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Eating To Build Muscle Mass

Reprinted from Planet Muscle (Volume 5, Number 1, 2002)

Eat For Muscle! Timing Is Everything
(by Dr Eric Serrano, M.D. and Jeff Stout)

Eric Serrano M.D. Recommendations

It is a widely held belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My response is perhaps, but not likely for our population. At the very least, while this may be true for sedentary individuals, it is not so for most active trainees.

As a matter of fact, the feeding following your workout and the respective meal prior to exercise, I rank numbers one and two, respectively, as our most important meals. For a variety of reasons, these feedings should have the greatest impact on fat loss, muscle growth, recovery and physical performance, not only just for the next time you train, but for all your future workouts.

Research and experimentation with my clients has led me down a new trail surrounded by some controversy. But then again, I do not believe the maximum standards in the quest for muscle progress have been determined and thus, not approached, as all the factors for fat loss, performance, and muscle increase have not been assessed accurately, at least in my view. I intend to try and do so fully.


Hormonal Mileau & Muscle Protein Accretion

There are very precise and special metabolic conditions created by the type, duration and intensity of exercise. This fact makes the post workout meal an opportunity to provide metabolically activated muscle and endocrine organs with special signals and nutrients needed to augment natural processes for tissue remodeling, growth, substrate restoration and tissue/fiber repair.

A specific and altered hormonal environment exists at this time and you can manipulate powerful hormones (which may already be changed from exercise), with directed nutritional intervention.

The goal must be, to always create the highest level of an anabolic state. The anabolic environment is the state required for repair and growth of muscle, as well as for enhanced fat and sugar utilization. In essence, catabolism is the opposite state.

You realize of course, that exercise can create perpetual catabolism if you fail to address the changes (and opportunities) created by intense training. For example, if you trained hard and then did not eat or sleep for several hours and then trained hard again and again did not eat or sleep, and then tried to train again, you probably could not.

In fact, under such a self-limiting scenario, very quickly every system of your body would rapidly begin to fail, starting first with your brain thinking, language and memory processes. Then your immune system would rapidly fail, followed by rapid muscle atrophy and soon enough, failure of every organ system in your body!

Needless to day, muscle is metabolically and thermodynamically hungry following a workout, and of course, food fuel must be provided (as must sleep), for your system to recover and replenish energy reserves while enabling fiber hypertrophy.

But - did you know that in theory, you can possibly over load 'the system' by providing nutrients that may actually compete in some ways. Of course, a simple form of overload is excess caloric energy, even though you are exercising. You want muscle accretion, not fat baggage. Another area that has not been explored properly is optimal absorption in the post workout environment. I believe the so-called 'window of opportunity does exist and that the timing of nutrient delivery is critical.


Before The Storm

Consider the meal before the workout somewhat the quiet before the storm. This meal should provide a prolonged release of specific nutrients to stimulate the release of specific hormones that best augment workout performance. Foods that are absorbed well and quickly, such as whey protein and sports drinks are best taken after your workout, not before. Forget the Gatorade here.

Foods that convert to glucose quickly and sugary-based sports drinks, certainly elevate insulin. Insulin is a powerful storage hormone in the presence of fats and carbohydrates that are easily stored, especially at the wrong time. All of which can potentiate the storage of fat.

Insulin itself may be beneficial at this time, but the key is to raise the hormone level without doing so in the face of available energy that is easy to deposit as body fat. You don't want energy levels to likely to crash because of the dramatic effect of insulin on blood sugar levels just prior to the workout. Post workout is of course a different story. What is needed then pre-workout?

Anabolic Protein Mix

I believe that an anabolic protein mix 1.5 -- 3 hours before the workout will prevent muscle break down during the workout (assuming a 45-60 minute hard session) and provide muscle 'fuel' needed for progress in every sense of the term. A strategically designed protein mix should also boost anabolic hormones that help with all aspects of performance and subsequent growth.

