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Bulletin #55 – No Limits: How To Break Through Plateaus—Part 2

In the first part of this series Idiscussed breaking plateaus in your mus-cular development. Most of the article dealtwith nutritional considerations and howto manipulate and regulate your nutrientsto spur muscle growth. At the very end Ibegan to delve into adjustments in yourtraining to spark lean mass gains shouldyou reach a plateau. There are several moreaspects concerningtraining and muscle gainthat need to addressedbefore I move on to thesecond part of the dis-cussion, breakingthrough fat-loss pla-teaus. So if you’reready, let’s get started.I get peoplewho call all the time,looking for my  “bless-ing” to take a couple ofdays off. “What aboutover-training?” they ask.“Should I cut down ontraining?” “Should I takea lay off?” Everybodythese days is worriedabout over-training. Iwould like to respond tothis on two levels. First,if you think you will stimulate yourmuscles to grow bigger by not trainingthem, you’re fooling yourself. It’s theworkout that stimulates your muscles togrow. Less workout means less stimu-lus. Rather than cutting back on yourtraining, consider increasing your nutri-tional support instead. This is wheresupplements can really help – when you’retraining so hard that you can barely re-cover. Of course it is possible that youmay fail to recover from your workouts,and in that sense you may be “over-trained.”

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That doesn’t mean that you’reexercising too much however, it meansthat you’re not recovering enough. Thisstate of “over-training” really describes thestate of your body’s balance betweenstress (exercise) on one hand and recov-ery on the other. If the level of stress isso high that you’re not recovering, theanswer most people give is to train less.Rather than this imbalance being a prob-lem of too much exercise, I view it as aproblem of not enough recovery. Peopleare not over-trained,they’re under-recov-ered. Before you cutdown on your train-ing, beef up your nu-trition and get morerest. Approach yournutrition with asmuch intensity asyour workouts. Also,make sleep a priority.Eat right, eat a lot, getenough sleep, andyou probably won’tfeel over-trained anymore. What’s the al-ternative? Train lessand eat less. Doesthat sound like theway to get your bodyto grow?Now I wouldlike to respond to the question of over-training at a second level. This has to dowith the volume of exercise versus theintensity of exercise.

You cannot make upfor low intensity exercise by increasingthe volume. If you’re lifting half-heartedlywithout giving it your full effort, then add-ing a few extra sets onto the end of yourworkout won’t help. While these low in-tensity sets will not stimulate musclegrowth, they will however use up yourrecovery ability. If you find your weighttraining sessions are dragging on for twoor three hours and you’re still not grow-ing, I suspect your exercise volume is toohigh and your intensity is too low. Whenyou enter the gym, you must be very se-rious and all business. You’re not in thereto socialize and have fun. Hit the weightshard at full intensity. Generally, you shouldbe done with your workout in 60 min-utes, and 90 at the most. When it comesto over-training, I find that the volume ofhigh intensity exercise is rarely the prob-lem. The problem usually turns out to bea large volume of low intensity exercise.This is not an effective stimulus forgrowth but will contribute to fatigue.Another area often overlooked is aerobics.When discussing this issue, many peoplewill say if you spend your energy on aero-bics then that leaves you with less energyto grow.

This is a rather short-sighted so-lution to the problem. Your muscles neednutrients to grow. They need blood flow.Moderate to high intensity aerobic exer-cise will increase capillary density andblood flow to muscles, providing forgreater nutrient delivery (1,2). This willallow for more growth over the long term.I am convinced that if you include aero-bic exercise in your training program thiswill allow for greater overall musculardevelopment over the long term. Youshould obviously do more aerobics whenpreparing for a contest and less whileyou’re trying to gain weight, but I believeyou should do aerobics year round.Twenty to thirty minutes a day on the bikewill burn 250-300 calories, so if you’retrying to gain weight just eat a few morecalories to make up for it. Think of it thisway: in the off season eat a Parrillo Barand ride the bike for at least 30 minutes.You’ll strengthen your cardiovascular sys-tem, have a richer blood supply, and endup with bigger muscles. The other ben-efit of aerobics is that it helps you burnfat, so while you’re gaining muscle you’llstay lean. Some bodybuilders are afraidto do aerobics in the off season becausethey think it will make them lose muscle.This won’t happen if you simply eat enough calories to compensate for thoseused during the aerobic activity. If youeat enough high quality calories, this willsupport muscle growth while the aero-bics helps you lose fat.What about supplementation?Can this help me gain more muscle?

