Our Panel of Experts Answer Your Questions on a Variety of Topics

Core Strength Equals Longevity

Q I've heard so many conflicting opinions on weight belts. What is your opinion on this? Are they necessary for lifting safety or not?

A Weight belts are like most anything else in a training protocol. When used at the right times they can be beneficial and add to your totals in addition to adding to core stability during your heavier lifts. However, they are also one of the most misunderstood and abused tools in the gym as well. If you're the dork who walks around the gym wearing a belt that's pulled 4 notches too tight even when your doing high-rep dumbbell curls, then chances are you're severely misconstruing this instrument's intended purpose. I like to refer to this as the "Use It or Lose It Principle". No, this isn't one of the lost Weider Principles, so don't even think it. This principle simply states that if you exercise a muscle's intended function, it will adapt and become stronger. If you don't, it won't. Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but this is the essence of why weight belts can hinder your training and perhaps even lead to injury. My recommendation would be to start by learning proper form from a qualified strength coach on your squats and deadlifts. Then begin doing the majority of your sets without the assistance of a belt, even if this means reducing some of your training poundages temporarily. This, in conjunction with an effective ab/lower back routine will develop core stability and greater true strength. That being said, I would still use a belt on your heaviest low rep sets, but I would recommend giving this core development program a good 4-6 week run before you even start attempting any kind of max lifts again.

Magic Protein

Q What is the best protein source for building muscle? How much does protein quality really affect the results I'll get in the gym?

A This has without a doubt been one of the longest standing arguments in the industry. First it was milk, then came egg, the whey bandwagon took the world by storm in the 90's. So which of these is actually the be-all-end-all to the muscle building, positive nitrogen balance "fountain of youth". The truth of the matter is, well, all of them. All the aforementioned proteins have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of amino profiles, digestibility, and absorption rate. This is why I believe a combination of them will cover your bases most adequately. Whey is indeed a wonderful protein in terms of amino balance and fast absorption which is great when the muscle needs quick protein after an intense workout, but does that necessarily make it the best protein for every occasion? For instance, what about sleep hours when the body is fasted for 8 or more hours? This is where slower absorption implements its greatest benefits and that's why casein, milk protein isolate, or even chicken would be a better candidate than whey. When it's all said and done, I think using a combination of these proteins consistently each meal is best because whey and casein balance each other out nicely in terms of amino profiles and absorption rates. I also believe that protein quality definitely matters, at least to the extent that if a protein is incomplete you obviously will not satisfy your body's needs for various aminos that may be deficient in a particular protein.


Q What is your opinion on diets like the Atkins or Bodyopus? I've never been really lean and I want to get in my best shape ever for this summer. Do I really need to cut my carb levels that low to drop my bodyfat levels? Is it safe?

A What do I think you ask? I think you should take every carbohydrate in your refrigerator and kitchen cupboards and bury them in a deep, abyss-like trench in your neighbor's yard. Nahhh, just kidding. I think that the principle ideas behind many different diets all have pros and cons. Low to no carb diets are no exception. Too much glucose (all carbs become glucose in the body) and insulin and you look like Fat Bastard's long, lost twin. Not enough glucose and insulin and your muscles take on a soft, blob-like consistency (due to muscle catabolism and low glycogen stores). Not very attractive either. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Most weight trainers will not do real well on an Atkins-type diet, though I've seen a couple of exceptions. Excessively low carbs for extended periods of time can have numerous consequences for both men and women. As a response to lower glycogen stores the body will slow the thyroid (at least temporarily) to preserve muscle and essentially make it hard to lose fat. Though this effect usually takes place in women more rapidly, it definitely affects men as well. Also, when we cut carbs out we lose much of our dietary potassium which I don't see too many people remember to supplement. This, in and of itself, can lead to numerous undesirable effects. The average trainee will do well just adhering to a lower carb regimen so that the carb intake doesn't exceed the body's needs. This translates into about 1g of carbs per pound of lean body weight on training days and .75g per pound on non-lifting days for most trainees. On lifting days, one third of these carbs will be consumed immediately after the workout with your protein and the remainder should be divided into five meals. In addition you will want to consume right around 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight (give or take on that figure if you're "supplementing") and a moderate amount of fats derived mostly from essential fatty acids and monounsaturates such as olive oil. This is the basic premise of the type of low carb diet I recommend for maximizing fat loss and minimizing muscle loss. I will outlining a much more detailed version of this diet in the next issue of Shapeshifter.

