Which is The Best Workout

Recently I have received a few messages asking about how I train, specifically things like whats the best setup to build muscle, tone or lose weight.

IMO your workout should be focused on 1 thing only…MUSCLE. Whatever your goal, whether it be to lose body fat, tone up, gain muscle, etc, your workout needs to focus on continually forcing your body to adapt and either build or maintain your hard earned muscle. Unless of course you are just in the gym for a jolly good time, in that case keep doing what you’re doing and hat off to you 😉

Women… don’t worry, you won’t end up looking like the hulk training this way, your hormones won’t allow you to get “bulky” and the image in your head of women with muscles are those that take performance enhancing drugs.

Men.. also don’t worry, you won’t get “too big”, at something like 5ft 10, the biggest you could ever get without performance enhancing drugs is around 210lbs at an OK body fat, visible abs, or absolutely shredded you would prob get to around 190lbs ish.

Our genetics put a limit on how fast and big we can grow, I assure you that 95% of the people you see in the fitness industry posting pictures of themselves on Facebook or Instagram are taking things they shouldn’t be. The truth is that if you train your ass off, eat right and remain consistent the end result will be a lean, toned, shaped physique. Think lean and toned beach body instead of big and bulky bodybuilder.

Each area of your fitness should focus on a specific outcome
Diet (either calorie surplus to build muscle or calorie deficit to lose fat)
Cardio (health and/or fat loss)
Weights (build or maintain muscle)

I wouldn’t recommend cardio to build muscle or weights to lose fat. We want to use each of these tools in the most optimal way to transform our physique and reach our goal.

As mentioned, whether my goal is losing body fat or gaining muscle, my weights sessions stay exactly the same, focused around progressive overload (more on that in a minute).

I then adjust my cardio and diet to determine the outcome of my body composition week on week.

More calories and/or less cardio (I always keep at least 30 min a day in place for health) = bulking.

Less calories and/or more cardio = losing body fat.

Why don’t I change the weights sessions?

Imagine if you are trying to lose body fat for a period of 12 weeks.
Throughout this time you maintain your strength in the gym or maybe even get stronger BUT your body weight is going down as you diet.

Logic would suggest to me that if you are maintaining your strength then your body is holding on to all the muscle you have.

Now lets say that instead of focusing on strength you decide to use your weights workout to burn fat. You use lighter weights for more reps and get weaker.

Logic would suggest to me that you are losing your hard earned muscle.

It takes SO much effort and precision to build muscle, why would you want to throw it away like that?!

Your no1 focus week in week out in the weights area should be progressive overload…what the hell is that? I hear you ask.

Progressive Overload

To put simply, this means that week in and week out you progressively overload your muscles.

Lets say week 1 you do 3 sets of bicep curls for 10 reps.
week 2 you do 4 sets for 10 reps.

this is progressive overload, you are applying a progressively higher stimulus to your muscles..

NOW..

The issue here is that you can’t keep adding volume (number of sets and reps) within a few months you would be doing 20 sets for this an 40 sets for that. Instead I highly recommend that you invest in a log book to use in the gym and focus on increasing the amount of reps and/or weight you lift. Small increments in strength week in, week out with a variety of rep ranges and exercises to progressively overload the muscles.

How Many Reps?

You may have heard something like 3-5 reps builds strength, 8-12 reps builds muscle and 15+ reps builds endurance.

I’m not going to go into the science behind it all for this specific post, maybe we can cover that later. The truth is that more and more evidence is showing that you can build muscle in any rep range providing you take the muscle to failure (Failure is the point at which you can no longer move the weight with good form), however lower reps do seem to lend themselves better to building strength and higher reps do seem to increase the metabolic damage caused, all of these points are factors in building muscle.

The bottom line?

We want to get stronger in a variety of rep ranges to ensure that we are hitting the predominant factors for muscle hypertrophy (growth)

  • Muscle Damage
  • Metabolic Stress
  • Muscle Tension

By utilising a variety of rep ranges we can cover all of our basis for building muscle and give our body the best chance possible of growing.

I like to warm up with a weight hitting about 20 reps, this is my recruitment set where I really take time to think about the target muscle, make sure I am activating it throughout and can feel it working. I then check my log book and go for my max weight I can handle for 6-9 reps. I then rest and reduce the weight enough that this time I can get 9-12 and finally, 1 last set not to failure, where my goal it to “pump” the muscle and I aim for 15 reps.

When to Increase Weight?