Yes,but I want you to sort out the problemswith your diet and training program firstrather than hope that supplements willsomehow fix everything else. Remember,the foundation of bodybuilding successis hard work, consistency, and dedicationto a solid diet and training program.Supplements are the icing on the cake,not the foundation. If you’re eating sloppyand training half-heartedly, supplementswill not give you the results you’re after.On the other hand, if you’re eating rightand training as hard as you can, supple-ments can improve your gains over whatyou could achieve without them.The single best supplement forgaining muscle is Creatine. This is a mol-ecule stored inside muscle cells and is in-volved in energy production (1,2,6,7). Itincreases muscle size and strength dra-matically within the first month of usingit. Muscle gains of 4-14 pounds andstrength increases of 10-15% are typicalduring the first month of creatine supple-mentation. That’s quite amazing when youthink about it. Most of the muscularweight gain is do to storage of water in-side muscle cells. As creatine is stored inthe muscle, it attracts water, causing themuscle cell to swell.

The strength in-creases are due to increased energy pro-ducing ability of the muscle (1,2,6,7).While muscle gains during the first monthof creatine supplementation are miracu-lous, things slow down after that. Afterthe muscles are saturated with creatinethey can’t soak up anymore, and afterthat it’s a matter of maintenance of cre-atine stores. For the first 1-3 weeks youshould use 20 grams of creatine a dayto fully load the muscle, then after that5-10 grams a day is enough to maintainmuscle stores. It stands to reason thatmuscle protein gain will ultimately beenhanced as well, leading to fastermuscle growth, because you’re able totrain heavier while using creatine. This,of course, if providing you increase yourprotein and calories to support thisgrowth.The next most important supple-ments are ones which provide these calo-ries and extra protein, since inadequatecaloric and protein intake is the mostcommon reason for failing to gain moremuscle. The best choices are Hi-ProteinPowder™, Pro-Carb™, and CapTri®which are specially formulated to mini-mize fat accumulation while increasingcalories. A scoop of Pro-Carb™ and Hi-Protein™ mixed together in water hasthe perfect nutrient profile to supportmuscle growth.

I’m working on a newcombination product which will containessentially this same nutrient breakdown.If you’re prone to gaining fat wheneveryou increase calories, I suggest you useCapTri®. CapTri® is unique in that it is away to provide more calories with virtu-ally no tendency to be stored as fat (4,5).At the high end of the supplement ladderare the amino acids. Muscle Amino For-mula™ supplies pure branched chainamino acids, the most common aminoacids incorporated into muscle protein.This supplement is usually reserved forcompetitive bodybuilders and enduranceathletes. It has the effect of making themuscle harder and fuller and is especiallyuseful to minimize muscle loss while di-eting for a contest. If you’re training hardand long enough to lose your pump bythe end of your workout, this is a tre-mendous supplement for you. Liver-Amino Formula™ is also a great supple-ment because it contains 1½ grams ofprotein per tablet as well as heme iron.Take five to eight with each of your sixmeals, you’re looking at an additional 45 to 72 grams of protein. For additional calo-ries, the Parrillo Bar is a tremendous ad-dition to your diet. It contains 250 calo-ries per bar, which includes 11 grams ofquality protein, 37 grams of complex car-bohydrates and five grams of CapTri®.You should now have a prettygood idea of the areas you should con-centrate your focus on if your goal is topack on lean mass.

Now I want to sharesome tips on what to do when yourprogress stalls when you’re dieting to losefat. Of course, gaining and losing are con-tradictory by nature. What you’ll find,however, is that the goals in bodybuild-ing and fitness dictate that you do bothat the same time. It’s a crazy thought,but it’s possible. Want to know how. Readon.When you talk to most peopleabout fat loss, the most obvious waythey’ll say to lose weight is to restrictcalories. And in fact, the fastest way tolose weight is to stop eating altogether.Unfortunately, when you lose weight bysevere caloric restriction about half ofthe weight you lose is muscle. This isknown as “the starvation response.”When you severely restrict food intakeyour body thinks it’s starving (which itis) so it makes certain metabolic adapta-tions to allow it to survive longer withoutfood. Your body fat represents storedenergy for just such an emergency, soyour body tries to make it last as long aspossible. During starvation your metabo-lism shifts and you end up losing as muchmuscle as fat. Recall pictures you haveseen of prisoner of war survivors or fam-ine survivors. True, they have no bodyfat, but they have no muscle mass either.By losing muscle mass your body candecrease its metabolic rate, or the num-ber of calories it requires to survive eachday.

