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Bringing you the latest in health and fitness


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Garlic Goodness


Garlic provides numerous health and physique benefits. Not only does it enhance heart health, but research shows that it aids fat burning, can help to lower the catabolic hormone cortisol, and concomitantly raise testosterone levels. Recent research suggests that garlic can actually boost nitric oxide levels (NO).

Researchers from the university of Adelaide (Australia) gave 50 patients with treated but uncontrolled high blood pressure wither a garlic supplement containing 960 milligrams of aged garlic or a placebo everyday for 12 weeks. They measured the subjects’ blood pressure at the start and every four weeks thereafter. The researchers reported in a 2010 issue of the journal Maturitas that the group supplementing with the garlic had a drop in pressure which was on average 10mm hg (pressure units) lower than in the placebo group. The scientists concluded that this was likely to be due to garlic’s ability to boost NO levels, which relaxes blood vessels and causes a reduction in blood pressure. This relaxation in the blood vessels also increases blood flow to the muscles, which is critical for energy and for producing a muscle pump during workouts, as well as aiding recovery and muscle growth.

The researchers suggested that cooked garlic would not be as effective as a garlic supplement because heat destroys the active ingredient, allicin. So go with garlic supplements and take about 200-1000mg with your pre-workout shake. To maintain higher NO levels throughout the day, also consider taking a dose in the morning and late at night.


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Relying on Shakes/Protein Supplements Instead of Whole Food


A bodybuilder relying on multiple shakes per day in place of whole food will have a very different physique from one who eats more whole food. The natural digestion process is important and you can only get that with whole foods. Protein powders are broken down so much that they do not digest and get absorbed like food. It is better to add specific amino acid supplements to a meal than to replace a meal with a shake. However, we do not live in a perfect world and because of work or family obligations we may end up missing meals. In such situations, shakes can be used. But when you are dieting, would you rather have a protein shake made with water or a grilled chicken breast and sweet potato?


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Balanced Training Recommendations


1) Perform an equal number of exercises with the same relative intensity between opposing muscle groups (eg, back and chest, hamstrings and quads, biceps and triceps). If you already have a deficit, try to do more sets on the weaker/disregarded bodyaprt until you have achieved better balance. Then train bodyparts equally.
2) To bring your training into balance, focus on isolation (single-joint) exercises while also modifying the compound movements that target the various muscle groups. For example some exercises, such as the squat and leg press, are generally regarded as quadriceps moves, even though they absolutely involve the hamstrings and glutes. However, by altering foot placement (wider, higher on platforms etc.) you can shift the emphasis to the less involved hamstrings.
3) If you have an existing deficit between opposing muscle groups, spend some extra time stretching the stronger muscle group and strengthening the weaker one.
4) If you find a specific bodypart to be particularly stubborn at responding to an adequate training stimulus, consider adding an extra day (or two) specifically dedicated to working the stubborn bodypart until it catches on.


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Beach Bummed


Competitive bodybuilders usually train for symmetry and proportion in an effort to build an aesthetically pleasing physique. There are many individuals who go to the gym to build up their beach muscles, disregarding symmetry and proportion in designing their training programs. Instead of training opposing muscle groups equally, they sometimes ignore the muscles they cannot see (back, hamstrings, calves, quads) and focus on the muscles they admire in the mirror everyday (chest, biceps, shoulders and abs). Although training specific muscle groups more than others can create an unbalanced-looking physique, disregarding a muscle group over time can potentially lead to other problems that may subject the body to injury.

One common mistake with regard to balanced training is performing an unbalanced training program between the chest and back muscles. The amount of time, energy, effort, volume and frequency between the agonist chest muscles and the antagonists back muscles may not be equal, or even close. A simple example would be an athlete who performs 4 sets os four exercises for the chest (for a total number of 16 sets) and does only 3 sets of three exercises for the back (for a total number of 9 working sets). Following this unbalanced training regime over time will result in back muscles much weaker than the chest muscles. This imbalance may lead to a slightly kyphotic posture (forward/rounded shoulders) that can potentially cause shoulder problems because of the faulty posture. In addition to the stronger chest muscles (compared to the back muscles) pullong the shoulders forward, inadequate stretching of the chest musculature can further contribute to this problem.

For some people, training legs consists of quads and that is it. The disregard their hamstrings while training only the quadriceps. Exercises such as the leg extensions, hack squats and front squats place a large amount of emphasis on the quads. Although these exercises are great you need to do an equal amount of hamstring work with leg curls and romanian deadlifts to stress both muscle groups. Distributing attention evenly to both muscle groups can give you healthier knees and lower back, as well as fewer hamstring strains because of an unbalanced hamstring-to-quad strength ration.

