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: mass gaining

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.


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.


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:


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.

Time to bulk!

*UPDATED* - September 18th

Well, the summer has been fun, but with the imminent arrival of fall, I am excited to get back into bulking. Or, as Dom puts it, I want to be a Meat Titan.

Let's face facts: Human beings are extremely vain, and although I try to promote healthy living as much as possible to my team, I too like to look and feel good.

Vanity is a wonderful by-product of healthy living. It is a fantastic circle of self-glorification. I lift heavy weights, which makes me feel like a total badass. Lifting heavy weights, in my opinion, has also changed my appearance the most...well that and eating a shit-ton of food.

On top of that, even though lifting heavy weights improves physical appearances, it is also great for overall health. The body gets stressed in ways that promote tissue growth, and it also improves body composition.

To be honest, many of you reading this probably came from a similar background as myself. You grew up being a scrawny guy, never really having too much muscle. Maybe you played some sports, and never really worried about your diet because you never really gained any weight.

Then, as you started to become a bit less active, the extra snacks and beer start to catch up to you. Next thing you know, you have put on a nice little belly with no real muscle or strength. This is known as "skinny fat." That's where I was back in 2006. I still never really gained a whole lot of weight, but I wasn't going anywhere with my muscle mass either.

Fast forward a few years, and I started to get into P90X. I thought that I had to do what all the guys in the infomercials did. Exercise and eat well, even at a caloric deficit, so that I could shed that body fat and grow huge muscles. The problem was, I didn't really have a whole lot of muscle to begin with. I continued on with programs like Insanity, Asylum, more P90X, more P90X/Insanity/Asylum hybrids, etc. etc. etc. Sure, I was gaining some strength (how could you not?) but I was just spinning my wheels. Sound familiar?

I, along with many of you reading this, got stuck in this limbo area between not really gaining any weight, yet not really losing any body fat either. I didn't want to eat too much and get "fat," yet I didn't want to eat too little and lose what muscle/strength I had. If you are in this zone and are just interested in overall health and staying fit, then go for it, but realize that you will in fact stay right in that zone unless you change something about your current situation.

You see, a lot of these guys (and girls) in the infomercials had a lot of weight to lose. There are a ton of very inspirational stories, I will never take anything away from them. They cracked down on their diets, they exercised hard, were very diligent, and boom, fantastic transformation.

The thing is, these transformation stories are all (mostly) about weight loss. These people have been "bulking" for years now! They may not have been bulking the way they intended to, but they were putting on weight (fat AND muscle). Then, by doing a program like P90X, Insanity, Asylum, etc., they were able to shed their body fat and be left with well-defined muscles, at times appearing as though they "grew" their muscles in the process.

Here's what these testimonials and transformation stories don't tell you, however. It is nearly impossible to cut weight and build muscle at the same time. Don't get me wrong, it is very possible to gain strength and get stronger in a lot of ways, not to mention improving your overall cardiovascular health, but to actually build muscle requires a caloric surplus (eat more than you burn).

Anyways, so back to my story. Once I figured out that I needed to stop worrying about putting on more weight, I started eating more and lifting heavier and heavier weights (safely), then my body started to change for the better.

You see, if you eat at a caloric surplus, you will put on weight. If you eat at a caloric surplus and sit on your ass, most of those calories that you eat will pack onto your body as fat (adipose tissue). If, on the other hand, you eat at a caloric surplus (recommended 250-500+ calories over your TDEE) AND lift heavy weights and exercise, then you will build muscle. Sure, there will be some body fat added here and there as well, especially if you really don't have a care in the world about what you're eating, but for the most part, your energy will be put to good use in building large, glorious muscles.

