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Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 1

Training at Age 46

Question: I was just recently turned on to EFT and now stumbled on to you…. My first article was a link from EFT and found it very interesting. While I didn’t understand all of nuances of the language to describe the science behind the nutrition and physiology of Protein and the synthesis of nutrients, all in all, great article. This article led me to your site, blog and newsletter.

Hey, GREAT stuff. I’ve become a nutrition nerd over the past year and am devouring whatever info I can get my hands on…and this led me to a question you may or may not feel hits a large part of your audience. I continue to read a lot about the goals of hypertrophy, strength and power, what routines are best, what diets are best – but one concern continues to nag at me, over and over; while everyone has different goals, what about AGE???

I’m a 46 year old male who has lifted heavy since high school – right through till I was in my upper 20’s (coincidentally, just about when my career overshadowed my goals of looking good.) Now, at 46 I’ve decided I want to get back in the game! I’ve been lifting again and have dropped 17 lbs of FAT. I’m now stronger than I was in college and my wife says I look better.

Now, My wife and her trainer think I’m crazy but I want to lift for hypertrophy. I figure I have about 10 more years to gain muscle (I’ve heard at the age of 55 most men lose the ability to put on muscle) and want to try it for the next two years, WHILE keeping off belly fat at this point in my life. Am I crazy to believe I can and should do it, and how do I go about it???

Answer: Arguably the biggest difference in terms of age is that you won’t be able to recover from the same amount of training that you did when you were younger. You’ll also tend to grow more slowly which means you don’t need a massive excess of incoming nutrients. Finally, the upper limit of how much muscle mass you can gain will probably be lower due to changes in hormone levels which occur with aging.

When in doubt, I’d recommend that you err on the low side of trining volume and frequency. Three times/week is probably plenty, hitting each bodypart every 5th day or so. So something like a Monday: Upper body Wednesday: Lower body Friday: Upper body Monday: Lower body Wednesday: Upper body Friday: Lower body The other days would be taken off or used for some type of work capacity or conditioning. I’d recommend at least 1-2 days completely off of training per week.

As far as volume per workout, you don’t need a ton of sets. A conservative starting place might be 2 heavy sets and 1 higher rep set (2X5-8 + 1X10-12) per body part and you can pick different exercises for each repetition range. You might be able to handle more than that, you might not be but you should always start on the side of too little than too much.

You can experiment with higher volumes if you feel that you’re not growing adequately (a very reasonable rate of muscle gain for men is about 0.5 pounds per week or two pounds per month). You should focus on progressively adding weight to the bar (while keeping form excellent) and eating a slightly caloric surplus and you should grow to the limits of your ability. Good luck.

Getting Strong While Getting Lean

Question: I need your help. I am 37 year-old female about 128 lbs. with my last bodyfat at 18.7%. I lift 3 days a week, two with a trainer (who refers to me as a hard gainer). He continues my workouts @ 15 reps per set for all body parts with a decent amt of weight. I have not been able to budge my lean body mass/bodyfat for months. My diet is fairly clean but erratic (night shift physician) and typically i fall off the wagon and binge on a very large meal every several days, not bad food but lots of it…My goal is 17%. Should I use the rapid fat loss plan for 10 days (category 1)? My trainer says I dont eat enough carbs and will never get bigger/stronger without more carbs in my diet….Thoughts? I know how busy you are, it would really help me to get your expert opinion.

Answer: Ok, there are really two issues at stake here. The first is that your trainer seems to be slightly clueless to the fact that gaining lots of muscle and strength is generally antithetical to the goal of getting lean. Can it be done? Sometimes. But for most people, picking one goal and then optimizing training and diet towards that goal generally works better than trying to do all things at once. Most people will simply end up spinning their wheels trying to do that.

Put differently, if you want to get lean, you’re going to have to accept that you may not make any strength gains, or that they will be small. Aim to maintain your current strength while leaning out. If you want to get big and strong, then dieting is not the way to do it. You should optimize your diet and training towards that goal.

Which brings me to problem two. I do not think you are a hardgainer; I think your trainer doesn’t know what he’s doing. Sets of 15 aren’t good for getting much stronger in the first place. Working in the 5-8 repetition range on heavy compound stuff with some supplemental work in high rep ranges works better. High rep sets have their place to be sure, getting really strong usually isn’t one of them. So my advice is this:

  • Pick a single goal and work towards it.
  • Find a trainer who knows what he’s doing when it comes to training.

Interval Training and GH Release

Question: I just read your review of EPOC. Probably 16 years ago I read a study done at Laval U. It compared fat loss from steady exercise vs short bouts of intense exercise all done on a stat bike. Like the article, there was little difference in calorie burn between the two groups. But the intense group had significantly greater fat loss than the steady group. The researchers has no real answer as to why that happened. I wondered back then if it could be explained by the intense exercise stimulating growth hormone (GH). GH has a steroid-like effect on the body, accelerating fat loss among other effects.

