They all play an integral role in muscle building. But so many people are completely lost when they try to take the plunge into bodybuilding. With years of experience on bodybuilding and steroid forums I have seen too many people put together a poor plan for their bulking goals only to find themselves right back where they started when they are done. Its unfortunate to see so many people with such strong motivation to get the physique they dreamed about have those dreams/motivation crushed because they did not take the time to educate themselves properly on the science behind their nutrition, training, and anabolic use. You see, the way you execute these three categories play a major role in the success of your efforts. Diet is the most important factor followed by your training routine. People put too much of an emphasis on steroids alone. Keep in mind that you can bulk successfully without the use of steroids, they are just here to help enhance and speed up the process.
In this article, I will cover the biological process of protein synthesis/muscle growth, a proper entry level steroid cycle, a proper training routine while on cycle, and, most importantly, proper nutrition. With that being sad, lets go ahead and cover these subject matters so that you are better prepared when you decide to take the plunge, and we can avoid seeing you fail.
Protein synthesis is the foundation in which bodybuilding was built upon. It is the reason why we are able to grow our muscles through weight training and nutrition. The principle of weight training can be reduced to a simple sentence, lifting weights plus rest with improvement over time. But there are a number of variables that always make that principle much more complex than it seems, like nutrition. Protein synthesis is the utilization of amino acids to create proteins in the body for consumption. Alarmingly, many who participate in bodybuilding are clueless as to how muscular growth actually occurs so lets go ahead and cover that.
Understanding Muscle Damage and Muscular Hypertrophy
Lets try to put this in the most simple terms as possible. The growth of muscle comes from muscular cell damage and the enlarging of the muscle fibers via repair. The reason we go to the gym and lift weights is because we are trying to put enough strain on our muscle fibers so that they are damaged. The damaging of muscle fibers induces the process of protein synthesis. Muscular growth is caused by hypertrophy, or the enlargement of muscle fibers. A breach in plasma member of the muscle fiber cell allows the passage of calcium from the blood causing an imbalance of calcium in the muscle vs the bloodstream. Increased calcium levels activate enzymes called calpains which remove the damaged pieces of the muscle (easily releasable myofilaments). Furthermore, ubiquitin (a protein that is present in all muscle cells) binds to the removed filaments causing neutrophils (white blood cells) to attack and destroy the filaments. As this process occurs, monocytes enter the damaged muscle and from macrophages which further handle the destruction of damaged tissue (1). Ironically, macrophanges also active satellite cells for muscular repair. We will come back to satellite cells in a moment.
So, we have covered how the body gets rid of the damaged tissue. Lets talk about how muscles grow. There are many nuclei in muscle cells. Each nuclei can only handle so much protein at a time and the number of nuclei in a muscle is directly correlated in how much growth can occur, which is a very important fact for choosing a training routine. We will revisit this later in the article. Lets go back to those satellite cells. Satellite cells are stem cells that attach to muscle, donating their nuclei to the muscle through the process of proliferation (the increase of satellite cells) and differentiation (becoming more like muscle cells) (2). When the wall of muscle cells are damaged, growth factors are released to allow the process of proliferation and differentiation. Remember that hypertrophy means the growth of the fiber and should not be confused with hyperplasia, or the increase in the number of fibers in the muscle (3).
The main two major growth factor released are FGG (fibroblast growth factor) and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). FGF is released from the cell and causes proliferation of satellite cells (4) while IGF-1 causes satellite cells to differentiate, causing them to fuse with muscle cells and allow for growth (hypertrophy). Protein synthesis occurs because mRNA (a genetically coded substance) is sent out from the nuclei to ribosomes which then being the building of protein from amino acids (5).
Prostaglandins and Satellite Cells
Prostagladins are a group of lipid compounds that have hormone like effects. For the purposes of this article we shall only focus on PGE2 and PGF2-alpha(a)since they are most significant to growth. During contraction and stretching of muscle fibers a number of prostaglandins are released including PGE2 and PGF2-a. PGF2-a increases protein synthesis while PGE2 increases protein degradation. Ironically, PGE2 is also a major player in inducing satellite cell proliferation and infusion. The more satellite cells available for activation, the greater the potential for growth (8).
Lets go back to the phase of muscular repair where the mRNA (messenger RNA, a coded substance) is released by the cell to begin the process of protein synthesis. The mRNA has the correct instructions to activate ribosomes and instructs ribosomes to begin translation (the assembly of amino acids). tRNA (transfer RNA) then takes over, arranging amino acids in a linear fashion to create the protein given in the initial instructions by mRNA. This is the process in which we actually gain hypertrophy of the muscle fiber (6).
