The Anabolic Cycle By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com
Gaining muscle is a dynamic, complex process with the majority of what goes on happening behind the scenes. Most of us only really pay attention to the end result though—bigger and stronger muscles. But by understanding the systems and processes that drive the outcomes we want to achieve, we can dramatically improve our results. The first step to becoming aware of how muscles get bigger and stronger is understanding that muscle growth occurs in stages—stimulation and activation. Together, these stages comprise an anabolic cycle. The first stage is where all the behind the scenes stuff happens and the second stage is where we see the outcomes.
There are three components that impact muscle growth:
1) hormonal actions
Each of these elements must be properly addressed in order to achieve gains in muscle size and strength. These are behind the scenes activities that are part of the first (stimulation) stage. If any one of them is compromised muscle growth in stage 2 will be sacrificed. The first stage is highly fragile, with its effects being short-lived. Because this stage is so unstable, errors made here have the most impact. Consequently, this is also the primary area where many weightlifters make the most critical mistakes, failing to fully activate the stimulation stage. And if the stimulation stage is not fully activated, the desired results in the second stage of the anabolic cycle cannot be achieved.
Maintaining poor nutrition habits and improper exercise routines are among the most common anabolic cycle errors made by weightlifters. Failing to incorporate a sufficient amount of time for rest and recuperation is another very common mistake. Many bodybuilders put too much focus on volume (amount of weight) and intensity while ignoring rest and recuperation. As a result, they are diminishing their ability to fully activate stage one and therefore don't achieve the desired outcomes in stage 2. This occurs because the body enters a state of overtraining, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion and hormonal insufficiencies, both of which have a negative impact on muscle gains. Remember that proper hormonal function is absolutely essential to achieving stage 2 growth because hormones are the 'traffic cops' that direct the body's metabolic systems, which of course regulate muscle size and strength.
Now let's talk about how you can manipulate the anabolic cycle to your advantage and achieve bigger gains in size and strength. Here, there are two important things that you can do: strategically undereating and utilization of appropriate exercise strategies together comprise a very effective approach for influencing and maximizing the benefits of the anabolic cycle. This stimulates hormonal responses that activate muscle growth during stage 2. The release of Growth Hormone (GH)—which induces an increase of lean muscle mass and facilitates the use of body fat as a fuel source—is one of the hormonal responses triggered by this approach. Controlled undereating and proper exercise essentially provide much-needed stabilization to and lengthen stage 1 stimulation activities, ultimately resulting in enhanced muscle growth activities during the 2nd stage of the cycle.
Limiting the intake of carbs during the day is an excellent tactic to incorporate into this strategy because it minimizes insulin spikes, which are known to dampen stage 1 activity in the anabolic cycle. The best time for carb intake is right after a weight training session and as part of the evening meal. Increased carb intake during these times causes the insulin spikes to coincide with stage 2 of the anabolic cycle, boosting its impact. After an intense training session, a carb-induced insulin spike increases the uptake of vital nutrients into the muscle cells. Carb intake as part of the evening meal shifts the body's metabolic systems into an 'overeating' mode, facilitating the 2nd stage of the anabolic cycle—meaning bigger, stronger muscles.
There are a number of foods such as beans and nuts that can be incorporated into your stage 1 nutritional strategy to boost stage 2 results. Almonds in particular should be part of any bodybuilding diet. Besides being highly nutritious, almonds are a very potent anabolic-supporting food. Also, dairy products such as whey ricotta cheese derived from goat, sheep or buffalo milk are not only rich in muscle-building proteins, but also in branch chain amino acids, which contribute to an enhanced stage 2 in the anabolic cycle. Foods that are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils should also be on your anabolic cycle food shopping list. Omega-6 is a stage 1 preliminary growth stimulating agent and Omega-3 acts to enhance stage 2, while helping the body to recuperate and build muscle tissue.
Use these approaches and you can manipulate the anabolic cycle to your advantage and really achieve remarkable results.