All training programs work.. to an extent.
Let’s not forget that there is this little thing called the principle of specificity in regards to your training.
Specificity is the principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.
The Specificity Principle simply states that training must go from highly general training to highly specific training. The principle of Specificity also implies that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or skill. To be a good cyclist, you must cycle. The point to take away is that a runner should train by running and a swimmer should train by swimming.
While there may be other ‘principles’ of training you will find on the web and in text books, these 6 are the cornerstone of all other effective training methods. These cover all aspects of a solid foundation of athletic training. Once put together, the most logical training program involves a periodized approach which cycles the intensity and training objectives. The training must be specific not only to your sport, but to your individual abilities (tolerance to training stress, recoverability, outside obligations, etc). You must increase the training loads over time (allowing some workouts to be less intense than others) and you must train often enough not only to keep a detraining effect from happening, but to also force an adaptation.
What I mean to say is that where as Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer can be a good program for some people it is not optimal for everyone, especially me given my personal goals. I’m not sure if wearing Jamie Eason’s wardrobe is part of the program, but I’m fairly confident that I wouldn’t look as good in those outfits… or would I? Maybe I should rethink my goals.
Something you always, always, always have to understand is this notion of “it depends” when you’re answering a training question. Does the program work? Well, it depends on what your goals are. Want to add poundage to your total for competing in powerlifting? LiveFit Trainer isn’t going to get you there. Nor will Starting Strength or Madcow’s if you are far enough beyond the beginner/intermediate stages.
All programs work, but not all programs are optimal for your current goals. Experiment, test, and research. Find what works best for you and what will put you in the best position to get closer to your goals.
Now, the last thing I want to bring up here is that there are some elements of training that do work for absolutely everyone. None more important and effective of course than progressive overload (duh), but methods such as speed work, rep work, max efforts (80-95%), deloads, and hypertrophy styles of training are right there behind progressive overload. If you don’t think that these things have an important place in making your training more effective and getting you stronger, bigger, or sexier (depending on your goals) then you need to wake up and smell the ammonia.
I was asked to do an interview through an e-mail exchange a few months back for an individual that would be submitting it to their university’s website and newspaper. There’s some good information in here and since I get a lot of these same questions in e-mail I thought I’d post it up to let you read through it. Enjoy.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, and what made you decide to start thespartanwarrior.com
My name is Daniel Brown and I am a student, powerlifter, coach, nutrition consultant, and am still in the process of seeking further education in nutrition and exercise science.
I started my website, TheSpartanWarrior.com, first as a blog to track my own personal experiences with fitness but soon found that I had a platform to enable me to reach a broader audience and assist others in their desire to better themselves. This has led me to transition from a personal blog to more of a research based database and website to give people factual information to check out.
Where do you derive most of your information from on your website?
There really is no one place where most of the information on my website comes from. It’s varied with anything from my own written articles to peer reviewed scientific research from nutrition and science journals to interviews and quotes from some of the most respected minds in nutrition and fitness. Oh, the occasional funny meme as well.
How many followers do you have?
Just under 90,000 currently.
What are some interesting things people may/may not know about you and what you do?
I have come to find that many people think that I have always been in good shape or that I was just born into the education I have now on these topics, but that is very far from the truth. I have spent 11 years (on and off) looking for answers and techniques to achieve a healthier life for myself and for others through nutrition and fitness. More than half of my life was actually spent overweight and thoroughly unhappy struggling to find the right answers. Through those years I learned a great deal from mistakes, misinformation, and practice though so I would not have it any other way.
Something else that most people would not guess, I suppose, is that I’m also a pretty big geek. I’m a huge cinephile and I play video games quite often. I even worked in the video game industry for nearly 6 years before transitioning to a full-on focus of nutrition and exercise sciences.
You offer a page with “Nutrition for Newbies” what are some important tips you can suggest to men and women who are looking to lose significant amounts of weight?
The first step is easily the hardest. You have to make the decision that you want to change and that this decision is important enough to fully dedicate yourself to day in and day out.
Secondly, it’s all about baby steps. Too many people try to dive in head first and become so overwhelmed by a massive amount of change in diet and activity that they don’t stick to a plan. My initial recommendation is to seek out something that gets you more active on a regular basis that you can find some sort of enjoyment in doing. This could literally be anything from lifting weights to playing Dance Dance Revolution. No amount of “more” activity is bad in the beginning.
Then comes what is truly most importantly in my eyes. Get a better understanding of the basics of nutrition. Ever read a nutrition label and it was like looking at a foreign language? That’s a big problem. I have a few pages in my nutrition articles that are great primers for all your basic nutrition information needs.
What are the common misconceptions you find people have about weight loss?
Nutrition in general is just full of one misconception after another. The amount of misinformation and inaccuracies that people blindly follow is astounding. One of the biggest ones I see daily is that people follow diets that completely cut out entire food groups or macronutrients. Going from a diet where you eat anything and everything to an extremely restrictive diet is simply setting yourself up for disaster and failure. Psychologically that will play havoc with discipline in being able to follow the diet and having the ability to stay satisfied with your new lifestyle.
For a person who is trying to make a drastic lifestyle change, do you feel it is more effective to take a monitored approach as opposed to a self-started regime?
Everyone is going to be different in this regard. Some will find it extremely beneficial to have someone coach them through the beginning, but the problem here is finding a coach with adequate knowledge to guide a beginner down a path that will lead them to a lifetime of success. Sadly, there aren’t many coaches out there that live up to that type of expectation.
Many people hire a coach or personal trainer to provide them with sparks of motivation. No person or one thing is going to provide someone with the motivation and discipline they need day in and day out to make a change like this. There really has to be an internal driving force of passion to make the changes necessary. Motivation comes from within and if you can’t push yourself to take the necessary steps in staying driven, persistent, and disciplined to what you’re doing then no one else will be able to help you. This applies to all avenues of your life.