A less obvious training error woth regard to balanced training concerns the shoulders. Overhead shoulder press, incline bench press, flat bench press and other chest and shoulder pressing movements are critical for maximal muscle development. However, these exercises focus on the major muscle groups such as the deltoids, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and other muscles known as prime movers. Often ignored in a training regime is the training or isolation of the smaller muscle groups in the shoulder known as the rotator cuff (the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) that are critical in keeping the upper arm in the socket of the shoulder. Failure to train these smaller muscles groups, two of which are not even visible can create an imbalance between the large prime movers and small stabilisers. This lack of imbalance in strength may result in bursts of bursitis, tendinitis or even rotator cuff tears in the shoulder joint.


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CARBS: The Anabolic Nutrient


Carbohydrates can help you pack on muscle or body-fat depending on when, what and how much you eat. Here is what carbophobes and carboholics need to know about this important macronutrient for optimal physical gains.

Ask 10 bodybuilders about the importance of protein for muscle building and you will get clear support. Ask the same group about the value of carbohydrates and you will likely get 10 different answers. Among the macronutrients, no other has faced more scrutiny than carbohydrates. In fact, over the years nutritionists and diet specialists have spoken out of both sides of their mouths about carbs, claiming they are everything from beneficial (eg give you energy) to evil (eg make you fat) – a debate that leaves most of us confused about where carbs fit into a bodybuilding diet.

There are several reasons for the confusion and contradictory advice. First and foremost, not all carbohydrate sources are created equal, and different forms of carbs cause several different reactions in the body. Second, research is only just starting to unravel the benefits and caveats of carbohydrate ingestion in its many different forms. As a serious bodybuilder, you understand how critical it is to find the right balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates in your nutrition plan. This post will aim to remove some of the question marks surrounding carbs with a comprehensive overview of what, when and how to successfully include carbohydrates in your diet and supplement regimen, both to build muscle and lose body-fat.

Basic “Carboscience”
Carbohydrates are so named because they are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms (or hydrated carbon). These compounds serve many functional roles in the body beyond food energy. For example, ribose sugar comprises the backbone for the genetic RNA and is also important in the formation of many co-enzymes. This post will focus on specifically on carbohydrates as food or supplement sources for bodybuilders.

For a fast-acting source of energy, carbohydrates trump both fat and protein because sugars are more easily and readily metabolised than other macronutrients. The amount, type and rate of digestion of different carb sources dictate the level of blood glucose and amount of insulin released by the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that delivers excess blood glucose to be stored in muscle cells and liver as glycogen. Once glycogen levels are topped up, the remaining blood glucose is converted to fat and stored in fat cells. The fact that insulin is integral to driving nutrients into skeletal muscle makes it one of the most potent anabolic agents and the focus of many research studies in exercise science. Insulin sensitivity (the body’s ability to use insulin) greatly increases in trained individuals, especially right after training. In contrast, insulin sensitivity declines in the evening.

Getting past all the science, the main point to deduce is that depending on the state of nutrition and timing of intake, high blood sugar and insulin levels could lead to either desirable or undesirable outcomes. Ideally you want to spike blood sugar and insulin levels at appropriate times to take advantage of energy storage and anabolic effects while avoiding fat storage.

“Carbotypes”
Monosaccharides
These are the simplest class of carbohydrates, as they can not be hydrolysed any further to form a simpler sugar. Simple car sources taste sweet and include glucose (dextrose) and fructose (fruit sugar). Glucose is absorbed high in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and thus elevates blood sugar and insulin rapidly and greater than any other carbohydrate form. Fructose, on the other hand, digests low in the GI tract, has a relatively minor impact on blood sugar levels and is considered a slow carbohydrate.

Disaccharides
These sugars are formed by the chemical combination of two monosaccharides. They also taste sweet and have a relatively fast absorption rate. The three common disaccharides include lactose (glucose-galactose or milk sugar), sucrose (glucose-fructose) and maltose (glucose-glucose). Maltose elevates blood sugar very rapidly (in fact, it does so faster than glucose) and sucrose only moderately increases blood sugar, whereas lactose digests slowly and has a small impact on blood sugar.

Polysaccharides
These are carbohydrates formed by bonding several chains of monosaccharides and or disaccharides. This form is commonly known as complex carbohydrates and includes starch, cellulose and glycogen. Starches are made up of multiple glucose units bonded together and are “plant sugars” produced by all green plants as an energy source. Common sources of starch are potatoes, wheat, corn and rice. Cellulose forms the structural components in plants and is relatively indigestible in humans – fibre is a form of cellulose. Most starches are considered medium-to-slow-digesting, however, exceptions exist, one which is waxy maize. The reason waxy maize absorbs so quickly is that it is a modified high-molecular-weight cornstarch that has los osmolality, which enables it to bypass the stomach a d het absorbed in the small intestines (causing a rapid rise in blood glucose).

