Monday, March 4, 2013

My Nutritional / Workout Strategies


The main focus of this post will be to outline what my nutritional strategies are.  I am not going to get too technical on you but everything I am stating is backed by science.  I will post references throughout for those that are interested and there are a bunch of studies listed at the end.  I am a huge proponent of IF (intermittent fasting) and just about everything I recommend is based on the research of Martin Berkham.  He is the high priest of IF and the man behind the LeanGains approach to it that everyone loves.  It is his LeanGains website that started the whole IF craze.  Although I have a similar approach as him I cannot tell you his secret formula for success.  What I can tell you is that the strategies that I use are extremely effective for everyone that has ever used them.  Everyone that follows them and sticks to the guidelines has had amazing results.

RMR stands for resting metabolic rate and TEF is the thermal effect of food.

Caloric Balance

Caloric balance is the single most important factor in regards to your diet.  You can be eating all the right foods at all the right times but if you are eating the same calories that you are burning each day then you will either see no results or extremely slow results.  To lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you are burning and to gain weight you need to eat more calories than you are burning.  That is a simple fact that is often forgotten.  If you are skinny and you think you have a problem gaining weight, you are wrong.  You just don't know how to eat.  If you are fat and you think its hard to lose weight, you are wrong.  You just don't know how to eat.

The calories you need to maintain your current weight are called your maintenance calories.  Your maintenance calories are calculated by taking your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and multiplying it by your activity level.  Your BMR is basically the energy that will be used to maintain your vital organs while in a rested state.  Your BMR decreases with age and increases with muscle mass.  This number, along with your height, weight, age, estimated BF% and social factors will all go in to the formula that is I use to set your protein, fat and carbohydrate goals for each day.  These macros are specific for each person and their situation so the exact formula changes accordingly.  Given two people of the same exact height weight age and sex they will almost never have the same exact macro goals.  This is one of the main reasons behind hiring a diet coach or nutritional consultant.  They will work with you to make sure your macro's are set up to maximize your results.  They will give you a plan tailored for YOU.

According to the this study, there are 248 BMR estimation equations developed using diverse ranges of age, gender, race, fat-free mass, fat mass, height, waist-to-hip ratio, body mass index and weight. My favorite online BMR calculator is the result of this study and can be found here.  Estimating your caloric needs you will need to factor in your activity.  If you want a good website for that I recommend

Fact -  99.9% of people will over estimate their activity level and under estimate the calories they eat and end up with a number that is closer to their maintenance calories.

My Nightmare

Feeding Window

The next thing I would like to discuss is what I like to call your feeding window.  For males I keep this window from 6-8 hours and for females it is usually 8-10 hours.  Generally males deal better when a smaller window than females do.  This feeding window is the time that you will be consuming 99.9% of your calories for the day.  You burn body fat most effectively in the fasted state and this gives your body more time to do that. (1)(2) If your feeding window is 8 hours long you will spend 16 hours in the fasted state and 8 hours in the fed state.  Pretty simple math.  This feeding window can be wherever you want it to be and can consist of as many meals as you want.  Generally mine is from 12pm-8pm, give or take a few hours and I usually eat 2-3 meals in that window.  The easiest way to create this window is to skip breakfast.  Contrary to popular belief and bro-scientists everywhere, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.(1)(2)  There is no jump starting your metabolism by eating a healthy breakfast and skipping it will not put your body in 'starvation' mode.

Skipping breakfast is extremely liberating.  It will allow you to sleep in a little more in the morning and there is no rushing to get something in your body before you start your day.  Just proceed as normal but without the food.  Coffee, gum, tea and other low calorie items are great during the fasted state that extends into your morning.  Coffee does not mean the 1000 calorie frozen Starbucks drink you like though.  I mean regular brewed coffee with a splash of low calorie creamer and maybe some Stevia for sweetness.  Caffeine is a great addition during the fasted phase for added energy and focus.(1)

A few things that will increase naturally by simply fasting are your bodies natural HGH production and your metabolism.  You read that correctly.  Fasting actually increases your HGH levels(1)(2)(3) and your metabolism(1)  One study showed that by simply fasting you can raise your GH levels up to 5x their normal level!  You can't put that information in a pill and sell it which is why you probably haven't heard it anywhere.  If you need more scientific proof behind intermittent fasting and its benefits please read the studies listed at the end if this article.

