Nutrition and Supplement Strategies that Go BEYOND the ‘Perpetual PUMP’ for
True Muscle Growth and Cellular Recovery
By Vince Andrich
The Mirror-Key to Monitoring Low-Carb Diet Success
Using changes in the appearance of your muscles to gauge your nutritional status and/or needs is extremely useful on a carbohydrate-controlled diet, because they are very time sensitive. What I mean is, once you understand what nutrients alter the volume of your muscles, you can make adjustments literally day-by-day. These visible signs are more significant than ever when you understand that as a rule High Protein-Low Carb (HP-LC) Diets cause an overall loss of cell volume making the scale an unreliable measuring tool. Your visual goal will be to keep your muscles looking FIT not flat, which we will cover in detail later. If you desire muscles that are super pumped, fuller, rounder and gorging with vascularity then forget using a HP-LC Diet exclusively. To attain fat loss, and still be able to muster up a pump in the gym, takes some insight. In short, the goal is to “threaten” your glycogen stores to a point where your muscles begin to lose fullness, making it difficult to get a great pump, however we must avoid allowing our muscle to go entirely “flat.” The ‘trick of the trade’ is to utilize a cyclical carbohydrate cycling approach, where you eat about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day for up to three days, and then jump to about 5 times that number for day four. This would mean you would consume 100 grams of carbs for three days, and then on day four, consume 500 grams to replenish depleted energy stores. Beyond this “carbohydrate-balancing act,” there are several recent discoveries that have revealed numerous non-carbohydrate substrates that induce cell swelling so that you can attain maximum muscularity and avoid looking flat and stringy. Since most athletes don’t have much experience assessing their nutritional status as it relates to muscle cell energy, here is a quick guide.
Monitoring the “appearance” of your muscles is an art form that has been practiced for years by trial and error. Hey, it’s no accident that when you look around any commercial gym all you see is a wall of mirrors. However, beauty is more than skin deep. Today science has uncovered tons of the reasons why gauging muscularity by the mirror is essential to success.
So What Do I Look For?
The main storage compound in skeletal muscle is glycogen, which is measured in millimoles per kilogram of muscle (mmol/kg). Luckily, several researchers have found some relevant data regarding glycogen stores to help athletes gauge their cell volume. Here is what we know:
An individual following a normal mixed diet will maintain glycogen levels around 80-100 mmol/kg. Athletes following a mixed diet have higher levels, around 110-130 mmol/kg, which would represent a fuller looking muscle. As a rule weight trainers and active individuals classify a normal mixed diet as 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat. So then an active individual on a HP-LC Diet should aim for “fit” looking muscles which is represented by glycogen levels around 70 mmol/kg. If you are using other cell swelling techniques in this article, your muscles should look a much fuller than non-exercising individuals on a normal mixed diet or about 85 mmol/kg. At these levels of glycogen, fat oxidation increases both at rest and during exercise . Monitoring the “appearance” of your muscles is a very non-scientific measuring tool so it is necessary to use visualization. Picture “fit” muscles on a HP-LC Diet to look about 35 % smaller in overall cell volume than when you are not dieting (see fig.1).
If you’re still unclear remember how you looked when you were eating more carbs and compare that to these warning signs that tell you’re spiraling out of control:
- A flat or stringy looking muscle would represent about a 70% decrease in your overall cell volume (glycogen at 40 mmol/kg). At this level, workout performance is largely impaired and protein can become an important fuel source during exercise.
- Total exhaustion during exercise occurs when your muscles are about 85% under volumized (glycogen at 15-25 mmol/kg), which is not an environment conducive to favorable changes in body composition.
