True refinement seeks simplicity. – Bruce Lee
This information overload era we live in can be tricky for strength athletes, coaches, and even writers.
In trying to distinguish ourselves from the nonsense and scams that dominate the fitness industry and get good information out to good people, one's content can start to err on the side of being overly scientific, flashy, or complicated.
You've all seen it. Writing becomes less about actual ideas and more about trying to sound smart, discredit others, stand out, impress clients or colleagues, and battle for coach/diet supremacy – basically, self-flagellation supersetted with furious dick swinging.
And it moves too far from what it's supposed to be – a way to give people practical tools that they can apply to get real results in the real world.
Think In Bullet Points
A successful NFL defensive coordinator once said that most players forget the majority of what you say. Thus, one of the keys to being an effective coach, and getting people to absorb and apply the techniques you're trying to teach, is to get them to think in bullet points.
I think this is one of the most profound statements I've ever heard, and a highly effective coaching strategy. And based on some of the emails I get, I need to implement it more often.
So for this article, let's dispense with the nonsense. Lets take the ornaments off the tree, and get down to the fat loss roots. Bullet point sounds too formal for my tastes, so let's call them bullets.
I've loaded up my guns, and am randomly firing off some rounds about fat loss, and life in general. Hopefully, a few hit their target. Let the bodies, or more appropriately body fat, hit the floor
Dropping fat is more about what you don't eat than about what you do.
- There's a definite fat loss hierarchy, and food choices stand on top of the list. The commonality amongst the most effective diet plans is usually what's not in them.
Why? It's virtually impossible to stay in the calorie deficit necessary for sustainable fat loss while eating a highly refined food diet.
Until this is recognized, all the complicated calorie counting, macro-distribution patterns, and macro-cycling formulas in the world will only be mildly effective for long-term functionality and sustainability.
- Yo-yo'ing continues to plague the average person and athlete alike, because discipline is finite. You may be able to suffer for a competition or for some photos, but you can't suffer forever, thus the inevitable rebound.
It takes incredible discipline to stay in a targeted calorie deficit with poor food choices, but it's not all that hard to do it when eating real, whole, natural, unprocessed foods. I'd rather take the easiest path to shredded success, but in all fairness, I'm a lazy bastard.
It's like trying to stay faithful to someone like Adriana Lima versus a chick that maybe isn't so hot. They both require a baseline level of discipline – because it's our natural biological desire to spread our seed and indulge in life's pleasures – but one commitment requires way more work than the other.
If 90% of the foods available aren't that good for us, then what the hell are we supposed to eat?
- For essential nutrients and micronutrients, emphasize lean animal proteins, vegetables, and whole fruit.
- Energy nutrients: for low carb, healthy fat-based diets, eat whole food fats like fattier protein cuts, nuts, avocado, coconut, etc. For lower fat, carb-based diets, eat low fructose, low anti-nutrient, no gluten, natural starch foods like yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and rice.
- A lower carbohydrate, 100% Paleo-style diet is a good template for sedentary, obese, insulin resistant/type II diabetic populations.
- A carb-based, traditional Japanese-style diet (fish and rice, chicken and sweet potato, etc.) is a good template for active strength trainers/anaerobic athletes.
Calories are still the most important number to get right. While some macronutrient ratios can improve your chances of succeeding, no macronutrient ratio can make up for caloric excess.
Here are the numbers:
Fat Loss = Take in 10 kcal/lb (or lean body mass if you're fat).
Maintenance = Take in 15kcal/lb.
Bulk = Take in 20kcal/lbs.
Protein = Take in 1-1.5g/lb
Essential Fats (as byproduct of your animal protein sources, along with Flameout™ if you don't eat a lot fish) = Take in 0.25g/lb or 15-20% of calories.
The remaining calories can be distributed among added carbohydrates, or added fats, or both, depending on the circumstance.
- Body types (fat loss types or bulkers) withstanding (which requires more individual assessment), carb intake should be directly tied to your high-intensity, glycogen burning activity levels. Fats should then be adjusted up or down accordingly to stay within your allotted calories.
- If you're sedentary, then you get the Starch Nazi: "No starch for you."
- If you do a lower volume of work (pure strength training), then starch intake should be more moderate = Protein:Carb ratio of 1:1.
- If you do a higher volume of work (traditional hypertrophy/bodybuilding training), then starch intake may need to be higher = Protein:Carb ratio of 1:1 to 1:3.
- If your training volume cycles, you should carb-cycle accordingly.
Still confused? What, are you stupid? Nah, just kidding. Think of it like the gas tank in your car. If your car sits in the garage every day, you don't need gas. If you only cruise short distances around your hood to gawk at the high school girls, you only need a moderate amount of gas. If you commute long distances to work every day, you may need a lot of gas, and have to fill it up regularly. And if all you do is ride a bike, you probably look more like Pee Wee Herman than a T-man.
- Yes, there are more complicated formulas, but they aren't necessary. Everything has to be adjusted based on personal biofeedback and results anyway, so why make the starting point more complicated then it needs to be?
