Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Tag: calories

Does exercise actually burn fat?

How absurd is this?

How absurd is this?

So, does exercise really actually burn or melt body fat? Well, a very plain and simple answer would be no, not really. The answer is certainly more complicated than that, and I plan on explaining myself further, but this is certainly a topic that most people get wrong, or are greatly misinformed.

Sure, a lot of you may read this blog and think, "Your argument is just semantics. Exercise (in a roundabout way) burns fat!" Well, maybe. Maybe this could be considered semantics, but I personally believe this plays a crucial role in how people perceive not only the role of exercise, but the role of food and their diet as well!

Heavy science jargon and content ahead. I have done my absolute best to explain what is going on here. You've been warned. If you're still here, let's dive in.

I came across this interesting review the other day:

Abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise training: fat burning or hydrocarbon source redistribution?

Abstract

Fat burning, defined by fatty acid oxidation into carbon dioxide, is the most described hypothesis to explain the actual abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise training. This hypothesis is strengthened by evidence of increased whole-body lipolysis during exercise. As a result, aerobic training is widely recommended for obesity management. This intuition raises several paradoxes: first, both aerobic and resistance exercise training do not actually elevate 24 h fat oxidation, according to data from chamber-based indirect calorimetry. Second, anaerobic high-intensity intermittent training produces greater abdominal fat reduction than continuous aerobic training at similar amounts of energy expenditure. Third, significant body fat reduction in athletes occurs when oxygen supply decreases to inhibit fat burning during altitude-induced hypoxia exposure at the same training volume. Lack of oxygen increases post-meal blood distribution to human skeletal muscle, suggesting that shifting the postprandial hydrocarbons towards skeletal muscle away from adipose tissue might be more important than fat burning in decreasing abdominal fat. Creating a negative energy balance in fat cells due to competition of skeletal muscle for circulating hydrocarbon sources may be a better model to explain the abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise than the fat-burning model.

Lots of science talk, let's break things down and give some thoughts as to what is being discussed here.

Fat burning, defined by fatty acid oxidation into carbon dioxide, is the most described hypothesis to explain the actual abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise training.

This is one of these popular "facts" making its way around the internet lately. The idea that as you exercise and burn fat, the fat then just starts melting and you magically breathe it out as carbon dioxide. Sure, carbon dioxide is a by product of metabolism and respiration, and you certainly burn some fat during exercise, but it isn't really that simple.

This hypothesis is strengthened by evidence of increased whole-body lipolysis during exercise. As a result, aerobic training is widely recommended for obesity management.

Right. This has been heard for years. This is actually one point that seems to be at least somewhat well-known to be a mistruth now. That just because adipose tissue (body fat) is only burned in the presence of oxygen (oxidation), then low-level exercise must be best for burning fat. Right? Go for a nice long, easy run on the treadmill and you will get thin and sexy. Well, not exactly. My readers should know that intense exercise is better suited for reducing body fat by now so lets move on.

anaerobic high-intensity intermittent training produces greater abdominal fat reduction than continuous aerobic training at similar amounts of energy expenditure.

Study after study after study has shown just this - high intensity interval training is more effective for reducing body fat than steady state cardiovascular exercise.

significant body fat reduction in athletes occurs when oxygen supply decreases to inhibit fat burning during altitude-induced hypoxia exposure at the same training volume

Ah good, now things get interesting. So what this states is that body fat is reduced more in individuals that have decreased oxygen supply. Doesn't oxygen need to be present to burn body fat? Well, as the previous statement pointed out to us, high intensity exercise - you know, the type that has you gasping for air (oxygen deprived), is actually best at obtaining or maintaining an optimal body fat percentage.

Lack of oxygen increases post-meal blood distribution to human skeletal muscle, suggesting that shifting the postprandial hydrocarbons towards skeletal muscle away from adipose tissue might be more important than fat burning in decreasing abdominal fat.

This gets into the meat of this paper's argument, and one that I will elaborate on below. People need to stop thinking of exercise as a fat burner, and instead consider exercise (both resistance training and "cardio") as a means to make your body a better fat-burning machine.

Creating a negative energy balance in fat cells due to competition of skeletal muscle for circulating hydrocarbon sources may be a better model to explain the abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise than the fat-burning model.

Once I dove deeper into this paper, I got a better sense of what point the authors were trying to prove. Your muscle cells and fat cells both have the ability and goal in mind to store energy. In fact, there seems to be a competition between the two. Your body is constantly varying its sources of energy based on your level of activity. When you are exercising intensely, your body is primarily using glucose as a fuel source, for example. Sure, there is some fat being oxidized, but the primary fuel source is glucose.

Compare that to the amount of fat being burned between aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, and non-exercise. Sorry resistance trainee camp, not even you can argue that resistance training is "better" than aerobic exercise for burning fat - at least not directly.

This one is telling for the "exercise until you puke" camp. The notion that the harder you exercise, the more fat you burn is total b.s. as well. Do I think intense exercise is important? Absolutely. Do I think intense exercise is necessary for weight loss and body fat reduction? Not really, or at least not primarily. Some is good, but only to a certain level.

So what is the point to all of this? Well this is where the semantics comes in.

The current understanding is that when you are exercising, your body is literally burning away those love handles as you crank through all those burpees or squats. As we saw in figure A above, this is simply not the case. Yes, intense exercise promotes lower body fat percentages, but not because the fat is literally being burned and exhaled as carbon dioxide. Ok, then it must be the post-workout "burn" where metabolism is revved up. That is a common theme, correct? Again, not the case. Because oxygen must be present in order to burn fatty acids as a fuel source, by exercising intensely, you are specifically forcing your body to turn to glucose as a primary energy source.

So low-level exercise is better for burning fat, right?

Well, no. Research has proven time and time again that shorter, intense exercise is not only more efficient and effective than low-level, steady-state exercise to improve cardiovascular health and a healthy body-fat percentage.

So what gives?

As this review points out, the mindset as to what exercise actually does to your body and how body fat is reduced is the most important part. Exercise, and more specifically, intense exercise (ideally with external resistance, i.e. weights) not only builds strong muscles, but it turns your muscles into energy consuming machines. This causes a domino effect.

  1. Body fat (adipose tissue) and lean tissue (muscle) are constantly competing over consuming incoming calories. The body seems to give preferential treatment to muscles the harder they work.
     
  2. Energy that is not consumed and stored in muscles goes to body fat.
     
  3. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. When your body is not active, glucose is not being burned as readily by muscles, so there is more glucose present and glucose becomes the primary energy source even during low-level activity (most of the day).
     
