by Mike Arnold
There has been a lot of talk in the bodybuilding community over the last few years regarding the role of workout-based insulin and for good reason–it is the single best time one can use the drug to promote recovery & growth, but what exactly makes it so effective…and more importantly, how can we maximize our results with this approach? Of all the subjects I have touched on over the years, nothing else has even come close to generating such a large amount of interest from so many people. With this in mind, I have decided to address some of these unanswered questions not only to validate this particular method of administration, but to clear up any misconceptions which arose as a result of my former writings on the topic.
Why is Workout-Based Nutrition so Important?
In order to maximize recovery & growth while minimizing fat gain, one must do more than just shove a ton of food down their throat at regular intervals. Everything we eat should be done for a reason—with a purpose in mind. A haphazard approach may suffice for some, but for those who want to make the most of their physique, there is no room for half measures or senseless diet plans.
Nutrient repartitioning plays a vital role in determining what kind of results we will get from our bodybuilding diet. Only by directing the nutrients we eat to the right place at the right time can we ever hope to make the most of our BB’ing efforts. We can accomplish this by manipulating certain factors such as food timing, type, and quantity, as well as drugs, training, and supplementation, among others. The point here is that the body’s dietary needs, as well as its ability to use the nutrients and drugs we provide it, is in a constant state of flux. Therefore, we need to anticipate these needs and take advantage of each opportunity that presents itself, if we want to maximize our rate of progress.
The training window is one such opportunity. For a few hours a day, which begins at the onset of training and continues until a couple hours afterward, the nutrients we consume are preferentially shuttled towards muscle fiber and away from adipose tissue, while the processes involved in glycogen restoration and protein synthesis up-regulate. By taking advantage of this enhanced physiological state via nutrition, pharmacology, supplementation, etc, we can greatly accelerate the recovery & growth process. Not only will this allow us to grow more from each individual workout, but it may also enable us to increase our training frequency, accelerating muscle growth on two fronts. For this reason, the training window is largely considered the single most important time to facilitate nutrient delivery and has been adopted by most as an integral part of BB’ing nutrition.
When it comes to workout-based nutrition, most guys keep it rather simple. For the majority, this entails consuming some form of fast-digesting protein and carbohydrate after training and calling it a day. Some guys will even take things a step further by employing pre, intra, and post-training nutrition-supplementation. While most guys are aware of the primary benefits associated with this approach, a much smaller percentage understand why these things are important. We already know the short answer to this question would be that the body responds more favorably to nutrients at this time, but this limited explanation doesn’t provide us with the information necessary to further capitalize on this naturally occurring opportunity.
This subject can get quite complex, so we will limit this discussion to the two primary physiological changes which takes place during the training window and which are responsible for powering the majority of it positive effects. These are an improvement in insulin sensitivity and perhaps more importantly, increased in Glut-4 expression (more on that in a minute). Being directly responsible for the extent and rate at which nutrients are transported from the bloodstream into the muscle, their ability to regulate muscle growth by controlling both glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis cannot be understated. Therefore, anything we can do to augment these processes will allow us to receive greater benefit from both our nutrition and insulin use.
While weight training leads to a natural increase in insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 expression, it is only one of several factors which have a positive effect in this area and which can be manipulated to our advantage. Realistically, there are dozens of actions we can take to further amplify insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 expression within muscle tissue, but first, we need to know what Glut-4 actually is and how it works together with insulin to stimulate muscle growth.
Glut-4 and Its Relationship to Insulin
Technically, Glut-4 is a transporter protein that helps facilitate the transport of glucose across cell membranes for use by the cell. It is active in tissues such as the heart, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle. It belongs to a family of 13 similar proteins, but only Glut-4 and Glut-1 are relevant to this discussion, as they are the primary transporters in muscle tissue. Of the two, we will choose to focus solely on Glut-4, as Glut-1 is present in much lower quantities and is also insulin independent, which precludes it from manipulation in the same manner as Glut-4.
Widely recognized as “the” nutrient transporter, insulin works in tandem with the less popular Glut-4 to deliver nutrients to the muscle cell. Here’s how it works. After we eat a meal, glucose and aminos acids are liberated from the food we ate and released into the bloodstream, resulting in an increase in blood glucose and amino acid levels. As soon as the body senses this increase, which takes places almost immediately, the pancreas responds by releasing a corresponding amount of insulin into the bloodstream, which then acts as a transporter, shuttling glucose, aminos, etc, to the muscle cell for delivery. However, while aminos acids may be present along with glucose, only glucose stimulates the release of insulin into the bloodstream.
Some mistakenly believe that it is insulin which delivers nutrients into the muscle cell, but this is not the case. Rather, it only brings them to the cell membrane (cell surface), at which point Glut-4 transporters take over and transport these nutrients into the cell itself, where they can then be used for recovery & growth. So, both insulin and Glut-4 are “transporters”, but their functions are different, with each one playing a unique and vital role in the delivery of nutrients.
Sounds simple, right? Well, not quite. When in an inactive state, Glut-4 resides in an intracellular compartment within the muscle cell, hibernating, so to speak. Before it can transport nutrients into the cell, it must first leave this resting chamber and rise to the cell surface. Only then can it perform its function of transporting nutrients into the cell. However, the amount of Glut-4 which comes to the cell surface can vary tremendously depending on a number of factors. With Glut-4 involved in the muscle growth process on such a fundamental level, common sense dictates that anything which down-regulates Glut-4 expression will have a negative impact on muscle growth, while anything which up-regulates this transporter will have a positive effect.
