by Mike Arnold
As a beginning BB’r, one of the first things we are taught is the importance of nutrition in building a stand-out physique. We learn about things like calories, macro ratios, proper food selection, meal frequency, and how to combine all these things into a single cohesive program suitable for the attainment of our goals. For many BB’rs, that’s about as far as it goes. With these principles in place, many assume they’re doing all they can to support muscle growth on the diet front, but are they?
The truth is that we could eat 6 times a day, adhere to a macro ratio ideal for our metabolism, and eat what most would consider to be healthy foods, but this does not guarantee us maximum progress. At the most basic level, our results are determined not only by what we eat, but more importantly, what our muscles are able to absorb. This often ignored concept is directly influenced by numerous factors, two of which are insulin sensitivity and the ability to mobilize and activate Glut-4 transporters. By manipulating these factors in our favor, we can preferentially shuttle the nutrients we consume toward muscle cells and way from adipose tissue. This is what’s known as nutrient repartitioning and is essential for maximizing muscle growth and minimizing fat storage.
Having already explored the different methods available for up-regulating Glut-4 and increasing insulin sensitivity, we are now going to learn how to implement all of these variables into a comprehensive program for maximum effectiveness. What can we expect by doing this? Aside from the primary perks of enhanced growth and reduced fat gain, adhering to the following guidelines will also provide a variety of other benefits which have largely eluded the current generation of BB’rs. Unlike some today, who tend to criticize the current generation while holding up the 90’s stars as the epitome of physical perfection, I tend to think I have a more balanced view—being able to assess both the strong & weak points of each generation. Most certainly, today’s BB’rs are larger than ever (generally speaking), with bodyfat and water levels the lowest they have ever been, yet it is not uncommon to read comments about how the 90’s BB’rs were in better condition.
Keep in mind, it is not just the fan-boys making these statments, but some of the most respected men in the sport. However, one’s opinion on this subject largely depends on their definition of the word “conditioning”. From a technical standpoint, conditioning is determined primarily by two factors; bodyfat percentage and subcutaneous water levels, as it is these, along with muscle mass, which determine body composition. Using this as a reference point, it is difficult, if not impossible, to dispute the superiority of today’s BB’rs in these 2 areas. Never before have so many competitors exhibited such low bodyfat and sub-q water levels. In terms of water retention, this is readily apparent when comparing the two generations in their entirety. While there were certainly stand-out BB’rs back in the day, such as Dorian Yates, who demonstrated fantastic conditioning, the vast majority held comparatively greater amounts of sub-q water, especially on their backsides (hams & glutes), compared to today’s guys.
If you doubt this fact, I challenge you to compare the Top 15 from the 2013 Olympia to the Top 15 from 20 years ago. Look closely at the level of overall conditioning of the entire line-up from top to bottom and both the front AND back and you will quickly notice a near complete lack of dry, striated backsides. Most of those men had very soft hams & glutes by today’s standards and frequently carried a film of water over their entire body which would now be considered unacceptable. This reality becomes even more difficult to ignore once we venture outside the Top 10. Those who claim 90’s superiority often argue their point by displaying dramatic pictures of a select few BB’rs, or even particular poses/bodyparts, yet anyone with a brain can see through this weak argument. The truth is that there are men from every generation which achieved great conditioning, but they are the exception to the rule and do not represent the majority.
Now, if one defines conditioning as the totality of physical attributes (BF%, water levels, hardness, density, graininess, etc), which combine to form an overall impression of muscularity, then we run into a problem. Despite today’s BB’rs carrying less overall bodyfat and sub-q water, they do not, on average, possess greater hardness, density, separation, or detail (outside of hams & glutes). Common sense dictates that if overall conditioning improves from one generation to the next, that the above attributes would improve as well, yet reality has shown that this is not always the case. Over the last 10-15 years we have observed a growing phenomenon, with many BB’rs demonstrating a certain softness throughout their physiques that belies their improved level of conditioning. Although bigger, their additional size appears to have been obtained by getting hooked up to an air pump, rather than being built from stone.