Testosterone and Protein Synthesis
Nothing is more naturally anabolic than testosterone, it directly causes protein synthesis. Testosterone binds to the androgen receptor in cells which causes activation of protein synthesis in the nuclei. Testosterone also increases the sensitivity of IGF-1 and FGF to satellite cells. The act of resistance training has been shown to increase the receptive capability of testosterone and other important hypertrophy factors like GH and IGF-1. Protein synthesis is said to last anywhere from 36 to 48 hours after strenuous exercise (7).
There are two types of IGF-1. Autocrine IGF-1 is made locally in cells while paracrine IGF-1 is made in the liver. Autocrine IGF-1 only affects the tissues in the area in which it is released while paracrine IGF-1 can travel through the bloodstream into different tissues of the body, connecting to receptors on the surface of cells that specifically need its presence to trigger an anabolic effect. Autocrine IGF-1 is what does the business for bodybuilding. Recall that damage to the muscle causes calcium to leak into the cells. Its this same calcium that releases autocrine IGF-1 locally and sets off the process that is protein synthesis. A mixture of IGF-1, calcium, and enzymes all allow the protein synthesis but also depend on calcium to make the process begin (5).
The IGF-1/HGH Connection
The main contributing anabolic factor of human growth hormone is that it causes the cells in the liver and muscle fiber to release IGF-1. It triggers paracrine IGF-1 to be released from the live and autocrine IGF-1 from muscle cells. One can now understand why the combining of HGH and testosterone causes a much more efficient anabolic response. GH releases IGF while testosterone binds to the androgen receptor and increases the receptive capability of IGF and FGF to satellite cells. Satellite cells give their nuclei to muscle fiber and allow for an increased capacity for protein synthesis causing the end goal of every bodybuilder, muscular hypertrophy!
Proper Beginners Training Routine for Bulking
Lets revisit a very important fact in the muscular hypertrophy biological process that I pointed out earlier
Each nuclei can only handle so much protein at a time and the number of nuclei in a muscle is directly correlated in how much growth can occur.
What exactly does this statement mean? It means that there is a limited capability of protein synthesis of each individual cell in any muscle. As an entry level bodybuilder you should be looking to form a solid base of muscle. This means that you treat every single muscle in your body equally, looking to maximize gains of lean body mass. Dont make the mistake of settings goals for just bigger arms, or chest, or insert whatever body part here. What you should be looking for is an increase in overall muscle. This also means trying to cause as much damage to as many muscular fibers in any given week with your training routine. Therefore, a training routine that impacts as many muscles it can while allowing for ample rest would be ideal. Lets cover that
The Full Body Training Routine
This is a very effective full body training routine that I have used in the past with clients. It is a 3 days split with rest in between days and 2 days rest after the 3rd day (Train M,W,F Rest S, Sun for example). Please make sure to stretch before your workout and warm up with a light set of each exercise before hitting the sets below.
|Olympic Bar Squats||4||6-8|
|Dumbbell Lateral Raises||4||6-8|
|Bent Over Rows||4||6-8|
|Lat Pull Downs||4||6-8|
|Bicep Dumbbell Curls||4||6-8|
|Bicep Ez Bar Curls||4||6-8|
|Overhead Tricep Extensions||4||6-8|
Proper Nutrition for Bulking
I cannot emphasize enough how important nutrition is for your goals. It affects just about every biological function your body has to process. Eating for bulking is not difficult, you just have to be organized. Any proper type of dieting MUST INVOLVE CALORIE AND MACRO COUNTING (macros are Protein/Carbs/Fats). I see way too many people playing a guessing game with their nutrition by ignoring the fact that you have to weigh/measure all your food and account for every calorie your body takes in, only to complain that they are not growing the way they should be. One of the first questions i ask on any thread in the forum where the post involves the inability to bulk is the current caloric intake of the original poster. About 8 out of 10 times i get the dreaded “im not sure” or “im not counting calories.” The other times the original poster gives a caloric intake that is too low for his/her stats with a bulk in mind. MAKE NO MISTAKE, MOST OF YOU WILL EITHER OVER OR UNDER ESTIMATE YOUR CALORIC INTAKE IF YOU ARE NOT KEEPING TRACK OF IT! Bodybuilding is a science. Science involves emperical measurement and statistics. Tracking your calories is not a suggestion, its a requirement!
