The Cat’s Corner – Q&A

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Well as promised, the first installment of the Q&A. I named it Cat’s Corner, for the older and sentimental folk around who remember this, much like my old column with weekly science tidbits om bodybuilding.com a small decade ago :p You guys were awesome, there wasn’t a huge response to the call for questions, but you all came up with some great ones that I really enjoyed answering.

For those that followed that post on facebook, as you can see, for the questions I don’t pick, for whatever reason, I do try to point people in the right direction where they can get the answer, or read up on the matter. That’s what M.A.S.S. stands for. It’s for you guys to get the knowledge we can give, but also the knowledge you want. So keep the questions coming, just throw them out there on the facebook page and keep checking back. The best ones get picked up for next week’s column ;) Doesn’t matter what kind of question, whether its asking for an opinion, or how I do things personally, or the nitty gritty scientific lowdown on something that has been troubling you for ages. It’s all free, it’s all here, and the worst that can happen is that you don’t get a satisfactory answer. So don’t be shy, and be sure to let others know. We really do want to get some more involvement from our readers and we love communicating ourselves. So without further ado, here’s the first installment of the Cat’s Corner, featuring this week’s best. Enjoy.

 

Can you provide some advice about daily kcal adjustments based on activity level (gym, non-cardio) vs static weekly adjustment. Like, are lower intakes on rest days better for muscle gains (leaner). Consider the time it takes to cut after a bulk. ~ Igor Bicanic

It’s a tough estimate. A lot of people will base their kcal requirements off formulas like the Harris-Benedict formula, which calculates a basal metabolism and then uses an activity multiplier to obtain what it feels is your maintenance amount of calories. What I have found with this particular formula and many like it, is that people tend to grossly overestimate their calorie usage on a daily basis. If you are in school or have a mostly seated profession, 2 sessions of cardio and 5 sessions of weightlifting do not make up even a moderate activity level. Odds are you should be looking at an activity multiplier of 1.2 or 1.3 at the most, rather than 1.5 or more. (If this sounds like Chinese, do look up the Harris-Benedict formula :p)

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A lot of people overestimate their daily activity level when calculating their maintenance calories, and are then surprised they are putting on excess fat. Suffice it to say if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, 4-7 sessions of 1 hour at the gym does not make a you a “moderate to very active” person. Especially if your intensity is somewhat lacking ;)

As to the matter of lower intakes on rest days, I’m not a huge fan. Especially if like me you tend to work out in the evening, you will have maybe 2 more meals before bed, a long overnight fast, and then you would go into a lower calorie intake the following day that would highly jeopardize ongoing recovery from your last workout. If you were to cut calories for a period of time – I personally wouldn’t – you will likely be better off cutting them toward the evening on your rest day, and keeping them lower until your pre-workout meal the next day. Of course to track and calculate such a thing you would have to start dividing up your days on your program a different way, running from the time of the pre-workout meal to the previous meal the next day, rather than going by calendar days.

For leaner gains without the excess hassle (unless you are the type of person who loves working with lists and tracking stuff, I’ve met plenty of those as well), adding intermittent fasting days now and then would be a good way to go, like maybe two per week, and this works just as easily on workout days, when you get the feeling your weight is spiraling out of control. It’s considerably less intrusive on a routine. But in the end the simplest way is to reverse diet coming off your cut, where you simply increase calories by 100-200 as soon as you don’t gain anything for a good 10 days. This will also train your metabolism to become faster, allowing you diet down on higher calories at a later time.

What is your best – but unique- advice for abdominal fat loss and muscle mass gain? ~ Ric Mccool

Well unique is sort of the reason people come to Muscle and Sports Science, not for the re-iteration of every musclerag out there :p Because I’m assuming you know the basics. In terms of muscle gain, the abdominals are very limited because the rectus abdominis is held down by the linea transversae, fibrous bands that cause the six- or eightpack look. That means despite huge differences in abdominal strength, you won’t see a ton of variation in abdominal size between athletes (and if you do, it should be an indication something else is going on, but that’s a different story). So odds are overtraining your abs hoping to see them better is going to be a time-wasting null operation. Abs, like most muscles, should be trained 1-3 times a week, but don’t shy away from the weights. Abs are postural, slow fiber type muscles, but as you will see in another question below that doesn’t mean they need less weight and more reps, but quite the opposite. So build around basics like cable crunches, hanging crunches, twisting oblique crunches on the hyperextension holding extra weight, planks, ab rollers etc. Those exercises that put the heaviest strain on your abs.

