Many people using image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs) rely too heavily on the drugs and neglect the basics that actually matter the most. All IPEDs are nothing more than superchargers for natural processes; if you get the basic process wrong, then eventually you’ll get less than ideal results and may well even experience a number of problems you could have easily avoided with just a little bit more knowledge, effort and patience.
Many professional bodybuilders say that their results are 80% diet and 20% hard work. Whilst IPEDs may give you faster or greater results; they cannot magically produce the kind of body most people using them are looking for. The truth is; if you get your diet, training and recovery time properly structured – you probably won’t need to take huge amounts of IPEDs, if any, to reach your goals.
In order to change your body composition (how much lean muscle and body fat you have) you need to address three key issues:
- The quantity and type of food you eat (nutrition),
- Your levels of physical activity (training)
- How much rest time you have (recovery)
Even people using image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs) need to address these three basic areas. No matter what substances you use to accelerate the process of changing your body; without a well-constructed plan for nutrition, training and recovery time you will not get optimal results. The use of IPEDs may “supercharge” the natural process; but they cannot make up for shortfalls in diet and training. You can get diet and training plans from a wide range of different sources. There are some simple rules for diet regardless of the method you choose (for training advice see Training):
- To gain weight you need to eat more calories than you use, to lose weight you need to eat less calories than you use.
- What type of weight you gain (or lose) depends on the type and quantity of food you eat, and what type of exercise you do.
- Limit the amount of sweet foods you eat and avoid alcohol where possible (alcohol is high calorie but has no health benefits)
- Your body takes time to respond, even when using IPEDs, do not eat too much (or too little) to try and speed things up.
- If you eat too little, you will feel tired and your mood may go down as your blood sugar levels drop
- If you eat too much you will gain fat. Your body takes time to process food and it you cannot force muscle building just by eating lots of protein
- Protein drinks are just a source of protein; they have a place in your diet if you are doing weight training and struggle to eat enough, but it is always better to have real food rather than liquid meals.
HOW MUCH FOOD DO I NEED TO EAT?
The best starting point for deciding how much food to eat each day is to calculate your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the number of calories you would need to maintain your body the way it is right now. Some people have a very active (‘fast’) metabolism, which means they break down and build molecules at quite a high rate. Some people have a slow (‘slow’) metabolism which obviously means the process is much slower. If you have two people, identical in every way except their BMR, then the person with the faster metabolism would need to eat more than the person with the slower metabolism in order to maintain their body the way it is.
To calculate how much food you need, you need to know your Base Metabolic Rate. This is the amount of calories you need to keep your body the way it is now, if you don’t do any physical activity at all. You then need to adjust it according to how active you are and what you want to achieve. There are many online BMR calculators which will help you do this.
WORKING OUT YOUR BMR
Calculating your BMR can be done by using the Harris-Benedict formula below (1)
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X wt in kg) + (5 X ht in cm) – (6.8 X age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X wt in kg) + (1.8 X ht in cm) – (4.7 X age in years)
Note: 1 inch = 2.54 cm.
1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs.
Harris Benedict Multiplier
|Amount of exercise||Daily Caloric Requirement|
|Sedentary (no exercise)||BMR x 1.2|
|Very Light Exercise (1-2 times per week)||BMR x 1.375|
|Moderate Exercise (2-4 times per week, intense enough to make you sweat heavily)||BMR x 1.55|
|Heavy Exercise (4-6 times per week, intense exercise)||BMR x 1.725|
|Extremely Heavy Exercise (Every day, very intense exercise)||BMR x 1.9|
The multiplier is used to compensate for different levels of physical activity, all of which can affect the final result.
A 35 year old male, weighing 13 stone (83kg) and 6 feet tall (about 183cm).
BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 83) + (5 x 183) – (6.8 x 35)
Which translates as:
BMR = 66 + 1,137 + 915 – 238 = 1,880
So this means our example male would need 1,880 calories per day just to maintain his current bodyweight without any form of physical activity. Obviously, the more active you are the more calories you need.
