Category Archives: Fitness
The term “Hardgainer” is frequently used in the bodybuilding community and around local gyms.
It implies some terrible abnormal condition that prevents an unlucky few from being able to build muscle.
But just look around any gym and you’ll notice that most of the population fall into the “hardgainer” category. It would be more appropriate to call them “normal gainers,” because for most people, gaining a lot of noticeable lean muscle is hard. Real hard.
The minority of “genetic freaks” out there, sometimes referred to as the 1%, are the few who are blessed with extremely growth responsive muscle tissue.
For the majority of us, though, building muscle is hard. For the true “hardgainers” amongst us, it seems damn near impossible.
Of course, any effort to gain muscle, regardless of your genetic disposition, takes great physical exertion, mental focus, willpower, and consistency. Unfortunately, not everyone is rewarded equally for their efforts. There are those who seem to gain muscle by just looking at a set of dumbbells, and those who, despite hard, consistent training at the gym, can scarcely put on a few pounds of lean mass.
The real “hardgainers” fall into the latter category. While there are exceptions to the rule, a typical hardgainer has an “ectomorphic” body type (a term coined in the 1940s by William Sheldon, an American psychologist), encompassing some or all of the following traits:
- Fine bone structure
- Small joints
- Thin neck
- Narrow shoulders
- Flat chest
- Small buttocks
- Long, narrow frame
- Low testosterone
- Low body fat
- Rapid metabolism
While most ectomorphic traits don’t bode well for easy muscle gains, the latter – a rapid metabolism – can be advantageous. Unlike “endomorphs” (on the opposite end of the body type scale), ectomorphs seldom need fear gaining unwanted body fat in their pursuit of increased muscle mass.
WHY HARDGAINERS STRUGGLE
There are many reasons why hardgainers find it so challenging to make significant progress, including a combination of the following:
- Skeletal structure
- Hormonal balance
- Lack of motivation
- Ratio of Type I vs Type II muscle fibre
- Sleep quality and recoverability
- Neuromuscular inefficiency
The harder a gainer you are, the more closely you have to pay attention to training, nutrition, and rest.
The good news is that some of the above factors can be positively affected by one simple thing. I’m talking about protein. That marvellous, muscle-building macronutrient is the crucial key to muscle growth.
Here are five facts about protein that every hardgainer needs to know.
1. PROTEIN INCREASES MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS
To maximize muscle growth in response to weight training, hardgainers need to optimize their protein intake.
Imagine muscle growth as a set of scales. On one side you have muscle protein synthesis and on the other side you have muscle protein breakdown.
The only way to achieve muscle growth is to tip the scales in favour of muscle protein synthesis. In other words, you must be synthesising more proteins than you’re breaking down to gain lean muscle mass.
Most people with a basic understanding of training and nutrition know that protein is an essential requirement for building muscle. Quite simply, eating protein stimulates the muscle building effect of protein synthesis.
But knowing the optimal amount of daily protein to consume is another thing.
In an effort to overcome the unfortunate fate of being a hardgainer, and to increase muscle size, a lot of people will turn to consuming excessively high quantities of protein. I think we’ve all been guilty of the “more equals more” mentality.
But is a 100g protein shake really going to produce greater results than a 40g protein shake?
Not according to scientific research.
Scientific studies have been conducted to find out how different doses of protein affect muscle protein synthesis levels post workout.
Two studies, one by the Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, of McMaster University in Canada and another by the Health and Exercise Science Research Group, at the University of Stirling both found that 40g of protein was enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise.
In fact, their findings concluded that the difference between 20g – 40g of protein on muscle protein synthesis post exercise was minimal.
So there you have it. These studies show that excessive protein consumption is largely a waste of time and money. As a hardgainer, I recommend you shoot for at least 40g of protein with every meal.
2. PROTEIN AFFECTS HORMONAL BALANCE
Your hormonal profile can dramatically impact the results you get (or don’t get) from working out. There are approximately 50 hormones in the human body, affecting – among other things – mood, energy, gender characteristics, autonomic nervous system response and musculature.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s take a look at just two of those dozens of hormones: Testosterone and cortisol.
Testosterone is an anabolic hormone found in both genders, but at considerably higher levels in men. It plays many roles in the human body, but of special significance to hardgainers are testosterone’s effects on mood, self-esteem, energy, concentration, motivation – and of course, muscle growth.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. Though it plays a number of important roles, an excess of cortisol can increase abdominal fat while reducing protein synthesis, facilitate the conversion of protein to glucose, and slow the growth of new tissue – like the muscles you work so hard for.