Obviously, the goal of every BB’r should be to maximize this aspect of nutrient delivery, but before we are able to do that, we must first know how Glut-4 expression is regulated. One of the most influential regulatory factors is insulin itself, but the relationship between the two is unstable, as insulin has the ability to both up-regulate and down-regulate Glut-4 expression depending on the circumstances. Confused? Keep reading.
You see, when insulin attaches to the insulin receptor, which is located on the surface of the muscle cell, it signals Glut-4 to rise to the cell surface, so it can perform its job. However, when the insulin receptor becomes over-exposed to insulin as a result of insulin resistance or the chronic overconsumption of carbs (particularly refined, high glycemic carbs), Glut-4 expression is stunted. Basically, they refuse to come out and play, leaving all our valuable glucose and aminos acids outside the cell and unable to promote muscle growth. Insulin will always maintain the ability to initiate Glut-4 expression to at least some degree, but overexposure can and certainly will limit it. Because of this, insulin resistance should be avoided at all costs.
Glut-4 expression can also be affected by a variety of non-insulin dependent pathways, some of which we can be manipulate in our favor. In the following article we will discuss the different methods one can use to improve our insulin sensitivity, while also learning how to up-regulate Glut-4 expression via non-insulin dependent pathways.
Increasing Insulin Sensitivity & Up-Regulating Glut-4
In the previous article, we discussed the importance of post-workout nutrition and touched on the relationship of insulin and Glut-4 within the context of muscle growth. In this article we will begin exploring the various steps one can take to help improve insulin sensitivity and enhance Glut-4 up-regulation.
As a leading risk factor in the development of Type II diabetes, poor diet, often in conjunction with obesity, can have a pronounced effect on blood sugar regulation leading to insulin resistance. So potent is diet in ameliorating this condition that its modification is generally accepted as the first line of defense in those who have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
The normal recommendation is to limit carbohydrate intake and although effective, it fails to take into consideration the unique dietary needs of the BB’r, who by hobby or profession, requires a substantial carbohydrate intake in order to optimize recovery & growth. Fortunately, these goals are not mutually exclusive. With a little planning, we can reduce the negative effects of carbohydrate intake on insulin sensitivity while continuing to receive their benefits.
When it comes to diet, perhaps the most important step one can take is to avoid the over consumption of simple sugars and other rapidly-digesting carbs, especially high fructose corn syrup, as they tend to cause relatively large spikes in blood sugar lasting only a short duration. Although this can be beneficial at certain times, doing so repeatedly lowers insulin sensitivity, not to mention encourages fat gain, causes inflammation, and increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular and/or various metabolic disorders. By limiting these carbs mainly to the training window, rather than relying on them as a primary fuel source throughout the day, not only is insulin sensitivity less likely to be compromised, but they are they more likely to be used for recovery & growth. The 2nd best time to consume these carbs would be first rise in the morning (meal #1), but aside from that, slow-digesting carbs, such as whole-grains and vegetables, should be your go-to carb source for all your other energy needs. By eating in this fashion, stabilization of insulin levels leading to prolonged anabolism, decreased fat gain, and improved insulin sensitivity should be expected.
High-fat diets also tend to decrease insulin sensitivity, although not all fats are equal in this regard. In fact, fats such as fish oil and extra virgin olive oil, in addition to their health and muscle building benefits, have been clinically shown to increase insulin sensitivity when consumed in low-moderate amounts. This makes them a worthwhile addition to any BB’ing diet. On the other hand, trans-fats have the opposite effect, having been shown on numerous occasions to negatively affect insulin sensitivity; likely as a result of impaired insulin receptor signaling. When evaluating these fats individually, CLA appears to be the worst offender, having demonstrated the single most dramatic adverse effect on insulin sensitivity to date. Although found naturally in some foods and even associated with certain benefits, adding additional CLA to one’s diet through supplementation may not be the best idea, especially if insulin resistance is already an issue. Man-made trans-fat should be eliminated from the diet entirely, as they supply virtually no benefits.
Glut-4 transporters are affected similarly, with high-fat diets causing significant down-regulation in skeletal muscle tissue. In terms of specific fats, arachidonic acid is particularly troublesome, as it inhibits Glut-4 translocation to a greater degree than most. As an essential component of proper physiological functioning, dietary fats should not be avoided, but overall consumption should remain moderate, with emphasis placed on the balanced intake of both plant and animal sources in their naturally occurring forms.
Although the following is not technically a dietary fat, the words fat & bodyfat seem to fit together, making this the perfect introduction for the next risk factor—obesity. TNF-a, a potent mediator of inflammation and expressed abundantly in fat cells, is present in high quantities in obese individuals, resulting in the dysregulation of lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as impaired insulin signaling frequently progressing to insulin resistance. Now considered a major health epidemic, obesity is often hard to control and seldom rectified quickly, as it is much easier to just pop a pill or get in a workout than it is to sustain long-term dietary modifications. Keep in mind that one doesn’t have to be clinically obese to begin experiencing negative effects in these areas. Even a BF% in the mid-teens, in men, while by no means excessive, will impair insulin sensitivity to at least some degree, while simultaneously increasing the rate of estrogen conversion. Still, for those who possess the motivation and discipline required to reach their ideal BF%, the accompanying benefits are so numerous and diverse that it often effects nearly every area of the individual’s life.
Although pretty much a no-brainer at this point, no discussion on insulin sensitivity would be complete without mentioning the use of exogenous insulin. If chronic elevations in insulin levels via diet can be harmful to insulin sensitivity, one would expect the excessive use of exogenous insulin to act in the same way…and it does. Out of all the PED’s a BB’r might employ to help stimulate muscle growth, insulin and growth hormone have the greatest potential for harm in this area. With excessive, indiscriminate use, insulin sensitivity drops rapidly—often to the point of clinical insulin resistance. If the goal of using insulin is to enhance growth through increased nutrient transport, then this is the last thing we want, as it defeats the entire purpose of using insulin in the first place.