  4. Fatty acids from adipose tissue are the primary energy source for majority of your day (i.e. the time you aren't working out intensely). But if glucose is present, blood sugar (glucose) becomes the energy source of choice.
     
  5. If your body is using blood glucose as an energy source, body fat deposits are not reducing.
     
  6. If your muscles are consuming large amounts of energy, especially carbohydrates, then your body primarily uses fatty acids (adipose tissue) as the energy source.

Conclusions

So although this isn't necessarily different than what most people should already know - intense exercise makes you thin and keeps you healthy, the mindset for how this works should change. Resistance training is used to not only strengthen the connective tissues of the body, but to make your muscles greater calorie-burning machines.

Carbohydrates should be consumed almost entirely just prior to, and/or immediately following a workout in order to reduce the amount that is stored as body fat.

Although intense activity is great and very important for overall health, the more active you are the rest of the day during "low-level activity" (walking, working, playing, etc.), the more effective your body will be at reducing your body fat percentage.





The Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss, Weight Gain, and Body Composition

I have been receiving a number of questions regarding weight loss, weight gain, body fat loss, muscle gaining, etc. over the past several weeks. Actually, I shouldn't say several weeks, because to be honest, as someone in the health and fitness industry, this tends to be the biggest request from individuals. Although it is not easy, hopefully this post will make some sense of body weight and body composition so that you can more effectively target your goal(s).

This is going to be a pretty lengthy post, I will try and be as succinct as possible, but I don't want to be too vague at the expense of details so I will do my best. First, let's discuss Calories.

Calories

The term "calorie" was first coined in the 19th century for steam engine heat conservation. Basically, a calorie is a unit of energy required for 1 gram of water to heat 1 degree Celsius. It was in 1890 that the USDA first brought this term over to the food industry. Scientists would literally take a piece of food and light it on fire to see how much it would heat water. Some of you may remember doing this in science class, I know I do.

There is also one problem here, our bodies do not have little fires raging in our cells to produce energy, we break down macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) to use their chemical energy. Also, instead of one enormous chemical plant, we have billions of little energy producers in our cells called mitochondria that are much more efficient. The problem that many people think and feel, is that all calories are created equal, when this simply is not the truth.

When we eat stuff, i.e. food, the chemical makeup of that stuff must be broken down into smaller stuff to be absorbed, transported and utilized by our bodies. This is not a passive process which means that we need energy to digest, or in other words, we require energy to produce energy.

Macronutrients

Food we eat is broken down into 3 main macronutrients; carbohydrates, dietary fats, and protein. I hope I don't have to get into the discussion about why all 3 macronutrients are important for the human body and that dietary fats don't necessarily make you any fatter than the other 2. Let's just clear the air now and discuss the fact that an over-consumption of calories is what leads to weight gain, not necessarily where those calories are coming from. We will discuss this as we go.

Carbohydrates are the easiest macronurtient to digest and therefore has the highest net energy yield. Carbs are nature's form of jet fuel for our bodies. The problem is, our society seems to pack more and more and more sugar into everything, leading us to the point where we would never come close to burning off as much of that energy as we take in, leading to adipose tissue (body fat). Anyways, carbs return about a 90-95% energy yield per calorie. What I mean by that is, every 100 calories of carbs you take in, it requires 5-10 calories of energy to digest.

Carbohydrates do not make you fat, an excess of sugar and calories make you fat or gain weight. I always recommend people track their diet, even for a short-term period because oftentimes they are blown away by just how much sugar they are consuming on a daily basis. Beverages can be a very big culprit for this. Don't drink your calories if your goal is to lose weight, stick to water, tea or coffee.

Fats actually have a slightly higher energy yield than carbohydrates, ranging in the ballpark of 95-96%, but this should not be alarming as our diets require much less fat than carbs. What this means is that in 100 calories of fat, it takes about 4-5 calories to digest. Keep in mind that dietary fats can be extremely beneficial to the human body and are a great way to give you a feeling of satiation (feeling "full).

Dietary fats do not make you fat, an excess of dietary fats make you fat. Due to their extremely high nutrient density (over twice as calorically dense as both carbs and protein), their calories add up quickly in less overall quantity. Dietary fats are great for a lot of things such as building cell walls, producing hormones (testosterone, anyone?), transporting vitamins through your body, but can push your caloric intake high, so watch out for things like creamy sauces if you're trying to lose weight as they tend to be caloric bombs.

Protein has the lowest energy yield, which can actually be very beneficial for weight loss. Only about 70-80% of protein calories consumed are returned to the body, which isn't all that surprising as the body greatly prefers fats and carbs for energy whereas protein is mostly used for tissue repair. This is also why protein tends to be an effective macronutrient in the battle against body fat and weight gain. Even though it is entirely possible to get fat from eating too much protein (too many overall calories), by enriching your diet with protein helps keep you full, makes sure your body is repairing itself from exercise effectively, but also has the lowest caloric yield.

If you are active and are exercising regularly (including resistance training, right?), then you should aim for about 1g of protein per pound of body weight. As it turns out, when you consume your protein doesn't really matter (read this one too), it also doesn't matter how much protein you eat at one time. As long as you are consuming a set amount of protein between the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, then you should be just fine in meeting your needs for the day.

When you eat your food, your teeth chew it up, then the juices in your stomach break things down further into a paste. This paste then travels through your intestines where the nutrients are absorbed through the spongy walls. For most people, however, 5-10% of this paste just keeps passing on through and is expelled as waste.

For the most part, fat digests easily and passes through the walls quickly. Animal protein sources are absorbed better than plant-based sources. Then we come to carbs. Sugary and starchy carbs (i.e. chocolate, potatoes, white breads and pastas) are absorbed rapidly, whereas high-fiber carbs like in fruits, vegetables and grains take their time passing through your system. Not only that, but fiber seems to prevent your body from absorbing certain calories and can even lower cholesterol levels. An equal amount of broccoli and chocolate (comparing calories to calories) does not mean that they act the same way in your body, however. Studies have shown that individuals with high-fiber diets have close to 20% of their daily ingested calories move through their digestive system without being absorbed. Less calories this way can lead to less body fat!

Energy Usage and Storage

This guide is designed to give you a general broad overview of how metabolism works, you can obviously go much further in-depth from here, however, for the purpose of this guide, we will keep things as succinct as possible.

Our bodies are always using energy. We require energy to do everything from locomotion, thinking, cellular turnover, digesting food, etc. We are in a constant state of either digesting and storing "energy" or expending energy. Generally, our bodies will use readily-available energy in the form of recently digested food. If, however, you haven't eaten in a while, then your body must derive energy from energy that has been stored.

