Muscle or Fat?: Part 3
Part 3! The past two weeks have covered a good overview of the physiology of storage, both in fat and muscle tissue. If you've read and understood the concepts, then it is quite clear that calories are stored in more than just fat cells. And the fate of where energy is stored is dependent on whether it is protein, carbohydrates or fat. In addition, the TOTAL calories ingested will determine ultimately if you are in an excess of energy storage (even if it's muscle cells).
If you can come away with a few key points before we go into the practical, it should be this:
- Total calories play the largest role in determining total energy stored vs burned
- Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source of muscle and nervoys sytem tissue
- Fat is most directly stored as body fat. This is essential for having energy stores between meals or much longer periods
- Very little protein is stored due to protein turnover. It is extremely rare for protein to be stored as fat
- Insulin is extremely important for directing energy storage and regulating blood sugar. You don't want too little or too much
- You do not need insulin to store body fat
- You cannot endlessly lose fat or other energy stores without negatively affecting your metabolic rate and other processes
Maximizing Muscular Energy Storage
While total calories are certainly going to play the largest role in whether you store more energy or expend more energy, you certainly have some control over where you store that energy.
To maximize the storage of glucose as glycogen in muscle tissue, rather than being stored in fat, you have to have a few key things in place. One is being relatively metabolically healthy. This means not being sedentary, morbidly obese, consuming very little protein or fiber or having a metabolic disease.
If you are extremely sedentary or morbidle obese, simply moving around more and regulating calories, upping protein and veggies, will take you pretty far. Much of the negative metabolic associations simply come from being too heavy and not getting enough activity. Simplicity works best here, which is why if you are considerably over weight, pretty much any diet works. You just want to choose something sustainable and reasonable: calorie control, some exercise, adequate protein, veggies and hydration will take care of most of it.
However, if you are withing a normal body weight (males up to 20% body fat and females somewhere around 25%), you can make considerable progress in losing fat and storing more energy in muscle tissue with some more advanced modifications.
One of the most potent ways to upregulate your glycogen storage and muscular insulin sensitivity is to deplete glycogen. Since glycogen is the body's preferred fuel source, after major depletion it will preferentially store most if not all carbohydrates ingested as muscle glycogen, even above previous baselines.
This works two fold: one is that by maximizing muscle glycogen you can dispose of even more calories in muscle tissue, not to mention providing mich higher fuel stores for intense training. Second is that glycogen depletion upregulates the use of fat for fuel. This not only helps burn body fat of course but spares protein to be used for recovery.
One major downside of glycogen depletion (as anyone who has done a lot of exercise on very little carbs can tell) is that it tanks your energy, productivity and sex drive. It's exhausting work and unless you are genetically elite, you probably won't fair too well long-term. In addition, depleting muscle glycogen and being in a calorie deficit means you probably won't grow too much muscle.
Being in an energy deficit already drops protein synthesis by about 15% or more and when glycogen is depleted, the muscle tissue will prioritize refilling glycogen over protein synthesis. Both are energetically costly and refilling muscle glycogen is a more pressing matter for survival.
So we would need to use training that depletes a lot of muscle glycogen, but we can't do it so much that we burn out and crash. While a high-volume program will accomplish this, past a certain point of volume you simply won't get more muscle growth. Work capacity may increase but this doesn't mean more muscle will be grown. Especially when you are aiming to deplete glycogen and lose fat.
Short-term glycogen depletion training will accomplish the task without putting you into the red too much.
In The Ultimate Diet 2.0, Lyle Macdonald recommends full-body workouts for this, as training more muscle groups depletes glycogen faster. It also means not having to go to the gym for as many days per week to hit all body parts. Anywhere between 4 and 6 sets per body part along with 12-15 reps per set is a great start for this. Rest periods should be on the shorter end, 90-120 seconds tops, to help with lactate production. While lactate might not impact Growth Hormone the way some claim, Jaime Krieger has compiled some research pointing to higher blood lactate levels enhancing total body muscle growth. It may in fact help enhance the growth of tissue not directly trained that day.
If you are training full-body, a circuit of alternating upper and lower (yes even arms) can be employed. Do 2-3 sets for a body part, move onto the next body part and when you have completed each grouping, repeat the circuit once more. Like this:
Leg Press 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
DB Bench 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Chest Supported Row 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
DB RDL 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
DB Curl 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Triceps Extension 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Delt Raises 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
This workout would be performed twice per week with 2 additional strength-focused workouts performed later in the week. Longer res periods of 2-3 minutes with reps ranging in 5-8 and sets of about 3-4 total per body part. This goal on these workouts is to keep glycogen use on the lower side (since these days won't be low carb). There's no sense in eating more carbohydrates on these days to refill muscle glycogen while ALSO performing glycogen depleting workouts. If the aim is to refill glycogen, you would not want a glycogen-depleting workout to be performed.
So we pair glycogen-depleting workouts with low carbs and low-glycogen use workouts with higher carbs.
Naturally, performing this every day you come into the gym, especially with short rest periods, will take it's toll. In a calorie surplus, you can of course recover from more and get good growth out of this. But you need to be in a deficit to adequately deplete muscle glycogen, which takes us into nutrition.
