Category Archives: Nate Miyaki
Spring is a time of dietary dilemma.
Defrosting from winter’s hibernation, the groundhog steps out to see if he can see his shadow.
What’s the physique equivalent? Can you look down and see your wiener beneath your bulk belly?
Should you continue with the winter’s “mass” plan – pack in the calories, pack on the mass, scare women and children, go for new PR’s, and get your rocks off from locker room high-fives?
Or should you hit a deficit, slash some flab, get skinny (I mean shredded), maybe improve your health profile, join a boy band, rock a Borat-like dong thong, and try to get laid?
There’s no right answer. You can borrow Harvey Two Face’s coin, flick that SOB into the air, and let chance be your guide for all I care.
To that end, here are 7 simple tools you can use to seamlessly take your plan in whatever direction your fickle heart desires, but first, a few words from our sponsor (okay, not really from our sponsor, but nevertheless a few important points before I get into the 7 steps).
Extreme Shifts Versus Subtle Manipulations
Many go through extreme shifts between diet phases, which I don’t believe is necessary, nor efficient. You know what I’m talking about – massive calorie surpluses to starvation-like deficits; ADA-like carb recommendations to kicking it with the Atkins crew; and major overhauls to meal frequency and food distribution patterns.
I prefer more subtle approaches, probably because I’ve always looked at diet within the confines of a lifestyle approach, rather than an unending series of unsustainable quick fixes and subsequent yo-yo’s.
Yes, you’ll go through different phases with different physique goals, which will require some modifications, but you should have a sustainable base structure you can ride year-round.
The foundation and frame stays the same, but the decorations can change.
Diet Numbers Are #1 for Physique Goals
We can argue over optimum dietary approaches into eternity, but consistently hitting your target calorie and macronutrient numbers is by far the most important step to achieving any body composition goal, be it slashing fat or building muscle.
Some proclaim that as long as you eat the right foods, or cut a certain macronutrient to zero, you don’t need to track anything else. That may be fine to go from out of shape to decent shape, or for the genetically elite or drug enhanced to look awesome.
But the average, natural dude will not get ripped to shreds with such a free-spirited, instinctual approach.
Good food choices optimize the health aspects of a diet and can do things like improve satiety, which makes staying within those numbers a lot easier.
Diet structure can improve the practicality and sustainability of a plan. I promote the two meal-a-day hunt and Intermittent Feast structure a la Serge Nubret simply because I think it’s an effective, practical plan to follow. If you like the 18-meal a day Jay Cutler structure, have at it.
Anecdotal evidence proves either can work.
That’s because the numbers will always have the biggest affect on the physiological processes behind physique transformation, regardless of how you break it up.
It’s the best lesson I learned from bodybuilding nutrition. You can set, adjust, manipulate, and refine the numbers to achieve virtually any physique goal you desire.
So there’s some truth to the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach, although if you care about the long-term metabolic, hormonal, digestive, and overall health aspects of a diet, good food choices leapfrog to #1 in the hierarchy.
Beyond theory, marketing material, and “study wars,” you can’t tell me that when you step back from it all and just use pure common sense that you think craploading every day can be good for your long-term health?
But I digress, and there’s no getting around the fact that numbers are the most important for physique goals. So let’s bust out our Texas Instruments and get this party started.
The 7 Steps
1. Set calories first.
Calories are the most important number – not the only number as Jenny Craig believes – but the most important number to get right.
Regardless of macronutrient debates (high protein, low carb, low fat, low common sense), determining total calories is still the most important physique enhancement step.
Take fat loss for example.
The only way to force your body to burn off stored fat is to take in fewer calories than you expend, on average, over some time frame. You can cut carbs to zero, but if you end up in a calorie surplus by ingesting an unlimited amount of dietary fats, you won’t lose body fat. You’ll gain it.
And gaining muscle?
You have to maintain a slight calorie surplus over some kind of averaged time frame. You can eat massive amounts of protein, but if you’re in a calorie deficit and not eating enough of the protein-sparing energy nutrients, that protein will simply be burned as an alternative fuel source instead of being used for tissue construction.
Calorie Requirements for Fat Loss: 10-12 x bodyweight. If you’re significantly overweight, use your lean body mass instead of total bodyweight.
Calorie Requirements for Maintenance/Recomposition: 13-15 x bodyweight.
Calorie Requirements for Muscle Gain: 16+ x bodyweight.
2. Set protein intake.
So calories count, but other variables do, too. Both sides of that endless argument are right.
Amino acids are the building blocks of enzymes, hormones, skin, hair, and most importantly for us, lean muscle mass. They’re an essential nutrient that we must account for, and should never be cut in a diet.
3. Set baseline fats.
Essential fats and good fats are important for all kinds of cellular functions, and of course, for supporting natural hormone production.
If you’re emphasizing a mix of high quality animal foods to satisfy your protein requirements, you can get all the essential fatty acids and “good fats” you need from these foods.
Fifty percent of the fat in beef is monounsaturated fat. Saturated fat is important for a variety of functions including supporting natural Testosterone levels, and is not “The Devil.”
A bonus is that in the natural animal foods we evolved on, these fats come in the right amounts and ratios that Mother Nature intended. The same can’t be said for refined vegetable oils.
4. Account for micronutrients.
You’ve started to do that already with your animal protein foods, which are full of B-vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, and other minerals, but you want the full spectrum.
I prefer juicy melons and trim seaweed. You may prefer long bananas and large grapefruits. Whatever flips your skirt.
5. Distinguish between essential nutrients and energy nutrients.
Regardless of our goals, we always want to provide our body with the essential nutrients and micronutrients necessary for optimum health and normal functioning.
Beyond that, all other food intake is just a source of energy.
“Added fats” are an energy source, not an essential nutrient. This can be good or bad depending on your total calorie requirements and goals, and the composition of the rest of your diet.
