Adaptable Homo sapiens
Aim of Article: to highlight why our bodies can adapt and how this relates to our training
Humans, along with all other highly-function organism, have evolved from simple single celled-organisms, to infinitely more complex beings. A key trait for our survival is our adaptability, both physically and mentally.
Outside of genetic evolution over generations, there are plenty of ways our bodies can adapt to better survive certain scenarios, be it adapting to the stimulus of higher altitude by producing more red blood cells, to producing more melanin in the skin under the stimulus of excess sunlight.
However the two that we will focus on here and are relevant for the majority of our strategies is our ability to store fat and increase muscle mass.
A key challenge facing most organisms is the ongoing threat of famine (low food levels).
We are by no means the only species to have found a way round this pesky problem; bees store food in a non-perishable form (honey), while plants that store their excess energy as starch (complex-carbohydrates for those paying attention earlier).
Our strategy, more commonly found in mammals, focuses on converting as much of our excess energy intake as fat. And with good reason, stationary-plants can get away with utilizing the less energy dense energy stores starch, for us mobile-creatures, utilizing a less dense energy source requires more storage space and more energy spent hauling it around. If an average 75 kg person with a 20% bodyfat (15 kg of fat), utilized starch instead of fat, he would require 34 kg of starch, taking his bodyweight to 94 kg.
Even though here in Bristol there are no foreseeable famines on the horizon, we still have our ability to prepare for them, and our bodies are not giving up this valuable skill anytime soon.
So given a calorific surplus, from any source of macronutrient (see-above) our bodies will prepare for potential future famines by stockpiling this extra energy as fat.
A parallel problem to the threat of famine is the issue of physical strength, and how stronger organisms with more muscle mass require more fuel, which would put them at a disadvantage when a famine hits.
So the reason we are all not behemoths all of the time, is that the potential benefits of all this extra muscle (aesthetics, fighting etc.) would not justify the extra metabolic demands of all this muscle mass.
And as we know our bodies love preparing for the next famine, our bodies have acquired a more subtle solution of being able to adapt muscle mass growth based on the physical stimuluses received, providing the best of both worlds. This ensures we can become stronger/better at tasks that are vital to our survival (hunting, fighting etc.) without wasting valuable energy on muscle mass that would not be used.
So if you were throwing a spear with your right arm to hunt, you would only build muscle on the areas required to throw this spear better
We won’t go into the specifics of how muscle tissue adapts to increase muscle mass here, but the underlying principle behind natural muscle growth is the ability to continually put more stress on the muscles while eating an excess of calories and protein. Ultimately maintaining the stimulus required for the body to decide that the increased metabolic budget of growing extra muscles can be justified.
Put it into practice
Any training strategy will attempt to manipulate these two abilities. For example a smart approach to fat loss would be to:
Maintain a slight calorie deficit with ample micro and macro nutrients, while training biggest muscle groups as often as possible. Aiming to increase metabolism as much as possible through increased muscle mass, while maintaining a realistic and increasing calorie deficit.