How Many Calories Should I Consume?
The amount of calories you need to consume are directly correlated with your current total weight, body fat percentage, and activity level. In order to get a correct BMR (basil metabolic rate or the amount of calories your body needs to sustain itself without added activity) and TDEE (total daily energy expenditure or the actual amount of calories your body burns with activity) you have to get your lean body mass and input it into the following BMR formula.
BMR (men and women) = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)
Here are simple steps to figure out your BMR using the above formula
Get a proper Body Fat measurement. Do not use a bio-impedance device (anything that you either stand on or hold on to to get your body fat). They are very inaccurate. Caliper tests are only accurate up to 15% body fat. The most ideal body fat tests are hydrostatic testing, dexa scan, or bodpod. But you don’t have to spend all that money. Post or PM a vet pictures on the forums and get a rough estimate. I know I’m pretty accurate with my body fat estimates so long as pictures are clear with good lighting.
Take your body fat percentage and subtract it by your total body weight for your lean body-weight. If you were 200lbs and had 15% body fat, then you would have a lean body-weight of 170lbs. 200 x .15 (covert body fat percentage to decimal point) = 30. 200 – 30 = 170lbs
Convert your lean body weight from lbs to kg (if you weighed in kg, you can skip this) by dividing your lean body weight by 2.2. 170 / 2.2 = 77.27kg
Input your lean body weight into the formula 370 = (21.6 x 77.27kg)
Multiply 21.6 by your lean body weight 21.6 x 77.27 = 1669.032
Add 370 to that number to get your BMR 1669.032 + 370 = 2039.032, or 2039 calories
Having figured out your BMR, you now need to calculate your TDEE. This is done simply by multiplying your activity level in this list below with your BMR.
If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
Unless you have a very demanding manual labor focused job, its likely that you will use a 1.55 activity factor with the given workout split. Take your BMR 2039 and multiply it by 1.55 to get your TDEE
2039 x 1.55 = 3160
We have established, though our best scientific guess, that your total daily energy expenditure is 3160 calories. Now, lets work out a bulking diet.
We are all bound by the laws of physics. Believe it or not, physics play a major role in bulking. The fact that you cannot gain mass without adding mass holds true. If your body burns 3160 calories a day, you MUST eat more than 3160 calories every day to gain weight. There are no ands, ifs, or buts about it. With a cycle in mind and increased protein synthesis due to it, i recommend eating 800 calories above your TDEE to start your bulk. I also recommend that you take a few weeks to eat at that caloric level and make sure your gaining at least 1 and no more than 2lbs a week. You should be weighing yourself fasted first thing in the morning on the same scale and the same day of the week every week. If youre gaining more than 2lbs a week, reduce your cals by 200 a day for the next week. If your not gaining at least 1 lb a week increase your cals by 300 a day for the next week. Repeat this process until you reach your goal weight gain weekly, then start your cycle (we will cover the cycle next).
Ok, so we need to add 800 to your TDEE of 3160 which equals 3960 calories. Let’s talk macros. Macros are measured in grams. We have 3 main macros we intake in our daily nutrition; Fat (9 calories per gram), Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), and Protein (4 calories per gram). Each type of nutrient plays its own vital role in our bodies metabolic processes. Since we have already covered protein earlier, I will skip it.
Fats: Fats actually play a vital role in our bodies day to day biological function. Due to its inability to make its own, the body depends on fat intake from our nutrition. Essential fatty acids, cholesterol, and triglycerides play important roles in the body like insulating us, protecting vital organs, and storing energy for later use. Fats are messengers that have a direct effect on protein synthesis. They also play a vital role in starting many chemical reactions involved in reproduction (saturated fats are the building blocks of sperm), immune function, and growth. They store a multitude of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) in the liver and fat deposits of the body (9).
Carbohydrate: They have such a bad reputation thanks to misinformation. Carbohydrates are a very important factor in your nutrition while bulking. Carbohydrates come in both soluble and insoluble forms. The soluble form provides energy in the form of glucose for the body. The insoluble form is called fiber, and aids in digestion, cholesterol control, and digestive rate. Carbs are an immediate source of energy to the body. Through cellular respiration, carbs produce ATP, which our bodies cells use as energy. The body will use this energy to build/repair muscle, for example (10).
