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Is Intermittent Fasting a Good Strategy for Bodybuilders?

Weight loss has always been a target for lots of new fads. It seems as though every two minutes there some new strategy being trumpeted for losing fat faster and more effectively while ‘eating whatever you want’.

 

Intermittent fasting is just one such fad and a particularly popular one at that. In fact, intermittent fasting is heavily promoted by the well-known YouTube fitness vloggers ‘The Hodge Twins’. But just because something is a ‘fad’ that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have merit. Let’s look at IF a little more closely then and see what we can ascertain about it… Is this a useful cutting strategy for bodybuilders?

 

What is Intermittent Fasting?

To begin with, what precisely is intermittent fasting?

 

Essentially, IF means that you go through periods of fasting and periods of eating normally. There are various different ways you can do this but perhaps the most popular form is the ‘5/2′ diet. The 5/2 diet essentially means that you will be eating normally five days a week and then fasting for the other two days. On those two days you are not encouraged to go completely without food but rather to just eat considerably less than normal – usually restricting your calories to 2-500 depending on how hardcore you are.

 

Other types of IF include fasting for half the day. Hugh Jackman famously used a version of intermittent fasting when he was getting into shape for Wolverine, wherein he would stop eating in the afternoon and then not eat again until morning. As we all know, Jackman got into pretty insanely ripped shape, so he’s a pretty good advertisement for IF…

 

The Fasting Twins (the secondary account for the Hodge Twins) meanwhile recommend fasting for 16-19 hours every day (during which time they consume zero calories). They also combine their intermittent fasting method with carb-backloading meaning that their 5 hour fasting window immediately follows their training. The common belief is that fasting for any less than 16 hours is not sufficient to put you in a ‘fasted state’.

 

Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting

It’s easy to see the appeal of intermittent fasting. Right from the offset it provides you with a way to reduce your calories. No matter how hard you’re trying to stuff your face, chances are you won’t be able to eat as much in a week once you’ve removed 48 hours in which to eat. If you’re looking for an easy way to restrict your intake of food, this gives you a structure without being complicated or too invasive.

 

But the idea of intermittent fasting is not just to eat less. At the same time, it’s to force your body to burn fat for energy and to produce ketones which are an alternative source of energy. There are also numerous touted health benefits, including improved autophagy – the clean-up of damaged cells which may aid hypertrophy.

 

As for the downsides… well one big obvious drawback is the fact that IF means you’re going to be hungry throughout much of the day and potentially functioning sub-optimally as a result. The IF Twins always train fasted and while that seems to suit them, others will find this exhausting and it will likely result in the breakdown of muscle.

 

There are about a million arguments for IF but there are about a million against it too. If you’re struggling to burn fat then it may be something that’s worth trying out but for many people it will be too much of a commitment and too strict to maintain.


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Is a Calorie a Calorie? Why “IIFYM” is Misleading

IIFYM is an acronym for ‘If It Fits in Your Macros’ and has become something of a rallying cry for many bodybuilders.

 

The general idea behind IIFYM is that you can eat whatever you like, as long as it fits within your allocation of carbs and protein.

 

To better understand how all this started, you need to learn a bit of the backstory…

 

Where IIFYM Came From

The idea behind ‘macros’ is that you should be eating a certain amount of protein, a certain amount of fat, a certain amount of carbs etc. You can then set yourself a ‘budget’ for each one to reach a certain amount of calories while retaining healthy ratios. If you’re looking to bulk up and add a lot of muscle, you’ll be aiming for a high total calorie count while at the same time leaning more towards increasing protein other sources of calories.

 

This was the prevailing advice on Bodybuilding.com but a lot of people seemed to overcomplicate the matter and would ask the more experienced users on that forum whether it was ‘okay for them to eat donuts’ while bulking, or ‘okay for them to eat chocolate’ while cutting. The experts on that site soon got tired of people missing the point and so began answering with one simple phrase: “if it fits in your macros”. The point here was that as long as you weren’t exceeding or falling short of your target calories in any given area, you could accomplish your goals.

