BCAA, The Best Supplements for Muscle Recovery (updated July 2019)

The Best Supplement for Muscle Recovery-Bcaas

Introduction BCAA

The premise of bodybuilding is, essentially, “building your body,” or tearing the muscle fibers so that they can reform into bigger, more exaggerated muscles. Recovery from this hard style of training is paramount for significant amounts of muscular growth, but even if you’re eating according to your goals, warming up before a workout and stretching afterward, and getting enough sleep, your muscles still may not be receiving the proper amount of recovery they need. This lack of recovery can actually hinder your progress — and really, who wants to train sore muscles anyway. In comes branched chain amino acids, or BCAA. Branched-chain amino acids are the three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine that are found in animal proteins, and are readily used during ATP energy production (especially during periods of high intensity, such as weight training). These three amino acids are categorized as “essential” amino acids because the body cannot make them itself and instead requires them through food intake.

Branched chain amino acids can be used for both muscle recovery post-workout and for muscle conservation and increased energy production during a workout. Both processes are essential for full muscular growth and repair.

Branched Chain Amino Acid
Branched Chain Amino Acid

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Image @ www.organicpowerfoods.com

As I mentioned earlier, BCAAs aid in ATP energy production. This influx of free branched chain amino acids can be broken down even further into glucose (through gluconeogenesis), pyruvate, which aids in other ATP energy cycles, or other intermediates that the muscles can use for sustained energy. And because these free BCAAs do not first need to be broken down, they can supply your hungry muscles more quickly than an intra-workout carbohydrate or protein fix. In fact, an influx of BCAAs to the muscles during a workout can actually increase the number of available carbohydrates because of their conversion to glucose, which can help to prevent the decay of muscle tissue for energy.

(Once the body’s glycogen or conserved carbohydrate-based, energy stores are depleted, the muscles will start to catabolize the muscle tissue for energy. However, if BCAAs are supplemented during a workout, then this protein catabolism can be prevented!)

So yes, branched chain amino acids are essential for energy during exercise. But what about for muscle recovery? What can branched-chain amino acids do then?

Benefits of BCAA

For post-exercise, the same principles apply. Firstly, BCAA supplementation can help to speed up the process of muscle recovery because of the influx of free essential amino acids. Because these amino acids do not first need to be broken down from food, which can take the body hours depending on both the quantity of proteins and what else was eaten — typically, the body breaks down foods in order of fats, proteins, and then carbohydrates, so the BCAAs would take a while to reach the muscles — they can quickly be shuttled off to the muscles that are trying to repair themselves after an exceptionally grueling workout. This is why your muscles feel particularly sore after training, but let up after about a day or so: they have the help of branched-chain amino acids in their recovery!

In addition, the body needs to quickly refill its glycogen stores and cannot do so without a quick fix of carbohydrates — many sports athletes will supplement with white carbohydrates, such as cereals and rice. BCAAs work just as well, if not better, especially over a long period of time, because of the amino acids’ ability to be converted into glucose when needed or to remain as proteins to aid the muscles in their fight to recovery.

Branched-chain amino acids are also proven to improve protein synthesis over an extended period of time, which helps to contribute to overall muscle recovery. Since muscular growth is simply the reforming of torn muscle fibers, which are entirely made up of proteins, this improvement of protein synthesis through consistent ingestion of BCAAs can aid in overall muscle recovery. BCAAs have also been proven, through a study performed by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, to:

  1. Decrease reductions in muscle function, therefore improving performance over an
    extended period of time.
  2. Improve the body’s creatine kinase cycle, which also aids in the rapid regeneration of
    ATP during exercise.
  3. Increased plasma levels of creatine itself.
  4. Decrease DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which occurs as the muscle tries
    to repair itself in the immediate days post-workout.
BCAA
BCAA

Branched-chain amino acids are one of the more paramount supplements that can aid in muscle recovery — and, as a double feature, also aids in improving muscle function during exercise. Not only can BCAAs increase the amount of glucose supplied to the muscle during a workout, but they can also be used to decrease onset muscle soreness, decrease muscular fatigue, and prevent muscular damage (Larsen, 2016)!

BCAAs can be found at most sports supplement stores in a variety of flavors (including flavorless, if that’s your style). The only essential element when purchasing a BCAA supplement is that they contain ample amounts of all three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Without a hefty amount of each, the supplement cannot do much in terms of muscle recovery. But with all three, it’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

The Best Protein Sources (updated July 2019)

What’s the Hype About Protein?

image @ www.img.webmd.com

In short, protein helps build muscles. Muscle fibers are made of protein, so incorporating more protein into the diet is essential. Typically, the amount of protein needed ranges from 0.8 – 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Obviously, men need more and women need less. However, the amount needed is also based on an individual’s goals. If you’re looking to significantly increase muscle mass, then you should ingest more protein than someone looking to maintain their muscle mass.