Setting Up a Proper Macro Split
I am not a fan of using ratio or percentage macro splits. For the sake of keeping this simple, I am going to use one of those percentage macro splits with just a bit of a disclaimer. There is a traditional bulking macro split that requires 40% of your calories to come from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fat. Let’s see how that works out for our 200lb guy who had a necessary intake of 3960.
40% of 3960 = 1584 Calories
20% of 3960 = 792 Calories
We know that each gram of protein and each gram of carbs has 4 calories. So let’s divide 4 by 1584 to get our total number of protein and carbs we need.
Then let’s divide 792 by the 9, the amount of calories in 1 gram of fat.
1584 / 4 = 396
792 / 9 = 88
With the current setup, we need 396g protein, 396g carbs, and 88g fat. Here is where I have an issue with percentages like this. Unless you’re a Mr. Olympia competitor you will very likely never need 396g protein per day for a bulking diet. In the many years I have been a sports nutritionist, I have rarely needed to take my clients protein intake over 300g a day. If your over 200lbs you can go up to 300g a day, if you’re under 200lbs I recommend you stick to somewhere in between 225-250g protein a day.
Let’s make the adjustments based upon this. Let’s reduce 96g protein and add 96g carbs to balance things out.
Now divide each macro by the number of meals you plan on eating a day (I recommend at least 5, though I will be using 6 in this example)
I would personally try to divide as equally as possible my protein and carbs into 6 meals, aiming for 50g protein and 82g carbs per meal. I would then realistically add the fats into my meals so that I reach 88g. It doesn’t have to divided evenly over 6 meals, though you’re going to have fat in your meals whether you like it or not.
Now, grab your calorie counter and build your diet. Here are a few examples of good food choices to make for your food choices
Good Meats/Proteins ( Grass fed naturally farmed GMO Free when possible)
93% and up lean beef (ground beef, roast beef, london broil are just a few examples)
Fish (tuna, salmon, tilapia etc.)
Whey (PWO ONLY)
Casein (BEDTIME ONLY)
Good Complex Carbs
Oats (all natural steel cut/rolled oats)
Wheat Bread (no, not the enriched type)
Gluten Free Bread
Avocado (my fav)
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Congrats, you just built your bulking diet. I recommend a 200 calorie increase in your diet (mainly from fats) every 15 days on cycle.
Proper Beginners Anabolic Steroid Cycle
Your first cycle should always only be testosterone. The reason why emphasize this rule is that if you use more than one compound in your cycle and something goes wrong, you have no idea what to blame. Furthermore, being of virgin steroid origin testosterone alone will yield impressive results. Your first cycle should be done with Test E or C. Let’s first take about some things you need to know before we get into a proper first cycle. Specifically, lets cover esters, hCG, arimidex (aromatization), and PCT.
Understanding Esters (The E or C after testosterone in this case)
An ester is simply the oil that the steroid is mixed with. Oil is used because it takes time to break down in your body. When you inject Testosterone Enanthate you are injecting the compound testosterone with an oil called Enanthate. There are many esters you can choose from: Cypionate, Enanthate, and Propionate are usually the most popular ones. When you choose an ester, you are also choosing how quickly the drug enters your system, or the half-life of the drug.
The half-life of the steroid you inject is based on the ester its mixed with. In the world of medication and drugs the half-life is the time it takes the body to reduce the medication by half. Here is a basic breakdown to help you understand.
Bob has just injected 250mg of Testosterone Enanthate into his muscle. There is now a depot of testosterone in the injection site that is being broken down by the body. The half-life of Enanthate is about 10.5 days. In 10.5 days, there will be 125mg of testosterone Enanthate left in the depot site. In 21 days, there will only be half of that (62.5mg) and so on and so forth till the compound has been eliminated from the body. It’s the Enanthate ester that controls the release of drug in the body. It takes a certain amount of time to break through the Enanthate oil and as the body breaks it down it also releases the drug into the system. Here is a list of Esters and their respectable half-life
Acetate 3 days
Propionate 2 days
Enanthate 10.5 days
Cypionate 12 days
Nonanoate 13.5 days
Decanoate 15 days
Undecanoate 16.5 days
Now, when you start to inject a steroid the golden rule is to run the steroid at about half the half-life of the ester. You want the steadiest levels as possible so that you don’t experience side effects of anabolic use like high estrogen and acne. For that reason, Cypionate and Enanthate are usually injected every 3.5 days. Propionate and acetate is usually injected every day or some choose to inject every other day, which has been deemed acceptable but not optimal.