Do you believe that the BMI is an accurate representation of the average weight a person should fall into based on their age, gender and height? What are some flaws that need to be adjusted and how so?
I’m in the boat here of doing away with the BMI scale overall… However, it can be useful for some of the population, but there are going to be many instances where it becomes completely flawed. For example, a person with lower body fat levels and a good amount of lean muscle mass is going to have a higher BMI reading giving the indication they are overweight. Lots of athletes and bodybuilders will fall victim to that problem. The BMI scale uses height, weight and age. You would think waist circumference would be of greater importance for a system to determine if someone is overweight.
How would you suggest one determine their weight loss goal?
Most people fixate on a random number they want to see on a scale or a number of pounds they would like to lose. Whereas this can be a great initial motivator I believe that relying on a number to determine how you feel, which most do, is absurd. You’re going to become obsessed with that scale and that can be quite destructive. All of my trainees focus on a day to day understanding of how they’re feeling and how they look from seeing themselves in a mirror and comparing their progress pictures over time.
Setting a weight loss goal is quite individual. I usually attempt to steer people more towards how clothes fit and measurements as those are going to be more reliable for fat loss. This also takes a lot of the pressure away from seeing a certain number on the scale. I truly believe that doing away with the scale is healthier in the long run.
Don’t make your worth about a number displayed under your feet. Make your worth about your ability to strive towards goals in the weight room, the track, or in something that you can make progress in linearly.
What are some key foods and ingredients you recommend for weight loss and why?
Most people that are overweight are so because their diet (nutritional intake) is wrecked. Primarily this is due to an over consumption of food and not necessarily because their diet is lacking specific foods. However, I will say that anyone wanting to be healthier overall should include more whole foods into their diet. Everyone should be getting a better balance of foods coming from a variety of places such as: lean protein sources, vegetables, fruits, and fibrous carbohydrates.
What are some foods and ingredients to avoid?
I am rather largely known as someone that champions the idea that everything is okay to consume as long as it’s done in moderation. I think there’s a lot of psychological relief that comes with that mentality for people striving for fat loss. This most definitely aides in winning the psychological battle, which I believe is the most important part of the game.
Now, I don’t want to leave someone without an easy answer here so to make things simple I would generally tell someone that asked this question to try and cut out a majority of processed foods that they eat, to stay away from empty calories coming in the form of liquids like non diet sodas and most condiments, and try to manage the way their food is prepared by going for healthier options like grilled over fried. Small amounts of these “not as good for you” options are still okay as long it’s done infrequently.
Do you feel that a lot of people lack proper nutrition education and would you say this is a problem with public health in general? What are some of the growing concerns about health and active living you find cripples North Americans?
Absolutely. The lack of education among the general population is what I consider to be the largest problem. Frankly, I believe this is a major attributing factor to the rising rates of obesity in children and adults. The majority of people simply just don’t know any better. Also, as a nation we just aren’t active like we should be. We’re damning ourselves to be overweight by over consumption of food coupled with the lack of activity. This sedentary lifestyle can be linked to how lazy we have become. Video games, smart phones, computers, TV, etc. People don’t have to leave their couch to order a pizza and get hours of entertainment. Hell, people will drive two blocks to go to a Starbucks instead of walking. These same people don’t seem to have a reason to move until their faced with things like heart disease, diabetes, and death.
There are a lot of weight loss programs out there like Weight Watchers that offers people ideas on how to eat better while constraining the amounts of food you consume and incorporating exercise into your lifestyle. Would you say this is an effective way to lose weight? Are there better alternatives?
Well, eating less overall and becoming more active are the winning factors to weight loss, so they (Weight Watchers) are definitely on the right track. I think it’s a great starting point for a lot of people. Weight Watchers is actually one of the programs I like best because of their philosophy of not really restricting the types of food, but the amount of food. Unfortunately, like all dieting programs, it lacks in educating the people that use the program more. Nothing is ever going to oust proper education as the most effective way to get healthier. Another program that I would recommend is the DASH diet, which again is just a diet that wants you to restrict calories and eat more whole foods.
What should people be skeptical of when they join weight loss programs?
Everything. Be skeptical of everything in this industry. More specifically, if a program seems overly complicated, gimmicky, or restricts entire types of foods or macronutrients then those should be major red flags. Getting healthy shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg either so stay away from programs that are high in price.
What are some of the best tips to keep people motivated and on track when they are trying to lose weight?
Something important to remember is that it’s not going to happen overnight. Dedication and discipline are the two most important things to keep in mind. Something I’ve always reminded my trainees when they don’t feel like working out is that you really never regret going to the gym, but you’ll always regret it not going.
Nothing worth having is handed to you. Put in hard work, stay patient, and the results will come.
How does one determine how much physical activity they need to do?
The general population should just focus on doing more than what they are currently doing. As a beginner I would start by aiming for three to four days a week of thirty minutes to an hour of some form of extracurricular activity or exercise to increase the heart rate.
A lot of people look at numbers and sometimes don’t realize that what they are losing is water weight and not fat. How does one work at losing fat and what is some basic information one needs to know?
The people that I come across most that obsess over weight loss numbers are going to be those that are addicted to cardio. They also are typically the people that seem to find themselves watching their weight on the scale bounce up and down due to water fluctuations. This is a simple fix. I would reserve doing cardio for improving cardiovascular health and not as the primary means to weight loss. Sounds crazy, right? There is a time and a place for cardio and sadly the majority of people use it in the wrong way. I’m not saying that it’s not an effective way to lose weight, because it most certainly can be. The problem is that most use it as their only means for weight loss or to make up for a poor diet and there are better ways to go about it.
In terms of determining fat loss when water weight fluctuation can be an issue a measuring tape is going to be much more accurate than a scale.
Do you believe in using supplements? How does a person know which supplements to take? What are some you suggest?
