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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2008 11:37 pm 
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Hi!

I'm a beginner at weight-lifting: I have been working out for 4 months now, and am definitely making improvements - am stronger (handle weights 2x to 3x more than what I started with), fitter (don't get out of breath as easily), and leaner (lost a couple of inches around the waist).

A key aspect of my motivation is to enjoy myself, and for me, this means understanding how things work - e.g. progressive resistance, muscle hypertrophy, fat loss, etc.

Unfortunately, a fair amount of information I find on the net tends to be mutually contradictory, and are often dogmatic pronunciations without really explaining why they are so. And, when some part of an article or publication contains dubious information, I have difficulty trusting the rest of it.

So, I have some "facts" collected from various places, together with my interpretation (which may be wrong - I am a beginner!), and hope the good folks here can help separate the truth from the myths:



1. On how your body uses fat / muscle
On Dr. Squat's Zigzag diet page (http://drsquat.com/articles/zigzag.html), recommended elsewhere on this forum, I found:
Quote:
There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. That means that by reducing your food by 500 calories per day, you should lose one pound of fat per week, right?
WRONG!
Actually, much of the weight you'll lose will come from muscle tissue, NOT fat! Why? Because your body tends to use ("excess") muscle tissue for needed energy before it reclaims fat deposits.

As much as I have understood, fat storage is a strategy we (and other mammals and birds) have evolved for energy storage. So, I think its really odd then for our body to prefer to cannibalise muscle rather than tap into those fat reserves.

However, it does make sense that the body senses we are in starvation mode (when calorie intake is far below requirements) and tries to adapt by reducing expenditure (an economic analogy would be that if our income dropped, we could tap into our savings (fat), but would also try to reduce expenses (muscle, because they consume calories just by being there)).

I don't know if the breakdown of muscle releases energy or not (e.g. cutting some expenses can actually generate cash - e.g. selling the car instead of just stopping using it) but that's not really important to me: I don't want my muscles to atrophy!

It does however, make sense that we should exercise all the major muscle groups because that is effectively telling our body that those muscles are in use, so it cannot "save" by atrophying those muscles.
(plus, of course, exercising the muscles itself consumes calories, which helps create a surplus)



2. Do cardio in the morning before breakfast to burn more fat
(several sites, for example http://www.buildingbodies.ca/Cardio/ear ... rdio.shtml)
The argument is that since you haven't eaten for a long time, glycogen levels in the body are lower, and therefore your body has to get more of its energy from fat.

So far, so good - but does it really matter if the energy you use in exercising comes from glycogen or fat? isn't it really the calorie deficit that counts? after all, what happens when you eat breakfast thereafter? any excess calories would go back to the fat deposits.

One of the most informative pages on energy systems I have found is this one - http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/energysystems.html (and it reconfirms what I learned in high-school; that the only energy source muscles can use is ATP... anything else needs to be converted to ATP first)

According to this page, we can get energy from glycogen faster than from fat - so if we exercise on an empty stomach, the maximum intensity we can workout at will be limited to the rate at which we can get energy from fat. Which is not very ideal - if I am going to spend XX minutes on a workout, I don't want to be crippled while I'm doing it. So it would appear that working out before breakfast is actually counter productive.

(PS I do prefer to workout in the morning - because there's no chance of getting delayed at work messing up my schedule, and because I feel more alive during the day... but I do it after breakfast)



3. Simultaneous Anabolic / Catabolic processes (aka building muscle and burning fat simultaneously)
Building muscle is an anabolic process (using energy to bind molecules to make bigger molecules)
Fat loss is a catabolic process (releasing energy by breaking bigger molecules into smaller molecules)
So far, so good - all we've done is define (loosely) anabolism and catabolism.

But there are several resources that say you cannot do both at the same time - and that you body is either an anabolic state or a catabolic state.
Why must this be so?
After all, where do anabolic processes get their energy from, if not from catabolic processes? (breaking ATP down is also a catabolic process - if this ever stopped, we wouldn't be able to move our muscles?)