I have personally witnessed several cases in which an insulin user’s sensitivity had been damaged so badly that they only required 2 grams of carbs per IU in order to stabilize blood sugar levels. With the average individual requiring between 6-10 grams of carbs per IU in order meet insulinogenic demand, it shows just how detrimental exogenous insulin use can potentially be. Let’s look at things from a different perspective. If we compare the insulin to carb ratios of the two groups above, we see that the insulin resistant group is only receiving 1/3rd to 1/5th the benefit per IU of insulin injected. In other words, they would have to administer 3-5X as much insulin just to transport the same amount of nutrients to the muscle cell that someone with a normal degree of insulin sensitivity would require. At this point, although these individuals may be using large dosages of insulin, its effectiveness has diminished so greatly that they are no longer receiving anywhere close to the same benefits they did initially. A 100 IU daily dose now works no better than the 20-30 IU they started with!
Because they now require so much more insulin in order to transport an equivalent amount of nutrients, what do you think happens during the times when exogenous insulin is not active? Their own pancreas is forced to produce insulin on a massive level just to deal with the increase in blood sugar that occurs from a normal meal. Over time, these insulin producing cells of the pancreas, called islets, begin to burn-out. This is exactly how one becomes a Type II diabetic—they lose the ability to produce enough insulin to properly regulate blood sugar levels. So, my recommendation to avoid these extreme, thoughtless insulin programs is about more than just muscle growth—it is about maintaining your health in a major way—and this is just ONE of the many health problems that can take place as a result of insulin resistance. If the goal of using insulin is to grow as much as possible—preferably while minimizing health risk—then any method/pattern of use which causes an unreasonable degree of insulin resistance works directly against that goal.
Among those who use insulin, it is common to begin at a fairly low dose of say, 10-15 IU per day. However, some soon decide that this isn’t enough. They hear stories about the “pros” using 100-200 IU per day (which in many cases is bullshit) and automatically assume that they need to do the same if they want to reach the same level of development. Unfortunately, this approach almost always results in serious insulin resistance. After a while, the individual realizes he isn’t getting the same effect from the drug as he used to, which inevitably leads him to increase the dose even further. Therefore, the problem continues to perpetuate itself, while the root of the problem fails to be addressed.
Now, I am not saying that one can’t or shouldn’t increase their dose beyond 10-15 IU/day–that is ridiculous, but in my experience, by the time one reaches 30-40 IU per day, they will begin experiencing measurable insulin resistance. Rather than continuing to increase the dose from there, which will only make the problem worse, I suggest forgetting about a further hike in dosage and instead placing one’s focus on optimizing insulin sensitivity & Glut-4 expression. By increasing the efficiency with which your body can use insulin, it is just like using a higher dose from an effectiveness standpoint, but without the negative health risks that accompany such programs—and the benefits don’t stop there. You will also get better results from your own natural production, in addition to all the other physique & health benefits that come along with improved sensitivity.
As with diet, resistance training also has the ability to modify carbohydrate metabolism. This is accomplished through both improved insulin receptor signaling and local-contraction mediated mechanisms. The former takes place when insulin receptors become more receptive—or sensitive—to the actions of insulin, improving the efficiency with which it is able to regulate blood glucose levels. The mechanisms by which weight training up-regulates Glut-4 is a bit more complex and has yet to be fully elucidated, but is believed to occur as a result of the muscle contraction process itself. More specifically, researchers believe that two particular cellular consequences of muscle contraction—a transient increase in intracellular calcium concentration and an increase in AMP/ATP ratio—are primarily responsible for mediating the positive effects of resistance exercise on Glut-4 translocation (expression).
Endurance exercise (cardio) is another star-player in the area of reversing insulin resistance. While both resistance and endurance training enhance glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and improve insulin sensitivity, they differ in their ability to enact change in these areas. Most notably, resistance training leads to a greater increase in glucose uptake capacity, improving insulin sensitivity indirectly, while endurance training is superior at improving insulin receptor signaling, leading directly to improved insulin sensitivity. I should also mention that the up-regulation of Glut-4 that occurs in response to endurance exercise is rapid and substantial, resulting in a 1.5-2.0 fold increase after only a single session. With each form of exercise working through different mechanisms, the evidence supports a combined approach.
Moving on, let’s look at a few of the drugs which can increase insulin sensitivity/Glut-4 expression. Although there are tons of diabetic drugs used for this purpose, the medical establishment has yet to uncover a pharmaceutical invention capable of directly turning on Glut-4 expression and believe me, they are trying every day. As a possible cure for Type II diabetes, the potential implications of such a drug would be far-reaching and life-changing for millions of people. In theory, such a drug would allow BB’rs to use massive doses of insulin without fear of developing insulin resistance—an advantage many BB’rs would love to have at their disposal.
As it now stands, there are many diabetic drugs currently available, but with unfavorable side effect profiles, they’re rarely used by anyone but diabetics. In reality, we are left with only a limited number of effective and relatively safe drugs capable of promoting meaningful increases in insulin sensitivity/Glut-4 expression. Metformin is one of these. As the first line of defense in the treatment of Type II diabetes, Metformin is widely considered a safe & effective insulin sensitizer. Unlike most pharmaceutical agents, which typically result in at least some degree of internal damage/dysfunction when used as directed, Metformin’s side effect profile is extremely mild, with significantly more positive side effects than negative. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Metformin can be used problem-free while greatly increasing insulin sensitivity.