 

The Problem With IIFYM

Unfortunately, though some people got a bit carried away with this idea and IIFYM became a ‘fad diet’. People became obsessed with a diet that allowed you to ‘get thin on donuts’ – which was kind of exactly the opposite of what those Bodybuilding.com forum members were aiming for. IIFYM was originally a retaliation against fad diets.

 

As you might imagine, getting slim on donuts alone is not a particularly healthy approach and neither is bulking up on a diet of KFC. The point is: a calorie is not always a calorie.

 

Apart from the fact that the calories listed on packets are generally incorrect, it’s also true that not all the calories we consume make it to the blood. Protein has a ‘thermogenic effect’ for instance meaning that you burn a certain number calories from digesting it alone. The speed with which calories hit your blood stream also have an impact which is where ideas like carb backloading come from. Then there’s simple fact that counting calories is boring and soul destroying…

 

More importantly though, following a strict IIFYM diet allows you to get all your calories from food sources that are effectively empty calories. In order words, by eating just donuts and KFC, you are missing out on all sorts of essential micronutrients that are important for strengthening your muscles and connective tissue and that help with the production of essential hormones and neurotransmitters.

 

To cut a long story short: IIFYM is a drastic oversimplification of dieting for bodybuilders and anyone else. While it might be alluring to think dieting could that be simple, this is unfortunately a somewhat trigger-happy application of Occam’s razor…

 


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How to Fit a Bodybuilding Diet Into Your Lifestyle

One of the hardest parts about gaining big muscle mass quickly is the diet. You’d think eating would be the easy part but pretty much as soon as you start trying to follow all the advice you get online, you realize that it’s tougher than it sounds. The sheer amount you have to eat alone is pretty challenging but it only gets tougher once you factor in how much it’s going to cost and how careful you have to be about what you eat.

 

This simply isn’t a particularly practical diet and it’s certainly not easy to stick to. You’ll be stuffing your face when you’re full and you’ll be desperately looking around for lean sources of protein while you’re travelling.

 

The secret to success then is to think about how you’re going to fit that diet into your regular routine. If you can do that, then you’ll find it’s much easier to stick to and that the gains start coming thick and fast. Most of us already have a set of habits and if you can structure your diet around those, then things will get a lot easier.

 

Changing Your Habits

The best place to start then is to look at your existing habits. What are the things you currently do regularly when it comes to eating and drinking. Perhaps you buy lunch at work, maybe you get a coffee on the way to work. Maybe you always make your breakfast at 7am every morning.

 

All these routines and habits are perfectly ripe for the picking because they’re already ‘structured’. All you need to do is to slightly change that structure and that way you can almost automate your protein and supplement intake.

 

For instance, if you can find a coffee shop that sells protein shakes (they exist) then you can swap your morning coffee for an additional shake. This is a fantastic trick right away because you’re getting 30grams+ of extra protein at no extra cost and without significantly altering your routine. The same goes for your morning breakfast cereal – could you replace that with an egg or two?

 

As for your lunch, a great trick is to try and find a local salad bar that sells eggs. If you can manage that then you can load up on a number of eggs very cheaply and eat them every day. Other salad bars will also sell chicken and it’s likewise common to find them providing spinach (full of phytoecdysteroids) – all amazing bodybuilding foods. Another alternative is to take your own packed lunch in and to find a local supermarket that sells cheap tuna or another affordable protein source.

 

Making it Count

At the same time, it can also be a smart move to identify the weak points in your routine. An example of this might be dinner. If you live with a significant other then you may find that they don’t want to eat steamed chicken and rice with you every night, which is something a lot of diets and workout blogs don’t take into account. How do you start eating a bodybuilding diet without becoming completely unsociable?

 

The key here is to accept the points where you’re going to struggle and to make it count the rest of the time. You don’t have to be ‘social’ at breakfast and lunch, so make these meals really count with lean protein and then cut yourself a little slack when you settle down to eat with your family. Or why not get smarter still and workout just before your dinner, turning your evening meal into a kind of carb backloading?

 

However you go about it, just try to build your diet around your existing routine and you’ll find it’s much easier to stick to!

 


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How Much Protein Do You Really Need to Build Muscle?