The following organs and glands regulate our energy usage and storage:

One of the primary sources of energy for our bodies is glucose. In fact, some cells, such as our brain cells, get all of their energy from glucose. The unfortunate part about this is that too much circulating glucose in our bloodstreams is toxic. This is where the pancreas, and more importantly, the hormone insulin comes into play. Insulin works as a transport to remove excess glucose from the blood and store it in our muscles and adipose (fat) cells.

So, if you are eating consistently, especially foods high in carbohydrates, your body is most likely maintaining its energy levels through food that is being actively digested. If, on the other hand, you are either not eating, or are burning more energy than what is currently being circulated through the blood (such as  when you exercise), then your body must produce energy from storage. Producing energy from storage is regulated through glucagon. You can consider glucagon to be the polar opposite of insulin. The goal of insulin is to lower blood glucose levels when they are too high, glucagon's goal is to raise blood glucose levels if they become too low.

Energy is stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen must be broken down into glucose through a process called glycogenolysis.

Energy is also stored in adipose tissue (fat cells). Lipase is activated by hormones such as glucagon, growth hormone, and epinephrine to break down fat into glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol and fatty acids are transported to the liver via the bloodstream and can be used to produce glucose.

Leptin and Ghrelin

*If you are to read only one section of this entire guide, make sure it is this one.*

Leptin and Ghrelin are two very important hormones, at least in my opinion, when it comes to satiety and level of hunger. I think this is one of the toughest things individuals have to deal with regardless if they are trying to lose weight or gain weight.

Both hormones interact with the same receptors in the brain, and are essentially opposites of one another. Leptin is produced (primarily) by your fat cells to signal satiety, or a feeling of being "full." Ghrelin, on the other hand, is produced in the intestines and signals the brain that you are hungry. Generally, you can think of these opposing hormones in a way that when one is high, the other is low, and vice versa.

Here is a list of common situations that cause a change in levels of leptin (from Wikipedia):

  • Leptin level is decreased after short-term fasting (24–72 hours), even when changes in fat mass are not observed.
  • Leptin plays a critical role in the adaptive response to starvation.
  • In obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea, leptin level is increased, but decreased after the administration of continuous positive airway pressure. In non-obese individuals, however, restful sleep (i.e., 8–12 hours of unbroken sleep) can increase leptin to normal levels.
  • Serum level of leptin is reduced by sleep deprivation.
  • Leptin level is increased by perceived emotional stress.
  • Leptin level is decreased by increases in testosterone levels and increased by increases in estrogen levels.
  • Leptin level is chronically reduced by physical exercise training.
  • Leptin level is increased by dexamethasone.
  • Leptin level is increased by insulin.
  • Leptin levels are paradoxically increased in obesity.

So, for the most part, everything on that list makes sense. Remember, when your leptin levels drop and more receptors are opened up, that causes ghrelin to be produced and cause your brain to send those hunger signals. Fasting makes you hungry, starving yourself makes you hungry, lack of sleep makes you hungry, stress makes you hungry, etc.

However, the most surprising point on that list is the last one (in bold). Levels of leptin increase with obesity? One would hypothesize that since leptin reduces appetite, you would think that someone gaining weight must have low levels of leptin and high levels of ghrelin, causing them to be hungry all the time and eat more.

Although leptin reduces appetite as a circulating signal, obese individuals generally exhibit a higher circulating concentration of leptin than normal weight individuals due to their higher percentage body fat. These people show resistance to leptin, similar to resistance of insulin in type 2 diabetes, with the elevated levels failing to control hunger and modulate their weight.

What we now know is that we can actually develop a resistance to leptin. That isn't all that surprising when you think about it. Both leptin and ghrelin are hormones that interact with the pleasure and reward part of the brain known as the Nucleus accumbens. This is the part of the brain that makes you feel good about certain things such as food or sex, and rewards you for achieving these things. It is also susceptible to addiction. Unfortunately for those of you reading this that are obese or overweight, your adipose tissues are producing more and more leptin as you gain more and more weight, making you resistant to the higher levels of leptin. So, the more resistant you are to leptin, the more you are going to feel hungry.

Time and time again I hear about individuals who have had some success losing weight, they are eating healthier, watching their calories, exercising regularly, but then all of sudden the scale stops moving. Sound familiar?

I blogged a while ago about the "Set Point Theory." If you have yet to read that blog from 2012, go read it now. I'll wait.

Basically what the Set Point Theory states is that everyone has a theoretical "basement" and "ceiling" weight. Your body gets comfortable at the weight that you are currently at because you have probably been there for a good period of time. Your body doesn't want that to change. In fact, as soon as you start losing weight, survival mechanisms kick into gear trying to reverse the effects of your weight loss. Despite your best efforts to try and lose weight and make yourself healthier, your body is being told that something is wrong and you're losing too much weight.

Think of our early ancestors who may not have eaten for a few days. Maybe times were tough, hunting wasn't going so well, so food is scarce. Rather than continuing to lose weight and risk dying, your body puts on the brakes and does whatever it can to slow down the weight loss, despite your best efforts to eat less and less and exercise more and more.

Dieters who lose weight, particularly those with an overabundance of fat cells, experience a drop in levels of circulating leptin. This drop causes reversible decreases in thyroid activity, sympathetic tone, and energy expenditure in skeletal muscle, and increases in muscle efficiency and parasympathetic tone. The result is that a person who has lost weight below their natural body fat set-point has a lower basal metabolic rate than an individual at the same weight who is of that natural weight; these changes are leptin-mediated, homeostatic responses meant to reduce energy expenditure and promote weight regain as a result of fat cells being shrunken below normal size. Many of these changes are reversed by peripheral administration of recombinant leptin to restore pre-diet levels. A decline in levels of circulating leptin also changes brain activity in areas involved in the regulatory, emotional, and cognitive control of appetite that are reversed by administration of leptin.

Keep in mind that individuals with eating disorders pass over the hump of eating just enough to maintain weight and enter a very unhealthy zone of body decay. This is not where you want to be. Simply eating less and less will eventually cause you to lose weight, but also at the expense of losing muscle mass, bone density, hormonal control, etc. You will essentially starve your body, your energy levels will disappear, and you will not feel like yourself.

So how can this be changed? Leptin control. Here's what we know:

  • Eating healthy and exercising causes leptin levels to drop. This causes increased ghrelin levels making you hungry.
  • Eating beyond your needs causes leptin levels to rise making you not hungry any more.
  • However, chronically eating beyond your needs causes an increase in body fat and therefore a resistance to leptin, increasing hunger.

So how can we use this to our advantage?