However, protein is also one of those macronutrients that should stay relatively consistent. If your protein intake drops too low, the body does not have enough amino acids to efficiently maintain your current muscle mass. If this happens, no matter how efficiently you are training, your muscle size will decrease. So no matter what, make sure you’re getting in an adequate amount of protein.

Some Restrictions

Now, how you get this protein varies due to a few circumstances:

  1. Dietary Restrictions. If you’re allergic to fish, for example, you’re not getting your protein from tilapia.
  2. Taste Preference. If you don’t like tilapia, then don’t eat tilapia. No one is forcing you to eat something you dislike for the sake of muscular growth!
  3. Monetary Restrictions. Some people can afford nicer whole protein sources than others, and that’s just the cold hard truth. If you can only afford chicken breast and tilapia and maybe some steak when it’s on sale, then do that. No one protein source is better than the other in vitro.
  4. Seasonal Restrictions. Maybe you’re a seasonal shopper, and your favorite fishes aren’t currently in season. It’s okay, there’s always alternates!
  5. Locational Restrictions. Some areas have some food that others don’t, and that’s just how things are. If you love a food but it’s not in your area, then don’t sweat about it. Get it when you can, don’t get it when you can’t. Besides, it’ll be a lot more special when you finally get it again, anyway!

The Best of Each Protein

There are several different types of protein, but I’m going to touch upon the ones that are most common. Namely, these protein sources are: chicken, some fish, pork, steak, and dairy products.

Although, don’t be fooled. These options are not the only way to get your daily protein intake. In fact, if you’re vegetarian you can’t have a majority of these things, and if you’re vegan you can’t have any. These are simply the protein sources that get you the best bang for your buck. However, whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans, and meat substitutes also contain a decent amount of protein per serving. They simply do not contain as much as meat sources.

For the best bet, eat some meat for protein. If not, protein powder and bread is a great alternative to get in your daily required allotment.

1. Chicken

Chicken is the universal staple protein source of most bodybuilders. It’s easy to cook, it’s chock full of protein, and most cuts are relatively lean. Here’s a rundown of each variation of chicken you can get:

image @ www.images.wisegeek.com
  • Breast — The staple beyond staples. Per ounce, chicken breast contains 40 calories, 0.3g of fat, and 8.5g of protein.
  • Thigh — Chicken thigh is a much fattier piece of meat than chicken breast. Per ounce, chicken thigh contains 60 calories, 3.1g of fat, and 7.5g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Wing — The king of all kings at bars and SuperBowl parties, but not necessarily for muscle gain. Per ounce, chicken wings contains 63 calories, 4.5g of fat, and 5.2g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Obviously, you get the most protein with chicken breast. However, if your diet allows you to have more fat per day, then sure, have a thigh or wing. You just need more for the same amount of protein as a breast.

2. Pork

Pork is still a relatively lean cut of meat, just not as lean as chicken breast. Pork can also come in various forms, some more common than others. Here’s a rundown of each variation of pork you can get:

image @ www.irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com
  • Pork Chops — The classic cut of pork is the pork chop. Per ounce, a pork chop contains 53 calories, 3g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Pork Tenderloin — A good thing to remember is that any cut of meat with “loin” in the name indicates a leaner cut of meat. Per ounce, pork tenderloin contains 40 calories, 1.5g of fat, and 5.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Pork Ribs — The closer you get to the bone, the fattier the meat. This holds true for pork chops and pork ribs. If you want something leaner, try center cut. However, one ounce of pork ribs contains 45 calories, 3.3g of fat, and 3.2g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Again, the closer you get to bone the fattier the meat. Therefore, if you are looking for lean cuts of pork, try center cut pork chops or tenderloin. If you’re tailgating, then try the ribs.

3. Beef

Beef has the reputation of being bad for you, and there’s a good reason behind it. Beef is the fattiest cut of meat that you can buy. There are leaner types of steak, yes, but it’s relatively fatty as compared to other protein sources. Here’s a rundown of each type of beef that you can get:

  • Steak — Steak is one
    image @ www.i.hurimg.com

    of the more popular beef choices. Per ounce, steak contains 55 calories, 3.3g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

  • Chuck (80/20) — Ground chuck (80/20) is probably the most popular choice when making hamburgers. The fat to meat ratio is pretty spot on for burgers, but not so much for meeting your lean protein quota. Per ounce, ground chuck contains 70 calories, 4g of fat, and 7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Lean Ground Beef (96/4) — Lean ground beef is probably the best choice when trying for lean beef sources. It makes slightly subpar burgers as compared to the 80/20 cut, but it’s much better for your waistline. Per ounce, 96/4 ground beef contains 35 calories, 1g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Beef is one of those cuts of meat that can be great or deadly to your fat intake, depending on which you purchase. Always look for “lean” in the label and trim the excess fat to make sure you’re getting as much protein with as little fat as possible!