I also believe one should 'trick' your system into making muscle repair and growth a first priority. Despite popular belief, the body prioritizes survival over looking good every day of the week and along those lines you must trick the system into doing what you want it to do.

The complex human machine seeks to protect its self by breaking down components of muscle fibers for fuel during intense exercise such as weight training or sporting activity. This procedure naturally results in an increased blood level of free fatty acids, which is a homeostatic regulating signal the brain to stop breaking down muscle.

Now, when taken before training high doses of the branched chain family along with some very specific other amino acids, plays an elaborate trick by flooding the blood with free fatty acids to prevent muscle break down long before it is supposed to begin. As a result an alternative fuel source is available for use (FFA) and muscle fibers you have worked hard to earn are spared that function.

We do know that glutamine is heavily leached from muscle during exercise. It may be likely that FFA's preexisting within the muscles beforehand will be readily used to stimulate growth and repair, slow that process and put you a big step ahead of the game by thwarting muscle break down and further stimulating anabolism.

Both branched chain amino acids and glutamine are proven to reduce muscle breakdown during training by stimulating an anabolic state throughout the workout. Once more, BCAA's can even raise insulin to that acceptable level I talked about earlier in the absence of easily stored energy. The BCAA group can act in cooperation with glutamine as a surprisingly efficient intrinsic muscular fuel source.

So, a state of anabolism and elevated protein synthesis (muscle growth) can be promoted by the right combination of the BCAA group and glutamine (I use the PRD product GlutaCene and NitroMine in my research) when taken before a workout. Such usage can be timed perfectly to arrive at the functioning cell just as the workout winds down and ends. This alternative super fuel is used by muscles and can spare valuable stored energy in the form of glycogen. Now that 'spared' glycogen can be used down the stretch of your competition or even your workout if it is unusually long and hard, when you need it most.

Post Workout Exactly

A hefty post workout dose of the correct proteins can also flood the blood stream with FFAs, and tricks the hormonal system into believing that too much muscle has been broken down by accident! Can you imagine what should happen next?

The hormonal system unleashes its most powerful tools in an effort to prioritize muscle growth and repair to correct what is perceived as a mistake! Compare this to histamine, anti-inflammatory reaction following a bee sting.

Besides delivering the powerful protein to build degraded muscle quickly after the workout, the right nutrients must provide the specific raw materials, the correct ratio of all and be able to be rapidly absorbed with or through a specialized delivery system to accomplish all of this.

Once accomplished, you should experience progress like you never thought possible by making the powerful mechanisms of the hormonal system work for you naturally, rather like a steroid result without the steroid.

Muscles are begging for additional nutrients following the workout, but there is an exact time and place for everything according your goals. The call for nutrients can be answered. How? By completing a specific process which I call the supplement primer phase, the fast acting food phase and the complete meal.


The Digestion Factor

Human digestion is a complicated issue, but for the purposes of this article we must address the topic so you understand why timing is so important. During the first window of opportunity immediately following the workout you must have specific aminos to trick the system into prioritizing the anabolic state and of course, to provide raw materials to start the processes of overgrowth, substrate restoration and repair.

At the same time you can get insulin boosted to promote anabolism and opens the doors for beneficial absorption of these nutrients without injecting it or dumping 70 -- 90 grams of dextrose-loaded creatine into your system! Ingesting some 90 grams of sugar is never admirable.

The next step is to provide more raw material in the form of fast acting foods such as whey protein and glucose. This is the prime time that good whey proteins superceded a multi species protein, immediately post workout.

These nutrients activate/require digestive mechanisms and as a result will temporarily 'distract' the body from taking full advantage of the amino pool.

What do I mean by this? Digestion requires some blood diversion to the intestine to help process the food as opposed to having more of your blood available to post-exercised starving muscles.

Understanding What To Do - Serrano Style

Yes, I told you it was somewhat controversial didn't I?

What I am saying is this: If you take certain quality nutrients like the BCAA group and glutamine at the same time you take quick acting drinks and whey, you create an unwanted battle for digestion and absorption, potentially limiting your progress.

