Expert advice for over-40 athletes about training, supplementation, nutrition, hormones, and more.
By Jay Campbell and Jim Brown
Question: Why does the body seem to burn more fat at a lower intensity level as opposed to a higher intensity level?
Answer: Let me set up a few situations for you as examples. First, let’s say you wake up in the morning and do fasted cardio at a steady state for 30 minutes. Your blood sugar is at its lowest level, meaning you don’t have available glucose floating around to be used as energy. If you start doing steady-state cardio with a lower heart rate, you are more likely to start burning fat as an energy source, not taking in consideration glucose being released by liver. If you keep the intensity lower, this should continue the whole time you’re doing cardio. Now, let’s say same situation but you’re doing a high rate of intensity where your energy demands require glucose. You will go through the stored glycogen in liver, then start breaking down protein for glucose. Overall, for trying to gain or retain muscle, we recommend low impact, steady-state cardio for the most part. Some high-intensity activities are fine, just plan ahead nutritionally so that you have adequate fuel as opposed to breaking down muscle proteins.
Question: My wife and I tried Metformin and experienced some lower GI issues. My doctor suggested Berberine as an alternative substitute. Do you have any recommendations?
Answer: We both have experience with both agents. Berberine does have some of the same benefits and a few others that Metformin does not have. We do think overall Metformin in terms of lowering A1C is much more effective. Both Berberine and Metformin will make your intestinal flora likely better than it is before initiation of therapy, unless of course you have been actively addressing that. Users have experienced GI and abdominal issues with both compounds; however, Metformin is much less tolerant in our opinion of an unbalanced flora. It is our theory that if you have an unbalanced flora, you are much more likely to have those sides effects with Metformin. We have seen people in that situation deal with it one of three ways. First, you can cut dosage down and take a quarter or half of the prescribed amount and see if you have hit a point where you are able to take it without side effects. Most people who have done that successfully were prescribed, say, 500 milligrams twice a day would then break one of those tabs in half and just take 250 milligrams or even 125 milligrams once a day and try to work up to the full dose. Second, you can pause the Metformin therapy and start working on your intestinal flora. This may be done by taking a probiotic supplement and/or eating fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Thirdly, you can just forget about Metformin, try Berberine, and monitor your A1C levels. Of course, we are not doctors and would discuss these strategies with your prescribing physician before acting. There are also special considerations when taking Metformin such as the importance of supplementing B12 and to not use with certain kidney conditions.
Question: I’m curious about insulin and its use in bodybuilding today. What does it do, and how is it used?
Answer: By insulin use we assume you mean exogenous insulin usage. Insulin is used to shuttle nutrients into cells, which is exactly why bodybuilders find value in it. Typical usage is either before, during, or after workouts with carbohydrates and proteins. We would have to mention growth hormone (GH) usage as well. GH will make you less sensitive to insulin, so typically these are used together and seem to have synergistic effects. Let’s not get too deep into usage at that level. Back to guys like us, we do want to take advantage of insulin, and that’s why we use an intra-workout drink consisting of fast-acting carbs and very short-chain peptides, the kind found in whey and casein hydrolysates. This will result in a spike of natural insulin, and if you are in a healthy to optimal zone of insulin sensitivity, this should be enough of an effect to enhance recovery. Using this strategy would theoretically be the same with the use of natural or exogenous insulin: A meal with protein and complex carbohydrates 60 to 90 minutes before a workout, intra-workout nutrition consisting of fast-acting carbs and BCAAs, or a post-workout meal similar to the pre-workout meal.
It’s a little more complicated using exogenous insulin, but we’re just talking about generalities here. Using Metformin will help keep your insulin sensitivity in check, and in most instances will vastly improve where you were before Metformin therapy. I would, however, suggest keeping the Metformin dose away from the workout period, as it will inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates if they are both taken together. For that reason, we both take it AM and PM away from food.
Question: Assuming optimal hormone levels, when manipulating the metabolism to burn fat, is it possible to build muscle through nutrient timing while losing fat or adding negligible amounts?
Answer: It’s highly unlikely. Very new trainees with genetically optimal body types (mesomorphs) are usually the only people who can add muscle and lose body fat at the same time. The usage of select anabolic drugs and other agents can also help in this regard. It is our opinion that you need to always pick one goal and focus on achieving it. If it’s fat loss, focus on reducing calories and increasing movement patterns. If it’s muscle gain, eat more food and train in a way that increases hypertrophy.
Question: Walking uphill on a treadmill first thing in the morning is my current cardio for fat loss. If I added a high-intensity interval training workout a couple of nights a week, would this lead to an increased risk of muscle loss?
Answer: It’s purely dependent on your caloric intake and current body fat levels. Obviously, your body type and your insulin sensitivity also plays a role.