Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal?

Introduction

A longstanding belief in fitness circles is that the body can only use a certain amount of protein per meal, and the excess is either oxidized or excreted. The ballpark range thrown around is 20-30 grams, with 30 grams being perhaps the most common figure.

This guideline has led many trainees to go through the pains of consuming multiple doses of protein throughout the day, banking that it will maximize muscle anabolism or muscle retention.

Well, true or not, this concept fits in nicely with another longstanding fitness “rule” that you have to eat at least six times per day in order to keep the body’s metabolism revving high. Since the meal frequency and metabolism dogma has been thoroughly debunked [1-5], it’s time to dig into the topic of whether there’s a limit to effective protein dosing, and if so, what that limit might be. 

Looking at simple logic first

Let’s imagine an experiment involving two relatively lean 200 lb individuals. For the purposes of this illustration, I’ll assign a daily amount of protein known to adequately support the needs of the athletic population. We’ll give Person A 150 g protein spread over five meals at 30 g each. We’ll give Person B the same amount of protein, but in a single meal. Let’s say that this meal consists of a 16 oz steak, chased with a shake containing two scoops of protein powder.
 
If we really believed that only 30 g protein can be handled by the body in a single meal, then Person B would eventually run into protein deficiency symptoms because he supposedly is only absorbing a total of 30 g out of the 150 g we’re giving him. At 30 g/day, he’s only getting 0.33 g/kg of bodyweight, which isn’t even half of the already-low RDA of 0.8 g/kg. If the body worked this way, the human species would have quickly become extinct. The human body is more efficient and effective than we give it credit for.
 
The body will take all the sweet time it needs to effectively digest and absorb just about whatever dose you give it. Person A will have shorter digestion periods per meal in order to effectively absorb and utilize the small meals. Person B will have a longer digestion period in order to effectively absorb and utilize the large meal. While the truth in this logic seems self-evident, the important question is whether or not it’s supported by scientific research. Let’s look at the evidence, starting with immediate-effect (acute) studies, then move on to the longer-term trials.

Research examining speed of absorption

A thorough literature review by Bilsborough and Mann compiled data from studies by various investigators who measured the absorption rates of various protein sources [6]. Oddly, an amino acid mixture designed to mimic the composition of pork tenderloin made the top spot, at 10 g/hour, while whey took a close second at 8-10 g/hour. Other proteins fell in their respective spots below the top two, with little rhyme or reason behind the outcomes. As a matter of trivia, raw egg protein was the most slowly absorbed of them all at 1.3 g/hour.

It’s important to note that these data have some serious limitations. A major one is the variance of the methods used to determine the absorption rates (i.e., intravenous infusion, oral ingestion, ileal ingestion). Most of the methods are just too crude or far-fetched for serious consideration. Another limitation is that these figures could be skewed depending upon their concentration in solution, which can affect their rate of gastric evacuation. Another factor to consider is the timing of ingestion relative to exercise and how that might differentially affect absorption rates. Finally, short-term data leaves a lot open to question.

Short-term research supporting the magic limit

I’ve heard many folks parrot that the maximal anabolic effect of a single protein dose is limited to 20 grams, citing recent work by Moore and colleagues [7]. In this study’s 4-hour post-exercise test period, 40 g protein did not elicit a greater anabolic response than 20 g. I’d interpret these outcomes with caution. Fundamentally speaking, protein utilization can differ according to muscle mass. The requirements of a 140-lb person will differ markedly from someone who’s a lean 200. Additionally, a relatively low amount of total volume was used (12 sets total). Typical training bouts usually involve more than one muscle group and are commonly at least double that volume, which can potentially increase the demand for nutrient uptake. Finally, the conclusion of the authors is questionable. They state explicitly,

“…we speculate that no more than 5-6 times daily could one ingest this amount (~20 g) of protein and expect muscle protein synthesis to be maximally stimulated.”

So, they’re implying that 100-120 grams of protein per day is maximal for promoting muscle growth. Wait a minute, what? Based on both the bulk of the research evidence and numerous field observations, this is simply false [8,9]
 
In another recent study, Symons and colleagues compared the 5-hour response of a moderate serving of lean beef containing 30 g protein with a large serving containing 90 g protein [10]. The smaller serving increased protein synthesis by approximately 50%, and the larger serving caused no further increase in protein synthesis, despite being triple the dose. The researchers concluded that the ingestion of more than 30 g protein in a single meal does not further enhance muscle protein synthesis. While their conclusion indeed supports the outcomes of their short-term study, it’s pretty easy to predict the outcomes in muscle size and strength if we compared a total daily protein dose of 90 g with 30 g over a longer trial period, let alone one involving a structured exercise protocol. This brings me to the crucial point that acute outcomes merely provide grounds for hypothesis. It’s not completely meaningless, but it’s far from conclusive without examining the long-term effects.

Longer-term research challenging the magic limit

If we were to believe the premise that a 20-30 g dose of protein yields a maximal anabolic effect, then it follows that any excess beyond this dose would be wasted. On the contrary, the body is smarter than that. In a 14-day trial, Arnal and colleagues found no difference in fat-free mass or nitrogen retention between consuming 79% of the day’s protein needs (roughly 54 g) in one meal, versus the same amount spread across four meals [11].

Notably, this study was done on young female adults whose fat-free mass averaged 40.8 kg (89.8 lb). Considering that most non-sedentary males have considerably more lean mass than the female subjects used in the aforementioned trial, it’s plausible that much more than 54 g protein in a single meal can be efficiently processed for anabolic and/or anti-catabolic purposes. If we extrapolated the protein dose used in this study (79% of 1.67g/kg) to the average adult male, it would be roughly 85-95 g or even more, depending on just how close someone is to the end of the upper limits of muscular size.

