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How to maintain your gains post cycle - Part 2
In part I of this article, How to maintain your gains post cycle - Part 1 I presented some training splits and explained how a trainee could come “off” when it comes to post-cycle training. I discussed some reasons why a training routine should be structured, and how to put together an effective program. In this article we’ll be thinking about how to structure an effective post-cycle dietary regimen.
Life is good, your balls have grown back and you’re on the road to recovery. Except for the occasional moments of sensitivity when you stop to admire the beauty of the blue skies and green grass blowing in the cool breeze (blame that on the clomid), life doesn’t seem so bad after all.
After twelve weeks of blood, sweat and tears (tears of joy at the amount of muscle growth) you’ve achieved a new body. Countless hours have been spent cramming and force-feeding yourself protein, carbs and an assortment of healthy fats—all in the name of bulk.
With a new training program in place, the next step is to match up your nutritional and supplemental needs with your revamped body. However, post-cycle nutrition/supplementation is like the day after a college frat party. The after-effects have kicked in, and the ability to function at a normal level is impaired.
Going To War
Within the body, wars are constantly being fought on different fronts. If you’re training properly and practicing sound nutritional habits you should be winning more battles than you’re losing, that is, getting stronger and/or gaining more muscle. . .and losing body fat.
One of the most crucial battles takes place after a cycle.
Picture, if you will, a general whose mission is to conduct a successful attack against an enemy who, for the past 5 years, has been laying siege to your fortress. It’s time to go to war. You’ve studied his tactics, gathered the necessary supplies and are ready for battle. War is waged and within a short period it ends. You’ve won and you celebrate; however, the victory party is short-lived.
A new enemy has emerged, stronger and more powerful. And since you put all your resources into the previous battle, the army (your body) is tired and needs a few weeks of R&R. But you can’t afford to take time off. The enemy, fierce and unforgiving, has regrouped and wants to regain lost ground.
During a cycle, nutrient-partitioning is increased due to the effects of the drug(s) being used. Nitrogen-retention is elevated and insulin-sensitivity is heightened; the body is in an anabolic state and the nutrients from food are assimilated efficiently. Things change however post-cycle. Insulin sensitivity decreases, the body starts to shift away from an anabolic state and nitrogen levels drop. There’s a new war to be fought in maintaining strength and muscle tissue, and this battleground is set on a difficult terrain.
You soon realize that a new strategy is needed to halt the advancing enemy. After studying current strategy and taking advice from other war staff, a new plan is devised.
The epic battle of catabolism vs. anabolism is about to take place and you’re wondering who will win? How do I equip my body for this battle and what role does nutrition and supplements play? How does one go about maximizing their results during a period when the body is not responding the way it normally does? And why am I asking all these damned questions?
When it comes to post-cycle nutrition, there are three main areas of concern for a trainee:
1. Nutrient partitioning
2. Meal timing
3. Macronutrient ratio adjustments
To offset the decrease of nutrients after a cycle so that the goodness of food is diverted toward muscle-building rather than fat-storing the timing of meals must be changed, as must the macronutrients, so that the good stuff is now effectively partitioned to the proper areas (muscles cells, not fat cells).
This means the three points mentioned above must be structured strategically. Failure to do so will result in less than optimal results (increased fat gain and muscle loss). So how does one go about setting up a properly designed dietary program that meets the body’s post-cycle needs?
Winning The War
For post-cycle nutrition, all that’s needed are the basics. Simple, tried-and-true methods that can be used over and over again. I like to think of this approach as post-cycle Nutrition For Dummies.
If, for a moment, you were to think of food as pharmaceuticals and of the most effective times to take these goodies, what would you come up with? Let me give you a clue—it’s hormone sensitive, lasts several hours and follows a period where feelings of euphoria in the body are not uncommon. Stumped? I’m talking about the post-workout window.
It’s at this time that the body tolerates glucose intake (more so then at any other time of the day) efficiently (how well depends on what kind of training you are performing). More on this in a bit. So, using this tidbit of well-known information, structuring the majority of your carbohydrate intake around this period of time can be seen as a great starting point. Since the effects of a post workout meal have been well documented as the optimal time to feed the body. Taking it one step forward or in this case back, it has been shown that ingesting carbohydrates/protein prior to commencing a workout is also favorable. (1) Maybe even more so then post workout according to the literature. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.
So now you’re taking some food (preferably liquid form for quicker digestion) pre-workout and post-training.
But there’s more. As I mentioned earlier cortisol levels have gone wild (like the girls of Mardi Gras) and there’s no stopping them. Well, actually there is. Thus far, taking in a pre and post workout shake is winning the battle for you, but to ensure victory, including a carbohydrate beverage during a workout will give you a landslide. Sipping on a carb beverage will not only keep cortisol levels at bay (2) but will keep your glycogen levels up which in turn will prolong your performance on the battle field (the gym).
