September 2012: DH Kiefer (Part 1)

by on September 1, 2012

JOHN: I am extremely excited to announce that this month we have the creator of the very famous and successful carb-backloading style of eating, John “dangerously hardcore” Kiefer! Kiefer, tell us a little bit about yourself, your roots, and what you are passionate about!

DH: Hey John, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. I had a lot of fun on our radio interview last month, as I don’t get to talk to many people with such a deep knowledge of training and diet. Now, you can say I’m a bit of geek, as I’ve got a masters in physics and engineered software for over a decade before quitting to spend all my time on my passion, which is improving human performance. To be clear, not just performance at sports, as I’m currently known for, but performance at life. Everyone should be healthy, strong and, well, a bad ass everyday day of their life. So a few years ago I dropped a lucrative career to get what I’ve learned out there to the public. Since I grew up as a fat kid, I always wanted to figure out how to look like the guys on the magazines and after every single diet disappointed me, I hit the research journals and read…and read. After a dozen or so years of researching and experimenting I wrote my first book, The Carb Nite Solution, but I didn’t know anything about marketing or how to get myself out there, so I shelved it. Then a few years ago and even more reading, learning and experimenting, I gave it another run and wrote Carb Back-Loading, which, in my eyes, is a revolution in the diet world. But, to be honest, the only reason anybody knows who I am is because the diet just plain works and it’s stupid-simple to apply.

JOHN: I actually purchased it myself, when I read something along the lines that there is a major focus on nutrition around training. I absolutely loved it! I think that periworkout nutrition is 80% of the ballgame. Can you tell us a little bit about eating around training, and about why it’s so important?

DH: Where to even begin. I remember when I was a newbie and had some weird vision of my time in the gym, that every rep of every set triggered growth. Now I understand that every one of those reps sparked destruction, it’s only that the workout opens an anabolic window when it’s finished. Because of the catabolic behavior of training that proceeds the anabolic environment, you want to introduce nutrients through the entire process (during in some cases, and after always) to prevent catabolism and fuel anabolism, respectively. Plus, heavy training creates unique metabolic scenarios that we can take advantage of. For one, post-training, it’s nearly impossible to trigger fat storage; another is the cellular reactions training triggers that allow muscle cells to soak up carbs but leaves fat cells impaired to do so. There’s also the hormetic free-radical response which is a major growth trigger and one you can finely tune with nutrition. And there’s heightened mTOR activation, which is another nutrient-modulated growth pathway…and the list goes on. I could probably fill this entire interview with just each of the individual reactions that take place when you train and the arrangement of food to conduct a symphony of growth. Which, oddly enough from our discussions, you’ve already seemed to have pretty well tuned, science be damned. I almost want to ask one more time how the hell you came so close–as close as person could possibly get without well-controlled studies–to what I consider the perfect diet. But this is your interview…

JOHN: HA! I did exactly what I am doing now. I found people smarter than me (like you), and learned from them. I had Dr. Eric Serrano mentor me for years and years, and I learned from many others along the way. Tim Patterson (owner of Biotest) is somebody who has opened my mind alot to in recent past. I did quite a bit of reading and writing, and seeing and experimenting in the trenches always provided clues if I just paid attention. Many times I would figure something out, then go back and try to find how it could work via scientfic text. Sometimes it would back me up, sometimes it would say I was dead wrong. So finding people like you, and learning, was and always will be something I strive to do.

I really like the way you put training into context using the word “destruction” and this leading to a window. I call this creating “opportunities”. The more opportunities you can create, the more potential you have to grow muscle.

In your opinion, what are the key elements, techniques, etc, with training that create this environment. Can I go run a mile and create this? Do I need to do a heavy single? Something in between?

DH: I feel like you’re giving me the opportunity to rant here, but I’ll refrain, at least a little. Cardio is absolutely your worst exercise modality for creating the optimized anabolic window for growth. Not that it can’t trigger growth with the right supplementation (such as loading with leucine immediately after), but it’s not going to spark actual hypertrophy; in fact, it makes muscle cells smaller and more compact and ultimately limits growth. For the ideal environment–and I’m speaking purely about anabolic and hypertrophic signaling–you need at least a heavy load that’s less than a 10-rep max and that load needs to be taken to failure for at least 1 set on upper body movements and 3 sets on lower body movements (and I can’t explain why there’s that difference, but the research confirms this discrepancy). As an example, if you’re 6-rep max for bench is 315, you’d need to do at least one set of bench in that workout with 315 taken to failure (which should be 5-7 reps depending on how your body “feels” that day).

JOHN: Now this is why you are one of my favorites. Talk a little bit more about muscle cells getting smaller.

DH: Sure. It’s an interesting phenomenon and considered a bit of a paradox. The size a muscle cell can ultimately obtain is based on the nuclei density which is also related to mitochondrial density. In essence, the muscle needs to increase in oxidative capacity–i.e. increase the anaerobic threshold of the muscle–to obtain maximum size. Standard hypertrophy training, however, actually decreases muscle cell nuclei concentration (resulting in about 40 nuclei per muscle cell) as it increases the cell size. Sprint-endurance training, however, increases the number of muscle cell nuclei (resulting in 60 nuclei per cell on average) but at the same time makes muscle cells smaller and more compact rather than increasing size as hypertrophy training does. It takes particular combinations of the two, or correct staging of sprint-endurance training with resistance training to force muscle to increase in both size and potential.

JOHN: Variation in program reps and design. I like what I am hearing.

In order to repair or even prevent the destruction that you mention, what is the best way to do this nutritionally?

