Nutrition and Supplement Strategies that Go BEYOND the ‘Perpetual PUMP’ for True Muscle Growth and Cellular Recovery
By Vince Andrich
You want the ability to get a “perpetual pump” in any body part you train, every single time you walk into the gym, right? You are in pursuit of the almighty PUMP because you truly believe it holds the key to building more muscle size and strength, correct? You also believe that the magnitude of the pump you get in the gym is an indication that you’re on your way to less bodyfat and more defined muscles, true? Now, what if I said you were right and that the PUMP really was a reliable gauge of your bodybuilding progress? Well it is, but there seems to be a misunderstanding of sorts. You see, if you’ve been following this line of thinking — that pump equals growth — you must realize that the traditional mechanisms for accessing a perpetual pump, pale in comparison to a startling new breakthrough in bodybuilding chemistry. Don’t get me wrong, you will still learn about an integrated system that will allow you to attain a maximum pump, but you’ll discover that there is definitely more. This approach represents an entirely new way to look at the mechanisms for bodybuilding success — one where the benefits are noticeable and, most importantly, permanent.
The Breakthrough is Not For Everyone
The techniques outlined in this article are not intended for everyone, although anyone can benefit. What I mean is simply this: you need to ‘come clean’ and be honest about your bodybuilding goals and how YOU plan to achieve them. Let me explain more. If you are on a sophisticated regimen of bodybuilding pharmaceuticals like growth hormone, testosterone, insulin and the like, your ability to get a pump in the gym should be simple. If this is your approach to bodybuilding, then the rest of this article is of no relevance to you. I am not an expert on bodybuilding drugs, but I do know enough to say that whenever I am working with an athlete who is ON, my traditional nutritional recommendations are not necessarily applicable. This is why my focus is to work with athletes who’s hormone levels are not off — or all over — the charts, and therefore do not undergo severe fluctuations. However, even if you choose to go to the “dark side” and use bodybuilding drugs, which I do not suggest, you can’t stay on them long term. Eventually, if you want to have your health and a great body too, you’ll be seeking out “legal bodybuilding chemistry”, like the information in this article.
maximizing the pump — nitric oxide supplementation.
Nitric Oxide Boosters and the Rise of the Almighty PUMP
The popular trend in bodybuilding supplementation these days is the use of Nitric Oxide (NO) boosters as a method for increasing your “pump” while weight training. The use of nitric oxide supplements (NO is the acronym, for nitric oxide), has gained quite a following since they initially hit the bodybuilding scene around four years ago. I won’t go into the exact mechanisms associated with boosting nitric oxide, but the principle benefit appears to be vasodilatation. By improving vasodilatation, an athlete would experience increased blood flow from dilated blood vessels. As time goes on, more performance supplement companies are marketing various formulas as nitric oxide boosters, thereby dramatically increasing the popularity of the category.
The highly anticipated benefits associated with increasing nitric oxide levels were initially driven by multiple marketing campaigns and by at least one popular book. Many of the marketing claims for nitric oxide products became very similar to those of creatine. For example, fuller muscles, tighter pumps, gains in power and strength, and increased cell volume. As a result, these products were ‘granted’ nearly the same credibility as creatine, when it first hit the market. The hype for the nitric oxide products gave birth to what is now almost indistinguishable from the creatine category, and in fact, many of the most popular formulas include creatine as a major active ingredient.
I have no doubt that the most significant reason these products are in demand is because they are endorsed as a means for promoting massive pumps in the gym, increasing lean mass, enhancing fast twitch muscle, quicker recovery and improving strength, but the purpose of this article is not to dispute or justify these claims. Whether or not nitric oxide supplement claims hold up to the acid test of real-world training is an entirely different subject, so I’ll save it for another time.
What is The Pump?
In bodybuilding circles, the sensation of tight congestion, or swelling, of your muscles with blood during your weight training session is ‘The Pump’. Now, a weight trainer with any experience knows that if you lift a heavy enough weight, and don’t rest too long between sets, your working muscles will become swollen with blood. In scientific jargon, this is referred to as reactive hyperemia because it involves an increase in blood flow (i.e., hyperemia) in response (i.e., reactive) to the exercise stimulus.
Triggering the Osmotic Anabolic Signaling System
So, what’s the big deal with striving to attain what popular bodybuilding jargon refers to as a Super Pump? To be blunt, The Pump is the manifestation of many physique-altering benefits that are not visible to the eye. Ironically, what seems like such a foolishly vain aspect of bodybuilding to the uninformed is, in fact, an excellent means for judging your nutritional status, current anabolic/catabolic condition and measure of training recovery.