Nutrition is one of the most controversial subjects when it comes to bodybuilding and you only have to mention carbohydrates or protein timing in a forum in order to spark a huge debate with lots of name calling and tears.

 

Even the most basic and straightforward subjects seem to trigger this kind of raging debate. Take for instance the question of protein and how much you need – it sounds like an easy question but there are widely varying views on the subject. Let’s delve into the subject in a little bit more depth and see just how much protein is really needed for building muscle.

 

The Popular Stances

In the one corner, we have those who tout eating lots of protein for building muscle – specifically a gram or more for each pound of body mass.

 

Over in the blue corner though, we have others who contest this position and say that you actually don’t need all that much protein for building muscle. Their argument is that the body can only utilize a small portion of the protein and that it’s only steroid users who can benefit from huge amounts of protein.

 

Who’s right?

 

Well, far be it for us to try and settle this lengthy debate in a single post. But we can nevertheless look at some key facts…

 

In Favor of Extra Protein

While many people will contest the idea that protein is necessary for building big muscle, they are actually going against the majority of the research in doing so. According to countless studies (1, 2), when you increase your physical activity you also need to increase your protein consumption.

 

And this actually is something that any big bodybuilder – even naturals – will back up. Almost any massive bodybuilder, powerlifter or crossfitter will be eating a large amount of protein and the same goes for athletes too. Simply put: they eat more protein because they know that it works.

 

Against Protein

Then again though, those telling you not to eat lots of protein are not completely off their rocker. Some evidence for instance actually shows that a high protein, low carb diet can lower testosterone production, which in turn would result in reduced anabolism.

 

Furthermore, there are plenty of examples of people who don’t eat all that much protein and still get into pretty stacked condition. But just because it can be done, that doesn’t mean it’s optimal. The question to ask is how much bigger could they be if they upped their protein intake?

 

What You Should Do

The simple fact of the matter is that eating more protein has helped countless people to get into better shape more quickly. This is the advice that you will receive from pretty much anyone who has been working out for a while and whether or not you believe it’s completely necessary, it will certainly help your gains to come quicker. You should aim for the recommended 1gram per 1pound but don’t stress too much about counting every last gram.

 

And if you want to make even more use of that protein there are things you can do to aid that. Using testosterone boosting supplements is a great place to start for instance!

 


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Does Protein Timing Really Matter

‘Protein timing’ refers to the precise time at which you consume your protein – most often in shake form.

 

For years we have been taught that the best way to consume protein shake is to down it straight after a workout. More recently though, many experts are suggesting that it may actually make more sense to consume protein just before a workout. Why? Because it can take anywhere up to 90 minutes for that protein to reach the blood and the ‘anabolic window’ following a workout isn’t that long. In other words, for your protein to be available at precisely the right time, you need to consume your shake just before you actually want it.

 

Then again, there are others that claim the whole thing was a myth all along and that there’s no such thing as protein timing. They say you can enjoy your protein whenever you like. But on the other side of the fence are those using carb backloading who think that you should consume all your food straight after training so that it will go to the muscles and not the rest of the body.

 

Wow, that’s a lot of different opinions…

 

Does it really matter though? Well, apart from the fact that protein shake is rather expensive and you probably want to try and make the most of it, it actually does matter quite a lot seeing as some studies suggest that if a repair needs to be made in the body and you don’t have the necessary amino acids at that time, the repair will never be made.

 

What to Make of it All

With all this conflicting evidence and all these differences in opinion… who do you trust?

 

Often the best place to look will be to the pros. When do the professional bodybuilders eat their protein?

 

If we look at the king to start with, Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly used to eat his meals and his protein all throughout the day. His reasoning? He didn’t like stuffing himself and would only want one steak at a time. So Arnie would have five+ meals in a day, each one regular sized. Eating this way, it’s likely that he would naturally have had some protein pretty close to training and pretty soon after. We shouldn’t rule out the role of anabolic steroids here though, which would have helped him to make better use of the protein throughout the day.

 

So what does the science have to say? In one review of 23 studies on protein timing, it was found that protein timing had… no impact on muscle building (1).