A properly balanced ratio of macronutrients is necessary to promote protein synthesis and prevent catabolism. Protein plays a key role in sustaining an anabolic state.
You unscrew the lid of your pre-workout and the sweet smell of blue raspberry wafts through the air. Two scoops go in your shaker cup. You shake it like the champ you are, pop the top, and chug that “go-juice.”
Minutes later you feel a tingling sensation and itchy face sets in. You are now loaded with beta-alanine and you feel like you could tear the walls down. It’s time to train.
Despite the well-known tingly feeling associated with Beta-alanine and its use in pre-workout supplements, there is a lot of misinformation and hyperbole surrounding it as a supplement. I am here to set the record straight.
Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine (meaning the amino group is in the beta position). It is the rate limiting* precursor to a chemical called carnosine which acts as a buffer to prevent reductions in pH. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine.
Let’s separate fact from fiction and see what beta-alanine can do for you!
1. TRAIN HARDER, TRAIN LONGER
Beta-Alanine helps you avoid “hitting the wall” a little bit longer, essentially increasing your workload by 1-2 additional reps in the 8-15 rep range.1, 2, 3 The consistent finding throughout the research is that it can increase your muscle endurance by about 2.5%.
It has also been shown to improve interval-type training, where individuals have improved performance in repeated bouts of sprint intervals.
2. FAT REDUCTION
In addition to beta-alanine increasing muscle endurance, there have been some small improvements in fat reduction reported in the literature.3
One important facet of this finding is that the research is unable to determine if it was directly due to supplementation, or if the increased fat loss was a result of the increased work during training.
3. SYNERGIES WITH CREATINE
There have been conjectures that beta-alanine works separately and synergistically with creatine supplementation. This is based upon the notion that there are two anaerobic energy systems, the phosphagen and glycolytic systems.
Creatine augments the phosphagen system, while beta-alanine augments the capacity of the glycolytic system.
As such, beta-alanine and creatine are often stacked together and sold as an excellent combination for individuals looking to increase performance in their anaerobic training. Unfortunately, there is no good evidence to show measurable and consistent synergies from stacking them.4
However, as they do have separate mechanisms and are both shown to be efficacious, it is reasonable to take both.
4. SUPPLEMENT TIMING
For years you have pummeled over the head that beta-alanine is a pre-workout. Guess, what, you have been lied to, pre-workout might actually the worst time to take it.
You can take it at any time and you will receive the benefit as the goal is to increase your intramuscular carnosine levels. One way to improve absorption and uptake into your muscles is to take it with food, as that has been shown to drastically increase its uptake and efficacy.
Creatine supplements are like the Kardashians. They aren’t going away any time soon.
But unlike the Kardashians, creatine works.
As one of the most clinically studied supplements on the market, its effectiveness is unmatched. With more discoveries about this wonder supplement surfacing, it’s no surprise gym-goers have more questions than answers.
The most common questions relate to supplement timing. Is it better to take a dose before or after training? Let’s tackle this question and others to make sure you make the most of your creatine intake.
WHAT CAN CREATINE DO FOR YOU?
Creatine is an integral piece to the energy production, expenditure, and recovery process. Since the body primarily uses ATP (adenosine triphosphate) during resistance training sessions, it breaks this compound down to ADP (adenosine diphosphate). It’s creatine’s job to replenish ADP back to ATP to support repeated work.
Since the body can only do so much with what it has naturally, supplementing with creatine monohydrate makes sense. You will be able to replenish ATP stores quicker with a ready supply.
Additionally, creatine “superhydrates” muscle cells, allowing it to easily and efficiently carry out vital processes involving cell organelles, protein synthesis, and other important jobs at the microscopic level.
The result? Hydrated and restored muscle cells enabling you to work longer, harder, and more often. In turn, you get stronger and bigger faster.
Protein is my favorite macro.
Because steak is awesome, protein shakes are the greatest invention of the 20th century, and I like building muscle.
So naturally, I get a little frustrated when people spread falsehoods about my favorite macro.
Related: 43 Easy High Protein Recipes!
Now, seeing that I am a scientist and I value the truth, I think I should stand in on behalf of protein and defend it against some of the popular myths about it.
