for the past year but this is one of the best articles i have read.

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Rich Westcott
Posted Tue, 05/03/2011 - 16:00

I've been losing weight for 10 weeks after a bad accident and years of laziness I've almost doubled my body weight to 130kgs. I've dropped to 110kgs in 10 weeks just by educating myself on how many calories and carbs I need in a day and gentle exercise. My natural size is around 70-74kgs at 10-12% body fat when I was in shape. At what stage should I begin to do resistance training and what kind of exercises/reps. Also, I'm using basic fat burners with caffeine, cayenne pepper, tea extract etc. Is there anything else I should/could use?

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Ahmed
Posted Fri, 05/06/2011 - 21:26

Hi Dustin,

i am an ectomorph. I weigh around 120 pound and i am a very skinny guy. I am 6'2 and my arms and legs are extremely thin. What do you suggest i should do in order to gain more weight and build some muscle. I used to workout a little bit like 2 times a week until an incident about an year ago whick resulted in me breaking my right arm and my wrist. From then i had never gone to gym or lifted any weights, instead i do a morning jog everyday in order to stay fit. What do you recommend to do in order to gain some more weight and build muscle? like for proteins and calories. I eat reasonably and my diet consist of mostly vegetables for breakfast and a a big dinner mostly consisting of meat.

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jahn bushin
Posted Mon, 01/30/2012 - 12:42

Im 6'0 and im 220 and im trying gain musclr and loose fat but my fattas wont do it wat could i do?

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David
Posted Mon, 04/08/2013 - 08:44

In an attempt to bulk would you suggest 1lb per week?

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Bernadette
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 12:40

As a woman working out has became such a conflict first dieting then supplements now close to the 50 year old I do stay at my idea weight but still now what should I do and not be doing.menopause has come to say hello its another way I must change my diet excercise ect...so any advice is well needed I've asked my md but don't find the answers..

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Jon
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 12:44

I'm a 200 pound Mesomorph, 5 feet 8 inches in height. I workout at the gym 3-4 days a week. I do a weight lifting routine, a 3 day split, Arms/Legs/Shoulders, repeat... This takes 60-75 minutes. I do 4-5 sets, lift until failure, until I cannot move the weights any more. THEN I do 30-45 mins on a spin bike at a moderate pace, stretch for 10 minutes, and use a punching bag for 30 minutes. I've been working out since December 2012 (used to do a 2 day split and go 5 days a week, but my 3 day split is more intense). I'm noticing some muscle build, but not major amounts, and I still have a fair bit of a gut, being a size 36 waist. I'm not sure what I can do to help stimulate more fat loss and muscle gain. I take Whey Protein Powder. 20 grams or so post workout, usually 20g pre workout. Sometimes I do 20g before bed and 20g when I wake up. So 4 times a day. 80 grams of protein a day from Whey, plus whatever I eat. I'm pretty poor, so my diet isn't the greatest, since I can't afford fancy food. I'm also very time constrained and find it difficult to take the time to prepare meals in advanced.

Any advice to lose fat, gain muscle. And any advice to eat appropriately CHEAP while gaining muscle? I read a lot about eating 5-6 times a day. What if I say... bought some grapes and just had like, 5 or 6 grapes a few times a day, my 3 meals, and maybe like... a banana tossed in there... would that stimulate my metabolism enough? Or would I need to eat a bit more each of those 5-6 times a day. And what is the recommended Caloric intake for someone who goes to the gym 2-3 hours a day 3-4 times a week, but is more or less sedentary when not in the gym?

Lots of questions, I know, but if anyone can answer them, I'd really appreciate it as I've been working out really hard and not seeing the progress I desire

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Kyle
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 13:16

haha this article is based off all myths and is far from the whole truth. For instance studies have shown that going without breakfast does not affect you metabolism, not even after a24 hr fast. Also eatimg more meals does not speed up metabolism, this is a myth that has been debunked in countless studies. This guy is a joke.

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Chase
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 13:17

"15-20g of whey protein at a time"

This is incorrect. This was done for the average male and actually just because you dont digest it at that very given moment you still will digest every single gram of that protein over x amount of time.

Sad to see such misinformation in this article.

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Chris Cristo
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 13:45

Hey Dustin,

I'm a mesomorph looking to preserve my muscle mass (I just did a short bulk for about 3 months to enhance defenition alittle) and drop down to about 10 percent body fat. My diet consists of 2 shakes daily. 1 in the morning 3 hours after breakfast, and another after my workout. All my meals either have egg, meat, or fish in them and my carb calories are coming mostly from sweet potato. My current supplements are creatine monohydrate, Animal Pak multivitamin, fish oil caps, and L glutamine. I'm roughly around 16 percent body fat. I'm 5'11 and about 192 lb. I'm traveling in Brazil working with my father and sometimes there isnt much available in the hotel gyms. Any idea what I can do to get shred in the next 8 weeks im here?

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LA
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 14:31

Hi,

This article appears to be good and based on research but i'm wondering about Intermittent Fasting. How can you accomodate IF lifestyle with your statement ? You said that eating at morning is important while IF method says to not.

Thanx

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Ryan
Posted Sun, 06/09/2013 - 16:40

If you skip breakfast you're in for a fat gaining day? LOL

This article is full of broscience...in fact I would call this broscience 101.

I don't think you are qualified to write an article of this nature.

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Noob
Posted Wed, 11/27/2013 - 13:24

I'm not a bodybuilder nor am I in the best shape, but the Sumo Wrestler comparison isn't really accurate. Sumo Wrestlers also eat a HUGE amount of calories as does the average American. Leaving that out makes it seem a bit disingenuous.

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