When Arnal and colleagues applied the same protocol to the elderly population, the single-dose treatment actually caused better muscle protein retention than the multiple-dose treatment [12].  This raises the possibility that as we age, larger protein feedings might be necessary to achieve the same effect on protein retention as lesser amounts in our youth.

IF research nailing the coffin shut?

Perhaps the strongest case against the idea of a dosing limit beyond which anabolism or muscle retention can occur is the recent intermittent fasting (IF) research, particularly the trials with a control group on a conventional diet. For example, Soeters and colleagues compared two weeks of IF involving 20-hour fasting cycles with a conventional diet [13].  Despite the IF group’s consumption of an average of 101 g protein in a 4-hour window, there was no difference in preservation of lean mass and muscle protein between groups.

In another example, Stote and colleagues actually reported an improvement in body composition (including an increase in lean mass) after 8 weeks in the IF group consuming one meal per day, where roughly 86 g protein was ingested in a 4-hour window [14]. Interestingly, the conventional group consuming three meals spread throughout the day showed no significant body composition improvements.

Keep in mind that bioelectrical impedance (BIA) was used to determine body composition, so these outcomes should be viewed with caution. I’ve been highly critical of this study in the past, and I still am. Nevertheless, it cannot be completely written off and must be factored into the body of evidence against the idea of a magic protein dose limit.

Conclusion & application

Based on the available evidence, it’s false to assume that the body can only use a certain amount of protein per meal. Studies examining short-term effects have provided hints towards what might be an optimal protein dose for maximizing anabolism, but trials drawn out over longer periods haven’t supported this idea. So, is there a limit to how much protein per meal can be effectively used? Yes there is, but this limit is likely similar to the amount that’s maximally effective in an entire day. What’s the most protein that the body can effectively use in an entire day? The short answer is, a lot more than 20-30 g. The long answer is, it depends on several factors. In most cases it’s not too far from a gram per pound in drug-free trainees, given that adequate total calories are provided [8,9]

In terms of application, I’ve consistently observed the effectiveness of having approximately a quarter of your target bodyweight in both the pre- and post-exercise meal. Note: target bodyweight is a surrogate index of lean mass, and I use that to avoid making skewed calculations in cases where individuals are markedly over- or underweight. This dose surpasses the amounts seen to cause a maximal anabolic response but doesn’t impinge upon the rest of the day’s protein allotment, which can be distributed as desired. On days off from training, combine or split up your total protein allotment according to your personal preference and digestive tolerance. I realize that freedom and flexibility are uncommon terms in physique culture, but maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift.

In sum, view all information – especially gym folklore and short-term research – with caution. Don’t buy into the myth that protein won’t get used efficiently unless it’s dosed sparingly throughout the day. Hopefully, future research will definitively answer how different dosing schemes with various protein types affect relevant endpoints such as size and strength. In the mean time, feel free to eat the whole steak and drink the whole shake, and if you want to get the best bang for your buck, go for a quality protein blend such as Nitrean! 😉

Written By Alan Aragon

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal discussion thread.

About Alan Aragon

Alan Aragon has over 15 years of success in the fitness field. He earned his Bachelor and Master of Science in Nutrition with top honors. Alan is a continuing education provider for the Commission on Dietetic Registration, National Academy of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, and National Strength & Conditioning Association. Alan recently lectured to clinicians at the FDA and the annual conference of the Los Angeles Dietetic Association.

He maintains a private practice designing programs for recreational, Olympic, and professional athletes, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Alan is a contributing editor and Weight Loss Coach of Men’s Health magazine.

His book Girth Control is considered one of the most in-depth manuals for physique improvement and understanding nutrition for fitness & sports. Last but not least, Alan writes a monthly research review providing of the latest science on nutrition, training, and supplementation. Visit Alan’s blog to keep up with his latest shenanigans.

References

1. Smeets AJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency. Br J Nutr. 2008 Jun;99(6):1316-21.

2. Taylor MA, Garrow JS. Compared with nibbling, neither gorging nor a morning fast affect short-term energy balance in obese patients in a chamber calorimeter. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Apr;25(4):519-28.

3. Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S57-70.

4. Verboeket-van de Venne WP, Westerterp KR. Frequency of feeding, weight reduction and energy metabolism. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1993 Jan;17(1):31-6.

5. Verboeket-van de Venne WP, Westerterp KR. Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrient utilization in man: consequences for energy metabolism. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991 Mar;45(3):161-9.

6. Bilsborough S, Mann N. A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Apr;16(2):129-52.

7. Moore DR, et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):161-8.

8. Campbell B, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.

9. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):65-79.

10. Symons TB, et al. A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6.

11. Arnal MA, et al. Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women. J Nutr. 2000 Jul;130(7):1700-4.

12. Arnal MA, et al. Protein pulse feeding improves protein retention in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jun;69(6):1202-8.

13. Soeters MR, et al. Intermittent fasting does not affect whole-body glucose, lipid, or protein metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov;90(5):1244-51.

14. Stote KS, et al. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):981-8.

Lower Body Warm-Up – 10 Minutes to Better Performance!

In my last article, Upper Body Warm-Up, I provided you with battle-tested upper body warm-up concepts that ensure maximal performance both in the gym and in competition.

In this article, I’m going to show you exactly what you need to do to better prepare for your lower body workout days. These Lower Body Warm-up techniques are guaranteed to maximize strength, improve motor unit (muscle) recruitment, and help prevent injury.

