Q&A – odd cramps after elliptical

Hey Doc. Question for you. I returned to leg training with a vengeance in November and December, working squats, dead lifts, lunges that had fallen off my routine. Now my quads are kinda tender to pressure, as in when I do back extensions. After I put 20 minutes in on the elliptical, I’ll squat down to stretch the quads and it feels like I’m stretching against a minor cramp. I’ve checked my water intake. I take Mg/Ca/K tablets. I have started to roll out my quads (which seems to help). A gym bro uggested citruline. Any suggestions? Ideas on what’s going on in my quads? My hunch is that I ramped up my quad workout very fast and maybe I didn’t allow the muscle fiber to adjust/grow.

Hey! So, Citrulline won’t help here. Those are typical “exhaustion cramps”. You don’t give them enough rest, so no Mg, K or whatever will cure those cramps. But they are nothing to worry about ;they just say you did a great job on the elliptical. The feeling will fade away within minutes and you should NOT stretch them away. Otherwise you will tear the Myoson-Actin bonds apart which will slow the regeneration.

Know who you trust

The internet provides a lot of information for those who seek it. The problem is always how to be sure if it is true or not. This problem is especially big when it comes to bodybuilding sources. Sometimes you get conflicting information, sometimes you get an “expert opinion” and sometimes you don’t get anything at all. The internet is a place where everyone can be an “expert”. Be vary of commercial interests of writers, even if they might seem independent.

Be careful what or whom you trust online. Best source for scientific information is Pubmed. Even on pubmed, you find literature which might be doubtful, so look for systematic reviews or randomized controlled trials.

Best is to look for someone who has no commercial interests, has a sound scientific knowledge and the proof to back it up.

However, if something is not found so easily, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Science has done a lot of work already, and has found proof of how things work, without that being spread in every forum you read.

I recommend https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/ (https://www.instagram.com/chrisabeardsley/) and http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/ (https://www.instagram.com/bayesianbodybuilding/) as good resources for quick scientific information.


The fallacy of protein content

Just recently I saw a post where a guy said to a sick bodybuilder: “Eat a lot of amaranth and quinoa, so you won’t loose muscle while you’re sick”.

It’s not only about protein content. It’s also about protein quality and digestability.

Protein has been “quantified” in it’s “usefulness” for the body. This originates in the malnutrition of children in third-world countries where scientist found that some children don’t get enough protein to grow and they were looking to find out which protein is the best for the body and where to find it easily. So they searched for a method to give the protein quality a number. This number was the “biologic value” of the protein but now has been replaced by the PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score).

The closer a protein is to the actual needs of the body, combined with the digestibility, the higher is the PDCAAS. Despite some limitations, it is still a good tool to quantify the “usefulness” of a protein.

The table below is drawn from Wikipedia:

1 cow’s milk[3][2]
1 eggs[3][2]
1 casein (milk protein)[3]
1 soy protein[3]
1 whey (milk protein)[3]
0.99 mycoprotein[11]
0.92 beef[3][2]
0.91 soy[2]
0.893 pea protein concentrate (isolate)[12]
0.87 Sacha Inchi Powder
0.78 chickpeas and soybeans[13]
0.75 black beans[3]
0.74 tubercles[13]
0.73 vegetables[13]
0.70 other peas and legumes in general[13]
0.66 dehulled hemp seed[14]
0.64 fresh fruits[13]
0.59 cereals and derivatives[13]
0.597 cooked peas[12]
0.52 peanuts[3]
0.50 rices
0.48 dried fruits[13]
0.525 wheat bran[12]
0.42 wheat[2]
0.25 wheat gluten (food)[3]


As a rule of thumb: Meats, milk and soy are usually a good source, followed by leguminous plants, and finished by other plant proteins.

So, if a product contains e.g. lupin protein (like a protein bread here in Switzerland) it is actually not that high in useful protein as you might think. So, make the smart choice, and don’t fall for marketing tricks.

Focus on the outcome

The target of bodybuilding is the growth of lean muscle mass.

Marketing tricks you into believing in fantastic results and fast progression. That’s not how bodybuilding works. Look at the investment what you have (money, time, effort) and look at the outcome what you get in return.

Whenever you engage in activity, a product or a new action, look and define an outcome what you want to achieve with it. If you take a supplement over the course of 6 months and you don’t find a significant change that can not be attributed to any of your other actions (e.g. diet or workout changes), then drop it. Same goes for a new workout routine. If you don’t get challenged regularly with new impulses for your muscles and you’re not sore, you’re not progressing, but stagnating. Change your workout. If you continuously increase your weight with your diet, and you only get fatter, change your diet.

To be sure what’s happening with your body, measure your body compartments (fat, muscle, other) regularly. So you can objectively check your progress and evaluate your doing.

The muscle doesn’t have eyes

A very intriguing study published by Angleri et al. proves a pretty important point. Muscles don’t “care” WHAT you do, as long the overall load remains the same. In the study they compared three different training protocols. “Traditional” sets with 12-15 reps, increasing pyramid sets, or drops sets. They made sure that the overall load during each type of sets was the same, and thus, in the end, the effect was for all the same after 12 weeks.

Crescent pyramid and drop set systems do not promote greater gains in strength, muscle hypertrophy and changes in muscle architecture compared to traditional resistance training.