The next platitude you will have heard – and is absolutely true – is that abs are made in the kitchen. Above a certain body-fat percentage you simply will not clearly see your abs. Simple as that. Train all you want, if there is an inch of fat covering your lines, there’s nothing there to see but a block of muscle. And not even that if you get even fatter. So if you can’t see your abs, it invariably means you need to get leaner and there really isn’t much more to it. But of course, there is one huge issue : abdominal fat tends to decrease at a much slower rate than the rest of the body. This has two major causes, namely the fact that it is “stubborn fat” and the fact that is located in a softer area of the body that makes it harder to maintain temperature and vascularization in the outer layers of the fat. There are solutions to both of these problems to ensure that you lose fat equally in your abdomen as the rest of your body.

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It’s been said, a lot, but its the plain and simple truth : seeing your abs is not a matter of training. They are limited in the amount of achievable outward growth. I have very strong abs, I do cable crunches for 15 reps with twice my bodyweight, and although I’m attempting to stay leaner this year, the past two years I only saw my abs in detail less than a month out of each year. There’s a good, efficient way to train them sure, but it will never “really” be about the training in the grand scheme of things.

To solve the problem of the vascularization and heat, especially if you tend to sleep on your side or stomach, try sleeping with saran wrap, wrapped tightly around your entire midsection. Note in and of itself this does NOTHING, it does not cause weight loss or anything of the kind. But you will notice where most nights your abdomen can feel colder than other parts of your body, it will now feel warmer. By keeping everything closer to the body, vascularization improves, which in turn means that IF fat is released from the abdomen, it’s also likelier to get transported and used, rather than be re-esterified in triglycerides and stored.

The second issue is the “stubborn fat” issue. This is the problem of certain parts of the body (with women it is more prevalent in the legs and glutes as well) having a much higher density of alpha2-adrenoreceptors in their fat cells. Under the influence of adrenergic neurotransmitters or cathecholamines (norepinephrine and epinephrine principally), fat cells will release fat (lipolysis) by breaking down triglycerides into fatty acid chains that can be transported out of the cell toward a part of the body that can use them as fuel. This occurs when the cathecholamines bind to the adrenergic receptors. There are 5 of those, alpha 1 and 2, and beta 1 through 3. The beta receptors are predominantly pro-lipolytic, the alpha receptors anti-lipolytic. But where the alpha1 receptor principally has other functions, like control of vasoconstriction, the prime function of the alpha2 adrenoreceptor in fat tissue is to prevent lipolysis, the release of fat. Cathecholamines, obviously, prefer to bind the alpha2 rather than the beta receptors. So the higher the density of alpha2, the more lipolysis is blocked AND the less beta receptors are stimulated. One trick is to specifically stimulate the beta-2 receptor. A number of products will do this, most notably clenbuterol, but all of them are not over the counter and are heavily regulated stimulants.

The better way to go is to block the alpha2 receptors, which is achieved with the product Yohimbine HCl, which is still legal as an OTC supplement or in pharmacies for the treatment of erectile dysfunction in a large number of countries. Yohimbine HCl will bind and block the alpha2 receptors, to give you an equal opportunity to burn bellyfat as other fat. Given its half-life it should be taken RELIGIOUSLY 3 times a day. I say religiously because use will upregulate alpha2 receptors, so that sporadic use will have a reverse effect. You want to continue use until goal is achieved. You will want to assess tolerance as some people don’t notice yohimbine in the body at all, while others will almost get the same sensation as with a stimulant. This likely has to do with your basal norepinephrine levels. Start with a single 5mg dose, and if no problems occur go to 2x5mg and eventually 3x5mg. From there, as needed, over time, you can build up to 3x10mg, but I really wouldn’t go any higher than that. The stuff is pretty harmless in a healthy individual, but can cause problems for people with cardiovascular risks, so do consult a physician before you take this.