What to expect:

  1. If you're working out hard and eating lots of calories, your weight will go up. Chances are, your weight will jump pretty quickly at the beginning due to glycogen (muscle sugar) and water retention from the get-go. Don't panic, this weight gain will level out.
  2. You are only going to gain maybe 1/4 - 1/2 pound of actual muscle per week under absolute optimal circumstances, so don't tell all your friends at how you "put on 10lbs of muscle after your first 3 weeks..."
  3. If you are a beginner, most of your strength gains in the first several weeks is due to neural adaptations. Basically, your brain to muscle connection is improving, so you are learning how to use your muscles more effectively. This does not necessarily mean that you are gaining a ton of muscle right away (refer to #2).
  4. Muscle increases your resting metabolic rate. This is the best part of all of this. If you are a skinny guy and/or girl that wishes to gain some muscle, realize that as you are adding muscle mass, your muscles are burning calories all the time, even at rest. So, even as you're sitting there watching tv, you are burning calories. A 180lb guy burns more calories on a day to day basis than a 160lb guy. This is important to realize for 2 reasons. 1, by putting on muscle, you will be more primed to burn body fat now and down the road if and when you wish to do a "cut." 2, you need to continually re-calculate your TDEE because as you put on mass, you will need to continue to eat more and more in order to continue to put on weight. As your weight goes up, you will be burning more calories day to day.
  5. When I am eating at a caloric surplus of good, solid foods, I find that I have no interest in "cheat" meals or junk food. My body is getting enough (and then some) calories from the foods that I am eating, thus feeling full nearly all the time, and I don't even crave junkier foods.

So here's what my next bulking schedule will look like for the first 3 (possibly more) weeks, as well as the thought process behind it:

  1. 3x5 Bench Press
  2. Cardio Option* + Core-mageddon
  3. 1x5 Deadlift
    3x5 Barbell Row
  4. Cardio Option*
  5. 3x5 Military Press
  6. Recovery Day
  7. Legs

*Cardio option will and can include almost anything. I have a huge library of cardio workouts, not to mention more standard cardio options like going for runs. I also have a 30 minute cardio routine planned for my YouTube Channel.

My basic split (for the most part) of this first phase is based on a Chest/Tris, Back/Bis, and Legs/Shoulders split. For phase 2, I will more than likely switch to a Chest, Legs/Back, Shoulders/Arms split. I will post details about that when I get there.


I know a lot of people ask me all the time for diet advice/ideas. What can I say, I have tracked my diet in the past and have had some success with it, but I have always despised counting calories and entering them into an app, or worse, using a paper system.

I lead a busy lifestyle as it is and like to put what free time I can manage into my training rather than focusing on counting every last calorie. In fact, counting calories and trying to calculate calorie burn is, in my opinion, guessing at best as it is.

Having said all of that, I am really quite confident in my knowledge of what I need to eat as well as how much I need to eat, so I will base my diet on that. Dieting should be trendy anyways, and what I mean by that is you on average you should eat more if you wish to gain weight, and eat less if you wish to lose. You are going to see fluctuations up and down on a daily basis regardless if you are trying to do one or the other so I don't weight myself every day.

If, however, I weigh myself once a week and notice that I am not gaining or not gaining as much as I want to be, then I will add some extra food in. If you are looking for ideas on what to eat, however, you can check out my meal plan from my first round of Body Beast to see how I crushed my calories. I will say that I am a big fan of eggs, dairy, healthy fats (avocados, peanut butter), peanut butter, peanut butter, and oh yeah, peanut butter.

I do have some new ideas that I wish to try out with this round, so if they pan out well then I will blog about them at a later time. Also, if you wish to see my "supplemental" work planned out, let me know by either commenting below or emailing me and I can put something together.

Final Thoughts

Last winter I had a goal of reaching 200 lbs. for the first time in my life. I ultimately fell a bit short of my goal due to a number of reasons, including several rounds of strep throat, so this year I am sure I can hit my goal.

I maintained weight throughout the summer at 188 lbs., and weight usually packs on rather quick at the start of a new bulk round due to glycogen and water retention, so I should shoot up to the mid-190's within a few weeks and then just progressing from there to reach 200!

Stay tuned for progress as I go. Getting started on Sunday September 14th.

What's the deal with high protein diets?


