Why Nutritional Micro-Cycles Build Muscle Faster
In the first article of this series we looked at 5 ways the traditional bulking diet is a waste of time, even downright unhealthy.
In the second, we broke down the science behind hormones – how a bulk negatively affects insulin management and ways bulking can get you fatter instead of bigger.
We wrapped by introducing you to micro cycling, something I discovered quite by accident as I faced the challenge of combining a busy family and business life with bodybuilding.
In this article we’ll dig deeper into cycling, specifically the power of strategic calorie bursts – how it can make you bigger, stronger, AND leaner – at the same time.
Here’s the straight goods:
Growth is never linear. Human beings grow in spurts. Just think of little children and babies. Our bodies prepare for growth by optimizing our internal hormones and then BOOM, we grow.
Here’s the cool thing: you can predict these growth spurts and schedule them so you never plateau.
To do so, each phase of your nutrition should be built around these predicted growth phases, setting things up to effectively capitalize on the short spurts.
It’s also effective. Thousands of guys like you have successfully implemented these simple strategies, gaining unheard of amounts of muscle in as little as 2-3 months – all while maintaining or even losing body fat.
That’s why nutritional micro-cycles work so much better than old school linear bulking approaches. Instead of being in a caloric excess every day, you spend several days eating at very close to your daily energy expenditure, or even slightly below, depending on your body fat and insulin sensitivity. You then have days that are very calorically excessive.
The net result is that you still end up in a caloric excess for the week (which you need to build muscle) but cycling of lower and higher calorie days improves your physiological response to those higher calorie days.
How slight depletion days make your bulk more effective.
Having several lower calorie lower carb days in a row helps make your body more efficient at using and transporting nutrients. This means that you’ll use more fat for fuel, and also be more efficient at creating energy for your training.
Furthermore, your body adapts to becoming more efficient at recycling metabolites like lactic acid, which also increases your training performance.
Insulin will be lower on these lower carb/calorie days so your cells get a break from the constant insulin signaling. This prevents you from becoming insulin resistant, something that can happen with a linear bulking strategy.
Controlling insulin also helps to keep your leptin levels in check, so that you won’t lose your appetite during your bulking program.
This makes it much easier mentally, because when your appetite is suppressed, eating can become a stressor as you view it as a negative experience. It also creates a negative hormonal response to meals that can cause you to store even more fat and build less muscle.
So keeping healthy leptin levels and sensitivity is key for a successful, and less stressful, bulking period.
When your body is more efficient at burning fat for fuel and transporting nutrients, your body-fat stays in check. And by keeping body-fat levels from getting out of control, you prevent increases in estrogen and SHBG (Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin), which keeps your testosterone higher during your bulk.
Inflammation and cortisol will also stay lower, allowing for faster recovery from training and less fat storage.
The lower calorie days are obviously not days where you will see massive jumps in scale weight — you may even lose weight during this period — but they set you up for much more effective re-feed days.
Your actual gains in muscle mass over the course of each week will be greater, and you’ll accumulate less body-fat than you would if you were to simply stay at a higher calorie level for months on end.
How Loading (re-feeding) days work better than constant high calorie days
The trick to getting the most out of higher calories is to make your body very efficient at using them for training performance and recovery.
Using a depletion method gets your body primed, but the X-factor for making real gains in muscle mass comes from your training.
Training is basically the director to tell you body what to do with the nutrition you take in. Were you to ‘deplete and refeed’ without training, it would still have positive effects on your health, but muscle mass gains would be minimal.
I’ll explain how alternating lower calorie/carb days with re-feed days are more effective than linear bulking below, but remember these benefits only come with hard work.
The Banking Example
When you follow a linear bulking program, the calorie increases have to be manageable, so increasing them too high typically just leads to excess fat gain. This is because your body is not in an efficient state for transporting the nutrients.
Think of your body as having two bank accounts — a savings account, which is basically your body composition, and a checking account that consists of what you get to spend each day from an energy perspective.
With a linear bulk, you refill your checking account every day, and then add a little extra to your savings account. Because you refill your checking account every day, your savings is never stressed, so you’re comfortable where it is.
Using a ‘deplete and refeed’ method you go through two stages:
During the deplete portion, your checking account isn’t being refilled, so each day you have to dip into your savings a little bit. And by dipping into your savings, you start to feel like you need to keep more in that savings account.
Then comes the refeed stage, where you finally get to refill your checking account and bump up your savings. And to prepare for the next time, you jack up your savings as much as possible.
Translation, your body will take as much nutrition as it can and add it to your body mass.
Banks deal in dollars but your body has 3 currencies: protein, carbs, and fat.
With the linear bulking approach you’ll have a tendency to deposit more ‘fat’ into your savings account because it’s an extremely safe and conservative long-term investment, and you’re not thinking you’ll need to access it any time soon.
But with the nutrition micro-cycle method, you need to have carbs and protein readily available just in case you suddenly blow through your checking (daily energy needs) again.
So when you add to your savings, you’re storing amino acids (protein) and glycogen (glucose) in the muscles — with minimal fat storage. Because you’ve stressed that savings account a bit, your body is willing to put a much greater amount in there than it would normally.
So while a linear bulk may have you taking in 250 to 500 extra calories per day, most of those calories are not effectively be used. However, with a nutritional micro-cycle on refeed days you can double or even triple the amount of additional calories you can take in, while seeing a greater proportion stored as lean tissue and less as fat.
More muscle. Less fat. Healthier. Safer. More efficient. And more fun (the refeed days that is).
So now you’re thinking, I’m in. Let’s do this.
The next, final email will put all this theory into practice. A step by step plan for you to follow so you can set up your own nutritional micro-cycle.
However, as much as nutritional micro-cycling is effective, if you want to pack on serious size in a hurry, then applying the same principles on a macro-cycling scale is essential.