So, if we assume our example male does moderate exercise (maybe 2-3 hours per week in the gym) then his energy needs would be 1,880 (Calories needed to maintain without exercise) x 1.55 (Moderate exercise)= 2,914
So just to maintain bodyweight at the current level, assuming activity levels don’t change, our example male needs 2,914 calories per day.
As a very broad rule of thumb; you should decrease your overall calories by 15-20% to lose weight and increase them by the same amount to gain weight.
So in our example; if our example male wanted to lose weight he should take in approximately 2,477 calories per day (2,914 – 15%). If he wanted to gain weight he would take in 3,351 calories per day (2,914 + 15%).
It is important to note that this is just a starting point. It will give you a good idea of roughly how many calories you need to stay the same as you are now; which then helps you decide how many calories to eat to make changes.
It is also important to note that things like whether you are very overweight or underweight, pre-existing medical conditions and a whole range of other factors can all impact on the number of calories you need. Also, your calorie needs change on a daily basis depending on your levels of activity. Please bear all of that in mind as you may find you need to increase or decrease your calories more than you first think, in order to achieve your goals. What we are doing here is simply getting a starting point for choosing how much food you need to take in each day to achieve your goals.
IMPORTANT: Do not be tempted to drop, or raise, your daily calories by more than 20%. Your body does not like extreme changes and will try to keep a balance within itself at all times, this is called homeostasis. If you try to change things too quickly your body will eventually fight against the change and you will find it much harder to reach your goals. It is far better to have slow, steady weight loss/gain than to try and make it happen too quickly. For instance; if you try to drop weight too quickly your body may start breaking down more muscle tissue instead of using body fat, if you try to gain too quickly you may find you gain a lot of body fat rather than lean muscle.
So, you now have a rough idea of how many calories you actually need each day. As you progress you will find that you need to change this amount. It may be because other factors mean you actually needed more (or less) to start with. Even if the original numbers were just about right, as you progress and gain or lose weight, your BMR will change. If you start doing more exercise your BMR will change. It is important to remember this as you may need to re-do the calculations after a few weeks.
As a rule of thumb; gaining 10-14 lbs of lean muscle per year, that you will keep, is achievable if you eat and train properly. You will see many reports of people gaining 10lbs or more in a few weeks; these are almost certainly NOT all lean muscle gains. Muscle growth, regardless of any IPEDs being used, is rate-limited and whilst it is possible to change the rate at which muscle grows, there is still a limit that cannot be surpassed. It is worth noting also that increases in muscle require changes in the nervous system, blood supply and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). These changes are much harder, if not impossible, to influence directly but are necessary for proper physiological function. However, it is important to bear in mind that they happen much slower than muscle growth.
This is by far the most important aspect of changing your body. Whilst your basic body shape is genetically determined; it is the type and quantity of food that you consume daily that most affects your overall appearance and energy levels. Understanding and applying the basics of nutrition will make more difference to your body composition and appearance than anything else you do.
There are three primary food groups that we are concerned with; protein, fat and carbohydrates. These are called macronutrients. Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals. To achieve your goals, whatever they may be, it is essential to understand what these food groups do and how the body uses them.
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Proteins are made from chains of amino acids. There are 22 amino acids, of which 8 are considered “essential” amino acids. This is because they cannot be created within the body, but must come from food. Three of these amino acids are collectively known as “branch chain amino acids” (BCAA) and are considered by many to be the most important amino acids. They are leucine, isoleucine and valine. Many strength training athletes take BCAA supplements, as well as other protein supplements, in order to maximise the available amino acids available to the body. Most animal and some vegetable proteins, are called “complete proteins”; this means they contain all of the amino acids.
Protein is arguably the single most important macro-nutrient you can have. Protein forms the building blocks of new tissue such as muscle, can be used as an energy source (although not a particularly efficient one), it is essential for the repair of damaged tissue (such as muscle cells damaged by exercise), proper immune system function and a host of other bodily functions. Every cell in the body contains and relies on, protein for proper functioning. If your diet is lacking in sufficient protein, then your body will be more likely to break down muscle tissue for energy. Essentially; your body breaks down the muscle in order to free amino acids and then uses these to create glucose for energy. A diet high in protein will leave a greater supply of available amino acids and has been shown to be muscle sparing (2).
