Flex Nutrition: Ask the Doc!

Jim Stoppani provides expert answers to your nutrition and supplement questions.
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Q: What are the benefits of HMB? If I decide to take it, how many capsules a day would you recommend for a first-time user? Pre- or postworkout, or both?

A: Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate is a metabolite of the branchedchain amino acid leucine. It prevents muscle breakdown and stimulates muscle growth. Although HMB has been shown to be more effective in beginner lifters and less effective in trained lifters, I have found that it is effective for trained lifters who work out very intensely and take a high dose. I think the reason that studies on trained lifters saw poor results with HMB was that the training was not intense enough to require the need for HMB and the dose was not high enough. You need to take 1–3 g of HMB with food in the morning, before and after workouts and before bed.

Q: Are extra amino acids a waste of time? Will I really see a difference?

A: As a whole, they are the most critical amino acids to take. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston) found that leucine (the key branched-chain amino acid) is crucial for kick-starting the muscle growth process. Leucine is one of three BCAAs. In a study that I conducted with colleagues from the College of Charleston (South Carolina), we found that trained bodybuilders taking additional BCAAs gained more than twice the strength and muscle mass — and lost more than twice as much bodyfat — as those not taking them.

Q: When is the best time to take L-arginine — before a workout or before going to sleep?

A: Arginine is best taken without food. I suggest 3–5 g first thing in the morning before eating, 30–60 minutes before workouts and 30– 60 minutes before bed.

Q: I’ve been doing 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training four or five days a week after my weightlifting sessions. I’m on a reducedcarb diet and my legs are starting to lose all their energy. Should I switch to a more moderate intensity? I’m afraid I may be starting to lose some muscle.

A: That’s common when doing HIIT on low carbs. The good news is that when your legs fatigue like that, it’s a sure sign that you are burning major bodyfat. When you are losing bodyfat, you will lose overall size, but not necessarily muscle. That’s why it’s good to have your bodyfat tested before you start a diet to know what you are losing. If you think you are losing muscle, be sure that your protein intake is about 1.5 g per pound of bodyweight, and consider adding one high-carb day per week. Also consider supplementing with creatine and beta-alanine for the stop-and-go energy you need for HIIT.

Q: I read that cyclic ketogenic diets are effective at dropping bodyfat and preserving hard-earned muscle mass. Is CKD relatively safe? How can I get into the ketogenic state quickly? Will vegetables and almonds/ peanut butter consumption upset the ketogenic state? I also read that protein has a 58% conversion rate to glucose. Does that mean that I must be strict with my protein consumption?

A: Yes, going ketogenic is very safe. But you don’t need to be so strict that you eat no carbs and worry about nuts and vegetables. Also, do not restrict your protein (in fact, increase it) if you do not want to lose muscle. Just keep your carbs very low by eating only animal protein and a serving of vegetables at every meal. Nuts and peanut butter are fine, too, in moderation. Keep reps high (12–20) and rest low (30 seconds) between sets to burn up the most muscle glycogen. Also, add HIIT cardio to your regimen.

Q: Is it OK to add a scoop of protein to nitric oxide before my workout?

A: Keep your NO product separate from your protein powder by 30– 60 minutes. The arginine in most NO boosters is poorly absorbed by the intestines when other amino acids are around — you won’t absorb adequate amounts to raise NO levels. If you must combine the two for convenience, look for NO boosters that use citrulline or GPLC instead of arginine, as absorption of these ingredients won’t be compromised when you take protein with them.

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