Gain 28lbs in 2.5 Months?!
Recently I posted a progress picture of my client’s on Facebook and Instagram that created quite the firestorm of criticism. The picture (shown here) shows my client apparently gaining 28 lbs of lean mass in only 2.5 months. I was instantly flooded with people accusing me of giving him drugs, lying about the length of time it took for this transformation to occur, or it not even being the same person in both pictures. I can assure you that none of these are true. However, this type of transformation left a lot of people with some serious questions about how this is possible. So I thought I was address it and list a few takeaways we can learn from this situation.
One important thing to remember in all things fitness related is that context permeates everything. The situation dictates methods and how research can be applied and analyzed. This situation is no different in that this was a rare case involving special circumstances.
My client was a HIGHLY trained 196 lbs. natural bodybuilder. He was hospitalized for Crohn's Disease for 18 days and was given an IV only (no food) for 5 of those days. In those 18 days he lost 30 lbs. dropping to 166 lbs. Most of his weight loss was from water weight and muscle mass.
His subsequent growth was also largely lean tissue and water weight. THIS WAS REGROWTH OF ATROPHIED MUSCLE TISSUE, NOT NEW MUSCLE GROWTH. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE. To know why this is important we need to take a look at muscle memory.
MYONUCLEI AND THE ROLE OF "MUSCLE MEMORY"
Had this been "new growth" this type of transformation would not be possible naturally. Muscle memory is incredibly powerful and can be attributed to myonuclei. Before a muscle fiber can grow, it must recruit myonuclei from activated satellite cells. This is an important role in muscle hypertrophy. Once a previously untrained muscle is highly trained, while the muscle tissue may atrophy (shrink), the myonuclei that were recruited are retained. Research has actually shown that muscle memory and the mynuclei remain up to 15 years. It may even be permenant.
This research can be found here: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/219/2/235
During periods of detraining such as injuires, illness, or just quitting lifting all together, some of the muyonuclei can still be lost though not many. However, since my client was only away from training for 18 days, this was likely not enough time for any of his myonuclei to be lost because period of detraining was simply not long enough. This is partially the reason for the subsequent rapid regrowth.
For more info and research on myonuclei you can read this great article by Greg Nuckols found here: http://strengtheory.com/grow-like-a-new-lifter-again/
HARD TRAINING AND LACK OF INJURY
Another prominent factor in this situation has to do with the nature of the time off. Commonly when highly trained individuals experience significant muscle loss, it's due to some sort of injury. When they return to training they must therefore "take it slow", and ease back into training so as not to aggravate the injury that put them out in the first place. This was not the case for my client. His illness was GI related. So when he returned to training he was able to give all-out effort and didn't have to hold back for fear of injury. This was another big contributor to how quickly he rebounded.
His program consisted of no periodization and just a general body part split. He went in to the gym with the goal of just giving maximum effort in order to rebuild as quickly as possible.
NEURAL ADAPTATIONS AND PATTERN MOVEMENT
Most people that would lose 30 lbs of lean tissue near this amount would do so over the course of several months rather a few days. Under normal circumstances, even if someone were to completely stop training and just eat a normal diet, they would retain their muscle mass and body weight for quite a long time. However, once again, these losses came rapidly due to malnourishment, not simply detraining for a long period of time.
This is important because after significant layoffs there is typically a period where neural adaptations must be re-established and pattern movements must be relearned.
Strength training causes adaptations to the nervous system that allows trainees to fully activate prime movers during a lift. This allows better activation of relevant muscles and allows for greater force to be applied to the weight. Thus eventually leading heavier weights lifted. Typically when some takes significant time off of lifting, some of these adaptations must be re-established. Since my client only spent about 3 weeks away from weight training, he likely didn't experience significant detaining of these neural pathways. Most people that lose 30 lbs of lean mass take far longer than 3 weeks off of training (typically many many months) and therefore have a period of a "learning curve" for their nervous system to sort of relearn how to activate these motor units.
So my client was able to jump full go back into intense training and he didn't have to essentially learn how to full activate his muscle fibers again.
More info about neural adapations can be found here:
Lastly, but certainly not least, this type of massive growth doesn’t take place with light eating and following a moderate caloric intake. These 2.5 months of regrowth included MASSIVE eating.
Matt's DAILY macros were:
- Protein - 290-310 grams
- Carbs - 600-800 grams
- Fat - 40-45 grams
Knowing that my client would experience a rebound effect, and wanting him to get back to his previous self as fast as possible, we decided to feed him massively. We kept fat low because his GI tract cannot handle it and because we knew that it would limit the amount of body fat he would gain due to the costly nature of gluconeogenesis and lipogenesis.
Knowing all of this, I think there are a few things that we can learn.
- Muscle memory is a powerful thing. During our lifting careers we will all have to battle through setbacks, injuries, or layoffs at one point or another. It's important to not panic and just realize that even if we have to take time off, the muscle can be regained FAST! It’s just important to eat appropriately and train in a way that allows for a speedy, yet safe recovery.
- Keep things in perspective. I know some people that fall into a depression over even the slightest of injuries. My client is going to have to deal with these symptoms for the rest of his life and take medication with side effects just to control the symptoms, yet he isn't letting this hold him down. When you have a minor setback, remember that the world is not coming to an end, and things could always be much worse. You’ll get through it if you just take it step by step on the road to recovery.