The Chemical Soup that Determines Muscle Cell Volume
It should come as no surprise that getting nutrients in and out of your muscles is under close scrutiny. The ‘gatekeeper’ that guards working muscles is called a cell membrane, or more specifically the sarcolemma. Covering the entire muscle fiber, the sarcolemma (muscle membrane) is an extremely thin, flexible and elastic substance. The first and most important job of the membrane is to maintain the integrity of the cell and keep the vital contents inside. If this protective cover gets damaged severely then the contents will escape and the cell will die. Further, the sarcolemma acts as a gateway through which substances (i.e. amino acids) can enter and leave, making it selectively permeable. Briefly, here are the main functions of the cell membrane:
- To hold vital energy components inside the muscle cell, such as glycogen and Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the key energy ‘currency’ of your cells
- To transport the waste build up from muscle fiber contraction out of the cell
- To accept nutrients that are critical to the health, maintenance, repair and building of muscle cells. These nutrients are amino acids, carbohydrate molecules (glycogen stores), hormones, oxygen etc
One surefire way to manipulate the permeability of a cell membrane is to workout. Training damages the sarcolemma in a positive way and appears to “unlock the door” making it more permeable. This effect has likely been programmed into our genes for survival. The likely scenario is this: after a brutal workout, your body senses that the nutrients and fibers inside the muscle cell have been “torched” and damaged, then it allows what is effectively your muscle cell recovery team inside to “reconstruct” the crime scene. It appears that feedback provided by a number of mechanisms including amino acid monitoring and Osmotic Anabolic Signaling work in concert to maintain proper cell volume as a consequence of exercise.
The Cytosol — Key to Muscle Cell Volume
Once past the muscle cell gateway, what exactly do you find inside? You find the cell’s cytoplasm, which in regards to a muscle cell is called the sarcoplasm. This is literally everything inside of the plasma membrane. The muscle fibers are surrounded by a thick fluid or gel, which is called the Cytosol. This is center of the universe when it comes to bodybuilding. I say this because the nutrients that go in and out of the cytosol determine how the muscle cell is remodeled, or basically, rebuilt.
The cytosol is the intracellular fluid inside of the muscle fiber. The outer structure is a virtual superhighway, which takes raw materials from the outside of the cell (passed through the cell membrane), then stores or converts those materials into useable energy. In other words this transparent gel contains such foods as amino acids for maintenance and repair and glycogen (carbohydrates stored in muscle) for energy. You see a muscle fiber must have a fuel source in order to contract. This is why the cytosol also has tiny specialized structures called organelles, or microscopic organs. Perhaps the most significant of these — at least in terms of energy production — are mitochondria, because they convert carbohydrates (see chart above) and fats into ATP, which is our muscle cell’s main energy currency or fuel.
Blood Volume — The Red River That Feeds Cell Volume
The topic of blood volume is somewhat related to the subject we just discussed. That‘s because extracellular fluid levels that make up your blood volume also make a huge impact on the water content inside your muscle cells. Most bodybuilders don’t realize that even their performance is directly related to the level of hydration (or dehydration) when they step into the gym. Dehydration is defined as a >1% loss of body weight as a result of fluid loss. This is not usually a problem for a weight trainee during exercise, but if you start your training low on fluids it will become a factor. Consider this, if you are normally a 200-lb athlete and your lack of hydration brings your weight down to 196-lbs (2% of your body weight) there is a measurable decrease in muscle cell contraction times, and when fluid losses reach 4% of body weight, there is a 5 to 10% drop in overall performance which can persist for up to 4 hours even after rehydration takes place. When hydration levels plummet it slows recovery. Reparatory processes are so reliant on fluid for transporting anabolic substrates like amino acids and glucose to muscle cells as well as removing waste products from those cells.
So unless you are depleting water for a photo shoot or contest (which require arguably less performance), it is essential to anticipate and regularly replace fluid losses. For the record, thirst is not a reliable indicator of dehydration as it takes a fluid loss of 0.8 - 2% of body weight to trigger thirst. Now you know why many serious athletes carry water around with them in the gym!
There is no doubt that maintaining blood plasma volume is an important strategy to optimize your physical performance, and reaching a mind blowing pump IS a performance feat in it of itself.
Osmotic Anabolic Signaling In Action
I didn’t want to turn this into a piece on water and hydration, but now that we’ve covered the basic determinants of cell volume, though hydration and carbohydrate intake, here is a quick summary of OAS in action.
- For the athlete, nutritional status and training frequency cause extracellular (blood plasma) and intracellular (cytosol) conditions to vary considerably with respect to each other.
- Proteins and other substrates lie at the interface between these two compartments and relay signals relating extracellular conditions to the cell interior
- Nutrient sensors act to regulate cellular contents, and therefore nutrient sensing may culminate in the altered activity of a multitude of cellular intermediates such as hormones, glucose, amino acids and other nutrients.
- Osmotic Anabolic Signaling is triggered by specific nutrients (or their metabolites), or the detection of physiological signals generated as a result of changes in cell volume or cell membrane potential
STAY TUNED FOR PART III