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…)
Sometimes we think we are so clever.
We think we can just fool our bodies into looking the way we want it to. It’s funny what people are willing to try just so that they can lose fat without having to exercise.
This is the lazy way to try to lose weight, and it doesn’t work for very long. Whether you’re trying to lose a lot of fat or just remove that stubborn bit of fat on your gut, you’d better read closely, because the same rules will apply.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, people don’t always become overweight simply because they are overeating – there’s more to the story than that. I remember feeling so surprised when I once talked to an overweight person who told me he never eats breakfast, and then only eats a small salad for lunch.
I remember thinking “Sheesh, I really feel bad for this guy. His genetics must be terribly unfair to him”. But then I started to notice that this was a common theme among many overweight people.
Yes, fat can be gained by overeating huge amounts of food all the time, but it can also be gained by eating less food and slowing your metabolism down. I’ll explain what this means.
It’s Not That Simple
Let me start off by saying that how much fat you have on your body is not simple math. If you keep your energy expenditure constant but you lower your calories, you’ll lose weight. So it seems that if you lowered your calories even more, you would lose even more weight… it’s simple math, right?
Well, actually it’s not simple math. Your body doesn’t know the rules of your little calorie calculations, and frankly, it doesn’t really want to follow them either. Your body worries about survival first, and when you don’t give it enough food, your body does what will help it to survive — it saves what you eat as fat.
This is because humans haven’t always lived in a world where food was so abundant. The human species has had to endure a world where food may or may not come on any given day… or even week for that matter.
If weight loss really were simple math, and people could really burn 10 pounds of fat every week forever, then humans wouldn’t have been able to survive the hunting and gathering days of our past. They would have all starved to death long ago.
Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for us), our bodies are smart enough to adapt to the amounts of food we give them. When we eat less food, our metabolism slows down so that we can survive off of less food.
So let’s take a look at what happens to us when we severely cut our calorie intake to lose fat:
1. Loss of fat, muscle, and water: This is the part of most diets that gets all the attention. You start your diet and you lose a whopping 20 pounds in the first month and then you feel convinced that your diet is a miracle.
The problem is that you didn’t lose just fat. Up to half of the initial losses on these types of diets can come from lean body mass such as muscle or other tissues. If you add in the amount of weight you lost from water (especially in low-carb diets), you realize that fat is actually the minority of what you lost.
2. Metabolism slows: Your body quickly notices that you’re giving it less food. You’re body might lose a good amount of fat in the beginning, but after a while your body starts to worry about starvation. Remember, your body doesn’t know that you decided to go on a diet or that you have a weight-loss goal.
Instead, your body realizes that it’s not going to get as much food each time, so it does the same thing anybody would do. Think about it, if you knew you wouldn’t be able to buy food for a while, you’d buy as much food as you could and save it.
That’s exactly what your body is doing. It knows it won’t be getting as much food, so it starts saving the food as fat on your body. This is also why people gain all their weight back and more at the end of their diets.
Take a look at the graph above. This graph represents the amount of food that’s in your stomach if you eat six well proportioned meals a day. This helps you to keep the amount of food in your stomach within a healthy range at any given time. You won’t eat so much that you stretch your stomach out, and you’ll never get too hungry either.
By keeping the amount of food you eat within safe limits, you avoid crossing what I like to call the “fat line”. This is the point where you’ve eaten too much food (calories) and your body begins to store it as fat.
If the amount of food you eat each day drops, your metabolism eventually slows down and the fat line begins to fall, as shown in the graph below. If the fat line is falling, however, chances are that you’re not eating five or six meals a day. We’ll talk in just a moment about how this graph will really look for overweight people.
3. Less muscle burns less fat: We mentioned above that at the beginning of these diets, you lose more than just fat. The loss of muscle is what really kills your fat loss over the long-term. When you lose some of your muscle, your body is losing some of it’s ability to burn fat because muscle helps to burn fat.