Supplements can be beneficial for some, but are not necessary for all. Unfortunately, most supplements are practically worthless in the grand scheme of things. I see the supplement industry as a big joke full of scams and lies. The benefit of supplements is more found in their convenience, but they are not and should be used as a direct replacement for whole foods and a properly balanced diet only as a means to make sure you’re getting everything you need.
Determining what supplements to take as a beginner can be quite overwhelming. The reason being is that a lot of people want results from a bottle or a magic pill. They want a shortcut. Well, news flash everyone there is no shortcut. Putting in hard work and following a good diet are what will get you the results you seek over time.
Typically, I don’t suggest a lot for people outside of whey protein, creatine monohydrate, a good multi-vitamin, and then whatever else the person may be individually deficient in determined by their average dietary intake or locale.
What are some emotional things you feel people struggle with that prevent them from being successful and altering their health choices?
There is way too much of people comparing themselves to others. It is human nature for us to do this, but people put entirely too much focus into trying to look like someone else that is at their peak condition as opposed to just wanting to feel better and get healthier themselves. Those people that are often getting compared to like models, actors/actresses, bodybuilders, and athletes have worked for years and years on their physiques and aren’t always built using the same methods that the general population have access to. It’s okay to be inspired by other people, but keep your focus on yourself. Try not to compare your weaknesses with the strengths of others.
What’s the hardest part about losing weight?
Weight isn’t that hard to lose. You can chop off your legs and.. voila!.. weight loss. A shift in energy balance is all it takes for weight loss. However, finding the balance of fat loss and retaining lean muscle (fat free) mass can be tricky and that is what should be the goal.
In the long run the hardest part is going to be having the dedication day in and day out to be proactive in achieving your goals. No one can give this to you. You have to wake up every single day with the passion to make a difference in your own life.
Using the Minimum Effective Dose for Fat Loss
The Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is defined as “The smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome.”
That only makes sense, right? To do the least amount possible that gets you what you want. However, for some oddball reason, when it comes to fat loss, people do the exact opposite. They pull out all of the stops. They slash calories and start strength training 5-6 days per week, along with a few HIIT sessions. In addition to that, they eliminate all carbohydrates except for 30g post-workout, begin taking fat burners, swear off dairy, gluten, grains, sugar, soy, and alcohol, and are doing fasted cardio every morning.
Whoa buddy. I admire the gumption, however there are two problems with the above scenario:
- You will likely start off great and then, because willpower is finite and you are attempting to stretch it in multiple directions like it’s Silly Putty, it will (to put it technically) peter out, and
- You won’t have any tricks to pull from your hat when your fat loss plateaus, and trust me, you will eventually plateau.
One of the most common mistakes that I see when it comes time to shed some fat is that people go totally overboard. They bust out of the gate going a million miles per hour, only to immediately crash and burn. Why do more than you have to when it comes to nutrition and training? This is akin a t-shirt costing $10, yet you insist on paying $20. Silly.
Keep it simple.
Cut out the mindless snacking, adjust your diet by cutting out the majority of foods that aren’t dense in nutrients (typically this is processed foods — which can still be eaten, but in moderation and small amounts), and don’t overdo it at the gym.
Whereas I am more of the position to tell people that understanding calories and macronutrients fundamentally will be most beneficial in the long run there are many people out there that are overwhelmed by these finer details of a dietary intake. Understandably so I might add. These people, that don’t want to understand calculating macronutrients, should consider to simply cut out the majority of processed foods in their diet. Not all, but most. I wrote more about this in 2012 with my article Easy Mode Dieting (EMD): Better Body Composition Using Moderation.
This is a great piece by Jen Keck over on Juggernaut Training Systems. It’s a great reminder for many people starting out on a fat loss journey to keep it simple and make sure that you aren’t overdoing it — which can place you in a position to fail down the line. Remember to do what needs to be done to get going in the right direction and to stay the course. Persistence and dedication is everything.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, are overweight. It is no wonder why people are becoming more and more obsessed with dieting when the numbers point to growing increases in weight and health risks. This is not to mention that the pressure to look leaner is constantly placed in front of us through advertisements in magazines, movies, and television. Many of these overweight individuals suffer with an inability to diet successfully due to a glaring misunderstanding of what you eat being more important than how much you eat. In order to remedy this people must thoughtfully consume fewer calories than their body requires to maintain its current weight and this should be done through the reduction of calories from food and getting regular exercise, not through the new fad diet.
The problem is that people who are attempting to diet are often following plans that cut out entire food groups or macronutrients which is leading them to an inability to stick to the given program due to their restrictive nature giving them a poor relationship with food. Instead of seeking education on the fundamentals of nutrition they blindly follow the shiny new advertising of the latest fad diet. Will some of these fad diets work? Yes, but they are not beneficial to the long term success of the dieter nor do these programs typically educate the person participating on how to be healthier and more active.
The 1980’s are widely regarded as the start of the fitness revolution where dietary fat was seen as the sole enemy to those looking to get into better shape. Whereas now we know dietary fat as one of the leading nutrients our body needs to stay hormonally balanced and to aide in recovery from exercise. Along came further scare of fats in the 1990’s and now eggs were public enemy number one. This brought upon an irrational fear of the cholesterol in egg yolks being bad for us, which from a study done by K. Mayurasakorn in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand it was shown that eating eggs every day actually raises the good cholesterol levels of our body and even provides us with necessary fats that we need for day to day living. Presently we are seeing many different things being touted as the new number one enemy of those that want to diet, but none bigger than that of the carbohydrate. Diets such as Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and Keto are the biggest names featuring this growing fear of carbohydrates. It is honestly put best as an irrational fear as studies have shown that lower carbohydrate diets are not superior than diets balanced in macronutrients as long as a caloric deficit below a person’s caloric maintenance intake is sustained.
