I’ve been experimenting with making “bread”. I put that in quotes, because I didn’t want mine to have any wheat in it. I wasn’t going for gluten-free per se, but really wanted to avoid grains. It turned out to be quite a challenge but I finally got things right – the result is super easy to make, tastes great, and has the macro-nutrient profile I was looking for.
First, I’m not one of these guys who thinks Carbs are Evil. Carbs are not evil. They do not make you fat (unless the rest of your diet and exercise stinks). Edible food-like substances (pop-tarts, donuts, kids cereal, most rolls and breads, etc.) are junk food and it’s a shame to lump them into the same family as carbs like oats, or potatoes. So no, I’m not anti-carb.
In fact, you might have seen one of my most popular recipes for The World’s Best Tasting, Fastest, Healthiest Homemade Protein Bars, which certainly are not low carb.
But there are times when you might not want to ingest starches yet still crave a carb-like experience.
For example, I am soooo tired of eating burgers without a bun. [Not because I'm anti-carb but because buns are garbage calories; i.e. junk food.] If you are like me, then read on.
The Two Keys For Eating To Gain Muscle While Simultaneously Shedding Fat
I’ve found two specific eating habits that are essential if you want to gain muscle and shed fat at the same time.
Before I share them, and conclude this series, let’s get some assumptions on the table:
- You are not fat now, but still want to get leaner
- You want to gain muscle AND lose fat at the same time
- You are willing to have each of those goals progress more slowly in combination than if you focused on only one at a time; but you still want good progress on both
- I assume you are using a decent lifting routine
- I assume you are eating healthy food, in a good mix of proteins, carbs, and fats; if you don’t know the basics, then refer to Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle or 3 Months To A New You.
Ok , so rather than tease you, I’ll state the two keys upfront:
a) Gradually increase your overall calories to a point far above what you think you should be eating
b) Use the zig-zag calorie method
Last week I shared a 5-step strategy about how to gradually increase your caloric intake.
Now let’s talk about that “zig-zag method”… (more…)
Why Skinny Guys Stay Skinny
This is Part 2 of a series on how to eat right to gain muscle. Click here for part 1. This article (part 2) has three sections
- one about why skinny guys stay skinny,
- another about how to get yourself to eat more, and
- the real secret to gaining muscle fastest from your diet.
Then next week I’ll share the advanced eating technique to actually gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, plus I’ll include a few sample menus!
The biggest mistake skinny guys make, when starting to lift, is not eating enough. Oh, they think they are eating enough. But they aren’t. They think they are in Case 5 above but really they are in Case 4 (see last post).
Look at a skinny guy who isn’t lifting. He’s currently skinny, right, so that means he’s not eating excess calories.
Now start him lifting on a decent muscle building program. Lifting heavy weights burns calories during the activity and also burns more after the activity. If he’s still eating the same amount as he was before, then he’ll actually lose mass!
This is compounded by the fact that the skinny guy isn’t happy about his muscle size, but he likes being able to see his abs. (Yeah, but you can see his ribs too!) So he absolutely doesn’t want to get fat. He just wants more muscle. As we’ll see, this constraint comes back to haunt him.
Of course he’ll have heard from his buddies that he needs to eat more. Plus, he’ll naturally be more hungry. So chances are he would increase how much he eats, right?
But most skinny guys only end up eating a little bit more. They eat enough to prevent muscle loss, but not enough to really grow muscles.
An Example Might Help
Let’s take an example of a skinny guy: 6 feet tall, 150 pounds, 10% bodyfat. So he’s not too skinny, he’s got a thin layer of muscle because he’s an active guy, but he’s now going to start lifting. His target is to get to 180 pounds and stay 10% bodyfat. (6 feet tall, 180 pounds, and 10% bodyfat looks really good at the beach.)
And let’s say he wants to get there within 1 year. That’s 30 pounds (27 pounds of muscle and 3 pounds of fat) in 12 months. Breaking this down, we get to an average of 0.5 pounds of muscle a week. That’s tough to do but not impossible for the skinny guy who’s never really lifted before. [And it won’t be linear – in the beginning, if he does things right, he’ll gain faster than he will towards the end.]