Although many are unaware, T3 also has insulin sensitizing and Glut-4 up-regulating effects. This does not justify the abuse of the drug, as excessive dosages of T3 are injurious to one’s BB’ing progress through excessive calorie burning, but thyroid deficiency will have a negative effect on the body’s ability to use insulin properly. In fact, T3 will continue to provide additional insulin sensitizing & Glut-4 up-regulating benefits as one moves from the low/mid-normal range into the upper-range of normal. So, while T3 is not typically viewed as an insulin sensitizer/Glut-4 up-regulator, it can have meaningful benefits in this area, especially for those who are currently deficient. Therefore, optimizing one’s T3 levels (high end of normal) is probably a good idea.
IGF-1 is commonly considered to be an insulin sensitizer by those in the BB’ing community, but is it? When looking at the available studies, it is revealed that IGF-1 can act as either a sensitizer or contribute to insulin resistance. Research shows a low-normal, as well as high-normal IGF-1 level can negatively affect insulin sensitivity. Therefore, these stipulations make IGF-1 unviable as a sensitizer for anyone but those with below-normal levels.
When it comes to OTC supplements, we are provided with so many selections that choosing can be difficult, but some of the best are as follows: Alpha lipoic acid, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, vanadyl sulfate, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar. Many of these products work through different mechanisms, providing a synergistic effect when used in combination. Let’s look at a few of them. ALA (alpha lipoic acid) boasts an impressive research-based resume. With literally dozens of clinical studies validating its effectiveness, ALA can rightfully claim to be one of the best OTC insulin sensitizer available. The combination of effectiveness, price, and vast clinical research makes this supplement a no-brainer. Some German studies have demonstrated the ability of evening primrose oil to act as a potentiator, boosting the effectiveness of ALA when taken together.
While much newer than ALA, 4-hydroxyisoleucine (4-HIL for short) has caused quite a stir in the short time it has been on the market. A leucine derivative, 4-HIL’s insulin sensitizing properties have recently caught the eye of diabetic researchers as a possible therapy for diabetes. 4-HIL is one of the better OTC insulin sensitizing supps out there. While it is not quit as inexpensive as ALA, it can still be purchased at a relatively low price by online distributors.
The next product on the list, chromium picolinate, plays an itegral role in the regulation of blood sugar at a foundational level, but is not considered an insulin sensitizer or mimetic, per say. In fact, taking more than needed can actually decrease insulin sensitivity by up to 25% (according to one study) when taken by individuals with normal chromium levels. This supplement is only beneficial for those with chromium deficiencies.
Like all the other supplements mentioned previously, the use of vanadyl sulfate for improving insulin sensitivity is supported by substantial clinical research. Originally introduced to the BB’ing community by EAS back in the early-mid 90’s, vanadyl sulfate was marketed as a natural glucose disposal agent capable of increasing glycogen synthesis and improving “the pump”. The marketing hype generated some initial interest, but it trailed off quickly, leading to poor sales and the product’s eventual demise. However, the problem wasn’t with the product—it was with the marketing and perhaps, the targeted demographic. Vanadyl sulfate never should have been marketed as a pump-inducing, stand-alone performance enhancer, as this product just isn’t capable of providing those kind of acute, physique altering benefits.
The value of this compound lies in its ability to help improve the uptake and utilization of everything we eat, leading to long-term benefits in every area of our BB’ing performance. This is especially valuable for insulin & GH using BB’rs, as many of these individuals suffer from clinical insulin resistance or impaired blood glucose regulation to varying degrees. Vanadyl sulfate works primarily by enhancing insulin-mediated glucose uptake and inhibiting hepatic glucose production. The end result is improved insulin sensitivity in combination with increased glycogen synthesis. In one particular study, glycogen synthesis accounted for 80% of the increased rate of glucose disposal witnessed with vanadyl sulfate administration, while glycogen synthase (the enzyme responsible for converting glucose to glycogen), was lowered by approximately 30%. This dramatic increase in the rate of glycogen production, in spite of decreased levels of glycogen synthase, indicates an improvement in glycogen synthase efficiency via enhanced insulin sensitivity.
Either by adding it to your food or when taken in supplement form, cinnamon has been shown to result in significant improvements insulin sensitivity and resting blood glucose levels (18-29%), as well as total cholesterol (12-26%) and LDL cholesterol (7-27%). This effect is largely due to the Type A polyphenols that reside naturally in cinnamon. Keep in mind that it takes several weeks of daily cinnamon supplementation in order to maximize benefits.
Another common household item, vinegar, has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in insulin resistant subjects. Scientists speculate that vinegar may work in a similar manner to Metformin, as acetic acid has been shown to suppress disaccharidase activity and raise glucose-6-phosphate concentrations in skeletal muscle. Although the effects of vinegar are rather modest in comparison to say, Metformin, I consider it one of the better sensitizers when evaluated in terms of cost-effectiveness. 16 ounces of apple cider vinegar, which provides slightly over 22 twenty gram servings (the dose used in some studies), can be purchased for only a few dollars, making it affordable for nearly everyone. On top of that, vinegar consumption helps regulate the body’s PH balance in favor of alkalinity.
Systemic acidity—a condition which occurs primarily as a result of an imbalanced diet, has been implicated in literally 100’s of health problems and goes completely undetected by most. In fact, some doctors have attributed nearly all disease to excessive acidity, as it damages and impairs the functioning of virtually every system in our body. Foods such as meat, eggs, diary, processed grains, and sugars are all acidic, as are coffee, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, and numerous OTC & prescription drugs. The typical American diet is heavily tipped in favor of acid-forming foods and a result, the health of the American public has deteriorated greatly. Unfortunately, many BB’rs believe that “eating clean” means they are eating healthy, but this is often the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, most BB’ing diets are extremely acidic, consisting almost solely of meat, various complex carbs (many of which are refined), and sugars. Of course, many BB’rs also regularly consume coffee, artificial sweeteners, and several other acid-forming drugs & supplements.