However, before I get into the practical exercises, I’m going to start with a few more gems of knowledge that are sure to help you get more out of the valuable training information contained in this article.

Warm-Up vs. Workout

This should be obvious, but based on my experience, many coaches ignore this one simple principle: your warm-up should NOT be the workout!

In other words, the optimal warm-up should be low enough in intensity that it gradually prepares you mentally, technically, and physically to better perform the primary activity to follow.  However, a proper warm-up should NOT be so high in intensity that it makes you tired and interferes with performance of the activity that you are preparing for.

The warm-up I describe below will not get you tired. It will get you worked up into a light sweat and feeling mentally and physically ready to set new PRs every time you train!

Why Are You Using Track Drills?

I see many coaches these days approach the lower body weightlifting warm-up using track/sprinter style drills such as butt kickers, high knees, and skips. Don’t get me wrong…these are great drills to do, but they don’t have much carryover to typical strength-based lifts like squats, lunges, and deadlifts.

If you are going to do track drills as part of your warm-up, perform them toward the beginning of the warm-up and gradually progress through other warm-up exercises that have more carryover to stationary lower-body strength exercises like the exercises I’ve provided below.

3 Key Points to an Effective Warm-up

Now that I’ve clarified some issues related to the warm-up by telling you what not to do, I can help you get the most out of your warm-ups by teaching you some important concepts that every athlete should do when warming up.

I’ve put together a list of three key points to designing an effective warm-up. These key points will help you understand why the Performance U approach to the warm-up is so effective. Plus, this list will empower you with the knowledge to make the most out of each and every warm-up session!

Key Point #1 – Use Unilateral Movements

As I’ve developed more knowledge and experience, I’ve come to realize the massive importance of using unilateral movements. Unilateral training is important for athletes because sprinting, cutting, swinging, punching, and just about every other action in sports is usually one-side dominant.

For bodybuilders, muscle symmetry is everything, so unilateral training is useful for them as well.

Additionally, from an injury prevention standpoint, muscle balance is necessary to move optimally and stay healthy. For instance, if your hamstrings are tighter on one side than on the other, this is likely to cause unnecessary torque in your hips and lumbar spine when you lift anything from the floor. This applies to deadlifts as well as Oly lifts.

The solution to achieving this balance is to use your warm-up as an assessment as to which parts of your body are feeling tighter and/or more restricted on that day. Performing unilateral movement warm-up exercises allows you to make this distinction and address it with more mobility work on the most restricted areas.

Key Point #2 – Do stuff you wouldn’t normally do!

A warm-up is great opportunity to incorporate movements and activities you wouldn’t normally do within your primary training session. For instance, we all know the importance of mobility work, but I never see folks working on mobility between sets of bench presses or deadlifts. Most people also are well aware of the importance of optimal posture, but rarely do I see guys in the gym working on activating the small muscles in the shoulders that can improve posture and maintain shoulder health by balancing out the stress created from heavy pressing movements.

Put simply, if you know something is important but you’re unlikely to do it during in your session, make it part of your warm-up. This way, you are sure to get it done each workout!

The movements I describe below focus on areas that I’ve found to be commonly weak and often overlooked. This is why I feel they are so important to do first.

Key Point #3 – Use your warm-up as an assessment!

I’ve already alluded to this in key point #1. Each day, your body can change based on how you feel that day, so use your warm-up as an opportunity to listen to what your body is telling you about its functional ability (or lack thereof) on that particular day.

If you feel like crap during your warm-up, it may not be the best day to try to set a new max weight squat. However, if during your warm-up you feel like a caged lion that can’t wait to pick up some heavy stuff, THAT is the day you hit it hard!

The Lower Body Warm-Up

Consistent with how the Upper Body Warm-Up was designed in Part 1, the Lower Body Warm-Up featured below consists of four stages:

Stage #1 – Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
Stage #2 – Dynamic Mobility
Stage #3 – Muscle Activation
Stage #4 – CNS Activation

Each stage consists of a few exercises described in step-by-step fashion below.

For a detailed description of why each of these phases is important, please see Part 1

Now, here’s how you get your lower body prepped and ready, Performance U style!

Stage 1 – Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)

Grab yourself a massage stick, foam roller, or medicine ball and perform these following self-myofascial release exercises for 30 seconds on each side.  Cover the entire area of the muscle.

Find the tender spots in the targeted muscle group and focus on those for the allotted time frame.

SMR Exercise #1 – Hips and Glutes

SMR Exercise #2 – Hamstrings

You will notice that the rest of the SMR pictures below show the athlete using a massage stick. If your gym does not have one, I highly recommend purchasing one for yourself.

Foam rollers are great, but the massage stick allows you to control the pressure, speed, and angle more accurately while performing SMR. The value of the results provided by using the stick far outweighs its dollar cost!

That said, all of the SMR techniques can be effectively performed using a foam roller.

SMR Exercise #3 – Quads and Hip Flexors (A)

SMR Exercise #4 – Quads and Hip Flexors (B)

SMR Exercise #5 – Calves

Lower Body Warm-Up Stage 2 – Dynamic Mobility

This stage of the warm-up uses exercises that improve both joint mobility and muscle flexibility in an active/dynamic fashion.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #1 – Four Count Squats

If you have trouble getting down deep (below parallel) when squatting, this exercise is a must for you! For most folks, this drill will instantly have you squatting deeper. Don’t believe me? Try for yourself and find out!

Perform 8-10 reps

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #2 – Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug

As the name describes, step back into a reverse lunge, dropping your rear knee to the floor. As you descend into the lunge, reach your arms behind you to stretch the front portion of your body as shown below.