Whenever I eat a really big, full meal, usually with less than optimal foods, I don't feel like eating much of anything for a couple days after that. I don't know about you, but my appetite isn't as crazy.

So what I do is I spend 6 days of the week eating as healthy as I possibly can. When I am trying to lose weight or "cut" body fat, I am as diligent as possible sticking to a calorie goal, avoiding refined products and sugars, etc. One day a week I eat some junk. I don't go too crazy for the entire day, but I don't really care what I eat. I'll have some pizza, beer, popcorn, chips, etc. Whatever I feel like that day (usually Saturday for me). Not everyone is a strong advocate for cheat meals/days, but I am. By having a cheat meal or a cheat day, one time that you are really stuffing yourself with some junky food, you are raising those levels of leptin. One day of junky food should raise your leptin levels of enough to get you to coast through the next few days of wanting to eat better and definitely less. Once you're half way through the week, you can muster up the focus to finish the week strong because you can then have another cheat meal/day the following weekend.

Having an important work or social lunch? Fine, go nuts. But remember, that is it for the week. Didn't eat all that healthy through the week? Fine, but no cheat meal on the weekend. Be honest with yourself. If you're looking to lose weight, aim for a 250-500 caloric deficit 6 days of the week, rich in proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.

Exercise and Weight Loss/Gain

Many people grossly over-estimate how many calories they actually burn during a workout. Unfortunately, I think this tends to be one of the biggest fallacies when it comes to weight loss. Well, we can elaborate on this later, but the truth is, even the craziest of fitness nuts only burn, at most, 30% of their daily calories working out on a given day. I know of lots of individuals who use heart rate monitors, calorie counters, pedometers, etc. to give them a ball park figure of how many calories they burned, and that's great, but these gadgets are very much a guess at best. At the end of the day, exercise improves your body to run more effectively and efficiently (burning calories along the way), but exercise and what you eat (diet - although I hate that word) is what is going to be most effective for weight loss.

Most of our calories burned on a day to day basis come from doing things like digesting food, thinking, breathing, repairing a cut to your leg/face from shaving, etc. This is known as our resting metabolic rate, which means you are burning a ton of calories even when watching tv. There are other daily activities can also contribute to our daily caloric expenditure that are known as non-exercise thermo-genesis (N.E.A.T.) such as walking up the stairs, gardening, walking your dog, having sex, etc.

A well-rounded exercise program improves your body. An elevated heart rate for an extended period of time (most people call this "cardio," although I am not a big fan of that term either) improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs to transport oxygen from the air to your muscles to create energy. Resistance training causes a stimulus for your muscles to adapt in some way. What's great about resistance training is that it tends to not only burn calories long after your workout is over, but it also signals your body to retain the muscle you have when losing weight (more on that later). If you are trying to gain weight (muscle), resistance training stimulates the body to build muscle with the excess of calories that you ingest (again, more on that later).

To summarize; cardiovascular exercise (elevated heart rate for a set period of time) improves the efficiency and effectiveness of your cardiovascular system which includes your heart, lunges, arteries, and veins. This is beneficial because if the inner plumbing of your body can transport nutrients and molecules efficiently and effectively, the better your overall health.

Resistance training improves the strength of your bones, connective tissues, and muscles. On top of that, resistance training promotes hormonal adaptations that signal your body to maintain as much lean body mass (muscle) as possible. Our bodies really do follow a "use it or lose it" mentality, so if you aren't training the structural framework of your body then you will see signs of atrophy and decay. This is especially important as we age.

When it comes to exercise, the way I see, as long as you are moving your body and challenging yourself...truly challenging yourself, then you will burn calories. Everyone should include both main "types" (cardiovascular and resistance training) for optimal health and effective body composition management. Obviously some folks delve deeper into one type or another (marathon runner vs. powerlifter), however for the general population, a good mix of the two will keep you strong and healthy. Having said all of that, when it comes to weight loss/gain, exercise only takes you so far and what you consume is going to need to be something that is just as important, if not more important to focus on.

Calories In vs. Calories Out

Although we discovered earlier that not all calories are created equally, we should discuss calories in vs. calories out. Time and time again, studies have shown that eating fewer calories than you burn, called a caloric deficit, will cause you to lose weight (to an extent, more on that later). If you set your caloric goal to 2000 calories for the day and eat 2000 calories worth of Skittles, you will lose weight. Some guy even proved something similar by eating McDonald's. Having said that, I am confident in saying that if you were to consume 2000 calories rich in vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats, then you will not only feel better but your body will operate at a much higher level.

Also remember what we discussed earlier. Like calorie counters that estimate the number of calories you burn during a workout or throughout the day, counting every single calorie that goes into your body will only get you so far. Does this mean you shouldn't try? Absolutely not. In fact, I highly recommend everyone track their calories for a week or two every 6 months or so to remind them how to get themselves on track. It is generally quite an eye opener when people see just how many calories some foods and drinks have, not to mention the amount of sugar that is in many of the products that come from a grocery store.

There are a number of issues that come with calorie counting, however. Despite the fact that it can be brain-numbingly tedious to do, there really is a wide range of results that can be achieved based on one's accuracy or ineptitude. Guessing portion sizes or menu items at a restaurant would be on one end of the scale all the way up to weighing every single last morsel of food that goes into one's mouth. From one end to the other, you can quickly imagine how variable calorie counting could be for different individuals.

Not only that, but our earlier discussion on calories and how they interact in the body should elicit a further debate into what exactly is the most ideal way to consume. Sure, it is proven that calorie restriction is an effective way of losing weight, but one should never consider eating a diet high in preservatives and manufactured substances to come close to how healthy a diet rich in single ingredient products can be.

Losing Weight (body fat)

This is one of the most widely-used phrases or terms thrown around by people either trying to get fit, or to be honest, "Coaches" and personal trainers sharing their thoughts and opinions on how to get that defined look:

"Toned!"

Nearly everybody wants to get "toned." To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what this phrase is referring to, and I don't think there is one universal meaning to it since it gets used so wildly, but I would guess that it means that an individual wishes to minimize their body fat percentage in order for their muscles to become more defined. As discussed, in order to lose weight of any kind, you must consume at a caloric deficit. In other words, you must eat/drink less than you burn on an average day.

It should be noted, however, that when you are losing weight, your weight loss averages around 75% body fat and 25% lean mass. In other words, for every 10 pounds you lose, you are losing 7.5lbs of body fat and 2.5lbs of muscle. Resistance training is an effective way to counteract this atrophy during weight loss. It is interesting to note that diet-only weight loss plans, although effective, can also greatly diminish one's lean mass and strength. Think of an individual who loses 50lbs total, that means they are losing around 12.5lbs of muscle!