What then, is the origin of carb cycling, and alternating building and cutting? What is the magic that beginners have, that allows them to build muscle and burn fat at the same time? (e.g. see Stu's response here http://www.exrx.net/forum/viewtopic.php ... rb+cycling)

Here's my understanding:
a. If we use progressive resistance training, our body tries to adapt by building up muscle (hypertrophy) - providing the building blocks (amino acids, energy, and whatever else is needed) is available, this will succeed
b. however, any excess resources (after basic metabolic needs, exercise, muscle hypertrophy) will be stored as fat (fat being the natural long term storage mechanism)
c. when you are serious about bodybuilding, finding that exact balance where you provide all the necessary stuff to build muscle, without any excess that would be stored as fat, is pretty much impossible. And it's better to err on the side of extra nutrients (so all that lifting results in maximum muscle growth) than less (which would mean the body can, at best, repair the muscle back to what it was)
d. but when you have this safety margin, then your fat level will increase... which someone serious about BB does not want. So, now you need to get into a calorie deficit to burn that off...
e. so why doesn't the body breakdown muscle as well (to "save" energy?) - I think it's because it takes some time for this reaction to kick in (your body knows that it isn't easy to build muscle, so it's not going to dispose of it lightly (to continue the economic analogy - things have to get pretty critical before you sell the car)... and before that, you move back to a building phase anyway

so, in summary, it's possible for anyone to build muscle and burn fat at the same time - but as your muscles get stronger and body fat percentages drop, it becomes more practical to separate the two goals than to try to find that exact balance of nutrients needed.


Thoughts?
/Sifaan


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:32 am 
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I thought I would respond. I'm not exactly an expert on diet but it's been a focus for me recently so I find this very interesting...


Quote:
Here's my understanding:
a. If we use progressive resistance training, our body tries to adapt by building up muscle (hypertrophy) - providing the building blocks (amino acids, energy, and whatever else is needed) is available, this will succeed
b. however, any excess resources (after basic metabolic needs, exercise, muscle hypertrophy) will be stored as fat (fat being the natural long term storage mechanism)
c. when you are serious about bodybuilding, finding that exact balance where you provide all the necessary stuff to build muscle, without any excess that would be stored as fat, is pretty much impossible. And it's better to err on the side of extra nutrients (so all that lifting results in maximum muscle growth) than less (which would mean the body can, at best, repair the muscle back to what it was)
d. but when you have this safety margin, then your fat level will increase... which someone serious about BB does not want. So, now you need to get into a calorie deficit to burn that off...


I agree with all of the above.


Quote:
e. so why doesn't the body breakdown muscle as well (to "save" energy?)


It does in a lot of situations. In the general, untrained population, this is what occurs. If you take people who are of average body weight and proportion (average body fat percentage etc), and observe their diet, it's difficult to gauge how they survive as well with practically no protein intake whatsoever. Where i'm from, it's as if everyone is allergic to protein or something. Increasing protein means 'atkins diet' here.

This is also coupled with a very low activity level life style. What I think happens here is, they are fueled on the carbs that they almost exclusively eat and the muscle tissue in their body, whilst saving any extra as fat. I think this is why over weight middle aged men and women will always tell you how skinny they were at 'your age' and that it's only a matter of time before 'you' end up like 'them' - this is a common statement for me.

I just think that after a while of the diet above that i described, the small amounts of fat they store every day, coupled with the small amounts of muscle they lose every day, eventually created a round, overweight physique. This has been described as your 'metabolism slowing down as you get older', which may the case, kind of. But really, they don't help matters by paying no attention to calorie burning muscle tissue, subsequently, protein to maintain the muscle tissue, and probably more crucially, activity / exercise levels which would increase metabolism (anaerobic exercise anyway) and burn more calories (any exercise really).

That was all really referring to people who are slim in late teens early 20's and slowly but surely end up overweight by 40, claiming they eat the same or less than they used to.


I enjoyed reading your post. One thing you've possibly overlooked is the effect of insulin. Insulin is like the gate keeper of calories, basically deciding where they will be stored which is why you have 'good carbs and bar carbs' - bad carbs trigger big rushes of insulin and good carbs won't trigger as much and they're also absorbed over a longer period of time. In my head bad carbs create a state of panic for insulin - your insulin moves in quickly and brutally to get the sugar out your blood stream.

Also, and directly related to insulin, is the sponge like effect of muscles. Muscles soak up calories and store carbs as energy, I believe in the form of glycogen. It's my understanding that when your glycogen levels and therefore muscles are full so to speak, the extra calories will be stored as fat (glycogen levels have a direct effect on insulin levels). When you exercise, particularly anaerobic activities, your glycogen stores will be used up. Hence the importance of carbs straight after a work out (and protein of course) - to top up your glycogen stores. Conversely, if you don't top up glycogen levels, you muscles will look elsewhere for the energy and this is one situation where the process of converting muscle tissue into carbs for energy takes place... You're essentially 'eating yourself'. getting this balance right is what's called 'managing insulin' and is apparently one of the key aspects of controlling body composition AKA body building.

