Dan Duchaine's Ask The Guru Excerpts

GURU: My gym buddies have convinced me to enter a novice bodybuilding contest. How many weeks should I diet before the contest?

A:Competition is a good thing. Even bowlers and golfers "compete." I have often mentioned that most weightlifters who call themselves "bodybuilders" will never compete in a contest, but I think more should. A local bodybuilding show is an excellent opportunity to learn quite a bit about both your mind and body. Most of us will never have the genetics to become an international champion, but bodybuilding competitions allow you to feel like you're actually in a sport, as opposed to just participating in a hobby.

I'd like to see a polygraph-tested amateur contest at next year's Muscle Media 2000 "No Holds Barred" Seminar. The first day would be the contest; the next day, there could be an informal seminar with the winners.

I encounter many recreational bodybuilders who start training for a contest, usually a novice one, only to "bail out" and quit the contest preparation because of discouraging results. I've done it myself--after encountering a combination of too much muscle loss and sticking points in fat loss. The novice bodybuilder usually expects some very unrealistic goals from the contest preparation. The recreational (non-competing) bodybuilder rarely achieves low single-digit bodyfat percentages, so he or she won't encounter metabolic problems generated from prolonged dieting and overtraining. It would be great if we could all only diet for four weeks (or less) to get into contest-ready shape. But most of us can't. Let me show you how to rectify some of the mistakes I made during my pathetic and short-lived competition years.

The worst mistake is to assume you're going to ipso-facto increase muscle mass and lose bodyfat at the same time, like Franco Columbu used to do. Granted, some individuals can pull this stunt off, especially with the assistance of some of the various anabolic compounds available, but unless you've executed this trick before, don't assume you can pull this off. Be conservative, and accept the possibility that after the contest preparation, you'll end up with less muscle mass than you started with.

I recommend a ten-week contest preparation, broken down into dieting for four weeks, eating normally for two weeks, and resuming dieting for four more weeks. Through trial and error, I've found that after four weeks of reducing calories, the body will lower your body temperature by impairing the T4 to T3 thyroid conversion. (Your diet is stuck!) If you continue dieting past this point, you'll have to drop calories even lower than before. And less calories will accelerate muscle loss. Of course, there are tricks to extend the dieting phase without the body temperature drop, but these involve adding prescription thyroid medication. And whenever you decide to stop using the medication, there will be an eight-week lag time when the body tries to adjust natural thyroid output back to normal. And even nominal amounts of calories during this time will be deposited as bodyfat.

I've also learned the hard way that novice bodybuilders have a very difficult time achieving contest-ready bodyfat percentage of five percent or less if they start this ten-week dieting cycle with more than ten percent bodyfat. This isn't to say that some very gifted individuals can't whip themselves into great shape within 8 weeks from 15% bodyfat (or more). But most of us will not be able to duplicate such dazzling results. I'm a believer of tracking bodyfat during the year with skin-fold calipers, so it doesn't creep past the 10% to 12% range. Whatever contest you decide to enter, plan it so at the ten-week out point, your bodyfat is right at ten percent. Maybe I should call it the "Guru 10/10 rule."

GURU: I read the published research on using creatine monohydrate and followed the recommendations of 20 grams over 5 days and then a maintenance dosage of 6 grams a day. I felt pretty good after the first five days, but after a week of using six grams a day, my strength and size gains diminished. What am I doing wrong?

A: You're probably not using enough creatine after the first five days. Try doubling the dosage to 12 grams a day. And if that doesn't work, raise the daily dosage to 20 grams. As much as it seems logical to follow the recommendations from published research, many of the human research subjects may not have the same high-activity levels (or body weights) as bodybuilders. In the case of creatine, the six-grams-a-day maintenance dosage was determined through muscle biopsies. Anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders shows that six grams a day isn't enough to sustain initial size and strength gains. It might be that bodybuilders need more creatine for exercise, or some individuals may not be using proper amounts of high-glycemic carbs to transport the creatine with insulin.

Personally, I would have the patience to load creatine at the initial recommended 20-30 grams-a-day dosage for a week or so and would have no problem in maintaining a once-a-day 6 gram dosage. But if I had to continue using high amounts of creatine in divided daily dosages, I doubt I would be able to keep the routine up. As to following the creatine dosages suggested by research, I would always trust workout poundages and a tape measure over any of the research formulas.