In essence, it appears that the magnitude of the PUMP you get in the gym can be traced back to multiple factors associated with muscle growth and recovery, and are intimately related to an intricate cellular swelling mechanism that modern scientific literature calls Osmotic Anabolic Signaling (OAS). This phenomenon is at the heart of building new muscle year round, and retaining lean mass in the face of hypo-caloric dieting. To maximize this system requires attention to several “puzzle pieces,” of which nutrition tops the charts.
Diet and Muscle Cell Dynamics
When you are well fed, i.e., carbohydrates are not restricted, your ability to get a pump should be pretty easy, even if your diet is not optimal. However, it has become increasing popular for weight trainers to follow a diet that carefully considers carbohydrate intake. The modern bodybuilding diet usually allows for 40-50% of your daily calories to come from carbohydrates. This number may increase for athletes who weight train for sports, which make it necessary for additional daily energy calories to be burned beyond those needed for the gym. Typically, carb intake is under strict control when an athlete wants to avoid gaining fat (this could be all year round), or must lose excess bodyfat for a wide range of goals including contest prep. For example, consuming less than 100 grams of carbohydrates is the standard level for a “low-carb” day. If this level seems low, it is, but keep in mind these diets usually remove carbohydrate calories and make up the remainder of the daily calorie allotment from increases in protein and/or fat. The best low-carb diets put an emphasis on protein intake due to its ability to promote additional calorie wasting.
The underlying problem with excessive restriction of carbohydrate is that when training intensity is high (and of course intensity is key to keeping or increasing muscle size much less the PUMP), even 200 grams of carbohydrates per day for larger athletes is tremendously meager. Research has shown that a high-protein diet coupled with low-carbohydrate intake creates a metabolic environment called acidosis, which is not conducive to high intensity weight training , . In addition, weight training intensely while simultaneously reducing carbohydrates dramatically depletes stored energy in muscle (glycogen), and therefore we know that low-carb dieting cannot be followed for weeks on end.
Fortunately, most athletes realize that it is best to utilize carb depletion/cycling regimens rather than attempt to stay on reduced carbs for the entire length of their diet. That is, they follow a few days of low-carb eating (usually 2-3) and then allow themselves a day or so of “normalized” feeding to drive the replenishment of glycogen so that training intensity can be maintained. The other benefit associated with this diet format is that the athlete enjoys maximum fat burning on low-carb days, and then when carbs are reintroduced in greater amounts, insulin is allowed to help maintain the desired anabolic state. Further, boosting carb intake at this point offers a mechanism to reinvigorate natural thyroid production — often reduced when on low-carb diets — for improved metabolic function.
Moreover, a consideration of importance, beyond the aspect of performance, is the anabolic effect of insulin secretion on muscle protein synthesis. Moderate carbohydrate intake at each meal should stimulate the proper insulin levels needed for maximum muscle protein synthesis. Over time depressed insulin secretion may halt any additional muscular progress. Therefore, my approach to feeding for most of the year is to systematically eat a little less carbs than I need and more protein than I can use. This concept is fully explained in a booklet called ‘No Mistakes’ - The Nutrition Guide to Building Your Best Body Ever. I wrote this guide with my colleague Rob Thoburn, who is an absolute bodybuilding genius and now works for the forward-thinking sports nutrition company BSN.
Nutritional Clues Related to ‘OAS’
I’ve mentioned relative dietary concepts because at the end of the day, your nutritional status will ultimately become the ‘core’ to engaging OAS, and the PUMP you get in the gym. How much does nutrition have to do with OAS? Have you every wondered why your muscles are flat some days and on others full? As you recall the muscle contains stored carbohydrates. Guess what? For every carbohydrate gram you store an additional 2.7 grams of water! Whenever you consume plenty of carbs, your muscle cells become saturated with them, and each carb pulls nearly 3 grams of water into a virtual anabolic Jacuzzi! Therefore, your muscles fill up like a balloon! You can always tell how anabolic your nutrition is by how full your muscle cells are. As we touched on previously, when you are on a reduced-carb diet, your muscle cells become flat and your skin is loose, and doesn’t look very tight. The initial stages of this are common while dieting, because the athlete is simply low on carbohydrate stores in their muscle cells. However, in speaking with many advanced athletes if your muscle cells are left high and dry for too long, with nothing to hold water inside the cell, you will eventually chew up your hard-earned muscle.
So, this raises the question: Can you get a super pump in the gym while carb intake is low? In my opinion, the answer is no, probably not.
Keep in mind the pump is relative, and is can only be judged against your personal experience. But you will get a better pump when your carb intake allows for stored glycogen in your muscles to be roughly 50% of capacity, and your water intake is adequate. As a reference, adequate fluid intake for a 200-lb athlete is about 1-gallon of water, or 12, 8-ounce glasses. When it comes to gauging your stored muscle glycogen levels, then best assessment is the mirror, which we will discuss in detail in the next section.