It’s pretty universally accepted that (more…)
I’m starting a series today on how you should eat in order to gain more muscle mass. This will be a 3-parter that I’ll finish throughout the month. Here’s the outline:
- Why your eating habits are more important than your lifting habits if you want to get bigger (naturally)
- Why skinny guys stay skinny – plus, the fastest way to gain muscle from your diet
- How to eat more to gain more muscle and actually lose fat at the same time – plus, I’ll also include some sample menus ( keep in mind that entire books are written on menus so I’m only offering some examples!)
Today let’s tackle the importance of eating habits compared to lifting habits. Next week we’ll dive into #2 and the week after that we’ll conclude with the third topic.
Why Eating Is More Important Than Lifting
You want to get bigger, huh? Join the crowd.
You might just be thinking “a little” bigger. Or maybe you are thinking “a lot bigger”. And maybe you just want bigger shoulders, or pecs, or glutes, or whatever.
The point is, we’re talking physique here and we all have different ideal images of what our target physique should be. If you are reading this, then chances are high that part of your desired physique means bigger muscles.
So weightlifting is the most important part of getting bigger muscles, right?
Now before you start writing me hate mail, I’m saying “most important”. That’s a relative term. Meaning, that of course lifting matters! If you want to get bigger muscles, instead of just a bigger gut, then you’ve gotta lift.
But I’m saying that a great eating plan with a mediocre lifting routine will do more for your physique than a great lifting routine and a mediocre eating plan.
(I’d like to write that previous sentence in all caps, but that would just annoy you, right?)
A Simple Example
Let’s walk through a very simplified analysis of 5 cases…
Muscles need stimulation, nutrients, and rest. That combination triggers growth. How much growth depends on the quality and quantity of the stimulation, nutrients, and rest.
No stimulation, no growth. Ditto for rest. And of course, no nutrients (food), no growth.
Since this article series is about how eating impacts muscle growth, let’s assume for now that you are on a pretty good lifting routine. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst. (So, you can extrapolate from this and assume that results will be better/worse in relation to your lifting routine.)
Case 1: Let’s say you are doing your “adequate” lifting routine, but not eating at all. What would happen? Your body would go into starvation mode, burning muscle first, then fat, and then you’d die. Obviously, no muscle growth in this scenario.
Case 2: Now, instead of eating nothing, imagine you eat a small quantity of junk food. Let’s assume total calories are just enough to prevent starvation. But your muscles need protein (in the form of amino acids) to heal after you’ve stimulated them with your adequate workout. And so just junk food doesn’t give the muscles what they need to grow. Result: no muscle growth.
Case 3: (more…)
Image Credit: Lost Fun Zone
Read part 1 about quitting junk food here.
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: you are what you eat. So if we’re going out and eating like crap everyday, then what are we? You can think that one over, but in the meantime, something needs to be done about it.
Quitting junk food won’t be easy though, because your body grows accustomed to what you feed it. Being stuck on junk food is nothing like being a crack addict, but some research shows that junk food still has many addictive properties.
So it’s gonna be tough, no doubt about it. Here’s how to do it:
1. Have a purpose: You’re not just quitting for the hell of it. You want to get something out of your hard work. Hold onto that thought and let it be your motivator… maybe it’s to impress a girl/guy or look good at an event… and remember that you want it so much more than another cookie.
2. Never buy junk food: Sounds pretty obvious, I know. But the most important time to resist junk food is when you are shopping. When it’s not at home, resisting will be much easier. Shop when you’re stomach is full – you’re less likely to buy junk when you’re not craving it.
3. Eat slowly: You don’t have to avoid ever coming near junk food again. If you do have an occasional “cheat”, eat it very slowly and enjoy the flavor without eating more. Don’t ever eat your sweets to fill up. Also, don’t eat sweets on a completely empty stomach, as you’ll be tempted to fill up when you’re too hungry.
4. Economize: We eat junk food because it’s convenient. Make healthy food more convenient, and you’ll eat it more (duh). Cook healthy food in bulk and save it for later. Get containers and carry food with you each day. Make it simple, easy, and effective.
5. Always drink water: Not just because it’s lower in calories and your body needs it the most, but also because healthy drinking keeps you in the mindset for healthy eating. That’s something that diet sodas can’t do, and probably the reason why diet drinkers gain even more weight.