GURU: I want to gain weight. How do I know when I should stop?

A: It all depends on what sport you're in. Whether we like it or not, any weight-gain program that includes eating more than your maintenance calories will cause some deposition of bodyfat. So the real question is: how fat can you get? I've seen many individuals start a very cautious mass program with the intention of not adding any bodyfat--even counting nutrients to the gram. And it seemed that very stringent eating didn't generate much muscle gain when contrasted with other "diets" that were a bit more flexible. It would help if you could actually see the various bodies in the locker rooms and assign bodyfat percentages. For example, at 15%, the sedentary man doesn't look fat in street clothes. But a weightlifter at 15% bodyfat, which is an average fat percentage with the heavier powerlifters and football players, looks very out of shape. Most of the fat accumulates on the stomach and trunk area, but in these two sports, there's no great motivatio! n among peers and players to diet down to a lower bodyfat percentage. So the "you're too fat to even think of gaining weight" advice would probably be ignored.

However, let me assume you're in a bodybuilding mode. It wouldn't be wise for you to start a weight-gain program, which includes eating more and lessening your aerobics (as being aerobically fit interferes with acquiring muscle), if you're already fat. Unless an individual is unusually gifted and using an array of drugs, it's rare to see someone gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Yes, I've seen it done on the old Rebound Training System by Michael Zumpano and the current knock-off, Anabolic Diet. But both systems need an amount of discipline greater than anticipated, and most weight trainers won't stay on such a program.

The problem with getting temporarily fatter than usual (and we haven't decided the exact figure) is that most individuals lose too much muscle when dieting off a lot of fat. Granted, just when I say 15% is too high a bodyfat percentage to allow a successful plummet to a single-digit fat percentage, there will be someone who pulls this off. But typically, at 15%, a bodybuilder looks FAT, and when dieting down, much of the newly acquired muscle is lost.

Let me further assume your metabolism isn't astounding (if it were, you wouldn't be writing me for advice). For gaining weight, I use a very narrow fat window. I suggest that you start your weight-gain program when your bodyfat is 9% or lower. Needless to say, many individuals who'd like to gain weight will be disappointed to learn that they should actually go on a weight-loss diet before embarking on a bulking phase. The fat window slams shut (in my opinion) at 12% bodyfat. At this point, you should either hold your bodyfat at the 12% mark for a while or diet back down to 9% for another bulking phase. Many of you might have another question after reading this advice: is it better to stay at the 12% for a while, or should I immediately diet down? I think the term is "solidifying" the mass--somewhat like curing concrete--rather than "dieting down." And I have no answer on this. Personally, I think you'll find that your metabolism will be at its highest, in terms of! body temperature, during a bulking phase (unless you're eating high amounts of saturated fats), and this is a very nice time to start a weight-loss regimen, when your metabolism is optimum.

I'm afraid there's no textbook in which to look up magic answers on how many weeks you should be bulking up. Some individuals with enormous appetites and very poor eating habits could go from 9% to 12% within a few weeks. But everybody would like some hard numbers. The average 200-pound bodybuilder would have a fat window of 3% about 6 pounds. If you plan your bulk program over 8 weeks, this would allow a weekly fat accumulation of 3/4 of a pound. This seems workable to me. And most weight-loss diets stop working after about 5 or so weeks, so a bodybuilder at 12% should be able to diet down to a 9% bulk phase again after about 6 weeks of dieting.

As you can imagine, I recommend skin-fold caliper readings every week. I've found that during a bulking program, many individuals deny that fat is accumulating. This is probably because workout poundages go up, and you're able to get a better pump. This exuberance puts the "fat blinders" on.

I do think my Isocaloric diet isan ideal diet for gaining weight. If you're considering counting calories, I suggest you increase calories over maintenance by only 10%, and the extra calories should be equally divided among the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat).

GURU: I've always used a high-carb, low-calorie diet to prepare for my contests, and I've always gotten shredded. Why should I change to one of those higher-fat diets?

A:There's no reason to automatically change what's worked for you in the past. You might be one of the people with great glucose metabolism and insulin control. If you have very little bodyfat and only have to diet for four weeks or less, you'll probably never generate the problems that other people who have higher bodyfat percentages and need to diet for a longer period of time encounter. I would point out that if you do any aerobic activity, you won't be able to function well for long periods of time without eating some carbs every hour or so. When I was eating a high-carb diet and went on long bike rides, I would bonk out at the 25-mile mark and had to eat carbs, so I didn't get into the limp-and-crawl-home mode.