Starchy carbohydrates are an energy source, not an essential nutrient. This can be good or bad depending on the type and amount of training you do.
There’s no mystery to fat loss. We need to reduce our energy intake enough to create a deficit and force our bodies to tap into an internal reserve fuel source – body fat. We can do that by reducing starchy carbohydrate intake, reducing added fat intake, or both.
Activity levels and the type of training you do should be a major consideration in determining which fuel source you prioritize and which fuel source you reduce.
And in terms of diet design, here’s one of my core philosophies – set the energy nutrient you’re going to de-emphasize first.
That way, you can adjust the energy nutrient you’re going to emphasize up or down based on feedback, progress, and goals.
6. Energy nutrients for fat bastards (>20% body fat).
Lower carb Paleo/caveman-style diets may be the best approach for improving body composition and biomarkers of health for obese, insulin resistant, and sedentary populations – low carb, but non-ketogenic.
Long-term ketogenic diets have many drawbacks. Although ketosis may be beneficial for certain disease states, it’s not necessary for targeted fat loss for healthy individuals. Research shows that ketogenic diets are no more effective than non-ketogenic, low carbohydrate diets for fat loss.
What’s the answer? Limit carbs to roughly 100 grams a day, primarily from micronutrient dense foods, an unlimited amount of non-starchy vegetables, and 1-2 pieces of whole fruit a day.
You may even get Vegas-like crazy and have a sweet potato with dinner. Whoa buddy, now you’re living dangerously.
This will give you just enough carbs to support liver glycogen stores and normal cognitive and CNS functioning. You certainly can cut them lower and be a dick to everyone around you if you want.
Fill in the rest of your calories with healthy fats – whole food fats like nuts, avocado, and coconut.
You obviously shouldn’t be trying to gain weight, so the dietary flexibility is simple here. If you’re not losing fat, you’re probably overshooting your calorie levels with added fats, so you need to start cutting down on them.
Remember – protein and baseline fats from that protein stays constant, and carbs are already at minimal levels, so the only place left to cut is the added fats.
For all the low-carbers who drink cream by the gallon, cook everything in butter, and pour oil on everything, and are still fat, now you have your answer.
On a side note, I emphasize mostly low-intensity activity (daily walking) with a few strength training sessions a week simply to improve muscle cell insulin sensitivity (not totally deplete the body and maintain a trainer’s “ass kicker” reputation).
Why? I don’t think low carb diets combined with consistent, frequent, high-intensity anaerobic training are a great match.
First lose some weight and get healthier, then increase high intensity training for higher level physique goals, and add back in some frickin’ carbs to support that anaerobic training.
7. Energy nutrients for skinny bitches.
I tend to lean more towards carbs than fats as the primary energy nutrient for those who perform high intensity activity three or more days a week – strength training, interval training, cross-training, intermittent sprint sports, tantric sex.
Anaerobic metabolism runs on glucose (it can’t use fatty acids or ketones); amino acids will be used as a reserve fuel in a glycogen depleted state combined with high intensity training (muscle loss); carbs support natural Testosterone levels specifically in response to high intensity activity (non-functioning wiener); prolonged low carb diets and overtraining can sabotage normal metabolic rate and thyroid levels (competitors who jack themselves up, yo-yo, and get fat on normal food and reasonable training levels); and carbs support the immune system in response to training (low immunity/getting sick all of the time).
For those who fear the carb during cutting phases, what’s lost in this whole damn low-carb era is total calories (see step #1).
If you strength train and maintain a relative calorie deficit, you can still include some starchy carbs in the diet while losing significant amounts of body fat.
What’s the Dietary Flexibility?
We already have an optimum level of protein intake to support the growth or maintenance of lean muscle mass. We have a baseline level of essential fats and good fats to support normal functioning and natural hormone production that we don’t want to go below.
So we simply manipulate carbs up or down based on the physique goals.
Want to gain mass? You need to increase carbs to get into that calorie surplus.
Want to go back to cutting fat? You need to decrease carbs to get into that calorie deficit.
Need a cyclical plan for recompositioning? I believe in calorie cycling. You can eat more calories by increasing carbs on training days, fewer calories by reducing carbs on off days.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat no carbs on off days, as some more extreme carb cycling plans deem is absolutely necessary. It can work, but it’s not necessary.
But, that’s a whole other conversation for the next time we chat!
It’s that time of year, when even the most anti-cosmetic guy thinks a little bit less about his lifting totals and a little bit more about how he looks in his spandex lifting suit.
If that just made you throw up in your mouth, or made you want to punch me in the face, you don’t have to keep reading.
Then again, maybe maintaining your functional lean muscle mass and strength while dropping some non-functional fat will allow you to perform better in a lower weight class, thus giving you a competitive advantage.
At the very least, it could help you improve your health profile, prolong your career – and maybe even your life – if that type of insignificant stuff matters to you? Unless of course, you’re still just a teenager at heart that thinks immortality awaits everyone.
We’re all fighting an uphill battle in Y2K America. Every human being shares a common problem, and current statistics prove only a very small percentage are able to overcome it.
Fat Loss Nemesis
Your biggest enemy in the war against body fat may be the one that you’re not even aware of – it is you, or more accurately, your internal instincts.
Make no mistake about it – human beings are preprogrammed to overeat.
There was no portion control for most of our existence. When you had access to food, you ate it, and stocked energy reserves to prepare for times when you didn’t have access to it.
Going crazy at an all-you-can-eat buffet is not weakness or a cheap way to bulk up. It’s simply a survival instinct. That may be cool during the off-season, but it’s a liability when trying to cut the fat.
In an environment where resources are limited, and food is real and scarce, this natural tendency to overeat leads to survival.
In an environment with unlimited access to highly refined, fake foods, it leads to chronic overeating, and the health and body fat struggles associated with living on the wrong side of excess.
I don’t care what the ADA says the arbitrary serving size of a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles is (3/4 cup), human instinct dictates it’s the whole damn box.