I like to have rep ranges instead of set numbers. I will do 2 working sets per exercise 6-9 and 9-12.

Once I hit 9 reps with my max weight I increase the weight.

Once I hit 12 reps with my next set I increase the weight.

Body Part Split – How and What to Train

You may have read various different prescriptions for workouts, anything from the bodybuilder “bro” training split of something like; Monday- chest, Tuesday – back, Wednesday – Legs, etc..

..to a full body workout 2-3 times a week.

Which is best?

With all things being equal (volume and exercises), it has been shown that splitting your workout across the week and training muscles more often is more favourable to muscle growth than smashing the body part once per week. By this I mean that if you usually train Chest on a Monday for 30 sets of 12 reps, you would likely see better results if you split that into 3 chest sessions of 10 sets across the week.

What Would I do?

High frequency training combined with progressive overload AND the right diet is a formula for success.

How often you train will depend on how much time you have and how quickly you can recover.

Your logbook will be the key indicator as to whether you are recovering. If you don’t beat your numbers, your diet is not adequate or you are not resting enough between sessions.

Ideally you want 2-3 variations of each session for your log book, using legs as an example..

Week 1 Session 1 (LEGS a1)

Week 1 Session 2 (LEGS b1)

Week 2 Session 1 (LEGS a2)

Week 2 Session 2 (LEGS b2)

Week 3 Session 1 (REPEAT WEEK 1, a1)

etc this gives you a good rotation through exercises so that you do not stall on lifts and enough variety that over 3 or 4 months you are not bored.

LEGS a1 could be something like Squats, Leg press, Walking lunge, Leg extension, Barbell stiff leg deadlift, Seated hamstring curl, Calves.

Then LEGS b1 would be a variation Front squats, Feet wide and high leg press, Bulgarian split squats, Sissy squats, DB stiff leg deadlift, Laying hamstring curl, Calves.

You would create 2 more variants, a2 and b2, which means that it will be 2 full weeks before you repeat any one session. When you do, thats the time to either hit more reps with the same weight OR increase the weight a little and hit the same amount of reps.

Depending on how many days you can train and how quickly you recover I would recommend the following splits..

3 Days a Week

  • Mon – UPPER
  • Tues – OFF
  • Wed – LOWER & ARMS
  • Thurs –  OFF
  • Fri – UPPER
  • Sat – OFF
  • Sun – OFF

The following Monday I would then continue with a LOWER workout and so on. You could also do a full body workout 3 days a week if you were a beginner.

4 Days a Week

  • Mon – OFF
  • Tues – UPPER
  • Wed – OFF
  • Thurs –  LOWER & ARMS
  • Fri – OFF
  • Sat – UPPER
  • Sun – LOWER & ARMS

5 Days a Week

  • Mon – OFF
  • Tues – PUSH
  • Wed – PULL
  • Thurs –  LEGS
  • Fri – OFF
  • Sat – UPPER
  • Sun – LOWER & ARMS

6 Days a Week Recommended

  • Mon – PUSH
  • Tues – PULL
  • Wed – LEGS
  • Thurs –  PUSH
  • Fri – PULL
  • Sat – LEGS
  • Sun – OFF

6 Days a Week Overreaching (used for short periods of approx 4 weeks before a deload)

  • Mon – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
  • Tues – LEGS/ARMS/ABS/CALVES
  • Wed – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
  • Thurs –  LEGS/ARMS/ABS/CALVES
  • Fri – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
  • Sat – LEGS
  • Sun – OFF

With the exception of 3 days a week training all the volume for the other splits would be exactly the same. Same amount of sets and exercises regardless of how often you are training.

Which Exercises to Choose?

The focus should be on compound movements, I would say that something like 70-80% of your workout should be compound movements unless you are extremely advanced in muscular development and/or have weaknesses that need attention.

PLEASE NOTE:

The above is a generic setup for anyone looking to build muscle. Obviously some people have functional goals in stead of muscle building OR they have weak legs or shoulders etc that require more attention. The routines and methods outlined above are specific to me with the goal of building as much muscle as possible. Any questions or if you want to tailor this to you, please dont hesitate to DM me on social.

 

 

 

 

 

Body Sculpting Blueprint

“How do you build muscle on a vegan diet?”

“I’m worried now i’m vegan carbs will make me fat”

“How can I lose weight and tone up on a vegan diet”

“Where do I get my protein from?”

“What do I eat to recover from a workout?”