There are many reasons for this. While genetics are an obvious consideration, its wide-spread occurrence precludes the possibility of genetics being the sole factor. A particular class of so-called performance enhancers, otherwise known as S.E.O’s, or site enhancement oils, have certainly played a role, while insulin & GH use have also been implicated (more on this in a minute). I would also include changing pre-contest steroid regimens on the list. With a preponderance of BB’rs now depending on large dosages of testosterone to help them maintain size & fullness all the way up to competition, hardness and density have been sacrificed. While there are numerous culprits in the development of this new “look”, diet is seldom mentioned as a contributing factor, but if one looks closely enough, they will find that diet, just like drug use, has changed drastically over the last 20 years and can be directly linked to the many of the negative physique effects witnessed today.
While similarities remain, particularly in terms of protein sources, there has been a gradual shift, in which refined carbs have been replaced by un-refined carbs. Whereas carbs such as oats and sweet potatoes used to be a BBr’s primary carb sources, we now see guys consuming almost entirely refined grains in the form of white rice, carb powders, etc. Fruits and vegetables, which were at one time staples, have also gone the way of the dinosaurs, with most modern BB’ing diets containing a single piece of fruit at best and vegetables often going M.I.A altogether.
Why did BB’rs slowly transition over to this new way of eating? Rather than by choice, it seems the decision was partly made out of a perceived necessity. With today’s BB’rs carrying such massive amounts of muscle tissue, caloric demand has grown significantly, requiring the individual to eat significantly more than what earlier generations had to contend with. Quite frankly, following these original dietary guidelines made getting in adequate calories even more difficult. Low calorie, high volume foods such vegetables take up room in the stomach, leaving less space for the primary muscle builders, such as protein and more calorically dense carbs. Whole-grains, with their high natural fiber content, slow down digestion and also make it take longer for the BB’r to regain his appetite. As for fruits, well, I think many BB’rs have simply lost track of what’s important, viewing protein and complex carbs as the main muscle builders and therefore, everything else has taken a back seat.
Now, I can see why the very large BB’rs feel they must include a higher percentage of refined carbs in their diet plan, and truth be told, some of these carbs can be beneficial at certain times. But what excuse do the rest of the BB’rs have—the ones who are aren’t yet even close to the size of the 80’s & 90’s pros, most of whom followed diets much closer to or completely in line with the original standard? In my opinion, I don’t think the recent dietary make-over has been wholly necessary or beneficial. There is a place for refined carbs, but not as the primary carb source.
Why all the concern over these changes? Aside from the potentially significant and far-reaching health problems associated with this type of eating, I believe it has been partly responsible for the new “look” we have been seeing on today’s BB’rs. As most BB’rs now realize, insulin & GH misuse can and often does cause insulin resistance, which can result in a variety of metabolic health problems, as well as visual abnormalities, such as enlarged guts. However, I believe it goes further than that. Without getting into detail, I believe insulin resistance and Glut-4 down-regulation is largely responsible, or at the minimum a significant contributing factor in the development of what some have referred to as Palumboism (I use this term simply because Dave is well known and it is the easiest way to describe what I am referring to—no offense is intended). This condition often takes several year to fully manifest (we saw the same in Greg Kovacs) and seems to be characterized by the following features: an enlarged midsection, a soft look to the musculature (in comparison to one’s previous appearance), an eventually muscle atrophy—particularly in the limbs. There are several possible explanations one can use to explain these occurrences, two of which are an increase in visceral and intramuscular fat storage, as well as the inability to properly transport glucose from the extracellular space into the muscle cell. While the above men are extreme examples, these physical aberrations have afflicted a growing number of BB’s to varying degrees over the last 15-20 years—with sufficient frequency to warrant concern and dismiss coincidence as a possible cause.
Consuming a diet high in refined grains and simple sugars and/or dietary fat contributes to this condition through insulin resistance and Glut-4 down-regulation—the same mechanisms by which growth hormone and exogenous insulin cause this condition. However, by modifying our diet and drug use, we can prevent its occurrence. Not only that, but there are many other benefits attached to this practice.
