First off – full disclosure: If you’re searching the words “anabolic amplifier effect, there are probably some answers you’d like to two obvious questions:
- Do I market a course based on any notion of an “anabolic amplifier effect?”
- Do I believe, with my experience, that there’s such a thing as an ‘anabolic amplifier effect?’
The answer to the first question is a definite “no.” The answer to the second is a qualified skepticism. This means I’m compelled by some of the evidence for an ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ while being wary of the lack of extensiveness of that evidence. Accordingly, if I gain indication that this phenomenon exists and it accelerates muscle building gains, I’ll wholeheartedly get behind it. If that happens, I’ll gladly sign up as an affiliate marketer with those who promote this body enhancement method and add it to my product line. Something my readers can definitely count on: I refuse to sell anything that I think might waste their time and money. Conversely, when I get behind something and promote it, it’s because I believe it will actually be of equal or more long-term value than the money they’ll spend on it.
Just beware: If wholly ineffective, the practice of “cycling food intake” to get an ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ could not only waste your time and money, but a lot of gut-wrenching effort as well.
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: What are the claims?
By perusing online bodybuilding articles, you’ll find that the ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ is a name given to the purported muscle gaining effects of cycling one’s calorie intake with so-called “short cycles.” The idea that it will accelerate muscle growth is first embedded in our minds by web copywriters asking what’s called an “obvious truth question”:
“What’s the most anabolic substance known to man?”
What? Wait a second… I thought food was something I needed to… um, stay alive? I thought it was kind of like oxygen in that sense. Uh-oh… let’s stop that line of thinking before someone gets the idea that ‘air’ is the most anabolic substance known to man. We’ll end up with an ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ program on how to hyperventilate ourselves into muscle growth.
In all seriousness, food is necessary for muscle growth. Well… “duh”, it’s necessary for energy and tissue regeneration throughout the body on a daily basis (am I really writing this?). And yes – insufficient food intake is ‘catabolic’ (promoting tissue breakdown). However, this only means that sufficient food is necessary for normal anabolism – not that an excess (or manipulation) of it will “amplify” that anabolism.
Obviously, if you have good critical thinking skills (which my readers do), you’re probably two steps ahead of me already.
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: A “rebound” of sorts?
One bit of evidence cited for an ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ is based on the phenomenon of competitive bodybuilders experiencing a weight-related “rebound effect” after dieting down for contests. For these competitors, weeks of calorie restrictive dieting results in low to mid single-digit body fat percentages along with reduced glycogen and sodium-induced water retention. This is typically followed by some relief-providing ‘normal’ eating after the contest. When normal eating is resumed, body weight typically shoots back up rather quickly.
Of course, anyone with his or her common sense faculties fully engaged will figure out that this weight gain is due to the muscles filling back up with glycogen, sodium, and water. It’s a ‘refilling’ of something that was subtracted in the days leading up to contest. And this can account for quite a bit of weight fluctuation. I’ve personally witnessed a competitive bodybuilder shoot back up by no less than forty pounds within a week.
Supporters of the ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ claim that this body weight rebound creates an environment of accelerated muscle growth in the body. They say this is due to increased amounts of testosterone, insulin, and IGF-1 that accompany a sudden and drastic switch in calorie intake.
Is there some science that backs up their claims?
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: This is actually nothing new
The idea behind the ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ is nothing new; its origins actually date back to the 1990s. That’s when a Swedish scientist named Torbjorn Akerfeldt came forth with his ABCDE method, or ‘Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise.’ He hypothesized that something akin to intentional “yo-yo dieting” within two-week cycles of calorie overload and calorie deprivation would create fast net gains in muscle mass with minimal gains in body fat.
Mr. Akerfeldt evidently based his hypothesis off a study led by G.B. Forbes and published in the AJCN. The 1989 study, titled ‘Hormonal Response to Overfeeding’, found that volunteer women who were fed 1,200 to 1,600 calories above maintenance for three weeks gained an average of 4.3 pounds of body weight. Of this total weight gain, 46% (or slightly below two pounds) was lean body mass. This body mass was gained without the test subjects engaging in exercise of any kind. The researchers discovered, however, that the women’s insulin, testosterone, and IGF-1 levels doubled within 14 days of this three week period and then began to decline. The researchers believe that the increase in these anabolic hormones is what facilitated the gains in lean body mass.