When you combine the natural evolutionary instinct to overeat with the following:
- Refined foods that have weak effects on the hormones that regulate appetite and energy intake.
- Unlimited access to those foods (The 5 AM mocha and muffin run to the 3 AM post-drinking taco truck stop).
You have yourself one big, modern problem – an obese country with biomarkers of health that resemble the zombie apocalypse in an episode of The Walking Dead.
When analyzing the root causes of this problem, it becomes clear there are two different ways you can lose fat and get on the right side of the energy balance equation.
Fast Loss Strategy #1 – The Food Choices Route
I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I’d rather indulge my inner Francophone and eat it. I mean, look at the nutrition analysis and essential fatty acid profile of 1 pound of raw horsemeat:
6.5g saturated fat
7.3g monounsaturated fat
1,632mg omega-3 fatty acids
1,315mg omega-6 fatty acids
But alas, horsemeat is not available in my city yet. I’d have to pull up stakes and move to Quebec and kick it with Coach Thibaudeau. Sadly, that would also require swapping my striped Hotskinz unitard for a throwback Quebec Nordiques jersey. Sorry Thibs, not going to happen.
For now, I’ll have to settle for kicking that dead horse one more time.
Improving your food choices is the healthiest and easiest (after a rough transition phase) way to lose fat. It’s also the most sustainable approach for the long-term.
If you hate counting calories, calculating macronutrient percentages, measuring and tracking foods, etc., your only choice is to start making better food choices. It’s way too instinctual and easy to overeat refined foods.
It’s much harder to overeat real foods. I’d argue it’s almost impossible. Without any tracking or measuring, I’ve had female clients struggle to eat 1200 calories a day and male clients had a similar problem getting 2000 calories a day when cutting out all refined foods, and only eating real, natural foods.
They couldn’t believe how so much food volume led to so few total calories. That’s the beauty of real food.
Here’s the thing: fat boys like to eat (they used to call me Baby Sumo, so I’m not trying to be a jerk).
A client of mine called me last night complaining about having to eat too much for dinner. What was on the menu?
It was 3/4 pound of top round steak and 2 pounds of potatoes. Remember, my overall approach is to eat lighter during the day and eat the majority of calories and carbs at night – which allows us, at least once a day, to satisfy that natural urge to feast like a beast.
That’s a crap-load of food to eat; yet it’s still less than 1500 calories. No late night, starvation-induced binges here.
This guy couldn’t lose weight when he was on his ketogenic, unlimited fat diet pouring oils on everything. Why?
Refined oils are much easier to overeat than real food, so he was always in a caloric surplus despite treating carbs like rat poison.
On his new plan, he’s lost 50 pounds.
Simple Eating Templates
- If you’re sedentary, eat like a caveman: animal proteins, vegetables, whole fruits, whole food fats (nuts, shredded coconut, avocado), and muddy pond water.
- If you’re active, follow the patterns of a Japanese village-style diet, which simply means adding in some low sugar, gluten-free starches to the above caveman diet to support anaerobic training: sweet potatoes, potatoes, or rice.
Now I’m sure I’m going to get some nit-picker saying something like epidemiological research shows no culture has a universal diet and food intake varies across geographical locations, etc. My response?
- When was the last time you got laid? Seriously? And Palmela Handerson doesn’t count.
- “Themed” approaches to eating aren’t meant to be 100% historically accurate dogmatic scrolls. They’re simply educational tools to give people simple templates to remember.
The bottom line is that emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, whole fruits, whole food fats, and a select few starch foods if you strength train is good advice regardless of historical era or geographical location.
Fat Loss Method #2 – The Portion Control Route
Here’s the tough love reality: 90% of the foods available to us these days aren’t that great for either body composition or biomarkers of health. That’s why people are always shocked, or even offended, when I give my honest opinion about certain food choices.
If I didn’t list it, I don’t like it. And the list is relatively small. But remember, I’m not the be-all-end-all of nutrition. To paraphrase the Dude, well, that’s just my opinion, man.
And for a lot of people, a full-blown real-foods diet may seem too restrictive or extreme.
There are some people out there who just don’t want to eat better, despite their knowledge of the health effects of food. It’s mind blowing to me. But I get it at some level – refined foods and sugar have drug-like effects. Like any addict, we scour the earth for justifications for including them into our plans.
Some people just aren’t going to give up their cereals, wheat bread sandwiches, fruit juices, high n-6 cooking oils and salad dressings, pastas, etc., no matter what. Fair enough.
Fake Foods and Real Instinct Don’t Mix
If you think you can take an instinctual approach to eating while making less-than-ideal food choices, you’re in for a rude, belly fat awakening. See beaches and poolsides everywhere.
Because it’s so easy to overeat refined foods, you’ll have to do the ol’ measuring, calorie counting, macro-calculating, and tracking thing if you have any real shot at dropping a visually significant amount of body fat.
My ears are already ringing from all the complaints.
Quit whining. Damn, am I talking to a T-Man or my Auntie? If you don’t want to eat real foods, you’re going to have to measure your fake foods.
I like to make fat loss as easy as possible for people, but you can’t be completely lazy and expect to achieve goals. If you refuse to fight one battle, you’re going to have to fight another one. You can’t win a war from the sideline.
Besides, all it really takes is one extra step. If you’re on a carb-based diet, is it backbreaking to pour your cereal or pasta into a measuring cup first instead of directly into a bowl?
If you’re on a low carb, fat-based diet, how hard is it to pour salad dressing into a tablespoon measurer instead of directly onto the salad, or count out twenty-four almonds?
I’ll even help you. I have two nuts for you right here for you to get started with.
For most foods, especially the energy nutrients (added fats or carbs) that are the most important to measure, it takes an extra 10 seconds to get an exact measurement, instead of just winging it.
