First off, let me start by stating that I am not “anti” carbohydrate. I believe that we, as athletes, definitely require substantial amounts of carbohydrates for optimal function, performance and hypertrophy (growth!). The topic of debate is timing and amounts.
When I decided to write this article, it was motivated by a glaring need to educate any and all physique athletes (encompassing of anyone looking to improve their physique, whether it be mom, dad, a pro female physique model, a Mr Olympia competitor, or anyone in between) about the logic of nutrition and why we eat what we do.
It seems too many people blindly follow nutrition plans written by self proclaimed nutritionists who get their credibility from the fact that they’ve competed once before and were able to get in great shape themselves, or perhaps they have had some success in training other athletes. That’s all great, but knowing the logic of basic program development and the function of nutrients should be considered essential for any and all aspiring physique athletes and bodybuilders.
Our first consideration when constructing a nutrition program for any person looking to optimize their body composition is macronutrients, and macronutrient ratios. For the newbie’s, that simply means the percentage of food we consume from proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Why we eat protein
Human beings require protein to exist. The process by which we build new tissues and heal existing tissues, is called protein synthesis. An important fact about this process is that it is either ON, or it’s OFF. We are either growing (anabolism), or were breaking down (catabolism). As bodybuilders, we obviously want to ensure we are always giving our bodies what it needs to grow, hence the common practice of eating every 2-3 hours.
Recent controversy over exactly how much protein is needed per meal has left people in the dark about the true way to structure their diet. By no means am I claiming to have all the answers, but a solid understanding of nutrient function will help guide you in your decisions.
As many of you already know, I spend a lot of my time in Tampa Florida. Many of my days are spent at the Human Performance Lab at UT where cutting-edge research is constantly underway. Dr. Jacob Wilson and his team of researchers are leading the way in this industry with regard to hypertrophy research. Lucky me!
Thankfully, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Layne Norton have both become good friends and are seen as two of the best resources in the industry with regard to protein synthesis. Dr. Norton stakes his claim on the latest research on leucine and its effects on protein synthesis. He has proven that it requires between 3-9 grams of leucine per serving to initiate the process of protein synthesis and that this process can only occur every 2-3 hours. So eating protein every hour won’t increase the rate of protein synthesis.
So, what does this mean to you?
This means that protein is responsible for healing, repair, and growth. You must ensure you’re consuming adequate protein daily but also on a regular basis to maximize the growth curve.
Listen in as Dr. Wilson and I discuss high carb vs high fat diets for muscle growth on Muscle Expert Interviews podcast HERE to get down to the hard-core science behind our recommendations and why we do what we do.
Why we eat carbohydrates and fat
Carbohydrates are one of the body’s two major energy sources. We all know this. Research shows that your body is constantly switching between using carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy, as well as fat. Some people have a greater predisposition to using carbs for fuel, others are better suited to use fats for fuel, yet others are what is called, “metabolically inflexible” and don’t really use either source exceptionally well (the cause of metabolic inflexibility is not known but it is likely to do with a poor hormonal environment and certain toxicities).
The good news is that we can influence this.
By consuming a diet that is largely dependant on carbohydrate for fuel, your body is more likely to become efficient at using carbohydrates for fuel. Simply, it will spend more time burning glycogen because more glycogen is present.
Conversely, a diet with a larger percentage of fats will lend the body to a greater affinity to use fats as its primary source of fuel. By training the body to use fats as fuel more often, it seems likely that it can become easier to manipulate bodyfat levels once a caloric deficit is achieved.
As mentioned above, fats are a known energy source and essential for many bodily processes from hormone production to cellular metabolism, even having an affect on inflammation. Certain fats have been shown to have particular functions within the body, so consuming
a wide array of fat sources is a good idea.
As aspiring bodybuilders and people looking to improve our physiques, body composition and appearance, recovery, plus minimizing inflammation, should all be at the top of your list of priorities. The more often you can train, the more muscle you can build. If you’re constantly sore or inflamed, you can’t train as often and you can’t train as hard. High levels of protein are required to ensure recovery.
It’s important to note that carbohydrates DO NOT affect protein synthesis. They do NOT help you recover outside of glycogen replenishment post-training.
Having to eat carbohydrates with every meal seems to be one of the major misconceptions within our industry. Carbohydrates are not considered essential, if your body requires them, it can make them in the liver from amino acids. As an aspiring bodybuilder it is a good idea to keep liver and muscle glycogen topped up, but most people overdo this drastically.
Key things to note:
– if your serum (in the blood) insulin levels are elevated, your body completely stops using fat for fuel (fat burning stops when you eat large amounts of carbs)
– it has been suggested that if your liver glycogen levels aren’t topped up before bed that the body will resort to using amino acids for fuel. So, unless you’re eating protein through the night you’re going to be catabolizing your muscles.
– you may want to consider eating a percentage of your daily carbohydrates before bed. Carbohydrates are a sedative-like food due to the release of serotonin. Eating them before bed can assist in better sleep (aka better recovery!).
– your body and brain need glycogen and glucose so going zero carb isn’t optimal for performance. Just choose the right times to be consuming carbs.
– eating a high fat breakfast has been shown to increase total fat oxidation for the remainder of the day.
– eating a large serving of carbohydrates for breakfast will definitely replenish glycogen stores, but unless you’re training soon after, that may not be ideal: 1) you halt morning fat burning, and 2) you’re more likely to store additional carbs as fat throughout the day because your glycogen stores are topped-up and additional carbs have nowhere to go.
Learn the science and application of high fat vs high carb diets for packing on lean mass with the Muscle Expert HERE