Ask Us Anything 04

T Nation Answers YOUR Questions

Can banging a bodybuilder make you fail a drug test? Can anyone build 19-inch arms? Is soreness necessary? All this and more!

“Oral” Bioavailability

Q: If a female lifter (not on gear) sleeps with a guy who runs gear, is she in danger of failing a drug test?

This is a question that probably goes through every woman’s mind the moment she decides to copulate with a gearhead. Even if she’s not an athlete, she probably can’t help but wonder if she’s going to wake up with a beard and a puzzling urge to check her NCAA bracket.

As far as transmission of steroids through intercourse, it’s possible that a tiny bit of hormone catches a ride in the spermatic fluid.

After all, untainted prostatic fluid normally contains trace amounts of estrogen, FSH, and testosterone anyhow, along with a good number of prostaglandins. It’s even been hypothesized that the vagina absorbs some of these prostaglandins, and since prostaglandins modulate neurotransmitters, they can possibly improve a woman’s mood (1).

However, even if there were steroids in seminal fluid, it’s pretty much impossible that the 2 to 5 cc’s of seminal fluid in the average ejaculation would contain enough steroids to budge the needle on a sex partner’s drug test. And even if the fluid did contain some steroids, the contact between the juiced juice and vaginal tissues is usually brief because of plain ol’ fluid dynamics (liquid flows downhill).

Much of the same is true of oral sex with a steroid user. While there was recently a report of a woman going into anaphylactic shock and almost dying because she swallowed some amoxicillin-tainted sperm (she was allergic to penicillin and its analogs), steroids are a different situation.

It only takes a few molecules of something to elicit an allergic reaction, but absorbing a detectable amount of steroid through oral sex is probably impossible.

For one thing, if the steroid in question is testosterone, you’d have to absorb at least 200 mg. of the hormone for it to overcome the first pass effect of the liver. That’s generally a whole cc of testosterone, which would mean that half of the volume of the hypothetical steroid user’s semen was steroid. Not very likely.

Other steroids are built to survive the first pass effect, but still, there’s no way the semen would contain enough steroids for anyone to fail a drug test, or experience any steroidal effects at all. – TC Luoma

No Gains, Bro!

Q: My gains have stalled. What do you suggest?

We get this (extremely vague) question often. It’s tough to answer since we don’t know your main goals, your age, or even if you’re a girl person, a boy person, or one of these people who identifies as a lesbian parakeet. But here’s some general advice:

1. Do the opposite.

There are tons of great training programs here on T Nation, but the best one is probably the one that’s the most different than the one you’re doing now.

Here’s an example. Back in 2005, not-yet-a-Dr. Chad Waterbury introduced a training system based around doing 10 sets of 3 reps. Not 3 x 10, but 10 x 3. And T Nation readers who adopted the program reported great gains in muscle and strength.

Now, there’s more to the program than the set/rep scheme, but doing 10 x 3 was radically different than what most lifters were used to doing. It presented a new challenge, recruited motor units that had been largely dormant, ramped up force production and, in short, “shocked the system” and triggered new adaptations in size and strength.

So take a look at how you’ve been training for the past few months. Now, do the opposite:

  • Always do 12-15 reps? Then load up the plates and do 3-5.
  • Always train super heavy for low reps? Then lighten it up and shoot for 60 seconds of time under tension for each set. (Set a timer and try not to poop out your spleen.)
  • Always use barbells because “free weights are best?” Switch to a mostly machine-based program.
  • Always do decline barbell presses? Do inclined dumbbell presses.
  • Train 6 days a week? Train 3. Or vice-versa.

You get the idea.

Or just adopt someone else’s program. I know, I know, the internet experts often advise people to avoid “cookie cutter” programs, but they can be valuable. Any program from the T Nation archives is probably going to push you harder than you push yourself. And it’s probably going to force you to try some new things.

2. Do something that excites you.

Several T Nation coaches have said it: Training very hard using a substandard program is better than lazily going through the motions on the “perfect” program.

Take 6 weeks off from what you “should” be doing and train in way that gets you amped up. Maybe you’ve been training like a bodybuilder because hypertrophy is your main goal, but powerfully swinging around kettlebells looks damn fun at the moment. So do it. (We won’t tattle on you.)

You’ll get better in other ways, and after a while you’ll be itching to do slow negatives, set-extending partial reps, and pump workouts again.

3. Examine your diet.

Keep a food log. After a week, figure out the average number of calories you consume per day. Now add around 300 to that. Take tape measurements all over your body. Log your rep PRs at the gym.

Readjust that calorie number based on your progress over the next few weeks. Chances are, you just weren’t eating enough.

4. Get the edge with a good supplement.

Still stuck? First, make sure you’re taking care of peri-workout nutrition. Consider Plazma, Mag-10, or Surge Workout Fuel. Check out the details on each one. – Chris Shugart

Big(ger) Biceps

Q: How often do you have to train each week to get 19-inch arms?