4. Fish

Fish is very versatile. White fishes, such as tilapia, are much leaner fishes, while salmon and tuna are known to be a bit fattier. Here’s a rundown of the more popular types of fish that you can purchase:

image @ www.us.123rf.com
  • Tilapia — Tilapia is relatively cost effective and lean, and can be purchases fresh or frozen. Per ounce, tilapia contains 27 calories, 0.5g of fat, and 5.7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Salmon — Another relatively popular fish choice is salmon. Even though it’s a little fattier, salmon contains Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, both of which are essential to the diet! Per ounce, salmon contains 50 calories, 2.1g of fat, and 6.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Tuna — Whether in steak or sushi form, tuna is delicious and good for you, too! Per ounce, tuna contains 35 calories, 0.9g of fat, and 6.3g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Shrimp — Shrimp is lean and you get so much per serving. Generally speaking, you get up to six little shrimp per ounce. Also per ounce, shrimp contains 40 calories, 0.7g of fat, and 7.7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Cod — Cod is a less popular white fish than tilapia, but is still beneficial to your diet. Per ounce, cod contains 30 calories, 0.9g of fat, and 4.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

The Takeaway

When choosing proteins, you need to pick your battles. Some choices are better than others in terms of protein content, some contain more fat, and some you may not like. Really, the choice is yours. However, leaner cuts of meat generally contain more protein per ounce than fattier protein sources. So if more protein is your thing, opt for chicken breast, white fish, or pork tenderloins. You’ll get the most bang for your protein buck!

Squatting in Action: High Bar vs. Low Bar (updated July 2019)

squat-low

If you’ve ever heard a powerlifter speak, they will undoubtedly talk about their low bar squat. Conversely, if you’ve ever heard a weightlifter or a commoner in the gym talk about their squat, they’ll probably mention about how their traps are red and sore from the bar. While there isn’t a slew of differences between the two — high bar and low bar squatting — there is still large amounts of controversy between the two. But really, there shouldn’t be.

What’s a High Bar Squat?

A high bar squat is pretty self-explanatory: the bar is high while you’re squatting. It rests at the top of your shoulder blades, right underneath your traps (or the little peaks where your neck swoops down on your shoulders). Typically, high bar squats are performed by average gym goers and weightlifters. They’re also the most common squat type.

What’s Low Bar Squatting?

Again, the premise of a low bar squat is simple: the bar is physically lower down the back, about 2-3 inches. This placement requires more support from the hands, wrists, and forearms when completing the movement. It also means that the lifter needs to lean a little more forward during the squat because the weight he’s bearing is a little further down his back. But since he also gets a little more stability from resting the bar on the top of his lats instead of his traps, he can also move more weight. Not significantly more than a high bar squatter, only about 5-10% of the total weight, but enough. It’s why powerlifters tend to low bar squat for competitions and meets: since the goal of a powerlifting meet is to move the most weight, it makes sense to utilize the squat variation that will allow them to physically move more weight.

Okay, but what’s the difference?

Really, the main difference between a low and a high bar squat is the placement of the bar. The muscles — mostly the quads, which help control the knees and hip flexors — are being recruited the same amount for both low and high bar squats because the mechanics stay the same. The other difference is how much the knees track forward versus how hard the hip flexors need to work. In a high bar squat, the knees tend to move farther forward because of: 1) the higher weight placement, and 2) because your torso has a physically longer distance to travel (the difference between the bar placement in a high and low bar squat). This knee trekking does not apply as much in a low bar squat, which is another reason why low bar squatters can move about 5-10% more weight. They physically have less distance to travel with the bar in proportion to their core. Simply, it becomes more mechanically efficient to squat low bar that high bar. But again, not by much.Squatting

 

Should I change my squat form?

Squatting
Squatting

If you’re already squatting low bar, then keep at it. If you’re squatting high bar, then keep at it. The only time you should really consider changing your squat form is if you’re either bored with your routine and you want to switch it up a little bit, or you want to shift from weightlifting to powerlifting. Really, the only time switching squat form becomes applicable is when you’re competing to be the absolute strongest in the room — why not increase your squat by 5-10% if you have the option to? Just make sure you’re getting good pointers from a coach and practicing often before jumping right into the heavier weights.

(image @ www.ruggedfellowsguide.com)

Other than those two reasons, there is no real mechanical difference why any average Joe should change their squat form. The mechanical superiority of the low bar squat is slight compared to the high bar squat, and if you’re squatting with good form then it shouldn’t matter too much, anyway. In fact, the muscles can’t even feel the weight you’re using, whether it’s 25lbs. or 250lbs. All they feel is the tension of a lifter performing the exercise. So, really, unless you’re competing for the highest numbers, making sure your form is flawless and the tension is kept on the muscle is enough for significant change.

Do the muscles being recruited change per squat form?

This is a valid question. Surprisingly — and though it’s rumored that the low bar squat focuses more on the hamstrings than the high bar squat — the muscles that are being recruited do not change per squat form. In fact, the hamstrings aren’t really utilized at all during the squat. Or, not as much as people put emphasis on. The “squat booty” is a myth, I’m sorry to say. They’re only a secondary muscle to the quadriceps, who need to control both the forward extension of the knee and the flexion of the hip. There isn’t even a huge difference in hamstring activation between front and back squats, so the difference between high and low bar squats is even more insignificant (Nuckols, 2014).