(This is very true for me! S.P.)

I've found that women, having more bodyfat in their lower bodies, seem to experience better results when eating less dietary carbs. I've included three separate diets in BODYOPUS: the modern high-carb diet for those addicted to carbs; the Isocaloric Diet, which has a daily 1/3 fat ratio; and the radical BODYOPUS Diet, which eliminates virtually all carbohydrates over 5 days. The BODYOPUS Diet is not needed by everybody, and I always suggest that people follow the easiest diet first and only change if they encounter a problem the diet can't resolve.

GURU: I want to carb up for about the usual three days for an upcoming contest. Shuld I eat at night? I heard I shouldn't eat carbs after six pm.

A: When you carb deplete, your insulin sensitivity is greater. And you're probably going to use chromium, vanadyl sulfate, and magnesium to improve insulin sensitivity. But it's true that insulin sensitivity is lowest at night. Let's discuss what is happening in your body that makes it dislike carbs at night. Cortisol, a catabolic hormone, is highest at night. When cortisol is elevated, your muscle cell insulin sensitivity is lowered. And I have no idea if using all these various insulin agonists will guard against the bad effects of the cortisol. Probably not. The other avenue would be to reduce the cortisol at night, so you could eat the carbs without worrying about the blood glucose going into fat cells instead of muscle cells. I wondered about this same area in the Recomposition (carbing-up) phase of the BODYOPUS diet, when after the 5 no-carb days, you only have 48 hours to carb up before resuming another 5 days of no carbs. In Recomposition, I! do recommend eating carbs throughout the night, waking up every two hours or so, to take in a specific carb meal. For most people, the best they can do is use chromium, magnesium, and vanadyl with each meal. A final note: if you can't eat throughout the night, the last carb meal before bed should have some kind of delayed absorption. You should include some vegetable oil (about 1 tablespoon) and guar gum (about 10 grams) with the carb meal. Glucophage (metformin), is ideal for slowing carb absorption, as the chief mechanism of metformin is to slow glucose uptake from the small intestine.

GURU: Do I really need whey protein over other protein sources? Wouldn't it be true that if I eat enough extra protein, I'd be getting enough amino acids? Soy protein is way cheaper than whey protein. Even if I need more grams of soy protein to get the same nitrogen, it's cheaper than most other proteins, even with the extra amount needed.

A: In one way, you're right. All amino acids are the same (assuming they're not heat damaged, which makes them not totally digestible). The BCAAs in whey protein are just as good as the BCAAs in soy protein. There are more BCAAs in whey than soy, but if you consume enough soy protein (or another protein), you can achieve the same nitrogen level in the body. Of course, you may have to consume an extra 25% (or more) protein to achieve the same nitrogen. But it might be more economical to buy 125 grams of soy protein than buying 100 grams of whey protein.

However, these excessive aminos, because of the various limiting nondispensable aminos, will be eliminated from the body. Remember, you can't store excess amino acids as you do fat. Extra aminos will be dealt with in three ways: the liver will cleave part of the structure into urea, which is fine, as urea is excreted in the urine. And some of the aminos can be converted into other amino acids, notably glutamine. The rest of the partial aminos are converted into triglycerides (fat), specifically saturated fats. And we now know that saturated fat lowers insulin sensitivity. The real interesting question is this: does excessive protein consumption lower insulin sensitivity from the increased saturated fats in the body? This is an avenue I intend to explore in the future, charting the various pathways of each of the 21 dietary amino acids. I've wondered about the threshold amount of saturated fat needed to lower insulin sensitivity. Once I find this out, I could g! ive a definitive answer about soy protein. Well-made soy protein can adequately supply your amino acid needs. However, it's not an efficient protein, nor does it have any of the health benefits of whey.

I've noticed that in endurance sports nutrition, a protein ratio of 40% has become increasingly common. Should bodybuilders follow suit? Bodybuilders are much pickier with their protein choices. The higher the quality of protein, the less needed. In the Isometric Diet, I've recommended a one third protein calorie ratio, assuming that bodybuilders will eat higher quality protein sources. I doubt, though, that a runner would consider getting most of his protein from eggs and whey protein powder, so 40% might be needed. Of that 40%, some of the amount will be turned into saturated fats. If a bodybuilder is using high-quality proteins, a protein ratio of 40% is excessive.

