We say we create athletes - this is how
When it comes to building muscle and shredding fat, gym-goers often find themselves preoccupied with trivial matters that have little bearing on the big picture.
It’s not uncommon to see beginners focusing their time on iso-lateral BOSU ball lunges rather than basic barbell squats. It should be quite clear that the squats are going to build a much better set of legs in much less time.
Now don’t get me wrong, you should always be looking for ways to fine tune your diet, training and supplementation. However, it’s wise to consider that most things in life are not distributed evenly.
Sadly, many people find themselves veering off the beaten path far too often when it comes to their training, diet and supplementation. You must understand that there is diminishing marginal benefits the further away you stray from proven training methods, supplement ingredients and dietary protocols. This is to say that you will be spending lots of time, money and effort on protocols that don’t really make much difference in the end - things that barely contribute to your long-term goals.
As far as food choices go, the majority of trainees can stand to benefit by emphasizing micronutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean animal proteins, whole-grain carbohydrates and healthy fat sources like various nuts and oils. These don’t have to be your only food sources, but they will likely benefit your health and performance should you have them in your diet.
It is also important to ingest sufficient dietary fiber, micronutrients and essential fatty acids. These maintain intestinal integrity, assist with mineral balance, heart health and improve blood lipids. If you choose to supplement with a multi-vitamin or Omega-3s that’s fine as well.
The lesson here is that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your inputs – so focus on what matters.
If your goal is to be lean and muscular, then it should be rather intuitive that the majority of your time in the gym should be spent lifting weights. This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise doesn’t have a place in your regimen, but just that weight training is paramount to developing skeletal muscle tissue, strength and metabolic capacity.
The trap that most people seem to slip into when they begin a fat-loss plan is focusing way too much on long bouts of cardio instead of doing weights. Ultimately, these individuals just end up looking skinny and soft.
Compare the physique of any Olympic sprinter to that of an Olympic distance athlete and you’ll notice the sprinter is built quite like a bodybuilder. The reason for that is simple–the sprinters train with weights, and when they do cardio it’s mostly high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which has metabolic ramifications quite similar to weight training.
Muscle building is often seen as a very confusing process. There are so many workouts and articles that it can make it hard for gym-goers to see the bigger picture.
It’s safe to say that the most efficient muscle-building exercises are going to be compound/multi-joint movements. They work multiple muscle groups at once and allow for greater progression than isolation exercises. The most basic, fundamental compound exercises are the barbell bench press, squat and deadlift.
Again, everything has its place in a sound training regimen, but keep the isolation exercises secondary to compound lifts. Each workout should be built around compound exercises that target the muscles you’re training that given day. For example, if you are training your upper body, a solid routine may look like this:
This gives a total of 7 exercises in the workout, with 5 of those being compound movements. You could even superset many of these movements in an “A-then-B” fashion to save time and up the intensity of the program.
Ultimately, there are many ways you can structure your workouts but it is best to spend the majority of your time focusing on compound movements and consistent progression. To give a rule-of-thumb, try and design your workouts so you have at least a 2:1 ratio of compound to isolation movements, respectively.
The majority of individuals who methodically track their food intake are preoccupied with the precise macronutrient breakdown of their diet. The reality is, the majority of your results will be determined by your total energy intake and your total energy output. In short, the most important thing is to focus on calorie counting/control.
Studies show that overweight individuals who lessen their caloric intake to a level that is moderately below their total energy expenditure experience significant health benefits, both in appearance (e.g. reduced waist circumference) and internally.
Now, this is not suggesting that macronutrient manipulation isn’t necessary or worthwhile since frankly, it is. However, if you’re not eating enough you won’t build muscle; just like you won’t lose fat if you’re not limiting calorie intake enough.
So if you’re new to tracking food intake, first and foremost monitor your calorie intake. Once you are comfortable with that, move onto macronutrient tracking/manipulation.
The trickiest part of discussing nutrition is trying to provide generalizations since dietary needs vary on an individual basis. However, there are still some guidelines to follow and below you will find out how to apply those and create your optimal eating plan.
Protein is crucial - Research seems to suggest that as long as the protein sources you ingest contain the necessary leucine content (and other essential amino acids) then there is little difference in MPS between sources (e.g. milk, animal protein, egg protein, etc). Generally, 20+ grams of a leucine-rich protein source will provide a sufficient elevation in muscle protein synthesis for a solid 3-4 hours post ingestion. That being said, protein needs will vary for everyone based on their training regimen, age and body composition
Fats are essential - Fatty acids have a variety of roles in sustaining cellular integrity/functions. Unsaturated fat sources, especially the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are revered for their cardiometabolic health benefits. Also, saturated fatty acids are necessary for proper hormone production (mainly androgens). Contrarily, too much-saturated fat intake is associated with insulin resistance and metabolic maladaptations, so don’t go overboard. As a baseline, start with about 25% of your total fat intake coming from saturated fats and emphasize unsaturated fats for the rest.