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Simplistic sketch of the regulation of lipolysis in a fat cell by the adrenergic receptors. An increase in cellular cAMP initiates a three part process that releases fatty acids fro tiglycerides in storage, so they can be transported out of the cell and used elsewhere. The alpha2-adrenergic receptor, through inhibitory G-proteins, blocks this process. By blocking this receptor a fat cell becomes more succeptible to giving up its fatty acid stores.

And keep in mind it’s not a wonder drug. It’s not super effective at actually burning fat, so you will have to do your part and lower calories to lose fat, the Yohimbine will only ensure you lose the same percentage in stubborn areas (so upper legs and glutes for women too) as elsewhere in the body.

What are your best strategies for leaning down/cutting for people who have tested everything with no success. ~ Lauren Denos

The main problem with people who have tested everything with no success, is the reason they have tested everything, rather than giving the simpler, cheaper solutions some more time to do their thing. Are there special things out there that can help you ? Absolutely. The question is how much do they contribute in the end, and at what cost ? In the end the bulk of weight loss has to come from calorie reduction, and if you aren’t losing weight, that’s where you’re mistake is. And you are not alone in this, I’m guessing this is exactly what the majority of the world’s population struggles with.

The fact is that because they’ve had some difficulty, some people become convinced there is a magic bullet, something they don’t know, that they need to find to achieve success. Worse, a small percentage thinks it’s all about monstrous dedication, and accepting they don’t have that, just give up. Neither is true. The problem is, even the simplest solution, losing weight the old fashioned way, has been made WAY too complicated by people in this industry looking to sell you stuff. Whether its diet books (2 page pamphlets or this part of my Q&A don’t sell :p) or supplements or whatever.

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It has been my extensive and repeated experience that if you’ve been trying very hard to lose weight and getting nowhere, that you’ve definitely been trying too hard. It’s not rocket science, it’s basic physics. Most likely your efforts are simply being wasted by getting too far away from the basics : protein, calories and above all CONSISTENCY. So don’t stray too far from your comfort zone with exotic supplements, shiny new supplements or wacky diets. I really can’t stress this enough. i’m not a chicken and broccoli guy. I enjoy my life, everyday. There is no reason you shouldn’t.

 

There are some intricacies in dieting down below 8% for men and 17-18% for women (and even that isn’t as hard or complicated as some would have you think), but above that it really is so simple, you’ll kick yourself once you get the hang of it. There are three simple rules :

1.Keep your protein high. The standard is 2g/kg bodyweight. If you feel comfortable going higher, by all means do. But its not a necessity. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient out there. We use this threshold because it also amply covers what is needed to maximally spare muscle. Why do you want to spare muscle ? Well even if you aren’t an athlete, more muscle spared means that every calorie burned has to come from somewhere else than muscle, namely fat. So more fat burned for more muscle saved, simple as that. But protein also has a thermogenic effect when digested. Well all foods do, but in a different degree. Fats only have 0-3% effect, carbs 8-10% effect, while protein has a whopping 20-30% thermic effect when ingested. That means for every calorie from protein you ingest you can already subtract 1/5th simply because it uses that amount to process its intake. That’s a three-pronged approach about why keeping a steady moderate to high protein intake is important.

2.Keep metabolism high. If you drop your calories very fast, you will see quick results short term, but they will stall out, as your body is giving off a starvation signal, telling the body in every way possible to conserve energy. At that point you are burning less calories than you should be, while taking in less calories than is feasible for you to maintain longer term. This will eventually affect your health too. By dropping calories very gradually, the body will instead adapt to its new intake each time, by readjusting metabolism back to it’s original state despite lesser intake. Each time fat loss halts for more than 7 days, drop 100-200 kcal again, and keep repeating the process until your goal is achieved.