To optimally deplete glycogen, even with intense workouts that utilize a lot of it - we need to limit our carbohydrate intake. Not only that, but we need to be in an overall calorie deficit so that we can start pulling energy from fat cells to make up the difference.
While some more extreme protocols involved cutting maintenance calories by 50% or eating a nearly zero-carb diet intake, we can probably scale that to something more reasonable.
Although we CAN turn the dial up on how fast we utilize glycogen and fats, it might be best to start more reasonable and then getting more restricted based off of how you feel. In this case, I would start with
- Protein: 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: 100g or less each carb depletion day
- Calories: 20-25% deficit to start
- Fat: After calculating protein and carbohydrates, and knowing your total calorie intake, the rest comes from fat
If your maintenance was 3,000 calories at 200lbs bodyweight and we aimed for a 25% calorie reduction at first, nutrition would look like this:
- Protein: 200-250 g (lets choose 225g)
- Carbohydrates: 100g
- Calories: 2.250
- Fat: 105g
At this level of carbohydrates we are not ketogenic but will surely be producing ketones as we tap deep into our glycogen stores and then our body fat. The goal here is to deplete glycogen enough that the body starts preferentially burning fat and sparing protein; then we can take advantage of this by increasing carbs and refilling muscle glycogen without adding to fat stores.
Ideally, if you know your maintenance calories then this part is the easiest. Whatever calorie intake has been keeping you weight stable is going to be your rough maintenance. Feel free to plug your weight and activity into a calorie calculator but otherwise, simply tracking for a week or two and seeing what daily average is keeping you weight stable is the most personalized to you.
From there, just consume the same protein as above and get the rest of your calories from a mix of fats and carbs. Easy.
This is the section where most people will struggle. Maintenance is pretty simple and for anyone who has tried to lose weight before, cutting calories and/or carbs shouldn't be that foreign. But a BIG carb up? That is outside most people's experience. Sure, people binge but usually it's a combination of fats and carbs together.
What we're looking for here is low fat, moderate protein and lots of carbs. Keep fat to 50-60g per day maximum, eat the same protein as above and then aim for 2-3g carbphydrates per pound of bodyweight. The Ultimate Diet 2.0 and even Bodyopus recommend some staggering numbers and while I think the science is there and practically works, most people won't hit the numbers suggested. But with some effort, 2g-3g carbs per pound is doable. Make sure your carbs come from really low-fat sources. So rice, potatoes, cream of rice, whole wheat wraps, some dried fruit, a workoutshake etc. We want fats low so we can still utlize stored body fat as we refill muscle glycogen.
If you can complete a week of two of a 25% calorie reduction then you could always push for 30-35% and see how that goes. You might not feel GREAT but this is meant to be short term anyway.
The Weekly Setup
High volume full-body workouts are taxing. Reducing calories is taxing. Cutting carbohydrates is taxing.
So if we're going to do all three, we can't A. do them every single day and B. do them long-term.
In this case, we'll cycle them so we can get the benefits of the glycogen depletion without tanking our metabolism, sex drive and hormones. Below is a sample of how I would structure the week to implement carbohydrate depletion and fat utilization, then refilling glycogen and cutting back the volume in training. This is a one-week snap shot and you'd repeat this for 3-6 weeks, whatever lets you hit your goal or you feel too fatigued and hungry.
|Sunday||Depletion||High Volume Full Body|
|Monday||Depletion||High Volume Full Body|
|Wednesday||Carb Up||Strength Training|
|Thursday||Carb Up||Strength Training|
- Putting it All Together -
Since I'm a nice guy, I'll put this whole thing together for you so you can follow it to a "T".
- Protein: 1.25g/lb
- Carbs: 100g
- Calories: 25-35% reduction
- Fats: Remainder of calories after calculating protein and carbs, then subtracting from total calories
- Protein: 1.25g/lb
- Fat: 50-60g
- Carbohydrates: 2-3g/lb
- Calories: Dependent on how many carbs you eat, not really the main focus here as getting in maximum carbs is prioritized
- Protein: 1.25g/lb
- Calories: 13-15 calories/lb
- Fats and Carbs in whatever combo keeps your calories in check after hitting protein
Quads 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Chest 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Lats 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Hamstrings 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Biceps 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Triceps 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Delts 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps
Quads 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Chest 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Lats 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Hamstrings 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Biceps 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Triceps 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Delts 3 sets x 5-8 reps
You'll setup your week so you pair glycogen depletion training with the low-carb nutrition days, followed by carb ups on the strength training days, followed by a couple days off at maintenance. What this allows is maximum glycogen depletion and fat burning, followed by glycogen storage with no fat gain, followed by a 2 day "break" to allowed for some time off from the extreme training and nutrition. From there, 3-6 weeks should see you burn fat, build some muscle and maximally fill glycogen to set you up for really good middle of the road strength/hypertrophy training after.
Give this a go if you are looking for some hard-won but awesome results! If you are JUST getting into training or don't have a solid nutrition background, happen to be considerably over weight or have a medical issue, absolutely do not do this. For those who are looking to gain that extra edge, this could be for you!