Fat, on the other hand, just sits there on your body and doesn’t really require any energy to be maintained, but muscle does burn fat, and losing muscle just slows your metabolism down even further. Once your metabolism slows down, you will have to eat even less food, almost to the point of starvation to lose any weight.
The fat line drops down even further on the graph, making you more likely to pack on the pudgy pounds.
4. Your appetite increases: The fact that you’re pretty much starving all the time makes it really hard not to overeat at your next meal. On top of that, you’re going to crave the convenience of junk food or fast food when you are hungry.
Because you are so hungry from not eating enough, you will tend to overeat when you sit down for your next meal. Since your metabolism has slowed down so much, one huge meal makes you go way above the “fat line”, and you pack the pounds on.
Since you’re only eating a medium lunch and big dinner each day, you really overshoot the fat line every night before you go to sleep — which is the worst time. This is represented in the graph below.
5. Your stomach expands: Yes, it’s still getting worse. That big meal that you ate because you were so hungry… it did more than just put fat on your body. The meal was so big that it stretched out your stomach and made it bigger.
Now that your stomach is becoming bigger, you have to start eating even more food just to feel full. Eating lots of smaller meals throughout the day keeps a constant amount of food in your stomach so that you can feel full when you eat, but eating 2 big meals fills up your stomach too much.
The graph below shows what happens when you try to go from very hungry to full by eating a big dinner. This is when the stretching happens.
6. Energy loss: This can really be a big killer. The fact that your body is hungry throughout most of the day means that you have very uneven energy levels. You’ll feel tired throughout certain parts of each day.
Your energy becomes a constant roller coaster of ups and downs that never stop. When you feel this way, getting the energy to go to the gym or to even think about changing your life becomes very difficult.
7. Psychological drain: This goes along with your energy loss. Your body feels so tired throughout the day that you lose the will to do anything to improve your situation. Since your body and your mind are so closely connected, your mind becomes tired and begins to lose hope as well.
You start to look in the mirror and tell yourself that you can’t escape the life you live. You begin to believe that you have no power to ever change the way you look and feel. As you lose your mental confidence, you lose the power to make any positive changes in your life.
I don’t want to end this discussion on a low note, so we’ll continue this discussion in part 2 where we’ll talk about the positive actions that you can take to increase your metabolic rate.
Image Credit: Mandj98
Ever heard somebody say that you better watch what you eat? Watching what you eat is very important, but you’ll also need to pay attention to what you’re not eating if you want to keep muscle on your body.
I’m sure you’ve already heard that you need to eat plenty of protein to keep your body in good shape and build muscle, so I probably don’t need to repeat that to you.
But if you’re wondering how much protein you should get with each meal, when to eat it, and how to eat it… I might be able to help you out there.
Protein Every 3 Hours
First, let’s talk about the when and the why. Imagine, for a moment, that your body is a factory. This small factory works each day to produce the materials that it needs to keep its own walls and floor in good shape.
Imagine that the bricks in the factory walls are constantly wearing out, so a conveyor belt is needed to bring new materials into the factory. This is pretty similar to what’s going on inside your body as your cells are constantly being replaced. Just as the bricks in the factory wall need to be replaced, your body needs protein to rebuild it’s cells.
Your body is good at storing all those excess calories that you eat as fat cells, but protein isn’t really stored in your body for long periods of time. Protein only stays in your body for about 3 hours.
So, going along with the conveyor belt analogy, if more bricks end up on the conveyor belt than are really needed, they just fall off the end of the conveyor belt and are swept away to another place. They aren’t stored or used to build the walls. If you eat too much protein, it isn’t stored for later. (more…)
Just when you thought we couldn’t climb any higher…
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we’re getting fatter year after year. With every sugar drink and super-sized soda consumed, we hobble yet another step higher up the fat chain. Staying lean and toned from our workouts becomes more and more of a distant dream.