So there’s no reason to change my routine?

In actuality, there is no large difference between low and high bar squatting except for the placement of the bar. That’s really all there is to it. The mechanical advantages of a low bar squat are so insignificant that it’s not even worth switching unless it’s something you’re completely passionate about. Instead, just keep working on your squat, whatever form it may be — your muscles don’t know the difference.

Fasted Cardio (updated July 2019)

What is Fasted Cardio?

image @ www.drinkcocopro.com

More than likely, you’ve heard of someone performing fasted cardio. Simply put, fasted cardio is performing cardiovascular exercise without eating first. Studies show that this type of morning cardio burns up to 20% more fat than performing cardio after eating. Because of this, fasted cardio is considered the king of cardiovascular exercises. Especially among gym newbies.

Why Does it Burn so Much Fat?

Under normal circumstances, the body requires ATP energy from stored muscle glycogen to perform work. This fuel is taken from dietary carbohydrate — i.e, that cereal you had for breakfast and that sandwich you had for lunch. Those carbohydrates are then broken down into molecules and stored within the muscles. When needed, this muscle glycogen is utilized to perform work.

So what happens when there’s no muscle glycogen to support this work? The body goes to its next available energy source: fat. Especially since fat is normally recruited for aerobic exercise. This is due to the body’s reliance on oxidative phosphorylation. Oxidative phosphorylation produces the most amount of energy per capita — 36ATP, to be exact — and is the most reliant energy source.

So the body’s dependency on fat not only produces the most energy, but also takes stored body fat. So it’s basically a win-win. (source linked here.)

The Benefits of Fasted Cardio

Fasted cardio has many benefits. Most of them revolve around fat loss, especially stubborn fat loss, but that’s not really a bad thing.

Here are a few benefits to fasted cardio:

image @ www.bodybuilding.com
  1. Higher fat burn. This was already discussed, but it doesn’t hurt to bring it up again. Performing cardiovascular exercise while in a fasted state increases fat utilization, which increases fat loss.
  2. Target stubborn fat. For women, trouble areas are the thighs and hips; for men, it’s the lower back and lower abdomen. Sound familiar? Because the body needs a large amount of energy in order to perform work, it’s going to take from the largest stores. Good news for you, it’s normally the stubborn areas that have the most fat. So, logically speaking, the body’s going to take from there. Another win-win for fasted cardio!
  3. It pairs well with caffeine. Caffeine naturally releases fatty acids from their stores and releases them into the bloodstream. Fasted cardio utilizes fat for energy. Having an influx of readily available fatty acids makes it easier for the body to utilize them as fuel. It also makes it easier for you to lose fat. So skip the breakfast before cardio, but not the coffee.

The Negatives of Fasted Cardio

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to fasted cardio. The positives outweigh the negatives, but the negatives still exist. Here are some arguments against fasted cardio.

image @ www.bodybuilding.com
  1. It’s not the key factor in fat loss. Even though fasted cardio burns 20% more calories than other forms of cardio, it’s not the key player in fat loss. Diet is the number one factor in fat loss. Specifically, you need to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. For example, if you burn 300 calories during your morning cardio but eat an excess of 500 calories throughout the day, you’re still over your daily caloric intake. No matter how much cardio you perform, overeating is overeating. Therefore, fasted cardio should supplement a well-rounded diet, not replace one.
  2. It can result in muscle loss. This is undeniably the weaker argument of the two, but it’s still a possibility. If performing too intense of work with too little energy stores, the body will then utilize muscle for energy. However, fasted cardio should be performed at a moderate intensity at most, so this is not a large issue. If you’re concerned about muscle loss, however, then take a scoop of branched chain amino acids or protein powder before your cardio session. It will count toward your daily caloric intake, yes, but will not stop fat utilization.(source linked here.)

The General Takeaway

So you want to begin fasted cardio. That’s great! Just remember that it is a supplement to fat loss, not the total solution. Even though fasted cardio burns up to 20% more fat than cardio after eating, it’s not the number one solution. First and foremost, caloric intake is the key to fat loss. Secondly, a good cardio regimen.

However, there are more benefits to fasted cardio than negatives. So if you’re someone who needs to get up and get their workout in, no sweat. Just drink some coffee or pre-workout and hit that treadmill.

ZMA Review 2018 -Benefits & Side Effects (Updated July 2019)

How and Why of ZMA

What is ZMA?

ZMA is a supplement composed of zinc, magnesium, and aspartate. It also contains some amounts of Vitamin B6. When taken in the correct dosages, ZMA is mainly used as a sleep aid. In addition, it has also been linked to increasing zinc and magnesium levels in deficient peoples.