6. Have excuses: Come to terms with the fact that people aren’t going to understand you or think it’s cool that you’re trying to do something better than what they do. They will call you a health freak in order to justify their habits. Just say you’re already full, not feeling well… you get the idea.
7. Make healthy food taste good: We’ve somehow grown up believing that it’s gotta taste bad to be good for you’re health… but this is sooo not the truth. Start with just 2 weeks’ worth of healthy recipes and build from there.
8. Think in terms of work: You’re going to have to run for 30 minutes to burn off a jelly doughnut that you ate in 2 minutes. Before you eat junk or overeat anything, think if it’s worth your effort. Think of the energy you’d have to spend on a treadmill and apply that energy to your willpower first, and then the treadmill second.
9. Have replacement foods: If you have a sweet tooth, you can still eat sweet things that are healthy. Keep plenty of fruits in stock and turn to them when you have a craving. Having these substitutes will save you in a tough time.
10. Know your restaurants: We all need convenience sometimes. Know the restaurants where you can get a decent meal that that nourishes.
11. Stop thinking about quitting: Yes, and here’s why – the more you think about the fact that you’re not eating junk food, the more you are also thinking about junk food. Don’t make a big deal about it in your mind. Make a solid decision, just quit, and then get on with your life.
12. Moderation: In all things. This is the key.
Image credit: oatmeal2000
I can already feel the hate mail coming, but I’m going to say it anyway: you shouldn’t always trust science. Instead, we’re going to talk about a better way of going about things.
First off, I realize that there’s not a crystal ball that magically reveals all truth, and science is the best method we have for understanding health and how the human body functions.
But science is a back and forth process of sharing ideas, debate, and seeking evidence. Science isn’t always right, and all the new studies that we hear about should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, and sometimes even ignored.
Statistical models show that we live in a world of healthy mediums. When we measure the characteristics of a certain population, we usually end up with a nice bell curve as shown below. For example, the average height of men in the US is about 5’10”. Most men are close to this height, and there is a lower number of guys at either side of the curve who are very tall or very short.
Let’s say for example, that you are a scientist and you are trying to figure out if saturated fats (animal fats) are fit for human consumption. You conduct a few studies that seem to show it has some negative side effects, so you conclude that people should eat zero fat. Just stop eating all fat (and that’s what we did).
A few decades later, a new group of scientists, including Mary Enig come along with a new set of studies. These studies say that maybe fat and cholesterol aren’t as bad as we once thought. Here’s a video that talks about high fat diets almost to an extreme.
My point here is not to take sides on the saturated fats debate. The point is that nobody should be hard on one side or the other, but this video does a good job of showing how scientists don’t always use data the way it should be used. Scientists take sides when they shouldn’t.
Now this video clip only says that the data against high-fat diets is unreliable. Unfortunately, that’s not what most people will get out of the video. Most people are going to watch it and feel like pizza and fried chicken (not to mention trans-fats) are suddenly O.K. to eat every night.
Mary Enig, who spoke in the video, wrote a book about fats called Eat Fat Lose Fat. In the book, she says the following on page 5 of her introduction:
Creamy sauces, buttered vegetables, and ice cream taste good for a reason. It’s not that your body is trying to torment you by making unhealthy foods seem delectable. Instead, your body is using your taste buds to signal what you need. That’s why most of us enjoy rich foods, like succulent lamb chops, berries with heavy cream, and crispy turkey skin.
Bless her heart. Dr. Enig did a great job of backing up all of her arguments with scientific studies and wonderful information to dispel the myth that we should eat zero fat and avoid all saturated fats. But people read these kind of things and say “great, ice cream is good for me now” and go skipping happily down to the ice-cream shop.
We tend to forget the happy medium that the bell curve tells us how we should be eating. But then again, you don’t become a famous scientist by preaching practicality or moderation… those kinds of things don’t get any attention, so something bold must be said. Dr. Enig has a great book, but many readers will certainly overreact to her findings.