Portion Precision Tactics
Here are some thoughts about how to implement this process in the real world. It’s not as hard or inconvenient as you think:
- Buy a couple sets of measuring cups (1/4 cup to 1 cup) and teaspoon/tablespoon measures.
- Use measuring cups as serving spoons instead of traditional serving utensils, particularly for starch foods and added fats like nuts.
There’s no need to weigh your meats, poultry, and fish on a scale. Simply buy these foods one pound (16 oz.) at a time and cut them up according to your dietary needs.
If you’re supposed to be eating 3 oz. servings cut into 5 pieces, 4 oz. servings = 4 pieces, 5 oz. servings = 3 pieces, 8 oz. servings = 2 pieces. It doesn’t have to be exact; we just want the right range. Food scales seem a bit excessive to me.
- Pour oils, dressings, and condiments into teaspoon or tablespoon measures before cooking or topping food.
- When you don’t have access to measuring cups and spoons, like eating at a friend’s or at a restaurant, you’ll have to eyeball portion sizes.
4-6 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. 1 cup of starch is about the size of a closed fist or a baseball. 2 tablespoons of dressing is about 2 spoonfuls, or about 1/2 of most of the cups they use for the “dressing on the side.”
- No need to measure non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, etc.) unless they’re cooked in butter or oil. Plain vegetables are pretty much free foods that can be eaten in unlimited amounts.
The first half summary is really simple. To lose fat you can either:
- Make better food choices.
- Start measuring your crappy food choices.
For health, and overall ease of the program, I prefer route #1. You’re always going to be hungry trying to diet on refined foods, and your biomarkers of health probably aren’t going to be great either.
The Lethal Combination – The Only Get Ripped Method
Now all of that’s for losing some fat – a relatively easy process, right? The problem is with summer coming up, the approaches to just lose some fat start to get marketed as effective approaches to get ripped. I respectfully disagree with that.
Getting ripped is a whole different ballgame in a completely different stadium than just trying to lose some fat and get healthier. It’s an athletic endeavor that needs to be treated as such.
The only way I know of for most people to achieve this higher-level goal is to combine fat loss strategies #1 and #2. You must make good choices and measure/track your food intake so you consistently hit targeted calorie and macronutrient numbers.
Extreme fat loss nutrition is all about details – portions and ratios. It’s about a well thought-out plan based on science that gives our body exactly what it needs without any excess.
Why do you think there are serving sizes and measuring cups in your Surge® Recovery containers? Because the people that use Surge® are most likely advanced athletes with more advanced goals, not just average goals.
And advanced goals require way more details and precision.
Don’t Follow the Exceptions to the Rule
Many fitness professionals proclaim that you don’t need to count calories or macronutrients to get ripped. Really? Those are generally the ones who are:
- Blessed with great genetics, and could do whatever they want and would still be in shape.
- The drug enhanced, that still have to work hard, but have a lot more leeway than the average dude.
- Have never been ripped. Trust me, there are plenty of fitness experts, dieticians, and PhD types who write about getting ripped because they know it sells well, but have never successfully gone through the process themselves.
Theory is different from real world application and results. What looks good on the chalkboard doesn’t always end up looking good in the streets.
I’m not interested in theory or opinion. I’m interested in real world results. And if you look at the diet plans of the most ripped people on the planet – bodybuilders – you’ll see that they all measure their food. Whether they’re as natural as grass-fed beef or a Salisbury steak TV Dinner is irrelevant.
Eight ounces of this, 1 cup of that, 2 tbsp., etc., are used for the good food choices that make up the bulk of their diet. If you’re serious about reaching elite leanness, follow their example.
Saying you can’t learn anything from bodybuilders is just as ignorant as saying you should learn everythingfrom them.
Because of the negative association with the extreme chemical experiments that have become bodybuilding, the industry as a whole seems to have this subconscious need to dissociate from anything related to its core principles. Anything even remotely resembling old school bodybuilding methods gets blasted. This is ridiculous.
The truth is, measuring food is a bodybuilding habit that will serve you well in your get-shredded efforts.
Arguments Against Purely Instinctual Eating
We’ve used caveman, village, and farmer-style eating as templates to help people lose fat. But these demographics were eating simply to survive.
Modern athletes are eating and training for much more than just the fulfillment of the general life cycle. They’re trying to reach the pinnacle of physique development, and “get ripped.”
If you want to reach peak condition and ultra-low body fat percentages, then certain sports nutrition principles must creep their way into a 100% natural or instinctual eating plan.
And sports nutrition is all about numbers, calculations, and details.
Look, I get it. I have a genetically elite colleague who is about as honest as it gets, and he always says to me, “People don’t get it Nate, I could do anything and be ripped. I don’t need to measure anything, especially doughnuts. But that’s not what I recommend to other people.”
While we’d all like to dream that could be us, and a lot of us use those ‘exceptions to the rule’ as examples of why we don’t need to do certain things, the reality is, it’s not.
Simple Summer Shredding Tips
I’d rather go outside and look at some bikini babes than continue writing, so let’s wrap this thing up.
Debate could go on forever about what the best plan is to get ripped. Who cares? It all needs to be tested and refined in the real world, for you personally, anyway.
Here’s a decent starting point, assuming you strength train 3 or more days a week:
- 12 calories/pound of lean body mass.
- 1-1.5 grams of protein/pound of lean body mass.
- 20% calories dietary fat mostly as byproduct of protein sources and maybe some Flameout™.
- Remaining calories to carbs.
- Have a cheat meal/re-feed meal once a week.
- Choose the meal frequency pattern that’s most functional and sustainable for you.
- Aside from your peri-workout nutrition, I think the easiest plan is to eat lighter during the day and eat the majority of calories and carbs at night.
- Try measuring your foods and making sure you’re consistently hitting the above recommendations before you think you need some crazy, triple-carb rotating, ketogenic cycling diet to get ripped.
Chances are you just need to be better with the basics.
