Q&A with Mike Furci
My name is Brian and I'm 21 years old. I'm a soccer player, and to get in shape I started a new workout routine for the summer. Every morning I run according to a schedule my coach gave me. I also lift weights three days per week with the exercises on your Top 10 workout list, plus a few exercises I added. (Most people don't think so, but soccer players do need a little muscle everywhere, not just the legs). My first question concerns my workouts: Is there anything that I am doing wrong or missing as of now?
My second question comes with the nutritional part: I read both of the sections of your column that dealt with nutrition. Then I also saw a few questions from other people on nutrition. One guy was eating a few sandwiches here and there, but also drinking some protein mix, protein bars and power bars. Do I really need to do all that to lose weight or can I lose weight from just eating consciously and healthy? From what I gathered, I should eat high protein foods mostly. But then my coach says to eat high carb and low protein foods. This is where I get confused. I don't want you to tell me what to eat meal by meal, but I would like some kind of reference. Should I eat high carb foods on heavy exercise days and then eat high protein foods when I'm not really active? Or high carb foods on lazy days and high protein on exercise days? Or am I completely wrong with both of them? Either way I am sorry this is so long, but I'm really trying to change my lifestyle for the better and your information is such a big help. Thank you for your time!
To answer your questions, let's take a look at macro-nutrition. First of all, your coach doesn't know diddly about sports nutrition; unfortunately, your coach is not alone.
Protein repairs and maintains everything in our bodies from hormones to muscles. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are eight essential amino acids. Essential meaning we have to ingest these for survival because our bodies cannot manufacture them. If your protein intake is low, or the quality of the protein you consume is low, your body will get the essential aminos it needs from your muscle tissue.
The $64,000 question is, "How much protein should I consume?" I recommend 1 gram per pound of body weight. However, if you train intensely, or you're an athlete, you need upwards of 1.5 to 2 g/lb. This also goes for athletes like you, Brian. You're probably asking yourself, "won't eating that much protein keep me from getting lean? How can I possibly consume that much protein without getting fat?"
Protein -- and fat for that matter -- in and of themselves have little to do with getting fat. You see, a calorie from one food source does not equal a calorie from another. A calorie of a carbohydrate does not equate to a calorie of protein when being metabolized in our bodies.
Here's where the calorie theory proponents lose credibility. Calories can and are measured in a sealed device called a "calorimeter" which locks in heat of burning food. A small vacuum of water is contained above the food. Once the food is completely burned, the temperature of the water is measured. The rise in temperature will determine the amount of calories. The calorimeter can show the total amount of energy in a serving of Fruit Loops, but it cannot account for what the human body doesn't absorb, or the energy used in the digestion and assimilation of it. It also cannot show one's ability and efficiency in using food as energy, as opposed to storing it as fat.
Does counting the number of calories you consume really matter, or is it even necessary when trying to lose weight? No! Counting calories is completely inaccurate and a waste of time. Our bodies do not process food like a calorimeter. The assertion that macronutrients are all processed the same between individuals is just foolish. Yet, this is the basis for the calorie theory.
To put it quite simply, if you do not consume enough protein, you will put a halt to your efforts to have a leaner, stronger, faster, more muscular body. In fact, if your diet is way off you can actually lose some of the muscle you've worked so hard to get. Remember, it's muscle that drives the metabolism. The more muscle you have the leaner and stronger you'll get.
Contrary to protein and fat, carbohydrates are non-essential. In fact, you don't need to eat any carbs to be healthy or to live a long life. Your body will manufacture exactly what it needs to function. Will carbohydrates help you perform better on the field? Many studies show that carbs do help performance. However, there is a delicate balance between eating enough carbs to play well without keeping those extra pounds of fat.
Our inability to process carbohydrates in large amounts is the result of millions of years of evolution. According to many experts, man evolved on a diet consisting of 65 percent to 80 percent protein, coming mainly from fish sources. The rest was a mixture of grains, nuts and fruit if available. For millions of years, man didn't have candy, pasta, cereal or other highly processed carbs. We've only had refined sugar as part of our diet for a mere blink of an eye of time. You can begin to understand why carbs play such a big role in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We just do not have the ability to eat carbs, especially simple sugars, in the amounts that we do.