As you bring your rear leg forward, drive your knee up toward your chest and hug your leg tight to your body for 1 sec before switching sides.

Repeat this for 8-10 reps on each side.

This a great hip flexor stretch and a fantastic way to reverse the tension created from sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #3 – Lateral Lunge

As shown in the video below, be sure to keep your trailing leg straight and keep both feet parallel and flat on the floor.

Perform 8-10 reps each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #4 – Yoga Plex

Put simply, this is one the best mobility sequences you can do!  Think of it as yoga in fast forward.

Perform 4-8 reps on each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #5 – Arm Crossover Stretch

Yes, you did also see this very same stretch in the Upper Body Warm-Up article! The truth is, it also makes a great lower back and hip mobility drill.  I personally feel this exercise should be done every day that you train, regardless of the goal!

Perform 8-10 reps on each side.

Lower Body Warm Up Stage 3 – Muscle Activation

The Muscle Activation stage utilizes exercises that improve the mind – muscle connection and ensures that all of the important stabilizer muscles are maximally turned on and functioning properly.

Muscle Activation Exercise #1 – 1 Leg/Hip Bridges

This is a simple, yet very effective exercise for improving the function of the ever-so-important glutes!

In the video, we have Alli’s shoulders elevated above her hips because recent EMG research by my good friend and colleague, Bret (the Glute Guy) Contreras, has shown that this significantly improves glute muscle recruitment.

Perform 10-20 reps on each leg.

Muscle Activation Exercise #2 – Side Lying Adduction

Guys may look at this exercise as something women do in an attempt to “tone up” their inner thighs. First off, we know that’s just unrealistic and ridiculous. However, this exercise is a fantastic way to improve the function and strength of the adductor musculature.

Strong adductors will help you squat heavier weight and maintain better knee alignment, which translates into injury prevention. Plus, strong adductors can help prevent nasty groin pulls.

Be sure to keep your working leg in line with the rest of your body throughout the exercise.

Perform 10-20 reps on each side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #3 – Quadruped Hip Circuit

This is another protocol that is 1) often performed wrong, and 2) commonly miscategorized by hardcore lifters as a “girly” exercise.

The video below addresses the proper way to perform this protocol and describes how to use the quadruped hip circuit to improve both core stability and increase mobility at the hip joint. This in turn will help you perform all of your lower body training exercises more effectively.

Perform 10-15 reps per exercise, per side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #4 – Slow Motion Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a great exercise for developing core stability, hip flexor strength, and hip mobility…that is, if the exercise is performed correctly, without allowing the hips to lift or the back to round.

Begin in push-up position with optimal spinal alignment, as shown below.

Now, in a controlled fashion, drive one knee toward your chest without allowing any change to the spinal alignment that you began with. Do not allow your elevated foot to touch the ground.

Hold the above position for 1-2 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Perform 6-8 reps on each side.

It’s all About the Hips!!!

Before I move on to the next stage of the warm-up, I want to mention something very important about the exercises that you just learned in Stage 3.

Put simply, to be a strong lifter, powerful athlete, or healthy injury-free individual, you need good hips. As they say in most sports, “it’s all in the hips”.

The above warm-up exercises cover all four major actions of the hip – extension, adduction, abduction, and flexion.

Don’t skip any of the moves because each is important in its own way.

Okay, moving on to Stage 4…

Upper Body Warm-Up Stage 4 – CNS Activation

In the CNS Activation stage, we utilize fast explosive movements. These types of activities are heavily CNS-dominant and therefore ensure that your CNS is primed and ready for the more intense lifts to follow.

CNS Activation Exercise #1 – Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift

This exercise was actually featured in my Big Legs with Bad Knees Article. This exercise also makes for a great way to warm up your lower body in a manner that will demand optimal timing, rhythm, balance, and coordination.

To get maximal nervous system activation, perform this exercise for speed.

Perform with bodyweight for 12-20 reps for speed.

CNS Activation Exercise #2 – Pogo Hops

Pogo hops are a fantastic way to fire up your CNS and improve both core tension and lower leg/ankle stiffness. All thee qualities are needed in order to explode out from the bottom of a heavy squat, to jump high, and to make quick changes in direction while playing sports.

Be sure to stay tall throughout the exercise and move as fast as possible.

Perform 30-50 reps for speed x2 sets with 20 seconds rest.

CNS Activation Exercise #3 – Box Jumps or Squat Jumps

Both of these exercises are standard moves that I don’t feel need much description. That said, be sure to perform either jump variation with optimal knee and back alignment. Land as quietly as possible on each jump.

Perform 5-8 jumps for sets with 30 seconds rest.

Lower Body Warm-Up Overview

For your training purposes, here’s an overview of how this warm-up should look on paper. Feel free to print this out and take it to the gym with you. At first glance, this list may appear as if it would take longer than it actually does. In actuality, this entire warm-up should take you about 10-15 minutes total.

Remember, this is a dynamic warm-up. You should perform each exercise in a dynamic fashion, spending no more than 1-2 seconds per rep. Therefore, 10 reps will only take 10-20 seconds.

Pre – Warmup

  • Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) for the upper body – 5 min
  • Hips and Glutes – 30 sec each side
  • Quads and Hip Flexors – 30 sec each side
  • Hamstrings – 30 sec each side
  • Calves – 30 sec each side

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug x8-10 each side
  • Lateral Lunge x8-10 each side
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side
  • Arm Crossover Stretch 8-10 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Supine 1 Leg Hip Bridge x10-20 each side
  • Side Lying Hip Adduction x10-20
  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets
  • Box Jumps or Squat Jumps 2x 5-8 reps, rest 30 seconds between sets

Express Warm-Up!