Vegetables (especially green vegetables) are our primary source of alkaline food, yet most BB’rs consume barely any of them—at least in proportion to the massive amount of acid-forming foods they eat on a daily basis. It is estimated that in order to restore/maintain a healthy PH balance, the diet should be tailored to contain 80% alkaline foods and 20% acid-forming foods. Although not everyone agrees on this ratio, they are all within the same general vicinity. I realize I have gotten off-track a bit here, but with apple cider vinegar being useful for both insulin sensitivity and restoring PH balance—two common ailments experienced by BB’rs that can potentially impact our health in a multitude of ways, I wanted to take a moment to elaborate on this inexpensive, yet highly beneficial food source.
There are many other OTC supplements out there which can lead to various improvements in insulin sensitivity. Some are quite good, while others do little to nothing, despite manufacturer claims. I recommend you use only those products which have been clinically validated by multiple, well-controlled studies, just as the products above have. There are others which are worthy of inclusion in this article, but due to time limitations, we will stop here.
In the following article, we will learn how to incorporate all of the previously discussed elements into a single program, while introducing some additional variables designed to further augment its effectiveness.
As a beginning BB’r, one of the first things we are taught is the importance of nutrition in building a stand-out physique. We learn about things like calories, macro ratios, proper food selection, meal frequency, and how to combine all these things into a single cohesive program suitable for the attainment of our goals. For many BB’rs, that’s about as far as it goes. With these principles in place, many assume they’re doing all they can to support muscle growth on the diet front, but are they?
The truth is that we could eat 6 times a day, adhere to a macro ratio ideal for our metabolism, and eat what most would consider to be healthy foods, but this does not guarantee us maximum progress. At the most basic level, our results are determined not only by what we eat, but more importantly, what our muscles are able to absorb. This often ignored concept is directly influenced by numerous factors, two of which are insulin sensitivity and the ability to mobilize and activate Glut-4 transporters. By manipulating these factors in our favor, we can preferentially shuttle the nutrients we consume toward muscle cells and way from adipose tissue. This is what’s known as nutrient repartitioning and is essential for maximizing muscle growth and minimizing fat storage.
Having already explored the different methods available for up-regulating Glut-4 and increasing insulin sensitivity, we are now going to learn how to implement all of these variables into a comprehensive program for maximum effectiveness. What can we expect by doing this? Aside from the primary perks of enhanced growth and reduced fat gain, adhering to the following guidelines will also provide a variety of other benefits which have largely eluded the current generation of BB’rs. Unlike some today, who tend to criticize the current generation while holding up the 90’s stars as the epitome of physical perfection, I tend to think I have a more balanced view—being able to assess both the strong & weak points of each generation. Most certainly, today’s BB’rs are larger than ever (generally speaking), with bodyfat and water levels the lowest they have ever been, yet it is not uncommon to read comments about how the 90’s BB’rs were in better condition.
Keep in mind, it is not just the fan-boys making these statments, but some of the most respected men in the sport. However, one’s opinion on this subject largely depends on their definition of the word “conditioning”. From a technical standpoint, conditioning is determined primarily by two factors; bodyfat percentage and subcutaneous water levels, as it is these, along with muscle mass, which determine body composition. Using this as a reference point, it is difficult, if not impossible, to dispute the superiority of today’s BB’rs in these 2 areas. Never before have so many competitors exhibited such low bodyfat and sub-q water levels. In terms of water retention, this is readily apparent when comparing the two generations in their entirety. While there were certainly stand-out BB’rs back in the day, such as Dorian Yates, who demonstrated fantastic conditioning, the vast majority held comparatively greater amounts of sub-q water, especially on their backsides (hams & glutes), compared to today’s guys.
If you doubt this fact, I challenge you to compare the Top 15 from the 2013 Olympia to the Top 15 from 20 years ago. Look closely at the level of overall conditioning of the entire line-up from top to bottom and both the front AND back and you will quickly notice a near complete lack of dry, striated backsides. Most of those men had very soft hams & glutes by today’s standards and frequently carried a film of water over their entire body which would now be considered unacceptable. This reality becomes even more difficult to ignore once we venture outside the Top 10. Those who claim 90’s superiority often argue their point by displaying dramatic pictures of a select few BB’rs, or even particular poses/bodyparts, yet anyone with a brain can see through this weak argument. The truth is that there are men from every generation which achieved great conditioning, but they are the exception to the rule and do not represent the majority.
Now, if one defines conditioning as the totality of physical attributes (BF%, water levels, hardness, density, graininess, etc), which combine to form an overall impression of muscularity, then we run into a problem. Despite today’s BB’rs carrying less overall bodyfat and sub-q water, they do not, on average, possess greater hardness, density, separation, or detail (outside of hams & glutes). Common sense dictates that if overall conditioning improves from one generation to the next, that the above attributes would improve as well, yet reality has shown that this is not always the case. Over the last 10-15 years we have observed a growing phenomenon, with many BB’rs demonstrating a certain softness throughout their physiques that belies their improved level of conditioning. Although bigger, their additional size appears to have been obtained by getting hooked up to an air pump, rather than being built from stone.
There are many reasons for this. While genetics are an obvious consideration, its wide-spread occurrence precludes the possibility of genetics being the sole factor. A particular class of so-called performance enhancers, otherwise known as S.E.O’s, or site enhancement oils, have certainly played a role, while insulin & GH use have also been implicated (more on this in a minute). I would also include changing pre-contest steroid regimens on the list. With a preponderance of BB’rs now depending on large dosages of testosterone to help them maintain size & fullness all the way up to competition, hardness and density have been sacrificed. While there are numerous culprits in the development of this new “look”, diet is seldom mentioned as a contributing factor, but if one looks closely enough, they will find that diet, just like drug use, has changed drastically over the last 20 years and can be directly linked to the many of the negative physique effects witnessed today.