These are just a handful of the questions I get asked on a daily basis through my Facebook page so I decided to come up with a really cheesy title (Body Sculpting Blueprint) and put together some of the fundamentals for body composition, diet and training.

First up, STOP LOOKING FOR THE MAGIC ANSWER, whether its a program or diet PLEASE JUST STOP. Look, if you really want to spend money to “feel” like you are accountable and have THE answer, then just donate £100 of your hard earned cash to a vegan charity of your choice and then simply read this post. At least that way your cash is helping the world rather than lining the pockets of someone who convinced you that carbs are the devil or it only takes THESE 5 exercises to sculpt your abs and tone your ass. haha

Phew, now thats out the way, I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do to reach your goal…and here is the big secret, that everyone cant figure out, once you know what to do, the ONLY way to get results is consistency and commitment. There I said it. I swear, hands down, that if you follow what I am about to tell you, then you will achieve your goal. Depending on how much you adhere to everything, depends on what your end result will look like. So here goes..

No.1 It’s the Calories That Matter

Calories will determine if you lose weight or gain weight…not carbohydrates, not fat, not protein but calories. If you burn (through metabolism & activity) more calories than you eat then your body must make up for this energy deficit by releasing stored energy and using it for fuel, the end result is you lose weight.

If you eat more calories that you burn (through metabolism and activity) then your body will store this energy and you will gain weight.

If my daily energy expenditure was 2,500 kcal a day and I ate 2,000 kcal of Oreos every day for 3 weeks I would lose weight or if I ate 2,000 kcal of peanut butter for 3 weeks or 2,000 kcal of bananas…it’s the calories, not the specific macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat) that determine if you gain or lose weight.

2. Losing or Gaining the Right Kind of Weight

Now you know how to lose or gain weight, is there a way that we can shift the odds in our favour in terms of what kind of weight we gain or lose.

What I mean by this is, when dieting we dont just want to lose weight, we want to safeguard our muscle and lose just the fat and likewise when bulking we dont want to add 5lbs of fat for every 1lb of muscle. We want to tip the scales in our favour, after all, if you weighed 150lbs dieted for 8 weeks and lost 10lbs but 8lbs was muscle and 2lbs was fat, you could find that you actually have a worse body composition after your diet than you did before…your overall body fat % may have gone up even if you lost weight!

The good news is that yes..we can tip the scales in our favour either way.

When Dieting

We want to safeguard our muscle, to do this studies have shown that an increase in protein consumption during calorie restriction can prevent muscle loss and therefore, as long as your weight loss is steady and not drastic, will mean that you mostly lose body fat during your diet and not your hard earned muscle. Aim for 2-3g protein per kg of bodyweight.

When bulking

There is likely no benefit to eating more than 1.4-2g protein per kg of bodyweight, so don’t waste calories on unnecessary amounts of protein. Instead, consume a sensible amount of fat 10-20% of total calories (from good fat source, not saturated) and use the rest of your calories for carbs, particularly around your workout to fuel your intensity and recover quickly.

Whether bulking or cutting you typically want to aim for 0.5-1lb change in bodyweight each week. If your macros are correct then you should be transforming your physique, sculpting it to your desired goal.

“But 0.5lbs sounds too slow”

I hear you…but listen, if your calories and macros are on point, along with the right training plan then that number means F.A. Why?! It is possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, you dont have to go through big ups and downs with your body fat level. What if over the next 4 weeks you lost 3lbs of fat but gained 2.5lbs of muscle…well that means that you have only dropped 0.5lbs on the scale, but guess what…you look bad ass now, toned and tighter, everything coming together. Dont focus on the number, focus on how you look!

3. How Many Meals

Don’t beleive the nonsense that you have to eat every few hours to stoke the metabolic fireplace and keep your metabolism high, research shows that whether you eat all your food in one go or spread across the day, the energy expended from eating is the same. HOWEVER…

There is a reason I favour splitting your meals up, which is protein synthesis. You see, to build muscle or maintain muscle we want to keep our body in a positive state of anabolism, meaning that our body is trying to build muscle and repair instead of catabolic where it is breaking down muscle. Truth is your body goes through this process of anabolic and catabolic all day, but we want to tip the scales in our favour, just like we do with macros. By eating every 3-4 hours and splitting our protein up to set portions across the day we can maximally stimulate protein synthesis across the day and give us the best chance of achieving our goals.

