Part II – How big is your plate?
There are 168 hours in a week, you train for 5 of those hours, and sleep for the other 56 hours– This leaves you with 107 hours of the week to put as much food on your plate as possible to add muscle size. However, is this the best possible practice during your Off-Season?
In part I, we looked at the first two mistakes that are often overlooked;
1) setting realistic goals for muscle gain during your bulking phase and 2) if you’re in the correct starting position to add higher amounts of calories into your diet.
Mistakes 3, 4 and 5 come from a nutrition aspect and will cover the remaining 107 hours of your week. First of all, it’s important to note that resistance training is required to add muscle mass as it provides the worked muscles with a sufficient stress in order for the body to react and adapt by building them bigger and stronger – This is muscle building 101. However, the correct nutrition practices can determine the magnitude of the training adaptation. In other words, if you get your nutrition strategies right, then you can amplify the effect of your weight training session and increase the rate at which you build muscle.
Therefore, this Off-Season – you’ll need to take into account the THREE following nutrition approaches…
3) Meal frequency
Meal frequency or PROTEIN FREQUENCY is going to be a key issue when attempting to gain muscle. I’ve written extensively on this topic and more in a free downloadable eBook that can be found HERE. However, here are the cliff notes on protein frequency:
- Once protein is consumed in the correct dose, it stimulates the mechanisms responsible for muscle growth. This mechanism is referred to as muscle protein synthesis, or MPS for short 1, 2.
- Once MPS has been stimulated, it remains ‘switched on’ for approx. 3-4 hours 2.
- Consuming another protein meal within the 3-4 hours will not further increase MPS – This is known as the ‘muscle full’ effect 3.
- MPS resembles a light switch – once you’ve turned a light switch on, you can’t press the button harder to make the light shine brighter. You have to wait until it is ‘turned off’ before turning it back on again. Similar to consuming protein, once the mechanisms are switched on, they’re on 3.
- You need a sufficient dose of protein in order to maximally stimulate MPS 1. Again, I talk about this in a lot of detail HERE.
- Since MPS is ‘turned on’ for approx. 3-4 hours after protein is consumed – The aim will be to have 3-4 protein rich meals per day to get the most out of your daily ability to build muscle 3.
Therefore, the more frequently you can stimulate MPS, the better – as each time you stimulate MPS, you initiate muscle growth. However, be mindful of the switch analogy. So, say good bye to having 6 or 7 protein rich meals per day as three to four protein rich meals will suffice. This isn’t to say that you can’t eat more than four times per day, just make the additional meals into non-protein rich snacks?
4) Being scared of losing your abs
This is a really simple message that you’ll have to accept – You’re going to lose your abs. Remember in Mistake 2 we looked at the ratio of muscle to fat gain when consuming a higher amount of calories. To recap, when additional calories are consumed above what is deemed to be your maintenance caloric intake – it has been reported that for every 1kg of muscle gained, 2kg of fat will be gained 4, 5. It’s worth noting that the participants in this study didn’t train, therefore the ratio may be somewhat more favourable in terms of muscle gain if weight training was performed. However, some body fat will most likely be gained if you’re calories are elevated to promote muscle gain at a more favourable rate.
If you go to the other end of the spectrum and consume insufficient calories for fat loss, then it becomes a case of retaining muscle mass and strength 6, 7, as opposed to building it. Therefore finding the tipping point is a case of trial and error – keeping calories relatively high in order to induce muscle gain without increasing calories to the point where excessive fat gain occurs. As in most cases in life, more does not always equal better.
5) Not being able to see your abs at all
You’ve gone too far, slow things down, you’re now fat…
Retuning to Mistake 2 once more; it was reported that the participants 6, 7 in the overfeeding studies responded differently with regards to muscle and fat gain depending on their starting body fat mass. It was observed that the participants with the higher body fat masses increased fat gain at a quicker rate than the participants with lower body fat masses when calories were the same. This suggests that as body fat levels increase, energy/nutrient partitioning decreases 6, 7 and in some cases mayresult in insulin resistance and the decreased ability to regulate glucose and fatty acid breakdown 8. This is important to recognise as overweight and obese individuals have a much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to lean individuals (approximately nine times greater) 10. I’m not saying that you’re going to bulk to the point where you are classed as obese, however it’s important not to progress to far down the line from lean to obese if looking to have an effective off-season.
If this becomes the case where body fat mass becomes too high during a bulking phase, it may be worth reducing caloric intake so body fat mass returns to a more suitable level in order to ‘undo’ the negative aspects associated with increased body fat mass, such as insulin resistance 9. On a side note, not all overweight and obese individuals are insulin resistant 11, 12 and exercise does help improve insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance in a dose dependant manner 13.
Practically speaking, it’s probably not the best to go all out and use the excuse of bulking to eat everything in sight. Be mindful of portion sizes by placing yourself in a moderate calorie surplus. At the end of your off-season, what’s the point of being 15-20kg overweight when all you have to do is lose it again? In return, this will potentially lead to losing lean mass and strength 6, 7 and potentially reducing the time of your off-season due to needing additional time to lose body fat. Therefore resulting in less time to add muscle mass – So, manage your body fat mass and you can bulk for longer!
Eat smart, get strong!
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