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A number of bodybuilders have e-mailed me requesting the same thing: “Can you check out my pre-contest diet?” Time and again, their approach to dieting is the same: no carbs. A no-carb or very-low-carb plan can be effective — it almost always means fewer calories, so that’s a plus. It also means insulin, a potentially fat-storing hormone, is controlled. But it doesn’t guarantee a ripped fat-free physique. Getting ripped is about controlling calories while simultaneously keeping hormones in balance. That’s what this article is about — providing the guidelines for a hormonal profile that will keep your metabolic rate humming to burn bodyfat. Here’s the data on six main hormones you need to know about.
ACTION | Insulin encourages bodyfat storage, but it also helps create an anabolic environment for muscle growth.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Keep your insulin levels as low as possible during rest periods (when you’re inactive) and elevated after training.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | Low insulin levels at rest help burn fat as long as calories are controlled. Elevated levels around training time prevent muscle loss and support anabolism — muscle growth.
HOW YOU DO THIS | Keep carbs low most of the day — stress low-carb vegetables and lean protein sources, such as egg whites, fowl, fish, lean beef and protein powders. Before and after training, make sure you eat carbs along with proteins. A rule of thumb while dieting is to eat .2 grams (g) of carbs just prior to training and .3 g afterward per pound of bodyweight. For a 200-pound bodybuilder, that would be 40 g before and 60 g after training. This creates an anabolic state during times when the body is most open to shedding mass — during and after training.
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ACTION | Testosterone builds strength and size.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Keep testosterone levels elevated as much as possible. Dieting — in any form — tends to cause testosterone levels to fall.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | Lower testosterone levels downgrade your metabolic rate. One reason for this has to do with growth hormone (GH). In general, when testosterone levels decline, GH also begins to slide, and GH is a noted fat burner.
HOW YOU DO THIS | Here are two ways to boost testosterone while dieting. First, increase your intake of dietary fat two days out of the week, stressing beef as a protein source, as well as egg yolks and a small handful of nuts. Keep carbs under control. I believe an extremely low-fat diet is conducive to cutting up, but eating almost no fat for too long seems to lower testosterone levels. Tricking the body by adding some fat every few days can prevent declines in testosterone.
Second, radically boost your carb intake once a week to 3 g (or a bit more) per pound of bodyweight. Carbs increase insulin, and higher insulin levels can decrease sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG clings to testosterone in the blood and moves it around. It’s a major influence on how much testosterone ultimately reaches tissues. Increasing insulin sheds SHBG from testosterone. This “frees” testosterone, allowing it to get to tissues — including muscles — rather than it being stuck to SHBG and unable to stimulate maximal muscle growth. Stimulating growth upticks your metabolism and contributes to a leaner physique.
ACTION GH | supports fat burning. More important, it spares muscle loss.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Increase GHlevels.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | Saving muscle while dieting is key to maintaining your metabolic rate. Increasing GH can also speed fat loss.
HOW YOU DO THIS | You can boost GH through supplements. Training increases GH, as does sleep, and taking specific supplements before each can augment the natural spike of this hormone during these two times. Consuming 5-6 g of arginine before training not only raises GH, but it also increases blood flow to muscles. Taking 200-400 milligrams (mg) of Mucuna pruriens (MP) before training can help. MP is derived from velvet beans and contains L-dopa, an amino-acid derivative that has potent GH capabilities. You can repeat the process with 5-6 g of arginine and 200-400 mg of MP taken an hour before bed.
ACTION | Cortisol is a tricky hormone. It helps liberate and burn fat, but with too much of it, muscle is burned, resulting in a drop in metabolism.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Keep cortisol levels from spiraling out of control for prolonged periods of time.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | Excess cortisol for too long burns muscle rather than bodyfat. Preventing it from staying high for lengthy periods will help save muscle. Don’t forget: muscle drives the fat-burning metabolism.
HOW YOU DO THIS | Post training insulin spikes help temper cortisol levels. To keep it from ratcheting up, choose any two dieting days each week when carbs are low and make sure your post training carbs are fast-burning carbs, such as russet potatoes and white rice. Gatorade, fat-free Pop-Tarts and cookies, sugarcoated rice cakes and cold cereals spike insulin higher than other carbs. This drives down cortisol, protects your muscle mass and keeps your metabolism elevated. If you want to add a supplement, take 800 mg of phosphatidylserine, which may help keep cortisol from rising.
ACTION | Estrogen, the “female” hormone, is also found in men. Elevated estrogen levels makes fat loss more difficult.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Keep testosterone levels elevated and estrogen minimized.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | The testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in the body affects the way you look. Decreasing estrogen, increasing testosterone or a combination of the two actions can lead to a harder body, less bodyfat and less water retention.
HOW YOU DO THIS | Crunchy vegetables, specifically the cruciferous kind (including broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage), yield compounds called indoles. Scientists speculate that indoles lower the total amount of estrogen in the body by decreasing the production of estrogen or by interfering with estrogen absorption and uptake by tissues. While keeping carbs low, build your diet on a foundation of cruciferous vegetables. You can also supplement with the product 6-OXO to keep estrogen low and testosterone levels high.
ACTION | Thyroid hormone supports calorie burning and protein synthesis.
WHAT YOU WANT TO DO | Keep thyroid hormone levels from crashing. All diets result in a decline in thyroid hormones.
WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS | When thyroid levels fall, calorie burning falls as does protein synthesis — the rate at which the body takes amino acids from protein foods and deposits them into muscle tissue.
HOW YOU DO THIS | Abandon your diet once every 10 or 12 days. Prolonged dieting results in lower thyroid hormone levels. Eating 3 g of carbs per pound of bodyweight a day just once every 10 days or so can trick the body into believing the calorie restriction is over, thereby preventing severe drops in thyroid levels.
When you know how to manipulate your hormones, your dieting will be more effective. Learn the perils and the actions to take, so you’ll see better results. Don’t forget that long-term continuous strict dieting (low calorie, low carb and low fat) eventually sends your body a message of starvation instead of bodyfat reduction. Occasionally, take a break from dieting using the approaches I’ve described. Those and the other strategies discussed here will help you reduce bodyfat levels while protecting your muscle mass.