4. Micronutrients

On a vegan diet there is no reason why you should not be getting 20+ of your “5 a day”, your diet should be packed with vegetables, salad, fruit, nuts, legumes, seeds, grains and beans. Think of every food that you eat like a medicine for your body, everything serves a purpose. Why would you want to eat cookies if blackberries have powerful antioxidants to fight cancer and starve off diabetes. Everything you eat is amazing and can either heal your body and help you reach your goal or fight you and cause inflammation, constipation, wild fluctuations in blood sugar and a whole host of other issues.

I highly recommend purchasing “How Not to Die” on Amazon, it will give you a great insight into some of the powerful benefits of a plant based diet and specific foods you may want to include…or just confirm how awesome you are and justify everything you eat already 😉

4. Training

Calories (tick)

Which macronutrients to have (tick)

Micronutrients (tick)

Your body now has everything it needs, the right calories and macros combined with a nutrient dense diet (I will give you my diet plan below) to get you to your goal. Now all you need to do is spark the fire that will put all this nutrition to use and set you on your way to the changes you want.

First up is Cardio

I recommend that everyone (unless you have a v active job), whether you are bulking or dieting includes 35-45min of “cardio” a day, getting your heart rate above 130BPM and sweating. Not at a level where you cant breath, but just a comfortable pace for general cardiovascular health.

Next is weight lifting

Whether you are a woman who wants to look good in a bikini or a man who wants to step on a body building stage, the method of gaining muscle is exactly the same!

This DOES NOT mean that women will gain ripped bulging biceps! also it DOES NOT mean that mean will get big quickly..the amount of people that say to me “I want to get big but not too big”…c’mon! I have been training day in day out, meticiulous with my diet for years and I’m not too big haha…

for your body to build muscle it takes hard work and consistency, your body does not want muscle, in terms of evolution and survival, too much muscle was a handicap. Your body would rather be lean and nimble, not have lbs of additional lean mass to worry about.

so to actually build muscle we must force our body to change and we do this through

mixing up the exercises and confusing the muscle (JOKING, rolls eyes)…

PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD

We want to apply an increasing load (stimulus) to our body over a period of time to force an adaptation.

Imagine a guy in the gym doing squats or bench press with 60kg

Now imagine a woman in the gym doing db shoulder press with 20kg

1 year goes by, you walk back in the gym and that same guy and girl are using the exact same weights for the same exact amount of reps.

Do you think that their body changed?….NO

this is why you see people in the gym month after month, year after year with little to no change.

Because their magazine or app or whatever it was said do 4 sets of this for 12 reps thats what they did…for a year!

So whats the answer?

FORCE YOUR BODY TO CHANGE

Imagine now that same guy and girl, you walk back in the gym a year later and he is bench pressing 120kg and she is db shoulder pressing 40kg, now do you think their body would have changed?… exactly.

Dont focus on “fluff” going for the burn or aimlessly following a routine. Have a goal! a purpose and progress your lifts week on week to force an adaptation.

Lets see an example..

Set a time scale of 3-4 months and focus on building your strength each week for specific exercises.

I recommend training body parts twice per week with 2 variations of workouts.

Using legs as an example..

  • Week 1 Session 1 (LEGS a1)
  • Week 1 Session 2 (LEGS b1)
  • Week 2 Session 1 (LEGS a2)
  • Week 2 Session 2 (LEGS b2)
  • Week 3 Session 1 (REPEAT WEEK 1, a1)

etc

this gives you a good rotation through exercises so that you do not stall on lifts and enough variety that over 3 or 4 months you are not bored.

LEGS a1 could be something like

  • Squats
  • Leg press
  • Walking lunge
  • Leg extension
  • Barbell stiff leg deadlift
  • Seated hamstring curl
  • Calves

Then LEGS b1 would be a variation

  • Front squats
  • Feet wide and high leg press
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Sissy squats
  • DB stiff leg deadlift
  • Laying hamstring curl
  • Calves

you would create 2 more variants, a2 and b2

All exercises would be in the 8-15 rep range, with the exception of the isolation exercises e.g. leg extensions, for these you can go up to 20 (just a personal preference).

Do enough warm up sets that you are ready to lift and then go for your absolute max weight for 8 reps. e.g.

  • Squat (warm up/not failure) 60 x 10
  • Squat (warm up/not failure) 80 x 8
  • Squat (warm up/not failure) 90 x 3
  • Squat (1st working set) 100 x 8
  • Reduce weight by approx 10%
  • Squat (2nd working set) 90 x 11
  • Reduce weight by approx 10%
  • Squat (3rd working set) 80 x 14

Log the 3 working sets, next time round (in 2 weeks) your goal is to beat these numbers. IF you beat the numbers on every exercise, every set, every 2 weeks AND you are eating enough food then you will grow, no doubt about it!