While similarities remain, particularly in terms of protein sources, there has been a gradual shift, in which refined carbs have been replaced by un-refined carbs. Whereas carbs such as oats and sweet potatoes used to be a BBr’s primary carb sources, we now see guys consuming almost entirely refined grains in the form of white rice, carb powders, etc. Fruits and vegetables, which were at one time staples, have also gone the way of the dinosaurs, with most modern BB’ing diets containing a single piece of fruit at best and vegetables often going M.I.A altogether.
Why did BB’rs slowly transition over to this new way of eating? Rather than by choice, it seems the decision was partly made out of a perceived necessity. With today’s BB’rs carrying such massive amounts of muscle tissue, caloric demand has grown significantly, requiring the individual to eat significantly more than what earlier generations had to contend with. Quite frankly, following these original dietary guidelines made getting in adequate calories even more difficult. Low calorie, high volume foods such vegetables take up room in the stomach, leaving less space for the primary muscle builders, such as protein and more calorically dense carbs. Whole-grains, with their high natural fiber content, slow down digestion and also make it take longer for the BB’r to regain his appetite. As for fruits, well, I think many BB’rs have simply lost track of what’s important, viewing protein and complex carbs as the main muscle builders and therefore, everything else has taken a back seat.
Now, I can see why the very large BB’rs feel they must include a higher percentage of refined carbs in their diet plan, and truth be told, some of these carbs can be beneficial at certain times. But what excuse do the rest of the BB’rs have—the ones who are aren’t yet even close to the size of the 80’s & 90’s pros, most of whom followed diets much closer to or completely in line with the original standard? In my opinion, I don’t think the recent dietary make-over has been wholly necessary or beneficial. There is a place for refined carbs, but not as the primary carb source.
Why all the concern over these changes? Aside from the potentially significant and far-reaching health problems associated with this type of eating, I believe it has been partly responsible for the new “look” we have been seeing on today’s BB’rs. As most BB’rs now realize, insulin & GH misuse can and often does cause insulin resistance, which can result in a variety of metabolic health problems, as well as visual abnormalities, such as enlarged guts. However, I believe it goes further than that. Without getting into detail, I believe insulin resistance and Glut-4 down-regulation is largely responsible, or at the minimum a significant contributing factor in the development of what some have referred to as Palumboism (I use this term simply because Dave is well known and it is the easiest way to describe what I am referring to—no offense is intended). This condition often takes several year to fully manifest (we saw the same in Greg Kovacs) and seems to be characterized by the following features: an enlarged midsection, a soft look to the musculature (in comparison to one’s previous appearance), an eventually muscle atrophy—particularly in the limbs. There are several possible explanations one can use to explain these occurrences, two of which are an increase in visceral and intramuscular fat storage, as well as the inability to properly transport glucose from the extracellular space into the muscle cell. While the above men are extreme examples, these physical aberrations have afflicted a growing number of BB’s to varying degrees over the last 15-20 years—with sufficient frequency to warrant concern and dismiss coincidence as a possible cause.
Consuming a diet high in refined grains and simple sugars and/or dietary fat contributes to this condition through insulin resistance and Glut-4 down-regulation—the same mechanisms by which growth hormone and exogenous insulin cause this condition. However, by modifying our diet and drug use, we can prevent its occurrence. Not only that, but there are many other benefits attached to this practice.
When we improve our insulin sensitivity and up-regulate Glut-4, a distinct nutrient repartitioning effect takes place resulting in the following benefits:
• Increased nutrient uptake in the muscle cell leading to improved recovery & increased muscle growth
• Decreased fat gain
• Improved rate of fat loss via the mobilization of stored fat for energy
• Potentiates the action of exogenous insulin
• Allows us to take maximum advantage of the training window
There are also cosmetic benefits associated with increased insulin sensitivity and improved Glut-4 transport, such as:
• Reduced water retention via decreased aldosterone levels
• Decreased intramuscular fat resulting in improved muscle hardness and density
• Decreased visceral fat stores, improved elimination of digestive matter, and reduced intestinal water retention leading to a tighter waist line
In addition to the above, metabolic and overall health will be positively impacted in a multitude of ways. Although diet is only one factor involved in the management of insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 transport, it plays a crucial role in the overall effectiveness of any program, as it is the foundation on which everything else is built. Without this foundation in place the other components would be only a fraction as effective, forcing us to fight an uphill battle. For this reason, I felt it necessary to spend a little time discussing the role of nutrition in helping us achieve our end goal of improved body composition.
So, how do we put this all together? First of all, it is important to recognize the fact that I am speaking to a general audience and not a single person. This precludes the possibility of me putting together an individualized program. Rather, I will be providing a list of guidelines, or principles, which you will be able to implement into your own program in a way that best suits your individual needs. We will learn how to use training, diet, cardiovascular exercise, supplementation, and drugs in order to improve our body’s ability to use the nutrients we consume and after we have achieved this enhanced muscle-building, fat burning environment, we will look at practical methods of capitalizing on this state in order to maximize recovery & growth, but without the usual negative side effects associated with exogenous insulin use.