I realize that sometimes you may be short on time or you just want to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. If so, here is a shorter express lower body warm-up.

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets

Conclusion

This article has described a comprehensive lower body warm-up that is guaranteed to help you get bigger, get stronger, and outperform the competition.

Once you get the hang of it, this entire warm up should take you roughly 10-15 minutes. If it takes longer, you are moving too slow!

Although I’ve given you a multitude of exercises, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the warm-ups I use here at Performance U.  If you are interested in learning more about the Performance U approach to the warm-up and preparation, please check out my Warm Up Progressions DVDs which can be purchased through my website – NickTumminello.com

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website NickTumminello.com to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Lower Body Warm-Up – 10 Minutes to Better Performance discussion thread.

Bodybuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes – Vol 1

Sure, you can always pick up unsolicited advice from your local locker room guru, but what are the chances of it actually being good advice? Unfortunately, the odds aren’t in your favor.

That’s why we gave renowned nutritionist and successful bodybuilder Shelby Starnes his own column to answer your training and dieting questions. You see, unlike the big guy at your gym, Shelby has worked with hundreds of athletes who are looking for the same thing as you: a ripped, muscular physique.

In this installment, Shelby tackles dairy for dieting, how much time you really need to get shredded, fasted cardio, and motivation techniques to help you get your lazy butt out of bed and into the gym.

Read it, learn it, and apply it…and then print out a copy and give it to your locker room guru.

Dairy for Dieting? The Good and Bad of the Cow

Q: I’ve read that some people don’t like to include dairy products in their cutting diets. I realize this could be because of lactose intolerance issues, but what if someone can process dairy and doesn’t care about the minor bloat?

Also, I recently read an article that said although milk has a low glycemic index, the insulin response is still huge. Is this why people don’t like dairy? What if someone just had one or two cups of milk in their oats for breakfast or in a PWO shake?

Finally, would it make a difference if the person was cutting or trying to put on mass? Does taking a lactase enzyme capsule with the dairy product make a difference?

Shelby: The different types of dairy that one might include in a bodybuilding diet include milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and Dairy Queen Blizzards. Okay, that last one is a bit more fantasy than reality, but a little treat every once in a while never killed anyone (unless you’re a rock star and that little treat is a cocktail of heroin, cocaine, and speed).

The protein in these dairy foods is roughly 80 percent casein, and 20 percent whey. I’m sure the readers will recognize both of these as very high quality proteins, with casein having a relatively slow digestion rate, and whey a bit faster. They both contain a high amount of branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, an amino acid with a number of metabolic roles that is also the key trigger to protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.

Dairy foods are also a great source of calcium, which not only serves an important role in bone health but may also aid in fat loss (although the direct mechanism is not yet known).

So dairy foods definitely have a lot of good things going for them and are responsible for building tons of muscle over the years. Heck, dairy is how we grow from 8-pound infants to 30-pound nuisances in only a matter of months.

What are some of the negatives of dairy?

Lactose, the milk sugar found in dairy products, is probably the biggest downside. Some people simply can’t digest it very well, and some are allergic to it.  Those that can’t digest it very well can take a lactase supplement to aid in digestion, but if you’re eating dairy, you’re still consuming calories (from the lactose) that in my opinion would be better “spent” elsewhere, such as on a higher quality complex carbohydrate like oats or rice.

When calories are limited, such as in a strict pre-contest diet, you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck with the ones you do eat. In such an instance, I would rather consume whey protein and/or casein protein on their own (in a product like AtLarge’s Nitrean) and get my carbs elsewhere. You’ll still be getting all the benefits of dairy (the great amino acid profile, the calcium, etc.) but without the “trash calories” from lactose.

If you’re using a zero carb diet, then you’ll definitely have to forgo all dairy (except a whey isolate or casein isolate).

For those looking to lean out but not necessarily get on stage or for those looking to gain lean weight, foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt can definitely be part of the diet. Just remember to count the carbs, and take a lactase supplement if you have an issue with lactose tolerance.

One final note: many claim that dairy products cause them to bloat or make their skin thicker. This is most likely due to a combination of a food allergy, intolerance, and/or the higher sodium content in dairy products, which may cause them to hold more water than they might be accustomed to.

The Fat Loss Countdown: When Should You Really Start Dieting?

Q: I’m ~45 weeks out from my first comp. While I do have the competitive spirit, my goal is primarily to prove to myself what I’m capable of and to present my absolute best on stage, leaving nothing behind.

For a first-timer that has a good handle on diet and a good progressive routine, how would you determine how many weeks out the trainee would begin contest prep dieting?

Shelby: True competitors are always on a contest prep diet.  By that I mean that they’re always eating with the next competition in mind, whether it be their “off-season” or “pre-contest” phase. You want to give yourself every advantage over your competitors that you can, so you need to be committed to your goals year round.

As for how many weeks one should devote to fat loss, it would depend on how much fat there is to lose.  Most bodybuilders will diet for 12 to 16 weeks leading up to a contest, but that’s assuming that they aren’t too out of shape to begin with (perhaps 12-15 percent body fat at the most).

For someone that has let things slide a little more (no visible abs even in the best of lighting) a longer prep would be a good idea. I suggest 20 weeks or even more, depending on how things look.

A good rough guide would be to give yourself at least one week for every percent of body fat that you carry, so 14 weeks if you’re about 14 percent body fat.  You won’t get down to 0 percent at the end, but losing roughly 1 percent per week is a good rate of fat loss if things are set up properly.

