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: protein

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.




How to lose weight effectively

In order to lose weight, you must eat at a caloric deficit (consume less calories than you burn). In other words, over a period of time, say, 3 months to reach a weight goal, most days should be focused on eating less calories than your body burns for energy. This puts you at a negative energy balance.

A negative energy balance promotes the catabolism of your own tissues. In other words, your body begins to break down its own tissues to be used for energy. Sounds great right? Well, what most people don't realize is that although you are losing adipose tissue (body fat) during times of catabolism, you will lose some muscle mass as well (fat-free mass).

A study in Advances in Nutrition looked at how catabolism works and how our dietary choices affect what tissues are being catabolized:

Skeletal Muscle Responses to Negative Energy Balance: Effects of Dietary Protein
Sustained periods of negative energy balance decrease body mass due to losses of both fat and skeletal muscle mass. Decreases in skeletal muscle mass are associated with a myriad of negative consequences, including suppressed basal metabolic rate, decreased protein turnover, decreased physical performance, and increased risk of injury. Decreases in skeletal muscle mass in response to negative energy balance are due to imbalanced rates of muscle protein synthesis and degradation. However, the underlying physiological mechanisms contributing to the loss of skeletal muscle during energy deprivation are not well described. Recent studies have demonstrated that consuming dietary protein at levels above the current recommended dietary allowance (0.8 g·kg−1·d−1) may attenuate the loss of skeletal muscle mass by affecting the intracellular regulation of muscle anabolism and proteolysis. However, the specific mechanism by which increased dietary protein spares skeletal muscle through enhanced molecular control of muscle protein metabolism has not been elucidated. This article reviews the available literature related to the effects of negative energy balance on skeletal muscle mass, highlighting investigations that assessed the influence of varying levels of dietary protein on skeletal muscle protein metabolism. Further, the molecular mechanisms that may contribute to the regulation of skeletal muscle mass in response to negative energy balance and alterations in dietary protein level are described.

To summarize:

Sustained periods of negative energy balance decrease body mass due to losses of both fat and skeletal muscle mass

Mentioned above. If you eat less than you burn, your body will begin to look inward for energy. This is not a perfect system. Ideally, your body would burn only adipose tissue and leave your muscles alone, but sadly, that is not the case.

In general, the proportion of body mass loss at the recommended dietary allowance of protein (0.8 g·kg−1·d−1) is: ~75% adipose tissue and ~25% fat-free mass

So, if you were to consume protein at a "standard" dietary recommendation of 0.8g/kgxday (so that would be 65g protein for a 180lb person), then you will lose approximately 75% adipose to 25% muscle. In other words, every 10lbs you lose, 7.5lbs of that would be body fat and 2.5lbs would be muscle.

Consuming a high-protein diet may contribute to the regulation of muscle mass by maintaining whole-body protein turnover in response to either acute or prolonged periods of negative energy balance

Researchers have determined that consuming a diet higher in protein than the recommended 0.8g/kgxday can actually help to tip those numbers towards preserving even more muscle mass when at an overall caloric deficit.

A high protein diet during most studies was 1.5 g·kg−1·d−1, nearly twice the recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 g·kg−1·d−1

We're still not talking about crazy-high amounts of protein here, that is still only 123g of protein for a 180lb person.

Leucine-containing food products during exercise stimulate the mTORC1 pathway, increasing muscle protein synthesis and decreased whole-body proteolysis

So, foods containing the branch chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine have shown positive effects of further maintaining muscle mass, so make sure if you are eating at a caloric deficit, to make sure every one of those calories that you do ingest count, by loading up on leucine sources.

Recommended leucine intake is currently 14 mg·kg−1·d−1, but the amount required to maximize the stimulation of muscle anabolic intracellular signaling may be at least 40–65 mg·kg−1·d−1, and even up to 7–12 g·d−1 to contribute to the preservation of muscle mass during stressors such as energy restriction

Summary

You can use dietary means to try and reverse some of the effects of muscle breakdown during weight loss. I would also recommend adding resistance training to target all areas of the body to "signal" the body, letting it know that your muscles are being used and are needed. This will also help not only preserve muscle, but to preserve strength as well, as your goal of losing weight is pursued.





What's the deal with high protein diets?