“A closing point I want to make has been demonstrated in Hu et al’s recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors. Despite subtle differences, in a total of 23 trials (2788 subjects) a rather anticlimactic lack of significant therapeutic advantage was seen in any particular type of diet. Notably, the low-carb treatments ranged from 4 to 45% carbohydrate. This reinforces the principle that we humans are extremely versatile when it comes to diet. We can achieve excellent health on a very wide range of macronutrient compositions. The supremacy of a single type of diet (e.g., low-carb or low-fat) simply lacks evidence.” -Alan Aragon, M.S.
Restriction of entire food groups and macronutrients often leads to an over obsessive mentality that food is working against us and not for us. Many times people will take an extremist mentality, going all or nothing with their new eating habits once dieting, labeling foods as good and bad or as clean and dirty, instead of seeing food as fuel for the body and seeing the impactful benefits it provides. Steven Bratman, MD coined this extremist mentality orthorexia nervosa by detailing that it “indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.” More often than not this unhealthy restriction of certain foods and nutrients from obsessive behavior leads to only short term success for dieters and does not bring them closer to an understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition and being able to carry over long term success of a healthy body weight and a healthy mind for the rest of their lives.
The most important element in creating a successful diet while maintaining a positive relationship with food is to simplify the education. However, a problem with gaining a more solid foundation featuring the principles of nutrition is that there is so much misinformation already out there and readily available. You can easily get lost in too much detail or pointed in the wrong direction by a bad source and spend too much time focusing on something inaccurate. You should always take a science based approach when it comes to the fundamentals of nutrition. Taking this approach will provide you with proven research and results as opposed to just what sounds right or what someone with a nice physique has told you about. The basics that are necessary to understand is that the calories (energy that we take into our body from foods) versus the energy expenditure (calories that are burned through resting metabolic rate and daily activity) is what creates the basic caloric deficit or surplus in the overall energy balance making us either lose or gain weight. More important than what we eat it is how much we eat, as this was shown in a study by Richard Surwit in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where “results showed that a high sucrose content in a hypoenergetic … diet did not adversely affect weight loss.”
Eating smaller portions is a guaranteed method to reduce the calories being consumed on a daily basis in order to jump start a mindset for weight loss. Unfortunately, some bring themselves to an extremist mentality eating much too little which can be detrimental to the metabolism and lead to even more harmful situations such as developing an eating disorder like anorexia. In order to combat this it is best only to slightly reduce the portions by opting for smaller sizes of overall meals or sticking to one serving instead of two. A person should plan to consciously decrease their portions in minimal amounts through focusing on eating a portion that is only slightly less than what it has been previously as to avoid any negative repercussions of major calorie restriction. Perhaps you find that you eat bigger portions due to an increased appetite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that “if you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.”
It is quickly learned for anyone that has made the decision to lose weight and lead a healthy lifestyle that there needs to be a relationship built between nutrition and exercise. Whereas you can lose weight through dieting alone with a caloric deficit it will increase the rate of weight loss plus improve your overall health to implement an exercise routine. Exercise alone, however, is often not going to be enough to fix a poor diet. This has been shown time and time again through individuals that lead an active lifestyle that still are unable to achieve a loss in weight from not following a proper diet with the purpose of weight reduction. However, in a study by Christina J. Paez done at the University of New Mexico it was shown that subjects who performed exercise along with a diet consisting of an energy deficit achieved greater amounts of weight loss and were able to maintain the results well after the study concluded.
The ever growing problem of the inability to diet in order to lose weight is not only based on the misconception that what you eat matters more than how much you eat, but it is that we already know enough. If we already know enough then why isn’t the tide shifting? According to studies done and published in the Los Angeles Times 42% of the world’s population will be obese by 2030. There is no greater gift that we have received than that of life and to ensure that we are able to live these lives in whichever way we desire we must fight to maintain healthy body weights. “Public health experts have concluded that the best way to attack the obesity crisis is to prevent people from becoming obese in the first place” (Los Angeles Times). That sounds fairly obvious, but it’s not being placed into practice. There are too many people attempting to educate themselves once already overweight or in an unhealthy state instead of arming themselves to keep the problem from occurring. In order to combat this growing epidemic of unhealthy body weights with a proper ability to lose weight and diet successfully an understanding must be reached that the scientific fundamentals of weight loss through an energy deficit combined with regular exercise are needed by overweight individuals. The choice is simply to learn more about the subject and put the subject into practice or to shorten our life spans through our own blatant ignorance.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Eating for Healthy Weight: Portion Size.” 2012.
- Hu, T et al. “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials.” 2012.
- Mayurasakorn, K et al. “High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Changes After Continuous Egg Consumption in Healthy Adults.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 91.3 (2008): 400-407.
- Los Angeles Times. “42% of American Adults Will Be Obese.“ Melissa Healy. 2012.
- Steven Bratman. “Orthorexia Nervosa.” Steven Bratman, M.D., 2010.
- Surwit, Richard S. et al. “Metabolic and Behavioral Effects of a High-Sucrose Diet During Weight Loss.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65.4 (2012): 908-915. Print.
- University of New Mexico. “Exercise vs. Diet in Weight Loss.” Exercise and Sport Science Reviews. Christina J. Paez et al. 2000.
- World Health Organization. “WHO | Obesity and Overweight.”
Important Things to Remember
- Cardio does not fix a bad diet.
- The key to fat loss is an energy deficit that can be created through a caloric deficit or increasing activity levels. However, too large of a deficit will be detrimental.
- Aim for a loss of .5-1.5% of body weight weekly if the goal is fat loss.
- Optimal fat loss is obtained through diet and weight training, not cardio. Weight training builds strength and muscle mass promoting a high rate of fat loss. Cardio can promote fat AND muscle loss when used improperly which is a very common problem. Cardio should be utilized more so to improve cardiovascular performance and endurance and not to achieve fat loss.
- It does not matter when you eat or when you workout.
- The majority of your intake should come from whole food sources for the purpose of getting micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) in your diet as well as your macronutrients (protein/fat/carbs).
- Follow a general rule of 80/20 for your diet. 80% whole foods and 20% of whatever else you want.