There has been a great deal of debate about how much protein we should consume. Many people who undergo strength training of some kind (ie: bodybuilders, powerlifters etc) use protein supplements as part of daily diet but many nutritionists warn against consuming too much.
How much is too much?
The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein is 55.5gr per day for males aged between 19-50 years old (3). However; diet is a very individual thing and there is no truly “one size fits all” solution. Other advice puts it at approximately 0.8gr per kg bodyweight (4). Some nutritionists state that exceeding the RDA can lead to a range of health complications such as; impaired renal function (due to kidney stress), increased risk of osteoporosis (due to the presumed action of excess protein on calcium). There is little evidence to support these risks in human beings and there is a growing body of evidence to show that a diet higher in protein than the RDA has a number of health benefits on major risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome and a range of risk factors for cardiovascular disease(5).
People who engage in regular exercise of any kind have greater demands for all macronutrients than people who live fairly inactive lives and should need greater amounts than suggested by the RDA. This is particularly true of protein. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that amounts between 1.4 and 2 grams per kg bodyweight are appropriate for people engaging in any form of regular exercise and that this amount is safe(5).
For most people, if not all, there is no benefit to exceeding this amount. You may see a number of websites suggesting 2 grams per pound bodyweight, rather than per kilogram bodyweight, this is simply an internet myth that has developed over the years. That level of protein intake is unnecessary and often difficult to achieve in practice.
Common healthy dietry sources of protein are:
Whey protein – approximately 80-90gr actual protein per 100grams
Cod (or other white fish) – approximately 60 grams protein per 100 grams
Tofu – approximately 50grams of protein per 100 grams
Lean beef – approximately 35-40 grams protein per 100 grams
Chicken breast – approximately 30 grams protein per 100 grams
Fat in our diet has long been held up as a primary cause for health problems such as obesity. We are frequently reminded that eating an excess of fat is not a good idea and that by doing so we raise cholesterol levels.
However; the real issue is not so much the quantity of fat consumed as the types of fat. Some fats are essential for certain bodily functions. For instance, vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble; which means you need fats in the diet to be able to use these vitamins. You may have seen Omega 3 and Omega 6 in health food shops, or on some margarines or other food products; these are known as Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and as with essential amino acids, cannot be made by the human body but must come from the diet. Fat has a number of important functions, without which we would not survive:
- An energy source – fat provides 9 calories per gram (as compared to protein and carbohydrates which each supply 4 calories per gram). Fat is stored around the body as an energy reserve.
- A transporter – as well as allowing us to use and transport the vitamins mentioned above, fat slows food through the digestive tract which allows the body sufficient time to absorb nutrients.
- Protection and insulation for internal organs – fat both cushions internal organs and because it is a poor heat conductor, helps keep us warm.
- Cell membranes – fat is an essential part of the walls of every cell in the body and forms a large proportion of brain tissue.
- Insulation for nerves – the nervous system carries electrical impulses and exactly like electrical wiring it needs an insulating layer around it.
- Hormone production – several hormones are made by converting different fats. In particular, testosterone is made by converting cholesterol, which is a form of fat.
Whilst there is still a lot of debate over the role of dietary fats, there are some things that are generally agreed upon:
- Limit your intake of saturated fats, but there is no need to cut them from your diet completely (this is assuming no pre-existing medical condition that may require you to remove saturated fats).
- Essential Fatty Acids should form an integral part of your daily diet. Your diet should therefore include things like oily fish (ie salmon, tuna, mackerel), nuts, eggs and olive oil or other high grade food oil. (Coconut oil is particularly rich in nutrients and is far better to cook with than olive oil)
Fat is extremely energy-dense by comparison to protein and carbohydrates, this is part of the reason why it is stored in large quantities. Fat stores allowed our ancestors to stay alive when food was scarce. This is also part of the reason why body fat can be difficult to reduce when you are eating less calories than you need. It is therefore important to eat – in order to lose body fat. What you are aiming for is a slight reduction in the food taken in, in order to create a shortfall in calories. You then (ideally) want your body to make up the shortfall from stored body fat. The best way to do that, is to exercise as well as cutting calories.