Until next time, enjoy your summer loving! It happens so fast.
1. Is a traditional max fat loss/pre-contest plan sustainable?
2. Is it functional?
3. Are there alternative meal frequency approaches for general fat loss and physique enhancement?
Lunch: 8 oz teriyaki chicken, 1-cup rice, mixed vegetables
Dinner: 12 oz salmon or mackerel, miso soup, 1-cup rice, spinach salad.
Dessert: 1 piece whole fruit or 1/2 cup mashed sweet potato.
Meal Frequency Cliffs Notes
Advice doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. The simpler the advice, the more likely it will be applied in the real world, thus the more likely it will produce the desired result.
If you can’t summarize your theories in less than a few minutes, then either your kohai (student) won’t understand it, you don’t really understand it, you’re trying to sound too smart, or the material is so complex that it won’t work in real life situations.
Since I’m coming close to the end of my rookie season here on T NATION, I figured I’d give you a short, practical summary of what we’ve covered so far regarding fat loss nutrition. Colleagues, clients, and friends have called it a Paleo-meets-Sports Nutrition hybrid approach.
Here are the Cliff Notes:
- A Paleo/caveman-style diet is a simple template from which everyone can start. Eliminating most man-made, modern, processed, and refined foods and emphasizing natural foods that we evolved from can go a long way in improving health markers while helping achieve physique enhancement goals.
- However, high intensity exercise creates a unique metabolic environment and changes how the body processes nutrients for 24-48 hours upon completion of a training session. If you exercise 3-5 days a week, your body is virtually in recovery mode 100% of the time. It’s an altered physiological state beyond pure resting conditions, thus its nutritional needs are completely different from the average, sedentary, overweight office worker.
- We should keep in mind that surviving in the wild during caveman times is different than achieving elite performance or physique goals in modern times. “Life extensionism” at the cost of a sickly appearance, low libido/Testosterone, and an overall lack of “bad-assery” is not what the average T NATION guy is looking for.
At the same time, an awesome physique at the cost of poor health or early death isn’t what the majority are seeking either. How about an intelligent plan with some balance?
- Just like the sedentary person shouldn’t get caught up in following Food Pyramid dogma, the strength-training athlete shouldn’t get caught up in following no-carb dogma. Treating sick populations (insulin resistant, obese, etc.) is not advising athletes. Targeted carbohydrate intake can help the athlete fuel, recover from, and respond to intense strength training sessions.
The athlete should look at adding back in some low fructose, non-gluten, or “anti-nutrient” containing starches (potatoes, yams, rice) into their plan.
This is my approach, based on my education and experiences. But it’s not the only way. I encourage you to take some personal accountability and self-experiment to find what works best for you.
Just remember, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or more appropriately for us, to peel off body fat.
The Lost Art of Post Workout Nutrition
I’ve talked a lot about Paleo Nutrition specifics. This time around, lets talk about some Sports Nutrition specifics. Efficiency means starting with the most important thing first right? The key, core concept in Sports Nutrition is post-workout nutrition.
Before the rise of information overload, practical advice regarding post-workout nutrition was simple – down some damn protein and carbs as soon as you can after finishing your workout.
Lately, I’ve seen a disturbing trend rising amongst the gym population, particularly amongst those who fall victim to over-intellectualizing or over-theorizing everything. Turns out some scientist or evolutionary theorist somewhere stated that carbs in the post-workout period inhibit the fat burning environment created by exercise.
Thus, people are starting to believe that to maximize fat loss, you must go low carb all the time, even in the critical post-workout window.
I can hear Donnie Brasco right now, “Forget about it.”
The result is that the Sports Nutrition principle that’s more important for producing physique development results than anything else, namely combining protein with carbs in the post-workout period, has been lost. These days I have to fight with people to get them to include some damn carbs in their post-workout meal.
Unfortunately, a few T NATION readers have fallen under this spell. I’ve had to help several regular Nation readers uncover the underlying problem concerning their lack of physique enhancement results despite consistent and intense training protocols.
The #1 culprit was a lack of carbs in the post-workout recovery period. For too long, many of us have been living on “A Nightmare on Carb Street.”
It’s time to wake up.
What to do can be explained in a sentence: down some Surge Recovery and/or eat a post-workout meal combining protein with carbohydrates in a 1:1 to 1:2 ratio after every strength training workout. Whole food examples include fish and rice, egg/egg white mixtures and rice cakes, chicken and yam, steak and potato, etc.
If you’re already doing that, you’re done. You’re probably getting good results and don’t need to read on. The rest of this article is geared towards those who’ve somehow been confused into thinking that post-workout protein/carb combos are detrimental to their physique goals.
Unfortunately, the why – the science behind simple practical recommendations – can get pretty complex. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to learn a little bit. It gives you the knowledge-base necessary to separate fact from the brown stuff that comes out of a bull’s backside. It helps you stick to the fundamentals of physique enhancement and not get pulled off track by highly intelligent theorists, but equally lacking in real world practical experience.
The Problem with No Carbs Post Workout
When most people think of getting shredded, they think of fat loss only. This often results in extreme calorie/carb cuts and exercise protocols that can be counterproductive in the long-term due to the presence of a chronic catabolic environment. For example, hours of cardio a day and cutting out lettuce because it contains 1g of carbohydrate.
Short-term catabolism is beneficial, as it helps us break down stored energy nutrients for fuel, both as glycogen or body fat. But chronic, long-term catabolism is highly problematic for physique enhancement goals. This ultimately leads to muscle loss and body fat gain despite high activity levels and low food intake.
So physique athletes can’t just think about “burning” stuff off all the time, even during fat loss phases. We also have to pay attention to recovery and muscle growth, or at the very least, lean muscle maintenance. Enter post-workout nutrition.
I like to think of this as the “yin & yang” of physique enhancement. We need balance in everything in life.