However, the product is mainly known in the fitness community as increasing testosterone levels in men. This is due to zinc and magnesium’s link to increase testosterone in both men and women in vitro. (However, most studies have only tested men.) However, studies show that ZMA only has a significant impact on testosterone levels that are already low. If your testosterone levels are healthy, chances are ZMA will not help. (source linked here.)

The Main Functions

Primarily, ZMA is used as a sleep aid. This is because of zinc and magnesium’s part in:

  • increased immune function
  • hormone regulation
  • normalizing sleep patterns
  • normalizing protein synthesis
  • reduced fatigue
  • protection from oxidative stress
  • improved exercise recovery

However, women are normally tentative to supplement with this supplement because of its link to increasing testosterone. While ZMA does increase testosterone in unhealthy males, its impact is too insignificant to really impact females.

In fact, everyone should be supplementing with ZMA, especially if they are: heavily active, have trouble sleeping, or are deficient in zinc, magnesium, or Vitamin B6. (However, these minerals and vitamins can also be supplemented individually. Ask your health care provider which is the better option for you!) But if you are heavily active, then ZMA will do more than increase zinc levels. It also helps with protein synthesis by promoting healthy sleep. Over time, this helps to increase muscle growth. It also protects the muscles and organ systems from oxidative stress, which have been linked to decreasing muscle density. Preventing this also helps muscle growth. So basically, supplementing with this supplement is another surefire way to make some gains. (source linked here.)

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How and When to Take ZMA

This supplement is taken as similarly as other supplements. For best results, take ZMA on an empty stomach. This will ensure maximum absorption because the body can immediately digest the ZMA. For even better results, do not supplement ZMA with additional zinc, magnesium, or copper. An overdose of any one of these minerals can be toxic to the body, even when naturally deficient in one or all of them. So stick to either additional supplements or ZMA. Or ask your doctor. Or both.

  • Women and ZMA

There is a stigma among women and increasing testosterone levels. The media has it that women with “too much testosterone” will become “bulky and manly”. This, however, is simply not the case. Women straying away from ZMA, for this reason, is also ludicrous because ZMA is only linked to increase testosterone in males who are deficient; no tests have been run on females. Besides, the benefits of This supplement should outweigh the overrun possibility of slightly increased testosterone levels.

  • Women and Testosterone
image @ www.s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

Against popular belief, women contain some testosterone in vitro. Men also contain some estrogen (but no one ever really talks about that). However, testosterone is imperative to proper hormonal regulation, bodily processes, and everyday living. It’s simply the ratios of testosterone per gender that vary, not the hormone. For women who are looking to gain significant muscle mass, regulating their testosterone levels is even more important because it’s linked to muscle growth.

Testosterone is a hormone that is naturally produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. For men, it’s naturally produced in the testes and adrenal glands. On average, women only produce about 0.5-2.5 nmol/L. Comparatively, men produce approximately 9-38 nmol/L on average, depending on the man’s size. Physically, women cannot handle much more than 3 nmol/L of testosterone. Even with additional supplementation, the female body will eventually cap out.

In fact, women have to be physically ill to handle significantly high testosterone levels. Most notably, high testosterone levels in women have been linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (POS). However, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is also linked to increased hair loss or growth, weight gain, acne, and/or menstrual problems, as well as increased testosterone levels. So, more than likely, you would know if your testosterone levels were becoming a problem.

Testosterone is an important hormone in women. Not only does it support muscle growth, but it also:

  • fuels sex drive
  • increases muscle density
  • increases bone density
  • aids in metabolism regulation
  • has some anti-aging effects

So the hormone you’ve been fearing this whole time can actually be the key component to most Cosmopolitan ads. Testosterone can help women to look younger and boost their metabolism, without deepening their voice or increasing chest hair production. Testosterone is wonderful! (source linked here.)

  • Is ZMA Safe for Women?
image @ www.media1.popsugar-assets.com

The short answer is yes. ZMA should be taken by both men and women, especially if heavily active. As mentioned, ZMA has such beneficial effects that not including it in your daily regimen is more harmful than straying away.

Zinc and magnesium additions to the diet will not spike testosterone levels in healthy women. Or, if they do, it’s not insignificant enough amounts. Instead, adding ZMA will add to the many benefits of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 I’ve listed above. Why not bask in the benefits of improved sleep quality and hormonal levels? Or improved exercise recovery? Decreased fatigue? How about increased oxidative function?

Who Should Take ZMA?

In short, everyone should take ZMA. The benefits are too numerous to count, and it will definitely help more than it will hurt. So what’re you waiting for?

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How to Improve Your Big Lifts (updated July 2019)

What Are the “Big Lifts”?

The Big Four

image @ www.birthorderplus.com

The “big four lifts” refer to compound movements. These exercises are generally accepted to be the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press (OHP) because they recruit the most muscle groups. While other lifts are also considered compound movements, they do not recruit as many muscle groups as the big four. Other forms of compound movements include exercises such as: lateral pulldowns, barbell rows, push-ups, etc.

