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The word “anabolic” is music to a bodybuilder’s ears. In contrast, the word “catabolic” can strike fear into the hearts of the strongest of musclemen! Webster’s Dictionary defines anabolism as “the constructive part of metabolism concerned especially with macromolecular synthesis.”
Most bodybuilders would describe anabolism as building or keeping muscle and looking enlarged. Staying anabolic can mean the difference between looking muscular and looking skinny. But what’s the best way to use foods to stay anabolic? When are key times to take these nutrients?
Protein, carbohydrates, and essential fats all play a key role in keeping your body in an anabolic state, with protein being the most important, if l had to choose one. One of the key things in building muscle and staying anabolic is increasing protein synthesis and/or reducing muscle breakdown so that basically you have more muscle anabolism than breakdown in muscle cells.
Consuming a constant supply of protein, and consequently amino acids, can go a long way toward keeping your body anabolic. Protein has many benefits to someone who’s exercising and is even shown to increase lean body mass, enhance immune
function, lower muscle breakdown secondary to weight training, and maybe even increase strength.
One of the primary uses of protein in the body is to synthesize anabolic peptide hormonessuch as growth hormone (GH), insulin- like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and insulin. Additionally, protein is used to synthesize enzymes and other transport proteins essential
to normal bodily function. Proteins are made up of sub-units called amino acids. There are essential proteins (which your body cannot make) and non-essential ones (which your body can make). Studies have shown that individuals who exercise have greater protein requirements than sedentary individuals.
Certain amino acids (such as the branchedchain aminos, including leucine), haven’t been shown to support gene expression to help build more muscle. Leucine seems
to regulate mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), which is a protein kinase that enhances mRNA translation, leading to a
more positive muscle-building signal. So basically, it can support gene transcription and translation, leading to more lean
muscle mass. This is real complicated science, but it shows the serious benefits of amino acids.
A great source of branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, is whey protein. Some of the most important times to consume protein to stay anabolic are first thing in the morning upon waking, 30 minutes before a workout (preferably in a liquid form), right after a workout, and 30 minutes before bedtime. Some of the best quality and most anabolic protein foods include whey and casein protein, egg whites (with one to two yolks), chicken breast, lean
sirloin steak, top round steak, low-sodium tuna, ahi tuna, mahi mahi, wild salmon, and orange roughy.
Many people are “carb-phobic,” but I truly believe that eating the right type of carbohydrates is essential to boosting lean muscle
and strength while staying anabolic. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrates stored in muscle tissue as glycogen, roughly 3 grams of water are stored with it. So carbs can have a hydrating effect on muscle tissue, not to mention increasing muscle pumps!
Carbohydrates also have a protein-sparing effect, as they’re used as the preferential fuel source. But if carbohydrates are too low, proteolysis (protein breakdown) may occur. Complex carbs can also help fuel intense workouts. Some anabolic carbohydrates include multi-grain oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice, corn, dates, broccoli, and cauliflower. After your workout is an absolutely essential time to consume simple carbs to spike blood sugar levels and hence insulin levels to support muscle recovery and anabolism.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body and are necessary for life. There are two EFAs: linoleic acid and linolenic
acid. Linoleic acid is included in the category known as omega-6 fatty acids, while linolenic acid—specifically, alpha linolenic acid—is an omega-3 fatty acid.
These “good fats” can really help keep your body anabolic. Prostaglandins are derived from essential fatty acids. There are three classes, or series, of prostaglandins. The Series 1 versions, particularly PGE1, have many beneficial effects for athletes. They appear to have anabolic effects, promote thermogenesis, increase sodium and water clearance by the kidneys, and prevent blood clots. Series 2 prostaglandins have the opposite effects, as they seem to trigger the release of energy substrates by breaking down structural proteins, causing sodium and water retention and promoting the clotting of blood. Series 3 prostaglandins seem to help block Series 2 prostaglandins.
Some of the positive benefits of EFAs include the following:
• Decreased catabolism and increased GH secretion
• Improved action of insulin
• Enhanced oxygen utilization and energy transformation that is required for optimal performance
• Decreased total serum cholesterol and increased highdensity
lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
• Improved testosterone production
• Supported liver function and enhanced immune function
• Improved condition of hair, nails, as well as increased nitrogen retention
Sources of EFAs
Some sources of EFAs include natural peanut butter, unsalted almonds, flaxseed oil, krill oil, and canola oil. Eating fish including wild salmon regularly can also help. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 1990 showed that fish oil (containing Eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) positively impacted testosterone synthesis. In fact, research has indicated that consuming over 20 percent of calories from fats can
further enhance testosterone levels. Remember, testosterone is the muscle building hormone and can really help with the whole anabolism thing!
Water doesn’t seem like an anabolic compound, but it can have powerful implications in your program. Water has many functions, including getting rid of toxins in your body, transporting nutrients, cellular hydration or cell volumization, and supporting healthy skin function. According to research, dehydrating a muscle by as little as 3 percent can lead to a 12 percent decrease in strength. Plus, your muscle cells are about 70 percent water. It’s important to drink 1 to 1.5 gallons of pure water daily on the anabolic program.
Calculating Carbs, Fats, and Proteins
To stay anabolic, I recommend a diet consisting of a 40/35/25 macronutrient ratio. That’s 40 percent protein, 35 percent carbs, and 25 percent essential fats. Consuming around 14 calories per pound of bodyweight daily can help (divided into five or six meals per day). This assumes your training is super-intense! So this breaks down as follows for a 200-pound man:
200 lb. Man × 14 = 2,800 calories daily:
|2800 × .40 = 1,120 / 4
(calories per gram of protein) = 280 g/daily
|2800 × .35 = 980 / 4
(calories per gram of protein) = 245 g/daily
|2800 × .25 = 700 / 9
(calories per gram of fat) = 78 g/ daily
All bodybuilders that I know want to keep their bodies in an anabolic state. If you incorporate some of these foods at the right times into your plan, you too can be a musclebuilding machine!
Sample 40/35/25 Diet
|10 egg whites boiled with two yolks
1 cup cooked multi-grain oatmeal with 1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
|6 oz. chicken breast
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
|40 g protein powder
1½ cup unsalted almonds
|6 oz. lean sirloin steak (baked plain)
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 medium sweet potato
|6 oz. wild salmon (grilled or baked)
1 large cup broccoli and cauliflower (steamed)
|40 g protein powder (whey/casein mix)|
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