Study after study has proven the effectiveness of diets with higher than recommended amounts of protein for healthy body composition. However, many individuals still believe discount these studies for a number of reasons including the belief that eating too much protein can be unsafe or unneeded.

Protein is the most important macronutrient vis-à-vis positive alterations in body composition. Previous work has suggested that protein intakes in the range of 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram (kg) body weight per day (g/kg/d) are needed in active individuals [1-7]. In contrast, the US recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg/d. The average protein intake for US adults is 91 grams daily or ~1.0 g/kg ideal body weight [8]. Thus, the average US adult consumes slightly more than the RDA; however, this level is inadequate for athletes or active individuals who engage in exercise/sport training for several hours per week.

There are a couple very interesting points of interest to discuss from this study. First, the participants in this study consuming a high protein diet (4.4g/kg/d) did not gain any weight (fat, or fat free mass) during the 8 week study, despite the fact that they consumed 800 calories more per day than baseline.

The current investigation found no changes in body weight, fat mass, or fat free mass in the high protein diet group. This occurred in spite of the fact that they consumed over 800 calories more per day for eight weeks. The high protein group consumed an extra 145 grams of protein daily (mean intake of 307 grams per day or 4.4 g/kg/d).

But calories are calories right? Most nutritionists or "experts" will tell you that in order to lose weight you need to consume less calories than you burn in order to lose weight. Well, that may still be true, but don't always assume that eating more will make you gain weight either. This is especially important for those of us that wish to either lose weight or maintain weight but are too damn hungry trying to stick to a specific caloric goal. Instead, reach for a high-protein snack.

One might suggest that the high thermic effect of protein may make it difficult to gain body weight during times of overfeeding. It has been shown that the greater the protein content of a meal, the higher the thermic effect [34]. Both young and old individuals experience an increase in resting energy expenditure after a 60 gram protein meal (17-21% increase) [35].

I would definitely be in the "high protein" category, and you could ask my wife, I am warm all the time. Even in the middle of winter, I am usually in shorts and a tshirt in our house. For those of you who remember your high school or college physics classes should remember the first law of thermodynamics. Heat is a form of energy. The heat that my body is constantly producing are calories being burned (used).

This study is also telling for those who are either too shy to do resistance training or are trying to add mass from resistance training.

First, those of you who may not do enough resistance training due to a fear of becoming "too bulky," realize that these study participants are training hard, eating 800 calories more than usual every day, not to mention consuming 4.4g/kg/d of protein, and didn't gain any weight at all.

Those of you who are trying to add some mass, realize that more protein is not always the answer. Sure, your body will need protein to build tissue, however, more protein is not necessarily better in building more mass. Your body can only synthesize so much protein at a time (around 0.25-0.5 pounds of new muscle/week) so aim for around 2g/kg/d of protein and fill the rest of your diet in with carbohydrates and fats.

Future research should focus on trained subjects using a single source of protein during overfeeding. Furthermore, a heavy resistance program geared towards skeletal muscle hypertrophy in conjunction with protein overfeeding needs further investigation.

I appreciate the mention of these topics of future research. The participants of the study used whey and casein protein powders to reach their daily protein goals, so it would be interesting to see what results a similar study found if individuals used only whole foods rather than supplements (is it even possible to eat that much protein?).

Also, would there be any difference in weight gain and fat free mass gain if participants were doing a hypertrophy-specific resistance training program.

How to: Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the greatest strength exercises of all time. Although primarily targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back, this compound exercise recruits muscle from nearly the entire body.

All of my explanations during this guide will refer to the use of a standard barbell and plates. Because the deadlift is essentially just lifting weight and putting it back down, these actions can be mimicked with dumbbells or other forms of resistance, although, the barbell should be the resistance of choice when possible.



If you have a setup that uses olympic weight plates and an olympic barbell, then your bar at starting point should be approximately 9 inches off the ground. A few inches higher or lower than that should not be a problem, although be aware of the ramifications due to the height differences. Lifting weight higher than a 9" starting position could activate less muscle fiber due to less distance for the resistance to travel. However, lifting from a deficit, or having the resistance start closer to the ground may activate more muscle, form may be compromised due to a further distance the resistance has to travel.