As mentioned previously, the type of training being performed will dictate how many carbs you ingest. For example, it’s been shown that if heavy eccentrics, or training that focuses on the eccentric portion of a lift, are being performed, a link between muscle damage and the decreased inability for the muscle to uptake carbohydrates can result. (3,4,5,6) It then may be a smart move to decrease carbohydrate intake the following day. On the other hand, if a higher volume of sets and a lower intensity are employed then glycogen stores will be taxed and the need to saturate the muscles will result in an increased carbohydrate intake following a workout, and several hours beyond. Also, your carbohydrate intake pre, during and post workout will also need to be adjusted depending on which muscles you are training in a session. For example, if it’s leg day or a chest/back day then you will take in more carbohydrates than if you were to work your biceps and triceps on another day. Bigger muscles require a greater workload than smaller ones, which equates to a greater need for carb replenishment and nourishment.
As outlined above, if you take the majority of your carbs in pre, during and post workout you will take care of the first two areas of concern, meal-timing and nutrient-partitioning. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting your macronutrient ratios.
Fiddling around with your macronutrient ratios is like taking your first bra off. It took a bit of practice and patience. Of course it shouldn’t be long before you become a pro since the reward ahead makes it all worth your while.
Changes to the macronutrient ratios you’ve been using, will depend on what you’ve implemented during your cycle. So going from a low-fat, high-carb, high-protein plan, to a low-fat, high-carb, high-protein plan afterwards, won’t have much of an effect. Neither will mindless changes, such as switching to a Ketogenic diet. There needs to be some strategy involved because, remember, you’re at war and the smallest mistake may be your downfall.
Below is a general template of a pre cycle macronutrient breakdown for a 200-pound lifter who’s has 12% body fat.
Protein: 300-350 grams
Carbohydrates: 400-500 grams
Fat: 80 grams
Meal 1: Protein/Fat/Carbs
Meal 2: Protein/Fat/Carbs
Meal 3: Protein/Fat/Carbs
Meal 4: Post Workout Meal Protein/Carbs
Meal 5: Protein/Carbs
Meal 6: Protein/Fat
Bear in mind that this is just a general breakdown and the ratios could be designed a number of different ways. Generally a nutritional program for someone who’s taking anabolic drugs would be high in carbohydrates, high in protein (relative to the individual) and moderate in fat. Of course this will vary with each person and how their body metabolizes each macronutrient. Post-cycle this is how the above macronutrient ratios could be changed.
Protein: 250-300 grams
Carbohydrates: 300-375 grams
Fat: 115-125 grams
Sample Macronutrient Meal Breakdown
Meal 1: Protein/Minimal Carbs
Meal 2: Protein/Fat
Pre workout: Protein/Carbs
During workout: Carbs
Post workout: Protein/Carbs
Meal 4: Protein/Fat
Meal 5: Protein/Fat
As you can see, the main change comes in the fat department. Carbohydrate intake has been lowered and protein intake has dropped a bit. And while the calories have decreased somewhat this should not cause panic. Remember that the body cannot handle the same amount of calories that were previously taken in during the cycle. If you keep taking in the same amount, you can be sure that the ratio between muscle to fat will change in favor of fat. Your body simply can’t process the same amount of calories in an efficient and effective manner as when you were “on.”
At this point some of you may be thinking, “what if I incorporate this method while I’m on?” If it works well after I’ve finished a cycle it should work even better during a cycle. While this line of thinking may appear to be based on common logic, it is, in fact, quite misleading. Let me explain, looking at it from a strength-training perspective.
In bodybuilding circles wearing tight spandex and florescent tank tops was once fashionable and training to failure was believed to be the sure-fire way of achieving the best result in the shortest period of time. While this method reaped great results (and the latter ‘was’ very appealing), the effects, at some point, began to wear off.
Training to failure or enlisting other types of training methods (see Weider’s principles ) can be seen as tools. And tools that are used over and over begin to lose their effect as time passes. They just wear out.
This can also be applied, somewhat, to nutrition. Nutritional tools/methods, however, are a bit different, as the body doesn’t adapt to dietary manipulations. It’s a matter of energy expenditure and balancing, so fat-loss is progressive and balanced (muscle to fat-loss ratio). These tools should be applied only at specific times. A sensible approach that allows for balance will work every time. It’s the balancing part that can be tough—knowing when and how to balance various nutritional tools so that they work to your advantage.
Hopefully, some light has been thrown on one way you can structure post-cycle nutrition. I’ve used a simplistic approach to outline the nature of a war that many trainees fight once, twice or maybe even three times a year, and how it can be won.
Now, let’s recap the main points:
1. Time your carbohydrate intake around your pre, during and post workout sessions. Breakfast will be the only other meal that carbs can be taken in (preferably oatmeal as your source so your bowels don’t get clogged up).
2. Increase your fat intake using flax, hemp, fish and nuts as your sources (liquid and solid form).
3. Decrease your protein intake (it’s really just an expensive source of glucose).
4. If you use negative training and/or emphasize this portion of the lift quite a bit in your training it may be wise to cycle your carb intake on your off days.
5. Adjust your carbohydrate intake according to the volume of your workouts and the muscle groups exercised.
6. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Balance is the key to winning this war.
Next time, I’ll be talking about post-cycle nutritional/supplement do’s and don’ts.
Written by Maki Riddington