Typically, weight lifters will utilize these four main lifts the most. They can improve multiple muscle groups at one time while also improving the lift overall. In addition, working one main four exercise can help to improve some others. For example, training your deadlift helps to improve your squat. This occurs because the hamstrings are recruited in both scenarios. Likewise, perfecting your bench improves your overhead press because both develop the anterior deltoid.

How do I Pick Which to Do?

Really, anyone can train the big four lifts. In fact, performing a compound movement is actually more beneficial for fat burn than isolation movements. This is because the metabolism speeds up with greater muscle density; muscle burns more calories per day than fat does. Compound movements activate more muscle groups, which, in turn, increases muscle density. You’ll become a fat burning machine!

However, a word of caution before embarking on the big four lifts. These lifts are compound and powerful for a reason. It is imperative to nail the form for each one before increasing weight. Having improper form for any exercise can result in serious injury. This warning increases tenfold with compound lifts, however, because of how much more demanding they are. Ask a friend or colleague to demonstrate the proper form for you before beginning! After that, you’re home free.

How to Increase the Big Four Lifts

image @ www.images.shape.mdpcdn.com

So you wanna train hard and lift heavy, huh? Good for you! Big lifting is not only more beneficial to the metabolism and the body’s muscle density, but they’re also lots of fun. Who doesn’t like throwing around some heavy weights in the gym every now and again?

There are a few key ways to improving your big four lifts, whether you’re primarily training the lower or upper body exercises. They include:

1. Proper Programming

It goes without saying, but having a solid program in place is the most beneficial way to increase your big four lifts. Proper programming refers to something either you or a paid coach has written (or a fitness friend, who knows?). This program generally lasts over the span of about six to eight weeks. This time frame gives the trainee (i.e, you) ample amount of time to work upon and improve his lifts.

Your programming should also reflect future strength gains. If your program only has you increasing your big lifts by five pounds every few weeks, then it’s not a solid program. With proper guidance, you should be increasing by either one repetition or five pounds every time you perform the exercise.

Now, there can be outside factors that affect these numbers. But generally speaking, you should be increasing by either five pounds or one rep each week. You should also not perform the exercise for strength — or high weight with a rep scheme of 4-6 repetitions — more than once a week. The same holds true for power training, or repetition sets of 1-3 reps.

2. Proper Recovery

Whether in-between sets or in-between days, you need to give your body the recovery it deserves. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • foam rolling / myofascial release
  • trigger therapy
  • massages (regular or deep tissue)
  • sleep
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • ice baths, hot tubs, and/or saunas
image @ www.rocktape.com

Any one of these recovery practices emphasize releasing the tension from the muscle. This reduces the stress placed on it and allows it to fully heal. And since muscle growth is the healing of muscle tissue, recovery becomes just as important as exercising.

In addition, program your training days well enough so that there are no conflicts with muscle groups. For example, do not train lower body two days in a row, or even over the course of three days. While performing heavy lifts, the muscles are under greater stress than isolation movements. Therefore, they need greater time for recovery in between training days. Aim for three or more days in between big lifts. This time frame gives your muscles ample time to recover before being fired again.

3. Accessory / Isolation Work

What good is an underdeveloped muscle group? If the muscle is underdeveloped, it cannot function properly. Likewise, if one muscle group is lagging another will compensate for it. This puts unnecessary pressure on the developed muscle, while the underdeveloped muscle does no work. In the end, both are injured and your lifts suffer.

The answer to this dilemma is accessory work. Accessory and/or isolation work is directly targeting the muscle. This forces that one particular muscle under constant stress, instead of being integrated with other muscles in a compound lift. For lagging muscles, this tunes them up without overdeveloping surrounding muscles. You can also directly target supporting muscles to the big four lifts, which will help increase them in the long run.

4. Hypertrophy Days

Hypertrophy refers to increasing the size of the muscle tissue. Hypertrophy lifts follow a repetition scheme of 8-10 reps per set. This repetition range adds just enough stress to tear the muscle while also making sure the weight can be heavier than lighter load days.

Hypertrophy days should be very similar to strength days in terms of exercise choice. However, the weight and repetitions change to support muscle growth instead of strength growth. This will not only help you to practice your form, but will also help develop all the working muscles of that exercise.

Hypertrophy days should be about three days or more apart from strength days. Or, they should change week by week: one week train for strength, one for hypertrophy. This latter tactic will take longer for strength development, but can still help to improve the lift.

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So if the big four compound lifts are in your future, remember these key points. Nothing will increase your strength better than proper programming, isolation work, hypertrophy work, and proper rest and recovery!

Creatine Supplements: The Hows and Whys (Updated July 2019)

Creatine Supplements

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a chemical that is naturally produced by the body. For short bursts of bodily stresses, such as exercise, the ATP-PCr Pathway is recruited. In this case, “PCr” stands for phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). More specifically, the ingredient is released to help aid cellular function. The more creatine available to the muscles, the more can be released to adapt to stressors.

