Most people approach fat loss like cracking a peanut with a sledgehammer. They jump straight into a six-day a week exercise program, cut carbs and calories without having a clue how many meals they need or what should be in those meals to get the results they want.
Sure, some pounds are shed, but performance plummets. Within a month or so most folks are back to their old ways. The cycle repeats itself a few times a year. As the years slide by, it gets harder and harder to get into shape. Sound familiar?
It doesn’t have to be that way. A well thought out program should improve health, workout performance and body composition all at the same time. If you’re not experiencing all these benefits, you’re going about it the wrong way.
One of the pit falls to avoid is exercising with chronically low muscle glycogen levels. Excessive amounts of exercise in combination with severe calorie/carb restriction promote chronically low muscle glycogen – which is the fastest way to developing an over-trained state that creates plateaus and short-circuits fat loss and muscle growth and strength.
Muscle glycogen is the body’s main storage form of carbohydrate. The amount of glycogen stored in muscle governs your work capacity, intensity and ability to recover/adapt at the cellular level. Make no mistake, your muscle glycogen levels determine the quality and therefore, results obtained from workouts.
Carb Confusion . . .
Any sports dietician worth their Nutrition Almanac will tell you that dietary carbohydrate intake governs muscle glycogen levels. More carbs ensure high muscle glycogen levels. That’s why athletes are told to consume energy-rich carbs at every meal – pasta, rice, bread and cereals – it’s all to cram muscles full of glycogen to ensure peak muscle performance.
That’s all fine and dandy if you’re about 0.001% of the population that can afford to be a pro athlete. However, what happens to the average adult that follows these carb-loaded recommendations for “healthy eating” (as per the US Food Pyramid)?
Most end-up with big weight issues and sadly, a fast-track to type-2 diabetes – a condition that shortens life span.
The average person does not exercise for 6 hours a day. Heck, most people are doing well if they devote 3-6 hours to exercise a week.
Sure we’d all want better workout performance, but not at the expense of fat loss. Most of us want to get lean and stay lean.
So how does the average Joe (or Josephine) maximize muscle glycogen and workout performance without winding up looking like the Michelin man?
More importantly, can it be done? You bet.
While the poor ol’ dietetics community still can’t work that one out – I’ve been teaching people how to do it for almost two decades.
Muscle Glycogen and Muscle Performance
First of all, you have to be clear on this muscle glycogen – muscle performance link.
Intense exercise is essential to creating a body you can be proud of. Muscle glycogen is the limiting fuel that powers all intense training.
- For example, from the research, we know that a short bout of high-intensity exercise can deplete muscle glycogen stores by 50%.
- In the gym, just 3 intense, maximum effort sets can deplete muscle glycogen stores by 60%. 
- We also know that intense exercise damages muscles and this damage impairs muscle glycogen uptake.
- Exercise scientists also know that there is a right time to eat energy-rich carbs – so that they are delivered to muscles to maximize glycogen synthesis and energy stores, without interfering with the fat metabolism process.
Measuring Muscle Glycogen
So how do you tell whether or not your muscles have enough glycogen? Glad you asked!
The simple answer is, you can’t.
Well, you can, but it’s not feasible. The only true way to measure muscle glycogen is via a muscle biopsy and glycolytic analysis of the muscle fibers themselves – a process I’ve completed a few thousand times in the lab myself.
A piece of muscle is extracted from the participant, frozen, prepped and analyzed. This little “procedure” isn’t really as gruesome and painful as it appears, but it is the only way to assess whether your muscles have enough fuel to get the most from your workouts.
A clear indirect assessment of chronically low muscle glycogen is a sure but steady decline in workout performance. Remember, this drop in workout performance is a telltale sign of being impatient – wanting to “speed” the fat loss process by cutting calories and not consuming the right carbohydrates at the right time.
So let’s look at four simple strategies you can employ to maximize muscle glycogen and performance while you’re attempting to shed fat.
Step by Step Glycogen Loading
Firstly, maximizing muscle glycogen for your next workout starts immediately after your last workout. Strategic supplementation with rapidly absorbed carbohydrates such as glucose during and immediately after an intense weight lifting workout stimulates muscle glycogen synthase – the key enzyme responsible for synthesizing glycogen.  So the first key supplement to utilize at this time is DGC, I always recommend one serving before and immediately after a workout.
Many bodybuilders fear carbs more than death or taxes when trying to get lean, but the good news is, research shows that carbs consumed after intense exercise are shuttled directly to muscle recovery pathways and don’t interfere with the fat metabolism process.
Secondly, we know that the addition of protein to the carb supplement results in greater activation of glycogen synthase than carbohydrate alone.  So the perfect addition to your serving of DGC pre and post workout is VP2 Whey Isolate.
Thirdly, we know carbohydrate synthesis is a cellular anabolic activator within the muscle. Research has shown that the supplements creatine and glutamine both act synergistically with glucose to maximize glycogen accumulation in muscle.[4,5] When taken straight after training, a 7-10 gram dose of GL3 L-Glutamine combined with carbohydrates results in better glycogen accumulation throughout the entire body than either supplement taken alone.
Therefore, a serving of GL3 L-Glutamine mixed into your post-workout shake is definitely a research-based strategy to help maximize muscle glycogen stores.
Finally, loading with Micronized Creatine appears to promote more effective muscle glycogen restoration. That is, when muscles are loaded with creatine, this appears to promote better glycogen synthesis after a workout. Creatine Cycling is a research-based strategy I designed to maximize muscle creatine stores, anabolism, and growth. A nice added benefit here is that Creatine Cycling may also promote higher muscle glycogen levels.
So there you have it, at least 4 easy but very important strategies you can use to maximize muscle glycogen and workout performance that won’t interfere with your fat loss efforts. These techniques will allow you to build muscle and strength while you get lean.
- Roy BD, Tarnopolsky MA, Macdougall JD, Fowles J, Yarasheski KE. Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training. J Appl Physiol 82: 1882-1888, 1997.
- Folch N. Péronnet F, Massicotte D Duclos M, Lavoie C, Hillaire-Marcel C. Metabolic response to small and large 13C-labelled pasta meals following rest or exercise in man. Bri J. Nutri. (5) 671-680, 2001.
- John L. Ivy, Harold W. Goforth Jr., Bruce M. Damon, Thomas R. McCauley, Edward C. Parsons, and Thomas B. Price. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J. Appl. Physiol. 93 4, 1337-1344, 2002.
- Bowtell JM, K Gelly, M L Jackman, A Patel, M Simeoni, and M J Rennie. Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise. J Appl Physiol 86: 1770-1777, 1999
- Nelson, AG., DA Arnall, J Kokkonen, R Day, and J. Evans. Muscle glycogen supercompensation is enhanced by prior creatine supplementation. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 33; 7: 1096-1100, 2001.
- Haff, G.G., M.J. Lehmkuhl, L.B. McCoy, and M.H. Stone. Carbohydrate supplementation and resistance training. J of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17;1:187–196, 2003