Carbohydrates are anabolic augmenters - Gym-goers often seem to have a love-hate attitude toward carbohydrates due to their inherent insulinogenic property (save for fructose). Lest they forget that some amino acids are also insulinogenic, and more importantly, that insulin is a potent anabolic hormone. Therefore if you want to pack on some solid muscle tissue, it is quite conducive to manipulate insulin secretion in your favor. Numerous studies have verified that the muscle protein synthesis response to a nominal dose of amino acids can be enhanced by the presence of an increased insulin response. Moreover, carbohydrates refill liver and muscle glycogen stores. The protein-sparing effect of carbohydrates is crucial to muscle building since fewer amino acids will be utilized for energetic purposes when sufficient glycogen and/or glucose is available.
Maximize Pre-workout Nutrition - Intense training elicits a myriad of acute metabolic effects, such as up-regulation of glucose transport proteins and enhanced blood flow in muscle tissue. It is important to take advantage of these favorable metabolic adaptations via proper nutrient intake around the training time frame, generally by eating a generous amount of carbohydrates and protein. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take in any fat at this time either, but just not a large amount as fat can slow digestion and blunt insulin secretion.
Meal timing and frequency - The highest priority on the hierarchy of dieting is meeting your calorie and macronutrient quotas at the end of the day, with the timing of those meals falling on the bottom. However, meal timing and frequency is still of relevance in the grand scheme of things, but the most important thing is to have a plan that allows you to consistently hit your calorie/macronutrient goals and perform at your best. If this means eating 6-7 smaller meals every few hours or 2-3 bigger meals a day spaced further apart throughout the day then so be it. That being said, avoid very extreme protocols; eating all of your calories in one meal per day or eating every hour around the clock are certainly not very pragmatic approaches to performance nutrition.
Stay hydrated - Don’t skimp on fluid intake, especially around the training time-frame. If you’re constantly thirsty or your urine is dark yellow, you are likely not drinking enough fluid. Try and carry a water bottle with you throughout the day and drink several ounces every hour.
Regardless of what your goal may be (weight loss/fat loss, muscle building, strength, or overall aesthetics) – creatine can help you get there. Creatine has been linked to increased strength and lean muscle gains – which makes it a powerful body composition enhancing supplement, as well as a strength supplement. Creatine has been used for over 30 years and has been deemed completely safe when consumed properly.
Since creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in meat and fish – two foods that should be in every athlete’s diet – it can be considered an all natural supplement. One of the biggest benefits of using creatine is an increase in the energy output of fast twitch muscle fibers. This allows muscle fibers to exert more force and maximum contraction when lifting heavy weight, thus improving your anaerobic capacity.
Unfortunately, many people have the false perception that because creatine is a muscle-building supplement, it alone will get them the ripped physique and head-turning power they’re looking for.
The reality is that creatine, like any supplement, only works as hard as you do. That means that in order to optimize its effectiveness, you must train with 100% maximum intensity each and every time you walk into the gym.
Creatine is very effective at increasing strength and can help add a few extra pounds to all of your compound lifts. Adding more weight to your heavy lifts also means an increase in total volume per workout. This significantly increases the amount of overload on your body, which over time, will ultimately result in greater strength and muscle gains.
Creatine is an incredible supplement for enhancing body composition, as well as strength, endurance, and power output during workouts. Now, let’s examine which form we believe to be the best:
Kre-Alkalyn- Kre-alkalyn, also known as buffered creatine, is a newer form of creatine that actually has a patent associated with its chemical makeup. Buffered creatine has a pH of 12, which allegedly allows it to be absorbed easier and faster by the body – and supposedly requires less total amount per serving. The truth is that most of those claims have been proven false. This study found no performance advantages to taking Kre-Alkalyn creatine.
Creatine HCL - The latest craze to hit the market is Creatine HCl, which is creatine bound to hydrochloric acid. It is claimed to be the most advanced form of creatine available and is supposed to absorb better than other forms. The pitch is that instead of taking five to ten grams per day, it is only necessary to consume one to two grams. However, the reality is that creatine HCl is simply turned into a regular creatine molecule by stomach acid. Many bodybuilders and athletes have used it without any substantial gains compared to the other, more effective forms. It is also quite pricey and will set you back close to $50 for a month’s supply. With no clear strength or muscle building advantage there is no edge to using creatine HCl over creatine monohydrate.