The first part of the program we are going to address isn’t really part of the program at all, but is more of a prerequisite to ensure that the body is able to respond optimally to the other aspects of the program. I am referring to one’s level of bodyfat. Many people assume that fat cells are basically inactive, having no specific function other than providing extra energy during times of caloric deficiency. However, the truth is that adipose tissue is highly active, being responsible for the release of non-esterfied fatty acids, glycerol, various hormones, pro-inflammatory cytokines and other factors which can adversely affect insulin sensitivity. As one’s bodyfat percentage rises, the more active this tissue becomes, resulting in decreased insulin sensitivity and subsequent Glut-4 down-regulation. Even relatively normal amounts of bodyfat can have negative affects in this area. For this reason, we want to keep BF levels as low as possible, but not to the point where it becomes a hindrance to muscle growth. For most people, this will put them in the range of 8-10%. By keeping our BF % in this range or thereabouts, we achieve a natural nutrient repartitioning effect, in which the food we eat is less likely to be stored as fat and more likely to be used for recovery & growth.
Many BB’rs fail to include cardiovascular/endurance exercise in their routine, as they believe that it not only burns up calories that could be used for growth, but that it adds further stress to the body, thereby tapping into the body’s limited recovery reserves and impairing muscle growth. These fears are unfounded, as the benefits associated with cardiovascular exercise are well documented both from a clinically and anecdotal standpoint, with experienced BB’rs realizing its value and incorporating it into programs on a regular basis. Aside from the benefits of improved body composition, increased appetite, an enhanced weight training capacity, research has shown that endurance training increases insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 up-regulation trough improved insulin cell signaling. This effect can last for up to 3-5 days after a single bout of exercise, with maximum benefits remaining for 24 hours. By incorporating this form of exercise into your program 3-4X per week, with each session performed within 24 hours of weight-training, we set ourselves up for success at the times it matters most.
Drugs/supplements can be tremendously useful for this purpose, with many compounds having been clinically proven to improve both insulin sensitivity and Glut-4 translocation, but not all are created equal and neither should they all be used in the same way. Perhaps the most well known of the bunch is Metformin. Since this drug has the ability to rapidly mobilize and activate Glut-4, it is best taken 1 hour pre-training at 750 mg. If you train at night, your second 750 mg dose should be taken in the AM and if you train in the first part of the day take your second dose in the PM. This dosing scheme will keep Metformin active for most of the day, while further capitalizing on the training window.
Berberine is potentially the most potent of the OTC sensitizers. When taken at equivalent doses, some clinical trials have show improvements in insulin sensitivity in par with metformin, which is exceedingly impressive, to say the least. 500 mg, 3X/day is the dose used in human trials. However, berberine doesn’t have a half-life as long as Metformin, so its administration should be timed in accordance with meals. Take 200 mg with each of your daily meals, with one of those doses 30 minutes pre-training.
Alpha lipoic acid is a long-term standby in the diabetic world. With well documented insulin sensitizing effects, it is one of the most commonly used of all the insulin sensitizers. Evening Primrose oil appears to potentiate the actions of ALA, improving its overall effectiveness. With an even shorter half-life than berberine, Alpha lipoic acid should be taken in small doses throughout the day, rather than just a couple large doses. Administer 600-1,000 mg/day, with 100-150 mg taken with each of your daily meals. If you opt to take Evening Primrose Oil with it, then 500 mg, taken with each dose of ALA, will suffice.
Cinnulin PF—a cinnamon extract containing the active compounds responsible for cinnamon’s insulin sensitizing effects—has been clinically validated for effectiveness when used at 300-500 mg/day. Cinnulin or any Cinnamon containing products should be avoided during the training window and the first meal of the day, as they slow gastric emptying, which is the exact opposite of what we want at those times. 75-100 mg taken with your other daily meals is ideal.
The final product I am going to recommend is 4-Hydroxyisoleucine. 4-HIL is what’s known as an insulin mimetic and has been clinically demonstrated to have potent insulinogenic effects. Mimetics increase insulin sensitivity by reducing the body’s need for insulin. Because mimetics work like insulin in the body, it no longer needs to produce as much insulin to manage blood glucose levels. This reduction in insulin levels leads directly to an increase in insulin sensitivity. 300-500 mg/daily will have pronounced effects. Take 500-100 mg with meals, including 30 minutes pre-training.
If you have not previously gotten your T3 levels checked, I suggest you do so the next time you get bloodwork, as T3 levels have a direct effect on insulin sensitivity. The goal with T3 should be to bring levels into the upper-normal range (optimal) but not beyond, as excessive amounts of T3 has numerous negative effects in the body, including muscle tissue breakdown. Although T3 is not typically considered an insulin sensitizer, it deserves to be mentioned, as those with a T3 deficiency often suffer from various degrees of insulin resistance.
Let’s transition to nutrition here for a minute. Most BB’rs, when putting together their diet, focus primarily on two things—macro intake and meal frequency, but with the body’s nutritional needs constantly in flux, maximizing progress requires more than taking in adequate amount of the 3 basic macronutrients over 6 daily meals. More specifically, we need to figure out what the body needs and when it needs it. This means that food type and quantity will vary based on the circumstances.
When it comes to carbohydrates, there are only two times of the day where simple sugars and/or refined carbs are ideal. These are the training window (the time period which stretches from the beginning of a training session until a few hours afterward) and first rise in the morning. Upon awakening, the rapid rise in blood sugar following their ingestion is beneficial, as the quick rise in insulin levels abruptly terminates the catabolic state most of us find ourselves in after a night of fasting. While refined complex carbs are acceptable for this purpose, I prefer a combination of whole-grains and fruit, as they allow us to achieve the same quick spike in insulin levels, in addition to all the other benefits supplied by these carb sources.
Although sugars/refined grains are permissible in the AM, they are absolutely essential during the training window if we desire to maximize recovery & growth. During this time all the body’s anabolic processes are heightened. Glycogen synthesis is enhanced, protein synthesis rates go up, and our muscle cells become more sensitive to the nutrients they come in contact with. When it comes to improving our physiques, no other time of the day is so important, but this anabolic environment can only be sustained for a brief period of time, so we need to do everything we can to take advantage of it.