Resistance training during weight loss sends a message to your body to reserve the lean mass you currently have. Having said that, a well-rounded resistance training program that trains as many muscles as possible, preferably through multi-joint, multi-muscle group actions, is ideal to reserve as much muscle as possible. Runners who train for a marathon, for example, may lose much of their upper body muscle due to restricted upper body strength training. Remember: "use it or lose it!"

Losing Weight (body fat) and Gaining Muscle

This is probably the biggest request I get from clients and emails I receive from people I connect with online. This is the perfect scenario, right? Who wouldn't want to simultaneously cut body fat and build big strong muscles, giving that chiseled look at the same time? Well, I hate to be the one to burst the bubble here, but it just isn't possible (at least without steroids).

Building your body is not unlike building a house. You have to have the materials (protein) to build your house, you have to have the manpower or energy for construction (carbohydrates/fats), and you need to have at least a bare minimum of both materials and man power in order to complete construction.

Let's say you were to build a house, and during the planning stages, you placed an order for 2000 units of wood, 2000 units of brick, and hired 6 construction workers.

On day one of construction you find out that only 1500 units of wood, 1000 units of brick, and 4 construction workers showed up. Now, you could certainly get started with construction, but it will be impossible to build the house to the size of your specifications without the required materials.

Your body is like a construction site all hours of the day. Old tissues are being broken down and replaced. This is why we need to consume calories rich in all macronutrients. We need energy to complete bodily tasks as well as the materials (protein) to re-build old tissues. Exercising will cause a rate increase of breakdown and therefore rebuilding, however, in order to actually increase the size and strength of your muscles, you need to consume calories at a surplus in order to have the sufficient tools and energy available to complete such a task.

Two questions or thoughts should be raised in your mind when reading that.

First, why do we need a surplus of calories to build tissues when there should be a set amount of calories for optimal growth. Hitting that point where you are just past the caloric needs of your body to maintain your current weight is like hitting a bullseye from several miles away. It is certainly doable, and individuals that spend their lives devoted to optimal body composition work very hard towards accomplishing this very goal - minimal body fat whilst increasing lean body mass.

However, for most people, a moderate caloric surplus past your maintenance caloric intake is generally the best scenario for promoting muscle and strength gains. Trust me when I tell you that you will drive yourself crazy if you are trying to gain muscle without any body fat at all.

The second thought should have something to do with improvements. You may know someone who just started a exercise program with great success in losing weight and getting stronger, in fact, you may have experienced it yourself. You start the program, improving your diet, watching what you eat, eating less than you maintenance, feeling great, the scale is going down, your muscles are looking more plump, etc. What about that? I'm sure many of you reading this have started a workout program and have lost weight and gained strength at the same time. See, building muscle and losing weight at the same time is entirely possible!

Well, not so fast. Did you know that it takes an average of 16 workouts for a beginner to start to see any muscular growth? And that is on a program specifically designed to increase muscle. The strength gains made during a workout program are almost entirely efficiency-based. Huh? Well, without getting too science-y, your muscles are made up of contractile units that shorten the length of a muscle in order to generate force. When you don't work these contractile units consistently, they become less efficient or effective. Your muscles also follow the "use it or lose it" mentality, and they will in fact atrophy over time, although a lot of the blame here should also be pointed towards your neural integrations. In other words, your brain to muscle connection becomes poor when you don't complete certain actions.

So, an individual who starts on a new workout program and experiences increases in strength, despite consuming a diet in caloric deficit, is experiencing these improvements due to an increase in efficiency between their brain and their muscles. In other words, their brains are becoming much better at firing the contractile units of their muscles to generate more force.

Then how come my muscles look bigger and even measure bigger despite being at a caloric deficit?

Working muscles retain more water and sugar (also known as glycogen). When you start exercising, your muscles become a bit more plump due to retaining water and sugar. They are essentially increasing the size of their fuel tanks, anticipating more exercise. This growth will plateau and should not be considered a continual increase in muscle size.

I really am sorry to be a downer to many of you reading this. Keep this in mind, however; this should be a good motivator to you to keep exercising and working out towards long-term goals. Maybe you wish to get bigger muscles. If that's the case, then make sure to check out the section further down the page about eating at a caloric surplus. If you're an individual who wishes to lose weight, then fear not, there is a section on this post for you too. Keep in mind that there are ways to preserve muscle the best you can whilst losing weight, and with a lower body fat percentage, not only will you be looking and feeling healthier, but your muscles will actually appear to be larger too due to the increased definition.

To summarize: want to lose body fat, weight, and/or "define," then you must eat at a caloric deficit. Want to gain muscle? Then you must eat at a caloric surplus. Choose one, not both.

Gaining Muscle and/or Weight

If you are someone, like myself, who has always struggled with either maintaining weight, let alone gaining weight, you can appreciate the fact that this can be a difficult task. Although gaining weight can seem so basic and easy for so many, it is not easy if you are extremely active or have always struggled with weight gain. Trust me, I've been there.

At the end of the day, however, it comes down to calories in vs. calories out, just like how we discussed earlier. In order to gain weight, you must eat more than you burn. If you aren't gaining weight, eat more. Find foods that are calorie dense (milk, cheese, peanut butter, peanuts, almonds, etc.) and eat them as often as you can throughout the day.

If you struggle to eat enough calories during your day, increase your eating window. So, for example, you wake up at 6am, don't wait until 8 to eat breakfast, eat right away and then eat often. If you break your fast at 6am, you then have until 10 or 11pm when you go to bed to consume as many calories as you possibly can.

Like losing weight, you should still calorie count for at least a short-term period in order to get a rough idea on how many calories you are consuming because like losing weight, eating too many calories isn't necessarily "better" either.

So how much should you be eating? Well, most studies suggest anywhere from 250-500+ calories over your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Keep in mind that this is far from a scientific calculation, so you should pay attention to your own body mass over time keeping a few things in mind.

  1. "Clean" bulks, where you are mainly trying to add just muscle tissue with limited fat gain are going to put you closer to the 250+ caloric surplus range. I don't want to say that this method is impossible, because it's not, but it certainly takes much longer to bulk this way and can be incredibly difficult. Only the most seasoned of bodybuilders and physique competitors (or those who get lucky with great genetics) are able to put on just muscle mass. It takes a lot more time and dedication, so be prepared for this option.
  2. Weight gain at the beginning of a bulk is generally much quicker prior to your weight plateauing a bit. If you are working out and supplementing with creatine, then your body will retain glycogen and water causing your weight to spike quite a bit in the first few weeks. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that you are eating too much, so stay committed and watch your weight trend over time and adjust accordingly.
  3. With absolute prime conditions, you are only going to be adding about 0.25-0.5lbs of muscle mass in a week. So, after that initial weight spike has happened, focus on aiming for maybe 0.5-1lb of total weight gain in a week. If you aren't gaining weight, eat more. If you are gaining too much weight, eat a bit less. Be flexible with the amount of calories you are consuming.
  4. As you gain weight, you will need to continually up your calories. Bodies with heavier mass have a higher resting metabolic rate, or in other words, burn more calories throughout the day. So, as you pack on some muscle, you will need to continue to eat more and more to continue to gain weight. I recommend officially weighing yourself once-twice/week and then adjust your calorie intake accordingly.