The muscle has no eyes. That means he doesn’t see what you do with it during workout. However, he does have a sensor for energy used during workout and for the maximal weight pushed. So, keep your load high and exhaust your muscle by the end of the workout and you WILL grow.

BCAA’s are overrated

I read often posts about how much BCAA’s should be taken and how important they are.

BCAA’s are necessary to grow muscle, but only the initiation. All the other amino acids are needed too to make the muscle truly grow.

[…] they have presented us with intriguing evidence that despite the potent anabolic properties of leucine supplementation, a full complement of essential amino acids, in a rapidly digestible form of whey, is required to facilitate the anabolic actions of leucine leading to muscle protein accretion and hypertrophy. […]
– J Physiol 590.9 (2012) pp 2065–2066

Leucine acts on the initiation of the anabolic pathway and thus is only a proxy for digested protein. Just to ingest Leucine (or BCAAs) means you push the button, but you don’t have any current afterwards to have the light. There seems to be also an “upper limit” (aka. muscle full effect) when it comes to overall protein/ leucine ingestion.

Therefore it’s not okay to replace a “full” protein like whey with BCAAs only if you want to grow bigger. You may initiate the growth with BCAAs, but you must deliver the other amino acids too to reap the benefits of your action.

However, there’s a downside to high BCAA ingestion too: It can increase the risk of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

[BCAA] leads to a hyperexcitability of the cells: they fire more action potentials than control cells for the same amount of excitation (Pieri et al., 2009). In the present work, Carunchio et al. show that a diet enriched in BCAAs also induced a hyperexcitability of the cortical motoneurons. This effect was dose dependent and specific to BCAAs, as diet enriched with non-branched-chained amino acids such as alanine or phenylalanine did not alter the excitability of the cells.
– Manuel et al. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3049458/

BCAAs are not the magic supplement. They are okay to use, but not needed in insane amounts.

Ketogenic diet in bodybuilders

Today, I was asked why I do not recommend a ketogenic diet more often, because it is so good to lose fat and build muscle. This may be true, but under following conditions: It must be hypocaloric, the workout is super strenuous and the athlete experienced.

Most people want to build muscle. The biochemical 1×1 sets simple rules, to which even with the ketogenic diet must abide. A muscle without glycogen will NEVER achieve the same performance and growth as one with.

The muscle is composed of 2 types of fibers: the “fast” white glycolytic fibers (sometimes called Type 2 or type 2X) and the “slow” red oxidative fibers (sometimes called type 1). The white fibers can become broader and thicker, which is usually the goal in bodybuilding. But they are really bad in the use of ketones as energy supply. The red fibers can become “better” but not much thicker due to their structure and their metabolism. That is why endurance athletes, despite their considerable performance, are never very muscular.

This means that under a strictly ketogenic diet, the muscle can not properly use and activate its “strong” fibers, and thus they can not become thicker and larger because the muscle can not lift much weight. If you want big muscles, you have to grow them with big weights, and this is only possible with carbohydrates in the food.

However, if you’re on a diet and want to emphasize the muscle structure and reduce your fat, it’s easier with the ketogenic diet because you’re less hungry because of the lack of insane insulin fluctuations.

In conclusion: First set the target, then set the nutritional form and do not simply try it without switching the brain on 🙂

About bro-science and the Dunning-Kruger-Effect

There are a lot of myths around in bodybuilding. What to eat, what to avoid and what supplements to take. Most of this is actually “broscience”: Bro stands for the colloquial use of “brother” in the gym. It means the pseudo science that is applied behind most of these myths.

If a substance has an effect in a petri dish, or has been shown to influence the metabolic pathway in mice, it doesn’t mean that it actually does the same in humans. And in the end, it’s always the question: What’s the outcome? If you spend 1200 bucks a year on a supplement that might make you grow 1kg of muscle mass, then that’s money you could spend on other things. Maybe a nice holiday, or some proven supplements, which actually DO have an effect.

Since bodybuilding in the beginning is quite straight forward, people think the science behind it is too. That is a fallacy. It’s a lot to understand and to comprehend what REALLY happens in the body. Some of the broscience experts think otherwise, and that they know it better. There’s a really nice proven effect, called the Dunning-Kruger-Effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately.

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

So, people overestimate their knowledge on the matter easily and forget that despite it might look easy, it’s probably not. Their confidence fools them into thinking they know better what they don’t.

To understand the dynamics of biochemistry, hormones, metabolism, homeostasis, etc. is not easy, and I look up to those who do understand it.

So, be aware of promises of quick gains, the magic pill or the unique routine. They don’t exist, they don’t make you progress long-term.


Flu-shot – should I?


The flu is a mostly seasonal disease that incapacitates a normal human about a week. Some are more intestinal, others are more headachy, and some are more on your lung. In either case, they take away from you at least a week of proper workout and nutrition. And they bear the risk that you do get a post-flu myocarditis (=cardiac muscle inflammation).

A flu shot will prohibit all this. Usually there are 3-4 kind of seasonal flues in the shot, so you get protected reasonably well to what is to come. There are very little side effects except some local soreness. But you won’t be hindered in workout, nor in your nutrition.

If you want to understand how vaccines work and why the flu shot is important, have a look at this comic.

There are no scientific arguments against any vaccination, there are only unproven emotional ones.