You also want to be ready a bit early for your show, if at all possible. I like to have my clients close to stage-ready by two weeks out, so we have some “wiggle room” to play around with to see where they look best in terms of fullness, flatness, etc.

Remember, you can always be ready early for a bodybuilding show, but you never want to be ready late.

Also, keep in mind that the longer and slower you diet, the more chance you have of retaining all your muscle (assuming you’re dieting properly).

To Eat Toast or To Not Eat Toast: Is Fasted Morning Cardio Superior?

Q: I believe you’re a fan of cardio in the A.M. As a person who hates mornings, is morning cardio necessary or is it acceptable to do evening cardio when prepping? Also, do you prefer fasted cardio or getting some food in first?

Shelby: Ah yes, the good old fasted cardio debate.  I have always done my cardio in the morning on an empty stomach, and when the amount gets really high (over an hour), I’ll start adding in P.M. sessions, either directly after weights if it’s a training day, or just in the evening if it’s a rest day.

The argument for A.M fasted cardio is that in the morning, after an overnight fast, your body is slightly glycogen depleted and insulin levels are low, so fat will be the primary fuel source for cardio (at least for low to moderate intensity cardio).

The argument for “anytime” cardio is that the aforementioned variables don’t really matter; fat loss is simply a matter of calories in vs. calories out, and doing cardio later in the day will produce the same results given that the diet is the same.

In my experience though (and the experience of hundreds of my clients over the years), A.M. fasted cardio IS superior, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but for the following as well:

1. Morning cardio is a great way to start your day; it releases endorphins that make you feel better both physically as well as mentally.

2. Getting it done first thing makes it less likely to be something you’ll skip later.

3. Morning cardio (especially high intensity) raises your metabolism for hours afterwards, so you’re not just burning calories while you’re on the machine – you’re burning calories even while at rest.

If you absolutely cannot get your cardio done in the morning, the next best time would be post-workout (but prior to your post-workout meal), as this is another time when you are glycogen-depleted (and already at the gym). Make sure you bring your post-workout meal to the gym though, so you can immediately replenish after the cardio is complete.

Some might worry about potential muscle loss when doing fasted cardio, but if total diet is in line then the chances of catabolism are very low.  If the human body was so fragile that it lost muscle doing some physical activity before eating, we never would have survived as a species.

Bottom line: Will doing morning fasted cardio make or break your progress?  Probably not, but it will give you better leverage in your journey to physique perfection.

Motivation: Just How Badly Do You Want It?

Q: My question is about motivation. Obviously the bodybuilder lifestyle is one which requires a lot of motivation and dedication. Whether you’re stepping on stage or want to look sharp on the beach, you have to commit to some pretty serious training and eating habits on a consistent basis.

How do you deal with self-motivation? What gets you up early to prepare food and do everything you gotta do to get big and ripped for that stage? Do you ever battle with your motivation and what would your advice be for the average guy trying to make these significant lifestyle changes for a better body?

Shelby: Motivation is the source of long-term success with anything in life.  If you have a strong enough “why” guiding your actions, you will figure out the “how”. In other words, if you want something bad enough (like a better physique), you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Often times this means putting off short-term pleasures (like pizza or skipping cardio) for long-term satisfaction (like better health, more muscle definition, etc.). It’s like saving money for something you want; you can’t keep spending it all on petty wants if you intend on amassing anything substantial.

Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful for staying motivated:

  • Remind yourself frequently of your long-term goals. Write down on a note card what you want to accomplish in the coming year (or month) and keep it near you at all times.  Read it when you wake up and before you go to bed at night.  Read it when you feel pressure to deviate from your diet or workouts.
  • Enter a contest or set a goal with a deadline.  Having something concrete to work towards makes it much easier to stay on track than just floundering about aimlessly.
  • If you’re getting ready for a competition, remember that every opportunity you have to cheat on your diet (or cardio or whatever) is an opportunity for your competition to gain an edge on you.  If you want to win, you won’t allow them that edge!
  • Tell others about your goals. You’ll be less tempted to slack off when others are watching and rooting for you.
  • Track your progress. Seeing the results of your hard work (from weekly photos, measurements, or whatever) is a great way to keep yourself motivated to continue.
  • Hire a professional. Much as with telling others about your goals, hiring someone to help you achieve them forces you to be accountable for your actions.  It also ensures that you’ll be using the most efficient methods for reaching your goals.

These methods have helped me immensely over the years.  If you’re looking to make a serious change in your life and need help with the motivation to do so, I would recommend implementing at least a few of them.

Got a question for Shelby? – Send him a note at  askshelby@wannabebig.com and be on the look-out for the next installment of his Q and A!

Written by Shelby Starnes

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Bodybuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes – Vol 1 discussion thread.

About Shelby Starnes

Shelby is a successful National-level Bodybuilder & Powerlifter and has helped hundreds of athletes get into the greatest shape of their lifes.

  • 2009 NPC Central States Championships – 1st place Middleweight and Overall
  • B.A. in Psychology with Departmental Honors – estimated completion May, 2008
  • 2nd place 198-lb class – 2004 APF Michigan State Powerlifting Championships
  • Overall Novice Champion – Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005
  • 2nd place open middleweight- Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005 (nationally qualified)
  • 5th place middleweight – NPC Junior Nationals, 2006

Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder looking for pre contest/off season assistance or simply just striving to achieve a specific physique, Shelby is available to set up custom diet and training programs to suit your goals.

For more information on his diet and training programs and prices, see here.