Take BCAA and glutamine prior to the workout to get your free fatty acids levels up and to prevent glutamine from being scavenged. Then take quality whey after!

Of course, numerous studies show that insulin rapidly promotes an anabolic state. Carbohydrate is a proven (and best) stimulator of insulin, but the right type of carbs, timing, amount and added supplements consumed has been widely debated.

Here is the real great news: Recent research reveals that large increases in insulin result from a large dose of BCAA, specifically the L-Leucine component and a small amount of carbohydrate in the form of glucose. The other good news --- carbohydrate dosages past a certain point did not provide any additional benefit, but the added BCAA did prove to be extremely valuable for the elevation of insulin!

The Specific Ratios Of BCAA Are Replicated In GlutaCene

Insulin for all of its glory is a double-edged sword especially for those who are focused on fat loss or remaining lean. The powerful storage capabilities of insulin can and will push excess nutrients (specifically carbohydrate) into fat storage at a rapid pace, however this can not take place if only a limited amount of carbohydrate is available for storage.

Previous post workout standards have lead many to believe that high carbohydrate drinks were needed to promote ample amounts of insulin, but as mentioned before BCAA's, in combination with a small amount of glucose, will do the trick. Additional carbs can be used for glycogen replenishment for those who are focused on increasing size and endurance performance, but the specific timing of glycogen replenishment is crucial!

Timing is everything and in the case of glycogen replenishment, what and when you consume will determine the success of your efforts. The wrong timing will interfere with the initial stages of recovery because of increased competition for nutrient absorption.

Actual work performed during the workout or exercise bout will determine how much glycogen is burned, and as a result what needs to be replaced to refill storage requirements.

Unfortunately there is no exact equation for determining how much glycogen is used because of the multitude of factors involved in usage. However the optimal nutrients and the times they are to be consumed can be established. Guess what? Recent research proves that less glycogen (stored glucose energy) is required during exercise than has been previously believed. High volume weight workouts may utilize about 300-calories worth of glycogen. Humans have capacity to store anywhere from 400 -- 2400 calories worth of stored glycogen depending on the size of the individual! Glycogen is replenished quite readily, and of course, once again, excess energy becomes fat.


Strategy: Supplement Primer, Fast Acting Food & Complete Meal

There are many supplements fast acting foods and meals but very, very few balanced good ones. This is a pre/post workout nutrition system based on a 180-lb. male that I have consistently found beneficial in my medical and obesity research.


If Your Goal Is Fat Loss:

* Minimize glycogen storage so that stored fat is constantly used as fuel instead!


* Before workout with water: 10-g of GlutaCene and 5-10 NitroMine.

* 35-50 minute workout.

Fast-Acting Foods:

* Right at end of workout, with water: 20-g GlutaCene and 20 NitroMine.

* No longer than 30 minutes post workout: Whey serving to provide 20-30-g of protein. Combine with 10-g to 15-g of complex carbohydrates. A large bowl of oatmeal for example.


* 2 hours after workout: Balanced real food meal

If Your Goal Is Muscle Size:

* Replenish glycogen, but do not over load on carbohydrate to avoid fat storage!


* Before workout with water: 15-g GlutaCene, 10 NitroMine.

* 50 minute workout.

 Fast-Acting Foods:

* Right at end of workout, sport drink providing about 15 grams of simple sugar with 20-g GlutaCene and 10-15 NitroMine.

* No longer than 30 minutes post workout, high protein whey drink: 30-50-g of protein.

* Note: Shake or drink should provide 20-30 grams of sugars.


* 2 hours post workout: Balanced, but high protein, real food meal.

Dr. Serrano On Glutacene & NitroMine?

Over the last six years, I have reviewed clinically, and through the medical and other literature, the benefits of several major nutrients, including of course, glutamine, the branched chain amino acid group (valine, leucine and isoleucine) and all the essential amino acids.

Further, I have studied extensively, using cadaver, case study, blind and double blind and radio-isotope tracing techniques, analyzing the results from their ingestion under differing metabolic conditions, how bodybuilders should theoretically use and benefit from these nutrients. I have addressed these subjects herein and though past articles.