 

This isn’t to say that the importance of protein timing can be completely ruled out. What it does suggest though is that the effect of timing is at least not drastic. And this also seems to be what the evidence online tells us – seeing as there can be so many different views with everyone still happily building muscle.

 

The conclusion? It may be that the anabolic window has some truth to it but if it does, then it will almost certainly make such a minor difference as to almost not matter. So what do you do? You eat as much protein as you can and eat it at times that suit you!


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Chicken Cooking Tips for Bodybuilders

Chicken is incredibly convenient for bodybuilders. Not only is it one of the most affordable sources of protein but it’s also one of the tastiest, most convenient and leanest. It’s for these reasons that eating chicken is pretty much a staple in the routine of any bodybuilder. Want to gain lean muscle? Hope you like chicken then!

 

chickenBut while chicken is ‘pretty convenient’ compared with say, liver, it still comes with its challenges. It still takes time to cook for instance and it can certainly taste a little bland if you don’t do it right. Read on then and we’ll look at some tips that can help any bodybuilder to make their chicken tastier and more convenient…

 

Cook Ahead

The first tip for bodybuilders eating lots of chicken, is to make sure that you cook ahead. Prepare a bunch of chicken at the start of the week and you can leave it in your fridge in a Tupperware to eat whenever you want it throughout the week. This is a much easier way to ensure that you have a steady supply of chicken throughout the week without having to spend your evenings cooking.

 

Cooking Methods

There are plenty of ways you can cook your chicken too. The easiest way is to simply bake it in the oven: just lay the chicken out on a tray (with edges to catch the fat that comes off) and sprinkle on some paprika for seasoning. Leave it for 30 minutes or so on about 200C and it should be pretty tasty.

 

If you want leaner chicken though then there are healthier ways to cook it. One is to boil it in a pan, which also happens to be quicker (no need to preheat) as well as easier and leaner. Another option is to steam your chicken. If you don’t have a steamer you can still do this by boiling about an inch of water in a pan, and putting the chicken in it inside a colander with the lid on. The colander should let the steam up and through to cook the chicken, while holding it above the water so it doesn’t get wet.

 

Tip: When cooking chicken, always stop just before it’s completely done. Residual heat will remain within the chicken which will help it to continue cooking afterwards. By taking your chicken off a little earlier then, you can avoid it becoming too dried out and bland.

 

Slow Cooking

Another strategy though is to get yourself a slow cooker. Slow cookers slowly heat food throughout the day and never get hot enough to risk burning your house down. You can also add hot water, stock, vegetables and more to a slow cooker which makes it pretty convenient.

 

Slow cooking is great because it means you can prepare yourself a delicious chicken stew in the morning and then have it ready for you when you get home from the gym.

 

Chicken Freezes

Remember: chicken freezes. That means you can buy it in bulk and store it in your freezer, cooking it in batches to prepare you throughout the week.


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Carb Backloading – Useful Strategy or Load of Baloney?

Mmm… Baloney…

Carb backloading essentially means eating carbs at a specific time during the day – that being immediately after workouts.

 

We all know that carbs have gotten something of a bad rep in the media lately. Not only are they high in calories but they also spike our blood sugar more quickly than other foods, resulting in an insulin spike followed by weight gain and lethargy. Just how accurate all that is is a subject of hot debate and there are other factors to consider here too – such as the importance of carbs for testosterone production – but the point is that carbs are under fire when it comes to building lean physiques.

 

The problem is, people like carbs. Carbs are delicious. And they also provide us with immediately available energy which is pretty useful when you have a massive workout ahead.

 

For these reasons, many athletes have been keen to find a way to enjoy carbs without the guilt and ‘carb backloading’ is one such idea.

 

How Carb Backloading (Purportedly) Works

The idea behind carb backloading is that you will already have increased your insulin and that any additional calories you consume will be taken up straight into the starving muscles. Because you’re in a highly anabolic state, anything you eat will be sucked up into your muscles instead of being added to your belly as fat. This is pretty much the same logic that many people follow when taking their post-workout shake but applied to everything.

 

That’s a little worrying though, seeing as most people now agree that a pre workout shake makes more sense seeing as how long it takes for the protein to reach the bloodstream where it can actually be useful.