Note: Not all weight plates are the same diameter. If you are fortunate enough to have plates that are the same diameter, then you will be able to begin practicing the deadlift with a lower weight yet have the bar start at the same distance from the floor every time. If, however, you are unable to start with 135 pounds for your deadlift (45 lb. bar + 2x 45 lb. plates) then you can use other plates to stack and create a desired height for the bar's starting position.


  1. Approach the bar and stand so that your mid foot is directly beneath the bar. When you are squatted, your shins will then come in contact with the bar.
  2. Your feet should be parallel to one another, approximately hip distance apart. Your feet should be slightly more narrow than shoulder width to allow room for your hands which will grab the bar outside of your knees.
  3. As you squat to grab the bar, your hands should be shoulder-width apart so that your arms are hanging straight down, or perpendicular to the floor.
  4. When squatted, shoulder blades should be directly over the bar.
  5. A flat back should be maintained throughout, maintaining a curve in the lower back. This can be achieved by sticking your butt behind you and driving your chest up.
  6. You should be squatted with these key points in mind:
    1. Bar over mid foot
    2. Shoulders over bar
    3. Bar touching shins
    4. Flat back, maintaining natural curvature


One of the key things to note during the movement of your deadlift is to keep your back flat (naturally curved) throughout the movement. Your goal is to lift the bar by extending at your knees first, followed by the hips. This is accomplished by maintaining a constant torso angle as your legs are extended first. Once the bar passes the height of the knees, your shoulders then begin to rise as your hips are driven forward by engaging your glutes.

One common mistake, especially when people try lifting more than they can, is for the hips to rise too soon and rise quicker than the shoulder, causing the lower back to bear most, if not all of the load. This can lead to injury.

Keep the bar centred over your mid foot throughout the movement as if the bar is "scraping" your shins on the way up. One of the primary goals of the lift is to extend the hips forward by flexing (squeezing) your glutes at the top of the lift.

Your chest should be up, which should come natural with the proper alignment of your spine. As you lift the bar, your head will move as your spine does. Once the bar reaches about knee high, think about driving your hips forward.

Do not, and I mean do NOT arch your back at the apex of the lift. Your goal during the deadlift is to lift the weight up and place (or drop) it back down. There really isn't anything to be accomplished by arching your back at the top of the lift besides herniating a disc in your back. If you wish to add a shrug or other trap work, I suggest doing that separately.

If you are deadlifting at a proper lifting station, you have the option of simply dropping the weight to the floor once you have completed the lift. However, if you are lifting on any other surface, reverse the actions of the lift by breaking at the hips first by pushing your butt back.


Overhand Grip

Overhand Grip

As long as your grip can muster the strength, I recommend gripping the bar with an overhand grip. This way, both arms are exercised in the same way. However, as you begin to lift more and more weight, you will notice that your grip strength may be holding you back from maxing out your lifts.

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

What happens is that the bar will "roll" out of your hands. The solution to this is a mixed grip, where one palm is facing forward and the other is facing backwards. This allows you to keep the bar in your hands by preventing it from rolling out of your grip. What happens is that the bar may begin to roll out of one hand, but will be kept in place by subsequently balanced out by the other hand facing the opposite direction.

Dumbbell Deadlift


A lot of people do a dumbbell deadlift by placing the dumbbells out in front of their feet or at a slight angle. This is fine and may work well, but I actually prefer placing the weights beside my feet (dumbbells parallel to each other) to better align the load over my mid foot, similar to a barbell deadlift. By placing the dumbbells out in front of your feet, you are putting extra strain on your lower back and can therefore increase the risk of injury in my opinion. 

Chances are, you are going to be squatting a bit deeper with a dumbbell deadlift as well since the handles of the weights will be closer to the floor than when using a barbell. Either make the adjustments to drop your butt closer to the floor during your squat, or use a sturdy platform or riser for each dumbbell to better mimic the height of a barbell deadlift.