More isn't always better

If something is good, then more of that must be better, right? Well, not always the case. This is especially true for a lot of topics or areas that have to do with our health. Hopefully this list can give you some insight into when too much of something isn't always better.

Too much creatine

Ah yes, creatine. One of the most widely-studied supplements we have today. One supplement, I might add, that I consistently use and promote its efficacy over and over again. The research surrounding creatine usage consistently points to positive gains in strength, power output, and lean muscle mass gains and improvements in overall body composition, with very little drawback or negative side effects. So, something this good must be even better if you take more, right? Well not so fast.

Firstly, if you want to learn all about creatine, you can check out My Definitive Guide to Creatine.

Most creatine supplements suggest a "loading phase" to saturate the body with creatine prior to a fitness program. Although this isn't entirely necessary, loading phases can be beneficial. One should note, however, that a week-long loading phase is about the only time you should take creatine at such a high dose (listed below). Some people report stomach or intestinal distress from higher amounts of creatine, so if this is the case then just take your standard daily dose and you should still experience the positive benefits from supplementing.

So how much should you actually take? Well, research suggests that the average person only utilizes about 2-3g on any given day. Most creatine dosages are 5g (teaspoon), so that is more than enough product to benefit you. Oftentimes, however, I see individuals who think that since 5g is so great, then 10, 15, 20, or even 25g daily much be even better. This is simply not the case. There appears to be a "saturation point" where you body simply will not absorb or utilize any more.

Besides the intestinal or stomach distress from higher dosages, there doesn't appear to be any research pointing towards a threat or negative side effects of overdosing, although why waste product when you can just stick to the regular dosing? Don't let the resident "bro" down at your gym or on Facebook try and tell you otherwise.

Dosing:

0.3g/kg - "loading phase" (days 1-7)
0.03g/kg - "maintenance phase" (days 8+)

I weigh 188lbs (85kg). That means that my theoretical loading phase should be 25.5g and my maintenance phase should be 2.55g.

Too many calories

Too many calories you say? Well, this point is intended for those of you who are trying to bulk or put on some weight/mass. Oftentimes some people may think that by eating a lot of food to put on mass is good, so even more food must be better, right?

It is true, your body needs a caloric surplus (eat more than you burn) in order to build muscle (or fat for that matter!). However, too many calories can result in some unwanted body fat. Your body only has a limited capacity to build muscle at any given time, related to a number of factors.

I actually love the analogy used over on T Nation about building a house:

I like to use a construction worker analogy to explain this. Imagine that your muscles are like a house you're trying to build. The bricks used to build the house represent the amino acids (from the ingestion of protein) while the money you're paying the workers (so that they'll do the work) represents the carbs and fat you eat.
Finally, the workers represent the factors involved in the protein synthesis process (Testosterone mainly) and the truck bringing the bricks to the workers represent insulin (which plays a capital role in transporting the nutrients to the muscle cells).
If you don't give the workers enough bricks (protein) they won't be able to build the house as fast as they could. So in that regard, an insufficient protein intake will slow down muscle growth.
Similarly, if you don't pay your workers enough (low carbs or fat intake) they won't be as motivated to work hard. As a result, the house won't be built very rapidly. In fact, if you really cut the workers' pay, they might even get mad, go on strike, and start demolishing the house (catabolism due to an excessively low caloric intake). So in that regard, not consuming enough protein or calories to support muscle growth will lead to a slower rate of gains.
Now, what happens if you start to send more bricks (increase protein intake) to the workers? Well, they'll be able to build the house more rapidly because they aren't lacking in raw material. However, at some point, sending more and more bricks won't lead to a faster rate of construction because the workers can only perform so much work in any given amount of time. For example, if your crew can add 1000 bricks per day to the walls, giving them 2000 bricks per day will be useless: it exceeds their work capacity. So the excess bricks will go to waste (literally).
In the same regard, if you increase your workers' salary (increase caloric intake) chances are their motivation will also increase and as a result they'll build the house faster. However, just like with bricks, there comes a point where increasing the workers' salary won't have any effect on the house-building rate: the workers will reach their physical limit. Once this limit is reached you can increase their salary all you want; they won't be able to add bricks to the house any faster.
What I'm trying to say is you can't bully your body into building muscle by force-feeding it. Adding nutrients and calories will have a positive effect on muscle growth until you reach your saturation point. After that, any additional calories will be stored as body fat.
So while it's true the more you eat the bigger you'll get, the additional weight will be in the form of fat, not muscle tissue.

So how much should you be eating? Well, most studies suggest anywhere from 250-500+ calories over your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Keep in mind that this is far from a scientific calculation, so you should pay attention to your own body mass over time keeping a few things in mind.

  1. "Clean" bulks, where you are mainly trying to add just muscle tissue with limited fat gain are going to put you closer to the 250+ caloric surplus range. I don't want to say that this method is impossible, because it's not, but it certainly takes much longer to bulk this way is incredibly more difficult. Only the most seasoned of bodybuilders and physique competitors (or those who get lucky) are able to put on just muscle mass. It takes a lot more time and dedication, so be prepared for this option.
  2. Weight gain at the beginning of a bulk is generally much quicker prior to your weight plateauing a bit. If you are working out and supplementing with creatine, then your body will retain glycogen and water causing your weight to spike quite a bit in the first few weeks. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that you are eating too much, so stay committed and watch your weight trend over time and adjust accordingly.
  3. With absolute prime conditions, you are only going to be adding about 0.25-0.5lbs of muscle mass in a week. So, after that initial weight spike has happened, focus on aiming for maybe 0.5-1lb of total weight gain in a week. If you aren't gaining weight, eat more. If you are gaining too much weight, eat a bit less.
  4. As you gain weight, you will need to continually up your calories. Bodies with heavier mass have a higher resting metabolic rate, or in other words, burn more calories throughout the day. So, as you pack on some muscle, you will need to continue to eat more and more to continue to gain weight.