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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 important is protein timing?

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Short answer: It isn't. At least according to a study from Brad Schoenfeld.

I know, I know, I keep ruining some people's common misconceptions. Just the other day I wrote about why BCAA's are a waste of money. Today, I am going to discuss the fact that when you ingest your protein has little to do with your results.

Abstract

Protein timing is a popular dietary strategy designed to optimize the adaptive response to exercise. The strategy involves consuming protein in and around a training session in an effort to facilitate muscular repair and remodeling, and thereby enhance post-exercise strength- and hypertrophy-related adaptations. Despite the appar- ent biological plausibility of the strategy, however, the effectiveness of protein timing in chronic training studies has been decidedly mixed. The purpose of this paper therefore was to conduct a multi-level meta-regression of ran- domized controlled trials to determine whether protein timing is a viable strategy for enhancing post-exercise mus- cular adaptations. The strength analysis comprised 478 subjects and 96 ESs, nested within 41 treatment or control groups and 20 studies. The hypertrophy analysis comprised 525 subjects and 132 ESs, nested with 47 treatment or control groups and 23 studies. A simple pooled analysis of protein timing without controlling for covariates showed a small to moderate effect on muscle hypertrophy with no significant effect found on muscle strength. In the full meta-regression model controlling for all covariates, however, no significant differences were found between treat- ment and control for strength or hypertrophy. The reduced model was not significantly different from the full model for either strength or hypertrophy. With respect to hypertrophy, total protein intake was the strongest pre- dictor of ES magnitude. These results refute the commonly held belief that the timing of protein intake in and around a training session is critical to muscular adaptations and indicate that consuming adequate protein in com- bination with resistance exercise is the key factor for maximizing muscle protein accretion. 

I have always approached exercise and health science with the same mindset, that the human body is far more complex than what most people give it credit for, and that the level of efficiency in which our bodies conduct day to day activities is incredible.

Case in point, I believe that far too many people have this mindset that our bodies, or more specifically, our muscles just break down or deteriorate due to extreme bouts of exercise. Sure, during extreme cases, our bodies become anabolic in nature (the breakdown of muscle tissue) for energy production. This occurs during times of famine or long bouts of exercise without proper nutrition.

Having said all of that, regardless of how intense your workout is, chances are, your body is has more than enough stored energy to complete the task at hand.

Well what about all this talk about muscle tearing and tissue breakdown during resistance training?

Once again, yes, resistance training causes micro trauma, tears, and tissue breakdown during resistance training, however that does not mean that those muscle cells just shrivel up and die if you do not drink Muscle Milk within one hour following your workout.

There seems to be some evidential truth about carbohydrate ingestion to replenish spent glycogen stores immediately following an intense bout of exercise, but even then, it is only important if you are planning on continuing on with even more intense exercise or life events later that day. If you have a casual or even slightly difficult day, physically that is, your regular well-rounded diet throughout the day will aid in glycogen replenishment.

Enough about that, however, back to protein synthesis.

So the common misconception is that after an extreme bout of resistance training, your body should be blasted with essential amino acids, found in your common protein shake immediately following exercise. There are even phrases thrown around about like a "1-Hour Anabolic Window."

The fact of the matter is, your body does not complete a difficult resistance training routine and then immediately resort to digesting and breaking down its own muscle tissue due to damages caused by said resistance training. Instead, your body recognizes the damage done to the muscle tissue, and focuses on repairing it throughout the day, assuming you are ingesting enough protein to meet the demands. This study found that your net protein intake was more important than the timing of it.

Basically, don't beat yourself up if you have a busy schedule, do your workout, and then can't get your hands on some protein until a few hours later. Also don't be so focused on special supplements that advertise "Enhanced Recovery" with large amounts of protein in them.

For very active individuals, especially those who resistance train more than a few times per week should aim for at least 0.8-1g of protein for every pound of body weight. So, for myself, I currently weight right around 183lbs, so I should be aiming for at least 146-183g of protein on a daily basis (when training) to prevent muscle loss (catabolism) and to promote muscle growth (anabolism).

Whole, animal protein sources should aways take precedence (whey, meats, dairy, etc.). Vegetarians can absolutely meet their protein needs, but need to compliment plant sources due to plant proteins being incomplete - lacking all of the essential amino acids. Aim to get as much of your daily protein from food first, then supplement as an accessory.





