Compensatory growth is rapid growth following a period of nutrient deprivation. It is used as a tool by cattle growers to increase growth rates before slaughter. It is also seen in humans, particularly before full stature is reached following a period of food insufficiency, and it is often called “catch-up” growth. We are obviously not cattle, and I would assume most readers have already passed puberty, but there is still science behind this strategy that can make new gains, even for adults. The key to making this work is strategically manipulating protein intake. Carbs can also be cycled in somewhat, but the most drastic change throughout the cycle will involve protein. This strategy actually arose from controversy in protein-intake studies.
The results from these studies and those focusing on strength training are all over the map. The majority show a significant positive effect from increasing protein intake. Nevertheless, to date there is still no consensus about the value or effectiveness of increasing protein intake. We won’t go into all the reasons why one study might show athletes need more protein and others don’t, but we will focus on one critical factor that has become apparent when looking at these studies; it’s called protein change theory. Protein change theory states that in order to see an impact from increasing protein intake, you have to increase protein to a sufficient extent beyond what is habitually eaten. The average change in habitual protein intake in studies showing higher protein to be effective was +59.5% above normal versus +6.5% above normal in studies showing no effect of increased protein. In other words, increasing protein intake by ~10% will do nothing for you. Increase it by at least 50%, however, and you will see an increase in protein deposition. Another thing that we can gather from protein studies is that just because you are eating a relatively high amount of protein already doesn’t mean you’re getting all the anabolic potential from that protein. Your body will adapt to high protein intake by increasing the amount of protein you lose each night. If this were not true, you would continue to grow and grow just from protein alone. So here’s the plan: For four weeks, drop your protein intake to .8 grams per kg of bodyweight. Starting the fifth week, bump it up to 2.2 grams per kg of bodyweight (i.e., 1 gram per pound). Keep it high for at least six weeks. Carbs can stay relatively the same throughout or be increased slightly with the increase in protein. Training, like carbs, should remain relatively constant throughout the cycle but may bumped up a notch in volume when protein is high. Give this a shot and see if you don’t put on some new muscle.