You hit the gym religiously, pushing yourself to train harder, longer and heavier than the last time, because that’s the price of progress. Skipping a single second of cardio is a sin, so instead of whining you just do it. The payoff for your sacrifice and dedication? A big, ripped physique . . . but (and this is a huge but) only if your meal and supplementation plan is on point. Without the right nutrients, most of your gym efforts will be wasted. So what are the key nutrients? How much do you need and when is the best time to take them? We collected online questions and FLEX Senior Science Editor Jim Stoppani answered them so you can get the most out of your training. We’ll cover a lot of territory, but if we miss something that you absolutely need to know, it’s as easy as dropping the Doc a line at facebook.com/flexmagazine.
Q: I was wondering if you had any tips for bulking up on a budget. What supplements, besides creatine, are absolutely necessary but won’t break the bank? Also, how necessary are supplements with respect to making the huge gains that are claimed, and how safe are they? Do the long-term effects outweigh (no pun intended) the short-term gains that they provide?
A: Supplements are very effective for promoting muscle gains. The most critical would be: 1) whey protein — since it is so fast-digesting it aids muscle growth around workouts, which whole foods will not do as effectively; 2) a multivitamin — to cover all your micronutrient bases; 3) creatine — which is fairly cheap and very effective; and 4) branched-chain amino acids — they definitely promote muscle growth.
Q: Should I be cycling my supplements? If I am on them for an extended period of time, will they stop being as effective? If so, what would be a good cycle?
A: There really is no need to cycle supplements. They are nutrients that are found in the food we eat, so you wouldn’t be able to truly cycle off of them anyway. There was once a belief that the receptors in muscle cells would “burn out” and not be so effective at taking nutrients into the muscle. This is more hyperbole than fact. That said, you certainly can cycle off of these supplements for financial reasons if you want to give your wallet a break. One study found that men taking creatine who stopped for four weeks lost no muscle mass or strength. So it is possible to stop some supplements for a while with little detriment to your physique or your performance and then go back on. Just limit the “off” cycle to four weeks or less.
Q: I just got my hands on some beta-alanine. I was wondering if the tingling sensations and the flushing of the skin were normal in all brands. It doesn’t hurt, but it does feel funny.
A: Yes, that is normal. It’s known as paresthesia and is caused by betaalanine binding to nerve receptors, which causes the nerves that are below the skin to fire. This sensation is enhanced when taking beta-alanine along with caffeine, which is in many preworkout formulas. It does go away with continued use.
Q: I’ve heard a lot about carb cycling — what is it? Why should I do it? What is an example of carb-cycling for a 200-pound guy?
A: Carb cycling refers to alternating periods of low- and high-carb intake, maximizing both fat loss and muscle growth. For fat loss, your default diet would be somewhat under 1 g of carbs per pound of bodyweight. You would cycle in a high-carb day (greater than 2 g per pound) every five to seven days. Since carb-restricted diets can lower your metabolic rate by decreasing leptin levels, the high-carb day helps to reset your leptin levels and keep your metabolic rate up. To add size, your default diet would be 2–3 g per pound. You can go lower, either to about 1 g per pound on non-training days, or you can have two low-carb days after every three or four highcarb days to minimize fat gain.
Q: I’m trying to gain mass but I work out in the morning, so my preworkout nutrition is hard to get in. I know that I should take my nitric oxide booster on an empty stomach, but how do I also get in my protein shake and carbs?
A: Take your NO booster as soon as you wake up. Then, 30 minutes later, drink a protein shake with about 20 g of whey. Also, have about 20–40 g of carbs from fruit to help stop the catabolism from your night of sleep and to fuel your workout.