Post Exercise Nutrient Timing

Time and time again, I see individuals giving advice as to what you should consume pre and post workout. I, myself, have given such advice in the past. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some), research is always changing and finding new and important information surrounding topics just like this one. 

I came across this fantastic article over at JISSN (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition). I will highlight some key points, with my own anecdotes below, but I highly recommend going and reading the full article for yourself.

It is all too common for many individuals to just assume that post-workout nutrition is not only key, but must be the same regardless of training. 

However, the importance – and even the existence – of a post-exercise ‘window’ can vary according to a number of factors. Not only is nutrient timing research open to question in terms of applicability, but recent evidence has directly challenged the classical view of the relevance of post-exercise nutritional intake on anabolism.

Various studies have shown that post-exercise consumption of carbohydrates (with or without protein, mind you) improves recovery.

Similarly, Ivy et al. [27] found that consumption of a combination of protein and carbohydrate after a 2+ hour bout of cycling and sprinting increased muscle glycogen content significantly more than either a carbohydrate-only supplement of equal carbohydrate or caloric equivalency. The synergistic effects of protein-carbohydrate have been attributed to a more pronounced insulin response [28], although it should be noted that not all studies support these findings [29]. Jentjens et al. [30] found that given ample carbohydrate dosing (1.2 g/kg/hr), the addition of a protein and amino acid mixture (0.4 g/kg/hr) did not increase glycogen synthesis during a 3-hour post-depletion recovery period.

Interesting. So some studies have shown that post-exercise consumption of protein improves muscle recovery, but others have found no difference between carb/protein combination or a carb-only concoction.  So why are so many people focused on getting that protein shake in after their workouts? Probably because that is what many of us are lead to believe.

This "window of opportunity," appears to be not as important as once thought, unless of course you are pulling doubles.

Despite a sound theoretical basis, the practical significance of expeditiously repleting glycogen stores remains dubious. Without question, expediting glycogen resynthesis is important for a narrow subset of endurance sports where the duration between glycogen-depleting events is limited to less than approximately 8 hours [31]. Similar benefits could potentially be obtained by those who perform two-a-day split resistance training bouts (i.e. morning and evening) provided the same muscles will be worked during the respective sessions. However, for goals that are not specifically focused on the performance of multiple exercise bouts in the same day, the urgency of glycogen resynthesis is greatly diminished.

Highly intense training, pushing your muscles to absolute failure seems to only deplete glycogen stores by 40% at most.

High-intensity resistance training with moderate volume (6-9 sets per muscle group) has only been shown to reduce glycogen stores by 36-39%[8,32].
So, worst-case scenario, which is highly unlikely or ill-advised, would be to work the same muscle group within a 24-hour period, but even in that event, your muscles would still be capable of producing energy as they have plenty of backup glycogen.

In most cases, individuals appear to have a much longer "window of opportunity" to replenish spent glycogen stores than previously thought. 

For example, Parkin et al [33] compared the immediate post-exercise ingestion of 5 high-glycemic carbohydrate meals with a 2-hour wait before beginning the recovery feedings. No significant between-group differences were seen in glycogen levels at 8 hours and 24 hours post-exercise. In further support of this point, Fox et al. [34] saw no significant reduction in glycogen content 24 hours after depletion despite adding 165 g fat collectively to the post-exercise recovery meals and thus removing any potential advantage of high-glycemic conditions.

So what about protein? You need protein following a strenuous workout, along with an insulin spike to promote protein synthesis, correct? Well, maybe not. You see, studies have shown that even whey proteins, which digest rather quickly, take longer to actually reach the bloodstream.

In another example, Power et al. [48] showed that a 45g dose of whey protein isolate takes approximately 50 minutes to cause blood amino acid levels to peak. Insulin concentrations peaked 40 minutes after ingestion, and remained at elevations seen to maximize net muscle protein balance (15-30 mU/L, or 104-208 pmol/L) for approximately 2 hours.
So, although it may be nice to have a post-workout meal (especially if working out in a fasted state), it is not entirely vital in the timing.