When one side is unbalanced, such as when a sedentary person consistently eats refined carbohydrates, insulin is chronically elevated, and there’s too much “anabolic” activity – the body is always in storage mode, including storing body fat. If this isn’t offset with “catabolic” activity or the burning off of stored nutrients through exercise, the net effect is “Pillsbury Doughboy-ville.”
What happens when the other side of that equation becomes unbalanced is a little more complicated.
If you lean too much in the other direction (i.e. performing intense activity while chronically restricting calories/carbs, especially post-workout), there are negative consequences. Most notably, a lack of physique development and body composition change despite sincere effort.
Exercise is a catabolic activity. We all know it causes microscopic damage/tears in the muscle tissue. But what some have forgotten is that this catabolic process must be offset with an anabolic recovery period for physical adaptation to take place. Muscular repair – an anabolic process – only occurs with proper nutritional intake.
If you perform high intensity strength training but don’t include some protein and carbs for recovery, what you end up with is cortisol over-dominance and a constant catabolic state. This over-dominance of cortisol is compounded by two lifestyle factors:
- Our modern lifestyles, especially those of career-driven professionals, are highly stressful. Cortisol levels are chronically high due to the stress of corporate life. You don’t want to add to this negative hormonal environment with improper post-workout nutrition. Otherwise, what’s intended to be beneficial (exercise) ends up being counterproductive by contributing even more to chronically elevated cortisol levels.
- Those who lack real anaerobic fuel from carbohydrate intake often make up for it with artificial energy coming from stimulants (coffee, energy drinks, fat burning pills). Now there’s considerable research that caffeine, in moderation, is beneficial for fat burning, but the key, as with most things in life, is moderation.
Needing to drink 84 oz. of coffee or 6 energy drinks just to get through the day is not moderation. It’s chemical dependency. If overdone, cortisol remains chronically elevated, and contributes to the “stubborn body fat” syndrome.
This is the exact scenario that plays out with many strength-training athletes who strictly adhere to low carbohydrate diets. They’re confused, thinking the low carb diet plans that are the best for sedentary populations are also the best for them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The result of this hormonal environment is the “Skinny-Fat Syndrome.” Guys and gals who consistently train hard, follow the low-carb trend, think they’re doing everything right, are lean everywhere else, but hold flab right around the midsection. Oddly enough, it’s too low of a carbohydrate intake, and it’s the refusal to offset catabolic activity with an anabolic recovery period that’s keeping them fat.
These athletes may be improving performance parameters (improving strength, endurance, ability to perform a specific like max pull-ups, deadlift max, etc.), but their appearance isn’t changing. In many instances, it’s getting worse.
It’s much easier to improve performance on a sub-par diet than it is to improve appearance. Fact is, for the person with average genetics and choosing a natural route, it’s impossible to improve appearance on a sub-par diet.
Yes, if carbs are overeaten it will inhibit the fat loss process. Chronic elevation or overproduction of insulin can of course lead to fat gain. But in the right amounts and situations (i.e. following an intense workout where insulin sensitivity is high), it can be a good thing (anabolic, anti-catabolic).
As counterintuitive as it sounds, some carbs in the diet can offset the catabolic activity of exercise (insulin is a counter-regulatory hormone to cortisol), can initiate the recovery and repair process, can help build lean muscle, and can help burn fat in the recovery period.
I’ve worked with physique athletes who got over their misconceptions and “carbophobia,” leaned up, and reached personal, record low body fat percentages by adding carbs back into their diet; starting of course, with the post-workout period.
The Inhibition of Fat Burning Myth
The biggest argument I hear against carbs post-workout is that they’ll inhibit optimum fat burning. This may be true at other times of the day, under normal physiological conditions, but it’s not true in the unique environment created by intense strength training.
As bodybuilding nutritionist Chris Aceto accurately stated, carbs have a “metabolic priority” in the post-workout period. The strength training athlete cycles periods of glycogen depletion with glycogen restoration, and in the post-workout period, even a high carb intake doesn’t get stored as body fat.
Again, the prevailing confusion in our industry is due to dietary principles that are great for sedentary populations being extrapolated and applied across the board, even with athletes.
In the post-workout period, the main priority of ingested glucose is to refill depleted glycogen stores. As this is happening, fatty acids fuel normal resting energy requirements.
That’s A Wrap
There’s a lot more we can talk about regarding this topic, such as the effect of carb and protein levels on the free Testosterone:cortisol ratio in response to exercise, changes in glucose transporters, and the glycogen synthase enzyme in response to exercise, etc.
But these are all more about the why then the what to do with post-workout nutrition. For now, follow my advice and return to the simple: take in some protein and carbs post-workout, even when prioritizing fat loss. You may need to cut the carbs at other times during the day, but you shouldn’t cut them in the post-workout period.
by Nate Miyaki
There are only two types of people I hate in the fitness world: (1) people who are intolerant of other people’s exercise choices, and (2) runners!
I should qualify that second part. I hate people who dogmatically insist that any form of long duration, sustained cardio activity is the best and only way to lose fat and change a physique. Actually, I don’t really hate anyone (although I would like to slap a guillotine choke onto a few people), but I’m going for a little Hollywood dramatic effect here.
Anyone who’s been in the physique game long enough — as an athlete or a coach – will tell you that the hierarchy of body composition transformation goes something like this: nutrition is by far the most important, weight training is next, and the “C” word is a distant third.
Traditional cardio is at best a minor importance in the physique enhancement game. And under many circumstances, it becomes the worst form of exercise a relatively fit body type could do for body composition enhancement.
So if you chose to run, make sure you understand the real reasons why you’re running. You’re running for performance enhancement, or sport specific training, or stress relief, or general health, or endorphin rush, or to prove something to yourself, or just because you like to do it.
But if you’re running to drop body fat, remove that last little layer of flab from around your midsection, or look good at the beach, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons — unless your last name is Hasslehoff.