 

If you want to try this technique, what you need to do is:

  • Eat light in the mornings
  • Don’t consume any carbs…
  • Until you’ve finished your workout at which point you can go mad and eat carbs throughout the evening
  • Fast at night (easy because you’re asleep)

 

Should You Try It?

So that’s the theory behind carb backloading… but is it worth trying out?

 

There’s a fair amount of research out there that appears to suggest carb backloading can work theoretically. This research though is more focused on testing the way that calories get used pre and post-workout rather than actually looking at real people using the technique themselves. In other words, the scientific foundation for this strategy is somewhat shaky at best.

 

Research does tend to suggest that eating carbs in the evening is better for weight loss and muscle building though (study).

 

There are downsides however. The first is that you’re going to be pretty much in a fasted ketogenic state throughout the morning. This is all fine assuming that you’re only looking to burn fat but unfortunately it has also been shown that fasted exercise leads to muscle loss – which is effectively what that first workout will be. Plus you’ll be drained and low on energy throughout your workouts.

 

Another issue is that it’s not particularly pleasant or easy to stick to. Like many of these ‘fad diets’ (let’s be honest, that’s what it is), fasted cardio doesn’t take into account things like ‘eating out with friends’ or the days you take off training. Anecdotal evidence is good for those who stick at it but there are easier methods out there that require less unsocial eating and maddening dedication.


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The Ultimate Biceps and Back Blaster

The back and biceps are particularly well suited to being trained together. Not only are they both body parts that begin with ‘B’, but they are also both body parts that can be hit with pulling motions like the pull up or the upward row.

 

In fact, one of the most popular beginner programs is the ‘push/pull’ workout. This is a workout that divides your training into two separate days – one day of training the movements that require a pulling motion and one day of training the movements that involve pushing. This way you can really go at it with largely compound movements that utilize the same muscles altogether.

 

2 x Pull Ups to Exhaustion

 

Lat Pull Downs x 3 (Increasing Weight)

For the final set, do partials to really increase the amount of control and contraction involved in the movement. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, partials involve pulling the bar all the way down, letting it return halfway up  and then pulling it the rest of the way.

 

Make sure to keep your elbows back and to pull as low as you can.

 

Heavy DB Rows Superset With Cable Rows

Rows continue the focus on the lats, while at the same time involving the biceps to some extent – specifically when you’re using the dumbbells versus the cable rows.

 

It’s important to note here, that when you train lats and biceps on the same day, it makes sense to train the lats first seeing as they’re much larger muscles. This means that the biceps will fatigue more quickly –so you need to do them second.

 

Straight Arm Push Downs

Push downs are similar to pullovers. Keep the arms completely straight while holding a cable and then pull them down but without bending the arms at all. Squeeze the lats and pivot right at the shoulders.

 

Barbell Curl 21s

Moving on to target the biceps directly with barbell curls. 21s increase the challenge while making sure that you maintain good form and can’t rely on momentum or swinging your body to power your way through the movements.

 

Spider Curls

Spider curls are preacher curls but with you lying forward with your arms hanging downwards. This means that you’re really isolating the biceps and you have no chance of cheating.

 

Reverse Curls

Reverse curls are simply curls using a reverse, overhand grip. This alters the angle of the bicep while at the same time getting the forearms involved. You don’t need to go heavy at all on these.

 

And there you go, an awesome ‘pull workout’ that involves the biceps and lats and that really maintains intensity with tons of intensity techniques.  Notice how almost every exercise is different and really designed to put pressure on the muscles. By the end, you should be exhausted.

 

Is this overtraining? Not as long as you use lighter weights. It’s all about technique and about getting the muscles to hurt. Do that right with any weight and you will grow.

 


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The Best Leg Busting Techniques

Want to make your legs absolutely explode with pump and size? Then try these awesome leg busting techniques which are sure to have you begging for mercy…

 

Glute Ham Raises

Glute hamstring raises are hamstring raises turned upside down. Here you will pin your claves or ankles down under pads on a bench with your upper body hanging over the front. Instead of raising your legs though, you’re instead going to raise your upper body, hinging at the knees as you do. This is excellent for building strength in the hamstrings as well as the glutes and it’s also good for having a large range of motion.