Therefore, the recommendation for lifters to spike insulin post-exercise is somewhat trivial. The classical post-exercise objective to quickly reverse catabolic processes to promote recovery and growth may only be applicable in the absence of a properly constructed pre-exercise meal.

So to summarize (you really should to and read the discussion section for the full benefit):

For those who train in the morning (fasted), such as myself, and wish to build muscle/strength: 

In practice, it is common for those with the primary goal of increasing muscular size and/or strength to make a concerted effort to consume a pre-exercise meal within 1-2 hours prior to the bout in attempt to maximize training performance. Depending on its size and composition, this meal can conceivably function as both a pre- and an immediate post-exercise meal, since the time course of its digestion/absorption can persist well into the recovery period. Tipton et al. [63] observed that a relatively small dose of EAA (6 g) taken immediately pre-exercise was able to elevate blood and muscle amino acid levels by roughly 130%, and these levels remained elevated for 2 hours after the exercise bout. Although this finding was subsequently challenged by Fujita et al. [64], other research by Tipton et al. [65] showed that the ingestion of 20 g whey taken immediately pre-exercise elevated muscular uptake of amino acids to 4.4 times pre-exercise resting levels during exercise, and did not return to baseline levels until 3 hours post-exercise.
For those who train later in the day (i.e. a few hours after your last meal):

On the other hand, there are others who might train before lunch or after work, where the previous meal was finished 4–6 hours prior to commencing exercise. This lag in nutrient consumption can be considered significant enough to warrant post-exercise intervention if muscle retention or growth is the primary goal. Layman [77] estimated that the anabolic effect of a meal lasts 5-6 hours based on the rate of postprandial amino acid metabolism. However, infusion-based studies in rats [78,79] and humans [80,81] indicate that the postprandial rise in MPS from ingesting amino acids or a protein-rich meal is more transient, returning to baseline within 3 hours despite sustained elevations in amino acid availability. It thus has been hypothesized that a “muscle full” status can be reached where MPS becomes refractory, and circulating amino acids are shunted toward oxidation or fates other than MPS. In light of these findings, when training is initiated more than ~3–4 hours after the preceding meal, the classical recommendation to consume protein (at least 25 g) as soon as possible seems warranted in order to reverse the catabolic state, which in turn could expedite muscular recovery and growth.
It is important to note that individuals who consume some sort of pre-workout meal/drink should do so with muscle protein synthesis in mind, and not necessarily for a prevention of glycogen 'bonking'.

If you workout in a fasted state, then post-exercise consumption of protein with carbohydrates is a good way to reverse the catabolic state of your muscles. However, if you consume a pre-workout meal/shake with sufficient essential amino acids, then this may remove the need for that post-workout meal. 

At the end of the day, however, it should be noted that this area of study has several limitations, and the complexity of the human body should not be discounted. Our bodies are very good at finding and utilizing resources as needed, especially in times of need, so a regimented schedule on nutrient timing is not always needed. 





Healing and Recovery

Since I am in my "transition" or "recovery" week, I figured it would be a great time to list some advice on how to maximize your recovery efforts:

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  1. Take antioxidants – Green tea catechins and N-acetyl-cystein. Both are powerful antioxidants, they reduce muscle soreness and they’re awesome for your health. Shakeology has tons of antioxidants.
  2. Eat fish or supplement with fish oil – This will allow you to move better and you’ll end up being less sore. If your muscles and connective tissues are the gears and cogs that move your body, fish oil is the grease that keeps everything running smoothly.
  3. "I was in the pool!" - Cold showers and/or baths help alleviate sore muscles. Just remember to lock your door when you are changing...
  4. Protein - Helps your muscles re-build. Make sure you are taking in proper amounts of protein throughout the day from a variety of sources.
  5. Carbohydrates - Immediately following a workout. This helps replenish spent glycogen stores helping with recovery. 
  6. Casein Protein - I like to eat cottage cheese before bed. Cottage cheese contains casein protein, a slower-digesting protein, to help repair and rebuild sore/broken-down muscles as your sleep! 
  7. Sleep - Ah yes, one of the most under-utilized recovery tools in your arsenal. Too many people sleep far too little.  If you feel like napping (and have time for it), do that too!
  8. Stretch - Stretching helps improve range of motion, but it also allows the tired and/or repairing muscle fibers to open up to better circulation, thus improving recovery. 