Not enough calories

This list is about more, so why is something that is about less on this list? Well, for many, this is all about cutting calories. In other words, some people think that since reducing calories must be good for weight loss then cutting calories even more calories must be better, right?

Well not exactly. I consider about 3 different "phases" the body transitions through during times of calorie restriction.

  1. Safe and effective caloric deficit of 250-500 calories below your TDEE.
  2. "Grey area" between safe weight loss and starvation. You may lose weight in this zone but your body and your mind are not going to be happy about it.
  3. Starvation.

Keep in mind that any and all weight loss will result in a decrease of both fat mass (adipose tissue) and fat-free mass (muscle tissue). This is where exercise (including resistance training) and proper dieting can try and minimize the effects of muscle loss as much as possible - although not entirely.

A caloric deficit means that your body is not getting all of its energy requirements from food intake so it must result to metabolizing tissues (catabolism) in order to meet all of its energy demands. So, assuming you are consuming enough calories to signal to your body that "times are good," and that you are healthy and active, you will continue to lose weight as a steady, slow drip.

A pound of body fat is worth roughly 3500 calories. Basically, if you were to burn that body fat, that is the chemical energy that you would yield. Great. So, if you theoretically cut 500 calories out of your diet every day, then you should see your weight go down by 1 pound in 7 days (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories). Sure, and this may happen in the beginning, but it is not something that is consistent.

Let me refer you to a blog I wrote a while back about what is known as "set point theory." The set point theory is an idea that everyone has a hypothetical "basement" and "ceiling" for their weight. For a while I was right around 170lbs body weight. I always considered my "basement" weight during that time to be 160lbs. What I mean by basement weight on my set point theory is that I could lose weight quick and easy to get me to 160lbs, but beyond that would be tough.

Our bodies have defence mechanisms set in place to prevent us from starving to death. This comes from many years of evolution. Our early ancestors that used to hunt and gather may have gone days without food during times of famine. They didn't have the convenience of having a McDonald's on a street corner to go get a cheeseburger. So, instead of dropping dead after a day or two of not eating, they could go days by catabolizing their own tissues. This is often referred to as "starvation mode."

One thing I will clarify about starvation mode, you should not be gaining weight during starvation mode. It is physically impossible to gain weight if you are on a caloric deficit. Your weight loss, however, can slow or even stop completely for a couple of different reasons.

First, you may have lost weight too quickly by restricting too many calories. Your hormonal profile goes all wonky and your body hits that theoretical "basement," so it puts on the brakes as a defence/survival mechanism. This is generally when you begin to not feel so well because your metabolism has slowed to a halt. 

Secondly, you simply may not be eating enough. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that women intake at least 1200 calories/day and 1800 calories/day for men. Keep in mind that these are the absolute lowest calorie intake numbers, and for those of you who lead an active lifestyle whether through work or exercise should consider those factors.

Here's a very simple and basic way of calculating your resting or basal metabolic rate:

Men:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Women:
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

So, using myself as an example:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x 188) + (12.7 x 71) - (6.8 x 29) = 1,941 calories

That means, that if I was to sit on my butt all day and do nothing but breathe and eat, then I should consume 1,941 calories to maintain my current weight. Factor in activity (work, chores, chasing my sons around) and exercise and you can imagine how many calories I would need to sustain my current weight.

Let's summarize:

  1. Calorie calculations, regardless of how accurate they claim to be, are meant to give you a ballpark figure. You should adjust your caloric intake over time based on what your goals are and how you are progressing towards said goals.
  2. Losing weight, like gaining weight, takes time. If you want to look a certain way by summer, let's say, then you should put a plan in place 6, 9, even 12 months prior to your goal date. Don't try and lose a bunch of weight in a short period of time because your body will rebound and put that weight back on.
  3. Don't restrict your calories too much because you will either stall your weight loss, or worse, your body will catabolize itself, including muscle tissue. Extreme calorie restriction is dangerous!

Too much exercise

I see this one all the time, and probably one of the most common issues on this list. This happens at the beginning of a New Year when someone has made a New Year's resolution to get fit and healthy, and they go to the gym for an hour and a half their first week. Or, someone is doing a workout program and are either not getting the results they're looking for (generally due to neglecting their diet), or aren't getting the results they're looking for fast enough, so they figure that since exercise is good, more exercise must be better, right?

There are 4 main concerns when it comes to overtraining/overreaching:

  1. Not enough recovery
  2. Increase volume/intensity too quickly
  3. Not consuming enough calories
  4. Too much "muscle confusion"

Number 3 was covered above, and number 4 will be covered next, so let's take a look at numbers 1 and 2.

Exercise causes endorphin rushes in the body that can be very addicting. This is one of the contributing factors when it comes to an individual overtraining. Whether it is the allure of getting healthy after finally committing to change, or the addiction to that great feeling of exercising that pulls people to push the envelope. Either way, one of the most vicious cycles of exercise for a lot of people is pushing themselves too far, causing a burnout or injury, forcing them to have to be sedentary again for a while.

Exercise is great because it forces our bodies to adapt to a stimulus or stimuli. Adaptation is what causes growth and change, improving us both mentally and physically. Most people are just trying to "burn calories" because that is what is thrown in their face all the time, however, exercise does so much more.

The adaptions from exercise are first and foremost caused by a stimulus during exercise. If you are running, you are forcing your muscle cells to become more aerobic in nature. The heart and lungs start working more efficiently. When we do push-ups, our muscle fibers are getting stronger and our brain to muscle connection is improving (neural adaptations).

However, what most people don't realize, is that exercise only provides the stimulus for change. The improvements and adaptations occur long after the workout is over during the recovery. If, however, you are exercising and pushing your body all the time and not allowing for sufficient recovery, then your body will not adapt to the stimulus which can lead to injuries.

Another thing that can cause overtraining or improper recovery is an individual pushing things too hard, too quickly. For example, a beginner starts out by doing 3 total-body workouts in a week. After only a week or two, they start to feel pretty good about themselves so they start adding in a few mile runs here and there as well as some bonus strength training sessions and before they know it, they are worn down.

I also see this with beginners, or folks returning to exercise. The start of a new year is synonymous for this. An individual feels great about making a change to their lifestyle. They probably already raided their cupboards, throwing out all of their junk food and have got themselves a new gym membership. So what do they do? They head to the gym on January 2nd and do a 90 minute total-body workout. It then takes them 5 days to recover, making them miserable and already dreading going back.

Exercise needs to be progressive. You start forcing your body to adapt to certain stimuli, allow it to recover, and then come back stronger than before. 