- There are no shortcuts. The road is paved through desire, dedication, and discipline.
- The hierarchy of importance: Diet > Weightifting > Cardio
- Without proper rest and recovery you will have diminishing returns.
- Follow a weight training program with a focus on progressive overloading of the muscle. Whether that comes from increasing weight, reps, or both is up to you based on your goals. I, personally, would recommend focusing on a strength building based program for the majority of beginners that is 3-4 days a week ranging from 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps for each set with a primary focus on compound lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) each day. Barbell complexes are king. The heavier the weight that can be controlled for reps the better.
- Stick to a diet plan for a minimum of 2-4 weeks. This will ensure that you get a good idea of how your body is reacting to the partitioning of nutrients and at the end of 4 weeks you can adjust the intake to reflect a change in body weight.
- Do include cardio in your program but do not make it the primary focus. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) types of cardio are generally the best for fat loss goals. This has been proven through research to be the most beneficial for fat loss and lean body mass retention. A 30min session of cardio is sufficient 2-3 times a week maximum.
- The most important thing to remember when following a dietary program for fat loss is that the caloric deficit is most important followed by your intake of protein. Next should be fats/carbs/fiber. Do not forget that too steep of a deficit will be very detrimental in the ability to maintain weight loss and your health in the long-term.
- One perfect week will not make a great physique. One imperfect week will not make a bad physique.
- Eat things that you love, but just do so in moderation. Follow the 80/20 rule and don’t stress over food.
- When you eat does not matter in the broad scheme of things, but if you find yourself feeling a bit “weighed down” when eating carbohydrates then consume the majority of them in the evening before bed.
- Weighing once a week to once every two weeks should be the absolute most often that you should step on a scale.
- Dependant on how you feel and respond to a particular macronutrient intake (especially carbs) things can be adjusted to incorporate a lower daily intake, weekly or bi-weekly re-feeds, timing, or in rare cases and as my recommended last resort, low-carb dieting. This is a feeling out process which is why I recommend to follow a set dietary intake (macros) for 2-4 weeks before altering.
- Fiber is likely the most important thing that you aren’t paying real attention to.
- Drink more water.
- Live your life passionately and be passionate about the people that surround you. Eating and exercise are a part of your existence and it does not make up all of who you are. Following a solid exercise plan and dietary intake will benefit your health and that’s an added bonus. Enjoy your time with the people around you — making it about them and not what foods are available — and find happiness in all of which you do. Obsessing over all the details of diets and exercise programs will lead you to stress and inconsistency. Being healthy comes not just from what you consume or your activities, but from your mental and emotional disposition.
Learn from everyone. A smart person who is dedicated to personal growth can find a gem of knowledge or wisdom from literally everyone. As soon as you write someone off, you’ve closed an avenue for growth. Humble yourself, and see everything as an opportunity for growth and learning. Also, patience is the most valuable attribute you can have.- Eric Helms, Pro Natural Bodybuilder, MS, CSCS
Alan, what is your general philosophy on food sources regardless if the individuals is in a caloric surplus or deficit, the phrase “Clean Eating” is thrown around a lot. Could you shed some light on research or any information regarding utilizing different sources that may be considered bad and the impact it may/may not have on body composition?
You know that the cleanest food in the world is? Hydrogenated vegetable oil. It was originally developed for the purpose of making soap. Pretty damn clean, I’d say. On a more serious note, the “clean” label is very misleading when applied to individual foods. There’s no way a food can be judged in isolation from the rest of the diet. To give an example, most people would call celery a “clean” or healthy food, and ice cream a “dirty” or unhealthy food. In the far-fetched/hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose only one of those foods to survive on, guess which one would sustain your health (and ultimately your life) longer? Hopefully you chose ice cream over celery, unless you’re anxious to knock on Heaven’s door. The point is, labeling foods as clean or dirty ignores context, and ignoring context is just plain dumb. I think that’s it’s intuitively obvious that the diet should consist mostly of whole & minimally refined foods. But still, it’s not all that simple, since certain foods are significantly altered from their original state (i.e., whey protein powder), but still have positive impacts on health. I wrote an in-depth article on the “clean eating” topic here. It’s a long article but worth the read for anyone interested. I think it’s been very amusing to see the definition of “clean” vary widely according to highly subjective criteria.
Read more of the interview at Machine Muscle.
You wake up to the sound of your awful alarm hours before the sun even dares to show it’s face several days a week. Around the time most people are waking up to start complaining about having to roll out of bed you are finishing a workout where you just busted your ass for a few hours. You get home and then get to work on your most important job and that is being a good husband to your wife and an incredible father to your three children. After getting everyone up and ready to start the day you head to work at your own full-time job to support your family. The evening comes and again you place your time into your kids and wife without hesitation. Some days you’ll break away for a half hour to get a good sweat in, but what’s a half hour to a man that’s already been hard at work for fifteen to sixteen hours solid?
“I don’t have enough time to workout.” Tell that to this guy. A father of three with a full-time job that takes every moment to work on his marriage that STILL gets into the gym four days a week and keeps a mindful eye on what he eats daily.
You don’t have the time, you make the time.
You’ve meticulously tracked what you’ve eaten every day down to the gram and not because you had to, but because it was important to you to get it right. Everyone has their bad days and gets stressed, including you, but you never let that be an excuse to break your nutrition plan or skip a workout. You’ve learned to eat what you want when you want as long as it fits your plan. Do you eat pop-tarts? You bet your sweet ass you do. Do you eat out at restaurants? If the occasion calls. Have you gone on vacation and just enjoyed yourself? Absolutely. You have learned to not deprive yourself of living a normal life.
You don’t feel like you’re doing something that you can’t stick to. You are in this for the long haul not short-term, unattainable results. You’ve hit a milestone that was incredibly important to you for so many reasons. Through your accomplishments you’ve motivated more people than you know, but none more important than your daughter. The person that sparked the fire in you is now seeking guidance from the flame.