So what happens when you start injecting Enanthate every 3.5 days? The drug starts to overlap itself and the actual amount of the drug that’s in your system goes up. As stated before within 10 days of the injection half of the 250mg has been eliminated. But within those 10 days you should have injected about 3 250mg shots. There is a slow but steady rise of the drug in your system that usually started to peak out around the 5-week mark. When injecting a shorter ester like Prop or Ace you will see lower peak values but the drug is entering your system much quicker. This means you peak your dosage in your cycle much quicker and can run shorter cycles.
One of the main issues faced with the use of anabolics is the reduction of natural testosterone production of the human body while on cycle and the importance of recovering that natural production once anabolics have been discontinued. The use of anabolics effects the hypothalamic pituitary testicular axis (HPTA) which is the system of organs (the gonads, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus) that regulate testosterone production. The hypothalamus releases a hormone (GnRH), the pituitary gland releases the luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and the gonads produce estrogen and testosterone. These processes are all linked. The GnRH is produced to release LH and FSH from the pituitary which in turn stimulate the production of testosterone from the gonads. In males’ LH is the main stimulant of testosterone production while the FSH is in charge of sperm production. The body has a negative feedback loop that regulates the release of these hormones based on the amount of available testosterone in the system. When the body sees there is sufficient levels of the hormone the HPTA regulates the amount of LH to be released, lowering the secretion of it. With the use of anabolic steroids, the body comes to that point fairly quickly and shuts down LH production, giving us our issue with recovery and a need for post cycle therapy drugs that stimulate LH production (11).
In anabolic users hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is used to combat the shutdown of LH. hCG mimics the luteinizing hormone (LH) allowing for the user to stimulate the testes for testosterone production solving the issue of shutdown when on cycle or trt. hCG is usually prescribed by doctors for testosterone replacement therapy patients or found on the black market for anabolic steroid users. The use of hCG can reduce the recovery time of post cycle therapy since the testes never actually shut down while on cycle. Since studies have shown that the use of testosterone can greatly reduce the natural testosterone levels of the user post cycle, hCG is a valuable tool in recovery and also a valuable tool for maintaining fertility while on trt. In order for post cycle recovery of LH function to occur your androgenic hormones have to come to a state of balance again by lowering to a level the HPTA is comfortable with for a lack of better words (12).
As stated in the HCG paragraph, exogenous testosterone will shut down your body’s natural testosterone production. PCT, or post cycle therapy, is a protocol used to help your body recover its natural testosterone production. Clomid and Nolva, which are both SERM’s (selective estrogen receptor modulators) both affect the bodies pituitary gland and send signals to the hpta to begin the production of testosterone. Clomid is very effective at stimulating the production of LH, which tells the testes to start producing testosterone (13).
Understanding Aromatization and the need for Arimidex
As males, our body likes to keep a certain ratio of testosterone to estrogen. Roughly, a 10:1 ratio has been the acceptable common knowledge standard. When you introduce high levels of exogenous testosterone, the aromatase enzyme in the body starts to rapidly convert that testosterone to estrogen. High estrogen can cause many unwanted sides like gynecomastia (the development of female breast tissue in males) and heavy water retention. Arimidex is an aromatase inhibitor, blocking the ability of the aromatase enzyme to convert testosterone into estrogen and keeping your estrogen levels in check while on cycle (14).
Proper First Cycle Setup
|Testosterone E or C||250mg Monday & Thursday||Weeks 1-12|
|HCG||250iu Monday & Thursday||Weeks 1-14|
|Arimidex||.25mg 1st 2 weeks, .5mg after||Weeks 1-14|
|Clomid||50mg every day||Weeks 14-18|
|Nolvadex||20mg every day||Weeks 14-18|
Don’t make the mistake of easing up on your nutrition and training in and post pct. You’ve gained a number of lbs of muscle in your cycle. Realistically, your TDEE has gone up thanks to the added muscle. In order to maintain your gains, you have to continue to eat at that higher caloric intake. I recommend a maintenance phase of 4 weeks post pct where you keep your calories as high as they were before you started pct. After that you can reduce your calories to your new TDEE and prepare for whatever next phase that has been planned.
I hope that this article has helped you with your goals
Ologys Head Sports Nutritionist and Owner of 3Js Nutrition Network
To inquire about becoming a client please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Website link: www.3jsdiet.com
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DOI: 10.1186/1477-7827-8-102© Cole; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
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