Carb Rotation – An In-depth Guide to Personalizing Your Diet

Carb rotation for bodybuilding nutrition is not a new theory. I first came upon the concept in the late-eighties via the Ultimate Dieting Handbook (although it had been practiced by diet theorists and human lab rats before then).

This seminal manuscript by Michael Zumpano and Dan Duchaine introduced the basic science of ketogenic dieting to the bodybuilding world. It was not a zero-carb diet. In fact, The Ultimate Diet involved “reload days” to counteract the complaints some bodybuilders had with a strict ketogenic protocol; specifically, the reload days allowed lifters to maintain training intensity and to avoid a decrease in thyroid function.

I have studied all aspects of bodybuilding training and nutrition, and I pay particularly close attention to evolving trends in both fields of study. Part of my work involved a decade as a consultant for a couple of supplement companies, including seven years with a company that formulated hundreds of pre-contest diets for athletes in both natural and tested events.

As with any successful diet, the basis of many approaches was carb restriction. As the trend continued for lower levels of carbs in diets, people found out that many athletes needed to institute carb-load days. This kept them from flattening out, becoming mentally stale, and actually increased fat loss rather than hurt it due to the ability of higher carb days to kick start a sluggish metabolism.

My version of a carb rotation diet involves High-Carb, Moderate-Carb and Low-Carb days, arranged through your week to correspond to your specific training days. Your heaviest training days (legs, back) should always be High-Carb days. Rest days could be Low- or Moderate-Carb, depending on your goals during that period of the year (pre-contest fat loss versus off-season size building).

The program may look something like this (although your bodypart split will most likely be different, this will give you a general idea):

Monday Leg Training High Carb
Tuesday Chest, Shoulders Moderate Carb
Wednesday Rest Day Low Carb
Thursday Low Back/Lats High Carb
Friday Arms Moderate Carb
Saturday Rest Day Low Carb
Sunday Rest Day Moderate Carb

 

As you can see, the above diet has two High-Carb days, two Low-Carb days and three Moderate-Carb days each week.

A pre-contest version may have only one High-Carb Day (depending on the person’s specific metabolism) and three Low-Carb Days. As you will see, the plan is very adjustable. A weight gain diet may have three High-Carb, three Moderate-Carb, and one Low-Carb day (but probably with a higher calorie level).

GOAL HIGH-CARB MODERATE-CARB LOW-CARB
Pre-Contest 1-2 2-3 3
Average Off-Season 2 3 2
Weight Gain 3-4 2-3 1

 

Calorie needs are very specific, based on the lifter’s metabolism and activity level, but the example below is a good “best guess” for someone on a fat loss program. A daily calorie level of 15 grams per pound of bodyweight is generally a good starting point for this type or program but, if are very lean or carrying a large amount of muscle, you may need to increase the calorie levels to 16, 17, or 18 calories per pound. Look at your recent diets (if applicable) to determine where you should start and you can adjust from that point. If you need to cut the calorie levels, drop it in the other direction. If you’re trying to lose fat, you don’t want to start out too low, since that makes it impossible for you to make adjustments later.

  • Fat-burning: 10-17 calories per pound of bodyweight
  • Muscle-gaining: 12-20
  • Weight gain: 15-25

The macronutrient ratios I recommend are: High-Carb days (35% protein / 60% carb / ~5% fat); Moderate-Carb days (50% protein / 35% carb / 15% fat); and Low-Carb days (60% protein / 10% carb / 30% fat). For a person weighing 177 pounds who decides to begin a fat loss diet at 15 calories per pound of bodyweight, it might look like this:

177lbs x 15 = 2,655 calories

Protein Carb Fat
HIGH-CARB 35%

232grams / 928cal 

60%

398grams / 1592cal

~5%

15grams / 135cal

MODERATE-CARB 50%

332grams /1328cal

35%

232grams / 928cal

15%

44grams / 396cal

LOW-CARB 60%

398grams / 1592cal 

10%

66grams / 264cal 

30%

88grams / 792cal  

 

This lifter is looking at a High-Carb day of 232 grams of protein, 398 grams of carbs and not much fat (maybe 4-6 EFA capsules and whatever fat is naturally occurs in meats).

The Moderate-Carb day would be 332 grams of protein, 232 grams of carbs, and 44 grams of fats (6-8 EFA caps broken up into two servings, with the rest coming from macadamia nut or olive oil— which is 14 grams of fat per tablespoon).

The Low-Carb day would consist of 398 grams of protein, 66 grams of carbs, and 88 grams of fats (once again, 6-8 EFA caps broken up into two servings with the rest coming from macadamia nut/olive oil).

The thing I like best about this diet is that it is easily adjustable. If you are gaining bodyfat on it, you can switch one of the days (in the weekly schedule example above, it would be Thursday) from High-Carb to Moderate-Carb, or your Sunday from Moderate to Low. If you are getting flat or feel like you are rundown, you can boost one of the Low days to Moderate or a Moderate day to a High day, or you can increase the carbs a bit on your Moderate and/or High days.

In a fat-loss mode, you may need to gradually adjust your intake. The first step in doing this would be to reduce calories. In this example, we lower the caloric value to 14 calories per pound of bodyweight.

177lbs x 14 = 2,478 calories

Protein Carb Fat
HIGH-CARB 35%

217grams / 868cal 

60%

372grams / 1488cal

~5%

14grams / 126cal

MODERATE-CARB 50%

310grams / 1240cal

35%

217grams / 868cal

15%

41grams / 396cal

LOW-CARB 60%

372grams / 1488cal 

10%

62grams / 248cal 

30%

83grams / 747cal  

 

The next adjustment would be for us to stagger calories so that the Low-Carb and Moderate-Carb days are lower in calories (-1 in calories per pound of bodyweight) and adjust macronutrient balances on High-Carb Day to:  protein 40% / carbs 55% / fat ~5%. 