I did not do this for you. I merely pointed you in the direction and gave you a set of tools. What you’ve done with them has been of your own desire and discipline. You are a man on a mission.
The best thing of all? You’ve only just started and there is not a damn thing that will stop you from achieving more.
I’d appreciate it if you would check out this progress post from Danny and follow his blog. Danny is one of the purest examples of a hard-working man that I’ve ever known. On top of that he is also a great client of mine and wonderful friend. I’m incredibly proud of you, brother.
otontin: I did it
Mission one: Goodbye 200 pounds. Accomplished.
So many thoughts and emotions have come and gone since stepping on the scale today. I won’t talk about them all because some are very personal to me and I’d like to keep them that way. (Oh, and please excuse the tiny portion of my dragon tattoo that shows in this pic. Trust me, there’s a lot more to it. It looks weird from this angle.)
I do, however, have to give major thanks to my coach…and one of my best friends, Daniel. There is no way this would have been possible without him. He took a guy on that had no idea what to do, but he saw how badly I wanted it. There were moments along the way where I doubted myself, doubted methods, and just did not have a positive attitude about training and dieting. He never gave up on me and he kept motivating me. He always says that I’m the one putting in the work, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without his guidance and knowledge. Thank you, bro.
I also want to thank all of you that kept encouraging me via Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook/whatever along the way. You guys and girls have no clue how much I value each and every one of you. My only regret is that I can’t thank each of you in person.
So, goodbye 200’s. I hope that I never see you again…unless I’m just packing on muscle like a mad man. But for now, time to keep trimming down and getting closer and closer to looking like the badass I aim to be.
Those of you who follow this blog undoubtedly know about Alan Aragon. Fact is, there’s no one in the field of nutrition I respect more. Alan holds a master’s degree in nutrition, consults with a legion of famous clients (including Pete Sampras, Derek Fisher, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin), and serves as the nutritional expert for Men’s Health Magazine. He also edits the excellent newsletter, Alan Aragon’s Research Review.
Most importantly, though, Alan Aragon is the epitome of an evidence-based professional. First and foremost, he is a student of the literature; a veritable walking encyclopedia on nutritional research. Ask him a question about a given nutritional topic and he’ll answer not only by rattling off the results of relevant studies, but also cite the names of the authors and the year of publication as well. It’s quite amazing, actually.
Yet what really sets Alan apart from the pack is his keen understanding as to how research should be applied in practice. He has an astute ability to sift through the body of literature and provide practical recommendations based on a person’s individual needs. His approach is always thoughtful and balanced; a voice of reason. That’s why when I need a get an opinion on a given nutritional topic, Alan’s the guy I turn to for answers. I’ve taught nutrition at the university level. I stay abreast of current dietary research. But Alan is on another level. Call him the “Yoda of nutrition”!
So it goes without saying that I’m pleased to have interviewed Alan for this blog post. Here he shares his knowledge on some of the most controversial and heavily debated topics in nutrition today. As always, Alan is not afraid to speak his mind. Sit back, read, and enjoy!
First, thanks so much for consenting to this interview Alan. For those who might not be aware of your work, can you tell the readers a little about your background.
Thanks for inviting me to unleash hell on your audience, Brad. Anyone who doesn’t know who I am has not done enough trolling through the seedy corners of the internet…. In all seriousness though, I’m an educator more than anything else. I have a passion for getting the truth out and seeing learners find their way out of the dark, so to speak. My main vehicle for this is writing, so I guess you could say I’m like Gary Taubes, except I’m not afraid to report the totality of evidence instead of choosing the bits that fit my brand. I used to do fitness training and counseling full-time, but now I maintain a small stable of clients to keep a foot in the trenches while the rest of me is immersed in the research.
You have written about post-exercise protein intake and state that it might not be as important as some claim. But you also discuss that the relative importance is a function of a person’s goals. Can you explain your position?
Let’s first set the stage with some background. Postexercise protein intake has been promoted in both lay and academic circles as an urgent, universally imperative tactic, but it’s rarely ever put in the proper perspective. The origin of the postexercise “anabolic window of opportunity” began with research examining postexercise carbohydrate timing on the rate of glycogen resynthesis after depletion. Delaying carbohydrate intake resulted in significantly less glycogen replenishment, but this finding was limited to an observation period of only a few hours. On a related tangent, subsequent research showed no difference in the amount of post-depletion glycogen replenishment at the 24-hour mark, despite major differences in dietary fat content (originally presumed to impede the process).
Protein got lumped into the supposed ‘magic’ of the postexercise period after studies showed that protein expedited glycogen resynthesis when co-ingested with carbohydrate (particularly in the case of insufficient carbohydrate). Furthermore, research has also shown that protein consumed in the postexercise period can work synergistically with the trained state to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). However, these studies have two main limitations. First off, in most studies the protein was given to subjects who trained after an overnight fast, minus a pre-exercise meal. Secondly, the bulk of the research showing the benefit of immediate postexercise protein is acute (short-term). The majority of chronic (long-term) studies lasting several weeks has failed to corroborate the acute findings. Many people – even smart folks in the industry – are unaware of this, probably because the bulk of the research with null findings began in 2009 & onward.
This isn’t to say that the body of research on this topic is vast or comprehensive enough to be adamant about the unimportance of protein timing. However, it does provide grounds to assume a wider margin of timing flexibility as long as the total for the day is hit. Hopefully future investigations will compare the timing effects of carbohydrate co-ingested with larger protein doses that max-out acute MPS in trained subjects on diets that provide sufficient total protein that’s matched (including supplemental protein) between groups. Thus far, the research in this vein is scarce, but would help provide an important puzzle piece. In the mean time, hitting the total protein target for the day remains the primary objective, while timing and distribution of its constituent doses is the distantly secondary concern. At best, specific timing is the icing on the cake. But, you have to have the cake down-pat, otherwise the icing means crap.
Any benefit to consuming one type of protein over another (i.e. whey vs. casein)?