It must be clear that we always search for the best situation, with the best intentions and let the results be heard. That is the way medical knowledge and treatment progresses.

I am familiar with this industry. I know there are many good, branched chain amino acid supplements around and, as well, several good single supplements of glutamine. If you may be using one or both of these supplements now and you are obtaining observable results, by all means continue, whatever the brand is, that you may be benefiting from.

I do recommend both of these PRD (Premier Research & Development) supplements for the logical reason that I either formulated them in their entirety or assisted in their nutrient particulars and delivery system. I have fully tested them to repeatable and verifiable standards under numerous sets of conditions.

My recommendations are strongly towards a very specific purpose with a fully deliverable method of intent.

We have seen literally astounding results in the clinic, when the use of NitroMine and GlutaCene is as prescribed and combined as we recommend them. The results are much more than would be just predicted by an energy balance assessment, or from measurable nitrogen retention predicted by repetitive ingestion of high-quality proteins alone.

I know how NitroMine was created, with a precise and exacting formulation of essential amino acids, to mimic the expression of human muscle tissue. Besides the exacting ratios and amounts of the BCAA group, glutamine and essential amino acids, I have fortified the latest derivations of NitroMine with taurine, arginine and glutamic acid.

GlutaCene was an initial primary medical formula and was developed by my colleague, Dr. Joseph Rossi. He success was enormous.

Now GlutaCene is the preeminent BCAA and glutamine creation and the dosage and quality are not equaled anywhere, by anyone, even in our medical communities where it began.

Of course, glutamine is thought of as a theoretical 'sink' of several functions in muscle and for our immune systems, all of which become enhanced or challenged during and from exercise, in stress and under certain metabolic conditions, many precipitated by illness. GlutaCene is 500-700% higher in glutamine/serving than other formulas.

My main point to you though, whatever BCAA and glutamine you may come to use, the timing of their ingestion relative to exercise, as discussed in this article, is of preeminent importance.

Recommendations By Nutricia's Jeff Stout Ph.D.

The timing of a protein-based meal can rather be like the issue of the first kiss. Move to plant that all-important first kiss too soon and you just might get the proverbial backhand to the cheek. Wait too long, and maybe there will be a sayonara baby (although this is less likely). But, if you kiss at just the right moment, well, then you're likely to be singing and dancing in the glorious rain of impending love just like Gene Kelley!

Romance novels aside, the right time to consume a protein-based meal is just as important. Wait too long, and the benefits are negated. Do it at the right moment, and you're well on your way to physical perfection.

Further, what you consume immediately before training can have a dramatic effect on whether you put on quality muscle or mire in the miasma of physical mediocrity and what you eat immediately after training is nearly as important. But, for our sake, we need to cover all of our respective bases faster than Ichiro Suzuki does (he is a baseball player, not a motorcycle racer).

My Formula For Mass

Consume an essential amino acid cocktail right before training; and, immediately after training; replenish your fluids, by consuming a high-glycemic carb, a quality fast-acting protein (e.g., whey), a bunch of essential amino acids, and some anti-oxidants.

Well, just so you know I don't make this stuff up, here's the scientific data upon which I base my suggestions. Now, unlike the 5,659% increases in lean body mass (as one very popular, 6-page ad claims), since we don't live on Pluto, I believe in realistic expectations.

Look -- if you increase lean body mass by 100%, as a 200 lb guy, say with 15% body fat (and therefore 170 lbs of lean body mass), you would end up weighing 370 lbs.

That's a 170-lb gain "in just 3 weeks of taking Plutonian Mass Gainer." Don't expect it to happen.

Before training - what should you do?

The essential amino acids (EAAs) are those amino acids that are NOT made by your body. And we're fast re-learning that taking amino acid supplements with all the essentials packed in, before and during training, is right on the mark too. (Everson note: Dr. Stout's belief corresponds strongly with Dr. Serrano, in this regard).