Diet Example

Breakfast – Oats, protein smoothie (kale, spinach, protein powder, cinnamon) , berries.

Pre Workout – Beetroot juice, banana, fermented BCAA

Intra Workout – Carb powder, fermented BCAA

Post Workout – Protein smoothie (as above), beans, sweet potato, dates.

Lunch – Chickpea salad (Apple, lettuce, tomato, pepper, spinach), protein smoothie (as above), blackberries

Mid afternoon – protein smoothie (as above), popcorn

Dinner – tofu, lentils, avacado, broccoli, cauliflower, protein smoothie (as above)

Bed – Brazil nuts, walnuts, protein smoothie (as above plus flaxeed)

 

Right.. thats it in a nutshell, ping me on Facebook if you have any questions and thanks for reading!

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness DOMS

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness DOMS

What a great leg session! You leave the gym feeling awesome, everything is wonderful in life and then 24 hours later as you bend down to get in the car…aghhhh….oh my god….what the hell is this?! the DOMS hit!

leg-training

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short, can range from an achy nagging feeling and muscle stiffness to a deep burning sensation, making even the most simple of tasks more difficult than a tough mudder event!

What the hell is this soreness..and why now…48 hours later am I feeling this way?

Delayed onset muscle soreness is one result of exercise-induced muscle damage, although there is variance among exercises and individuals, the soreness usually increases in intensity in the first 24 hours after exercise. It peaks from 24 to 72 hours, then subsides and disappears up to seven days after exercise.

The reason this happens…no one really knows for sure, however it is thought to be as a result of microtrauma to the muscle being exercised.

This is what is meant by “breaking down” your muscle fibers during training, by working out with high intensity and resistance we cause mechanical damage to the muscles exercised.

The idea of building muscle is that you do exactly this, you intentionally break down muscle fiber causing microtrauma and then as your body recovers it will not only repair the damage done, but look to safe guard you in the future against this potential threat, in theory your body super compensates for the damage that occurs and hey presto, you build more muscle! Not only that, but your body will also become more efficient at repairing the specific muscle trained, this is why after several weeks of doing the same exercise routine you no longer feel sore.

That may be where the whole “switch it up to keep your body guessing” nonsense came about.

It’s not so much that you need to “switch things up” every other week, but you should be either increasing your lifts and/or volume week to week to provide a new stimulus to your body and give it a reason to change.

..so, DOMS = more muscle?

Yes…but no..helpful huh, but hear me out. You see hypertrophy (building muscle) is caused by 3 factors (check out my previous article here), only 1 of which is applicable when considering DOMS; Muscle Damage.

Whilst muscle damage is a contributing factor to building muscle, it is not entirely essential, muscle growth can still occur regardless of muscle damage by other mechanisms.

Not to mention that too much muscle soreness can be a bad thing. What happens when its time to train legs again and you still ache? you likely wont be motivated..or have the ability to produce as much force as you would normally and therefore resulting in a sub par workout.

A recent article by Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras from the Strength and Conditioning Journal examined “muscle soreness serves as a valid indicator of muscle hypertrophy” and concluded “it remains debatable as to whether DOMS is an accurate gauge of muscle damage”

The take home from all this?

You don’t need to experience DOMS after a workout to build muscle, and shouldn’t rely on this indicator as the be all and end all as a measure of your productiveness in the gym.

How to treat DOMS?

If you’re starting out, delayed onset muscle soreness can be reduced or prevented by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program. Don’t jump right in at the deep end, start out with low volume and increase your intensity and sets as time goes on.

Despite popular belief, stretching will not help DOMS, in fact, extreme stretching can even cause DOMS.

In most cases your soreness will decrease within a couple of days, if you are really suffering, then focus on any measure that will increase blood flow to that area;

  • Low intensity cardio
  • Massage
  • Sauna
  • etc

Make sure your diet has adequate protein, healthy fats and that you are not deficient in minerals and/or vitamins.

Should I train the same muscle if I still have DOMS?

The safest answer is no, if you have are experiencing any pain then do not train the same body part again. This is why bodybuilders will split their routine across a week. Whilst they may have DOMS in their legs, it won’t stop them training back or chest etc. By rotating different body parts per session you can continue to train regardless of DOMS.

