More isn't always better

March 14, 2016

If something is good, then more must be better, right? Well, not always the case. This is especially true for a lot of topics or areas that have to do with our health. Hopefully this list can give you some insight into when too much of something isn't always better.

 

Too much creatine

 

Ah yes, creatine. One of the most widely-studied supplements we have today. One supplement, I might add, that I consistently use and promote its efficacy over and over again. The research surrounding creatine usage consistently points to positive gains in strength, power output, and lean muscle mass gains and improvements in overall body composition, with very little drawback or negative side effects. So, something this good must be even better if you take more, right? Well not so fast.

 

Most creatine supplements suggest a "loading phase" to saturate the body with creatine prior to a fitness program. Although this isn't entirely necessary, loading phases can be beneficial. One should note, however, that a week-long loading phase is about the only time you should take creatine at such a high dose (listed below). Some people report stomach or intestinal distress from higher amounts of creatine, so if this is the case then just take your standard daily dose and you should still experience the positive benefits from supplementing.

 

So how much should you actually take? Well, research suggests that the average person only utilizes about 2-3g on any given day. Most creatine dosages are 5g (teaspoon), so that is more than enough product to benefit you. Oftentimes, however, I see individuals who think that since 5g is so great, then 10, 15, 20, or even 25g daily must be even better. This is simply not the case. There appears to be a "saturation point" where you body simply will not absorb or utilize any more.

 

Besides the intestinal or stomach distress from higher dosages, there doesn't appear to be any research pointing towards a threat or negative side effects of overdosing, although why waste product when you can just stick to the regular dosing? Don't let the resident "bro" down at your gym or on Facebook try and tell you otherwise.

 

Dosing:

 

0.3g/kg - "loading phase" (days 1-7)
0.03g/kg - "maintenance phase" (days 8+)

 

So, for a 180lb person: The theoretical loading phase should be about 25g and the maintenance phase should be about 2.5g.

 

Too many calories

 

Too many calories you say? Well, this point is intended for those of you who are trying to bulk or put on some weight/mass. Oftentimes some people may think that by eating a lot of food to put on mass is good, so even more food must be better, right?

 

It is true, your body needs a caloric surplus (consume more than you burn) in order to build muscle (or fat for that matter). However, too many calories can result in some unwanted body fat. Your body only has a limited capacity to build muscle at any given time, related to a number of factors.

 

I actually love the analogy used over on T Nation about building a house:

 

I like to use a construction worker analogy to explain this. Imagine that your muscles are like a house you're trying to build. The bricks used to build the house represent the amino acids (from the ingestion of protein) while the money you're paying the workers (so that they'll do the work) represents the carbs and fat you eat.

 

Finally, the workers represent the factors involved in the protein synthesis process (Testosterone mainly) and the truck bringing the bricks to the workers represent insulin (which plays a capital role in transporting the nutrients to the muscle cells).

 

If you don't give the workers enough bricks (protein) they won't be able to build the house as fast as they could. So in that regard, an insufficient protein intake will slow down muscle growth.

 

Similarly, if you don't pay your workers enough (low carbs or fat intake) they won't be as motivated to work hard. As a result, the house won't be built very rapidly. In fact, if you really cut the workers' pay, they might even get mad, go on strike, and start demolishing the house (catabolism due to an excessively low caloric intake). So in that regard, not consuming enough protein or calories to support muscle growth will lead to a slower rate of gains.

 

Now, what happens if you start to send more bricks (increase protein intake) to the workers? Well, they'll be able to build the house more rapidly because they aren't lacking in raw material. However, at some point, sending more and more bricks won't lead to a faster rate of construction because the workers can only perform so much work in any given amount of time. For example, if your crew can add 1000 bricks per day to the walls, giving them 2000 bricks per day will be useless: it exceeds their work capacity. So the excess bricks will go to waste (literally).

 

In the same regard, if you increase your workers' salary (increase caloric intake) chances are their motivation will also increase and as a result they'll build the house faster. However, just like with bricks, there comes a point where increasing the workers' salary won't have any effect on the house-building rate: the workers will reach their physical limit. Once this limit is reached you can increase their salary all you want; they won't be able to add bricks to the house any faster.

 

What I'm trying to say is you can't bully your body into building muscle by force-feeding it. Adding nutrients and calories will have a positive effect on muscle growth until you reach your saturation point. After that, any additional calories will be stored as body fat.

 

So while it's true the more you eat the bigger you'll get, the additional weight will be in the form of fat, not muscle tissue.

 

So how much should you be eating? Well, most studies suggest anywhere from 250-500+ calories over your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Keep in mind that this is far from a scientific calculation, so you should pay attention to your own body mass over time keeping a few things in mind.