In a study at the University of Texas, volunteers performed a training bout consisting of: 10 sets x 8 reps of leg presses at 80% of their maximum and 8 sets x 8 reps of leg-press extensions at 80% of their maximum. The entire leg workout took about 50 minutes and the sets included all warm-ups.

Those volunteers who swallowed some EAA cocktail (6 grams, or 6000 mg. of essential amino acids plus 35 grams of sucrose), significantly increased blood levels of their amino acids. The increased total net phenylalanine, an indicator of muscle protein gain, by 158%, when the EAAs were taken before training.

So, in this study, it's clear that an essential amino acid cocktail has greater effects on protein synthesis when it's consumed before training versus after training.

Does this mean we should skip the post-training meal/supplement? Of course not. In fact, you will see that when you consume a meal after exercise also critically affects protein metabolism and potential muscle gain.

After Training - Glycogen Repletion

How about a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fat? Jeez, you must be thinking' it took a guy with Ph.D. to tell me this? Well, there is more to it than that. How much of these items should we eat?

An important aspect of recovery is muscle glycogen resynthesis, refilling carbohydrate stores in your muscles. How? Regarding the use of a carbohydrate only versus carbohydrate - protein mixtures, here are points to ponder. Most published data indicates the addition of protein to carbohydrates generally has no further effect on glycogen repletion [van Hall, et al., 2000; Tarnopolsky, et al., 1997]. Interestingly, once you consume a certain level of carbohydrates (~1.0-1.5 grams/kg body weight, every 2 hours post-exercise), it is not likely that adding any more protein or carbohydrate, has any further impact on the rate of glycogen repletion.

A recent study [Rotman, et al. 2000] compared a carbohydrate solution (1.7-g CHO/kg body weight) versus an isocaloric (same calories) solution of carbohydrate (1.2 g CHO/kg body weight) plus 0.5 g protein/kg body weight. After 1.5 hours of cycling, the subjects consumed the solution immediately after and, alternatively, 2 hours post-exercise. They found no difference in glycogen resynthesis.

However, you don't need a Ph.D. in physiology to realize that glycogen depletion is just one part of the recovery process. Indeed, there are other aspects of recovery, like fluid/electrolyte replenishment and skeletal muscle repair and muscle protein gain. The first aspect's a no-brainer. The average trainee just needs to drink water. If you have an arduous workout with lots of perspiration then add the electrolytes.

The second aspect is the part that is more important for the weight-lifting gym rat.

Protein and Muscle Gain

A recent study in the Journal of Physiology showed that if you consumed a post-workout protein-containing drink immediately after training, you were able to increase muscle area and muscle fiber size more than if you waited 2 hours after training!

In this study, subjects trained 3 times a week for 12 weeks. They consumed a supplement of 10 g protein, 8 g carbs, and 3 g fat either immediately or 2 hours after each training session. Over that 3-month period, quadriceps muscle size increased 7% and muscle fiber cross-sectional increased 24% in the group that took the supplement immediately after training.

No changes in muscle size occurred in the group that took the supplement 2 hours after training.

Based on these findings, it appears that the timing of protein intake is important for protein synthesis and muscle growth. The question is whether this particular combination (10-g protein, 8-g carb, and 3-g fat) is the ideal post-workout supplement. For bodybuilders seeking mass this post workout mixture seems pretty weak.

My personal opinion

* A fast-acting high grade whey fortified with glutamine after training.

* Combine this with some extra essential amino acids and perhaps BCAA.

* Use a carbohydrate to protein ratio of roughly 2-3:1.

* Serious bodybuilders should use a range of 30-50-g of protein and 60-150-g of carbohydrates. But -just don't wait too long after training. Your muscles will love you for it!


 1. Esmark B, et al. 2001. Timing of post-exercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. Journal of Physiology. 535:301-311.

2. Rasmussen, B.B., et al. 2000. An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 88:386-392.Tipton, K.D., et al. 2001. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. American Journal of Physiology. 281:E197-E206

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