1. PROTEIN WREAKS HAVOC ON YOUR KIDNEYS
“Go easy on the protein shakes bro, you are going to wreck your kidneys.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read that protein was going to hurt my kidneys…. well… I would probably be retired and blogging full time.
Recently, Dr. Jose Antonio did a study to answer the following question, “Basically, if we stuff you full of protein (like 4g/kg a day) what happens to your kidneys and your blood tests?”
Well it turns out that if you take healthy young men and cram them full of protein and have them lift weights, their kidneys are just fine and it had no effect on their blood work1.
These people ate about 270 grams of protein a day for 8 weeks and their kidneys and blood were just fine.
This myth really, really needs to die.
2. PROTEIN MAKES YOUR BONES BRITTLE
For some reason some doctors and scientists got some nonsense in their heads about protein making your blood acidic and that it caused calcium to be “leached” from your bones to buffer out your blood, effectively making your bones brittle and weak. Turns out, that is entirely untrue, the hypothesis has been refuted by several lines of evidence.
First, a study directly addressing this question found that a diet high in protein had no change in biomarkers of bone resorption or formation, indicating that a high protein diet has no adverse effects on bone health2. This evidence supports the notion that high-protein diets are not detrimental to bone health.
Second, we know that high-protein diets actually increase calcium absorption in the digestive tract, and increased blood calcium elicits calcitonin release from the thyroid and promotes calcium deposition in bone tissue. To this point, there have been several studies supporting the idea that increased intestinal calcium absorption due to high-protein diets may actually improve bone health3,4,5.
3. HIGH PROTEIN DIETS MAKE YOU GAIN WEIGHT
I thought of a lot of clever ways to put this, but to quote one of the most prolific high protein diet researchers in the field (Dr. Jose Antonio):
“You gain weight. No shit. If you lift weights and eat a bucketful of protein, you will likely gain lean body mass. But here’s the kicker. If all you did was overeat on protein (i.e., in our study, subjects overfed on whey protein), you would likely lose weight. And not muscle mass my friend. You’d lose fat”.
Your body works hard during training. An intra-workout supplement that contains a high concentration of amino acids maximizes those efforts and accelerates your progress.
How? Intra-workout supplementation takes effect at the exact time your body needs it. During exercise, blood flow to your muscles and nutrient absorption are at an all-time high.
When consumed as an intra-workout supplement, amino acids promote muscle building and fights muscle breakdown. This means you’ll see improvements in both performance and recovery.
But creating the best intra-workout supplement is a matter of individual goals, preferences, and priorities.
Here, we’re breaking down the different types of amino acids, their sources, and dosage guidelines, so you have all the information you need to build your optimal intra-workout supplementation plan.
Even as healthy adults, our bodies cannot make the nine classified essential amino acids (EAAs) so we need to rely on our diets to get them. Included within these nine EAAs is the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
If you’ve done any reading on the topic, you’ll find plenty of conflicting information about whether you should take just the BCAAs or the full spectrum of all nine EAAs.
Related: Why Intra-Workout Supplementation Works
BCAA advocators believe that athletes already consume plenty of protein, whether it’s from food or supplements, so additional EAAs are not necessary. They support only taking the BCAAs, particularly leucine, during workouts.
But EAA advocators question this stance, wondering why BCAA advocators recommend taking the other two BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) at all if leucine is the key amino acid responsible for stimulating protein synthesis (muscle building). Using leucine alone yields the same stimulus results as taking all three BCAAs, so a middle-ground stance of taking just the three BCAAs doesn’t make sense.
Here are the facts: Research has found that taking all nine EAAs may allow for a longer stimulus on protein synthesis than just taking the BCAAs alone. To gain the largest and longest protein synthesis, include all nine EAAs in your supplement. Based on scientific research, this approach will maximize the benefits of your intra-workout supplementation.
Let’s face it, the times are changing in the fitness and nutrition industry. Broscience, pseudoscience, and anecdotal lore are giving way to the white lab coats and data driven decisions.
So to search for new, effective supplements, we should turn to the scientists.
The mammalian target of rapamyocin (mTOR) is what all skeletal muscle scientists dream about. Why? It’s one of the key components of turning training into lean muscle tissue. If we boil it down to the basics, mTOR activation = muscle growth* and there is a newer supplement being utilized because it is a known activator of mTOR.
*Yes, this is a vast oversimplification but it is generally the right picture.
