First, let me say that as a reader I hate multipart articles. Yet, as a writer I keep producing them. I do try to bring each installment to a useful closure of the facts presented. I’ll figure it out one day.
So here’s Part 2 of a discussion on Throwback Thursday concepts that are still taught, advocated and preached by “gurus,” coaches, nutritionists and authors. They should have been relegated to the trash heaps of bodybuilding history decades ago (along with fanny packs) but persist like a bad case of athlete’s foot that just won’t go away.
Throwback theory 5. “You can’t eat too many daily meals.” It’s generally accepted that eating three big square meals a day is not ideal for building muscle or keeping your metabolism stoked. As with most examples of gym folklore, this theory leads down the road to “If a little of something is good, twice as much must be twice as good.” You see it in diets, drugs and training. Eating six meals a day is a good starting point for most athletes, but I’ve seen IFBB pros who eat 11 or 12. There is no metabolic or assimilation advantage in doing that. It’s simply overkill. In fact, it’s a great way to overload your digestive system, which needs periods of rest just like a muscle. An overstressed digestive system will result in acid reflux, bloating, gas, lethargy and digestive enzyme secretion insufficiency.
When trying to lose weight, you need periods where your blood sugar gets on the low side so that you secrete glucagon, which turns on the body’s fat-burning machinery. I have made my best gains—and have been my leanest—on five or six moderate-sized meals a day. Now that I’m over 50, five meals gives me the most energy and the best assimilation. Make no mistake, as you get older, stuffing excess food in the form of too many meals, meals that are too big or obscene amounts of protein will damage your health and inhibit your athletic progress.
Throwback theory 6. “You need an ultra-high-protein diet to build muscle.” The muscle magazines all proclaim that a high-protein diet will not hurt your kidneys as long as you don’t have pre-existing kidney problems. Sorry to start another dietary controversy, but that is flat-out wrong! Just for giggles, Goggle “Primary Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis,” and then do a search for the condition in bodybuilders. Do the same for “Proteinuria.” Bodybuilders are ruining their kidneys far more often than you would imagine.
First, let’s define what a high-protein diet is. In the medical or scientific world one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight would be an ultra-high-protein diet. Do you really believe that long-term studies of kidney function were taken with a large population of national-level bodybuilders eating 500 or more grams of protein a day? I assure you that this is medically uncharted territory.
Second, high bodyweight and great muscle mass put stress on your kidneys. Your kidneys don’t know if you are a 250-pound muscular beast or a 250-pound fat guy. Lastly, high anabolic steroid doses put further strain on the fragile microscopic filtering mechanisms of the kidneys.
The trifecta of kidney abuse in our sport is someone who has an ultra-high-protein intake at a high bodyweight and uses anabolics. The best way to handle those variables so that you don’t end up needing a kidney transplant or dialysis, is as follows:
Eat no more than 1 1/2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day during any phase of your diet or training. If you have high creatinine levels or spill significant protein in your urine, one gram of protein per pound or even three-fourths of a gram will be sufficient to gain or maintain muscle; however, you must become very aware of protein quality and utilization.
Do not overcook protein foods. Eat them as rare as you can enjoy them. For me that’s medium rare, which is fine. The same thing goes for eggs and other protein foods.
My clients use a special protein digestive enzyme with every protein meal to get the most anabolic effect from a given portion of food. A little leucine with your first two or three postworkout meals will allow less overall protein digestion but still keep the protein synthesis coming.
As far as bodyweight, one of my favorite fortune cookie messages was, “You can’t turn a poodle into a Great Dane.” In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s there were many great 185-pound bodybuilders. We all want to be as big as possible, but don’t push your bodyweight up to a place it doesn’t want to go. Distended stomachs, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, reflux and poor cardiovascular health will be your reward, along with your overworked kidneys. Besides, many bodies have better lines, conditioning and graininess at lower weights.
As far as drug use goes, it’s a personal decision, and I’m not a preacher. As a rule, conservative use is wise, and you should train and diet as if you do not have artificial help. Good old-fashion dieting and hard training should be the main tools of changing your body. The pharmaceuticals should supercharge, not replace, hard work.
Throwback theory 7. “You should train each major bodypart once a week.” This is a nutrition column, but I do know as much about training as I do about diet. I simply find it more intellectually stimulating to write about holistic nutrition, as it is a far more complicated and nuanced body of knowledge. That said, I can’t resist weighing in on this issue.
Once-a-week bodypart training can have its place in the routine of very advanced bodybuilders in their peak years of training, when they can train very hard on basic barbell movements. As an example, a guy who can barbell-squat 405 for multiple sets of 10 or more deep reps and finishes off with a down set of 315 for 20 or more may actually need seven days of rest before his muscles and nervous system can perform maximally again. Obviously, the weight listed is illustrative and depends on the bodyweight of the trainee. The same concept goes for rows, deadlifts, bench, inclines, presses and other compound moves.
There are 168 hours in a week. Beginners, intermediates and many older trainees cannot generate sufficient intensity and load to need a full 168 hours of recovery before training a muscle group again. Once-a-week bodypart training is a very advanced technique.
What happens to those who do not make extreme inroads into their recovery but train once a week is a one-step-forward/one-step-backward sort of progress (or lack thereof). You train a bodypart and generate some damage to the muscle fibers. The body then sends signals to the muscle cells to hypertrophy; that is, grow. The muscles continue to heal for four or five days and then actually experience a detraining catabolic effect. It’s like taking a mini layoff every week.
It’s absurd that many personal trainers will have housewives who are 30 pounds overweight and have been sedentary for a quarter century do legs on Monday; chest and back on Wednesday; shoulders, arms and some abs on Friday and really believe they have an intelligent routine planned out. A woman with such a profile can barely generate enough intensity to get up from a sofa much less need 168 hours before stressing her dormant muscle fibers again. People like that will profit from full-body training three times a week.
In my own training, I work each bodypart every four or five days. Five days optimizes recovery for me, and four days emphasizes conditioning. Even so, I train very, very hard; however due to past injuries and age, it is no longer wise for me to go balls out with insanely heavy barbell and free-weight exercises. I have considerate endurance and am an extremely advanced trainee, but regardless of how intensely you perform machine movements and fast-paced training techniques, they do not make the same systemic inroads into your recovery ability as 375-pound bent-over rows performed all out for good repetitions.
Intense training of each bodypart, twice every eight to 10 days, helps with muscle conditioning, quality and detail. So many once-a-week bodybuilders have difficulty getting those deep cuts at contest time. Resorting to two hours of cardio a day is the price that bodybuilders often pay for not adhering to a better exercise schedule and sound diet, and yet optimal conditioning still eludes far too many of them.
In addition to bodybuilders, almost all male physique and certainly all bikini, figure and female physique competitors would profit from using a more frequent training split than following the once-a-week paradigm.
Editor’s note: Ron Noreman (RonNoreman.com) is a partner at Kamler, Lewis & Noreman LLP (KLNcpas.com), a certified public accounting firm that specializes in tax representation and management of professional athletes, nutritional-supplement companies and weight-training-equipment manufacturers. He has been a competitive bodybuilder for 35 years and has won numerous titles. He’s also the founder of Alchemy Nutrition and offers contest-prep coaching and holistic-nutrition consultations. In addition, he has formulated antioxidant supplements for prominent vitamin companies and served as a design consultant to Nebula and other equipment manufacturers.