In the larger picture, the answer for the most part is no. Assuming that someone is consuming sufficient total daily protein from a variety of high-quality sources, then their bases will be covered, regardless of differences in protein type. Short-term data indicates the superior effects of whey (compared to casein or soy) on MPS at both the resting & postexercise periods. It’s been speculated that this is due to the greater overall rise in circulating amino acid (particularly leucine) levels yielded by whey. However, studies that dragged this type of comparison out for several weeks have shown equivocal outcomes. Whey, as opposed to casein or soy, has not emerged as the dominant winner for improving muscular adaptations to training. This serves to reinforce the principles that a) total daily amount of high-quality protein is of prime importance, b) differences seen shortly postexercise will not automatically translate to long-term adaptations, and c) the body of evidence is subject to evolve.
How important is macronutrient ratio with respect to weight loss?
People have varying total energy demands, and this can differently influence their macronutrient requirements. Ratios per se shouldn’t be the focus since they’re merely a default result of figuring absolute needs. For example, those with a moderate to high energy output (through formal training, non-exercise activity, or both), can typically consume a higher amount of carbohydrate and still lose weight. In contrast, sedentary or barely active folks have lower overall energy demands, thus a high carbohydrate intake wouldn’t likely be optimal. Nevertheless, there’s rather interesting, yet unreplicated research examining the effects of insulin sensitivity on weight loss (low-carb worked better for insulin-resistant subjects while high-carb worked better for insulin-sensitive subjects). Unfortunately, body composition wasn’t assessed, nor was there any structured exercise protocol. My hunch is that a well-designed, progressive training program would greatly diminish the influence of pre-existent differences in insulin sensitivity on weight loss.
Are you a proponent of cutting carbs for someone who wants to get really lean?
For losing fat past the initial stages, I’m a proponent of imposing a calorie deficit, and depending on the individual situation, this can involve a decrease in caloric intake, an increase in caloric output, or a combination of both. In the case of intake reduction, it doesn’t make sense to hack into critical nutrients – especially protein, whose requirement actually increases in a caloric deficit. So, for the most part, it’s carbs that will get the brunt of the reduction when it’s time to cut calories, while protein & fat remain somewhat stable (I typically set protein slightly higher than it needs to be). The degree of carb reduction varies individually, but the underlying aim is to consume the highest amount of carbs that still allow a satisfactory rate of fat loss. This approach accomplishes two main things – it enables the highest possible training performance (in terms of both strength & endurance), and also the lowest chance of undue hormonal downregulation from prolonged bouts of dieting. Carb reduction can then be strategically positioned as a trump card. In other words, carbs can always be incrementally reduced on an as-needed basis, depending on how results are proceeding. Starting off with minimal carbs from the get-go leaves fewer options in the toolbox to break through progress plateaus once training volume is maxed-out.
Intermittent fasting has gained popularity recently. What are your thoughts? Panacea or fad?
I think the popularity of intermittent fasting (IF) is, for the most part, a good vindication of science. Academics have known for a while now that research has not supported the lore of frequent, small meals to stoke the metabolism better than the equivalent in larger, fewer meals. Furthermore, research has not supported the idea that small, frequent meals are necessary for preserving muscle mass. The evidence as a whole has not indicated any threat to muscle preservation during dieting when meal frequency is reduced – either daily or intermittently through the week. In fact, some studies have shown superior lean mass retention with IF during hypocaloric conditions. However, this could have been due to measurement error inherent with bioelectrical impedance analysis. It should also be noted that the IF research thus far has not involved structured exercise protocols.
At the same time that IF has vindicated science, it also created its own over-zealous following who preaches its universal necessity for optimizing body composition and health. Viewed more objectively, IF presents an effective option for those who prefer the convenience and luxury of larger meals – not to mention, less preparation & transportation of meals through the day. Any special or superior metabolic effects of IF compared to conventional meal patterns are speculative at this point. While IF has consistently shined in the department of lean mass retention while dieting, its comparison to conventional meal frequency on gains in muscular strength & hypertrophy is uncharted ground, at least in formal research. There are plenty of hypotheses flying around this area, but nothing demonstrated under controlled conditions. For the time being, meal frequency for optimal size & strength gain remains mysterious. This mystery is likely to begin unfolding with short-term data that one camp will excitedly embrace. If history means anything, the acute data will be followed by long-term data that shakes the confidence in former beliefs. Either way it goes, I’ve got my popcorn ready.
On a final note, I’ve seen the greatest client success come from letting individual preference dictate meal frequency. Some people do great on small frequent meals, others do great on the opposite (and all points in between). The theoretical advantages of any given dietary approach go straight out the window if it’s at odds with someone’s personal preference & adherence capability.
Tell us a little about your research review and how you came to start the service.
In a nutshell, my research review (AARR) is a monthly romp through the current and past research on nutrition, training, and supplementation. I do my best to present both the theory and application of the concepts and findings. The idea to start AARR was born from my own dissatisfaction with my knowledge level despite having vast client experience, multiple training certifications, a graduate degree in nutrition, and being active in attending & presenting continuing education lectures. I felt like there had to be some way to further “force” myself toward the top tier of expertise. Putting AARR together each month was the logical solution for my self-directed learning tendencies. I’m now enjoying the process of sharing my ongoing enlightenment with like-minded folks inside and outside of the field.
Great stuff, Alan. Really appreciate you taking the time to share your views!
Check out Alan’s blog Here
Check out Alan’s excellent research review (AARR) Here
Click the link above to read the study put out by Stanford University.
Organic food is not more nutritious than conventional food, but it does make people more pompous acting. Ever met someone that talks about eating only organic? Do they ever shut up about it?
Yes you are exposed to less pesticides eating organic produce, but guess what? Even with some organic produce you are consuming pesticides.. just at a smaller percentage. It’s not harmful to you either way, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
Organic is not better than non-organic in regards to being more nutritious. The same goes for gluten-free being any better for you than foods containing gluten — the only exception here would be those people with a food allergy or celic disease being medically advised to avoid gluten.