Phosphatidic Acid, which we will lovingly call PA for this article, is one cool molecule. It does a lot of really important things in the body, but the one I care about is that it is a well-known activator of mTOR. This means PA has some serious potential for aiding in muscle growth.
PA is actually a type of lipid (aka fat) that is often derived from lecithin (which is also used to make other supplements like phosphatidylserine).
One of the important aspects of PA as a supplement is it is actually really well absorbed. When you take it, it actually shows up in your blood. The same can’t be said for a lot of supplements1.
THE RESEARCH ON PHOSPHATIDIC ACID
Anytime you start looking at new supplements, you can actually use muscle cells, grow them in a lab, and give them the supplement and see how they respond. One of the first studies done on PA showed that giving muscle cells did increase the “grow” signal for muscles.2
Normally, short-term inflammation is a natural process that plays an important role in healing and cellular repair when you’re injured or sick.
However, it can also be bad, very bad, depending on the cause and duration.
This is known as chronic low-key inflammation, and plays an integrative role in diseases such as Arthritis, Obesity, Cancer.
It’s roots are often based in poor nutritional choices or other unhealthy lifestyle decisions.
Inflammation is a very serious issue. Some researchers even state it as the key cause of diseases1,2,3.
WHAT CAUSES INFLAMMATION?
There are a host of lifestyle factors that can combine to cause inflammation. Here are things to watch out for:
Elevated Blood Sugar Levels: Numerous studies have shown when your ability to handle carbohydrates and blood sugar levels is impaired, cell damage can results from constantly high blood sugar levels. This causes an increase in inflammatory-associated genes and increased inflammation4.
Related: Carbs Aren’t Making You Fat – The Truth About Insulin
Processed Food: Increased intake of processed foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, sweets, candies and baked products are associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a pro-inflammatory marker used to measure inflammation 5.
Body fat: Increase in body fat levels and obesity can elevate pro-inflammatory markers and contribute to chronic inflammation6.
Food Allergies: Eating foods that you are allergic to leads to rapid increases in inflammation.
Food Intolerances: Although you’ll know if real intolerance occurs, eating foods you are only slightly intolerant to can be a serious issue. Since the side effects are more mild (bloating, stomach cramp, gastrointestinal stress etc), you may continue to eat these foods, which can contribute to chronic inflammation.
Disrupted Gut: Bacteria or fungal infections, leaky gut or disruptions to your healthy gut bacteria can shoot your immune system into overdrive and inflammation7, 8.
Cortisol & Stress: Cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to whole body systemic inflammation, with studies noting large increases in CRP or pro-inflammatory cytokines9.
Environmental Toxins: Toxins from BPA plastics and containers, fragrances, unfiltered water, air pollutants etc. can contribute to low-grade inflammation.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
To get an accurate indicator of your inflammation levels it requires expensive blood tests. However, some common signs or symptoms you experience daily may be linked to chronic inflammation. These include:
- Long-term joint pain
- Gut or Digestive Issues
- Regular Fungal or Viral infections
- Acid Reflux
- Arthritis or similar disease
- Chronic Pain
- Blood Sugar or Metabolic Issues
Consuming enough protein for muscle growth remains the number one priority for all bodybuilders from the beginner to an Olympia contender.
Every pro knows that protein is an essential bodybuilding nutrient. It’s basically the first real lesson every dedicated lifter learns on their quest for head-turning size and shape.
So why is it that so many dedicated trainees fail to consistently get enough of this second-to-none mass builder? There are several reasons:
- The kind of basic nutrition that gets results is usually the first casualty once the novelty of a new training program has worn off.
- Life gets in the way and you begin to wonder if getting your one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is really all that important when faced with the task of weekly meal prep. Lifters lose sight of the bodybuilding fundamentals that got them where they are in the first place.
- Consuming enough protein can be tiring and all-consuming; pounding down six full-fledged protein-rich meals per day takes time, effort, and dedication.
It’s easy for many iron devotees to miss one or more of these meals – one of the biggest mistakes a gains-focused lifter can make.
Fortunately an increasing emphasis on protein supplementation has made life a lot easier for today’s muscle-hungry bodybuilders. With an array of protein products to offer, reputable companies are keeping bodybuilders well-nourished, anabolic, and less likely to deviate from their recommended protein intake.
Whether whole foods dominant, supplement-heavy, or a combination of both, a protein rich diet is a non-negotiable bodybuilding requirement.
