Bulking up. Getting Cut. Shredding Fat—these are true terms in the life of a bodybuilder. While not all fitness enthusiasts plan to pose on stage, those looking to build a lean physique might want to follow their lead. There’s some science to sculpting a lean mean muscular machine, and that involves adjusting your diet and exercise regimen throughout the year. To help you learn the science of sculpting, we turned to board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, former professional bodybuilder and GNC Medical Advisor Dr. Victor Prisk for some advice.
1.) Changing body composition doesn’t happen overnight—it can take months of planning and training. For our customers hoping to be chiseled in 2019, why is it important to start now?
Bodybuilding happens in phases. When building muscle, it’s important to be fueling that growth with intense training and calories. This is the “bulking phase.”
Since the goal of the “bulking phase” is to build as much muscle as possible, it is important to overshoot nutritional needs so as not to fall short. As a result, you may tend to gain some unwanted fat weight. A key to a healthy bulk is optimizing muscle growth while avoiding excessive fat retention. For example, I always tried to avoid being more than 20 pounds over my projected contest weight. I would get to 195lbs at 5’5” and then compete at 170 to 175. Bigger guys may shoot a little higher.
A “cutting phase” may follow the “bulking phase.” The goal of this phase is to maintain muscle while cutting off the fat to attain an extreme level of conditioning and muscle definition. In some cases, you may even build some muscle while initiating body re-composition; burning fat while building muscle.
2.) You mentioned the bulking phase. What is the purpose of this phase? What does the training and nutrition look like during this phase?
Bodybuilding involves intense and well-coordinated training. Performing exercises to failure with emphasis on the eccentric or “negative” movement may help with efficient muscle building. While it can be a stimulus for growth, this also creates a certain amount of muscle damage which the body needs to repair. Therefore, your diet must supply the building blocks of muscle (enough total calories and protein) in at least some excess of your needs to prevent breakdown and support potential growth.
There are two sides of the equation for building muscle. Net muscle protein synthesis is a balance between preventing breakdown of muscle and turning on the muscle protein synthesis machinery. Extra protein, above and beyond the average diet, may help prevent muscle breakdown as well as support muscle protein synthesis. Further, you need to have extra calories from healthy carbohydrates and fats to fuel the growth machine. If you fall into an energy mismatch where you are burning more calories than you consume you will not be able to gain weight.
3.) Next is the cutting phase. What is the purpose of this phase? How does the training and nutrition differ during this phase?
The goal of the “cutting phase” is to lose as much fat as possible while maintaining as much muscle as possible. I must say there’s a misconception that this requires lowering the intensity of your weight training. Quite the opposite, you still need to hit the weights hard to retain muscle mass. However, losing body fat requires a caloric deficit which can make it harder to recover from intense training. Thus, you will have to adjust your training schedule accordingly.
Consuming an adequate amount of protein while reducing your carbohydrate intake may help maintain muscle while cutting. Unbeknownst to many, it may even be possible to build muscle while cutting fat when you have a lot of fat to burn. The less fat you have, the higher the risk of losing muscle with the calorie restriction. You must schedule this out to be a gradual process. Excess calorie restriction and rapid weight loss is a sure way to lose muscle.
4.) Can we talk a bit about genetics? We know that even with the same training and nutrition, different bodies will respond differently. Some men and women barely need to put-forth effort to see gains, while others try every combination of training and nutrition to see results. What advice do you have for those that struggle to gain muscle?
Unfortunately, it is hard to speak in specifics as to how a diet must change for bulking and cutting since everybody has different genetics, metabolism, appetites and propensity to gain, maintain or lose muscle and fat. If you struggle to gain muscle, you may want to consider consulting a sports dietitian and/or a personal trainer for a specific program. For those that just don’t have the appetite, adding extra protein and calories through a supplement like GNC AMP Mass XXX™ may tilt the scales in your favor. My “go-to” for extra protein and calories at night has always been a micellar casein-based supplement mixed with peanut butter and one scoop of ice cream.
5.) What about those that struggle to lose body fat?
As we all know, there’s some really stubborn body fat out there that just loves to hang on. Lowering the carbohydrate intake of your diet may help initiate a fat burn. I personally like to turn on the fat furnace with an intermittent carb fast. Meaning, I avoid starchy carbohydrates for half or 2/3 of a day and instead focus on eating healthy veggies and high-quality protein like a whey protein shake or chicken breast. I also use early morning cardio on just BCAAs and HMB without breakfast first.
6.) Any other advice or comment related to this topic?
It’s tough to do it alone on a bodybuilding routine no matter what phase you are in. I never could’ve done it without the unwavering support of my wife, friends and coaches. Don’t be afraid to hire a coach and share your journey—it’ll be more fun that way!