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How to Take Creatine

Food and Supplements

The ingredient can be found in some foods, such as eggs, meat, and fish. However, the amount in these foods is not normally enough to make significant differences in our energy pathways. Instead, ingredient can be supplemented into the diet in either powder or pill form.

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There are also several different types of it available, but the cheapest and most abundant is creatine monohydrate. Creatine Monohydrate is normally sold in powder form and is mixed with water.

 

The body already makes enough for the average person, so quickly doubling that amount can lead to bloating, diarrhea, or nausea. Instead, a loading phase is necessary. When first adding a creatine supplement to your diet, start with 0.3g/kg of body weight for 5-7 days. Then, slowly increase by 0.03g/kg per day for about three weeks. The prescribed amount is typically 5-10g per day, depending on your size.

The only difference for the amount of creatine to take depends on your gender. Because males typically hold more muscle mass than females, they can ingest closer to 10g per day. Women, on the other hand, stay closer to 5g per day.

But be Warned!

It should also be taken with ample amounts of water. Creatine monohydrate is generally ingested by dissolving in water (don’t straight shoot it), but drinking enough water throughout the day is also imperative. Without, stomach cramping and bloating can occur.

If you take too much at one time, then diarrhea and nausea may occur. If this happens, spread out your 5-10g over the course of the whole day. The benefits will still occur, just without the nasty side effects.

Creatine Benefits

There are plenty of benefits to taking creatine daily. These benefits also apply to both men and women and can happen while taking 5g, 10g, or any amount in between per day.

  1. Increase Muscle Creatine Content — This one is self-explanatory. As you take in more creatine, your muscles are capable of holding more creatine.
  2. Increase Power Output — Because the ATP-PCR Pathway is recruited for power movements, increasing the muscle’s creatine load will also increase its power output. This is most handy for “fight or flight” movements initiated by the sympathetic nervous system, or for intense exercise (sprinting, powerlifting, etc.)
  3. Increase Weight — This is mainly from water retention. However, overall weight can increase as muscle density and strength increase. It is also linked to an increase in lean body mass. However, more studies show a weight gain due to water retention than lean mass.

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  4. Increase Hydration — When you start to ingest more creatine monohydrate, you need to drink more water. By doing this, your daily water consumption will increase, and you will become more hydrated. Huzzah!
  5. Increase Anaerobic Capacity & VO2 Max — Daily ingestion has been linked to minor increases in anaerobic capacity. The ATP-PCr Pathway is utilized without the aid of oxygen, so strengthening this system will help increase anaerobic capacity in most athletes. Increased creatine will also lead to more oxygen that can be taken up by the muscle. This leads to increased muscular capacity, which is beneficial for intense exercise.
  6. Decrease Fatigue / Increase Muscular Endurance — It is linked to increased energy production in muscle cells. With an increase in creatine phosphate in the body, the muscles will have an increased energy store. Thus, the muscles are capable of completing more work and the time to fatigue increases.
  7. Decrease Muscular Damage — As the muscles increase anaerobic capacity, they also become more capable of doing work. They become more efficient, thus decreasing their chances of injury.
  8. Increase Testosterone — Muscles require testosterone to grow and function. An increase in muscular capacity will increase serum testosterone in the body.
  9.  Increase Glycogen Resynthesis — Glycogen Resynthesis is the time required by the muscles to replenish glycogen stores. By increasing your daily intake, your muscles become more efficient at replenishing their glycogen stores. This makes them fatigue more slowly and increases their capacity for work.

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In all, it is a powerful and highly beneficial supplement to add to your daily regimen. Creatine monohydrate is one of the most cost-effective supplements available to date and has more than enough benefits to make up the price. However, remember to slowly increase your intake and to drink plenty of fluids while supplementing with it . Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing!

Best Supplements for Fat Loss (Updated July 2019)

Best Supplements for Fat Loss

Best Supplements for Fat Loss

When trying to lose weight, there is always the debate of supplements. Mostly, are they needed, how much, and what types are best. However, supplements are not the king of fat loss. This notion goes against a lot of popular opinions. In fact, supplements are never wholly needed. They are there to supplement the diet, not the other way around.

 

Fat loss is the simple equation of calories in versus calories out. Or, in other words, how many calories you burn in one day versus how many you consume. So let’s say that your daily intake is around 1,700 calories. This is how much it takes to maintain your current physique. If you eat less than 1,700kcal. that day, say 1,500, you are in a 200kcal. deficit. Over a period of time, that can add up to 1,000kcal. in a week, and 4,000kcal. in a month. Overall, you’d lose approximately 1lbs. of body fat per month, since one pound of body fat is 3,500kcal.

Now, let’s say that you ate an extra 200kcal. per day instead. Over time, you would be in a surplus of 1,000kcal. per day and 4,000kcal. per month. So overall, you’d gain approximately 1lbs. of body fat per month.