That said, as long as your body part is trained at least 72 hours from the previous session, then regardless of DOMS, I personally train again. In the beginning I was really sore, but as time goes on your body adapts to the frequency of your training. In my opinion, if nutrition and rest are adequate you muscle will be ready to be trained again, regardless of the soreness.

A better way to gauge progress?

Rather than rely on muscle soreness as our indicator as to whether we should train or not, there is a better way, keep a log book of your lifts. I can not stress enough the importance of a log book. Every session record your weights and reps, then try to beat those numbers each week, whether it’s the number or reps performed or weight used.

A log book will tell you very quickly if you are doing too much, your lifts will stall or even regress and this will be the best indicator that you are doing too much.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_onset_muscle_soreness

http://breakingmuscle.com/strength-conditioning/doms-the-good-the-bad-and-what-it-really-means-to-your-training

Vegan Diet Plan – Cardio & Conditioning

vegan-runner-dietEvery Sunday I will be answering questions I receive on Facebook in a blog post to share with everyone.

This week I was asked how to setup a diet and exercise plan for someone that is training for a half marathon but wants to build muscle and get stronger at the same time.

They are currently running 5 times a week, eating 2,500kcal a day with a macro split of 80% carbs, 10-15% protein and 5-10% fat and have no access to a gym.

The unfortunate reality is that it is incredibly unlikely you will build any muscle whilst training for an endurance event. Endurance training such as long distance running is catabolic by its very nature and will limit if not regress your ability to build muscle. With this in mind I therefore recommend that one does all they can to maintain all their current muscle mass whilst dieting and/or training for such an event, and then focus on building muscle afterwards, when you are in a calorie surplus.

Let’s take a moment to consider the people in the world that put on the most muscle..bodybuilders. Their whole focus in life is building muscle, which is why you will see them go through periods of “bulking” and then “cutting”.

In periods of a calorie surplus, with the right training, your body will grow. Depending on how accurate you are with your calories..and dedicated with your training, you will gain different amounts of muscle and fat.

Then when you start the cutting process it is vital to maintain your hard earned muscle and train/diet in a way that predominantly focuses on fat loss.

The end result over these cycles of “bulking” and “cutting” is a toned, lean physique with good muscle definition and low body fat.

Training for an endurance event will likely put your body in a catabolic environment whereby it uses carbohydrates, fats and protein (your muscle) as fuel.

So my advice would be..

Focus on the task at hand, train as you are for the marathon, but adjust your macronutrient split to give your body the best chance of preserving as much muscle mass as possible.

Then once the event is over you can focus your attention on your secondary goal of building muscle and getting stronger.

At that time you can add in more calories, join a gym and grow.

Similar to a bodybuilder “bulking” up, by eating an excess of calories will put your body in an anabolic environment. I’m not suggesting by any means to gain 50lbs in 3 months or binge on cakes, chocolate and pizza. But small increments in your calories each week as you get stronger in the gym.

You could spend several months in the gym getting stronger and leaner, and then several months training for your next marathon.

If nutrition is correct, you will gain muscle and some fat in the bulk stage, then lose the fat and maintain your muscle in the cardio/endurance training stage…end result? stronger and leaner..boom!

How do we maintain muscle mass in a calorie deficit?

There are 2 simple ways to maintain muscle mass in a calorie deficit

  1. Diet
  2. How you train

1. Diet

It is vital in a calorie deficit or when training for an endurance event to increase your protein intake to preserve as much muscle as possible. When dieting I would aim for at least 3g protein per KG of bodyweight. I recommend you take a look at my previous article here The Best Diet For Vegans

You will also want to ensure that your body has ample amounts of glycogen stores (carbohydrates) to fuel your training.

In my opinion most people eat way too many carbs, especially those that are sedentary at any other time than the gym. In the basic terms think of carbs as your fuel source. If you are sitting on your ass all day you don’t really need them! Which is why I favour carbohydrates in and around your workout/training window.

At times your body needs it we provide carbohydrates and protein.

Then for the rest of the day we focus on fats and protein for recovery and repair.

Lets say you train at 5pm in the evening. Here is how I would setup your food for the day.

  • 9am Protein and fat meal
  • 12pm Protein and fat meal
  • 3pm Low GI carb, something like oats, sweet potato and protein
  • 5pm Intra workout carb drink, 20-50g carbs, with BCAA
  • Post training – large carb meal, high GI, rice etc with protein
  • Pre Bed – Protein and fat meal or maybe low GI depending on how your body responds.