Note:  Before skipping breakfast I recommend doing a full 24-48 hour fast.  99.9% of my clients have never voluntarily fasted for more than 12 hours and this voluntary fast will completely change your perspective on hunger.  You will be hungry at breakfast but that hunger will fade.  You will be hungry again around lunch time but that hunger will fade.  At dinner time you will be hungry again but again it will fade.  Each meal skipped you will gain perspective on your body and that hunger you experience will lessen and lessen.  If you are hardcore and extend it to a 48 hour fast you will feel less hungry at the 48 hour mark than you did skipping breakfast the first day of the fast.  I believe this 24-48 hour fast is crucial in providing you with the proper perspective to approach a feeding window type approach to nutrition.

The only part of carb cycling I don't like is the name.  Cycling to me implies cardio which I am not a fan of.  I guess they could have called it carb running in which case I would dislike the name more.

Cycling Carbs and Caloric Partitioning

Eating fewer calories than you are burning and eating during a smaller feeding window will help you reach your goals but one of my favorite parts of the protocols I use is the cycling of carbohydrates and fat.  There are two different macro goals for two different days.  One macro goal for a workout day and one for a rest day.  On your workout day you will be eating high protein and high carbs and relatively low fat and on rest days you will be eating high protein and high fat with relatively low carbs.  This allows us to somewhat offset the negative hormonal effects that occur when in an overall caloric deficit and also maximize your muscle building potential through more efficient partitioning of the calories you do eat. (1)(2)(3)(4)  

The majority of your calories on a workout day should be eaten following your workout in your biggest meal of that day.  Break your fast on a workout day with real food.  Meats, vegetables, fruits etc.  If you can workout during your fasted state you may receive additional muscle building benefits. (1)(2)(3)  Just about all of my workouts are after fasting for 16 hours and I prefer to work out completely fasted.  I feel stronger and leaner while fasted.  On a rest day your first meal should also be your largest meal but this isn't a deal breaker.  I am often at work during my first meal on a rest day and sometimes its easier to pack something small and make a larger meal for dinner.

Both workout days and rest days will be high protein so stock your fridge up with your favorite meats.  I prefer chicken, turkey, tuna and fat free Greek yogurt as the main sources of protein on my workout days and fattier meats like steak, fish, lamb, ground beef and cottage cheese on my rest days.  The amount of protein I recommend will usually vary depending on a number of variables but it is usually in the 2-3g per kg of LBM.

Workout days will be low fat high carb days so any foods that are low in fat are free game on these days.  One of my favorite workout day treats are Twizzlers and my wife rarely goes a workout day without here 160 cal bag of Skittles.  Don't worry too much about where your carbs are coming from but don't get out of control here and be smart.  Excess carbs in the form of refined sugar products have a higher chance of being stored as body fat.  100 cal of vegetables will fill you up more than 100 cal of your favorite soda.

Rest days will be extremely fun once you reach maintenance but until then they will be relatively low carb days for most.  Fat on these days is much higher so things like cheese, avocados and fatty dressings are perfect.  I eat at least 1 avocado on every rest day.  Fat recommendations vary greatly depending on the person and their goals but rest days are usually close to double what I recommend on workout days.

I snapped this picture a few days ago.  I pretty much stay in this shape year round.  Come at me bro.