GURU: I'm following that new anabolic diet by mauro dipasquale. I check for ketones in my urine with ketosticks. It shows a slight purple color when I get up in the morning. But I check later on, and I show no ketones. What gives? What am I doing wrong? Should I use a glucometer instead?

A: It would be safe to say that most readers have no idea what you're talking about. Let me do a fill-in before I delve into your questions. The Anabolic Diet is a so-called new way of eating with a recommendation of eating mostly fats and protein with little dietary carbohydrate. Claimed benefits are fat loss and muscle growth at the same time. The Anabolic Diet package costs $50 and gives you a 120-page booklet, a video, and plastic skin-fold calipers. The Anabolic Diet is very, very similar to my own BODYOPUS Diet. Both are seven-day cycles, with five days of eating virtually no carbs and then two days of carbing up.

Both systems are based on a much earlier system called the Rebound Training System, created by Michael Zumpano (owner of Champion Nutrition) in 1980. Michael and I modified this basic system into the Ultimate Dieting Handbook in 1982. In BODYOPUS, I go into great detail on how the system works, but I will highlight some key points now. The five (or more) no-carb eating days force the usual dietary and stored fats into something else called ketones. Ketones are fractured fats that can be used in the place of glucose. Ketones are a faster energy source than regular fats. They don't yield the expected nine calories a gram; instead, they yield somewhat less, around seven calories a gram. Ketosis doesn't normally happen--only when insulin is low and the other hormone in the pancreas, glucagon, is high. Your blood glucose level has to be around 50 mg/dl for ketone production to happen in significant amounts. To drop your blood sugar so low (regular blood glu! cose is between 80-120), you can't eat carbs for a few days.

Getting into a short-term ketogenic state does a number of positive things. You train your metabolism to enhance its fat-burning ability, which gets lazy with a high-carb diet. Also, as previously mentioned, ketone burning is inefficient, so more grams are burned as compared to non-ketogenic fat burning. The really interesting thing about short-term ketogenic diets is the set up for an anabolic rebound growth spurt after the two-day carb-up. We don't know all the mechanisms for this growth spurt. However, starving the body of carbs instills a temporary rise in muscle insulin acceptance. The extra glycogen, fluids, and electrolytes will make the muscle cell bigger, and the increased mechanical leverage will make you stronger. When you ramjet the muscle cells with more volume, you get an anabolic stimulus from the stretching of the cell.

About your particular problems: once fats are converted into ketones, they have to be used as fuel or eliminated. You can't store ketones. Your body can't reconvert ketones back into fats. The route for elimination is through the kidneys and into the urine. Remember, ketones in the urine are whole, unburned ketones. Ketosticks are small plastic and paper testing strips, about the length of a Q-tip. You allow your urine stream to wash over the paper end of the strip, and if there are ketones in the urine, the paper will turn from the normal tan color into a purplish color. The deeper the purple color, the more ketones in the urine. Your problem is that during the day, you don't get a purple reading on the ketosticks. Does this mean you're eating too many carbs and not getting into ketosis?

During the time you're sleeping, the liver is still converting fats into ketones. But since you have little energy requirements during sleep, these ketones are not needed for fuel. They have to be eliminated. When you wake up in the morning, your first urination will have unused ketones, and you will get a light purple color, assuming you haven't been eating any carbs for about 48 hours. When you become active, the ketones will be used as fuel. Between usual activities and exercise, most people in a ketogenic state won't show purple on the ketosticks, especially when on a low-calorie diet. Most of the ketones will be used as fuel, with hardly any unused ketones left for excretion. If you're eating a lot of calories, above maintenance, then you might get a purple reading during the day. But BODYOPUS is a weight-loss diet, so calories are at maintenance or below. If you're trying the Anabolic Diet or BODYOPUS for fat loss and get a purple reading during the! day, you should either reduce calories or increase activity, so you won't have extra unused ketones. Final advice on ketosticks: after 48 hours (in BODYOPUS, I give you tricks to lessen the time needed to start ketosis), you should be getting a light purple color on the ketosticks on the first morning urination only. During the day, the ketosticks will show tan because most of the ketones are being used as fuel.