There are many ways we can accomplish this. Implementation of the above measures (controlling bodyfat, diet, cardio, drugs, supplements, etc) allow us to do so in the most effective way possible. Acting as both potentiators and primers, they not only help us better utilize the food we eat during our regular meals, but they also enable us to take maximum advantage of the training window by making the body ultra-sensitize to insulin. In essence, we have turned the body into the ultimate nutrient repartitioning machine. But that’s not all. By the time the training window rolls around, we only need to take a few additional steps to turn our body into the ultimate muscle-building machine.
By consuming hydrolyzed proteins and highly branched cyclic dextrins during training, we are able to induce a state of hyperaminoacidemia and hyperglycemia, which would normally be dealt with by endogenously produced insulin, but with exogenous insulin at our disposal, we can quickly induce a state of hyperinsulinemia. This will help deliver all of these nutrients to the cell surface in rapid fashion, where they can then be transported into the muscle cell in large quantities by the highly active Glut-4 transporters. The end result is a massive increase in the rate of glycogen and protein synthesis. I recommend using Humalog (a fast-releasing form of insulin) about 5 minutes pre-workout, which will remain active through the entire training session.
With the body’s anabolic processes in overdrive, it would be foolish to stop there. Being the regulator of protein synthesis via the M-tor pathway, consuming a few grams of free-form/peptide bonded leucine along with the above protein & carbs is a no-brainer. Creatine is another obvious choice. Science has shown that the cell swelling effect which accompanies creatine administration (also known as muscle volumization), activates protein synthesis in its own right, further augmenting muscle recovery & growth. Any other supplements/drugs which exhibit a similar effect would be valuable at this time.
Although frequently utilized, most who use the following technique do so without being aware of its benefits on insulin sensitivity. This is training for the pump. While I don’t recommend training solely for the pump for various reasons, especially when growth is the primary goal, it is a valuable aspect of any training program. While training intensity remains the single most important factor in stimulating muscle growth, there are many who have claimed that the pump is worthless for stimulating growth—that it was nothing more than a temporary, visually gratifying experience. These people are being proven wrong every day, as more and more scientific evidence comes to the forefront. Whether a pump stimulates growth directly is irrelevant. All that matters is if it makes our muscle bigger…and we now know that it does through more than one mechanism, qualifying it an important component of any training program. With that said, how does the pump relate to this article? Science has now shown, indisputably, that increased blood flow leads to improved insulin sensitivity in muscle tissue.
After training is finished, I recommend another insulin injection (this time Humulin R), along with a large whole-food meal. With the hydrolyzed protein and branched cyclic dextrins being consumed throughout the training session in optimal quantities, the body has already been flooded with carbs and aminos, negating the need for additional rapid-digesting carb & protein powders. At this point, the recovery & growth process is better served by supplying the body with a sustained flow of nutrients in greater quantities. This should be a very large meal, containing significantly more carbs, protein and overall calories than any other meal of the day. As much as ½ of your daily carb intake should be consumed between the intra-workout shakes and the post-workout whole-food meal. While fats should not be intentionally added to this meal (except in small quantities if needed), there is no need to eliminate all fats. In fact, some fats at this time are beneficial. Whatever fat is naturally found in your whole-food sources is fine. If you need a ghrelin mimetic to increase appetite, such as GHRP-6, go for it.
An example of an ideal post-workout meal (assuming the previous rapidly digesting carbs & proteins were consumed) would be a big steak, a pile of mashed potatoes, some corn…and maybe a bowl of reduced-fat ice cream to finish it off. Or, a big plate (or two) of spaghetti & meatballs, some home-made garlic bread (so you can control the fat content), and some broccoli…and you could always throw in a piece of reduced-fat cake for dessert. While these examples may not seem like traditional post-workout meals, you should understand that the body has already been supplied with a substantial blast of quickly digesting carbs & proteins, which will keep blood aminos acid and glucose levels elevated for a good hour after training. This is enough time to get a whole-food meal in you and continue feeding your muscles over a much longer period of time.
If you think back to the meals that resulted in the greatest increases in muscle fullness, what were they? Was it a shake containing some hydrolyzed protein and branched cyclic dextrins? Uhhh…no. Although useful for kicking off the recovery & growth process, continually consuming these shakes would not provide the best results. Otherwise, we would just skip the whole-food and drink this stuff all day long, but no one is doing that…and for good reason. Whole-foods sustain protein & glycogen synthesis for a longer period of time, allowing us to optimize recovery & growth. Now, if you think about thanksgiving dinner, I bet you can remember feeling like your muscle were about to bust a few hours later. This is the type of effect we are looking for with your post-workout meal. Your immediate protein & carb needs have already been met with the shakes and now your body needs a sustained flow of nutrients to keep the growth process going long-term.
As far as insulin doses are concerned, there is too much variance among individual in order for me to provide any set dosing amounts. Without providing potentially dangerous advice, I would like to say that you should administer as much as you can without going hypoglycemic—use just enough to transport every last bit of nutrition into your muscles with maximum efficiency, but this require experience, so for those of you considering insulin for the first time, do not attempt this. If you are taking all the steps in this program, you will need far less insulin to accomplish this than most other people due to your superior insulin sensitivity. So, start low and gradually work your way up as you gain experience. You will get there soon enough. I guarantee that if you utilize this information as directed, you will begin to quickly notice radical changes in your physique. You will get bigger, harder, denser, leaner, and most importantly, you will avoid all the negative side effects, both visual and health related, associated with the insulin and diet programs employed by so many BB’rs today.