 

45 Degree Back Extension

The back extension is similar to the glute ham raise, except the focus is going to be more on the lower back. This uses the erector spinae to straighten the back but at the same time it also engages the legs as well to a slightly lesser degree.

 

Lying Leg Curls

The leg curls are the hamstring curls the way you know them using a resistance machine. During each repetition, make sure to really squeeze the contraction right at the peak.

 

Deadlifts – With a Rest Pause

Perform as many deadlifts as you can, rest for 15 seconds, then go again. Keep going until you can’t do any more repetitions at all. This is an awesome way to keep up the pressure on your legs and to maintain intensity. It’s a much quicker way to get in and out of the gym too.

 

Note that during the rest pause, you will never leave the station. The objective here is to essentially elongate everything into almost one, long set rather than several smaller ones. You’ll really feel the difference in your legs.

 

Leg Press – Constant Tension Time Sets

Next up comes the leg press. Here you’re going to use ‘Constant Tension Time Sets’. This means that you are going to be going for time rather than for sets and you’re going to be training in such a way as to maintain tension constantly throughout all of the movement. That means you never actually put the weights completely down, and instead keep just pressing without locking out. The leg press (or any resistance machine) is perfect for this kind of training and will allow you to maintain constant pressure. Like the rest pauses, this is ideal for really keeping up the intensity and helping you to get in and out of the gym much more quickly.

 

If you use this routine then you’ll find it’s perfect for really hammering the legs. That’s because it starts relatively easily with exercises that you are no doubt familiar with and then just ramps up the pressure and intensity right at the end with a truly intensive set of compound movements that are designed to keep the pressure on. Having already targeted the glutes and hamstrings so heavily, you’ll find that this is more than enough to completely finish you off and to trigger some real growth.


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Push Your Chest Strength Beyond Measure

Jim Stoppani is a Dr who takes a highly scientific approach to his training. In this article we’re going to be taking a look at his 5-3-2 chest workout – a routine that’s designed to help you build more size and strength in your pecs that you’ve ever experienced before.

 

It’s low volume, high intensity training designed to efficiently and scientifically give you the kind of pushing power that you’ve perhaps only dreamed of until now. Sound good? Then read on.

 

But before you get started: remember that ‘heavy’ is a relative term. You don’t need to be lifting huge weights to build massive muscle – you just need to choose the right weight to provide your body with the necessary challenge.

 

This workout is designed to build intensity in a safe and powerful way and it doesn’t require huge weight to do that.

 

Without further ado, here is the workout…

 

Bench Press

Start with the bench press for five sets of five reps. You need to make sure you hit all five sets – this is where the intensity and the volume comes from, so make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew – you don’t need to be going to failure right from the start. On the way down, squeeze your lats to give yourself more stability so that the focus remains on the chest.

 

Incline Bench Press

Incline bench press is used for three sets of six to eight reps. This will hit the upper pectorals to create more definition and size where the pecs stick out through the collar of your t-shirts.

 

Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell bench press again for three sets of six to eight will help you to hit the middle and lower pec areas while at the same time strengthening your supporting muscles in the shoulders. This will help you to bench press more with time.

 

Incline Dumbbell Flyes

Incline dumbbell flyes really hit the outer pec, while the incline will make sure that the focus is on the outer section. This is a good way to develop that separation and again should be used for three sets of six to eight.

 

To end with, Jim recommends hitting the abs. This will allow you to build more definition and power in your whole torso and it’s an excellent way to end a pec routine. The combination of pecs and abs goes perfectly together and if you want really great abs then you should be hitting them as often as possible. This core stability will also further help you increase power in your pushing movements.

 

Crunch

Three sets to failure. Go fast and explosive with the movement.

 

Reverse Crunch

Reverse crunch hits the lower abs more than the upper abs.

 

Oblique Crunch

Finally, end with the oblique crunch to develop the strength around the mid-section needed for torque and additional detail.

 

And there you go. A fast, sensible and efficient way to push your strength in your chest and increase your bench press – without having to load up with huge weights.