Answer: I doubt it. GH is pretty irrelevant as an anabolic, studies have clearly shown that even injecting growth hormone (GH) does nothing to improve strength or muscle gains. So the small GH pulse from interval training is unlikely to explain the results of that original interval study. Rather, alterations in fat oxidation enzymes, muscle glycogen depletion, and the fact that, in untrained individuals, high intensity interval work can probably stimulate increases in muscle mass are more likely to explain the studies results. But GH is pretty worthless here.

Fish Oils and Inflammation

Question: I read in quite a lot of places that fish oil capsules or cod liver oil are a great supplement for controlling inflammation and improving nutrient partitioning, but no one gives any information about dosing. I have no idea how much of this stuff to ingest. Have you formed any guidelines as a result of your research?

Answer: A fairly standard dose of fish oil in the studies is the equivalent of 6X1 gram capsules. The average capsule has 180 mg epa and 120 dha so 6 capsules will provide 1020 mg epa and 720mg dha for a total of 1.8 grams of total fish oil. I would consider this basically the minimum daily amount that would be beneficial on any level.

Some work has identified that the body will hit a limit (in terms of plasma saturation) on DHA at 1.2 grams per day which is the equivalent of 10X1 gram fish oil capsules. That would also provide 1.8 grams EPA for a total of 3 grams per day of fish oil. Under most conditions, I think this is more than enough.

A friend who uses fish oiils to control her arthritis will often go as high as 15X1 gram capsules although I haven’t seen that supported in the literature. I’d note that higher doses are not better here (although some are currently recommending absurd amounts). Excessive fish oil can impair the body’s ability to mount a proper immune response, as well as impairing insulin release.

Carlson’s fish oil contains roughly the equivalent of 4X1 gram fish oil capsules per tsp., I don’t know the values on cod liver oil offhand.

My current generic recommendation is the middle level, 10X1 gram capsules per day for 3 grams total fish oil. This should provide maximal benefits (in terms of partitioning and health) with minimum negatives. Individuals trying to control a specific excessive inflammatory condition may wish to experiment with higher doses (15X1 grams capsules or 3-4 tsp Carlson’s fish oil per day).

Excess Protein Intake and Fat Storage

Question: I have done a lot of study in diets and nutrition but to this day I have not been able to get any concrete evidence on what happens with excess protein in the body and I’m hoping you can help.

To make things simple, lets take a theoretical diet consisting of 5000 calories of pure protein for a 60kg, 175cm female.

Many people claim that excess protein will get wasted while others say that all excess calories eventually end up being stored as fat.

I have done my own research on the breakdown of protein into amino acids and I understood it as: some of the amino acids are wasted while others will go through the cycle of conversion and will still be used by the body for energy.

Answer: Ok, first things first.  The example given above is absurdly non-physiological.   The satiating power of protein would make such a high protein consumption impossible.  That is, 5000 calories is 1250 grams of pure protein.  It can’t be done.  Beyond that, while the biochemical pathways for the conversion of protein to fat do exist in humans, the likelihood of it ever happening in any but the most absurdly non-physiological circumstances are effectively nil.

Let me put this in perspective.  Despite a lot of claims to the contrary, the actual conversion of carbohydrate to fat in humans under normal dietary conditions is small approaching insignificant.

Make no mistake, the conversion of carbs to fat (a process called de-novo lipogenesis or DNL) can happen but the requirements for it to happen significantly are fairly rare in humans under most conditions (to discuss this in detail would require a full article but Hellerstein has written extensively about it).

At least one of those is when daily carbohydrate intake is just massive, fulfilling over 100% of the daily maintenance energy requirements.  And only then when muscle glycogen is full.  For an average sized male you’re looking at 700-900 grams of carbohydrate daily for multiple days running.

Which means that the odds of protein being converted to fat in any quantitatively meaningful fashion is simply not going to happen.  Certain amino acids are processed to a great degree in the liver (as I discuss in The Protein Book) and this can produce glucose, ketones and a few other things.  But triglycerides (the storage form of “fat”) isn’t one of them.

I imagine that if protein were going to be converted to fat, it would first have to be converted to glucose and only if the amount produced were then in excess of daily maintenance requirements would there be conversion to fat.  But as noted above, this simply isn’t going to happen under any even reasonably normal circumstances. No human could eat enough protein on a daily basis for it to occur.

What will happen is that amino acid oxidation (burning for energy) will go up somewhat although, as discussed in that article, it’s a slow process and isn’t complete.

So, as noted above, while the pathway exists for protein to be stored as fat, and folks will continue to claim that “excess protein just turns to fat”, it’s really just not going to happen under any sort of real-world situation.  Certainly we can dream up odd theoretical situations where it might but those won’t apply to 99.9% of real-world situations.

 

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