If a bodybuilder begins slipping on their protein intake for any of the above reasons, you can be sure that limited gains will shortly follow. Here are three major reasons why serious iron athletes must get their daily protein quota.
ESSENTIAL FOR MUSCLE BUILDING
Protein is simply a long chain of amino acids all connected together. Once digested, these muscle-enriching amino acids flood the body. The body then reassembles these amino acids into the specific proteins that build muscle.
Given the body can only process a certain amount of dietary protein at a time (30-50 grams every 2.5 to 3 hours depending on an individual’s size and activity level) the protein needed for muscle repair must be of the highest quality. Vegetable and soy proteins, for example, cannot replace those of a higher biological value such as eggs, chicken, fish and whey protein isolate.
Related: 43 Best High Protein Recipes Anyone Can Cook
The muscles are in a constant state of reinvention; either shrinking or growing depending on the degree of stimulation during resistance training. Enough aminos from digested protein will result in protein synthesis and muscle growth. Protein synthesis is enhanced whenever a protein-rich meal is consumed. But, not just any old protein source will do.
Of the 20 aminos needed for protein synthesis (9 essential, which must be ingested, and 11 non-essential, which can be synthesized in the body), the branched-chain amino acid leucine is most anabolic of all 5.
To fully enhance muscle anabolism, a recommended 2-3 grams of leucine per meal must be included. While a 300 gram serving of chicken provides 2 grams of leucine, a scoop of whey protein provides the full 3 grams 5. Even though both protein sources are of a high biological nature, it is clear that not all quality proteins are created equal.
The muscle amino leucine is so important that many bodybuilders supplement with\ leucine to stay anabolic for even longer.
Building muscle is generally the main motivation for getting into the gym in the first place.
Whether it’s to look better, develop more confidence, or to gain strength for preseason football training, the desired outcome is the same, more muscle and less fat.
Train for long enough and it becomes apparent that the key stimulus for unlocking serious muscle gains is to progressively increase the level of the intensity of your workouts.
All too frequently, guys will grab a training program, get into a pattern, and then flat line because their intensity doesn’t change.
There’s simply no substitute for increasing training intensity to spark continuous growth. Progressive resistance is the name of the game and without it you can forget about expanding those shirtsleeves.
While devoted trainees pound protein and carbs pre and post workout, a crucial step has unwittingly been missed. The intake of nutrients during training, intra-workout nutrition.
Fresh muscle gains have been the biggest casualty.
Smart trainees have finally caught on, but are they doing it right?
For those who have been neglecting intra-workout nutrition entirely, pay very close attention, this article will unlock the gains you’ve been missing.
The idea of nutrient consumption during workouts has been tossed around gyms for the past decade or so. That being said, many bodybuilders have forgone this crucial strategy. Why?
Many intra-workout misconceptions exist. The mechanical digestion of nutrients diverts blood from muscles and is energy-robbing.
A long time ago, in a gym far, far away, someone made the statement, “Man, you don’t need supplements, just eat a good diet and you get everything you need to be jacked”.
Saying you don’t “need” supplements to get jacked is kind of like saying you don’t “need” to deadlift to get strong.
Sure, you might be able to do it. But if you ignore a tool that can help your training, then you are leaving a lot of gains on the table.
Now, the world of supplements can be a bit of a quagmire. It is hard to know exactly what supplements work, how they work, when to take them, etc.
When it comes to building muscle and getting more out of your training, there are 5 supplements that most people would benefit from.
Creatine supplementation appears to be the most effective legal nutritional supplement currently available for getting you jacked (i.e. enhancing your training and lean body mass). Long story short, creatine works by improving your body’s capacity to produce ATP during short, intense training.1
Related: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements
The research surrounding the ergogenic effect of creatine supplementation is pretty mind-blowing. There are easily over 500 peer-reviewed papers on the topic and approximately 70% of the research has reported an increase in exercise capacity.2,3,4
In both the short term and long-term, creatine supplementation appears to enhance the overall quality of training. This often leads to a 5 to 15% greater gains in strength and performance.
If you are trying to get bigger, faster, and stronger, but you’re not taking creatine, you are missing out on some serious gains.
Muscle fatigue kills your training.
Remember the last time you were doing weighted dips and you hit the wall and just couldn’t hammer out another rep even if your life depended on it? Beta-Alanine may help you get that extra rep in as it has been shown to reduce muscular fatigue and increase work capacity.