Instead having a happy medium, we begin to have all the people that believe fat is bad on one side, and then the people that believe fat is great on the other. The bell curve that we started with now looks like this:
Where’s the happy medium? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
A better Solution:
Again, science isn’t useless, but it’s not always as scientific as it should be. If you can’t keep up with the studies for the rest of your life, a simple rule to follow is this: live as close to natural as possible. Obviously, we’re trying to build muscle and minimize fat here, so some deviations from the norm will be needed (like higher protein consumption), but you’ll understand the principal.
Here are some examples of doing what’s natural:
- Natural training: You already know steroids will mess you up.
- Weight machines: Humans were designed to pick up rocks and logs. Free weights closely mimic these movements, machines do not.
- Saturated fat: It’s there when you eat meat. Your body was built to handle the amount that comes with what you eat.
- Carbs: We’ve been eating grains as far back as recorded history goes. Don’t cut them completely out, but don’t eat all carbs because somebody put them at the bottom of your food pyramid. Remember the bell curve and moderation.
- Egg yolks: Recent studies have shown that dietary fat and cholesterol aren’t as bad as we once thought. Instead of focusing on that, believe that humans have evolved and adapted to eating egg yolks, or that God put them there because they’re good for you, whichever you prefer to believe. You would have been correct all along.
- Meds: If you take all the work away from your muscles, they will never grow. Same thing for strengthening your immune system. Use medical drugs when you really need them, not for every little twinge of pain.
- Processed foods: Don’t eat them. Eat foods the way they grew out of the ground and meats as close to their natural form as possible. Dinner does not come in a microwavable box.
I’ll stop the list there for now. You get the idea. There are always exceptions, but sticking with what nature gives us will get you on track most of the time. We should use science as a tool (and I will here), but don’t give it your 100% trust. A little skepticism will go a long ways to helping you avoid all the hype and jumping on the bandwagons that the fitness industry will send your way in the name of science.
Now, I’d love to hear your agreements, disagreements, and especially your skepticism for this approach.
Getting the right amounts of food is a huge part of the muscle-building and fat-loss equation. You can train as hard as you want enough in the gym, but if you don’t get enough food, you’ll never have the fuel needed to become stronger.
On the other hand, if you eat too much, you’ll end up overweight and wondering where your muscle is buried beneath the fat. So the question is: How much food, or how many calories do I need to consume?
Counting calories is a great way for you to know that you are eating the correct amount of food. In fact, it is the best way for you to measure your daily calorie intake. But the truth is that most of you are never actually going to weigh your food and do the work necessary for calorie counting to pay off.
We can talk all day about how many calories you should be eating, but it won’t do you any good unless you are actually counting your calories.
Since most of you are too lazy to count your calories (just admit, and I will too) I recommend the portion method for most people. This simple method has been around for a long time, and it is the quick and dirty way to know the right amount of food for you. Here’s how to do it:
Six small meals: Each meal should contain a protein, a carbohydrate, and some vegetable. It’s an oversimplification, I know, but the fact that this is so simple means you’ll actually do it.
- Protein: Eat a protein source with each meal about the size of the palm of your hand.
- Carbohydrate: Eat carbs that are roughly the size of a tightly clenched fist.
- Vegetable: The size of one or two clenched fists. Try to eat vegetables with at least 2-3 (out of six) meals each day.
The beauty is that every person’s hand size is relative to their body size, so this method works well, but it’s not perfect. Each person has different goals, and you’ll need to adjust for that.
- Building muscle: Increase your intake of each portion by 15-20%.
- Losing fat: Decrease your portion intake by 15-20%.
Of course, since this method isn’t perfect, you may need to do some adjusting over time. If you are actively exercising and lifting weights to keep your metabolism up, and you’re still unable to keep fat off, do another moderate carb adjustment from there.
Same goes for weight gain. If 15-20% over the initial recommendation isn’t enough, then adjust. The main idea is to get a feel for what portion size helps you to meet your goals. This simple method should take you most of the way to where you’re trying to go.
Try the portion method first, and if it just isn’t accurate enough for you and your goals, then move on to counting calories. There are a number of ways to determine how many calories you need in a day.
These methods are recommended by fat-loss expert Tom Venuto. I’m not going to get too deep into these here. If you are really going to take the time to count calories and weigh your food, you will also be willing to take the time to read this article about each of the following calculation methods.
