Going Down the Wrong Path? - Mind And Muscle

Body Builder Posing
Going Down the Wrong Path?
by: Dr. Steve Young

A New Approach?

With the continued quest for improved performance, increased muscle size, and a shredded physique, every physiological advantage from all the sciences are being sought out in an effort for continued progress. Armed with chemists, supplement companies have been racing to develop the newest legal (and sometimes illegal) drugs/supplements for performance enhancement. The dangers of taking these newly developed chemicals are the unknown effects and side effects on the human body. Methylated and even halogenated chemicals are used to extend the bioavailability of the chemicals and hormones for performance enhancement. These chemicals have been documented to be toxic on the liver. However, with the mentality of bigger, stronger, faster, now – without thinking of the consequences of the use of these chemicals or current damaging exercise routines later – many people are exposing their cells to a toxic and harmful environment.

Now is the time to start thinking about an approach to training and supplementation that results in improved muscle size/performance as well as overall health and well being. I’m not simply talking about taking some milk thistle, vitamin E, NAC, and some coQ10 while you are stacking a bunch of hormones or ‘prohormones’. I’m talking about an entirely new approach to training and supplementation that acknowledges the cellular response and physiological process of your immune system and inflammatory pathways. These two systems have been largely ignored in the bodybuilding and performance enhancement community. It’s not as sexy or extreme as the ‘anabolic’ and ‘energy’ systems that are constantly talked about in popular publications. The truth is, your body is in a constant balance of homeostasis. Every time you try to push it one way (stimulate muscle growth), it will have an effect on other systems (inflammation and immune response).

A quick and simple search of pubmed on popular performance enhancement supplements like caffeine, Nitric Oxide stimulators, and anabolic hormones will result in numerous studies on the negative effects of each. However, this information is not reaching the public! The serious side effects range from dramatic increases in cortisol release (increased cortisol = increased catabolic, decreased immune, and increased abdominal fat response), to increased joint degeneration, to liver damage, to increased systemic inflammation (linked to breakdown of every cell of your body!), to hardening of arteries, and others. Ironically, the same supplements people take to make their outsides look good may be making their insides look ugly. Unfortunately, by the time you actually feel the side effects, it’s already too late and the damage has been done.

How Is My Current Program?

In an effort to start this new approach to training and supplementation, you first have to analyze your current program. Try to answer the following questions with a yes or no:

  1. Do you take an energy drink or a preworkout drink with stimulants like caffeine before every workout?
  2. Do you have minor aches and pains somewhere in your body on a weekly basis?
  3. Do you eat less than 5 servings of a combination of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis?
  4. Are you eating the same foods on a weekly basis (i.e. white meat, white starch, and some broccoli)?
  5. Are you sleeping less than 8 hours a day?
  6. Are you training longer than 45 minutes per session (excluding stretching and warm up)?
  7. Is your training program not systematically planned according to volume and intensity. Is it periodized?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are well on your way to accelerated cellular breakdown and disease progression. Now, you may be asking your self, “Who the hell is this guy to tell me my approach is not right”? Well, I’m not here to tell anyone their approach is not right. I’m just asking people to open their minds to the possibility that their current program, which has yielded great muscle building results, may not lead to optimal health. The other question you may ask is, “Where’s the proof and support for all of this crap?” Well, a simple search on pubmed on the following terms will give you plenty of information.

  1. “caffeine and cortisol”
  2. “systemic inflammation and disease”
  3. “antioxidant and exercise and inflammation”
  4. “nitric oxide and joint degeneration”
  5. “steroids and cardiovascular”
  6. “exercise and inflammation and overtraining”
  7. “exercise and cortisol and duration”


The above information has numerous publications to support the need for a new approach. Lastly, I’m not just some guy who has trained a few famous people, written a few articles for publications, and then marketed myself as an ‘expert’. I’ve taught this fundamental information across the country and at graduate level exercise physiology classes in medical programs.

What Can I Do About it?