Let me offer some hard-earned perspective. I’ve been lifting for a long time. I was always cursed with crappy arms. The late Charles Poliquin used to call me some German term that translated to “Asparagus Tarzan.” Whether he meant I was a half-naked savage raised in the jungle by a tribe of asparagus or that I had arms like spears of asparagus, I’m not sure, but I think it was the latter.

Anyhow, I’ve tried every program, every training style, every trick known to bodybuilding, but my arms are still my worst body part. Part of it’s because my arms are long. Want that box of cereal on the high shelf? No problemo. But filling in that long vista of space between my shoulders and elbows with muscle? Sigh.

The only thing that ever worked, remotely, was a piece of advice from again, Charles Poliquin. In his experience, he said that you had to gain roughly 15 pounds of bodyweight for every extra inch you added to your arms.

True enough, when I went from my usual fighting weight of 215 to 220 pounds to 235 pounds, my “biceps” (more accurately, my arms) grew about an inch.

Still, by his reasoning, I would have had to gain another 15 to 25 pounds to get even close to 19 inches. Wasn’t gonna’ happen. Wasn’t the look I wanted, anyhow. And when I went back to my fighting weight, I wasn’t able to sustain the added size for long, which probably means that some of the added arm size was blubber.

What I’m trying to say is that the size of your arms is largely genetically determined. I fully realize that right now there are a bunch of genetically gifted guys reading this that are hollering all kinds of synonyms for bullshit, but these guys know nothing about being a hardgainer.

They might suggest that someone like me needs to train more, and if that didn’t work, I need to train less. They might say to lift heavier, lift lighter, do drop sets, work them once a week, work them twice a week, eat more, sacrifice a heifer to the biceps god, and so on. Eff 'em. I’ve tried it all. Most of these guys, however, could fold laundry and still grow giant arms.

What I’m saying is that if you’re regular folk and want big(ger) biceps, follow the regular rules of bodybuilding:

  • Train the whole body.
  • Get good at the big lifts.
  • Consistently eat more calories than baseline.
  • Do lots of pull-ups and close-bench bench presses.

After all that, if it’s in your genetic cards, you’ll get your 19-inch biceps.

If not, focus on less stubborn body parts. But if having huge guns means that much to you, there are always steroids, in which case the old “gain 15 pounds rule” goes out the window. – TC Luoma

Egg Protein 101

Q: Do you get more protein from cooked egg whites or raw egg whites?

Aack! Are people still eating egg whites and not the yolk? Are people still eating raw egg whites? Stop doing both of those things.

Maybe you’re part of the 15% or so of the population whose cholesterol levels are influenced by diet, so I’ll begrudgingly give you a pass, but for anyone else throwing away yolks, or worse yet, eating raw egg whites, I’m going to crack a giant ostrich egg over your head.

Where to start? Guess I’ll answer your actual question first. Cooked egg whites would be “better” because your body assimilates them more easily, and research has confirmed this many times. Not only that, but eating raw egg whites could very likely lead to a deficiency of the nutrient, biotin.

Egg whites contain something called avidin, which is a protein that binds biotin. When egg white is cooked, the bond is denatured, allowing your body to absorb the biotin. That doesn’t happen when you eat them raw.

Symptoms of a deficiency of biotin include depression, lethargy, numbness, tingling, ataxia, seizures, hallucinations, hair loss, and a rash around your orifices, including the genital area. Still want to eat raw egg whites, Rocky?

Beyond all that, there are a few important reasons why you shouldn’t toss the yolk. At the most elemental level, the yolk contains more gram-per-gram of protein than the white. Furthermore, a study conducted at the University of Illinois showed that you gain 40% more muscle when you eat whole eggs as opposed to egg whites only.

Lastly, the yolk contains the vast majority of the nutrients found in an egg. So no egg-white only meals, regardless of whether they’re raw or cooked, okay? Eat the whole egg. – TC Luoma

Soreness: Good or Bad?

Q: Is soreness really an indicator of a good workout?

It’s a simple question, but the answer is a little tricky. Generally speaking, no, being sore after a workout doesn’t necessarily mean it was an effective workout. And also generally speaking, no, you don’t have to get really sore to build muscle.

But there are nuances. As many of our coaches have pointed out, there are many levels of soreness. You can feel a little tight or swollen and experience what Christian Thibaudeau calls an “enhanced feeling” in the worked muscles. You definitely know what you trained the previous day, but you’re not really hurting.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can find yourself saying “ouch, ouch, ouch” with every stroke of your toothbrush after a tough chest workout. That’s severe soreness. And you can even feel so sore that you can’t train – that’s extreme soreness and a sign that you messed up since that one workout has interfered with several of the following workouts.

You should probably experience that “enhanced feeling” a day or two after a tough workout, but you don’t necessarily have to.

What all the “soreness is bad” coaches are referring to is that debilitating soreness, which is a sign you may have taken things a little too fast or too far (too many sets/reps, or too heavy a load).