Besides, many need to stop reading about what to do and start applying what they already know (after they get done reading my article, of course).
If you control for food choices, calories, macro-ratios, etc., meal frequency doesn't matter as much as people once thought (myself included). There's no real metabolic advantage or significant difference in body composition change.
- Traditional bodybuilding nutrition (5-6 meals a day), three-square meals a day, and intermittent fasting protocols (1-3 meals a day) can all work, and are all viable methods if the other fat loss variables have been accounted for.
- Conversely, no meal frequency pattern can make up for a shitty diet, i.e. thinking fasting will finally allow you to eat pizza and KFC and get ripped. Even advanced athletes grasp for miracle cures.
- The optimal meal frequency pattern for you, then, is whatever pattern helps you consistently stick to your diet. More so than physiology, it's the psychological and social factors that must be considered when determining a successful long-term approach. This is one reason why intermittent fasting protocols are gaining in popularity – they're helping break are obsessive, compulsive behaviors with food.
- If you're a high-level performance athlete, have a racehorse metabolism and/or are bulking, or just have high calorie demands, you may need to spread food intake out over 5-6 meals a day. Only Miyaki and Kobayashi can eat 10,000 calories in 10 minutes.
- For most people – meaning those who have real jobs and real commitments, and are within more normal calorie ranges to drop fat – basing the diet on 2-3 meals a day, with some extra peri-workout nutrition on training days, is the most convenient, realistic, and sustainable approach.
- While physiologically I get that most of our carbs should be eaten post-workout, psychologically the most functional and sustainable plans are the ones in which the majority of calories and starchy carbs are eaten at night.
This is our natural, evolutionary tendency. We were hunters and gatherers, working all day with little-to-no food (fat burning, energy production mode), and then finishing the day relaxing and eating a big meal of whatever we caught (muscle building, energy replenishment mode). Yes I have read the Warrior Diet, and yes I do give credit where credit is due.
Psychologically, this takes advantage of the sacrifice/reward patterns in the brain. Most people can sacrifice, cut calories, and eat lighter during the day if they know they can eat a complete dinner at night and go to bed satiated.
Not only that, big meals during the day often lead to rebound hypoglycemia, sleepiness, and lack of productivity. Trying to cut calories at night leads to late night cravings, cheating/binges, or carb depleted, serotonin inhibited-based insomnia.
So flip the script. Stay active and alert during the day, eat a complete satiating meal at night that you look forward to, and sleep soundly.
To sum up:
- Eat a protein-only breakfast, no carbs. This is my preferred approach, but for intermittent fasting practitioners, I'm cool with skipping breakfast. The overall theme is to keep insulin low, and not jack it up with muffins and mocha's.
- Eat a Paleo/Caveman-style lunch. Protein + vegetables and/or whole fruit, no starchy carbs.
- Eat a Japanese-style dinner. Protein + vegetables + starchy carbs, with the majority of calories and carbs here.
- The exception is post-workout nutrition, which is non-negotiable. Regardless of the time of day, eat a good protein/carb (1:1 to 1:2 ratio) combo following every intense workout to refill glycogen stores and initiate muscle growth. This can replace one of the meals or be added as an extra one (like a Mag-10® drink followed by a "normal" meal 30-60 min. later).
Maybe you consider the above bro-science. I consider it something that works. Which brings me to a bigger topic – whether you follow bro-science (meathead approved), ho-science (from guys who can quote study after study but have never actually stepped foot inside a gym), or real science, they're all still just hypotheses that need to be tested in the real world.
In the end none of it really matters; the only thing that matters is what works for you, personally, given your unique situation. Use science and systems to give yourself an informed starting point, but don't dogmatically cling to anything, regardless of the source.
Does anyone else think our industry has gotten out of control? Whatever happened to a man stating his opinions and being done with it? Online strength training and nutrition forums have gone from a place where like-minded enthusiasts could compare ideas and disagree respectfully over minor points, to virtual schoolyards run by overgrown teenaged girls who name call, bully, and cat fight over dogma like it was Team Edward versus Team Jacob.
I've got a few more shots in this pistol I'm packing.
- Don't let some dick huddled up over his keyboard in his parents' basement dictate what you pursue, what nutrition philosophies you follow, or even worse, how you live your life. Anyone who's that interested in putting down what you do probably doesn't have that much going on for themselves.
- Be who you are, say what you believe, and do what you want to do without worrying too much about the consequences. Make the choices that are right for you, not anyone else. If you're just trying to project an image, fit in with the crowd, and care too much about what others think of you then, a) you're a pussy, and b) your life isn't going to be much fun, because you're going to end up with one that you don't really want.
The above bullets are just my thoughts. You can follow none, one, some, or all of them as you see fit. It's really no sweat off my 'sac either way. I'm too lazy to be a guru, and arguing with someone set in his/her ways is wasted effort.
But on a more positive note, I'll be happy if my advice helps you somehow, and I mean that, so shoot me a Spill or a message or a tweet. I get quite a few, so I know I'm helping some people. That's all that matters to me.
My guns are empty my friends. Now I can go back to being the laid-back, beach dude that I am. Peace.