If you have several years of quality training and nutrition under your belt, these three concepts can help further your training success. If you’re still new to this whole health and fitness thing or have been struggling with consistency, I suggest reading this article on goal setting and this article as well before implementing these more advanced training and nutritional approaches. For those who’ve moved past the beginner stage, consider these three concepts:
1. Keep Your Body Fat Under Control
Your body’s ability to properly utilize the food you put in it is essential to developing a quality physique and well as maximizing performance. It just so happens that the leaner you are (to a point) the more efficiently your body utilizes the nutrients you put into it. There is a very strong link between your body fat level and your insulin sensitivity meaning the leaner you are the better your body is at getting the carbohydrates and sugar you eat into your muscles. As insulin levels rise, blood sugar is more likely to be stored as fat and high insulin levels also prevent the release of fatty acids to be used as energy. Maintaining a relatively low body fat level also allows you to stay in the caloric excess necessary to build muscle without converting those extra calories into body fat. More muscle means greater metabolic demands on your body (your body needs more calories to just exist) and an increase in mitochondria (the part of the cell that burns fat).
Anecdotally, this can be seen in physique competitions as an athlete’s ability to gain lean mass is increased post competition, after a long period of dieting down to a low body fat. Even non competitors can benefit from dieting down to a lower body fat percentage. I had a female client diet down from 128 to 112. At her lowest she was eating 810 calories a day with 4 training sessions and cardio daily. As we reversed her back out, she has now gotten up as high as 3,000 calories on her high days, 1900 on her low days, and no cardio while only gaining about 3 lbs and maintaining her conditioning from before. Food is the most anabolic substance you can put in your body and the leaner you are, the better your body utilizes that food. How lean do you need to be? Every person is different but evidence suggest that some where between 8-15% for guys and 18-25% for girls is an ideal body fat percentage.
2. Make Your Nutrition Dynamic
People fail on diet because they can’t be consistent which means the best diet is the one that you will actually follow. If that means keeping things simple, then go with that. However, if you are looking to maximize your nutrition, your plan must have a good amount of variation. What this means specifically is there should be relatively consistent changes in your total caloric amounts as well as your macro amounts. These changes need to occur season to season, week to week, day to day, and meal to meal. Your metabolic needs are not consistent if you are a serious athlete. There are times in which your caloric demands will be extremely high and times in which they will be much lower. There are times in which you may be leaning out for a contest and times in which you may be focusing on putting on as much lean mass as possible. Here are 3 ways in which you can make your nutrition more dynamic
- Peri Workout Nutrition- What is the most important meal of the day? It’s not breakfast, its the period of time surrounding your workout. Peri workout nutrition has three basic goals: prepare for the training session, fuel the training session, and recovery from the training session. Personally I have a pre workout drink with protein, carbs, and fats; an intra workout drink with carbs and aminos; and a post workout meal with meat and lots of white rice. I’m not going to go into the details of when and what to eat, there are lots of protocols that are effective, just make sure you’re utilizing one of them.
- Loads- Loading refers to a shorter period of time in which you will increase your caloric intake higher than usual and also usually involves the increase in carbs specifically. The purpose of loading is to raise your metabolism and refill your glycogen stores. After a period of time in a caloric deficit your body will begin to adjust it’s metabolism downward as a survival mechanism. Also, during a period of caloric restriction, especially from carbs, glycogen stores can become depleted resulting in a flat look and decrease in training performance. Loading can help to “kick start” the metabolism again and fill glycogen stores back up so that training and recovery aren’t negatively impacted. Loads can occur in the form of a “cheat meal”, a high carb “load” day or several days like when loading for a physique competition, or finally over a longer period like a week or two in the middle of a long diet.
- Cutting and Bulking- While the idea of cutting and bulking is a bit of an old school idea, alternating periods of focusing on fat loss and muscle gain does have some benefit to it. As stated above, the leaner you are the better your body handles nutrients and having higher amounts of muscle can make the process of leaning out easier. This doesn’t mean you have to drop down to 5% contest body fat or bulk up to 20% but utilizing the “rebounds” of both period can help prevent the eventual plateau you will get from focusing on one for two long. That being said you don’t need to be constantly switching it up. I would suggesting limited your cycles to no more than 2 a year.
3. Increase Training Stress
The body is an adaptation machine. It is built on survival and will adjust to whatever stress you place on it. When you are just beginning, a little bit of stress goes a long way. You can make some pretty awesome gains just doing full body workouts 3 times a week. Unfortunately, this type of progress can not continue forever and at some point you have to ramp it up a bit. In doing so, you must take an intelligent approach. You can not go from 3 training sessions a week to 10 and 3 sets of 10 to 8 sets of 20. In advanced athletes a little bit more “insane” approach is needed to further progress. They just do not respond to the same stimulus as they did before. Here are a few ways you can increase training stress:
- High Frequency- Most people use pretty typical training splits where they train a movement or body part one to two times a week. However, there is plenty of evidence to support the need for higher frequency stimulus. The Bulgarians produced some of the best lifters in history and they squatted every day. Ben Pakulski has some of the best calves on the pro stage and he has said multiple times that he trained his calves every day to get them there. Pretty much every military branch has their members to some form of pushups on a daily basis during “boot camp”. When frequency is increased, volume and intensity must be adjust accordingly but don’t hesitate to train something more than once or twice a week.
- Intensity Techniques- There are a million different intensity techniques: drop sets, super sets, tempo sets, negatives, occlusion sets, partials, etc. At some point you have to get away from the basic 3 sets of 10 and do something a little different. Intensity techniques place greater amounts of stress on the body than it is accustomed to and therefore it is forced to adapt. Slowly incorporate one or two techniques at a time and learn how to use them all correctly.
- Overreaching- This refers to a training block in which you purposefully out train your ability to recover for a short period of time and then “super compensate” as a result. It usually involves the slow increase of training stress until the body is being overstressed for a period of generally 1-4 weeks. This phase is followed by a period of time in which maximal recovery becomes the primary goal (sleep, rest, nutrition, recovery techniques). This is similar to the rebound that occurs post physique competition as a results of being highly calorically depleted for such a long time. Overreaching is a highly advanced training method and should only be done under the supervision of an experienced coach.
I’ve heard it said that if you want to reach a high level of physique and performance, you need to be the person that everyone in the gym is scared to train with. This probably applies to commercial gyms more so than NBS but the idea is clear. You must train is a way that your body is forced to adapt to. As a beginner, something being difficult is plenty to make your body change but as you advance it needs to be brutal. Along with the physical changes that occur, highly intense training creates a huge metabolic demand. There is a reason people who train hard can stay lean and eat 4000 calories or more a day while other people struggle to lose weight eating less than half of that amount.
If you’re an advanced lifter who’s been looking for some ways to further your progress, incorporate some or all of these concepts into your training and nutrition and enjoy the gainzzzzz