When we improve our insulin sensitivity and up-regulate Glut-4, a distinct nutrient repartitioning effect takes place resulting in the following benefits:
• Increased nutrient uptake in the muscle cell leading to improved recovery & increased muscle growth
• Decreased fat gain
• Improved rate of fat loss via the mobilization of stored fat for energy
• Potentiates the action of exogenous insulin
• Allows us to take maximum advantage of the training window
There are also cosmetic benefits associated with increased insulin sensitivity and improved Glut-4 transport, such as:
• Reduced water retention via decreased aldosterone levels
• Decreased intramuscular fat resulting in improved muscle hardness and density
• Decreased visceral fat stores, improved elimination of digestive matter, and reduced intestinal water retention leading to a tighter waist line
In addition to the above, metabolic and overall health will be positively impacted in a multitude of ways. Although diet is only one factor involved in the management of insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 transport, it plays a crucial role in the overall effectiveness of any program, as it is the foundation on which everything else is built. Without this foundation in place the other components would be only a fraction as effective, forcing us to fight an uphill battle. For this reason, I felt it necessary to spend a little time discussing the role of nutrition in helping us achieve our end goal of improved body composition.
So, how do we put this all together? First of all, it is important to recognize the fact that I am speaking to a general audience and not a single person. This precludes the possibility of me putting together an individualized program. Rather, I will be providing a list of guidelines, or principles, which you will be able to implement into your own program in a way that best suits your individual needs. We will learn how to use training, diet, cardiovascular exercise, supplementation, and drugs in order to improve our body’s ability to use the nutrients we consume and after we have achieved this enhanced muscle-building, fat burning environment, we will look at practical methods of capitalizing on this state in order to maximize recovery & growth, but without the usual negative side effects associated with exogenous insulin use.
The first part of the program we are going to address isn’t really part of the program at all, but is more of a prerequisite to ensure that the body is able to respond optimally to the other aspects of the program. I am referring to one’s level of bodyfat. Many people assume that fat cells are basically inactive, having no specific function other than providing extra energy during times of caloric deficiency. However, the truth is that adipose tissue is highly active, being responsible for the release of non-esterfied fatty acids, glycerol, various hormones, pro-inflammatory cytokines and other factors which can adversely affect insulin sensitivity. As one’s bodyfat percentage rises, the more active this tissue becomes, resulting in decreased insulin sensitivity and subsequent Glut-4 down-regulation. Even relatively normal amounts of bodyfat can have negative affects in this area. For this reason, we want to keep BF levels as low as possible, but not to the point where it becomes a hindrance to muscle growth. For most people, this will put them in the range of 8-10%. By keeping our BF % in this range or thereabouts, we achieve a natural nutrient repartitioning effect, in which the food we eat is less likely to be stored as fat and more likely to be used for recovery & growth.
Many BB’rs fail to include cardiovascular/endurance exercise in their routine, as they believe that it not only burns up calories that could be used for growth, but that it adds further stress to the body, thereby tapping into the body’s limited recovery reserves and impairing muscle growth. These fears are unfounded, as the benefits associated with cardiovascular exercise are well documented both from a clinically and anecdotal standpoint, with experienced BB’rs realizing its value and incorporating it into programs on a regular basis. Aside from the benefits of improved body composition, increased appetite, an enhanced weight training capacity, research has shown that endurance training increases insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 up-regulation trough improved insulin cell signaling. This effect can last for up to 3-5 days after a single bout of exercise, with maximum benefits remaining for 24 hours. By incorporating this form of exercise into your program 3-4X per week, with each session performed within 24 hours of weight-training, we set ourselves up for success at the times it matters most.
Drugs/supplements can be tremendously useful for this purpose, with many compounds having been clinically proven to improve both insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 translocation, but not all are created equal and neither should they all be used in the same way. Perhaps the most well known of the bunch is Metformin. Since this drug has the ability to rapidly mobilize and activate Glut-4, it is best taken 1 hour pre-training at 750 mg. If you train at night, your second 750 mg dose should be taken in the AM and if you train in the first part of the day take your second dose in the PM. This dosing scheme will keep Metformin active for most of the day, while further capitalizing on the training window.
Berberine is potentially the most potent of the OTC sensitizers. When taken at equivalent doses, some clinical trials have show improvements in insulin sensitivity in par with metformin, which is exceedingly impressive, to say the least. 500 mg, 3X/day is the dose used in human trials. However, berberine doesn’t have a half-life as long as Metformin, so its administration should be timed in accordance with meals. Take 200 mg with each of your daily meals, with one of those doses 30 minutes pre-training.
Alpha lipoic acid is a long-term standby in the diabetic world. With well documented insulin sensitizing effects, it is one of the most commonly used of all the insulin sensitizers. Evening Primrose oil appears to potentiate the actions of ALA, improving its overall effectiveness. With an even shorter half-life than berberine, Alpha lipoic acid should be taken in small doses throughout the day, rather than just a couple large doses. Administer 600-1,000 mg/day, with 100-150 mg taken with each of your daily meals. If you opt to take Evening Primrose Oil with it, then 500 mg, taken with each dose of ALA, will suffice.