The Glycemic Index
A common misconception is that all simple carbohydrates are fast sugars and all complex carbohydrates are slow sugars. This is definitely not the case. In fact, some complex carbohydrates (like maltodextrin) raise blood sugar and insulin levels rapidly, whereas a simple sugar like fructose has minimal impact on blood glucose. The variation is exactly why the glycemic index was created – to help you understand how different carbohydrate sources impact blood sugar. Using this tool is quite simple – all carbohydrate foods are ranked on a scale relative to glucose (a fast sugar, rated 100). Anything lower than 100 impacts blood sugar less than glucose and anything higher impacts it to a greater degree. One important point to note is that fats, fibre and, in some cases, proteins can significantly slow the speed at which fast (high-glycemic index) carbs elevate blood glucose. Keep this in mind when employing the strategies outlined next.

Carbohydrates and Bodybuilding
Carb-Based Muscle-Building Strategy
There is an abundance of scientific research supporting carbohydrate supplementation for muscle building. After exercise, muscle glycogen stores are depleted and insulin sensitivity is greatly increased, thus proving the perfect opportunity to spike by ingesting fast carbohydrates like dextrose, maltodextrin or waxy maize. Not only does the boost in insulin increase glycogen repletion, but it also serves to carry amino acids and nutrients into damaged muscle cells. Several studies indicate that post-training carbohydrate and protein supplements boost the anabolic response, augment recovery and promote increased gains in lean mass.

To take advantage of these muscle-building benefits, you should drink a post-workout shake containing a 2:1 ratio of high-glycemic index (fast) carbohydrates and fast-absorbing protein. The best combination is dextrose or maltodextrin and whey protein hydrolysate or isolate. Individuals who are sensitive to dextrose or maltodextrin can use waxy maize as an alternate fast-carb source. If you opt for waxy maize, just make sure to take it 15-20 minutes before your protein powder, as its impact on blood sugar may be slowed when taken at the same time as protein. In any case (depending on your body mass), you should strive to ingest approximately 60-100 grams of fast-absorbing carbs and 30-50 grams of fast-absorbing protein as soon as you finish working out. In general, you should aim to consume 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (divided into six doses throughout the day, with one being 30 minutes prior to training and one being immediately after training).

Carb Loading
Carb loading in bodybuilding is primarily used as a strategy to make muscles look fuller and skin appear tighter while onstage, during a photo shoot or whenever you want your physique looking its absolute best. There are numerous diet and workout strategies used for carb loading in bodybuilding, but the common goal among all approaches is to create an environment of glycogen super-compensation in skeletal muscle. This state is achieved by depleting glycogen stores by high-repetition, long-duration workouts for days under carbohydrate restriction. Once carbohydrate depletion is achieved, the diet switches to short-term, high-carbohydrate intake, during which the body restore glycogen in muscle to a higher level than before depletion. From a performance standpoint super-compensation provides more glycogen for subsequent exercise bouts, but (important for bodybuilding) it also results an increase in muscle cell volume (cell volumisation). This boost in cell volume occurs because each molecule of glycogen takes four molecules of water into the cell, resulting in less subcutaneous (under the skin) water and fuller-looking muscles, which give the body a leaner/harder appearance.

Here is an example of carb-loading strategy: For 3-5 days, deplete muscle glycogen stores by decreasing your carbohydrate intake by 50% or more (replace calories by increasing your fat intake) and train using full-body, high-rep workouts. After glycogen depletion, double your original carb intake for the three days preceding your competition, photo shoot or special event. Since each individual responds differently to carb loading, you should experiment with this strategy in the off season to know exactly how many days you need to deplete/super-compensate glycogen and look and feel your best.

Carb Cycling
This is a relatively new strategy that aims at maintaining or building lean mass while losing body-fat, as it combines the ababolism-boosting benefits of carbohydrate ingestion and the fat-burning advantages of low-carbohydrate diets. In a quest to get lean, many nutrition plans are centered on low-carb strategies to force the use of body-fat as fuel. However, there are theories suggesting that staying on a low-carb-diet for extended periods can lead to a decline in leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that staves off hunger while simultaneously keeping your metabolic rate elevated. By going through alternating periods of low-carb and high-carb dieting, you can prevent drops in leptin levels, maintain hunger control and ensure your metabolism stays revved.

Carb cycling also provides a psychological advantage over strict low-carb diets. Knowing you will be able to eat carbs again in a few days makes getting through the low-carb days much more manageable. Another problem with strict low-carb diets is that they force you to limit fresh fruit and whole grains, two food sources that provide a number of health pulses like antioxidants and phytonutrients.

As you can see, carbs serve a major role in bodybuilding, from bulking up to the final touches in your contest preparation. The key to using them effectively is to have a basic understanding of how they affect the body based on ingestion timing, amount and impact on blood glucose.