In many of my articles over the years, I have promoted an approach to training that takes full advantage of manipulating your body's natural production of anabolic hormones. One area I have not gone into great detail about is the idea of insulin manipulation through the use of carbohydrates and supplements. This article will cover that topic.
If gaining lean muscle mass is your goal, a systematic approach to carbohydrate intake will lead to better results. A cyclic diet – rotating calorie intake based on your activity level for that day by adjusting carb intake up or down - makes sense even if you are lean because your body requires less calories on off days then on training days. It's also true that too many carbs, if not burned off for fuel, will be stored as fat. Your muscles and liver can only hold so much glycogen (made from glucose). The amount of glycogen the muscles/liver can hold really depends on the weight of the individual and the amount of muscle mass that person carries.
A typical figure usually given is between 200 and 350 grams with the liver capable of storing only 100 grams. It's important to note that for every 1 gram of carbs stored, 3 grams of water are also stored: this ties into the cell volumization concept that so many products today promote. As part of that process, then, adequate carb and water intake is critical. It's also important to note that the average person stores enough glycogen for about 12 hours. However, bodybuilders are not average and as soon as you begin to exercise you begin to burn glycogen for fuel. Once you deplete glycogen stores through exercise and/or low carb eating, it can take up to 48 hours to replenish. The most critical time to take in most of your carbohydrates is the hours surrounding your workout.
Part of this process is the manipulation of the anabolic hormone insulin. Insulin is a peptide hormone released by the pancreas when glucose concentrations exceed normal levels. Elevated levels of arginine and leucine also cause this hormone to be released. Insulin effects are asserted through a series of steps that begins when it binds to receptor proteins on the cell membrane, which leads to activation of the receptor which attaches phosphate groups to intracellular enzymes. What this means is that it enhances glucose absorption and utilization and ATP production. It also enhances amino acid absorption and protein synthesis. Additionally, it stimulates fat storage. So it can be seen that insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone but also a double edged sword.
Insulin is a double edged sword is because to many simple carbs throughout the day will lead to insulin spikes which in turn can lead to body fat gains. Therefore insulin must be controlled, you only want a spike when you are severely depleted of glycogen such as first thing in the morning and at the end of your workout. At that time insulin is very anabolic, shuttling nutrients into the muscles and blocking the catabolic hormone cortisol.
Going back to the time around the workout, one of the best things you can do to get the best results from your training session is to eat moderate GI carbs in the hours leading up to the workout, as you approach training time, say about one hour away, you mix up a drink containing a fast absorbing carb source like maltodextrin with dextrose, or waximaize (about 30 grams), some essential aminos high in the BCAAs and glutamine, creatine and nitric oxide. Some pre-mixed powders currently on the market will also add insulin mimickers, such as chromium picolinate, cinnulin, alpha lipoic acid and 4-hydroxyisoleucine.
You begin to sip your drink about one hour prior to hitting the gym, you drink one more drink throughout the workout to help maintain an anabolic state while you train (the act of working out is actually a catabolic event). This is the intra-workout drink concept which I think is a great idea. About 30 minutes after your workout, you can have a typical post-workout shake of whey protein and a fast digesting carb source; about 45 minutes after that a typical solid protein/carb meal such as lean beef, chicken or turkey, brown rice and some mixed veggies.
This type of nutrient timing takes full advantage of the anabolic window which typically has referred to the hour following the workout but more recently really refers to the hours that surround the workout. As well, you are taking full advantage of the cell volumization concept. This ties into sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which means you are increasing the volume of the sarcoplasm, the jelly-like substance that surrounds and baths the myofibrils in your muscle cells with nutrients such as water, amino acids, creatine and glycogen. There are several current theories of muscle growth, this is one of the more popular theories and explains why cell volumization is a very big thing today. With this concept you are causing the muscles to pump and swell causing the fibers to stretch beyond normal. In theory, to make a long story short, this translates into new muscle growth but there is still some question as to whether or not you'll see any meaningful strength increases.
Combined with a hard, intense training program you can achieve great results from an approach like this. The ideal training program to use would be one that focuses on hormonal manipulation by targeting testosterone and GH production. You would combine basic exercises for the target bodypart, working up to a heavy weight and reps in the 6-8 range. Pyramiding works great here: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4-6 . The first three sets are warm ups, the final three are working sets. The use of rest pause on the working sets is a great way to extend a power set like this, allowing you to get another 3-5 reps. This will target testosterone release. For GH release, I like to follow this with a more intense approach, such as a superset which can also incorporate drop sets, burns and static holds. Here's an example. For my leg workout the other day this is what I did:
Squats - 3 warm up sets of 15, 12 and 10 reps. Two working sets in the 6-8 rep range but no rest-pause. I superset working set #2 with leg extensions on which I did a 5 drop drop set, holding the weight at the top for a 3 count at the end of each sequence. This type of training approach does several things: promotes maximum hormone release through the use of basic exercises and intensity techniques, keeps the muscles under tension for quite a while (according to research twenty seconds is the minimum a set should last for maximum muscle stimulation), you are hitting different fiber types by using different rep ranges (extended set techniques like supersets and drops act to extend your rep totals), you are training to and beyond failure, you are not ignoring strength or intensity. There are differing definitions of intensity, some refer to work done per unit of time and some refer to effort exerted: this approach covers them both. This is a quick routine so I was done within twenty minutes (including hams and calves). Finally, this approach does a lot for the pump!
Let me give you one more example of a routine I recently did: arms. I seldom train biceps and triceps together but this past week I did. I did, after warm-ups, 3 supersets of 3 different exercises done all as a tri-set. Here's how it looked:
- Warm-ups - superset EZ curls with EZ extensions ( two supersets)
- Working sets - heavier superset of EZ curls with EZ extensions, right into a superset of supinating dumbbell curls and dumbbell extensions, right into incline dumbbell curls with triceps press-downs. This is all one set and I did this twice. I did no other techniques but I did go to failure on each set and at failure I use a type of rest-pause where you just hold the weight for a 3-4 count and simply get the thing up there while maintaining good form. So, in this case I accomplished much the same thing as with legs except my use of basic exercises were not separated from the rest of the routine.
Now, I do believe that different muscles do not respond the same to the same intensity techniques. This may also be an individual thing. Using myself as an example, I find the training approach I just used for legs doesn't seem to work well for chest. With chest I find my triceps burn first which in turn limits my set. So I use a post-exhaust superset approach: bench presses with flyes, really emphasizing the stretch on the flyes. On chest, I add a bit of volume and train quickly but can't get away with the drop sets or tri-set supersets. So, to me an ideal training routine would take into account individual response to different techniques, this is where you have to experiment with different techniques to determine what works best. Additionally you may find you don't have this problem at all and all muscles respond well to the same technique.
Anyway, these types of routines when combined with the carb timing techniques discussed above, will produce great results! Just remember that any routine will work only as long as it takes you to adjust to it. Typically that will be about 3-4 weeks, at that point it's time to make some changes. I prefer to make fairly big changes like new exercises, new intensity techniques, new body part groupings but I always maintain a core group of exercises that are to important to drop, such as squats, deadlifts, benches. To a lesser degree, you can change things like rep style, rep performance and rest periods. Ideally, you can pick 6-8 routines that you feel have worked best for you, set them up in a logical fashion and rotate them over 3-4 week periods. As long as there is progressive logic to it, meaning you gradually increase intensity for example or strength, you will see good results.
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