This means the fat stores will lastlonger, since with less muscle the bodyrequires fewer calories to maintain itselfeach day. So during severe caloric restric-tion you lose muscle and your metabolicrate decreases. And with a slower me-tabolism, the rate of fat burning slowsdown. All of this makes great sense fromthe point of view of surviving a famine,but it’s exactly the opposite of what body-builders want to achieve.Bodybuilders don’t want to loseany muscle while they lose fat. Further-more, we don’t want to slow down ourmetabolic rate because that would meanslower fat loss. So how do we do it? Thekey is to continue to feed your body thenutrients and calories it needs to maintainits muscle mass, and to draw on storedbody fat as a source of energy. Resist thetemptation to cut calories or skip meals.That’s the worst thing you can do. Butbefore we deal with the specifics, we needto lay some groundwork. Some of thebasic issues are: How many caloriesshould I eat? Don’t I need to cut calo-ries? How fast can I lose fat? What can Ido to make sure I’m not losing muscle?Many times in previous articlesI’ve referred to a concept called your“maintenance energy requirement.” Thisis the number of calories you need to con-sume per day to support your present bodyweight and activity level. Metabolicallyspeaking, this is known as your total en-ergy expenditure, or TEE.

It is the sumof your basal metabolic rate (the amountof energy your body expends while at rest,such as during sleep) plus the energy youexpend during activity, including exercise,plus the thermic effect of feeding plusanother factor called adaptive thermogen-esis. There are several ways that researchscientists who study metabolism have offiguring this out. One way is to have aperson live in a special chamber called acalorimeter and measure the heat givenoff by the body. This technique is referredto as “direct calorimetry.” Another wayis called “indirect calorimetry” and in-volves measuring the amount of oxygenconsumed by the body and the amount ofcarbon dioxide produced and using thisdata to calculate the amount of caloriesexpended. These are obviously expensiveresearch procedures and are not availableto people who just would like to knowwhat their TEE is. You have an easy wayof figuring this out for yourself, however,and it doesn’t cost anything. Simply weighall your food and record everything youeat for a week sometime while yourweight remains constant. Pick a weekwhen you’re doing your normal work-out and your normal amount of aerobicactivity. Calculate the average numberof calories you consume a day duringthis period and this is your maintenanceenergy requirement (MER).

Most body-builders on the Parrillo Nutrition Programweigh their food and record their calo-ries anyway, so it doesn’t take any extrawork. Just look over your Diet TracSheets from a week when you didn’tgain or lose any weight and calculate thedaily average. If you haven’t done thisyet, you need to. It provides a scientificbasis for making many decisions aboutyour diet. I can’t tell you how many calo-ries to consume until you know this num-ber. The concept of the MER also pro-vides a useful way to teach you how toconstruct and adjust your diet.After you determine your MER,we can talk about calories. If you want tomaintain your present body weight, youneed to consume the number of caloriesequal to your MER – this is simply thedefinition of MER. If you want to gainweight, you need to consume about 300to 500 calories per day more than yourMER. This will result is a positive energybalance, which means that you are con-suming more energy (calories) per daythan you are expending. These extra calo-ries can be stored as body weight. Ifyou’re eating right and training hard, mostof it will be muscle. If you want to loseweight, you need to achieve a negative energy balance. This means that you needto expend more calories per day than youconsume.There are two ways we could goabout this. First, we could consume lesscalories than our MER, meaning thatwe’re eating fewer calories than our bodyneeds to maintain itself.