The macro split would be 40/40/20

(40g protein, 40g carbs, 20g fat)

In my opinion this type of setup would give you plenty of fuel when you need it and enough protein (providing calories are accurate) to give you the best chance of preserving muscle.

2. How You Train

You may read and hear about people lowering the amount of weight they use and doing higher reps to “tone up”. You know the broscience; heavy weights and low reps to build muscle, high reps and low weight to tone up.

This is complete utter nonsense. The only way you are going to preserve your muscle mass when dieting is to finish your diet as strong as when you started!

If you can squat 100kg now, then you better make damn sure you can squat 100kg at the end of your diet.

This is the ONLY way to train if you are serious about maintaining your muscle when dieting.

Just take a moment to think about it…at a time when your body is in a calorie deficit, why on earth would it hold on to excess muscle mass if you did not give it a reason to. If you suddenly drop the weights and blasting reps out, that’s a sure fire way to kiss goodbye to all your hard work.

Instead give your body no excuse but to keep that muscle. Take a log book with you into the gym and make sure that no matter what you are at least maintaining your strength in the gym.

Conclusion

  • Focus on one goal at a time, either endurance, cutting, dieting etc or get stronger, adding muscle etc.
  • When dieting, consume at least 3g protein per kg of bodyweight.
  • Schedule your carbs at times you need them, in and around your training.
  • Train heavy (safely of course), to maintain you strength when in a calorie deficit.
  • For more information about the best diet setup for vegans please visit my previous post; The Best Diet For Vegans

How to Build Muscle

You go to the gym and hit up 8-12 reps, 4 sets per exercise because the workout you downloaded or app you are using told you that’s what you need to do, or worse, because you read it in a magazine. Do you ever stop and think, why? Will it actually build muscle? Does it work for everyone? Are we all the same?

When anyone starts training, they look through magazines for workouts, thinking that if they do Phil Heath’s arm workout, they will get arms like Phil Heath. Sadly, many disappointing weeks go by and their arms would be lucky to look like Phil’s forearms, let alone his biceps and triceps!

So the logical step is to start asking questions…questions like, how do we actually grow muscle?

When you start to research, there are many different techniques that claim to grow muscle — strip sets, drop sets, rest pause, high volume, heavy duty — but that’s not what you should be looking for. You want to know the biological origins of muscle growth — because if you know how muscle grows from a scientific point, then you can find methods that actually get results. It’s like working backwards through a math equation. You know what your end result is — muscle — all you need is to figure out the equation that can get you there.

If A + B = Muscle, then what the hell are A + B?

After thinking logically about it, you will soon find that A must = Stimulus, and B must = Recovery

Stimulus + Recovery = Muscle

But a bit of research and you will quickly found that there is a third factor as well, C = Hormones

Stimulus + Recovery + Hormones = Muscle

That formula is a great start, but to truly gain some useful knowledge, you must work backwards even further, and figure out what each of those variables really means.

Stimulus

There are 3 mechanisms that stimulate muscle growth:

  • Muscle Tension

Have you ever heard people say, it’s not how much you lift, it’s how you lift it — or — your muscle doesn’t know how much weight is on the bar. Well, there is actually some science to support those statements. It turns out that your muscle grows in response to tension, which is a direct result of how much force is being exerted on that particular muscle. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much weight you use, as long as the tension applied to a specific muscle is large enough. So moving weight from A to B is not the solution, and the mind muscle connection may acutally be much more relevant to growth than the weight you add to the bar.

Aside from the tension that comes as a result of placing a load on a muscle, the stretching and contraction that occur during a full range of motion rep, also contribute to muscle tension. In fact, the very act of stretching and contracting a muscle may be able to trigger muscle growth. Isometric contractions have been shown to trigger some of the cellular responses involved is muscle hypertrophy, but perhaps more interesting is the fact that stretching a muscle may induce growth as well. A group of scientist proved this by taking a piece of living muscle tissue and stretching it to extreme lengths, and showed that the stretching actually caused some of the greatest muscle growth they had ever seen from any type of stimulus.

One thing that is closely related to this topic is the principle of time under tension. See, it is not enough to subject a muscle to tension for a brief amount of time. In order to truly stimulate growth, you must maintain a high level of tension for a prolonged period of time. Time under tension will increase the amount of stress, damage, and swelling that a muscle experiences, hence why it is paramount to the growth process.