Most strength trainers, or anyone who’s ever taken a physiology class, have heard the ol’ sprinter vs. marathon runner comparison a thousand times. You know the drill. Marathon runners that engage in primarily low intensity, aerobic activity are usually skinny-fat, jiggle when they wiggle, and are so injured and beat-up that they look like they’ve come straight out of a Resident Evil movie. Sprinters that engage in primarily high intensity, anaerobic work are generally more lean and muscular.
It’s amazing to me how many intelligent people understand this on a conceptual level, but don’t practically apply it within their training protocols. “Yeah, marathon runners are losers.” Then that same allegedly intelligent person will go out and do cardio three times a day to try and reach low single-digit body fat percentages.
No physique athlete has any business spending two hours on a stationary bike, unless there’s a hot chick with a nice ass on the elliptical machine sweating in front of you. And even then, either man-up and make your move or go home and cry to your buddies about what could have been, but don’t waste your time on a glorified coat rack.
The fittest “looking” people in the world, and the smartest coaches in the world — the Testosterone crew, bodybuilders, figure girls, fitness models, etc. — base their exercise programs around strength training. They all lift weights — both the men and the women. Cardio may be a part of the plan, but it’s not the foundation. Christian Thibaudeau didn’t become The Beast (as an athlete or coach) on an elliptical machine.
And on a side note, I would say most physique athletes do cardio out of traditionrather than necessity. Diet and strength training are what changes physical appearance. Cardio is supplemental at its very best.
Traditional cardio is for pussies, and sucks for fat loss, period. That’s the end of today’s lesson, my young apprentice. I wish you could just take my word for it, go out, lift like a madman, eat with the discipline of a warrior, and travel down the most efficient path to “rippedness”.
But I know the Nation followers are more educated than the average fitness population and need a little more science to back up those claims. Cool with me. And besides, I wouldn’t take me at my word either.
I’ve fallen asleep in many scientific lectures in the past, and watched the clock drag in several others, so I’ll save you the dissertation and give you the cliff notes version of the science behind why the majority of your training should be anaerobic (strength training/interval cardio) vs. aerobic (traditional cardio) in nature:
• The physique transformation process is more complicated than the simple calories in vs. calories out theory. The real keys are to use your diet and exercise protocols to elevate your resting metabolic rate AND manipulate your anabolic, lipolytic hormones and enzymes. Strength training has a much more powerful effect on these processes than aerobic training.
• Many who focus on just “calories” and the slash and dash mentality end up with destructive patterns — extreme calorie cuts and/or excessive aerobics. This sets off an alarm state in the body where the body sheds muscle tissue to lessen energy demands and stores/hoards body fat as a survival response. Once this physiological state is reached, it becomes impossible to lose any more weight no matter how many calories you cut or how much aerobic work you try and add. What you end up with is someone who is on starvation level calories and performing excessive exercise, yet is still flabby.
• Muscle loss due to excessive aerobics drastically lowers the resting metabolic rate and inhibits natural hormone production. When this type of person goes back to even just normal, healthy calorie and exercise levels, they gain all of the weight back plus a few extra. This generally results in a vicious cycle of huge swings in body weight and appearance. Whether it’s housewives following fad diets or bodybuilders alternating between competition shape and off-season obesity is irrelevant, it’s still “yo-yo’ing.” Sometimes the damage to the metabolism and hormones becomes so great over time that it’s irreversible without medical intervention.
• The calories burned during an exercise session are relatively small compared to the amount burned the other 23 hours of the day during the recovery process (at rest). Most fat oxidation occurs between training sessions, not during. As such your exercise sessions should primarily be geared towards building muscle and boosting the metabolism, not “burning fat.Ó
• Upon cessation of an exercise session, strength training raises the metabolic rate (the after-burn effect) for longer periods of time than aerobic work — up to 48 hours. This is because all of the steps involved in the recovery process from strength training (satellite cell activation, tissue repair, protein synthesis, etc.) require energy (calories).
• Aerobic sessions elevate cortisol levels. Long sessions can lead to excessively high levels, and too frequent sessions can lead to chronically elevated levels, neither of which is good for body composition enhancement. Cortisol can force the body to break down its own muscle tissue, convert it to glucose (gluconeogenesis), and use it as fuel. It also leads to increased fat accumulation, especially around the midsection.
• Strength training raises cortisol levels, but it also raises Testosterone and growth hormone — potent muscle building/fat burning hormones that offset cortisol. The net hormonal effect (assuming proper dietary support) is protein synthesis/lean muscle gain.
• The body burns predominantly fat during aerobic work. As a result, the body adapts by up-regulating the enzymes that store body fat. The body burns predominantly glucose/glycogen during strength training. As a result, the body adapts by up-regulating the enzymes that store muscle glycogen.
• Strength training has more powerful, positive nutrient partitioning effects than cardio, meaning nutrients are diverted more towards muscle cells (where they can be used to build/maintain lean muscle tissue) and away from fat cells (where they can be stored as body fat).
• There are certain “intermediate” muscle fibers that can take on the properties of either slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscle fibers, depending on different modes of exercise. Endurance-based training leads to the conversion of those fibers into slow twitch fibers. Strength training leads to the conversion of those fibers into fast twitch fibers. The latter is the more desirable result for physique enhancement because fast twitch fibers have the greatest potential for hypertrophy. This process is what firms and shapes the body, boosts metabolic rate, and leads to increased fat burning even at rest.
We can even look at our evolutionary past for clues. In terms of “formal activity” or “exercise,” our bodies were designed to be anaerobic in nature. Yes, for most of the day we performed sub-maximal (and what could technically be termed aerobic) activities. We walked around, gathered food, tracked prey, cooked, cleaned, etc. But we didn’t run to keep the heart rate up or reach some type of fat burning/aerobic zone. None of what we did was formal exercise; we just completed the necessary tasks of the day, whatever that may be. In fact, we used as little energy as possible during most of the day in order to conserve energy for when it was absolutely necessary for survival.