But here comes another big but…

BUT if you tried a brand new exercise, a new set/rep scheme, or a new tempo (like lowering a weight very slowly), you should probably expect some level of soreness. If you don’t feel something, then you probably sandbagged it. Or maybe you haven’t yet established a good mind-muscle connection with the new exercise or method.

What the “soreness is bad” coaches are also saying is that you shouldn’t be chasing soreness i.e. trying your hardest to get sore because you think it’s the only sign of a productive workout.

That often leads to switching exercises too often. You never really get to progressively overload the exercise, because the moment the new movement stops making you sore, you switch to something else that makes you hurt again. That’s a mistake. Thibaudeau has even said that when initial soreness stops, the real progress can begin.

And let’s not forget that your diet can influence how sore you get from training. If you’ve cut your calories and carbs down low, a familiar workout may get you sore again. But you’re probably not growing from it given the caloric deficit.

See how tricky it can be? So the lesson is to expect some “enhanced feeling” or mild soreness, especially after you try something new, but don’t train just to get sore.

If you do have some moderate to severe soreness, it’s also a good idea to train that muscle again the next day. Nothing hard, just do a couple of light sets and get a mild pump in the sore muscles. This can accelerate recovery and maybe even lead to more muscle growth.

Finally, remember that the best sign of progress is progress. After a few weeks or months, are you lifting heavier, doing more reps with the same weight, or “owning” a weight that used to beat you to death? Are you bigger without being fatter?

Then you’ve progressed, whether you felt sore or not. – Chris Shugart

Help, I’m Skinny… and Fat!

Q: What’s the solution for my skinny-fat issue?

What’s weird is that a lot of people who describe themselves as “skinny fat” often want to restrict calories and lose fat (get skinnier) before they build any muscle. This makes no sense.

If you’re already an overall small person, the last thing you need to do is try to get smaller and skinnier. Especially since doing so may mean losing precious muscle, and you can’t afford that.

What would make more sense is to start with building muscle first. Improve your body composition – your ratio of muscle to fat. Why? Because as you build muscle, the fat you have won’t be as noticeable when you start becoming a harder, shapelier version of yourself.

As far as workouts, choose a plan you’ll be able to stick with, and one that emphasizes muscle growth over heavy triples. Building conspicuous muscle is the main solution to fixing the skinny-fat issue.

Whatever program you choose, make it your objective to feel the target muscles working (mind-muscle connection). If you’re relatively experienced, try adding intensity techniques, like drop sets and super sets.

There are a ton of great training splits that’ll improve your body comp. You could even just do full body workouts every time you lift. But I really like this push/pull/legs routine because in it Paul Carter shows you how to alter your workouts for however many days per week you have available.

As for nutrition, focus on food quality and make sure you’re getting enough protein. If you’ve never tracked your food intake before, do so. Those who never have often find that they’re not getting enough protein, so make sure you’re not one of them. You’ll need about a gram per pound of bodyweight.

Then try to get most of your food from sources that aren’t fried or prepackaged – fill up on lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, vegetables, fruit, and even some starchy carbs like oats and potatoes.

I know you might be tempted to diet off the fat as quickly as possible, but just improving your food quality and getting enough protein may be all that’s needed for now depending on how you were training previously. In fact, you may find that the more you prioritize muscle growth, the greater your appetite will become as you build a jacked body and leave the skinny-fat one behind.

The one last detail is the simplest: Move even when you’re not at the gym. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis makes a bigger difference than most people think.

Bottom line? Train for muscle and eat in a way that allows you to see it. – Dani Shugart

Foam Rolling Phobia

Q: Should I throw away my foam rollers? That article you guys published about pressure on your nerves scared me.

You’re not alone. That article riled up a lot of people who somehow came to the conclusion that “T Nation thinks all foam rollers are bad!” This is a little head-scratching since even the contributor who wrote it stated that light and moderate foam rolling is still fine and helpful.

But remember, no matter what anyone writes for us, we want you to examine that information, think about it in the context your own experiences, hear dissenting opinions, and then decide what’s right for you based upon all that information.

So, no. Don’t throw away your foam rollers unless you feel worse or aren’t seeing any improvements after using them.

There are plenty of rehab pros who’ve helped clients achieve pain-free performance goals using the foam roller (as one of many tools) on an as-needed basis. But they’re not a cure-all, and in certain cases, they may do more harm than good.

I was talking to a rehab professional about self myofascial release (SMR) recently, and he said that there’s a reason why certain muscles may tighten up. He explained that your body could be trying to protect you from something that’s going on in a different location.

So if you rely heavily on your foam roller for a particular issue, it would be wise to find a professional to help you work on solving the source of the problem, instead of constantly trying to rid yourself of the discomfort caused by the tightness. Foam rolling may only be a temporary fix for a chronic problem that needs to be addressed.

Just be sensible. If tightness is disrupting your normal daily activities, messing up your gait, or keeping you from being able to sleep at night, then sure, a little foam rolling might help loosen things up. But avoid the excessive or acute pressure that can further irritate certain issues. Dr. John Rusin has some solid advice on this that’ll help you use a foam roller without fear of damaging yourself. – Dani Shugart

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