Cinnulin PF—a cinnamon extract containing the active compounds responsible for cinnamon’s insulin sensitizing effects—has been clinically validated for effectiveness when used at 300-500 mg/day. Cinnulin or any Cinnamon containing products should be avoided during the training window and the first meal of the day, as they slow gastric emptying, which is the exact opposite of what we want at those times. 75-100 mg taken with your other daily meals is ideal.
The final product I am going to recommend is 4-Hydroxyisoleucine. 4-HIL is what’s known as an insulin mimetic and has been clinically demonstrated to have potent insulinogenic effects. Mimetics increase insulin sensitivity by reducing the body’s need for insulin. Because mimetics work like insulin in the body, it no longer needs to produce as much insulin to manage blood glucose levels. This reduction in insulin levels leads directly to an increase in insulin sensitivity. 300-500 mg/daily will have pronounced effects. Take 500-100 mg with meals, including 30 minutes pre-training.
If you have not previously gotten your T3 levels checked, I suggest you do so the next time you get bloodwork, as T3 levels have a direct effect on insulin sensitivity. The goal with T3 should be to bring levels into the upper-normal range (optimal) but not beyond, as excessive amounts of T3 has numerous negative effects in the body, including muscle tissue breakdown. Although T3 is not typically considered an insulin sensitizer, it deserves to be mentioned, as those with a T3 deficiency often suffer from various degrees of insulin resistance.
Let’s transition to nutrition here for a minute. Most BB’rs, when putting together their diet, focus primarily on two things—macro intake and meal frequency, but with the body’s nutritional needs constantly in flux, maximizing progress requires more than taking in adequate amount of the 3 basic macronutrients over 6 daily meals. More specifically, we need to figure out what the body needs and when it needs it. This means that food type and quantity will vary based on the circumstances.
When it comes to carbohydrates, there are only two times of the day where simple sugars and/or refined carbs are ideal. These are the training window (the time period which stretches from the beginning of a training session until a few hours afterward) and first rise in the morning. Upon awakening, the rapid rise in blood sugar following their ingestion is beneficial, as the quick rise in insulin levels abruptly terminates the catabolic state most of us find ourselves in after a night of fasting. While refined complex carbs are acceptable for this purpose, I prefer a combination of whole-grains and fruit, as they allow us to achieve the same quick spike in insulin levels, in addition to all the other benefits supplied by these carb sources.
Although sugars/refined grains are permissible in the AM, they are absolutely essential during the training window if we desire to maximize recovery & growth. During this time all the body’s anabolic processes are heightened. Glycogen synthesis is enhanced, protein synthesis rates go up, and our muscle cells become more sensitive to the nutrients they come in contact with. When it comes to improving our physiques, no other time of the day is so important, but this anabolic environment can only be sustained for a brief period of time, so we need to do everything we can to take advantage of it.
There are many ways we can accomplish this. Implementation of the above measures (controlling bodyfat, diet, cardio, drugs, supplements, etc) allow us to do so in the most effective way possible. Acting as both potentiators and primers, they not only help us better utilize the food we eat during our regular meals, but they also enable us to take maximum advantage of the training window by making the body ultra-sensitize to insulin. In essence, we have turned the body into the ultimate nutrient repartitioning machine. But that’s not all. By the time the training window rolls around, we only need to take a few additional steps to turn our body into the ultimate muscle-building machine.
By consuming hydrolyzed proteins and highly branched cyclic dextrins during training, we are able to induce a state of hyperaminoacidemia and hyperglycemia, which would normally be dealt with by endogenously produced insulin, but with exogenous insulin at our disposal, we can quickly induce a state of hyperinsulinemia. This will help deliver all of these nutrients to the cell surface in rapid fashion, where they can then be transported into the muscle cell in large quantities by the highly active Glut-4 transporters. The end result is a massive increase in the rate of glycogen and protein synthesis. I recommend using Humalog (a fast-releasing form of insulin) about 5 minutes pre-workout, which will remain active through the entire training session.