Common healthy dietry sources of essential fats:
Oily fish – ie: Tuna, Salmon
Nuts and seeds
Unlike protein and fats, carbohydrates have just one role in your diet – fuel. They provide energy for everything your body does. You may have heard people refer to “simple” and “complex” carbs – this is a (now outdated) way of describing how quickly the food is turned into a useable energy source. Sugar is perhaps the simplest carbohydrate there is and ultimately everything gets broken down to a form of sugar before being used by the body as fuel. A “simple” carbohydrate then, is something that is very close to being sugar and therefore needs very little processing by the body. Examples include things like sugar and most fruits. A “complex” carbohydrate is something that needs a lot more processing to break it down into a useable form. Examples include things like wholewheat pasta, oats and beans. The problem with having just “simple” and “complex” to describe foods is that many foods will lie somewhere in between the two categories. So, whilst the distinction between “simple” and “complex” carbohydrates is still used by some people, it has been largely replaced by the “Glycemic Index” (GI). Where a food lies on the index depends on how it affects blood sugar levels. Foods which are easily broken down and therefore release glucose into the bloodstream quickly are defined as ‘High GI’, whilst foods which release glucose more slowly are defined as ‘low GI’. Generally speaking, foods with a low GI are better for as normal meal as they slow the digestion process. Foods which are defined as High GI are better for post-exercise nutrition.
Common healthy dietry sources of carbohydrate:
Beans (such as kidney, cannelloni, butter beans, etc)
Chickpeas and lentils
Leafy green vegetables
Restricted carbohydrate diets
Towards the end of the 1990’s there developed a trend for low carbohydrate diets, with perhaps one of the most famous being the “Atkins Diet”. The thinking behind low carb diets was, in part, a reaction to the idea of low fat diets. It was suggested that carbohydrates, especially high GI carbs, were more likely to lead to fat accumulation than dietary fat and were more likely responsible for rising obesity levels. The truth is a little more complex. An excess of high GI foods will lead to an accumulation of body fat and the western diet is rich in high GI foods so there is possibly a causal link. However, an excess of any macronutrient will lead to an accumulation of body fat. There is a limit on how much glycogen can be stored in the muscles, but there isn’t a similar limit on the amount of body fat that can be accumulated. When glycogen stores are full, fat cells are the only place left to store excess calories.
The problem then, is an excess of calories, regardless of the source. There is evidence to show a low carb diet has a greater effect on reducing body fat in the long term but it’s important to remember what each macronutrient is used for. If for instance, you do a manual job that involves heavy labour, then it would be more appropriate to have a high carb diet to meet your specific energy demands. Attempts to produce diet plans with a “one size fits all” approach will always fail for at least some of the people trying them. There is a second problem with “going on a diet”; at some point you will come off the diet and in many cases this signifies a return to previous eating habits and therefore an accumulation of the body fat previously lost.
IMPORTANT: The only way to permanently change the way your body looks (without surgery) is to permanently change what and how much you eat and to maintain a level of physical activity that maintains muscle, inhibits body fat accumulation and maintains energy levels.
It may seem like there is a lot to take in regarding nutrition. It is an enormously complex subject and there is a great deal that is still not fully understood. However, it is possible to provide a few simple rules of thumb:
- Your body needs a certain amount of calories to stay the way it is. If you reduce them you will lose weight, if you increase them you will gain weight.
- What type of weight loss or gain you experience (ie: fat or muscle, both of which can be gained and lost) depends entirely on your food choices and the type, intensity and frequency of physical activity you undertake.
- A diet high in protein, with balanced intake of carbs and fats should provide most people with everything they need. This is also more likely to spare muscle when dieting down and will help gain muscle when dieting up.
