I still remember the time (long gone) when I was trying to accumulate as much Muscle Mass as possible. You can often overlook at the quality of the calories being ingested. To gain muscle "you need to eat"! And that too every two or maximum three hours and there was no obligation that you must respect this "law." If you do not eat enough calories and nutrients you cannot have an effective and intense workout. You may also create an ideal overcompensation environment, during which Muscle Growth does not take place in a decisive or satisfactory manner. Everything seems very "simple", does it not say "shut up! eat and push" ? Well a few years ago the trend was that to make up for the caloric surplus one could even eat junk food. The only important thing was to eat and eat. Only recently has the issue changed direction, giving importance to the type of calories and to the quality of muscle gain, keeping in mind that muscle growth is influenced by the absolute capacity of protein synthesis which is subjective at best, and thus by insulin sensitivity in the metabolic-hormonal context.
The scale: the first "decider"....
Personally I still remember the impact that scale reading, which is feared to be the worst indicators, had on my daily serenity. Moreover, according to the "old school" the off season or at least the stage of muscle growth, is supposed to be productive if the weight increases. If it remains stable, it is supposed be a concern after a couple of days and if falls by even one pound (maybe due to various reasons and liquids) the day is ruined, making us doubt the effectiveness of the path taken. So in order to change direction, you should try to swallow more calories in any way possible. Yes, because the primary rule of a real growth phase was to eat every two or three hours or until complete satiation, at the risk of rejecting every other factor. Hence, to deal with the constant search for weight gain, healthy food is compensated (often replaced) with junk food, as long as the weighing scale indicates a weigth gain, without taking into account that the increase is often due to fat storage and obviously a lot of fluid retention. The only benefit is ego satisfaction that rises because the clothes become tighter. This does not translate into real muscle gain, but only in more effort which has to be made to burn the additional fat. After some years it was observed that this trend has been and is still being used by more and more nutritionists/trainers, and for very different reasons.
To grow, your muscles need time.
Presently, muscle has really been understood in its capacity as a contractile tissue. Muscle building is a tedious process that requires several conditions, the first of these being time. Past the period when the young builder grows visibly, you will notice that an increase of some muscle every month is a very difficult undertaking, and is especially not a linear process, but susceptible to physiological oscillations. The failure to steadily move up in weight or losing half a kilo due to not having slept well overnight, does not mean that the food program is wrong.
In my view, this is a determinative factor of the Muscle Growthphase. When eating more calories to create an enabling environment for building muscles, it is easy to increase body fat and decrease insulin sensitivity that will be a hindering element in the growth of muscles, causing fat deposition in the cells, exacerbating all the more room for enzymatic activity of aromatase in the process and thus the tendency of estrogen secretion.
Insulin signals the muscles to use amino acids and glucose, but remember that it does the same to fat cells, so if you increase body fat, you will be left with less effective insulin, which will lead to a enhanced awareness of the muscle cell towards the latter. Is the result obvious or not? The muscles will not use glucose and amino acids effectively, both of which are considered excess calories and stored in fatty tissue. So if you let up the body fat percentage over limits, over 12 % for example, you will have a marked change in direction, from what was muscle building to efficient storage of excess fatty tissue, resulting in an increase in the intra visceral fat with time and increasing related risk factors.
When the protein synthesis is inhibited and the fat storage is increased, we have to focus on Anabolic resistance which is actually a quagmire from which it is difficult to get out. If you continue to see the balance as the main evaluation factor during the muscle growth phase, you might start getting fat to the point that all the excess nutrients shall be deposited in the hips and belly (also creating new fat cells "adipogenesis") and not surely in the muscles. As I mentioned earlier, this condition not only damages the body aestheticallybut it is absolutely harmful to health! Visceral fat is a major producer of inflammatory cytokines and is generally considered as a cardiovascular risk factor by the medical profession when present around the abdomen and hips.
Stored fat and muscle tissue
During the intensive caloric intake "Bulk phase", all the excess calories will be converted into glucose to be used for energy generation purposes, while glycogen will be stored as fat deposition. Long, repetitive stages of supercharging to increase the number of adipose cells add more fat to the already present deposits (we know that it cannot be removed if not surgically), increases the fat cells by their ability to undergo hyperplasia, and makes it easier for these cells to direct and accumulate fat.
This deposit is not only a characteristic of typical "critical" zones of fat accumulations such as the abdomen, buttocks, hips in particular but will extend on more general level, making it appear in all muscles with a more "softened" appearance and, even worse,(for your health) at a visceral level. This gives a soft muscle appearance and texture to the body. This process, called "accumulation of intramuscular triglycerides", presents a further obstacle to protein synthesis resulting in inhibition of muscle growth. This makes it increasingly difficult to burn fat, having to deal not only with an increased accumulation of fat which has to be eliminated but also impaired insulin sensitivity, a metabolic hormone that works against that risk. This is because if later you change your workout routine to move from the bulk phase to weight loss phase to lose many kilograms (more than 10% of the initial weight) you will also slow down your basal metabolism, and it will become increasingly difficult to lose fat and preserve the hard earned muscles.
So, was everyone completely wrong until now? For many years the bulk phase was THE method of muscle enhancement, and is still going with some people. This is why even today, while dogmatic theories die hard, the decision on how to approach a "bulk" growth stage is up to the individual who knows his body, or to the outside eye of a professional who knows how to tell if you are building muscle or depositing too much excess fat. Of course, to grow muscle, you need calories, and not just a few, so it is easy to eat in excess and just build muscles without accumulating even a small amount adipose tissue, but it is up to us to not exceed a 12% threshold (as commonly shared by well-known nutritionists). The important sign that makes us favourable towards the maintenance of a low fat percentage is not only keeping an eye on the abdominal visibility that should not disappear! but also on the the loss of insulin sensitivity that causes a decrease in muscle building even in face a high calorie intake and leads to "softer" muscles.
So what should you do? eat less? Of course not, eat the best youcan. Just like Formula One, if you want to increase the performance, the all the systems of your car must be functioning optimally and be backed by fuel quality, considering the percentage of fat (10 to a maximum of 14%) in which insulin resistance is avoided along with production of too much of estrogen by aromatase which increases the tendency of fat accumulation.
It will definitely be difficult and will require constant food discipline rather than eating junk food, full of empty calories but often, nutritionally speaking, we will become "leaner" and the body will able to better manage and exploit nutrients. It is no coincidence that many great personalities of professional body building world stay in an "acceptable" condition even during off-season and not only to maintain their reputation. "Leaner" individuals can earn more liver and muscle glycogen effectively as compared to the accumulation of fat and maintain much better insulin sensitivity. It is clear that in order to grow muscles we do not need to work day and night. It makes no sense to measure or weigh yourself every day. Real "work" is adopting a way of life that will be characterised by more nutritious foods, which are certainly different from what you eat when you want to lose weight for the summer or take part in competitions, without exceeding the daily food requirements to justify being "muscular". Because it is a question of enhancing muscle mass.....