Working Out (Frequency and Timing)

Working out is probably where I get the most resistance (no pun intended) from clients, friends and family.  Clients and friends insist that their 5 or 6 day split that focuses on isolation and stupid gym machines is the way to go because they saw it in the bro-science dictionary (Muscle & Fitness), yet their workout plan has given them 0 quantifiable results in the last 12 months.  There are two things wrong with most workout plans: how often they have you going to the gym and the actual exercises that you are doing.  Since that is all a workout plan really is, it sucks to see so many terrible ones.

Unless you are on steroids there is almost no reason to be inside the gym for more than 1 hour, three times a week.  I get better results working out 3 days a week and eating right than just about anyone I see that is spending 6+ hours a week in the gym.  I also have more free time, family time etc.  The key to maximizing your training efforts is to go back to the basics.  The basics means compound exercises that utilize your major muscle groups.  Squats and dead-lifts are at the top of the list.  If these lifts aren't a major part of your workout routine then you are wrong.  You want a stronger core?  Heavy squats and dead-lifts will get you there way before any stupid ab workout will.  Speaking of abs, if you have a day dedicated to them please click here.  You can't spot reduce.  I just gave you back the 30 min a week you dedicated to abs.  You are welcome.

Next on the list are bench-press and chin-ups/pull-ups.  There is no single exercise that will increase your chest strength better than the flat barbell bench-press.  I'm willing to bet that's one that just about all of your do judging by how many benches I see in the local gyms.  Chin-ups and pull-ups may seem like just an arm/back workout but there is much more involved.  You engage just about every muscle from your waist up including your core and they are BOTH a better bicep workout then the silly isolation curls you are doing(1).  I know someone is going to ask about what I recommend between pull-ups and chin-ups and I recommend both.  For mean bicep activity, the parallel grip pull-up edges out the chin-up but the chin-up edges out the pull-up in peak bicep activity.  They flip flop positions with regards to your lats.  They are both effective, so use them both.

The next tier of awesome lifting exercises consist of the over-head press (OHP), the lying triceps extension and rows (I prefer the Pendlay row).  The OHP is a personal favorite of mine.  If you perform this lift in the 6-8 rep range you will be engaging your core in an amazing way.  Mark Rippetoe calls lying triceps extensions the 4th power lift due to the effectiveness of this exercise and rows will strengthen your traps.(1)  If you've noticed a trend in what I recommend you are perceptive.  Every lift involves a barbell (or a bar for pulls/chins) and every lift engages more than one muscle group.  They are basic lifts that will improve as you improve, they are easy to calculate your 1RM from and they will provide you with quantitative information about your routine.  Other supplementary exercises are fine to throw in here in there but your workouts need to revolve around these main lifts.  Track your progress also.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

This is a quote from an article written by John Berardi, PhD on the health benefits of IF.
"Beyond vanity, the reported health effects of an intelligently designed Intermittent Fasting program read like a laundry list of live longer, live better benefits including: reduced blood lipids,blood pressure, markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer. Increased cell turnover and repair, fat burning, growth hormone release, and metabolic rate. And improved appetite control, blood sugar control, cardiovascular function, and neuronal plasticity."
I shouldn't have to go any further in explaining why I believe that IF is the way to go regardless of your goals.  It has worked for me and it has worked for everyone that I have worked with.  Try it, you'll like it.  What do you have to lose besides some of that unnecessary body fat?

Studies on Intermittent Fasting

Glucagon levels and metabolic effects in fasting man

Effects of Glucagon on Lipolysis and Ketogenesis in Normal and Diabetic Men

Augmented growth hormone (GH) secretory burst frequency and amplitude mediate enhanced GH secretion during a two-day fast in normal men

The Protein-Retaining Effects of Growth Hormone During Fasting Involve Inhibition of Muscle-Protein Breakdown

Impact of Growth Hormone Receptor Blockade on Substrate Metabolism during Fasting in Healthy Subjects

Progressive alterations in lipid and glucose metabolism during short-term fasting in young adult men

Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss?

Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss Preserves Muscle Mass?

Intermittent Fasting Results of LeanGains