DH: There are four things that are critical: Fish-oil supplementation throughout the day and regularly, as this keeps cells at maximum anabolic efficiency, simply because they’re healthier when long-chain omega-3s (in fish oil) become incorporated into the cellular membrane. After training (and possibly during) the key trifecta is whey or casein hydrolysates, creatine and leucine. This prevents or attenuates damage intra-workout and triggers massive growth signals post-workout. I would be remiss to ignore a longer-acting support protein for that growth spike, like whey isolate or a mix of whey isolate and micellar casein. Although hydrolysates and leucine trigger growth, the amino-acid spike they provide is too short-lived to actually support the growth, so you need another, slower absorbing protein in the mix.

JOHN: I have always read that including some saturated fat in your diet also actually helped with the Omega 3 retention in tissue, any thoughts on that?

DH: I’ve read that before, but I think it’s a bit of trick question here because it depends on the source of omega 3. If you’re getting omega 3 from plant sources, it’s primarily alpha-linolenic acid which needs to be converted into EPA and DHA for full effectiveness. The problem, however, is that the enzymes needed to make these conversion may shift alpha-linolenic acid into several different end products, like saturated and mono-unsaturated fats, plus these enzymes are limited, so if you don’t get enough saturated fat–which is necessary for cell-membrane structure and hormone production–the body will “waste” some of the alpha-linolenic acid by converting it into less functional derivatives instead the key factors EPA and DHA. That’s why I always recommend supplementing with fish oil because of the high amount of EPA and DHA rather than putting the burden on your system to make it from a raw material. But…saturated fat is a key component to health and energy production, so it should be included in the diet regardless.

JOHN: What if we are still sore in a particular bodypart? Is it ok to train a sore muscle if our goal is hypertrohy?

DH: For hypertrophy, there’s no need to skip a bodypart because of 2 or 3 day DOMS (or even over a week in some cases). That type of soreness is caused by nuclei damage in skeletal muscle cells that allow calcium to leak into the surrounding tissue. This is normal and the body adapts to create protective proteins to protect against damage in subsequent sessions. If you’re sore for days after every workout, then you’re not meeting minimum protein needs necessary for repair and growth (I think baseline protein-turnover rates are 0.8g/kg of body mass…that’s the minimum necessary to prevent wasting). The real thing to worry about and not over-stress, is the nervous system. Muscle tissue is always recovered within 36 hours and ready for more training despite the DOMS…the nervous system, however, can take over 7 days to recover is overtaxed.

JOHN: What are your thoughts on reviving a burned out CNS. I have always thought shorter more frequent workouts seemed to do a nice job, especially when the training was more “explosive” in nature, and not so much “grinding” in nature.

DH: I’m in total agreement with you here. Although a lot of people aren’t fans of the idea of a burned out CNS, it’s clearly a real phenomenon as demonstrated by the research. I actually created and released a free template of my Shockwave training that was designed exactly for such a scenario. I dug through the research to find something that I could use even when I felt burned out instead of taking a week or two off. No because I’m some masochistic freak, but because I love going to the gym, I love the feeling of a good pump and I need some opportunity to make my body do meaningful work after my mind’s work forced it to sit most of the day. Two concepts I developed from the research are Partitioned Set Ramping (PSR) and Self-Modulated Progression (SMP). PSR, simply, is using lighter loads at the beginning of the set of an exercise and developing force through acceleration then moving up until you’re generating force through increased load. This has been shown to “wake-up” the nervous system and can allow for greater power production throughout the workout (and I’m starting to lean toward the idea that the most important factor for hypertrophy is riding the edge of constant peak power production (CP3). The nice thing about PSR sets is that your nervous system will tell you when it’s had enough since you simply can no longer accelerate the load at some point. And if it’s not truly exhausted, this kind of scheme wakes if up and actually energizes the remaining workout. SMP, on the other hand, is almost a throwback to the Weider Principle days. At its heart is “listen to your body”. We’ve come to the point of believing that if the training templates says you’ve got to hit your 3 rep-max on squats on Monday of next week and it should be 25 lbs more than your 3-rep max that you hit 2 weeks ago, and if you don’t, you somehow failed. The body isn’t always in prime condition for maximum effort. Research has shown that strength athletes progress faster by training to the max of how they feel rather than the prescribed max on their templates. The two principles together, PSR sets plus SMP can help to both avoid CNS burnout and recover more quickly from it by allowing the CNS to activate without getting taxed.

JOHN: This is why I love accommodating resistance. You can train this explosiveness so well. Many times as you go up in weight via chains, the weight actually feels lighter as your nervous seems to start hitting on all cylinders. Training with bands seems a bit more complex though. I had very good success with some banded work on the leg press, bench, etc, but after 4 to 6 weeks, the gains would rapidly disappear. It appeared to me the eccentric overload was just too much to handle for over a month or so. Do you have any thoughts on eccentric loading and overtraining?

DH: I do. Eccentric overload has been shown to be great for hypertrophy gains, but that surprisingly doesn’t carry over to strength very well. The reasons, as far as I can tell from the research, haven’t been fully elucidated yet, but I would venture to say that three factors come into play. First, eccentric loading causes far greater damage to muscle cells which elicits growth, but doesn’t allow for massive strength gains, but I would bet there’s an upper limit to how long we can utilize this over-damage-for-growth principle before it stalls; Second, eccentric overload is harsh on the nervous system and there’s only so long you can abuse the CNS before it says, “enough,” and stops you from fully contracting muscles with each rep which is obviously going to slow down hypertrophy and strength gains; Third, eccentric overload can decrease GLUT4 and 12 efficiency and translocation, making it harder to transport glucose into cells which can decrease performance during training and prevent effective glycogen repletion after training. This detrimental effect would take some time to notice, say a month or two as the deficit accumulates. This matches with your observations nicely. But what do I know?