I'm telling you right now, the biggest issue with overtraining is that individuals don't reach a state where they are experiencing symptoms until it is too late. Here are the symptoms of overtraining (from Wikipedia):

Physiological

  • Lymphocytopenia[9]
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Excessive loss of body fat
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Decreased muscular strength
  • Increased submaximal heart rate
  • Inability to complete workouts
  • Chronic muscle soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Increased incidence of injury
  • Depressed immune system
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Frequent minor infections/colds
  • Insomnia
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Lower Testosterone Levels
  • Higher Cortisol Levels

Psychological

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood Disturbance[10]
  • Irritability
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Loss of competitive drive

Performance

  • Early onset of fatigue
  • Decreased aerobic capacity
  • Poor physical performance
  • Inability to complete workouts
  • Delayed recovery

Too much "muscle confusion"

Here's another common one that I see all the time. The term "muscle confusion" gets thrown around by so many, making it seem as though it is this magical potion that produces results. Based on the "general adaptation syndrome," the term muscle confusion refers to something known as periodization. Periodization refers to changing a training schedule every 3-6 weeks for a number of reasons. In athletics, this can be useful to "build" an athlete up systematically so that they can perform at optimal levels during their sport season. For the average person, however, it can refer to introducing new stimuli every several weeks in order to prevent an individual from plateauing results or getting bored with training due to monotony.

So, if we change our training schedules every 3-6 weeks to introduce new workouts then "confusing" our muscles produces results then "confusing" our muscles more frequently must be better, right?

In order to discuss why this is a potentially bad thing, let's first understand what happens when we train. As discussed previously, resistance training forces our bodies to adapt to stimulus. For example, if you were to squat 135lbs for, say, 8 reps, you are stimulating your muscles to adapt to that weight. The next workout you come back, assuming you recovered well, ate enough solid food to aid in recovery, then you should be able to squat either more weight for 8 reps, or the same weight for more reps (depending on your goals). This is known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS).

Let's use our example from above when referring to the above image.

  1. Phase 1 would be squatting 135lbs. We have introduced a stimulus, which is forcing the body to adapt.
  2. Over the following few days, the muscles involved in squat progress through Phase 2, or the "Compensation Phase." For athletes, this is a troublesome phase because this is where one may see a drop in performance/strength/power. The reason for the drop in performance/strength/power is due to stressors placed on the body. This is alarming for our bodily systems. For fitness enthusiasts, this can be a beneficial stage, however, because in the case of 
  3. Not to fear, however, because with proper rest and recovery, our bodies then force the muscles involved in a squat to adapt and progress into Phase 3, or the "Resistance Phase." Notice that we have now improved over our baseline level in phase 1. By using our example from above, we should now be able to squat more weight for the same number of reps or the same weight for more reps (depending on the goals). With periodized training, this cycle will start all over again.
  4. If, however, we cause too much stress (refer to the "Too Much Exercise" section of this blog) without sufficient or proper adaptation (recovery), then our bodies can actually enter Phase 4 or "Decompensation." This is not a good state to be in and one can actually see a rapid decline in both health and performance.

So, with a well-structured periodized program, working towards a specific goal, one can assume they will progress through phases 1, 2, and 3 for a few cycles, ratcheting up their improvements. A period of recovery is needed, however, whether that be a de-load week for heavy resistance training, or complete recovery from the same stressors by taking time off from training completely.

Common amongst many fitness enthusiasts, however, and this goes for nearly all poorly-executed programs, is that a schedule contains too much variation of stimulus. For example, an individual may say, "I want to improve my bench press and squat strength, but also maintain my aerobic conditioning and vertical jump, all while growing big muscles and burning fat!"

Ok, so that training block, based on their goals would have to include chest and leg strength, possibly on the same days, but could be split. A couple days of distance running. Some plyometrics work to maintain or improve vertical jump. Some hypertrophy training to try and increase muscle size. All while cutting calories to reduce body fat.

I can tell you right now that there isn't enough time in a single week to schedule all of those things effectively to improve on all goals at once, while still maintaining proper recovery (eating enough calories). You could create a schedule to fit all of these things in, however many of these goals will get stuck in phase 1 and 2 of the GAS.

People who use Beachbody products are guilty of this all the time. I see people all the time combining programs like Body Beast (primarily designed for hypertrophy), with Asylum (primarily designed for athleticism), because they want to grow big muscles yet keep their athleticism and cardiovascular levels at the same time. The problem is, their conflicting goals are trying to do too much with their muscles at any given time causing them to spin their wheels and not really improve in any given area at once.

Here is a very basic idea of how a male football player may prepare for their season:

  • Season ends, take a few weeks of recovery time to allow body to relax and recover from stressors placed on the body from the previous months.
  • Start to get back to training with next season in mind. Coach wants player to gain some weight to help him on the field next season and not get pushed around so player starts hypertrophy training in the gym while increasing calories with his diet. Training includes some compound movements to start to increase overall strength combined with some hypertrophy training. Very little "cardiovascular" conditioning involved. No football-specific training at all.
  • After several weeks, the player has put on 15lbs of weight, only 6 of that is muscle. Strength training intensifies, hypertrophy training transitions to agility and more sport-specific training. Some light aerobic conditioning is done through agility work. Still no football-specific training at all. Diet is targeted at maintaining muscle mass and energy levels while slowly chipping away at body fat.
  • A few weeks away from training camp, the player really ramps up the intensity of the strength training. Although personal records are now being reached with strength training, the volume is actually dialled back to allow sufficient recover during lifting. Agility and conditioning training is now intensified in preparation for upcoming training camp. Football skill-specific training is fully underway now. Body fat is coming off through stricter dieting.
  • Player enters training camp up in weight from pervious season, also stronger and faster even though heavier. Strength training is highly intense, but not a lot of volume (maybe only a couple lifting sessions per week using the main compound lifts). The player is peaking just in time for the start of the season. The dietary goals now are to maintain weight and energy throughout the season.

You will notice that really only 1 or 2 "types" of training are focused on at once. The football player first focuses on gaining some weight, then slowly begins to ramp up strength and conditioning while cutting body fat, not trying to do everything at once. This is the most effective way of improving something.

So that's nice for a football player, but what about the average person, what if they don't want to improve in any particular area besides just getting "fit?" Well, by constantly introducing new stimuli, your body can and will head towards phase 4 or "Decompensation." Exercise-induced stimulus is stressful on the body. It causes a response. Sure, this is good to grow and improve, but too much stress in a short period of time without proper structure can lead to overtraining and/or stagnation of results.





Day 365 - A Year's Worth of Blogs

Well, a year ago today, I set out with this crazy goal/mission to post a blog every single day for 365 straight days. Today, marks the successful completion of said goal with my 365th straight blog!

Read More