With the body’s anabolic processes in overdrive, it would be foolish to stop there. Being the regulator of protein synthesis via the M-tor pathway, consuming a few grams of free-form/peptide bonded leucine along with the above protein & carbs is a no-brainer. Creatine is another obvious choice. Science has shown that the cell swelling effect which accompanies creatine administration (also known as muscle volumization), activates protein synthesis in its own right, further augmenting muscle recovery & growth. Any other supplements/drugs which exhibit a similar effect would be valuable at this time.
Although frequently utilized, most who use the following technique do so without being aware of its benefits on insulin sensitivity. This is training for the pump. While I don’t recommend training solely for the pump for various reasons, especially when growth is the primary goal, it is a valuable aspect of any training program. While training intensity remains the single most important factor in stimulating muscle growth, there are many who have claimed that the pump is worthless for stimulating growth—that it was nothing more than a temporary, visually gratifying experience. These people are being proven wrong every day, as more and more scientific evidence comes to the forefront. Whether a pump stimulates growth directly is irrelevant. All that matters is if it makes our muscle bigger…and we now know that it does through more than one mechanism, qualifying it an important component of any training program. With that said, how does the pump relate to this article? Science has now shown, indisputably, that increased blood flow leads to improved insulin sensitivity in muscle tissue.
After training is finished, I recommend another insulin injection (this time Humulin R), along with a large whole-food meal. With the hydrolyzed protein and branched cyclic dextrins being consumed throughout the training session in optimal quantities, the body has already been flooded with carbs and aminos, negating the need for additional rapid-digesting carb & protein powders. At this point, the recovery & growth process is better served by supplying the body with a sustained flow of nutrients in greater quantities. This should be a very large meal, containing significantly more carbs, protein and overall calories than any other meal of the day. As much as ½ of your daily carb intake should be consumed between the intra-workout shakes and the post-workout whole-food meal. While fats should not be intentionally added to this meal (except in small quantities if needed), there is no need to eliminate all fats. In fact, some fats at this time are beneficial. Whatever fat is naturally found in your whole-food sources is fine. If you need a ghrelin mimetic to increase appetite, such as GHRP-6, go for it.
An example of an ideal post-workout meal (assuming the previous rapidly digesting carbs & proteins were consumed) would be a big steak, a pile of mashed potatoes, some corn…and maybe a bowl of reduced-fat ice cream to finish it off. Or, a big plate (or two) of spaghetti & meatballs, some home-made garlic bread (so you can control the fat content), and some broccoli…and you could always throw in a piece of reduced-fat cake for dessert. While these examples may not seem like traditional post-workout meals, you should understand that the body has already been supplied with a substantial blast of quickly digesting carbs & proteins, which will keep blood aminos acid and glucose levels elevated for a good hour after training. This is enough time to get a whole-food meal in you and continue feeding your muscles over a much longer period of time.
If you think back to the meals that resulted in the greatest increases in muscle fullness, what were they? Was it a shake containing some hydrolyzed protein and branched cyclic dextrins? Uhhh…no. Although useful for kicking off the recovery & growth process, continually consuming these shakes would not provide the best results. Otherwise, we would just skip the whole-food and drink this stuff all day long, but no one is doing that…and for good reason. Whole-foods sustain protein & glycogen synthesis for a longer period of time, allowing us to optimize recovery & growth. Now, if you think about thanksgiving dinner, I bet you can remember feeling like your muscle were about to bust a few hours later. This is the type of effect we are looking for with your post-workout meal. Your immediate protein & carb needs have already been met with the shakes and now your body needs a sustained flow of nutrients to keep the growth process going long-term.
As far as insulin doses are concerned, there is too much variance among individual in order for me to provide any set dosing amounts. Without providing potentially dangerous advice, I would like to say that you should administer as much as you can without going hypoglycemic—use just enough to transport every last bit of nutrition into your muscles with maximum efficiency, but this require experience, so for those of you considering insulin for the first time, do not attempt this. If you are taking all the steps in this program, you will need far less insulin to accomplish this than most other people due to your superior insulin sensitivity. So, start low and gradually work your way up as you gain experience. You will get there soon enough. I guarantee that if you utilize this information as directed, you will begin to quickly notice radical changes in your physique. You will get bigger, harder, denser, leaner, and most importantly, you will avoid all the negative side effects, both visual and health related, associated with the insulin and diet programs employed by so many BB’rs today.