And when it was time to move, we frickin’ moved, baby. We sprinted away from predators or towards prey. We climbed trees, hoisted objects, swung weapons, and clubbed stuff to death with maximal exertion. These are all predominantly anaerobic activities. We’re not meant to reach arbitrary fat burning zones for arbitrary amounts of time. We’re meant to alternate periods of kicking back with periods of kicking ass. That’s how you efficiently build an attractive, functional body.
So we can take two things away from our cavemen brethren: (1) the majority of our formal exercise sessions should be anaerobic in nature, and (2), walking is one of the most underrated forms of activity around. And I don’t mean walking on a treadmill or anything “exercise” specific. I just mean real, outdoor walking as an informal activity. Remember, that’s what we did in our evolutionary past. We walked every day to hunt, gather, travel, track, etc., all just as part of our regular day. We didn’t sit at a computer all day eating M&M’s.
Walking gives us many of the same benefits as traditional aerobic activity (calorie burning, lowered blood pressure, lowered resting heart rate, lowered cholesterol, increased cardiac output, increased capillary density, increased nutrient/oxygen delivery, etc.) without all of the drawbacks (musculoskeletal injury, joint wear and tear, elevated cortisol, muscle loss, lowered metabolic rate, etc.). Simply put, it’s the aerobic activity we were meant to do.
Just like everyone can benefit from a little more Nate Miyaki in their lives, everyone can benefit from a little more walking in their lives. This covers the entire spectrum, from the severely overweight and deconditioned beginner to the advanced physique athlete looking to peak.
What, being entertained and educated isn’t enough? You actually want to know how you can apply this information to your own training protocol? Okay, if you’re ready, let’s get this thing rolling:
1. If you’re over 20% body fat, you need to start being honest with yourself — you’re not bulking up or retaining water or using the extra mass to your advantage in a sport (unless it’s sumo wrestling or competitive eating). You’re fat, plain and simple.
2. Diet has and always will be the biggest factor in the fat loss equation. You need to get your ass on a targeted nutrition plan. This is where 80% of fat loss comes from, and amazing fat loss results can be achieved with diet alone. I would check out one of Christian Thibaudeu’s carb cycling diets and/or one of John Berardi’s fat loss plans.
3. Walk 30-60 minutes a day — 5 days a week. This will help you burn some calories and get some of the fat burning hormones and enzymes going (hormone sensitive lipase, catecholamines). Go first thing in the morning, at lunch, after work, or after weight training, whenever you have the time. And if you can’t fit it in, then (a) you’re either lazy as shit or (b) you really don’t give a shit. Either way, you probably shouldn’t be reading T-Nation. Try Vagina-Nation.
4. If you’re fat, you’re probably putting a lot of extra weight on your joints, are out of alignment, and are suffering from some type of chronic pain. I’d check out one of Mike Robertson’s mobility/stability, corrective exercise routines.
1. Train 5 days a week. All of your training should be anaerobic in nature.
2. I prefer all of my training to be strength training, but that’s my personal bias. I’d rather wear the 80’s MC Hammer jam pants and string Gold’s Gym tank top than the sac-showing, high-and-tight running shorts. But if you’re a cardio-junkie, that’s cool too. You can do a mix of strength training and interval-based cardio.
3. So 5 days of strength training, 4 days of strength training + 1 day of interval cardio, or 3 days of strength training + 2 days of interval cardio. I would do a minimum of 3 days a week of strength training. Remember all of the metabolic and hormonal benefits of strength training?
4. Interval cardio essentially means alternating periods of sprinting/maximal exertion with periods of recovery. You go hard for something like 30-60 seconds, then back off for 60-120 seconds, and then repeat, i.e. wind sprints. Do a 5-minute warm-up, 20-40 minutes of intervals, and a 5-minute cool down.
5. If you have more fat to lose, then walk, not as a formal exercise session, but simply to increase non-exercise induced thermogenesis. This will help you burn off a few extra calories without catabolizing muscle tissue. This is an individual-thing, so add in as much walking as it takes to reach the desired body fat result. What’s worked best for myself, and a good percentage of my clients, is 4-5 days of strength training coupled with 2-3 45-minute walks per week.
6. This article is more about getting you to back off on traditional cardio than it is about specific strength training protocols. But you do need a plan designed by experts to get results. If you’re a bodybuilder-type, check out one of Scott Abel’s plans. If you’re a power and strength-type, read Christian Thibaudeau’s or Dave Tate’s stuff. If you’re a sport performance-type, look at what Charles Poliquin or Eric Cressey have to say.
1. Don’t take advice from anyone who hasn’t gone through the process themselves. What looks good on paper doesn’t always work in the real world. At the same time, just because someone competes or is ripped doesn’t mean they have any clue about the physique transformation process. Learn from people who have both a scientific background AND practical experience.
2. We’re back to diet as the most important factor to get to low single digit body fat percentages. Check out Scott Abel’s, Dr. Clay Hyght’s, or Shelby Starnes’ diet advice.
3. Ditch cardio work completely, even interval work. At this point you don’t have a lot of body fat left to burn, and are more susceptible to tapping into muscle tissue as a reserve fuel, which results in a loss of muscle and a soft, flat appearance.
4. You should be strength training 4-6 days a week. Focus on building, preserving, and maintaining your muscle mass with your training. Let your diet “burn off” the body fat.
5. Again, if you have more fat to lose, then walk, not as a formal exercise session, but simply to increase non-exercise induced thermogenesis. This will help you burn off a few extra calories without catabolizing muscle tissue. This is an individual-thing, so add in as much walking as it takes to reach the desired body fat result. What’s worked best for myself and a good percentage of my clients is 4-5 days of strength training coupled with 2-3 45-minute walks per week.
Heading to the gym tonight? You better be heading towards the gym floor and not the stationary bike!
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