Do you want this future?
Or this one?
A few years ago I spent most of my time sitting in a chair with periodic breaks to the snack cabinet. If that sounds familiar, keep reading. Sedentary lifestyles and processed foods makes the first example above a much more likely outcome due to sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the result of a very simple equation: muscle protein synthesis (MPS) < muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Most people start this decline at age 40. The primary causes are lack of exercise and poor nutrition. There are two ways to tip the scales in favor of MPS: high intensity resistance exercise and five meals of the right kind and amount of protein.
Muscle & Protein
I've been on the losing side of this MPS-MPB battle recently. Last summer, I tried a low protein diet to follow instructions of an expert because I'm into trying new protocols to see if they work for me. The idea was that eating a lot of protein increases inflammation which leads to a host of ailments. About one month into eating no more than 30g of protein a day, I had seen my muscle waste away. I could see it in the mirror, on the scale, and in my exercise performance.
I've since learned that the concerns related to inflammation, disease, and longevity based on high protein consumption are unfounded due to generalities in diets. Most people studied who eat a lot of protein have bad habits that conflate the results. For people who just can't get healthy with anything else, it might work, but I was already pretty healthy, so it actually hurt me.
Recently, I've adopted what I'm suggesting here and I've not only increased my exercise performance and lost fat, but also have seen a reduction in my inflammation. How can I tell? I suffered a blood clot in my leg a few years ago and the swelling never went away. My swelling is now nearly gone, in a very short amount of time.
Why Five Meals?
It really is all about the protein. MPS can be maximized by consuming a balanced amino acid profile (mostly animal protein, but vegan protein CAN provide the mix), ensuring a minimum of 2g of leucine for the young, increasing with age. At nearly 40 years old, I make sure to get at least 3g of leucine at every meal.
Leucine, one of the nine essential amino acids, is the primary driver for MPS from protein. Eating enough of it in a single meal will initiate MPS and create more muscle. To be optimally effective, it is best to eat that leucine-packed meal every 3 hours. Doing the math, five such meals fit in 12 hours of eating.
One more thing about eating protein: make it high quality. Whether it is whey powder or animal flesh, consume the best quality protein you can reasonably afford. Grass-fed and grass-finished beef. Pastured chickens and eggs. You get the idea. (If not, I'll link some of the best options to get started with)
The Obligatory Fasting Response
First, I am incredibly bullish on fasting - I've been practicing it for years now. But, for folks who are not pre-diabetic or diabetic, this is more important. Muscle is also the key driver of metabolism, so if losing fat is the goal, muscle will speed things up. Fasting is muscle sparing, but building additional muscle is much harder with fewer meals. Keep doing long fasts periodically, but otherwise focus on building muscle.
Spend As Little Time Working Out As Possible
But, make it intense. Weights and bodyweight both work. There are just three keys to building muscle and strength: eccentric load, time under tension, and intensity.
Eccentric load is the negative part of the movement. Lowering a bicep curl. The down part of a pushup. It will likely make you more sore, so leave plenty of time between workouts for that muscle group if you need it.
Time under tension is how long the muscle has to work. For pullups, I do this by both coming back down slowly and trying to hold the last rep at the top for as long as I can. The same basic principles work for just about any movement.
Intensity is necessary both in each individual rep and the workout as a whole. Execute the concentric part of the movement (opposite the eccentric) as quickly and with as much effort as possible. Throughout your routine, don't rest for too long - maximum of 3 minutes between sets. This allows just enough juice to get enough quality reps in. Being a gym rat is not the goal. Get in, get out.
Here's best how to get started:
- Get a scale to measure your food
- Breakfast: Protein cereal & protein powder
- Whey protein contains about 10% leucine
- Meal 2-5: One (or a combination) of these: eggs, any cuts of chicken, beef, pork
- Rule of thumb: 30g of meat contains ~3g of leucine
- Note: the breakfast is designed to be more processed because after sleep insulin sensitivity is highest so it is the best time to have something that might otherwise spike glucose and insulin. If you don't like cereal and/or protein powder, find a substitute.
- Find high sources of leucine here.
- Optimally, work each muscle group twice a week
- Most efficient plan is to do super sets of opposing muscle groups
- My favorite workout is pullups combined with pushups, one set of each then rest about 3 minutes, repeat
- For example
- Sunday & Thursday
- Chest & Back
- Monday & Friday
- Legs & Shoulders
- Tuesday & Saturday
- Abs (if you must)
- Eat a leucine packed meal right after workouts to get an extra boost of MPS
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