Return to Basics: Ensuring a More Jacked Physique

by Josh Hodnik

The book, “The Power of Six Sigma,” describes how to operate a business at its full potential by using the Six Sigma concept. It focuses on increasing efficiency and profitability by decreasing errors and waste. This concept can be carried over to other areas besides business, such as bodybuilding and fitness, to become more efficient and successful.

The most common mistake that people make when trying to improve their physical appearance is focusing on irrelevant details while overlooking the basic elements involved in making progress as a bodybuilder. We have become a culture that is constantly on the go, and it often seems that the day is never long enough. With limited time, it is most beneficial to focus on details that have the greatest impact instead of wasting time on areas that have very little value. The bodybuilding wheel has become more efficient over the years, but completely trying to reinvent it will lead to failure, as many of the basic elements have remained the same. Its time to get back to the basics and simplify things. I will cover the areas that need the most attention and the mistakes that need to be avoided in order to make progress as a bodybuilder.

Diet

The type and amount of nutrients consumed has the most influence on a bodybuilder’s physique than anything else. Regardless of the weight lifted or cardio done, muscle cannot be gained and fat cannot be lost if the wrong foods are eaten. A bodybuilding diet doesn’t have to be complex or consist of exotic foods that most people don’t eat. In fact, keeping things simple in regards to diet leaves less room for error. Protein, carbs, and fats must be consumed in certain amounts to fuel intense training sessions and to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue.

Protein

This macro-nutrient is the most important for building muscle mass, balancing blood sugar levels, and fighting off hunger. 1.5 grams or more of quality protein per pound of bodyweight, such as whey, eggs, chicken, beef, and fish should be consumed to promote muscle growth.

Fats

There are four types of dietary fats: trans fats, which are found in processed desserts; saturated fats from animal based foods; monounsaturated fats found in cooking oils; and polyunsaturated fats; which must be supplemented into the diet because the body cant produce them itself. Despite the negative rap on fat, it is another viable source of energy. Many go wrong by attempting to eliminate fat from their diet. Beyond its value as a source of energy, fat aids in the absorption of certain nutrients, it helps to keep muscle-building hormones at a normal level. Saturated fats from animal sources should be limited, but polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats should make up 20-25% of total calories consumed.

Carbohydrates

This is a bodybuilder’s principal energy source for fueling workouts. An inadequate supply of carbohydrates will force the body to look for alternate fuel sources. The body will often turn to muscle tissue, which is broken down and converted to glycogen and then used as energy. A diet lacking in carbohydrates can deplete muscle tissue and inhibit training intensity.
Carbohydrate intake should be in the range of 40-60% of total calorie intake. 80% of this should from complex carbohydrates, such as fibrous vegetables, beans, oatmeal, potatoes, and brown rice.

Substantial progress to a physique can occur when a person’s diet is really tuned in. At the same time, lack of progress will occur when diet is off target regardless of how much work is put in at the gym.

Training

We have all seen the guys doing quarter squats and half reps on dumbbell press with too much weight, trying to impress. This does nothing for development, and it increases the risk of injury. Using adequate weight will ensure that you can train the muscle through its full range of motion. Research has shown that a muscle stretched with resistance will receive the most overload, which is essential for growth. There is a time for partial reps, but it should never be the base of any routine.

It has been a misconception that there has to be a particular exercise order every time a muscle group is trained. It has always been thought that isolation exercises should never come before compound exercises. If the muscle is pre-exhausted from isolation movements, not as much weight can be thrown around during compound movements. This misconception with exercise sequence is ego-driven, but keep in mind that you are training to look like a bodybuilder and not a power-lifter. Varying the sequence of exercises will keep your body from adjusting to the workload and will help to further isolate muscles.

While I have explained the importance of isolation exercises and adjusting exercise sequence, compound movements remain the bread and butter exercises for bodybuilders. Compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press require more energy to perform than most isolation exercises. Because of this, many people skip compound movements altogether. This is a lazy way out and a terrible way to train for anyone who is attempting to reach any bodybuilding goals.

The perception in many gyms is that heavy weights and low reps are the resolution to putting on size, while getting lean comes from performing higher reps with lower weight. Both of these views are completely wrong. Muscle growth occurs when workload capacity is consistently increased. This is achieved by heavy weights and high volume. Getting leaner is achieved by diet, and this is why many bodybuilders lift just as heavy and intensely when dieting for a competition as they do in the off-season.

I have discussed diet and training and the mistakes that are often made that hinder progress. By simplifying your program, you can limit mistakes, which will in turn increase progress. It doesn’t take complex training or diet programs to make impressive gains. With diet it takes the correct amount of nutrient ratios and calories consumed, and with training it takes a consistent increase in workload capacity. It’s that simple!

Focusing on the primary foundations that are involved in muscle growth and fat loss, while limiting common mistakes, will lead to an individual reaching their full potential. When one or more of the primary foundations are absent, and individual is selling himself or herself short. Training and diet, the two most important areas for a bodybuilder, were discussed in part one of this series.

We will now move on to sleep, supplementation and hormone regulation; and their impact on muscle growth and fat loss. These elements are often overlooked or misunderstood, and this can be detrimental to a person’s progress with their physique.

Sleep

It is not uncommon to see gym-goers discussing their diet, routine, or maybe even an exciting new pre-workout formula but it is highly unlikely that the importance of sleep will come up in their conversations. Sleep isn’t a real exciting subject, but its role in getting big and lean is crucial. Big guys at the gym are a dime a dozen, but being big and extremely lean is pretty rare. Getting enough rest and sleep can often be the difference between being big and being big and ripped, if diet and training are already on target.