3.Calories have to be lower than what you expend. Simple math, but this is the basis of everything. And while a million diet gurus try to tell you differently, it really does all boil down to this. If you are waiting to find a way for this to change, alas, its pure physics. You either drop the calories or increase expenditure. Nothing else will help.

Aside from these three key points don’t overstress every little thing. Don’t worry about what you eat too much at this point. I mean some points are universal, like a good fat balance (supplement omega-3 if you don’t eat a lot of fish, use eggs as a protein source at least sporadically for their high arachidonic acid content), avoiding transfats (processed baked goods and fried foods) and making sure to get at least some veggies and fruit in your for your micronutrient balance. But if that’s in order, and you are meeting your protein requirements while staying below your allotted qualities, please don’t stress over the sauce on your meat, the pasta dish your mom made, eating red meat over chicken or having a piece of chocolate in the evening. On the contrary, you should absolutely do those things that most increase your comfort and routine. This makes the whole easier to maintain and that breeds consistency over the long term, and THAT is the secret to fat loss, and nothing else ;) Sticking with it without killing yourself or feeling miserable. It’s a click you make one day, and when you do, you’ll kick yourself for not seeing it sooner. I at Chinese 4 days in a row my last week of contest prep. I have chocolate on most evenings (sure it’s mostly dark, and I have allotted weekly amount regardless of whether I eat it at once or spread it out, but that’s when I was at 6.5% body-fat – you’ll have more leeway at a higher bodyfat percentage).

Tell us about stubborn calves. Does dominant fibre type really make a difference compared to other muscles in getting them to grow? ~Pieter De Wit

It absolutely matters. The problem is that somehow most people can’t figure out why it matters or how to resolve it. As you point out in your question the difference between leg and ab muscles and the rest of the body’s musculature, is that they are postural muscles, that work all day to keep us upright and balanced. A thousand tiny micromovements just by sitting and standing. To achieve this, they have a different fiber make-up, more dominant in Type 1 slow twitch fiber (red fiber). As opposed to Type 2 fast-twitch fiber (white fiber), this type of fiber is meant to last. Its less explosive, but it has immense durability. To do that it contains less glycogen as primary fuel, but is very well vascularized so that it can exploit systemic energy, and easily switch from using glucose to using fatty acids for sustained energy.

calves only

I wouldn’t call myself an exceptional athlete by any standard, but the one thing i’m proud of – and there’s nothing genetically gifted about them – is 18+inch calves on a 205 lbs frame. These are purely the result of high frequency and A LOT of weight. I only perform one exercise for calves.

Somehow however someone came up with this notion that these muscles need less load and more reps. I’m not sure why or where that came from. But these muscle carry your bodyweight all day, and make CONSTANT minor adjustments to keep your body upright. So do you really think you are putting them to work by making them do a little more very light things, that are even lighter than what it normally does ? The point of load selection is to tax the muscle beyond its usual threshold, so these muscles need MORE, not less, load. They need heavy ass weights. They need to feel they are being challenged, even more so than upper body musculature. What they need differently however is a much higher frequency : to be subjected to a significantly higher load on a regular basis. And its perfectly ok to sacrifice some volume for that. Especially for calves. There is only one exercise, and its variations, that effectively works the calves and that is the one where your ankles move, but your knees are locked and legs are straight. Whether it is on a standing calf raise machine, you do donkey raises, or you prefer to use the smith machine, bear squat or leg press to do them. But do them heavy, and do them often. I have huge calves. That’s not genetics, that’s just me training them with 3-5 sets in between my other workouts EVERY SINGLE DAY. Because you just hop on a standing calf raise machine between your other sets, it doesn’t even cost you any extra time. It’s fun, and your progression seemingly infinite (I’ve done this exercise using 650kg on a leg press -1430lbs- and my competition weight is only 205lbs for 6’1”).

That’s it for this week’s Cat’s Corner, but I for one wouldn’t mind making this a weekly thing. Just one problem, I need YOU GUYS (and girls) to ask the questions, I’m not good at making them up :p So be sure to leave your questions on our page and let others know they are free to do the same.

 

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