And if you’re really serious about counting calories, you should also read Tom’s book, Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle. You’ll know everything you need to know about calorie counting and fat loss after reading it. Here are the 3 methods:
1. The quick method: This is my favorite, quick and easy. Just choose your goal and do a quick calculation to see how many calories you need in a day.
Fat loss: 12 – 13 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Maintenance: 15 – 16 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Weight gain: 18 – 19 calories per lb. of bodyweight
2. The Harris-Benedict Formula: This one is more accurate, but requires a little more calculation. You can still get this calculation done in a minute or two if you need to.
3. The Katch-McArdle formula: The most accurate. This requires you to actually measure your body fat percentage for the calculation.
The lazy man’s method:
There is a certain value in not always following your portions or calorie recommendations 100% of the time. Your appetite will often spike on workout days and drop down when you’ve been less active for a few days. Listening to your stomach can be more valuable than all the scientific calorie counting and portion measuring in the world… but you need to be in touch with your body first.
Most people aren’t ready to follow what their stomach tells them on a regular basis. Eating too much food can expand your stomach and skew your perception about how much you should be eating. If you’ve been doing all the right things and you’re in touch with your body, your appetite levels can be valuable feedback about your body’s needs.
Now, with all that having been said, it’s important to realize that all of this portion measuring and calorie counting isn’t the most important thing. Eating the right types of quality foods is far more important than making sure that you’re getting the exact number of calories you need.
Spend your time thinking about what the right foods are first, and then measure them second. Thinking about it the other way around just doesn’t make sense anyway.
When it comes to losing fat and building muscle, eating less food is not the answer to getting lean and cut. Others will try to tell you that losing excess fat is simply a matter of using more calories than you eat. What they don’t tell you is that eating significantly less will slow your metabolism.
Part of the secret to eating the right amounts of food while keeping your fat levels in check is to use the thermic effect of food to your advantage.
The thermic effect (also referred to as specific dynamic action) is the incremental energy requirement above your resting metabolic rate used due to the cost of digestion, absorption, and disposal of ingested food.
Translation: Some of the foods you eat speed up your metabolism more than other foods.
You’ll find it much easier to reduce your fat levels if you consume plenty of foods with a higher thermic effect. Proteins tend to have a much higher thermic effect than other types of foods.
Calculating the thermic effect: A general guideline used by some to calculate the thermic effect of the foods you eat is to take your total calorie consumption and multiply that by 10% to get the total get the number of calories for the thermic effect. This method is a general estimation, and the thermic effect for different food types can range from 3-30%.
- Fats: Thermic effect of about 3%. Keeping certain levels of fats in your diet is necessary, but fats tend to be high in calories and have a low thermic effect.
- Fibrous vegetables: Thermic effect of about 20%. Many fruits and vegetables are negative calorie foods. Get a good portion of vegetable in at least 2-3 of your 6 daily meals.
- Proteins: Thermic effect of about 30%. High protein foods are essential for muscle gain and fat loss. Think of these foods as your metabolic stimulator. One portion with each of your 6 meals.
How to do it:
- Correct Portions: Each meal you eat should have a portion about the size of your palm/ fist of protein. Eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. Spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day.
- Eat, not drink: Eat your protein instead of drinking it. Protein shakes have their place, but the thermic effect is much greater when your body has to break down solid proteins.
- Weight Lifting: Yes, weight training increases the thermic effect of the foods you eat, according to a study in the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
- Vegetables: Again, eat plenty of vegetables, particularly fibrous vegetables.
- Fruit: One or two pieces of fruit per day.
You will always need at least some carbohydrate intake to keep your body moving and your metabolism roaring. Carbohydrates provide your body with the energy needed so that you can get the workout you need. They are energy source for your muscles, and without some carbs, you won’t be able to get in the type of workout you need to build muscle.
Negative calorie foods: Foods that burn more calories than they provide to you are called negative calorie foods. You can see a list of these foods here. Get your daily fruits and vegetables, but don’t over-rely on these foods in your diet. Eat in the right portions, and you’ll be fine.
It’s virtually impossible to gain weight using a diet that is very high in foods with a high thermic effect. Rely more heavily on these types of foods for fat loss, but keep your carbohydrates in place for weight gain and adding more muscle.