Why customizing macro-nutrients is an individualization game
It may come as a surprise to some, but my psychic abilities gravitate on the low side of the spectrum. And as much as I would like to answer your questions about your specific macro-nutrients ratios, the reality is that it is simply not possible. In all fairness, this is not something I can nor want to do over social media.
The reason to that is simple:
I want to provide you with the best advice.
And I do give my top suggestions in the e-book How To Gain Muscle Mass – The Ultimate Guide. But I want to emphasize the word “suggestions” because a proper diet is individualized (being a special snow flake here) and evolves over time.
And this is something that is not reasonably possible to do online. Simply because the Q/A format doesn’t allow it.
First of all, a refresher on a couple things you need to bear in mind when asking macro-nutrients related questions.
1. Pick ONE goal
You only have one ass, you can’t sit on two horses. To gain muscle you need to be insulin sensitive. If you are fat, gaining muscle is harder until you become insulin sensitive.
While it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, experience show aiming at losing fat first, accelerates the muscle gaining process.
2. There is no “hallpass”
If you are fat, there’s no way around it. Just accept the fact that carbs are not your friend for now. Take full responsibility for your lapses in judgement. You have overindulged in the last months (decades?).
That doesn’t make you a bad person.
Nobody was ever mugged by a dozen donuts. You made those choices. Time to take ownership. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate… outside of fibers. Assess. Take action. No pity party. Case closed.
3. Don’t look at the world through a straw
Carbs intake is not the be-all end-all of nutrition. There are many other variables such as sleep, stress, and social factors. Don’t ask me to tweak your carbs intake post-workout in the hope that it will get you jacked overnight. That’s wishful thinking.
4. There is no such thing as an unbiased question
Humans are wired this way – we ask questions in a way that tilts the balance towards the answer we want. Conversely, nutrition depends on a host of factors that must all be computed in. Only then can the best advice be provided
Let’s have a look at the factors to be taken into account when deciding on macro-nutrients ratios.
In order to design a diet supportive to your physique or performance goals it is necessary to assess your body fat%. Book an appointment with a metabolic analytics practitioner – no impedance scales won’t do, and no I can’t assess your body fat from selfies taken in your dimly lit bathroom.
Knowing the ratio of fat mass to lean body mass is crucial. I’ve said it over and over gain, a male over 10% is not in a good position to make optimal muscle gains. Nor is he to perform optimally. Excess fat mass creates intramuscular friction which will eventually slow movements down. Additionally adipose tissue is conductive to low grade inflammation and therefore highly detrimental to muscle building and general health.
Before embarking on a program know where you stand as regards body fat and adjust your goal accordingly. Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forwards. A 6-8 weeks cut is well worth the investment knowing that subsequent muscle gains will come easier.
In training there is a deep ingrained law that states that the weakest link limits performance.
Turns out the same holds true as regards nutrition. The weakest biological system will equally limit fat loss, mass gain or performance endeavors.
For instance, if insulin sensitivity is poor. Nutrient partitioning goes down the drain and good luck shuttling excess calories towards muscles. Fortunately, once that issue is fixed you will grow like a weed. It takes between 18 months to 5 years to re establish insulin sensitivity depending on your adherence to the protocol and how aggressive the said protocol is.
A 30min assessment with a Metabolic Analytics practitioner will enlighten you as to what system needs remedial work.
Even armed with solid macro-nutrients recommandations, nutrient timing can skew results.
For the vast majority carbs consumption peri-workout is a big no no. Cortisol, well managed, is your best ally. In order to reap the benefits from acutely elevating cortisol you want to go with higher protein higher fat pre-workout. This dietary strategy has been proven time and again to enhance muscle protein accretion.
There are exceptions. An accumulation phase where the training volume is enormous can warrant carbs intra and even pre-workout. It is a case by case decision making process.
Likewise, advanced trainees will vastly benefit from consuming their post-workout shake within the first 10 minutes after the last set. The devil is in the details. A 2% variance in protein synthesis goes a long way for the seasoned bodybuilder. The level of the athlete dictates the complexity of the protocols in diet and training.
Ideal case scenario, the macros perfectly fit. But still, there are just numbers. And there is a limit to that. Proteins, fats, carbs come in many flavors, and detailed explanations are necessary.
On the (vast) topic of fats alone several items needs be checked out of the list before embarking on a diet. What kind of fat? To what ratio? And we not even getting into then nitty-gritty of storage conditions, and acceptable cooking temperatures…
We know that our ancestors thrived on a 4:1 ratio of omega 3 to 6. Nowadays the average diet leans towards 1:16. Which is abysmally unhealthy. A reasonable aim would be a 1:1 ratio. This can be achieved by way of supplementation and good protein choices. For instance, grass fed beef, yak, wapiti, deer, elk over standard raised pork, beef and chicken.
As far as proteins go, amino acids balance is a big criteria. You have to look at the bigger picture. Case in point: lean meats. Of course knowing that toxins are stored in the fatty cuts, it would make sense to avoid these altogether and opt for leaner cuts. Right? Wrong! Lean meat is very high in methionine which competes with tryptophane for absorption. This would eventually leads to serotonin depletion.
And don’t even try to grow on a soy protein based diet… you’ll come crying in two week time stressed out your mind wondering if your pants make your butt look fat.
Pet peeve alert: don’t EVER ask about vegetarian diets. That’s just asking for trouble.
Assessing your neurotransmitter dominance provide valuable information to orient your diet. A balanced diet should provide an adequate amount of precursors and co-factors in neurotransmitters synthesis that’s a given.