- Processed foods such as ready meals, some tinned products, mass produced pastries and cakes and any foods containing trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. Ideally they should be removed from the diet altogether.
- Low GI foods are generally best taken early on in the day to fuel you for the day ahead. Remember that carbs are only there for fuel. But also remember that if you are undertaking strength training, you will need fuel throughout a 24 hour period, not only for your day to day activities, but also to fuel the repair of damaged muscle tissue.
- It is a myth that your body will treat calories differently if you eat high carbohydrate foods in the evening (ie: after 6-7pm). However; if you are trying to lose fat then it can be helpful to limit high carbohydrate foods in the evening simply to avoid grazing on snacks or high calorie drinks like alcohol.
Your approach to nutrition should be both responsive and pro-active. That means eating for your immediate needs as well as thinking ahead. If you’re training for an endurance event for instance, you will want to gradually increase your intake of carbohydrates in the run up to the event itself to maximise your fuel stores. If you are trying to lose body fat then you will want to increase your protein intake somewhat to help maintain muscle mass (but remember there is no need to eat more than 2gr per kg bodyweight) whilst also reducing your overall calorie intake.
Put even more simply; if you want to lose fat then eat less, try to avoid “simple” carbs (especially alcohol) and exercise more. It is the combination that gives the best results. If you want to gain muscle; eat more, avoid “simple” carbs and follow a muscle growth specific training program.
CONCLUSION AND REFERENCES
It cannot be stressed enough that what you eat impacts heavily on every single function in your body. It is important to understand your relationship with food in order to improve your health. It is the single most important change you can make. There is no other substance as anabolic as food. If you, for instance, inject testosterone repeatedly for long periods of time then your body will eventually downgrade the response. This is where some people take further drugs to “clean out the receptors”. However, the issue is not that that receptors are “full”, but rather that the whole system has been downgraded by your central nervous system. It is the equivalent of your brain taking your foot off the throttle automatically and there are no verifiable drug regimes that will change this. So after a while you get less, or even negative, returns from your anabolic steroid. The same is not true of food; if you continue to eat you will continue to grow – the important issue is what type of growth you experience (body fat or muscle). As a general rule of thumb; most professional bodybuilders using anabolic steroids and specifically eating and training for muscle growth would be extremely happy to finish a year with 12 lbs of extra lean muscle. It is important to have a realistic idea of what you can achieve; you may well get 10lbs heavier in a few weeks using IPEDs, but the chances of all, or even most, of that gain being actual lean muscle are really quite slim. Slow, steady weight changes are the most achievable, less likely to cause you problems and more likely to produce the results you want overall.
PLEASE NOTE: There are a wide range of factors that can influence the results you get from changing your daily diet or exercise. The advice contained within this document is designed for an average, healthy person and does not take into account any pre-existing medical conditions or other factors that may influence the outcome, besides physical exercise. Training advice is given in order to inform the reader of exercises that are known to produce certain outcomes in most people. However, pre-existing medical conditions, your health and fitness levels before starting training and a range of other lifestyle factors can all influence the outcome. If you are in any doubt as to whether the advice within this document is appropriate for you, please consult your GP or a personal trainer at your gym before proceeding.
Harris J, Benedict F. A biometric study of basal metabolism in man Washington D.C. Carnegie Institute of Washington. 1919.
Mettler, S., Mitchell, N. & Tipton, K.D. (2010) Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise
http://www.bupa.co.uk/members/mb-healthy-living/mb-nutrition/n-did-you-know Accessed 28th July 2011
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies: Dietary Reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids (macronutrients) Washington DC, National Academies Press; 2002
Campbell, B et al (2007) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 4: 8
Simopoulos, A. P. (2008) The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases Experimental Biology & Medicine 233: 674-688
Mozzaffarian, D., Katan, M.B., Ascherio, A., Stampfer, M.J. & Millet, W.C. (2006) Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease New England Journal of Medicine 354: 1601-1613.
Injecting carries several risks, both from the process and from the drugs themselves. It is important to be aware of these risks before attempting to inject any substance.