Other than that, make sure to use (for the most part) the same setup and technique used during a barbell deadlift.

I was actually going to do a quick video on all of the cues, tips, and advice to a proper deadlift, but I came across Alan Thrall's video and felt that there was no point trying to top what he has done, so enjoy!

Q&A, Miscellaneous Facts/Tips

Body mechanics and genetics actually play a pretty big part in strength training. What I mean by that is varying body types have advantages/disadvantages based on the lift being performed. For example, individuals with longer arms generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to the bench press due to the greater distance the bar must travel.

On the other hand, someone with longer arms may outperform someone with shorter arms on the deadlift because of the way their body aligns when doing this lift. By keeping the bar centred over mid foot, and under the shoulder blades (as described above), someone with longer arms has less depth that they have to squat down in order to grab the bar, and therefore get it off the floor.

Q: Should I deadlift in bare feet?

A: That is up to you. I prefer bare feet, or at least "minimalist" shoes because I feel like I have a better feel for the floor beneath me. If your shoes are too soft then you may actually have a bit too much instability to really plant yourself comfortably. Instability training may have some benefits to other forms of exercise, but lifting as much weight off of the floor as you possibly can at once is not a good time to practice that.

Did I miss something? Do you want to ask a question? Do you have a specific "How-to" you would like to see in the future? Please fill out the form below:

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P90X3 Prep!

Well, after my disappointing news earlier this week, I have spent the rest of the week recovering and brainstorming my next training block. It is a shame that I can not make it to the World's Toughest Mudder this year, but at the same time, I am excited about my short-term training goals leading up to the release of P90X3 on December 10th!

For those of you who don't know already, I will be running a  P90X3 Challenge Group, so that a group of us like-minded individuals can progress through the program together.

Leading up to P90X3, however, will be a hypertrophy/strength/mass gaining hybrid that I have concocted that will aim to fulfill a few goals: 

  1. Put on some mass. 
  2. Improve strength. 
  3. Work on specific areas for hockey (I am back playing men's hockey on Sunday nights). 

The idea here, is that I will be heading into P90X3 in good physical shape, but with some weight to lose. The timing will be perfect, since we will be starting just after the holidays, so I can focus on getting my diet in perfect order, and 'cut' the best I can with X3.

My hybrid will consist of Body Beast workouts, alongside Tony's 1 on 1's (schedule below). I will be playing around with some of the rep ranges, however, but before we delve into why I am doing this, let me give you a crash-course on "core" vs. "assistance" exercises. 

"Core" vs. "Assistance" Exercises
Strength and power repetition ranges are intended to be done by "core exercises". A core exercise is one that recruits one or more large muscle areas (chest, shoulder, back, hip, thigh), involve two or more primary joints, and receive priority when one is selecting exercises because of their direct application to sport.
"Assistance exercises" on the other hand, usually recruit smaller muscle areas (upper arm, abdonminals, calf, neck, forearm, lower back, or anterior lower leg), involve only one primary joint, and are considered less important to improving sport performance.

If you are familiar with Body Beast, you will know that majority of the workouts (roughly) use 15-12-8 repetition goals. I am going to be aiming for 12-8-6 repetition goals for all "Core" exercises (using the above terminology). So, for example, chest presses, squats, shoulder presses, etc. will be considered "Core". Specific exercises, such as bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, etc. will still use the 15-12-8 repetition goal range.

6 to 12 repetitions is the "magic zone" when it comes to hypertrophy (muscular growth), but the closer to you get to 6 (6-8 reps), could be considered "functional hypertrophy," as the muscles also gain some strength as well. When working major muscle groups, across multiple joints (chest press - elbows, shoulders), the forces placed on the body can be displaced and 'handled' better by the body. 

Since I am playing hockey on Sundays, that will essentially work as my "cardio" workout for the week, because I know a lot of you like to use that term. Me personally, I like to think of any workout that elevates your heart rate above resting levels for an extended period of time (what workout doesn't?!?) as a "cardio" workout.