It is not only the amount of carbohydrates you need to be concerned with, but also the type. The less refined the carbohydrate the better it will be for your game, as well as your waistline. As one eats carbs, the body breaks them down into a simple, more absorbable sugar called glucose. The glucose is then transported to the blood stream. As your blood glucose level rises, this sends a signal to your body to release insulin. Insulin governs the processing of glucose. Glucose is processed by insulin in two different ways. As glucose levels rise, insulin converts a portion of it to glycogen, which is stored in the muscle cells and the liver. Once all the storage space is taken up -- and it doesn't take much -- insulin will convert the rest to triglycerides and store it as adipose tissue, or fat. Insulin is a facilitator of fat storage and a deterrent to fat breakdown. Even low levels of circulating insulin have been shown to prevent the breakdown of fat to be used as energy. This is why insulin is called the fat storage hormone.
So what is the answer? Cut carbs out of your diet? Absolutely not. It is almost impossible for most people to eat a no-carbohydrate diet and not cheat or fall off the wagon entirely. The only people I know who can remain on a protein diet are those that have a life-threatening situation like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. A life threatening illness can be a strong motivator. What most have to do, including myself, is fit the diet to your lifestyle and goals.
The one macronutrient that should remain consistent is protein. Figure out how much you should be eating as a first step to putting your diet together. Follow the 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight formula. Next, figure out how many carbs you need. You need to figure out what your average intake is now. Record what you eat for three days and figure out what your average daily intake is.
Reduce that number by 25 percent and that is your new daily total of carbohydrates. This is only a starting point. If you start to feel sluggish and your game starts to suffer, then raise the amount of carbs by 10 percent. Consequently, if you feel fine but you're not losing any body fat, then you need to lower your intake by 10 percent. It's trial and error. Every time you change the amount of carbs you eat, stay at that total for at least 7 to 10 days. Changing the amounts much sooner than that won't allow enough time to tell if it's working or not.
Be patient! There is no magic number of carbs I can give you. Everybody is different. Some can get lean on 400 grams of carbs per day, while others need to go as low as 50 grams per day to see any results.
I am 46 years old, work out four times a week and try to take my recommended calorie intake each day. I weigh 150 pounds and I'm 5-foot-7. I just bought my first Biotest Alpha Male bottle and have not started to take it, because it reads: "do not consume if you are taking HBP medicines," which I am (Atacand 16mg once a day). The thing is, my testosterone levels are surely low, as is my libido and muscle gain. Is this true, or can I try Alpha Male?
Thanks so much for taking the time to write. Being 46 years old, your testosterone levels may be low, however, hypertension medication can also have a negative effect on your libido. Unless you have an assessment done, which would include testing serum hormone levels by your doctor, it's impossible to tell what is causing your low libido. Having said that, I would consult your doc about the ingredients in Alpha Male, and also ask for a test to determine your hormone levels. If your hormone levels are low -- including testosterone, growth hormone, and thyroid hormones (T3 in particular) -- your doc can medicate you to get them back to normal. This will not only help your well-being and sex drive, it will improve your health.
You also might think about asking your doc about switching hypertension meds or trying a different dose.
I have been training my butt off for the last five months. I made some good gains in this time. I have been doing two day split routines, and my diet consists of mostly steaks. I am currently taking creatine and designer protein. Well, I went on a two-week vacation and didn't get any workouts in during this time, nor did I take any creatine. By the time I got home from the trip, I noticed I decreased in size and strength after the 15 to 20 day layoff. My question is, how come I lost everything I worked so hard for in just a matter of two weeks? I look as if I never trained for those five months at all. I mean if all that hard work can be lost in a matter of days, then what's the point of training? I am really discouraged to start again. Why do you think I lost all my size and strength so quickly?
Good question. You lost all of your size and strength because of the length of time you took off. You've heard of the saying "use it or lose it"? If you don't give your muscles a stimulus, like progressive resistance, to stay strong and big they are going to atrophy and lose strength. Don't get so discouraged because you lost all your gains after only training for five months. Five months is a drop in the bucket. You are still considered a beginner. You must remember this is a lifestyle. It needs to be a part of your life. The benefits are too good for progressive resistance not to be.