Creatine Malate- Creatine Malate is creatine bound with malic acid and is another popular form of creatine. Malic Acid alone has been linked to performance and strength in competitive athletes. However, once again, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that a creatine malate is a superior form of this excellent supplement.
Creatine Ethyl Ester- Creatine Ethyl-ester is another popular form of creatine that supposedly does not require any loading and supposedly is more easily consumed by the body. In truth, creatine ethyl ester is actually one of the least effective forms. The main issue with creatine ethyl ester is that once in the stomach, it is broken down and converted to a compound known as creatinine – which is inactive, and ineffective. The reality is that creatine ethyl ester is not only less effective than creatine monohydrate, but is actually no better than gains from the infamous placebo effect.
Liquid Creatine - Liquid creatine is simply a creatine that has been suspended in liquid. It has been shown to be ineffective because over time, being suspended in a liquid causes it to convert to creatinine, which, as we know, is useless for those seeking real results.
Creatine Monohydrate - Creatine Monohydrate is the old-fashioned, reliable and beneficial form of creatine that has been proven effective for over 30 years. This form is by far the most studied, and consistently proven form of this incredible supplement. Simply put- Creatine Monohydrate will give you the best results, as proven by science.
Whey Protein is arguably the most popular food supplement available, largely because protein is the imperative for those looking to build muscle. Aside from the multitude of functions proteins have in the human body, they’re also the key regulator/substrate for muscular (and other tissue) hypertrophy.
Needless to say, if you’re putting in countless hours in the gym training then you’re going to want to maximize your results by optimizing your protein intake.
Research continues to provide evidence that protein needs are greater in active individuals (especially those who lift weights regularly). Thus, many gym-goers find supplemental protein powders useful for meeting their protein demands.
WHAT IS WHEY PROTEIN?
All proteins are made up of amino acids, and whey happens to be a complete source of protein (meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids that humans must obtain through diet). Whey protein remains readily soluble in liquid environments and over varying pH ranges and is denatured (unfolded) when treated with high heat.
Whey refers to the milk serum byproduct produced during the curdling of milk. Whey proteins comprise roughly 20% of the protein content in dairy milk, with the rest of being casein proteins. Whey proteins come in a variety of fractions, such as albumins and globulins, that vary according to the species from which they are secreted (dairy cattle produce milk that contains mainly alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin). Many dairy products, such as low-fat milk, cream, and cheese, are made by utilizing the functional characteristics of whey.
HOW WHEY PROTEIN IS PRODUCED
Whey itself contains whey proteins, milk sugar (lactose), small amounts of fat, and micronutrients. Whey protein is filtered via one of several membrane filtration methods, such as microfiltration or ultrafiltration. After being filtered, the whey is spray dried and microencapsulated into a powdered product which may then be further altered by the manufacturer with specific food flavoring, coloring, etc.
TYPES OF WHEY PROTEIN POWDERS
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) - Produced via ultrafiltration of whey, this refers to whey proteins that contain < 90% protein concentration, but could be as little as 20%. Usually, the exact proportion of whey will be notated following the term “WPC” such as WPC “75.” The rest of the powder is comprised is of lactose, fat, and micronutrients.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) - May be produced by a variety of membrane filtration techniques, with the goal of reaching >90% protein concentration and removal of most (if not all) lactose. Manufacturers will also often combine filtration with an ion-exchange technique to selectively filter out particles by their ionic charge rather than just molecular size.
Whey Protein Hydrolysates (WPH) - Whey protein hydrolysates are produced via enzymatic hydrolysis of either WPC and/or WPI. Essentially, this acts as a method of pre-digesting the protein by hydrolyzing (splitting) the protein’s peptide bonds. The resulting product is rapidly digested and absorbed upon ingestion.
HOW WHEY PROTEIN WORKS
Proteins are an essential macronutrient (meaning humans need to ingest them to survive) that are vital for many physiological processes, including neurotransmission, energy production, cardiovascular function, immune system regulation, and development and maintenance of muscle tissue. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are subsequently the building blocks of muscle tissue since muscles are where the body stores most of its amino acids.
Whey protein is a complete protein with a large proportion of the amino acid L-leucine. L-leucine has been found to be a key substrate for stimulating the Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway which regulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Research corroborates that the proportion of leucine in a given protein source has implications on the peak MPS rate attained in the postprandial state.
