Bodybuilder Casey Viator in Muscular Development magazine

The Anabolic Burst: creating Metabolic Amnesia

Anabolic Burst - Success lies in meeting the preconditions

Look at all the muscle Casey Viator built before the invention of Nautilus Machines. By the way, in this issue of Muscular Development there was a long article penned by Arthur Jones attributing all the muscle you see here to classical barbell and dumbbell training. Viator did classic exercises using pristine technique handling mind-blowing poundage. Nautilus machines were later credited for creating Viator’s physique.

The anabolic burst is a mythical, mystical resistance training experience wherein the athlete/bodybuilder adds a significant amount of pure muscle in an incredibly short amount of time. Pro bodybuilders coming off a major competition will routinely add ten to twenty pounds of muscle within a matter of days.

A starved-down 185-pound bodybuilder that competes with a sub-5% body fat percentile can weigh 200 with an 8% body fat 36 hours later, now looking monstrous, twice as big, twice as strong, twice as healthy looking – and still ripped. This is the anabolic burst personified.

The anabolic burst is real. I have experienced it many times over the course of my long career in resistance training. The anabolic burst is defined as packing on an inexplicable amount of muscle, size, and power in a ridiculously short amount of time, a matter of days, a week perhaps (unless you are Casey Viator.)

The defining characteristic of the anabolic burst is a rapid weight gain, muscle gain, not laden with an unacceptable amount of body fat. During the true burst, the athlete’s metabolism blazes, this on account of establishing certain metabolic preconditions. The successful anabolic burst is predicated on what came before it.

Optimally, ideally, truthfully, the greater the depravation leading into the burst, the greater the magnitude of the burst and the more profound the results. Indeed, the dirty little secret of the anabolic burst is that the biggest ingredient in success is the depth and degree of depravation leading up to the burst.

The burst itself is easy, a veritable feast, the bursting bodybuilder engages in free-for-all no-holds-barred eating; he acts like a famished prison camp inmate taken to a Vegas buffet.

The birth of the burst, the genesis, can be traced to the competitive bodybuilder of the 1970s and early 1980s. The men starved themselves to within an inch of their lives, right up to and through the “show,” the competition. Predictably, these IFBB pros would party and gorge themselves the instant the show was done, and the photo shoots completed.

A funny thing happened. Despite gorging on beer, scotch, ice cream, pie, pasta, pizza, whatever guilty pleasure they wanted, as much as they wanted, for a short period of time, any and all weight gain was muscle gain.

Competitive bodybuilders discovered that coming off a period of prolonged and intense depravation, supercharging starved muscles with calories of all types and kinds caused muscles to swell like dry sponges dunked in scalding water. 

Man to man, the length of time for a successful anabolic burst varied. The burst was over when the body remembered how to process and store body fat. A depleted bodybuilder uses “supercompensation,” they overwhelm the deprived body with calories. These men had been living on fat-free protein and water for months, primal keto being a surefire way to strip off the last vestiges of body fat.

When they stuffed themselves, they were super-compensating and muscles grew exponentially bigger very rapidly. This “swelling” could go on for upwards of a week (for some,) though for most, “spillover” occurred after 48-72 hours of over-eating. Spillover ended the party.

A competitive bodybuilder need attain a sub-5% body fat percentile to be competitive. This is not sustainable, rather a temporary state bought about by causing the body to eat itself, the goal is to burn off body fat without cannibalizing muscle.

Despite indiscriminate piggery, 2-3 days later, to a man the pro bodybuilders looked better than they had at the show – nearly as ripped, but now 10-15 pounds heavier, full, thick, powerful looking, all of it muscle. And they were healthier, instead of being one step away from fainting, as they are on competition day.

The way the elite explain it to one another is logic-cubed: for a short period of time, the body ‘forgets’ how to construct fat. During this short period of metabolic amnesia, any calories consumed are used to construct new muscle or excreted. Excess calories do not get shuttled into fat stores. The fat storage receptors are sluggish, coming off a long period of underuse, due to intense and prolonged deprivation.

The idea is to create an anabolic burst by overeating, then stopping before the body ‘remembers’ how to shuttle excess calories into the fat storage depots that dot the body. Spillover is when the body re-remembers how to store fat and recommences with a vengeance. Open for business, sleeper fat cells reawaken, sucking dietary fat into fat storage depots like turbocharged Dyson vacuum cleaners.

The optimal ploy is to jump off the caloric party train before spillover occurs. When muscle and power are occurring on a daily basis it is easy to stay too long at the muscle beach party stuff-your-face carnival.