  • Muscle Damage

If you have ever experience soreness, then you have likely experienced the effects of muscle damage. On a microscopic level, muscles are made of fiber that move past each other in a ratcheting motion. It is this movement that is what we experience as muscle contraction. When we lift weights our muscle attempt to move in this ratcheting motion, but often give way to the load. This causes damage to the fibers that make up our muscles, and it is this damage that is a major trigger for growth.

When damage occurs within a muscle, the muscle reacts by triggering a myriad of cellular responses whose purpose is to repair the muscle. The important point to understand si that the body does not simply repair the muscle and return it to its original shape, the amazing thing is that your body builds the muscle bigger and stronger than before, in an attempt to prevent this damage from every occurring again. This phenomenon, mediated by a host of chemical messengers and special type of stem cells called a satellite cells, is one of the most well known and intensely studied factors involved in muscle hypertrophy.

  • Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is perhaps the most intriguing element associated with muscular development. An emergent property of the types of exercise that rely on anaerobic glycolysis for ATP production, metabolic stress is marked by a resulting buildup of metabolites such as hydrogen ions and lactate, which trigger muscle hypertrophy.

In fact, metabolic stress is such a potent simulator of muscle growth, that a study published in the Sports Medical Journal in 2013 by Schoenfeld Brad, revealed that metabolic stress induced by the application of a pressure cuff, could help attenuate muscle wasting in patients confined to bed rest, even without engaging in any form of exercise. So by essentially squeezing  a muscle and preventing metabolic by products from being washed out by blood flow, the scientist incurred enough of a stimulus to prevent a muscle from shrinking in bedridden patients.

This phenomenon is so powerful, that an entire training methodology has been shaped around it — called blood flow restriction training. By cutting off the majority of blood flow to a certain area of the body and using significantly less than normal to perform a specific exercise, one can trigger considerable muscle growth due to the generation of a substantial amount of metabolic stress.

  • Cell Swelling

Cell swelling is the scientific synonym for “the pump”. The feeling that Arnold hailed as the holy grail of exercise, is actually one of the factors that causes muscle to grow. Current theories attribute the anabolic effect to a self-preservation mechanism, whereby the pressure exerted by cell swelling causes the cell to perceive the change as a threat to its integrity. This prompts a cell to respond by growing. The choice is either grow, or die. Evidence shows that cell swelling simultaneously stimulates protein buildup (synthesis) and decreases protein breakdown (proteolysis).

Recovery

Recovery involves everything you do when you are not in the gym. Managing your stress, getting enough sleep, and carefully monitoring your diet, all play a huge part in the results you ultimately attain. The hour you spend in the gym is only a small part of the work it takes to build an appreciable amount of muscle. Remember that there are three parts to the equation, and the gym is only one of them.

Aside from getting enough protein in your diet, there are a myriad of other factors that play a part in the recovery process — none of which are more or less important than the other. Your body is a complex system composed of many parts and processes. If you want want optimize any one of them, you must ensure the health of all of them. You cannot focus solely on something as simple as macros or supplements, there is much more you need to do to get your body running like a well oiled machine. Until you can do that, your hopes of impressive gains, will be nothing but fantasies. Here is a brief list to get you thinking about what it takes to optimize recovery:

  • Macronutrient intake
  • Nutrient Timing
  • Sleep/Rest
  • Micronutrient Intake
  • Supplementation
  • Immune Health

Hormones

There is no doubt that within minutes of deciding that you want to improve your physique, you hear about hormones — and with good reason. Hormones play a huge role of the myriad of biological processes involved in muscle hypertrophy. From superstars like testosterone and growth hormone to lesser known members like MGF, and IGF-1, hormones play a huge role in your progress.

It is important to note that when we refer to hormones, we are not referring to anabolic steroids. Every human being has hormones, and every human being can optimize those hormones naturally — by training eating, and supplementing right.

Hormones like testosterone and growth hormone can be increased by manipulating nutrition and taking certain supplements variables, while things like myokines and paracrine growth factors can be triggered by manipulating certain training variables.

All of your hormones play a role in the machine that is your body. Not a single one is more important that another, and if your goal is to grow, you better be sure to optimize every single one of them.

The Power Of The Equation

With that information, I was well on my way to becoming a true muscle master. Research was my friend as it will be yours. With the power of this equation in my hands, I was no longer bound to the dogma of magazines, gym rats, and bros. I had the power to truly assess everything I did, and ensure that it was going to make me grow. I hope that it will do the same for you. Remember, Stimulus + Recovery + hormones = Muscle.