|Dexter Jackson was not the 26-year old natural bodybuilder in the study at hand, but he is the Winner of the Arnold '13 (Photo bb.com)|
People like the 26 year-old caucasian, natural, professional bodybuilder, whose latest contest prep has been monitored by Lindy M. Rossow and her colleagues from the Department of Health and Exercise Science at the University of Oklahoma and her colleagues from the Creighton University and the University of Central Florida (note: the whole study period comprised 12 months, 6 months prep and 6 months follow-up and the data on diet and training volume were derived from the subjects meticulous food and workout logs).
Diet, meal planning and nutrient timing
With 5 meals per day and occasional week-by-week reductions in fat and carbohydrate intake (5-10g), whenever he felt he stagnated, neither the meal pattern nor the total energy intake (~2,500kcal/day) of the subject changed dramatically over the course of the pre-contest period.
With a ratio of 36/36/28 % the macronutrient ratio of the pro-bobyduilder who started out with a body-fat percentage of 14.8% (4-C model based on DXA and BOD POD data vs. 8.9% when measured by chest, abs and thigh skinfolds), was very balanced and actually pretty close to what I suggested in my interview with Sean for CasePerformance for both average Joes and Janes and aspiring gymrats alike (read the whole interview here).
|Figure 1: Overview of the key aspects of the nutritional regimen in the pre-contest (Prep), immediately pre-contest (last wee before the show) and the subsequent recovery period (based on data from Rossow. 2013)|
|There is evidence that a high carb bulk works best the classic way, i.e. with almost zero fat (read more)|
No wonder his body fat levels shot up to 15.5% (higher than precontest) within 5 months, then stabilized and despite constant overeating began to drop again. What is an interesting side-note that over the whole study period, but especially in the off season, the often hailed skin-fold measurements hilariously underestimating the body fat content (the values were up to 8% off).
Strength and cardio - working out every day is key
A key contributer to the sustained weight- and, as we are going to see in figure 3 further below, fat loss at a relatively high energy intake (2,500kcal at a starting weight of ~100kg is obviously below maintenance, but no starvation diet) is probably the versatile workout routine with daily workouts, except on days before the exercise tests at the lab were conducted.
"During competitive preparation, per week on average, the subject performed four days of resistance training (5 hourst total per week), two days of high intensity interval training (HIIT, 40 minutes total per week), and one day of low-intensity, steady-state, aerobic exercise (30 minutes per week). This resistance training split allowed for the athlete to train each major muscle group twice per week."This training regimen, as well as the often underestimated 30-60s isometric contractions during the 15-30 min posing practices the subject performed only once in the initial 1-6 weeks and 2-4 times per week during weeks 20-26, will have done one last thing to propel the fat loss in face of a constantly declining resting metabolic rate. The latter, as well as the hormonal changes, the dropping blood pressure and the - for a non-athlete - dangerously low heart rate all point towards one thing: Metabolic shutdown (see figure 2):
|Figure 2: If you want to know about the hormonal / metabolic consequences of cutting down to sub-natural body fat levels (4.5% for the guy in the study) this is the graph to look at (data expressed relative to pre-prep values; based on Rossow. 2013).|
A note to the desperate haters out there: No, I did not check the guy's urine for additional "supplements", so I cannot know for sure whether he was indeed natural. What I do however know is that you were just about to post something along the lines of "you cannot achieve this level of conditioning without drugs" - obviously, without daring to do so under your own name. Do me and yourself a favor and spend the time and energy in the gym instead - thank you!Starvation mode without starvation = continuous fat loss?
In view of these metabolic changes the drastic reduction in body fat (%) from 14.8% to 4.5% appears surprising. Likewise, common sense would tell you that the cortisol increase (more than +100%) would (a) burn away your muscles in no time and (b) stop your fat loss in tracks. The data in figure 3 does yet speak a very different language.
|Figure 3: Body mass, fat free mass and body fat % over the 12-months study period (Rossow. 2013)|
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This does also mean that any training program that aims at running around at real (and not caliper measured) single-digit body fat levels year round is destined to fail and will go hand in hand with hypogonadism, low thyroid levels, 6-7x elevated fatigue levels, confusion, anger, hostility and overall 7x higher levels of mood disturbances. I bet your significant other will like neither the former nor the latter symptoms and let's be honest, even if you are single, would this be worth it?
"So are natural bodybuilders stupid idiots?"
Certainly not! The exact opposite is the case, people like the subject in the study at hand have a goal and the plan, the determination and the guts to achieve it. They want to show up on stage in the best form possible, never knowing whether this will be enough to take the trophy home. They are sportsmen like so many other athletes; and while it may be debatable how healthy these ups and downs in body weight eventually are, I would venture the guess that natural bodybuilding is not unhealthier than American football.
So, if there is anything "idiotic" about bodybuilding, it would probably be its unintended downstream effects on some of the gymrats who believe they can have the upsides, i.e. the hyper-muscular contest-ready sub 5% body fat look, without the downside, i.e. the time spend at a normal body fat level of ~12-15%.
Moreover, if you look at the way the guy in the study broke through the 5% body fat wall, there is just one thing that sticks out: persistence! Patience and a stubborn persistence. No low-to-no-carb diets, no no-fat interventions, no protein only days, not even intermittent fasting or thermogenics and certainly no natural test boosters. If you feel that you have the persistence and want to step on stage, go for it, but be aware that it's not going to be an easy ride.
- Exton JH, Friedmann N, Wong EH, Brineaux JP, Corbin JD, Park CR. Interaction of glucocorticoids with glucagon and epinephrine in the control of gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis in liver and of lipolysis in adipose tissue. J Biol Chem. 1972 Jun 10;247(11):3579-88.
- Lamberts SW, Timmermans HA, Kramer-Blankestijn M, Birkenhäger JC. The mechanism of the potentiating effect of glucocorticoids on catecholamine-induced lipolysis. Metabolism. 1975 Jun;24(6):681-89.
- Rossow LM, Fukuda DH, Fahs CA, Loenneke JP, Stout JR. Natural Bodybuilding Competition Preparation and Recovery: A 12-Month Case Study. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Feb 14.