Strength and Conditioning Tips

I have compiled a helpful list of training tips below that I am sure everyone can learn something from, enjoy!

Training Time

This tip is actually a twofer (broken into 2 parts). Men and women alike are always asking when the best time of the day is to work out, so that is why this is broken into two. For men (generalizing here), they want to know when the best time of day is to work out to grow big, strong muscles. Many people will tell you that working out in the afternoon or evening is the best time for muscle growth for a number of reasons, but simply is not true. The Journal for Strength and Conditioning Research has said that consistency is the key here. If you only have time to hit the weights in the morning, do that! The study showed that men made equal strength gains regardless of what time of day they worked out.

Similarly, women (again, generalizing) want to know when the best time of day is to exercise to burn fat. Again, consistency is the key. There are pros and cons to exercising either morning or night. For example, exercising in the morning can rev your metabolism for the rest of the day, whereas exercising in the evening has the potential to burn more calories as your body's metabolism is potentially at its highest. As I have said before, doingsomething is always better than doing nothing, so if you only have time in the morning to exercise, do that! I personally exercise in the morning because that's what fits my schedule, but if it doesn't suit you, then fine!

Pack on the Protein

I see this one time and time again. People think that in order to grow big, strong muscles, they need to cram as much protein into each meal as possible. Studies have shown that eating 30 grams of protein in a meal yields the same benefits of eating 90 grams does. This is a perfect example of "more isn't necessarily better". Instead, you should aim to have protein in small doses throughout the day. Keep one thing in mind, however. Protein seems to have this aura attached to it now that it is this wonderful "weight-loss" food. Protein still has calories, and ingesting too much protein can still result in unwanted body fat if unused, so make sure your diet is properly proportioned. Not only that, but if all you are doing is eating protein all day, you will likely be missing out on important vitamins and nutrients that can only be found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables!

Muscle Loss

For the longest time, there was this belief that as people age, their muscle tissue decreases. This is in fact true, but this is a sort of chicken-and-egg problem. Does your muscle tissue disappear because you age, or because you stop using your muscles as you age? Studies are now showing that it is in fact possible to continue muscle growth with strength improvements later in life. Yes, men have lowered testosterone as they age, but there is more to it than that. Once you hit the age of 65, sure, you may not be making major muscle gains, but you can still use resistance training to reduce the loss of muscle. Not only that, men and women can greatly benefit from resistance training throughout life to help strengthen bones, muscles and connective tissues!

Do It For Your Brain

Sure, many people like to exercise to try and look a certain way. Unfortunately, many personal trainers will market these types of things to you as well. I have a swift kick of reality for you though. Unless you have tremendous genetics, or photoshop (or a combination of the two), you are never going to look like some of those models or Hollywood celebrities. Not only that, but chasing "the perfect image" will only end in disappointment and despair. Instead, you should exercise to feel better about yourself in your own skin, not to mention the mental and body benefits that comes along with it. Think of how great you feel after a good workout. Wouldn't that be great to bottle that up and take a swig of that every day for the rest of your life?

Go Fast and then Go Home

I probably sound like a broken record here, but unfortunately some people just don't get it. I see and get asked by people all the time why they are not getting/seeing results from working out an hour or more at a time. I then see them slowing jogging on a treadmill or elliptical. Instead, why not try HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and cut your workout times in half? Chronic cardio should only be used if you are training for...wait for it...a cardio event such as a marathon or triathlon, etc. Instead, most people can get into their gym, exercise using HIIT principles for 20-30mins and then be done with an even better workout than something that takes twice the time.

A study done by McMaster University in Hamilton found that men who performed sprint interval training for a total of 2.5 hours (including recovery) over the course of 2 weeks has the same results as the group who performed endurance training for a total of 10.5 hours over the same time period. Yes, its alright to go back and read that again. 1/5th of the time for the same results! Another study following a group of 15 women found that high-intensity exercise (40 to 45 minutes approximately four times weekly at a mean HR of 163 bpm) reduced body fat by about 5 percent over the course of 15 weeks versus a virtually unchanged percentage in the group that performed exercise at a lower heart rate (132 beats per minute).