Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The War Against Catabolism

Here's something fun to try:  Go up to the biggest, most shredded, most muscular dude you know, and say nothing to him but "catabolic."  Then proceed to watch him run and hide in the corner, frantically trying to mix up a protein shake and down it in as little time as possible.  There, see?  No need to be afraid of bigger guys anymore.

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but to any sort of fitness pro, catabolic can be a scary word.  In its simplest form, catabolism means nothing but the breakdown of molecules into simpler forms, and releasing energy in the process.  This happens all the time in your body, and actually is what digestion is defined as.  During exercise, your body is in a state of catabolism, breaking down nutrients and releasing energy to fuel those hard working muscles.  But once all those glucose/glycogen energy stores are depleted, your body has no choice but to start breaking down muscle in an attempt to find more energy to use.  When your muscles break down, you start to feel a burn, usually caused by the combination of lactate buildup and tears in your muscle fibers.  This isn't a completely bad thing, because after your workout, your body makes it a priority to build back your muscle bigger and stronger than it was previously in hopes to avoid future states of the same "injury."   And if you have a post workout meal (WHICH YOU SHOULD), you can very rapidly throw your body from a catabolic, muscle eating state, to an anabolic, or growth state.

So catabolism isn't always a bad thing, however there are definitely times when you DON'T want to be catabolic.  Remember, basically any time your body is catabolic, you can't get bigger and stronger.  It simply won't happen, as your body is eating muscle instead of building it.  Therefore, it's pretty safe to say that other than intense exercise, you want your body in a purely anabolic state of muscle growth and repair.  Remember, your muscles don't grow while working out, they grow while resting.

So how do you avoid a catabolic state throughout your day?  Well, the good news for you is that it's pretty hard to enter a catabolic state if you're getting proper nutrition and calorie intake.  But remember the two main causes of catabolism:  Working out intensely, and fasting.  If you're fasting for hours on end, you might be depriving your body of the anabolic state it needs to rebuild muscle after a workout.  In order to assure that you don't enter a catabolic state throughout your day, try these tips:

Eat Frequently And Consistently:  Most fitness enthusiasts will tell you to have 5-6 medium sized meals a day, and this is very good advice if you're looking to promote an anabolic state.  If you're always eating, your body is almost never waiting for food, and will always have new nutrients coming in to rebuild what you've broken down.  However, do you HAVE to eat 5-6 meals a day to keep anabolic?  Well, people used to think that was really the only way to do it, but for the most part, it's been disproven.  So no, 3 meals a day should suffice, and if you're into intermediate fasting, that has been shown to keep people in anabolic states as well.  I guess I'm still on the old train though, and I'd say if you can, eat more frequently than not.  Better safe than sorry, right?

Eat After Your Workout:  I've already mentioned this one above, but post workout nutrition is EXTREMELY important to prevent continued catabolism after an intense workout.  Your body is already pretty beaten up after you've racked the weights or stopped the treadmill, and is already in the process of breaking down your muscle to very weakened levels.  It's quite advisable to get out of this catabolic state ASAP, in order to see the best gains.  So have a good amount of protein, and a few carbohydrates (about a quarter of your daily intake) to get your body building instead of breaking.  A protein shake and a banana or some oats are a couple of great choices.

Eat Before Bed:  Tell me something; when's the longest period of time you will have to go without food?  Night time of course!  Or more accurately, when you're sleeping, whenever that may be for you.  Unfortunately, that's also the time your body is doing the most muscle repair, and therefore it's crucial to have nutrients available for your body to use when it's repairing muscle.  There's this stupid thought that a couple hours before bed is a time when you should avoid food at all costs because your body won't get a chance to use the nutrients it provides before you go to sleep, and therefore it'll just get stored as fat.  That's ridiculous.  If you're eating within your calorie range, you won't store fat no matter when you eat.  And believe me, your body will thank you for the food you give it before you hit the hay.  I can promise you'll see big muscle gains too, because this is the largest time of muscle growth in the day.

So what should you eat before bed?  The general rule is to have a food rich in healthy fats, which will help to slow digestion, and a slower acting protein (casein.)  Probably one of the most famous pre-bedtime meals is some natural peanut butter and some cottage cheese.  This will provide you with a whole bunch of healthy unsaturated fats, as well as a ton of casein protein.  The amount of each you consume will depend entirely on your goals and your calorie requirements, so study up!

Catabolic states are a natural occurrence, and shouldn't be considered bad, but if you're looking to get as fit and lean as you can be, you want to make sure your body can build up muscle in the most efficient way possible.  I've given you a few tips, so now you know what to do and what to watch out for.  If you have any questions, just post a comment, I'm guaranteed to respond.




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