Eat the food that fits your budget and nutritional goals.
edit: Please take note of this form if I have offended you.
“To say that obesity is caused by merely consuming too many calories is like saying that the only cause of the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party.” -Adelle Davis
This quote gets to the core of a basic question that is the topic of much discussion in bodybuilding circles. What’s more important: what you eat or how much you eat? A study conducted by the Institute for Nutrition and Cancer Research (INCR) discovered that 78% of adults agreed with the statement “the kind of foods you eat is more important than the quantity of food you eat” in regards to weight management. Very good arguments can certainly be made for and against the statement. It is true that your overall caloric balance during a given day will determine whether or not your weight changes. On the other hand, food choices can influence that caloric balance by influencing metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (TEF), and satiety. In order for one to lose weight, and hence, body fat, one’s caloric expenditure must exceed their caloric intake and this requires energy intake control, and thus the quantity of food must be controlled (1).
It is pertinent to state that one should eat healthy foods when on a weight loss diet. Fruits, vegetables, low fat meats, and the like are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber (in the case of fruits and vegetables) and these can certainly impact one’s health. However, one can not simply eat as many “good” foods as they like with reckless abandon and expect not to gain weight. It is certainly easier to achieve a caloric surplus eating twinkies all day than it is to achieve that same surplus though fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, however if the person eating only twinkies makes a conscious effort to limit their twinkie intake to a caloric level that is less than the amount of calories they expend per day, they will lose fat whereas a person who eats an unlimited amount of “good” foods will still gain weight if they consume more calories than they expend. Don’t get me wrong, eating only twinkies is not a good strategy for losing fat, but it is an extreme example to support my points.
There are plenty of meatheads gurus out there who would have you believe that consuming chicken, rice, and broccoli cannot make you fat no matter how much you eat of it. They will most likely try to argue that the specific foods you eat are more important than the quantity that you eat will use the argument that “a calorie is not a calorie” to support their stance. In other words, they believe that certain foods may provide an advantage over other foods. There certainly is ample evidence to support this stance. For example, diets higher in protein are less “energy efficient” as the conversion of alanine to glucose during gluconeogenesis (production of glucose from amino acids and other substrates) requires 6 ATP molecules and the conversion of pyruvate to glucose also consumes 6 ATP molecules (2-3). Furthermore, 4 molecules of ATP are required to dispose of the nitrogen as urea (3). Now before you throw up your hands and say “what the hell does all that mean?” realize that it’s only a scientifically correct way of saying that turning protein into energy requires more energy input by your body compared to carbs or fats. Maintaining the protein turnover is also energetically very costly (4). In fact, the thermic effects of nutrients are approximately 2-3% for lipids, 6-8% for carbohydrates, and 25-30% for protein (5)! This increased thermic effect of food seems to cause increased weight loss in high protein diets compared to diets equal in calories but higher in carbohydrates (6). The fiber content of a diet is also another issue to consider. Dietary fiber contains far less metabolizable energy than starchy carbohydrates due to incomplete absorption of fiber and the amount of energy extracted from fiber is less than that of other carbohydrates (7).
This information has led many meatheads to deduct proudly that by consuming a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet you need not concern oneself with calorie intake because there is a far smaller net energy gain when consuming such a diet as compared to a typical higher carbohydrate diet. Although the net energy gain is much smaller on a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet, the fact remains that it is still quite possible one can consume more calories than they expend if they fail to control the quantity of food that they take in. Controlling food intake and self monitoring is crucial in any weight loss or weight maintenance regime. In fact, Hill et. al, found that the majority of people who successfully lost fat and maintained it for at least one year practiced some form of restraint, including restricting certain foods, portion sizes, and counting calories (8). So while it may require a greater quantity of food on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet to exceed one’s caloric expenditure, it can still be done, and therefore the quantity of food must be controlled. While controlling the quantity of food one eats may be more important than the types of foods one eats in regards to weight maintenance/loss, it is important to note that the types of foods that one eats will impact the quantity of foods that one will consume as well. Diets high in protein and high fiber have both shown to reduce hunger compared to a higher carbohydrate or reduced fiber diet (8,9). Additionally, research has demonstrated that high protein diets have an increased thermic effect of food, allowing for greater weight loss at ‘equal’ calorie intakes when compared to higher carbohydrate diets. The big take home points however, are that eating ‘good’ foods will allow you to keep total calories higher but eating the occasional ‘bad’ food won’t wreck your diet as long as it controlled within the context of total caloric intake. Therefore, the most successful strategy in achieve limiting fat gain/maximizing fat loss is to practice cognitive restraint while consuming a diet high in protein and dietary fiber.
1) Wardlaw GM, Kessel M. Energy Production and Energy Balance. In: Perspective in Nutrition 2nd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education; 2002. p. 535-537.
2) Feinman RD and Fine EJ. A calorie is a calorie violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition J. 2004, 3:9.
3) Hue L. Regulation of gluconeogenesis in liver: In: Jefferson L, Cherington A, eds. Handbook of physiology: the endocrine system. Vol 2. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2001:649-57.
4) Bier DM. The energy cost of protein metabolism: lean and mean on Uncle Sam’s team. In: The role of protein and amino acids in sustaining and enhancing performance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1999:109-19.
5) Jequier E: Pathways to obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002, 26 Suppl 2:S12-7.
6) Westman EC, Mavropoulos J, Yancy WS, Vlek JS: A review of low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2003, 5:476-483.
7) Buchnolz AC and Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr, 2004:79(suppl): 899S-906S.
8) Nickols-Richardson SM, Coleman MD, Volpe JJ, Hosig KW. Perceived hunger is lower and weight loss is greater in overweight pre-menopausal women consuming a low-carbohydrate/high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 2005 Sep;105(9):1433-7.
9) Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr. Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39.