This will result inweight loss, but as we discussed previ-ously, anytime we reduce calories we runa risk of losing some muscle. Alternatively,another way of bringing about a negativeenergy balance is to increase our energyexpenditure. By doing more aerobic exer-cise you can increase your TEE andachieve a negative energy balance whilestill consuming your MER. This meansenough calories and nutrients will be pro-vided to maintain your present musclemass as you lose fat. Whereas the weightlost by caloric restriction can be as muchas 50% muscle, the weight lost by increas-ing aerobic exercise activity while main-taining constant calorie intake is almostentirely fat (7,8).To summarize, in order to lose weight youhave to burn more calories than you eat.This is called a negative energy (calorie)balance. You can do this by either eatingfewer calories or by burning more calo-ries. The approach I recommend is to eatthe number of calories equal to your MERand to increase the amount of calories youburn by doing more aerobics. This willresult in more efficient fat loss and lessmuscle tissue loss than the approach ofcutting calories. You still provide amplecalories and nutrients to maintain yourmuscle but draw on stored body fat tofuel your aerobic exercise. Furthermore,aerobic exercise builds the metabolic path-ways that burn fat (1,2). It increases themitochondria and enzyme pathways thatmetabolize fat. And by NOT cutting calo-ries, your body will not decrease its meta-bolic rate and enter into the starvationmode. Not only is this strategy logical,but it is backed up by the scientific litera-ture.

More importantly, it is backed up bythe real life experience of thousands ofbodybuilders. It’s just the way that worksbest.Now keep in mind we’re talkingabout your MER here. If you just finisheda weight gaining cycle you probably wereconsuming 300-500 calories in excess ofyour MER in order to pack on some mass.So you may in fact want to decrease calo-ries from what you had been consumingto gain weight, but don’t decrease thembelow your MER. This is why it’s impor-tant to have some idea what your MERis. This is a useful baseline number thatallows you to make some rational adjust-ments instead of just guessing. Also keepin mind that as you increase muscle massyour MER will increase as well. Muscleis metabolically active tissue and requiresenergy and nutrients to support. For ev-ery 10 pounds of muscle you gain youwill have to eat about 300 more calories aday (roughly) just to maintain your newbody weight. So don’t forget to keepchecking your MER periodically and makeadjustments. If you keep a nutrition logand Diet Trac Sheets like you’re supposedto, it will be easy. So when I say not tocut calories to lose weight, what this lit-erally means is don’t reduce calories be-low your MER, the level you need to main-tain your present muscle mass. If you’vejust been in a calorie-excess mode, thenreducing calories to your MER is reason-able.


1. McArdle WD, Katch FI, and Katch VL.Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition,and Human Performance. Lea & Febiger,Philadelphia, 1991.

2. Wilmore JH and Costill DL. Physiol-ogy of Exercise and Sport. Human Kinet-ics, Champaign, IL, 1994.

3. Maughan RJ. Creatine supplementationand exercise performance. InternationalJournal of Sport Nutrition 5: 94-101,1995.

4. Greenhaff PL. Creatine and its applica-tion as an ergogenic aid. InternationalJournal of Sport Nutrition 5: S100-S110,1995.No Limits: How To Break Through Plateaus, Part II

5. Baba N, Bracco EF, and Hashim SA.Enhanced thermogenesis and diminisheddeposition of fat in response to overfeed-ing with diet containing medium chain trig-lyceride. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 35: 678-682,1982.

6. Bach AC and Babayan VK. Mediumchain triglycerides: an update. Am. J. Clin.Nutr. 36: 950-962, 1982.

7. Bouchard C, Tremblay A, Despres J-P, et al. The response to exercise withconstant energy intake in identical twins.Obes Res 2: 400-411, 1994.

8. Hill JO, Melby C, Johnson SL, andPeters JC. Physical activity and energyrequirements. Am J Clin Nutr 62 (S):1059S-1066S, 1995.

9. Flatt JP. Dietary fat, carbohydrate bal-ance, and weight maintenance: effects ofexercise. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 45: 296-306,1987.

10. Flatt JP. Use and storage of carbohy-drate and fat. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 61: 952s-959s, 1995.

11. Swinburn B and Ravussin E. Energybalance or fat balance? Am. J. Clin. Nutr.57: 766S-771S, 1993.

12. Acheson KJ, Flatt JP, and Jequier E.Glycogen synthesis versus lipogenesisafter a 500 gram carbohydrate meal inman. Metabolism 31: 1234-1240, 1982.

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