One thing to note as well is that we (humans) do not fully understand the body yet. As far as I know, we're just hitting the tip of the ice berg, so everything is open to change. Old ideas will always evolve because of this.

That's not even taking into consideration the differences in how individuals respond to certain carbs i.e. carb tolerance.

Also, with all this talk of 'will I store it as fat or burn it as energy' - I don't think your body is quite as 'black and white' as that. I think your always doing a bit of both, but the trick is to minimise what you want and maximise what you want - essentially being able to manipulate your diet to achieve your goals.


KPj


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 5:36 pm 
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Quote:
What is the magic that beginners have, that allows them to build muscle and burn fat at the same time?


My Ex Phys teacher told me that in roughly the first month of just starting to lift for beginners that their strength gains come from the nervous system, not so much creating new muscle mass. So really what is happening is the nervous system is adapting to the changes which really shouldnt require extensive amount of energy compared to creating muscle mass. So that would be my theory why they can cut calories and still gain strength.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 12:19 am 
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ironmaiden708 wrote:
Quote:
What is the magic that beginners have, that allows them to build muscle and burn fat at the same time?


My Ex Phys teacher told me that in roughly the first month of just starting to lift for beginners that their strength gains come from the nervous system, not so much creating new muscle mass. So really what is happening is the nervous system is adapting to the changes which really shouldnt require extensive amount of energy compared to creating muscle mass. So that would be my theory why they can cut calories and still gain strength.


Thanks for the replies.

I think there needs to be something more than nervous system adaptation... I think I would still be classed as a beginner (on the basis of the weights I am using - e.g. Bench Press is still only 80 lbs, Deadlift 110 lbs), but there is definitely some muscle mass being added (not yet so visible on the chest and lats cos of all that fat, but quite clear on the deltoids, quads, biceps, etc) without any increase in diet - which probably means I was overeating in the first place (also evidenced by how my waistline was ballooning till I started working out... in 4 months it's lost ~2.5")

Cheers
/Sifaan

BTW when people talk of weights on a particular lift, is it quoted with the bar weight or not? (Earlier when I quoted weights, that was including the bar)

Edit: Nervous system adaptation could explain Beginners getting Stronger (lifting more weight) while losing fat, but not how they build Muscle Mass while losing fat...?


Last edited by sifaan on Tue Feb 05, 2008 3:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 3:06 am 
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Unless the bar doesn't weight anything, count the bar. The weight is always the total weight lifted, not just the weight of the plates.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:57 pm 
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sifaan wrote:
Nervous system adaptation could explain Beginners getting Stronger (lifting more weight) while losing fat, but not how they build Muscle Mass while losing fat...?


Beginners build muscle very fast because it's not hard to achieve overload and achieve an adaptation, and due to fast evolving strength gains it's easy to continue to reach overload. As they approach natural genetic limits, gains slow down and more work is required to achieve an overload and elicit a response.

Because of this rapid adaptation, it does not take a surplus of calories to gain muscle and therefore simultaneous gains and loses take place.

As you become more advanced you need to be more specific and more intense with your training and also allow more time for recovery. Your diet will have to be more precise to your goals.

I'm not sure if I've really explained it very well but you can read about the principles involved here: http://www.drsquat.com/articles/populartraining.html

Stu


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2008 10:33 am 
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stuward wrote:
Because of this rapid adaptation, it does not take a surplus of calories to gain muscle and therefore simultaneous gains and loses take place.

As you become more advanced you need to be more specific and more intense with your training and also allow more time for recovery. Your diet will have to be more precise to your goals.

Stu


Thanks Stu for the response... so, following this advice, it would mean that I can more-or-less continue as I am now until gains plateau (or at least become hard to come by) and then make adjustments to diet?

One further question is, what are the actual nutrition requirements of muscle hypertrophy?
I found this article (http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20 ... rophy.html) that explains the process in a fair level of detail, but there isn't much mention of a calorie requirement here.

So, is it that we just need more protein in our diet for hypertrophy? Or do we need further calories (in addition to the calories in the protein) in the form of carbs/fat?

/Sifaan


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