8 February 2019
THE REALITY OF MUSCLE GROWTH
I get it… You want to get jacked, and shredded at the same time… We all want efficiency and the most effective means to achieve our desired physique, so it’s obvious why getting lean and making gains is so desirable, but can we do both at the same time? Losing fat and building muscle simultaneously, otherwise known as a…
I get it… You want to get jacked, and shredded at the same time… We all want efficiency and the most effective means to achieve our desired physique, so it’s obvious why getting lean and making gains is so desirable, but can we do both at the same time?
Losing fat and building muscle simultaneously, otherwise known as a body recomposition, is the goal most individuals have when they hit the gym. It is how we achieve that ‘toned’ look, and build an aesthetic physique. Due to the attractive nature of ‘re-comping’, many coaches and programs promise such results, and have you believe that you CAN get jacked and shredded at the same time.
However, not many understand the science behind muscle growth and fat loss, and the physiological processes that must occur in order to hypertrophy muscle tissue and burn fat tissue.
The scientific position on this matter is clear, you must go left, or right.
For most mere mortals, it is NOT possible to body recomposition, and today I will tell you why.
Firstly, fat loss and muscle growth require two completely unique physiological processes, both dictated in large by total energy intake (calories).
Let’s take a look at the processes for both muscle gain, and fat loss separately to delineate why achieving both simultaneously is a futile endeavor and only possible in a few circumstances.
HOW TO BUILD MUSCLE
Now before we begin, let’s imagine that a well designed strength program is set in place that takes into account all of the variables necessary to build muscle such as progressive overload and so forth.
Without further ado, let’s get stuck into it.
Quite simply, to gain muscle tissue, you must gain weight. The best way to do this is to be in a hypercaloric state – consume more calories than your body burns.
This is by far the most powerful weapon for weight gain and muscle development. Ensuring that there is a constant nutrient influx allows the body to be in an anabolic (growth) state.
Here is a very basic outline of some of the hormonal consequences that occur when you are in a calorie surplus:
- Increased testosterone (anabolic).
- Insulin levels (anabolic).
- Improved celluar signaling of anabolic pathways (such as mTor)
- Decreased Ghrelin signaling (decreased appetite)
- Increase in leptin.
- Decreased cortisol (increased anabolism / growth)
As you can see, there are a number of hormonal consequences that are a result of diet alone, and thus it is necessary to consume more calories than your body burns to maximise these processes.
HOW TO LOSE FAT
Conversely, fat loss and weight loss requires a completely different physiological process to that needed to gain weight – a hypocaloric state / energy deficit.
When you consume less calories than your body requires, your body will rely on stored tissue (energy) and burn fat/muscle/glycogen to make up the deficit, otherwise known as lipolysis (the breakdown of lipids).
Here is what happens when you are in a calorie deficit:
- Decreased insulin levels à Increased Glucagon)
- Increased epinephrine, norepinephrine.
- Increase in ghrelin (hunger increases)
- Increased cortisol levels (break down / catabolism)
As you can see, trying to gain muscle whilst losing fat is counterintuitive and physiologically polarising.
Trying to achieve a body recomposition will only impede your ability to maximise either process, and increases the difficulty to either build muscle tissue or lose fat.
The harsh reality…
Muscle gain is extremely difficult, and therefore we must do whatever we can to maximize this process.
Cardio is concurrent training effect and down regulates hypertrophy and increases energy expenditure, increases stress, which impacts recovery and performance.
THE MUSCLE GAIN SOLUTION
The key to long term muscle growth and body composition improvements is to phase your nutrition. If you are aiming to build muscle, then spending a considerable amount of time in a calorie surplus is necessary. However, to obtain an ‘aesthetic’ physique, being in a surplus year round will mean that you will gain fat tissue.
This is where cycling phases of the following is necessary to continually build muscle without getting ‘fat’:
3. Fat Loss.
1. Growth Phase (16-20 weeks)
To maximise muscle growth, it is important to spend a considerable amount of time in a calorie surplus, anywhere from 16-20 weeks is a substantial period of time to allow for positive muscular adaptations to occur.
A small-moderate calorie surplus (10-20%) is sufficient to build muscle at an appreciable rate without too much fat gain.
This is completely dependant upon the individual, as some of you hard gainers will require a significantly greater surplus than someone who is prone to weight gain.
The key is to monitor your weight from week to week ensuring that you are only gaining a few hundred grams, yes this is how much muscle can be expected to be gained per week.
Aiming for anywhere between 500g-2kg of weight increase per month will ensure that you are making some gains, and this number will diminish as your training age and experience increases. For example, beginners can expect a much faster rate of progression than advanced athletes who may only gain 1-2kg of muscle per year.
2. Maintenance Phase (4-8 Weeks)
It is a lot easier to maintain muscle tissue than it is to build it. And due to the fact that muscle tissue can be lost when dieting, it is important to spend a period of time maintaining and allowing your body weight to acclimate (adapt). This will ensure your settling point adjusts to your new found muscle mass, and you can maintain your size with greater ease.
Aim to maintain your new weight without gaining for 4-8 weeks.
3. Fat Loss Phase (4-8 Weeks)
To lose fat, we need a calorie deficit.
And thus, a period of time will need to be allocated specifically to getting lean whilst aiming to maintain the muscle built during the growth phase.
A Calorie Deficit of 10-20%, will suffice, and a focus on maintaining strength and volume in the gym will ensure that any body weight reduction is primarily from fat as opposed to hard earned muscle tissue.
Repeat the process until you’ve achieved the muscularity you desire within your genetic limitations.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES:
- Beginners – The new stimulus will allow body recomposition.
- Obese Individuals – Similar to beginners, overweight individuals with excessive fat tissue will be able to recoup to some degree.
- Genetic Freaks – The genetic elite will have a much easier time building muscle and potentially losing fat simultaneously.
- Steroids – Exogenous hormone use will increase muscle protein synthesis to supra physiological levels, and thus allow for a body recomposition.
So there you have it…
You have to go left (gain) or right (lose), when it comes to your weight gain and muscle development efforts.
If you have any comments, or questions feel free to do so below.
Yours in strength,