But climbing up the fat chain represents more than the expanding state we are in. The fat chain not only shows us that we occupy the very top of this top-heavy hierarchy, but it also tells us how we arrived there. The fat chain is also a chain of events that leads us to arrive at the state we are in. It’s a repeating cycle, or a chain reaction that only becomes harder to stop with time.
This is because getting fat isn’t something that “happens” to anybody. Nobody rolls out of bed in the morning to suddenly find themselves overweight. Instead, we slowly climb the chain link by link. Whenever it seems that the top of the chain is reached, we add another link and climb a bit higher.
These tiny links accumulate slowly, day by day, over time. We can add these links in so many ways, but we are hardly conscious of the links we add through what we drink. And most people aren’t aware of the triple hit that our system takes when we drink soft drinks. And even fat-loss types of workouts (such as FatBurnFurnace) can’t overcome these liquid calorie surpluses. (more…)
Others deal with protein.
And of course, we recently dealt with eating for muscle gain vs eating for fat loss.
But one question that gets asked time after time is what to eat before/after your workouts in order to maximize muscle gain without adding fat.
I’m going to jump right into my recommendations and save the explanations for the end – I’m betting some of you don’t care about the explanations as much as the action plan!
Pre and Post Workout Eating Guidelines
Important preamble: except for #4, these guidelines apply to all of you, whether you are trying to gain mass, lose fat, or just maintain. No matter who you are, you should do about the same thing with your eating in the window before/during/after your lifting workouts. The main difference between gaining and losing overall bodyweight is not different overall eating plans. The difference comes down to total weekly calories. More on that here.
1. Never train on an empty stomach. I’m talking about weight training here (there are mixed reports of doing cardio in a semi-fasted state being better for fat burning, but even if there is a link, it is a small link). To maximize your lifting, you need to do it intensely. If you don’t have enough energy in your muscles (stored glycogen) you will be weaker. That defeats the purpose.
2. Have a mix of protein and carbs BEFORE your workout, preferably about 30 minutes before. Calorie mix should be about 60% carbohydrates, 40% proteins. ADVANCED TIP: These should be carbs like oats, not simple or processed sugars and not veggies. Fruits are fine. (I sometimes have a banana.) Proteins can be slower proteins like casein if you are using a powder or chicken if you are doing real food.
3. Have a mix of protein and carbs AFTER your workout, preferably within 1 hour. Don’t wait 2 hours like some people say. Calorie mix should be about 60% carbs, 40% proteins. ADVANCED TIP: These should be fast carbs – simple sugars are ok. Honey. Orange juice. Your proteins also need to be fast proteins, like whey protein in a shake.
4. Optional: If you are skinny and really trying to add bulk, have a protein/carb mix shake DURING your workout too.
5. Avoid high fiber meals within 2 hrs before or 2 hours after your workout. High fiber can upset your stomach a bit. Fiber counts as carbs yet don’t do much for getting protein into your muscles. Fiber is important, but at different times of day. Some fiber with every meal is fine (especially veggies), but don’t have a fiber-heavy meal right after your workout. This guideline is especially important around cardio workouts.
6. Avoid food with high fat within 2 hrs before or 2 hours after your workout. Fat will slow down the absorption of the protein and carbs. You still need healthy fats (fish oils, nuts, olive oil, etc.) – just other times of day.
7. ADVANCED TIP: Your highest carb intake should be in the time around your workouts. Structure your meal plans accordingly, so that you eat fewer carbs later in the day (except for veggies – good any time other than around your workout because of the fiber).