As you can see below, this gives you a calorie intake of 2478 calories a day on your High-Carb Day and a lower level of 2301 on your Moderate- and Low-Carb Days. This keeps the metabolism burning body fat while the High-Carb Day keeps the metabolism from slowing down, keeps glycogen levels high, and staves off psychological hunger pangs.

Protein Carb Fat
HIGH-CARB (177 x 14 = 2478) 40%

248grams / 992cal  

55%

340grams / 1360cal 

~5%

14grams / 126cal 

MODERATE-CARB (177×13 = 2301) 50%

288grams / 1152cal   

35%

201grams / 804cal 

15%

38grams / 342cal 

LOW-CARB (177 x 13 = 2301) 60%

345grams / 1380cal 

10%

58grams / 232cal  

30%

77grams / 693cal

 

Further adjustments are made either by reducing the calorie level or reducing the number of High-Carb days. For fat-loss, I like two Low-Carb days in a row somewhere in the week (rest days) followed by a High-Carb day, since I feel this really activates glycogen loading on the carb-load day while getting maximal fat-burning on the two depletion days.

Shelby Starnes is a big advocate of a carb cycling approach

The High-Carb days replenish glycogen stores and keep the metabolism high. We keep fat intake low since carbs provide plenty of (more preferentially used) energy. Insulin levels are relatively high, driving glycogen and aminos into muscles. Since you are taking in so many carbs, you don’t need as much protein on this day since the protein you are eating is being utilized at a higher rate. You may have heard the phrase that ‘carbohydrates are protein-sparing’…this means that when you have enough carbs, protein stores are not used up for other functions as much. Avoid caffeine and stimulant fat-burners on these days since they inhibit glycogen storage (which is our primary dietary goal on High-Carb days).

The Low-Carb days stimulate fat-burning and increase your insulin sensitivity. We take in more protein on these days, which supports fat-burning, and also consume more healthy fats (which are important in the body’s creation of growth hormones and testosterone). I recommend you use EFA caps for some of this but use a healthy dose of macadamia nut oil to make up the rest of your fat intake on the Low-Carb days since it seems to really support fat loss during a low carb state.

Your food choices should be virtually the same as on every proper bodybuilding diet you have ever been on. For proteins, eat lean meats, eggs, and quality protein shakes. Eat slow clean carbs like oats, sweet potatoes, and rice and LOTS of fibrous veggies.

I also recommend a “greens” product like Udo’s Wholesome Fast Food Blend, Greens+, or Garden of Life’s Perfect Food. These products are ground extracts of a variety of plants and contain fiber, antioxidants, tons of phytonutrients. They also correct the acidic pH that comes from a protein-heavy bodybuilding diet. Some also have probiotics and digestive enzymes added to even further enhance their value.

I already mentioned EFA capsules and macadamia nut oil. If your budget allows, an essential amino is a great product to add to boost the value of each meal. A dose of essential branched-chain aminos is also a good idea to take when you wake in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I keep five of each in a tumbler on my nightstand next to a glass of water. You can also benefit greatly from a glutamine/BCAA drink and/or BCAAs during your workouts. Lastly, you should be drinking one-half to one-and-a-half gallons of water daily. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the importance of that.

Below is a table which summarizes what occurs on each day:

HIGH CARB MODERATE CARB LOW CARB
Storage dayHighly anti-catabolic Coasting day Fat-burning (depletion) day. Catabolic (hopefully on fat)
Leg Day, Back Day or Weak Bodypart Specialization Day [Varies] Rest days or training of smaller bodyparts like arms, delts
Higher insulin output Keeps metabolism elevated and keeps you from flattening out Insulin levels low, allowing for efficient fat-burning
Increased insulin sensitivity from low-carb days allows for glycogen super-compensation and increased intake of nutrients.

Proportionally more protein available for synthesis, even with lower gram intake

  Higher (healthy) fats which increase insulin sensitivity (omega-3s).

Deplete glycogen stores somewhat which increases insulin sensitivity.

More protein needed since some is used as an energy source.

Good time for high quality hydrolysates or BCAAs to maintain muscle size

No cardio High-Intensity Interval Training Long steady-state cardio

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff on the daily diet. If it is your Moderate-Carb Day and you need to consume 310 grams of protein, 217 grams of carbs, and 41 grams of fats, don’t think you need to evenly divide that into your 5-6 daily meals. All that matters is your end-of-the-day total.

I would however, try to get extra protein (using a protein supplement like Nitrean makes this easier) and carbs in during the meals directly before and after your workout (especially on the Low-Carb day).

On this program, I also recommend that you divide your meals into protein/fat and protein/carb meals. Keep most of your protein/carb meals in the early part of the day near your workout (if you train in the morning).

The carb rotation diet is effective in that it addresses all major hormonal systems (testosterone, insulin, cortisol, growth factors, thyroid) and is incredibly adaptable.

This means it’s not just adjustable to a specific person, but can easily be tweaked along the course of an individual program based on the body composition changes you experience.

This guide spells out all the basics. Give it a try!

Written by Steve Colescott

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Carb Rotation An In-depth Guide to Personalizing Your Diet discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist , Steve Colescott works alongside Dave Palumbo and John Romano as a Staff Writer at RxMuscle.com.

He has had nearly a hundred published articles covering the science behind various training and nutrition protocols. He can be reached at stevecolescott@gmail.com