You want to buy a glucometer to check for your blood sugar levels? Normal blood glucose is between 80 milligrams and 120 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Glucagon secretion happens in significant amounts when your blood glucose falls to 50 mg/dl. At first glance, it seems a glucometer could be a good idea. Glucometers use small testing strips like ketosticks, but you have to prick your finger and put a drop of blood on one end of the strip; blot the excess blood off; stick the testing strip into the hand-hold glucometer; and the device will read the color of the strip and display the blood glucose level.

Glucometers are used by diabetics to gauge how much insulin is needed to regulate blood glucose. Usually, diabetics run blood glucose too high, sometimes above 300 mg/dl. The problem with glucometers is all of them have an inaccuracy of up to 30 milligrams. If you're a diabetic and you're estimating how much insulin to inject to lower blood glucose from 280 down to 150, then 30 points off is not that big of a deal. However, if a non-diabetic individual is trying to plummet to 50 to establish ketosis, then 30 points is significant. Time and time again, BODYOPUS dieters tell me their blood glucose is "stuck" at 60ish, and they can't make it any lower. The actuality is that many times the blood glucose is below 60, only the glucometer reading is off. It doesn't mean the glucometer is broken. If you read the instruction manuals, all glucometers state that accuracy can be off by 30 points.

You'll never get a dead-on accurate reading of blood glucose with the hand-held glucometers. If you take a glucose reading early in the morning at the same time as the ketostick reading, many times you'll find a purple color on the ketosticks and a glucose level in the 60's. Obviously, you're manufacturing ketones, and your glucometer reading is off.

GURU: A few months back, I read that I should eat protein with each carb meal when I carb up for my contest. Why is this? Is there a particular protein that would be better to use than others?

A: Between the small intestine and the liver, all proteins are reduced to individual amino acids. And each amino has the ability to cause both insulin and glucagon secretion from the pancreas. Glucagon is insulin's evil twin: it's considered a catabolic hormone. However, glucagon secretion doesn't happen in large amounts until blood glucose falls to about 50 mg per decaliter (one tenth of a liter). Unlike insulin, which circulates in the blood, the small amount of glucagon secreted from amino acids stays mostly in the liver. Glucagon's job in the liver is to speed the release of glycogen. Glycogen is a complex starch. The same type of glycogen stored in the liver is also stored in skeletal muscle. Glucagon sends the message to the liver to reconvert glycogen back to glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream.

The reason why eating protein along with carbohydrates causes more muscle glycogen deposition is because the extra insulin (although insulin secretion from amino acids is small compared to a glucose response) is available in the bloodstream, and the glucagon pushes glucose out of the liver into the bloodstream.

It might be more efficient to use an isolated amino acid with a carbohydrate meal to "push" blood glucose into muscle cells. Not all amino acids have the same ability to generate insulin and glucagon. In looking over the scientific research, you'll find that the amino acid glycine elicits the highest secretion of both insulin and glucagon. The branched-chain amino acids elicit very little glucagon secretion, although the BCAA's (especially leucine) are good for boosting insulin.

Now that we know about the nice glucagon pulse caused by glycine, you might see some nutrition company make an alpha-ketoglutarate variant with glycine (rather than ornithine).

Guru: I tried your Body-Contact Workout. I've been doing Heavy-Duty Workouts up till now. I remembered reading in the article that the workout was supposed to keep muscle trauma to a minimum and muscle soreness would be less (than with the Heavy-Duty Workouts). But all my body parts are toasted! So what's the deal?

A: The damnedest things make you sore. If you simply did 12 concentric reps without the eccentrics, you probably would have been sore, too. You haven't specified how many sets for each exercise you were doing with your Heavy-Duty routine. Most Heavy-Duty advocates don't actually do just "one set to failure": they do numerous warm-up sets beforehand. Although it appears the new extra sets and reps were overly traumatic for you, you'll find that your body will quickly acclimate to the extra work and stop perceiving it as trauma. But some individuals are not suited for full-blown Body-Contact Workouts from the get-go, and I recommend easing into the system slowly. The first week, do only 12 concentric reps. The second week, add the negatives at the same weight you used for the concentrics. During the third week, on one set, use the 85% 1RM negatives. And after a week off, starting the next month, your body will be ready for the productive benefits ! of dir ected intensity. Give this a try!

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