But your dominance will spell out your individual needs.
For instance, vitamins B6, B9, B12 are essential to the synthesis of dopamine. A dopamine dominant individual need to ensure his diet is rich in these nutrients if they wants to perform at their best. In the context of fat loss these minerals will prove invaluable. As a low dopamine status correlates with low motivation, and energy. The amino acid Tyrosine is the building block of dopamine as well as epinephrine, norepinephrine and thyroxine which explains why metabolism tends to take a nose dive when dopamine is low.
Likewise neurotransmitters deficiencies can be corrected through dietary intervention. As they are determined by lifestyle and not set in stone like dominances. It is therefore important to identify the weakness and treat it as a priority. A serotonin deficiency can be mitigated simply by adding carbs to the last meal of the day. Indeed, insulin liberation will sweep away competing amino acids and clear the way for tryptophan to enter the brain and induce serotonin production.
Among the main causes of obesity stress and lack of sleep looms large. It stands to reason that lifestyle choices should be taken into account when designing a diet.
That’s why the best coaches use comprehensive questionnaires to screen their clients needs and dovetail their diets accordingly.
Something as simple as temperature can screw your fat loss or mass gain efforts equally. Cortisol management is generally a trouble spot to begin with. But add dehydration to the picture and watch your cortisol raise off the charts. And your umbilical fat stores follow suit. A well designed questionnaire will quickly identify trouble areas. Implementing adequate measures will ensure your efforts at the gym are rewarded.
Lifestyle is always the trigger even if the gene is the gun.
Carb tolerance comes to mind first when thinking about genetic variability across the board. Identifying where you stand along the carbs/fat continuum is the matter of seconds once your metabolic analytics profile is established. So for example, carb intake will be very different if you are a native from Cashmir that if you are full blooded Norwegian.
Resorting to trial and error the process could take between 6 to 8 weeks even for a well seasoned coach. Establishing your affinity to carbs prove fruitful. As quite counter intuitively carb tolerant people are slow metabolizers which will also influence optimal meal timing and meal frequency.
Your genetics also govern how well or poorly you react to certain supplements. 5HTP is supposedly a calming agent. But for some people, including yours truly, its effects are vaguely reminiscent to something like the “ultimate violence drug”. A few caps if 5HTP would earn me a seat in the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives Lists for having killed the most people with bare hands. Without falling into such extremes there is a great variability in response rate with supplements. Some people are non responders to creatine which as a rule of thumb delivers results for each and every one.
Food intolerances are also dictated (but not exclusively) by genetics. Repeated exposure or cross contamination may also trigger food intolerances.
Another VERY important parameter is gut health. It may not be glamorous but very important. In addition as humans are actually 90% bacteria. The gut microbiome as well as gut health are very potent in terms of health and performance.
Not acknowledging gut health is very detrimental to progress. You are not what you but what you absorb. Therefore the enlightened coach will assess you before embarking on any supplementation or dietary protocol.
Labs are now able to analyze stools and determine microbiome composition. This is a very exciting area of research at the moment. Recent studies shed interesting light on how obesity and gut microbiome are intertwined. As for now there are some instances where knowing about microbiome can save you from troubles. For instance someone who hosts a specific gut bacteria will react adversely to supplementation. Similarly, Glutamine intake will foster candida growth. Likewise if the gut is populated by the pathogen Helicobacter Pylori then ingesting copper will cause nausea.
Obviously, a well tailored diet takes into account your personal history. Would it make sense to ignore a 10 year span spent working at a gas station? No, and it looms large in your cells and is reflected on your mineral status. Daily exposure to a toxic load of this magnitude will deplete Zinc reserves faster than you can say “zinc”.
It is relatively easy to spot red flags with questionnaires. If you know what you are looking for that is. A classic exemple with fitness enthusiasts are cases of former anorexics or even people who have been a little trigger happy with orals steroids and diuretics in the past. In both cases there will be severe mineral deficiencies.
Yet blood work remains a critical tool when designing a diet. Over the years I have refined my prescription to a 7 item list:
1. Resting insulin
2. Resting glucose
3. Reactive insulin
5. Red blood cell magnesium
6. Red blood cell zinc
The reality is that I can’t give you an answer that satisfies my standard of excellence as regards diet over social media. It would be guess work. And that’s amateurish.
The Only Hard Set Rules Would Be:
1. Meat and nuts breakfast
Whether you are “carb bitch” or not. The Meat and Nuts breakfast rules supreme. It sets you up ideally for the day.
2. Cortisol must go down post workout
Different strategies are implemented according to body fat levels:
- Males over 10% and females over 16% would be best advised to stick to a post workout shake made of the usual whey or EAA plus:
Glutamine (as much as you can afford*) + 1-10g Glycine (titrate up starting from 1g**) + 5 to 30g Leucine***
*this is a rare instance where the more IS the better
**optional, but excellent for stimulating hypertrophy
***Don’t ignore this important tip, start low and titrate up, it takes some getting using to it and can cause severe gastric distress
- For lean individuals, ideally, the usual whey or EAA with the addition of a well-designed carbs powder such as Pentacarb.
x2 BW or x3 BW when using a higher volume protocol
- The best type of protein powders are: organic whey from cows, organic whey from goat or beef proteins.
Coach Charles R. Poliquin
PS: I will be coming out with an online course with Stefan Ianev along with a software to monitor your macro-nutrients as you experiment.