My Specific Plan
Here’s what I typically do personally (currently). Keep in mind, I workout in the morning.
a) About 1 hr before my workout I’ll either have a banana [carbs] and a casein shake [slow protein], with skim milk [slow protein and fast carbs] or I’ll have a glass of skim milk and a few scoops of my best homemade protein mix [this has some fat and fiber in it, so I keep the amount small]. I’ve also experimented in the past with having a little caffeine here too. I’m not sure if it helps with endurance or not, though science says it does.
b) During my workout I consume more calories. Because I burn a ton of calories all week (weights plus running) I’m scared to death of getting too skinny and thus I need the extra “meal”. I’ll either have a whey protein shake that comes with carbs already, in milk, or I’ll have a whey protein shake without carbs (but in skim milk) and eat a banana about half way through.
c) About an hour after my workout, I’ll have half a bagel, some eggs (half just egg whites), salsa, and some veggies. My workouts are usually about 60 minutes so this puts me at three “meals” within the space of 3 hrs. This is a ton of food and you do NOT need this much food unless you are naturally thin (skip guideline #4 above unless you are naturally thin).
The common thinking up until a few years ago really focused on what you ate after your workouts. There were a lot of studies done showing that you had about 2 hours after your workout to feed the muscle.
But like all science, any study is necessarily a limited scope. For example, the studies often had the subjects of the test fast before the workout! And then the comparisons were against people who ate protein and carbs right afterwards. Duh! Of course the comparisons were going to be significantly different!
Very few people really fast before their workouts. An exception is people who workout in the morning who might not eat until after their workout if they aren’t taught better.
Anyway, for a couple decades – inexplicably – no conclusive studies were done about pre-workout nutrition.
Recently there have been studies showing that pre-workout nutrition can be just as effective as post-workout nutrition.
In fact, the consensus among fitness professionals now is that for the average person (non-competitive athlete), as long as you have lean proteins and simple carbs within a 4 hour block (2 hrs before and 2 hrs after) of your workout, you are going to get most of the benefits. The mix of carbs-to-protein differs based on if you are doing more of an endurance training (like running) or a strength training (like weight lifting).
You probably already know that during exercise, the body relies primarily on glycogen – sugar/carbs stored in your muscles. Once that glycogen is used up, your body will either start burning fat or muscle (depending on what activity you are doing).
But it takes insane training to actually reach glycogen depletion – to use up all the glycogen. Seriously, people talk about “depleting their muscles of all the glycogen” but that’s really rare except after very long exercise bouts. Think “3 hr lifting sessions” or “running 12 miles”.
However, there is always a curve – as you lose glycogen, you do start to lose intensity for things like weight training. So during training you want to keep glycogen high. That makes it pretty obvious why carbs would be useful around your workout.
So why the combination of carbs and protein?
Based on my understanding (I don’t have a PhD in this or anything), here’s what’s going on. During your lifting, you are destroying muscle. The hope is that by stressing the muscle fibers to the point of damage, that when they heal they will be stronger and bigger. And that is exactly what happens.
So what do the muscles need to repair themselves? Amino acids found from proteins.
The idea in eating protein and carbs together is that the presence of carbs actually speeds the delivery of the protein to the damaged muscle. Study after study shows that just eating the protein helps, but when combined with carbs more protein gets delivered to the damaged muscles in a short time frame. Which brings us to the time issue…
For a period of about 2-3 hrs after your workout, you are actually in a catabolic state – your body is still “destroying” muscle. It’s only later in the day (starting about 3 hrs later and continuing up to 48 to 96 hours later, depending on whose research you believe) that you are anabolic (growing muscle). The hormones in your body change at about the 3 hr point.
To reduce the catabolic effect, and make the anabolic effect more pronounced, you want to get the protein to your muscles as soon as possible – right after they are damaged. Since even “fast” carbs and “fast” proteins take time to digest and get delivered, eating before or during your workouts ends up hitting your muscles at just the right time – when you have finished working them and damaging them.
Update: I’ve gotten a few questions on one issue so I want to clarify… If you workout in the morning and you simply can’t bring yourself to eat both protein and carbs beforehand, then here’s my “minimum” requirement. Eat some kind of fast carbs before and eat some kind of protein after. Carbs before will fuel a good workout and protein afterward will speed repair.