Sleep is important in regulating metabolism. Sleep in humans can be sub-divided into two distinct phases- REM (rapid eye movement) and non- REM sleep. NREM has four stages. The third and fourth stages are considered slow wave sleep (SWS.) SWS is considered deep sleep, when metabolism is least active.

Metabolism involves two biochemical processes that occur in humans. The first is anabolism, which refers to the build up of molecules. The second is catabolism, the breakdown of molecules. These processes work to regulate how much energy the body uses to maintain itself. During non-REM sleep, metabolic rate and brain temperature are lowered to deal with damage that may have occurred while awake, such as muscle damage from resistance training.

Sleep loss can affect the basic metabolic functions of storing carbohydrates and regulating hormones. Researchers from the University of Chicago medical center followed 11 healthy young men for 16 consecutive nights. The first 3 nights, the men slept for a normal 8 hours. Over the next 6 nights, they only slept for 4 hours. They found that there were changes in glucose metabolism that resemble that of Type II diabetes patients. When the participants were tested after sleep deprivation, they took 40% longer than normal to regulate blood sugar levels after a high carbohydrate meal. The release of insulin and the body’s response to insulin decreased by 30%. Sleep deprivation also lowers thyroid hormones and increases blood levels of cortisol.

The two hormones leptin and ghrelin are important in appetite control. Leptin is released by adipose tissue and inhibits appetite and increases energy expenditure. Ghrelin is released from the stomach and increases appetite and reduces energy expenditure. Subjects were deprived of sleep for 2 nights, while only sleeping 4 hours per night. They got compensation sleep for the next 2 nights (10 hours per night) and leptin levels increased by 18% and ghrelin increased by 28%. The change in these hormone levels led to an increase in hunger levels by 23%. Subjects also preferred high carbohydrate and salty foods. Sleep deprivation can cause people to intake food for emotional and psychological needs rather than caloric needs of the body. It is common for people to be sleep deprived during a workweek and then compensate with extra sleep over the weekend. This sleep compensation doesn’t negate the hormonal changes that accompany the sleep deprivation during the week.

When sleep is lacking, the stress hormone cortisol is elevated. This hormone can send the body into a catabolic state rather quickly, which will increase fat accumulation and water retention. Average sleep time has decreased from 8.5 hours to 6.5 hours between the 1950’s and 2000’s. Obesity has grown from approximately 10% to 30% during the same span. Lack of sleep will make it more difficult for most bodybuilders to get extremely lean when dieting. While this varies from person to person, some will find it almost impossible to break into the single digit body fat percent range when they are sleep deprived. A shortage in sleep can also hinder muscle growth and can contribute to overtraining syndrome. Elevated cortisol due to sleep deprivation can interfere with muscle repair, while putting extra stress on the immune system. This can leave a person more susceptible to injury, illness, and can stop muscle growth. It should be a goal to sleep at least 8 hours a night for anyone wanting to maximize fat loss and muscle gains.

Supplementation

Supplements will never replace proper nutrition, but they can help you reach your goals much faster. Supplements can compliment your diet and cover nutrient gaps, ensuring your body has what it needs for peak performance. With thousands of different supplements available, it is easy to get confused about what to take to reach your goals. Confused consumers will sometimes make a pre-workout or intra-workout formula the basis of their supplement program, while disregarding the basic supplements that should never be missing. This is a big mistake. The following 5 supplements should always be the foundation. Other supplements can be added to these, but they should never replace any of these five.

*Whey protein- The obvious step to getting enough daily protein is through food. This can be time consuming and expensive. Eating whole foods every 2-3 hours isn’t possible for some people, and that’s where protein supplementation factors in. Whey protein supplements act fast and allow you to easily meet your daily protein goals. Whey protein can be more beneficial after a workout because it’s digested quickly and easily.

*Creatine – is the most studied sports supplement on the market today. Over and over it has proved itself as a supplement that will improve performance in the gym. It boosts maximal strength and energy output during exercise, allowing a person to lift heavier weights for more reps. It also serves as a cell volumizer, making muscles fuller.

*Glutamine – This amino acid is the most abundant found in muscle tissue. It has been shown to have a positive influence on growth hormone levels, and it is vital for immune function and muscle recovery.

*BCAA’s – The branched chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. When taken before training, BCAAs can improve performance and promote recovery. BCAAs have been shown to increase protein synthesis due to its leucine content.

*Fish Oil – The numerous benefits from fish oil come from its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. Omega-3s are considered essential because they are necessary for human health, but aren’t made by the body. Whether you are trying to build muscle, burn fat, or improve overall health, fish oil is an essential supplement.

While there are many effective supplements on the market today that aren’t listed here, these are the 5 that should always lay the foundation for a successful program.

Hormones

The body produces many different hormones that influence muscle mass and fat storage; such as testosterone, estrogen, HGH, and cortisol. If any of these hormones are out of range, the body can have a very hard time building muscle mass or shredding body fat. For example, if testosterone levels are low, protein synthesis will be greatly diminished, which will inhibit muscle repair and growth; even if diet, training, sleep and supplementation are in check. If estrogen levels are too high in men and women, losing body fat will be a never-ending battle. When it comes to hormones, tests should be done by a doctor to ensure that all hormone levels are in range.

The basics that I have discussed, diet, training, sleep, supplementation, and hormones, all work synergistically with each other in regards to building a bigger and leaner physique. If one of these foundational keys lag, it will affect other areas. If all five areas are given the proper attention, a person can expect to progress as far as genetically possible.

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