The only two workouts that will NOT be following the mention repetition goals will be my legs days (Tuesday/Thursdays). Tuesdays will be about improving the plyometric nature of my muscles, so that they function better on the ice. I also really enjoy the very hockey-specific exercises in Tony's 1 on 1 - Plyo Legs, specifically the lateral jumps, and 4-corner jumps as they mimic the actions used when skating. Legs Thursdays will be my own concoction of some really heavy squatting, deadlifting, and step-up to reverse lunging. Since I will be doing deadlifts on Legs Thursdays, I will be omitting them from any routines the day before or after (Back/Bis on Fridays).

You may notice double chest days during my "Phase 2" workouts. My chest has always been a trouble spot for me, so I will be attempting to put some mass on in that area, enough said! 

Finally, I will be dabbling with some forearm work (great to improve my strength and explosiveness of my shot), and core work - both of which I will be playing around with a few ideas of my own. Once I get a good routine, then I can share them with those interested. 

Oh, and one last thing. I don't have my "off" or "recovery" weeks planned as of yet. They will most likely be a 3x/week mix of total body workouts, such as Tony Horton's Road Warrior, Body Beast Total Body, and maybe a Focus T25 workout or two! 


Phase 1 (October 7th - October 27th)

M - BB Build: Chest/Tris + Abs
T - TH 1on1 - Plyo Legs
W - BB Build: Shoulders + Abs
Th - Legs
F - BB Build: Back/Bis + Forearm work
S - Off
S - Hockey

Phase 2 (November 4th - November 24th)

M - BB Bulk: Chest + Bulk: Back (no deadlifts)
T - TH 1on1 - Plyo Legs
W - TH 1on1 - Diamond Delts + Just Arms
Th - Legs
F - BB Bulk: Chest + Abs
S - Off
S - Hockey
Phase 3 (December 2nd - December 22nd)
Week 1 - Phase 2
Week 2 - Phase 1
Week 3 - Phase 2
December 23rd - December 28th - Off

December 29th - Start P90X3! 

How Did I Get My Body Beast Results?

A lot of people ask me "how" or "why" Body Beast? More specifically, how come my results were "better" with Body Beast than any other program I have done?

I will fully admit that my results were "better" with Body Beast than any other program. Here are my thoughts on that:


1. I have never been a guy that has needed to lose a lot of weight. Actually, growing up, I have always been very skinny. Now, think of some of the greatest transformations you have seen with Insanity/Asylum/P90X/etc. and most, if not all of the stories you see are of people who have had a lot of weight to lose. I personally never really used any of my previous programs to get thinner, or "ripped" necessarily, but used the programs to boost confidence, stay active/healthy, and to train for the various events I participate in.

2. Body Beast is definitely a program suited for a guy like me. As I said, I have always been skinny, so I knew that I could get a great transformation (opposite to those who need to lose weight) if I really focused on the program and set my mind to it. Not only that, but...

3. I also REALLY focused on my diet during Beast. I made sure to eat a ton during the first 2 phases in order to build muscle, then "cut" the fat away during Phase 3. Also,

4. Shakeology helped me a LOT. I know this sounds like a sales pitch, but it did! I just started taking Shakeology in November 2012. I started Body Beast towards the mid-way point of December 2012. Shakeology helped me to put on mass (used as a healthy snack throughout the day) but to also cut away the fat when I needed to make every calorie 'count'.

5. Body Beast is definitely a "glamour" routine. As I said before, I focused more on my strength and performance gains in the past over vanity, but with Body Beast, the goal is to grow your muscles and get ripped, so that is what I went for!

6. I really enjoyed the workouts! I am always an advocate for doing the things you enjoy...assuming I don't just mean "enjoying" sitting on your ass watching TV all day! Find something that you enjoy doing, and do it often! If you like running outside, go do that! If you enjoy swimming laps in the local pool, go do that! I enjoy a variety of things, and Body Beast happened to strike a chord with me, so I really looked forward to working hard every day! 

Hopefully that helps shed some light on my Beast results!