One of the biggest sleight-of-hand moves in the history of fitness involved an anabolic burst. In the early 1970s Arthur Jones met a young 19-year-old bodybuilder named Casey Viator. Jones was so taken by Viator’s physique, built with barbells and dumbbells, that he, Jones penned a 1,500-word article that appeared in the April 1971 issue of Muscular Development. The 19-year-old wunderkind had already built the physique you see in the photo at the top of this article; Casey stands 5-8 and weighs 215-pounds with a realistic 8% to 10% body fat percentile.

Jones noted in the article that Casey, all on his own, built the physique pictured. Jones related Casey’s barbell-dumbbell strategy, “In all exercises, Casey trains for strength – correctly feeling that strength increases corelate to muscle-size increases.” Casey didn’t need Jones to tell him this. All the muscle later attributed, however slyly, to Nautilus training, was already built by barbell and dumbbell training using classical strength training methods.

The reason Viator had incredible thighs was not the Nautilus leg press, which was yet to be invented, it was because in a workout that Jones observed firsthand, after warm-up up Viator squatted 435-pounds for 20-reps. He rested three minutes and hit 455 for14. He rested three more minutes then blasted out his final squat set: 535 for 6 reps. His squats were terrific, deep, narrow stance, very upright. He was strong as hell in every lift he cared to do.

All Casey’s mass building was 95% done by this point in his career, all of it constructed with basic free-weight exercises, done with strict technique and mind-boggling poundage. Within a year or two of this MD article, Jones launched his new fleet of Nautilus machines. To gain attention, he created the Colorado Experiment.

Somehow Casey got down to 166-pounds in bodyweight, this to kick the experiment off. Artificially drawn and starved, he zoomed back up to 212-pounds in 28-days, all attributed to the incredible new Nautilus Machines and their revolutionary one-set-to-failure-plus-forced reps-and-negatives protocol. 

The inference was that a 166-pound dude added “45-pounds of muscle and lost 18-pounds of fat in 28-days” attributable to a revolutionary new training tool and system, Nautilus machines and protocols. Jones announced that his breakthroughs would make barbell and dumbbell training obsolete. Jones always beat us up with his “uncontestable” science.

The Colorado Experiment inference was that a 166-pound man, an average man, could train for 30-minutes three times a week and add slabs of solid muscle. Don’t tell us it can’t be done! Look at Casey! To say that Casey was maximally depleted going into the “Experiment” and had a lot of dormant muscle memory would be a gross understatement.

Factually, the hard part was getting the nominally 200-pound Viator starved down to 166. After that, Casey basically engaged in a 28-day anabolic burst. Pass the gravy! The Nautilus training was better than nothing, but it had zero to do with the dormant size capacity built into Casey’s muscles. Was there any performance enhancing drugs involved? Casey openly admitted to using them, did he use them during the 28 days? I have no clue. I have my suspicions. 

The calories, the continual eating, the ample rest, the lack of stress, all were critical positive factors working in Casey’s favor. The Nautilus training was just shy of superfluous: take away the calories and Casey would have continued to weigh a starved 166, regardless of how many Nautilus pullovers he did. What does all this have to do with normal humans?

One way to use the anabolic burst is to sync up bursting with a vacation, trip, or event. Stacy and I would routinely head to the beach in the summer when our daughter was doing cheerleader mega conventions. We would be there for three days. My strategy was to get on a tight diet starting six weeks prior to a beach trip. Each successive week leading up to the beach mini-vacation I would tighten up my eating and up my cardio.

I used my upcoming beach gorge-fest as a discipline incitement to hang tough in those final tough weeks. “Only eleven days until you get to go buck wild.” I would tell myself. I would plan and replan my blitzkrieg of gluttony.

…For breakfast be at Billy’s on the Beach by 7am for the steak and eggs, hash browns with a side of buckwheat pancakes and real maple syrup. Later that day hit the boardwalk for Thrasher’s Fries, Bull on the Beach for sliced beef, Nico’s Pizza and Funnel Cake, all pitstops as we hike the length of the boardwalk. That night, hit Phillips for crab cakes and the seafood tower. Nicks for ribs and hush puppies the next night. And don’t forget Jimmy’s Seafood bistro, down where the bay meets the ocean at the point. Flounder is in season…

Everything tasted incredible. One trip I weighed 197 the Friday morning we left. By Tuesday morning I weighed 208 and looked ready to burst through my skin. I jumped off the metabolic party train before it crashed. In an interesting physiological and psychological twist, after three days of steady slamming trash calories indiscriminately, I get sick of it. The day we get back I have no problem backing off trash food. I was sick of it and sick from it. 

The anabolic burst is real, but the price of admission is stiff. Unless you establish the requisite preconditions, an anabolic burst is unabashed gluttony. You must earn the right to burst. Success is predicted by the severity of the lead up. Anyone successful in depriving can be successful at bursting, assuming burst eating doesn’t become the new norm.

About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.