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Fat loss or gain can be done without the aid of supplements. Can supplements help? Of course. There are certain supplements that aid in metabolism and fat store utilization. They are not, however, essential to losing overall body fat. That simply comes from a negative caloric intake over a long period of time.

Disclaimer!

Let’s not be rash about this caloric deficit, though. Cutting your calories by 500kcal. or more per day takes a huge toll on the body. Every day the body is dependent on the amount of food you eat. If your body maintains around a certain number of calories, then drastically cutting this energy intake slows your essential bodily systems.

The body, after a few days or weeks of this deficit, will go into Starvation Mode. This attitude is the shutting down of any bodily system that does not have the direct purpose of keeping you alive. Some processes that are affected are:

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  1. Blood circulation slows
  2. Body temperature decreases
  3. Sex drive decreases
  4. Sex hormone production stalls
  5. The decrease in bone growth and density
  6. Slowed digestion/metabolism
  7. Drying skin
  8. Hair thinning
  9. Disrupted sleep

Make sure that when utilizing a caloric deficit that you do so with the help of a professional. Bodybuilding and/or strength coaches, a nutritionist or dietician, or your doctor can help to set the right deficit for you if losing weight is a priority! (source linked here.)

The Best Fat Burning Supplements

There are a few key players that can aid in fat loss. While a strong diet is key, there are some supplements that will aid metabolism or help the body utilize fat storages for energy.

L-Carnitine

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L-Carnitine aids the mitochondria in improved energy production. During normal energy synthesis, the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the body, providing energy to the cells. L-Carnitine helps to decrease the effects of aging on mitochondria. It also increases the mitochondria’s fat-burning potential. Lastly, it’s also used as a stimulant, similar to caffeine.

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L-Carnitine can be found in many forms, including:

  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), which is used for cognitive enhancement
  • L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT), which is used for power output during physical activity
  • Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine (GPLC), which is used for blood circulation

This increase in mitochondrial energy also helps to boost brain power in some subjects, while giving others elongated energy. In fact, L-Carnitine’s main calling card is increased energy. (source linked here.) L-Carnitine gets this increased energy from the body’s fat stores. After being freed, the fatty acids are shuffled along to the mitochondria by L-Carnitine and utilized as oxidative energy.

L-Carnitine can be supplemented daily in doses ranging from 500-2,000mg. The dosage varies depending on the individual. In addition, all of L-Carnitine’s counterparts follow the same dosage guidelines and can also be taken daily, depending on your goals. (source linked here.)

Forskolin

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Forskolin normally works alongside L-Carnitine for fat utilization. The latter works to bring the fatty acids to the mitochondria. Forskolin works to release the fatty acids from the body’s fat stores.

Forskolin releases fatty acids by activating the enzyme adenylate cyclase, which then activates hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). Like any other lipase, HSL breaks down fat for energy by enacting lipolysis. Lipolysis is the complete breakdown of glycerides into fatty acids, which can be used as energy by the mitochondria. These fatty acids are released into the bloodstream, where they meet up with their powerhouse counterparts and give the body elongated energy.

In unscientific terms, Forskolin releases your fat from their body stores. When paired with L-Carnitine, these fatty acids are efficiently utilized as fuel. Studies even show that prolonged use improves fat burning during both training and rest. And, of course, helps to increase total fat loss over time.

Typically, Forskolin can be found with L-Carnitine as a single supplement. If not, take approximately 20-50mg daily. (source linked here.)

Caffeine

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Yes, your morning coffee can help promote fat loss. Who knew?!

Caffeine has been linked to increased energy production and fat oxidation, which increase it’s ability to metabolize fat. This has been linked to its stimulation of the Central Nervous System (CNS) through that coffee-jolt we all know and love. Stimulating the CNS helps to release fatty acids from fat stores. It also promotes calcium absorption from the body’s calcium stores, which aids in muscle contraction. Both are extremely helpful when exercising for long periods of time.

Caffeine is also one of the most cost-effective fat loss supplements to date. As little as one cup of coffee before your morning workout can promote these benefits! Or, if you’re not a cup-of-joe fan, try pre-workouts. They normally contain roughly 120mg of caffeine per serving and aid in fat loss.

However, be warned: taking more than 400mg per day can start to have negative side effects. Imagine how you feel after a couple of large coffees during a rough morning. Eventually, you crash and your head hurts, and the same thing happens to your body. So stick to one to two servings every couple of hours. (source linked here.)

Green Tea Extract

Another cost-effective fat loss supplement is green tea extract. Like caffeine, green tea extract helps to utilize the body’s fat stores for energy. However, it also encourages brown adipose tissue thermogenesis, which is another form of fat utilization. This is due to the phytochemicals found in green tea; the main phytochemical, epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), can increase fat oxidation by up to 33%!

There is one setback, though. Green tea extract has to be taken in a pretty pure form in order to have any real effect. Drinking green tea is great because it supplies some phytochemicals and antioxidants, but the proportions are not enough for fat loss. (source linked here.)

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