On the surface, the results of this study can be exciting to natural bodybuilders. Consequently, marketers of ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ programs like to use that emotion in prodding us to make quite a few assumptions. For example, in order to conclude that this study is relevant to bodybuilders, here are just a few of those assumptions:
- The hormonal response wasn’t exclusive to women.
- The hormonal response would happen repeatedly even though the study results were from a one-time, three-week period.
- The hormonal response would be the same (or better) if resistance training were added to the formula.
- The lean mass gains would be the same (or better) if resistance training were added to the formula.
You might think I’m off the mark by classifying those second two bullets as assumptions. After all, resistance training results in increased lean body mass… right? Not necessarily; resistance training is initially catabolic. It only becomes anabolic when coupled with adequate recuperation between weight training bouts. In fact, overtraining with weights can even result in a reduction of endogenous testosterone production. Hence, to extrapolate that lean body mass gains experienced by non-weight-training women would be equaled or bettered by hard training bodybuilders in the same circumstances is a big assumption.
In fact, think about this: For the ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ to be effective, it would need hormone augmenting capability that overrides any catabolic effects of bodybuilding routines that are combined with underfeeding during the calorie reduction phase of the cycle. Moreover, it would need to have this effect repeatedly. It may well be that it does. However, a one-time doubling of anabolic hormones in non-weight-training individuals that just happened to all be women does not provide ample evidence that it does.
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: What’s the theory behind it?
Similar to proponents of the Paleo Diet, those who advocate calorie cycling for an ‘anabolic amplifier effect’ adduce evolutionary reasons for its alleged effects. In this case, it’s the “feast or famine” environment that our nomadic ancestors constantly found themselves in that’s said to be the reason that anabolic hormones can be manipulated using short-term calorie cycling.
The theory goes something like this: When ancient man caught and ate some game, his body released muscle building enzymes and hormones to facilitate catching more game. These enzymes and hormones shuttled more glycogen and amino acids into the muscle cells. This bodily anabolic environment, however, would only last for a couple of weeks. The body would quickly shift over to more of a fat-storing mode in order to protect man from the elements in the event that further game catches were not immediately forthcoming.
In a nutshell, it’s this evolutionary phenomenon that Torbjorn Akerfeldt theorized is what accounts for the ‘short cycle’ hormonal changes that were observed in the women of the G.B. Forbes study,
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: How come the ABCDE method never took off?
Back in the 90s, Torbjorn Akerfeldt was actually interviewed by Bill Phillips in the pages of Muscle Media 2000. The entire four-part interview has been posted online at this blog. Funny… I remember reading the interview in those magazine pages back then and being compelled by the content. One has to wonder: How come during the 15 years that have since transpired, the ‘Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise’ has never taken off?
Fueling this question is another observation. I saw that Torbjorn Akerfeldt mentioned in the interview that he was using the system himself. Phillips buttressed this claim by mentioning how developed the researcher was as a bodybuilder. But in all the time since that interview, you’d think something that had been working so well would have resulted in at least one physique shot of this guy surfacing to back his claims. After all, Mr. Akerfeldt said it was possible to gain 2 to 5 pounds of muscle during each “cycle.” Even on the low side of that claim, this would potentially result in 24 pounds of muscle per year – a solid size-surge that would have your average steroid user green with envy. I’ve not found such a picture displaying the researcher’s physique development. Admittedly, the absence of it is neither here nor there as disproof of his system. However, the discovery of one would constitute some nice supporting anecdotal evidence of its efficacy.
‘Anabolic Amplifier Effect’: We’d love to get your feedback
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I reserve a qualified skepticism about this system. I definitely don’t buy the words of some of its current marketers who claim they’ve used it and “gained eight pounds of muscle” in a matter of weeks. If this were true, the method would have taken off in the 1990s and the side effects of steroids would have long been in the ash heap.
If you’ve tried any type of “micro-cycling” of calories and/or macro nutrients for purposes of anabolism, we’d love to hear your sincere feedback in the comment section. And since this blog is only about discovering and divulging the truth, any claims of rapid muscle growth should be accompanied by a link to at least some before/after pics – and preferably… a truth detector test.