Time to Refuel

Q How many grams of carbs and protein should I eat after working out? What are the best sources to use?

A If you're on a fat loss diet refer to the last question for recommendations on post-workout nutrition. However if your on a mission to build strength and/or size than it really becomes a whole different game. Strength training requires very different carb up needs since the majority of your training will involve heavier poundages and lower rep brackets. This translates to increased glycogen loss, hence greater post-workout carb needs. Most trainees will do well consuming about .5g/lb of lean weight in the carb department and about .35g/lb of lean weight for protein. In other words, a 200lb lifter with 10% bodyfat will eat about 90g of carbs and 63g of protein. Am I going to catch flack for this high protein recommendation? You bet I will. Can I back it up? You bet I can. The fact of the matter is, after intense training, insulin sensitivity is at it's highest, enzyme systems are primed, and hormonally the body can do a whole lot more with the food we eat than it would otherwise. Hence, I believe many of these so-called nutrition "experts" don't have a clue when they are writing articles about how we only need 80g-100g of protein daily, but I digress. As far as sources, I believe a whey/casein mix is the ideal post-workout protein. I personally use Advanced Protein by Biotest which is a great blend of whey isolate, milk isolate, and calcium casienate, pretty darn tasty too. For post workout carbs I've always liked good ol' Ultra Fuel by Twinlab. It's a good ratio of maltodextrin, fructose, and other post-workout recovery goodies.

The Inverse Macronutrient Relationship

Q Do I need to eat extra protein when I drop my carbohydrates down or will the extra calories defeat the purpose of the diet?

A I would definitely recommend extra protein on a low carb diet. The reason carbs have always been referred to as "protein-sparing" is because of our bodies ability to convert protein to glucose to satisfy our energy demands in a pinch. When carbs levels are adequate our bodies do not need to convert dietary protein and/or muscle tissue to glucose so in that sense they spare protein. However, if carb intake is low, but somewhat borderline, I would definitely recommend extra protein so that if the body will convert this extra dietary protein to glucose instead of hard earned muscle. Fats can also be beneficial in this sense because of their ability to fracture into ketones for fuel, but we must remember the body prioritizes carbs over protein, and protein over fats for energy needs. As far as the extra calories negatively impacting the diet, it just won't happen. If anything it may increase fat loss because of protein's innate ability to stimulate increased increased glucagon output (a very important fat burning hormone). When there are more carbs and fats in the diet our nitrogen balance will stay positive even at lower protein levels. When the carbs are lower, more protein is necessary to keep nitrogen balance from diminishing. I unfortunately (like many before me) learned this the hard way. In the past, I dropped carb levels down to get lean but still kept my protein at 1g/lb bodyweight. Big mistake! As soon as I cranked up the protein levels, not only did I experience less muscle loss, and feel better in general, but I actually leaned out faster! Try this for yourself and you won't be disappointed.

Naughty Drug Dealers...

Q Why is norephedrine being removed from the supplement market?

A Norephedrine has been under heavy FDA fire lately since some of the recent peer reviewed journal abstracts stating the risk of stroke involved with it's use. According to one study (N Engl J Med 2000 Dec 21;343(25):1826-32), women in particular seem to be higher risk candidates for this to occur, whereas no increased risk was noticed in men. Their has also been discussion of the substance being banned because of it's use by black market drug dealers in making methamphetamines. So yes, it is now official. Companies using norephedrine in weight loss products have been allowed to sell the last of the products in stock, then it will be officially off the shelves of your favorite over the counter supplement outlet.

Grapefruit Juice for Bigger Grapes?

Q Do you know of any supplements that may slow the clearance of testosterone from the body?

A In some recent studies it has been demonstrated that certain compounds specific to grapefruit juice seem modulate a particular cytochrome P450 activity (an enzyme responsible for testosterone metabolism). According to one study (Biol Pharm Bull 1997 May;20(5):560-4), the hydroxylation of T was inhibited by ethyl acetate-extract of grapefruit juice in both human and rat livers. Less T conversion means less potential DHT and estrogen in the body. All good things for maximizing the benefits while minimizing the side effects of T in the male body. Does this mean that our favorite pro hormone supplements are gonna be delivered in a liposomal grapefruit juice from now on? Hmmmm, maybe not just yet, but the evidence is compelling nonetheless.