If after answering the above questions, you have determined the effect of your current approach to be detrimental for your health, there are a few steps to initiate a swift resolution. These steps, based on physiology and recent published studies, are designed to balance the process of anabolic activity versus the cellular damaging effects of that activity. With proper balance, your muscular physique will hopefully last until you are in your extra wide casket.

First, assess your training and look for systematic planning and any indication of overtraining. Your training program should look nothing like programs in the popular magazines, unless you are on the same ‘supplements’ at the same dosages they are on. If you are not spending 30-50K a year on your supplement program, then doing 16-20 sets for each body part per workout is not ideal. The key concept is to realize there is no ideal or optimal workout for everyone. Your current workout should be based on your progression towards that workout, your ability to tolerate physical stress, your perception of mental stress, your nutrient intake, and your sleep levels. The best workout is one with the right amount of physiological stress that matches your current ability to recover from that amount. From there, you systematically progress. This can be accomplished with different rest periods, different exercises, and different workout splits. The reason no workout is specified is because the specificity of the workout for each individual is different.

I can tell you that according to science, the full body workout with compound exercises releases the most amount of testosterone and growth hormone. Once you deviate from this type of structure, you will have to consider the use of supplements to increase the release of these hormones or take them exogenously. Overall, avoid overtraining and randomly switching programs every 6-8 weeks. Your workouts should be planned and progressed systematically. The key to progress is for your body to adapt to the workout as you systematically progress the physiological stress. By listening to magazines that want you to buy the next issue for the next workout routine, you are doing the opposite of optimal – based on physiological science.

Other than exercise program design, specific injury prevention exercises should be analyzed and implemented to keep your joints healthy and pain free. There are recent studies looking at injury risk in sports activities in relation to strength and flexibility imbalances. In the physical therapy field, people have published studies on injury risk in association with specific ‘functional tests’. In general, your flexibility of the left side should equal the right side. For example, you should be able to reach up your back to the same height with your left as well as your right hand. Another example is your hamstring testing in the supine position (on your back with the other leg straight on the floor and lifting the tested leg straight up until its limit) should be the same height left to right. These are just two examples of many tests to see if you are balanced and physically able to exercise with the least amount of joint stress and injury risk. In another article someday, I will try to write down all the tests and exercises needed to correct the imbalances. Unfortunately, that may be an entire book. For now, just search some terms like joint mobility and injury, scapular stability, RTC exercises, and functional movement screen for general information. Start with that as we move onto the nutritional component of this topic.

Second, assess your nutrition for intake of immunological modulators (immune system boosters like antioxidants) and anti-inflammatory nutrients. There are hundreds of different amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamins/minerals that fall into this category. They work through different pathways to minimize the cellular damage from exercise, and support optimal immune function to minimize illness and cancer risk. In a previous article, I wrote about the need for maximizing the intake of these nutrients. To summarize here, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The popular fruits that are highest in antioxidants are berries, pomegranate, and now, acai. Spices like tumeric have numerous studies on anti-inflammation and exercise performance. Just search “curcumin and exercise” on pubmed for additional information. Vegetables like broccoli increase the excretion of toxic materials. A search of almost any vegetable will yield research on the health benefits of specific nutrients from that vegetable. Optimally, large intake of these nutrients, especially during times of increased physical and/or mental stress will help support immune function and improved recovery from training.

Where Is the Step By Step Plan?

As you finish reading this article, you might be wondering, “Where is the step-by-step plan to fix my approach”? Well, because every person’s needs, genetics, and environment is different, I cannot provide a generic plan for you. However, I can and have pointed out the problem and the direction you need to look for the answers. I see too many articles where the author writes the problem and the solution to that problem. Unfortunately, it is just the solution from the author’s perspective. Through your own due diligence and research, you will ultimately find the best approach and answer for you. I can merely show you the path, but the hard work of learning the specifics is up to you. However, if you have read this and still have no clue what I’m talking about or totally think the subject and content is outlandish, feel free to email me at [email protected] Please include either the title of this article or at least “mind and muscle” in the subject line. This way, I won’t accidentally erase your email as junk mail.

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