There is a multitude of benefits from ingesting whey protein that stems from the biological role of essential amino acids and the list below summarizes the main benefits.
Increases anabolic response to resistance training
A complete protein source that is ideal for stimulating MPS
Simple/convenient to add to one’s diet
Helps maintain muscle mass and prevent sarcopenia (muscular atrophy due to aging)
Boosts immune system function in those who are physically active
Protects lean body mass during prolonged aerobic activities
WHICH TYPE OF WHEY PROTEIN IS BEST
In short, there is no “best” whey protein; choosing the right whey protein for you will come down to several factors including your budget, the quality/flavor desired, lactose tolerability, and what you are using the product for.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) WPC is the cheapest priced whey protein supplement and tends to provide decent quality, making it a solid option for those on a tight budget. WPC is a bit higher in fat and carbohydrate content, though. There will be a small amount of lactose in most WPC products, so if you don’t tolerate milk sugar very well then your best bet is to stay clear of WPC.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) If you want a lactose-free, low-fat, and easily digested protein then WPI is tough to beat.The main drawbacks to WPI are that it is relatively expensive and doesn’t have the sweet, creamy texture that WPC does.
Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) WPH is highly bioavailable, easy to digest, very low in fat and carbohydrates, and has a very high (>90%) protein concentration. Unfortunately, WPH tends to be the most expensive of all whey protein powders, but if you have the room in your budget then it’s pretty much the “gold standard” of proteins.
Whey protein blends Most protein powder supplements are a blend of WPI and WPC, as manufacturer’s aim to create a balance between cost, flavor, and quality. Something to be wary of is companies that “label dress” their product by incorporating minute amounts of WPI and/or WPH just so it looks like they are giving you a higher quality product (when in reality, it’s mostly overpriced WPC).
WHEY VS. OTHER PROTEIN SOURCES
You’re probably curious what is best/optimal when it comes to different protein sources (such as whey, casein, soy, egg, wheat, etc.). High-quality proteins such whey and casein are capable of promoting muscle protein synthesis post-exercise by activating the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway. What this tells us, then, is that protein source does indeed matter, but only in the sense that you are ingesting sufficient essential amino acids (EAAs). Remember, EAAs are amino acids that we must obtain from dietary sources humans can’t synthesize them in the body.
Coincidentally, whey protein just so happens to be the ideal source EAAs (per gram, that is), and most importantly, of L-leucine. Whey protein is also the most bioavailable source of protein for humans (meaning we readily digest and absorb it).
WHEN TO USE WHEY PROTEIN
In reality, whey protein isn’t a “supplement” so much as it is just a powdered food. It should be utilized whenever you are looking for a high-quality source of protein to add to your diet. That being said, research does show that taking whey protein pre- and post-workout can significantly enhance the MPS response to weight training.
HOW MUCH WHEY PROTEIN SHOULD I USE?
Research is ongoing as to how much protein is optimal (especially in active individuals). In general, it is recommended to ingest at least 1 gram of protein per pound of your lean body mass.
Thus, an individual who is 10% body-fat and weight 200lbs would aim to take in at least 180g of protein per day.
Simply use your whey protein supplement accordingly to reach your protein goal for the day.
If you’re ‘bulking‘ then, of course, your protein intake will be higher than average.
WHEY PROTEIN FAQS
Q: I’m allergic to milk, is a whey protein supplement safe for me?
A: If you’re only allergic to the casein fractions of milk, then whey protein supplements should be safe.
Q: I’m lactose intolerant, can I still use a whey protein supplement?
A: Yes, but whey protein concentrate supplements will likely contain the most lactose, so it may be in your best interest to invest in a pure whey protein isolate product.
Q: Does whey protein use have any side effects?
A: Whey protein is generally well tolerated by most individuals, but in special circumstances, there is the risk of certain side effects such as:
Increased bowel movements/flatulence
These side effects can generally be easily alleviated by monitoring your total protein intake and making sure you are aware of any possible food allergies that you may have.
Q: Does it matter what liquid I use to mix my whey protein with?
A: No, the choice of liquid won’t have any effect on the solubility (assuming it’s not boiling hot).
Q: Does cooking/baking reduce the effectiveness of whey protein?
A: No, denatured protein is essentially “pre-digested” protein; you’re still taking in all the amino acids that were originally in the protein, to begin with.
Q: Can I combine whey protein supplements with my other powdered supplements like creatine, glutamine, etc?
A: Yes, that’s perfectly fine.