Fire It Up

By David Sandler Flex

Feeling gassed after busting your butt day in and day out? If you’re grinding away at your training program and noticing that between your hardcore cutting diet and your amped up training routine, you’re running out of energy, it’s likely because you’ve slowed down or, better yet, out-paced your metabolism.

I’d be hard-pressed to say that anyone with a decent amount of muscle could possibly have a slow metabolism, but most certainly your metabolism does change as your body changes. What’s more, is that it’s not as simple as just working out harder and hoping to boost it. If it were that easy, well, you’d already have an explosive metabolism and wouldn’t need to read any further.

We know that genetics certainly plays a role in the speed at which you process calories. Some are more blessed than others. But science has also taught us that there are ways, both through specific exercises and food choices, that can augment (or suppress) your metabolic rate. Unfortunately, there is a roller coaster-like process that is almost unavoidable, called life, that occasionally gets in the way. In any case, the more you understand about why and how your body responds to various stimuli, the better you’ll be at dialing in your best physique ever.

I know it seems counterintuitive to not cut carbs and expect to lose fat and get defined, but most people cut carbs way too far out from a competition or event. And then, even when they do cut carbs at the right time, they cut them too drastically, or around a single meal or two. Your body responds both acutely (meaning very quickly) and then chronically (meaning over time) and those two processes are both critical for timing your look, but also for contributing to metabolic issues.

The acute response is what you want for your physique to get ripped and hard. The chronic adaptation is what can crush your metabolism into a hibernation that would make a bear take a second look. Keep your carbs constant, and keep them relatively high (not less than 40% of your total macro intake). In fact, if you can train your body to work with 55%–60% carbs, you’ll have rock-star shredding capabilities in the long run. The trick is to teach your body how to use carbs, so when you do cut or load, the acute response is all that happens.

When you chronically starve your body of needed carbs, it will go in to storage mode, and turn just about everything you consume into subcutaneous fat. Additionally, water will eventually accumulate, even with low carbs, causing swelling between the lines, making you look fat. Once you’re seriously carb- depleted, it’s hard to deplete any more. While true, when you go to load you may get lucky and time it perfectly and look ripped, but the effect doesn’t last long, so if you are off by even an hour or two, you won’t look so good. The cure is to take in carbs at every meal and keep them as constant as possible so your body knows it will always have them to deal with.

You have two options and you need to decide which is more appropriate for your needs. High-intensity aerobic activity will do three things: burn more overall calories—but primarily sugar; increase your overall metabolic rate (which is good)—but it will create a large conflict with your muscle-gaining ability as it becomes somewhat catabolic to muscle tissue. Option 2 is low-intensity aerobic activity, which, while great for mobilizing fat—making it the primary choice of fuel—it doesn’t help with other aspects of pushing the metabolic threshold and improving your overall rate.

Both training methods are needed, and neither should be discounted. While advocates of a particular method would tell you the other is bad, I suggest a more thorough approach that boosts metabolism but prevents catabolic muscle exposure. To keep your fat stores at bay, choose the low and the slow more often. When that’s combined with heavy-duty, muscle-building lifting, it won’t interfere with the building process and will help burn of the real fat. The high- intensity stuff should be reserved for the times during a regular training cycle of trying to lean out, but also done in short bouts so as not to confuse your body with which fuels to use.

In other words, short bouts of hardcore sprints tells your body that the increased muscle provides more power and strength for those sprints. Chronic beating up of your body in high-intensity efforts tells your body that it needs to lighten the load to become more efficient, and hence, it starts to attack the muscle. To make the most of high-intensity training, do it once per week, no more than twice, and keep it short (under 30 minutes). But most importantly, you need to understand that cardio is not for creating a calorie deficit—that is why you diet. Instead use varying cardio to boost your metabolism by getting fats and sugars moving, to keep the body used to burning, and to provide the needed exercise rush to drive your metabolism. Don’t overdo it, instead, “underdo” it, so your body wants more and learns to process fuels more efficiently.

Dense muscles increase metabolic rate and burn more calories—there’s no argument against that. I realize telling an experienced bodybuilder that he needs thicker muscles is a bit of a no-brainer. But while bodybuilders are certainly large in girth due to the normal processes of hypertrophy (increasing size), there is still considerable inactive material, since muscle is comprised mostly of water, which doesn’t have metabolic activity. It is to that end that increasing the contractile protein thickness within the muscle is a must to help elevate your metabolic threshold. Research clearly indicates that strength training with lower reps and higher weight will improve the overall thickness of the contractile elements of muscle.

Thus, adding a few strength phases within your long-term hypertrophy program is a must. About every 3–4 months, it’s advised to hit a month of old-school strength training where you do 4–5 sets of six reps with as heavy a weight as you can handle. Tough it out, get stronger, and watch your metabolic rate soar.

While strength is dictated by heavy sets and longer rest schemes, and size is generally categorized by a slightly quicker pace and higher rep range, by keeping your workouts constant at either end of the spectrum, you create normalcy. Remember, metabolism likes normalcy, so it can slow down and relax.

To prevent your metabolism from winning the battle, changing up the tempo midstream during a workout or alternating pace every other workout can be an effective tool to help overcome the staleness. You don’t want to do this haphazardly nor too often, as you don’t want to vary too far from your main goal. so add a fast-paced component to your routine every third or fourth workouts in one of these two ways. One, drop your rest time down to 30–45 seconds for a few sets of each exercise. Two, pick up the pace of the reps and try to hit 12 reps in 10 seconds. be careful with the second option, as you still need to control the weights. by moving a little quicker, you get a metabolic effect that is similar to a supercharger on an engine.

Spicy foods have been proven time again to help accelerate metabolism primarily due to the capsaicin in the spices, so throw in a little extra heat. Lean proteins, especially fish, seem to have a potential for boosting metabolism over regular consumption. Make some kind of fish a regular part of your diet. Citrus fruits carry natural components like synephrine and naringin, which have been shown to mobilize fat, accelerate metabolism, and even help with appetite suppression. Kick up the fruit in your diet and help your metabolism get back on track.

Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower) have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory responses that may improve your metabolic profile. The downside is that those same vegetables can cause gas and stomach discomfort, so don’t overdo it. Of course, a food discussion with respect to metabolism shouldn’t forget that eating smaller meals more often and staying away from junk foods that high are fat and sugar should both be a must. Overall, your diet will affect your metabolic rate as well as your waistline.

It’s been well established that supplements can up your game in almost every aspect when it comes to building muscle. The same is true with improving metabolic rate. Besides the standard protein, amino acids, and creatine that should accompany your workouts, there are a few other things you may want to consider during those tough times when the diet becomes highly restricted. Caffeine, in tolerable doses up to about 300mg, is a staple in most fat burners because it works. Green tea extract, both with caffeine or without, carries a high level of EGCG, which has shown to be very effective at helping mobilize fat, improve weight loss, and carry powerful antioxidant aspects, making it a good choice for fat burning. Shoot for 150mg or more per day to get a solid benefit.

There are many herbs that claim to have benefits at increasing metabolism through various mechanisms, but many are still under investigation. Several of the natural diuretic products on the market not only help decrease your water, but also carry extracts that promote increased metabolic firing. But perhaps the most important thing you can do when it comes to supplements is give your body help with building muscle through muscle protein synthesis. This is best achieved by providing ample amounts of protein, amino acids, or bioactive peptides to your post-workout drink. Missing this component of your training will cause you to lose out on valuable recovery and building components that will affect your ability to build solid muscle and thus they will decrease your ability to improve your metabolism.

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