  1. "Clean" bulks, where you are mainly trying to add just muscle tissue with limited fat gain are going to put you closer to the 250+ caloric surplus range. I don't want to say that this method is impossible, because it's not, but it certainly takes much longer to bulk this way and is more difficult. Only the most seasoned of bodybuilders and physique competitors (or those who get lucky) are able to put on just muscle mass. It takes a lot more time and dedication, so be prepared for this option.

  2. Weight gain at the beginning of a bulk is generally much quicker prior to your weight plateauing a bit. If you are working out and supplementing with creatine, then your body will retain glycogen and water causing your weight to spike quite a bit in the first few weeks. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that you are eating too much, so stay committed and watch your weight trend over time and adjust accordingly.

  3. With absolute prime conditions, you are only going to be adding about 0.25-0.5lbs of muscle mass in a week. So, after that initial weight spike has happened, focus on aiming for maybe 0.5-1lb of total weight gain in a week. If you aren't gaining weight, eat more. If you are gaining too much weight, eat a bit less.

  4. As you gain weight, you will need to continually up your calories. Bodies with heavier mass have a higher resting metabolic rate, or in other words, burn more calories throughout the day. So, as you pack on some muscle, you will need to continue to eat more and more to continue to gain weight.

Too few calories

 

This list is about more, so why is something that is about less on this list? Well, for many, this is all about cutting calories. In other words, some people think that since reducing calories must be good for weight loss then cutting calories even more calories must be better, right?

 

Well not exactly. I consider about 3 different "phases" the body transitions through during times of calorie restriction.

  1. Safe and effective caloric deficit of 250-500 calories below your TDEE.

  2. "Grey area" between safe weight loss and starvation. You may lose weight in this zone but your body and your mind are not going to be happy about it.

  3. Starvation.

Keep in mind that any and all weight loss will result in a decrease of both fat mass (adipose tissue) and fat-free mass (muscle tissue). This is where exercise (including resistance training) and proper dieting can try and minimize the effects of muscle loss as much as possible - although not entirely.

 

A caloric deficit means that your body is not getting all of its energy requirements from food intake so it must result to metabolizing tissues (catabolism) in order to meet all of its energy demands. So, assuming you are consuming enough calories to signal to your body that "times are good," and that you are healthy and active, you will continue to lose weight as a steady, slow drip.

 

A pound of body fat is worth roughly 3500 calories. Basically, if you were to burn that body fat, that is the chemical energy that you would yield. Great. So, if you theoretically cut 500 calories out of your diet every day, then you should see your weight go down by 1 pound in 7 days (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories). Sure, and this may happen in the beginning, but it is not something that is consistent.

 

Our bodies appear to have a mechanism that is known as "set point theory." The set point theory is an idea that everyone has a hypothetical "basement" and "ceiling" for their weight.

 

Our bodies have such defence mechanisms set in place to prevent us from starving to death. This comes from many years of evolution. Our early ancestors that used to hunt and gather may have gone days without food during times of famine. They didn't have the convenience of having a McDonald's on a street corner to go get a cheeseburger. So, instead of dropping dead after a day or two of not eating, they could go days by catabolizing their own tissues. This is often referred to as "starvation mode."

 

One thing I will clarify about starvation mode, you should not be gaining weight during starvation mode. It is physically impossible to gain weight if you are on a caloric deficit. Your weight loss, however, can slow or even stop completely for a couple of different reasons.

 

First, you may have lost weight too quickly by restricting too many calories. Your hormonal profile goes all wonky and your body hits that theoretical "basement," so it puts on the brakes as a defence/survival mechanism. This is generally when you begin to not feel so well because your metabolism has slowed to a halt. 

 

Secondly, you simply may not be eating enough. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that women intake at least 1200 calories/day and 1800 calories/day for men. Keep in mind that these are the absolute lowest calorie intake numbers, and for those of you who lead an active lifestyle whether through work or exercise should consider those factors.

 

Here's a very simple and basic way of calculating your resting or basal metabolic rate:

 

Men:

BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

 

Women:

BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

 

So, using a 25 year old, 6', 180lb individual as an example:

BMR = 66 + (6.23 x 180) + (12.7 x 72) - (6.8 x 25) = 1,931 calories

 

That means, that if that individual was to sit on their butt all day and do nothing but breathe and eat, then they should still consume 1,941 calories to maintain their current weight. Factor in activity (work, chores, play) and exercise and you can imagine how many calories they would need to sustain their current weight.

 

Let's summarize:

  1. Calorie calculations, regardless of how accurate they claim to be, are mea